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POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE

Pacific pastures in Marin

June 29, 2003|Vani Rangachar | Times Staff Writer

Point Reyes Station, Calif.

If California has happy cows, they must live in west Marin County. There are more bovines than people on Point Reyes Peninsula, and any place that has more four-footed creatures than people promises pastoral vistas.

My 90-mile circular route, taken in May, started and ended on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, named for the 16th century English explorer. I picked up that road in San Anselmo, but it was about a mile beyond the neighboring town of Fairfax that I first saw the gloriously green rounded hills with rock outcroppings so scattered they looked as if they'd been placed by a cosmic Japanese gardener.

I passed the iris-graced entrance to Spirit Rock, a Buddhist retreat center, before turning right onto Nicasio Valley Road, the first of two worthwhile detours on this one-day drive.

I blew by the handful of buildings and steepled Old St. Mary's Church, built more than 130 years ago, that make up the village of Nicasio.

Two quick turns sent me closer to Point Reyes Station, a former railroad town with an artful touch. Among its attractions is the Bovine Bakery, which has croissants and lemon bars worth the trip -- and calories. Point Reyes Station has more shops than it did since my first visit a decade ago, but it took a near-mishap to make me see that its easygoing nature hadn't changed.

I bought a chile cheese croissant and coffee at the Bovine and scarfed them while sitting on a bench outside. After leaving to browse in the bookshop next door, I went to pay for a book and realized I had left my purse behind. In a panic, I scurried to the bench. No purse. I found it in the bakery, where some kind soul had deposited it for safekeeping. The contents were intact.

I rejoined Sir Francis Drake Boulevard as it led into Point Reyes National Seashore. The road hugs the western shore of Tomales Bay and the San Andreas Fault, then veers left to Point Reyes Lighthouse, but I went right on Pierce Point Road.

I lost most of the afternoon joy riding on two-lane country roads through undulating fenced pastureland, surrounded by endless sea and sky. At the historic Pierce Point Ranch, a 19th century west Marin dairy being restored by the National Park Service, I encountered tule elk as wary of me as I was curious about them. In the late afternoon I savored fresh fried oysters at Drakes Beach Cafe at Drakes Beach, and at Point Reyes Lighthouse I worked them off on the 308 stairs that lead to the automated beacon.

When it was time for the cows to come home, I headed for Olema Druids Hall, a renovated B&B that was a meeting place for druids in the late 19th century. The innkeeper showed me to the Nest, a small, bright room with an elegant country look.

Then she left, and I was alone. I rattled around the stylish public room, admired the Chinese porcelain and peered out the French doors to the back garden.

I sought companionship and sustenance at the bustling Station House Cafe in Point Reyes Station. Oysters are popular in these parts, but I chose pumpkin ravioli, delicious all the same.

The next morning fresh croissants and muffins awaited me, but there was no sign of the elves who had left them. I gobbled breakfast, eager to get to the redwoods in Samuel P. Taylor State Park.

Streams of sunlight filtered through the giant trees. As I drove under them on my way out of west Marin, I felt a pang of regret leaving an earthly paradise.

Olema Druids Hall, P.O. Box 96, Olema, CA 94950; (866) 554-4255 or (415) 663-8727, fax (415) 663-

1830, www.olemadruidshallcom. Doubles from $175.

Station House Cafe, 11180 Highway 1, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956; (415) 663-1515. Entrees $8-$22.

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