Discovering the ramshackle California beach town of our childhoods in “Far West” Marin.
By Maria De La O
Ever wonder where those California beaches of your childhood—or your dreamed of childhood—have gone? You know, the funky places with sandy two-bedroom cottages and no heat? For all the lack of luxuries and glitz, these are the beaches that we really miss. The ones where neighbors say hello, children run free and surfers change into wetsuits on the street outside the parking lot (to save the parking fee).
Somehow, that life still survives in far northern Marin County, near the Sonoma line. It’s a village (yes, the locals really call it a village) that has only a general store, a post office, a restaurant (Quite a good one at that, after all this is still Marin.) and a few tiny cottages overlooking the cliffs, known as the “Dillon Beach Resort” (originally established by George Dillon in 1888). The village is so small, in fact, that you can walk the periphery in less than 10 minutes. Notably the 2010 census counted 283 full-timers here, split between the village area and the Sea Ranch-era development of Oceana Marin in the hills up above town.
We spent a few days in October 2020 at Dillon, forgoing the resort and staying at a tiny VRBO with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. It was still warm in Northern California, so we threw open the windows at night and listened to the ocean while we drifted off to sleep.
It was just what we needed.
The Good Stuff
Low tide The tidepools here aren’t stomped over, so you can expect to see crab, sea stars and little fishies.
Dillon Beach Coastal Kitchen Order the clam chowder. Mmm… clammy! The roasted cauliflower and the pulled pork sandwich also come highly recommended.
General store Check out the on-tap kombucha and soft serve ice cream behind the counter. The dairy cows munch pastureland just to the east of Dillon and you can taste it in the ice cream. The general store also stocks Marin-level foodie and drinking supplies (a great selection of high-end liquors, local wines, fancy cheese and salami, s’mores kits and more) as well as a nice selection of beach toys and souvenirs. (The zip-up Dillon Beach hoodies are perfect for when the coastal fog rolls in.)
Burn, baby, burn Most everyone around here has a propane fire pit in their backyard. We had loads of fun just hanging out drinking beer and eating s’mores around ours. Truly cheap fun.
The dunes… Explore some of the last dunes outside of far Northern California here. Just stick to the well-trod trails and don’t disturb the natural ecosystem. This is where the threatened snowy plover and endangered least tern like to nest.
The deer… The deer population in Dillon Beach is quite habituated to humans. So enjoy watching the little families from a distance. Remember, a mama deer is actually quite dangerous when you get close to her young’un, so don’t attempt petting!
Ruff, ruff… Dillon Beach is classified as a dog-friendly beach, so feel free to bring along your water-loving pup.
Meet at the pirate? The beach’s odd pirate statue (procured at a charity auction back in 2000) acts as an unofficial meeting location and sunset cocktail spot. Enjoy a cold one and toast the pirate before you have to run back to the rat race.
The Not-So-Good Stuff
Parking Dillon Beach has the dubious distinction of being the only private beach in California. As such, the group that owns the beach can pretty much charge whatever the market will bear for the parking lot. There are not a lot of other parking options, so just cough it up.
Beep, beep… There can be traffic on the weekend along Cliff Street, the main drag to the beach and in and out of town. Allow a little extra time.
Good to Know
Brrr… Remember, folks, this isn’t San Diego. Dillon is a Northern California beach, so bring all your layers and wetsuits are a “must” for swimming.
Relatively placid H2O? If you can handle the water temperature, Dillon offers a bit safer swim than some Northern California beaches.
Maria De La O
Magazine editor. Documentary filmmaker. Copy expert. Mother. Traveler. Maria brings it all to the pages of ROAM.
© ROAM Family Travel 2021 – All rights reserved
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