It’s cold out on the coast of Stinson Beach.
It takes about an hour to get to Stinson Beach from San Francisco. The distance isn’t too far, but the winding road you must take to get up the mountain takes quite a bit of time.
This weekend we took Dave’s Dad to see Marin County, and in the process I had my first ever battle with a mild case of car-sick. I was in the back seat as we went up and down hills, around extremely tight curves, all the while looking out over the edge of a mountain, where there was never a guard rail. Terrible feeling, but luckily it subsided as soon as we arrived and I got out of the car.
The challenging drive was worth it, because the little community of Stinson Beach is a charming beach town, which offers a sandy coastline and tree-dense mountain trails in one fell swoop. Stinson Beach has a population of about 400 people and a downtown with a few shops, galleries and cafes. While it is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the City, it is also a place you can fully appreciate within a quick day-trip.
While there, for the first time ever, I put my hand in the Pacific Ocean from a California beach, and it wasn’t as cold as I expected. What was cold, was the sea breeze as we stood in the sand on the beach. I couldn’t believe there were actually people attempting to sunbathe in bathing suits. Not our three-person group. I was wearing my usual long pants and sweatshirt and even had an extra fleece I was borrowing from Dave’s Dad, and the other two were shivering in shorts.
After a cold experience walking the beach, we drove to an area where we could get out and hike. We did a two-mile hike up the mountain, stopped for a picnic, then hiked back down. This was definitely a moderate-difficulty-level hike (up a portion of the Matt Davis travel, and also part of the Steep Ravine trail), and at times got us all a bit breathless. Other times it was easy, and there was enough time spent in the sunshine and under the canopy of trees to get the best of both worlds.
One of the most interesting and entertaining parts of our hike in Stinson Beach was the fact that a marathon was taking place. Yes, a marathon, at a high elevation and among the inclines and declines of mountains and trails. We passed a few runners on the trail and tried to give them verbal motivation during what was likely a grueling race.
It took us a while to find the perfect spot to stop for our picnic, and we may have hiked a little past hunger. We needed to both be in the sun and be shielded from the wind in order to be warm enough to enjoy our feast. After emerging from the forest portion of our hike, we walked down a private road to an overlook above a little camping village on the coast. It was there, behind the mountain, where we found a spot just off the road to stop and eat that couldn’t have been more perfect. There we sat for nearly half an hour, dining on some prepackaged salads from Trader Joe’s and other various nibblies.
This moment, one with incredible views of the Pacific Ocean and mountains, was Dave’s Dad’s favorite part of his entire visit to San Francisco. We enjoyed the scenery, enjoyed each other’s company and felt pretty blessed to all be together on such a pretty day.
When you sit on a steep mountain cliff looking out into the distance, it’s a good time to talk about life.
Six months into a life across the country from family and friends has been a big change for Dave and me. We know we made the right decision and appreciate all of our experiences every day, even when it’s hard to be so far away. During lunch, we talked about the importance of this time in our lives with Dave’s Dad, who is not only a great Dad, but also a great person to talk to (he was the officiate of our wedding), and he offered us a little wisdom as part of our afternoon picnic.
Armed with sustenance in our systems and sunny dispositions, we closed up the picnic and traveled back down the mountain to our car.
The four-mile hike entitled us to some extra dessert, so once we got in the car we kept our eyes open for a treat and came across a video rental and ice cream parlor called Flying Pig Ranch. We weren’t sure why the store seemed to publicize video rentals as the main point of business, because the waffle cones were pretty good.
Stinson Beach is definitely worth the visit. The tiny downtown portion is cute. There are plenty of trails to work up a sweat, and there is some great ice cream just down the road from the public beach access. If you go, be sure to take some Dramamine before the car ride.
We rounded out our active and outdoorsy Saturday with a trip in the evening to Rose Pistola restaurant in the North Beach neighborhood. There we dined on fine Italian fare and spent our last evening with Dave’s Dad before his early morning flight. Even though our meal was pretty good, the hustle and bustle of the North Beach neighborhood provided so much sensory overload for Dave’s Dad that the one-mile walking journey to the restaurant may have been more rewarding than the destination.
Six miles total of walking, beach-time, mountain-time, a picnic, ice cream and a nice dinner all adds up to a fabulous day in my book.