Being in the hostelling business, we’ve heard all manner of travel philosophies over the years. Every traveler, it seems, has his or her own reasons for staying in a hostel: some like the social aspect; others love having kitchens on site; still others like to keep costs low so they can stay on the road longer. But there’s another kind of hosteller, too: the savvy traveler who wants to save on accommodation while splurging on activities.
The save-and-spend method of travel can be extra appealing in regions known for their food. And here in Northern California, HI USA’s got a world-class dining destination right in its backyard. West Marin County is home to a booming, indulgent, and often pricey culinary scene. But luckily for budget-conscious foodies, it’s also home to HI Point Reyes.
So in honor of the backpacking gourmands, the shoe-string gastronomes, and the fiscally minded fine diners, today we’re listing our favorite ways to save and splurge – and eat up a storm – near HI Point Reyes.
Splurge: Break bread with the locals at the Station House Café, located about 20 minutes from the hostel in downtown Point Reyes Station. Here, fresh-squeezed mimosas, Campari Royales, and Irish coffee are served alongside bagels and lox, waffles and bacon, and house-made granola with organic yogurt. The café is known for its classy, cozy interior and its secret-garden-like patio.
Save: Keep it light with a quick bite from Toby’s Coffee Bar. Located right alongside Toby’s Feed Barn, an old-school general store with an artsy twist, the little walk-up café serves organic teas, espresso, and pastries. Pop around back and you’ll find a tiny garden perfect for sitting and sipping.
Splurge: Rustic Italian meets locally sourced organic at Point Reyes Station’s Osteria Stellina. Colorful artwork, streamlined interior design, and plenty of windows make this the perfect spot to people-watch with a plate of osso buco, swordfish, or oyster-topped pizza.
Save: For a casual take on all things gourmet, don’t miss nearby Tomales Bay Foods. Located in a restored former hay barn, this shop has everything you need for a Point Reyes picnic: choose from a dizzying array of Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, prepared salads, soups and sandwiches, and locally made ice cream, then take your lunch out to the shop’s shaded picnic area and enjoy a unique al fresco dining experience.
Splurge: Perhaps Point Reyes’s most famous local delicacy, oysters are farmed, slurped, barbecued, and grilled all over these parts. About a 15-minute drive northwest of downtown Point Reyes Station, the Marshall Store is the go-to spot for locals and tourists alike looking to spend on the good stuff. Oysters here are served half a dozen ways, ranging from raw, to smoked, to topped with bacon. The prepared oysters here aren’t cheap, but the ambiance is priceless. Sit at one of the long, rough-hewn wooden tables overlooking the bay and you’ll get a million-dollar view with your $16 oysters.
Save: Get a break on your shellfish by going the do-it-yourself route. Over at the Hog Island Oyster Farm, buy fresh-from-the-bay oysters and shuck away at one of the on-site picnic tables – the farm will even set you up with the necessary tools and advice. Reserve a picnic table and grill in advance, bring your own wine or beer, cheeses, breads, and produce, and you can throw a waterfront picnic here, no purchase necessary.
Splurge: Nick’s Cove, a few coast-hugging miles north of Hog Island on Highway 1, is the kind of destination dining spot where it’s easy to drop some serious cash. With a roadhouse exterior, an English-hunting-lodge interior, and a bayside location that makes for stunning sunset views, Nick’s is nothing if not unique. Come here for Dungeness crab, braised beef short ribs, or a five-course chef’s tasting menu.
Save: Don’t let the hefty price tags at Nick’s keep you away: tucked in back of the restaurant, there’s a secret hideaway where you can get all the ambiance of Nick’s for free. The Boat Shack sits right at the end of Nick’s pier and is covered wall-to-wall with bits of nautically cool kitsch. A peppy jazz score floats through the one-room shack, a piano beckons musically-minded visitors, and a stack of logs and kindling sits beside a wood-burning stove in case of chilly weather. There’s a phone on the wall with a direct line to Nick’s if you feel like ordering take-out, but you’re also welcome to bring your own food and drink from wherever you’d like.
Splurge: For early evening drinks, it doesn’t get more local – or more interesting – than the Heidrun Meadery. But forget that questionable-sounding stuff they glugged down in Beowulf: Heidrun puts a refreshing twist on the traditional fermented honey-wine by adding bubbles (think Champagne made with honey instead of grapes). Splurge on a tour to learn how Heidrun’s mead goes “from flower to flute” and you’ll also get to taste a flight of their current varietals. The flavor of each mead is dictated by the flower from which its honey originated; on your visit you might sample meads made with anything from avocado-flower honey, to radish-flower honey, to orange-blossom honey.
Save: Tours of Heidrun are a fairly reasonable $15, but you can cut your tasting costs in half by simply stopping in for a drink. Meads by the glass at Heidrun average about $6-$7, and the patio on their bee farm-cum-distillery is the perfect spot to relax and enjoy some bubbly. (Either way, be sure to call ahead so the staff can leave the front gate unlocked for you!)
The Big Names
Splurge: If you’re the type to save the bulk of your travel budget for one big, fabulous meal, there are at least two excellent choices near the Point Reyes hostel. Sir and Star in Olema, just two miles from Point Reyes Station, has only been open a few years, but has already garnered a lot of attention. Publications including Food & Wine and San Francisco magazine have raved about the restaurant’s warm dining room and locavore food. Even reading the menu is a special experience: keep an eye out for dishes such as “a Bouillabaisse of All Things Green and Gold,” “A Neighbor’s Quail,” and “Luscious Parts of Dr. Pasternak’s Pig.”
A reservation is tough to nab for Giacomini Farm’s “Fork” dinners, but it’s worth the effort. Each month, the farm hosts 20 guests for a family-style four-course meal. These dinners take farm-to-fork to a whole new level: each dish is so seasonal that menus aren’t announced until a few days before the event. Four courses will set you back about $60, but you can keep costs down by bringing your own wine to the event.
Save: Of course, you can still enjoy the bounty of West Marin’s food scene without spending an arm and a leg. Pick up local oysters from Drake’s Bay Oyster Farm, grass-fed beef from Marin Sun Farms, artisan cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, and bread from the Bovine Bakery, then whip up your own feast back in HI Point Reyes’s kitchen!
Stay at HI-Point Reyes