Tomales, California Photos and Information

Tomales is a beautiful town of approximately 200 residents who reside near the winding Shoreline Highway 1 a few miles east of Tomales Bay that overlooks Point Reyes National Seashore. Though located only 60 miles north of San Francisco, the coastal trek on two lane roads from the city to Tomales usually takes about 2 hours. Scenic beauty awaits those who drive the Shoreline Highway; the fog, rain and twists may require keeping your eyes trained on the road, however. For faster access, take US 101 north from San Francisco, exit Washington Street and follow its changes as Bodega Avenue and then Valley Ford Road. Turn left on Tomales Road and travel approximately eight miles.

For nature lovers, there are hikes, kayaking in the bay and Dillon Beach nearby. Visitors can dine in wonderful restaurants and cafes, tour the community with its Victorian architecture and Queen Anne cottages, visit the Tomales Regional History Center and shop. 

Once known as a bustling port for exports of farm produce such as potatoes during the mid-1800's, it is believed that approx. 2000 people who lived there left with the demise of farming and resultant decrease in shipping.  Poor farming practices that caused erosion, destructive fires and migration to the city all contributed to the population shift toward San Francisco. 

Originally occupied by Coast Miwok Indians, evidence exists that European explorers such as Englishman Sir Francis Drake visited the bay of Farallones or Tomales bay in 1578.  Visiting for a month, he charted the region and named it New Albion. Not long after Drake's visit, a Chinese vessel named San Agustin sank in the bay in 1595. Wreckage of the San Agustin was discovered in the port of San Francisco (the Golden Gate) and Yerba Buena 200 years later.

Earliest modern-day settlers to Tomales were farmers who tended herds of dairy cattle, grew vegetables, grains and potatoes. 60 miles south, San Francisco was becoming one of the fastest growing cities in the nation after news of the 1848 - 1849 gold discoveries spread rapidly around the world.  Thriving ports along the California coast and even smaller bays such as Tomales shipped products and produce to San Francisco and Sacramento. A network of railroads further connected the small port towns to larger cities. North Pacific Coast Railroad extended its narrow gauge line in 1871 from Sausalito to Tomales Bay.  The Gold Rush was short lived but left an imprint on the Golden State. California would grow to become the most populated state in the U.S. but without the Gold Rush, development and infrastructure would not have occurred so rapidly.

Many Central Coast and Northern California towns such as Tomales dwindled in population as the U.S. entered a 20th Century economic depression and fought two world wars. Some piers and structures such as the railroad line to Tomales were abandoned; some have been saved and renovated and many have simply disappeared. 

While the entire state has experienced tremendous growth during the past 50 years, large portions of coastline in Northern California are owned by governmental agencies and adhere to 20th Century regulations prohibiting certain types of building and usage. The coastal region near Tomales in Tomales Bay is part of the National Park Service (NPS) Point Reyes National Seashore. It is open to the public for recreational enjoyment and cannot be used for commercial development.

Tomales Bay, a 15-mile long, 6780-acre tidal water body located in rural west Marin County, is the most popular area for kayaking at Point Reyes National Seashore. It is the largest unspoiled coastal embayment on the coast of California. Bounded on the west by the Point Reyes National Seashore, adjacent communities include Tomales, Pt. Reyes Station, Inverness,  Marshall, and Dillon Beach in the north where Tomales Bay meets Bodega Bay.

Recreational use of Tomales Bay has grown in recent years and the National Park Service at Point Reyes has created regulations about recreational use, especially for camping and boating. Kayaking in Drakes Estero and Limantour Estero is prohibited each year from from July through February to protect harbor seals during the most crucial part of the pupping season. Hog Island in the northern section of Tomales Bay across from Whites Gulch on the west side and Nicks Cove on the east side is a favorite haul-out for seals and roosting place for brown pelicans. This important wildlife habitat, is open on the west side only for day use. Personal water craft (PWC) such as a Jetski or Waverunner are never permitted on Tomales Bay.

There are four areas for launching on Tomales Bay (information about these launch locations is supplied by the National Park Service

Miller County Park (415) 499-6387
Also known as Nick's Cove, Miller County Park is located on the east side of Tomales Bay off Highway 1, north of the town of Marshall. This Marin County park has a public boat launch with cement grade into the water, restrooms, and a pier. There is a day use fee and overnight use fee. Overnight parking is in the upper lot, to the right as you pull in.
Tomales Bay State Park - (415) 669-1140
The state park provides two access areas to Tomales Bay, Millerton Point and Hearts Desire Beach. Millerton Point is on the east side of Tomales Bay, three miles north of Point Reyes Station. No overnight parking is permitted. There is a pit toilet and you must carry your boat along a short trail approximately 100 yards to the water. It is very shallow and is best used at high tides. Hearts Desire Beach is on the west side of Tomales Bay off Pierce Point Road. It is a day-use area (no overnight parking) and there is a day-use fee. You must carry your boat approximately 100 yards across a sandy beach. Water and restrooms are available at the beach. Orange floats are placed in the water in summer to indicate the swimming area. Boaters may land to the south of the orange floats. Motorized vessels are prohibited within 100' of the swim area markers.
Golden Hinde Inn & Marina - (415) 669-1389
The inn and marina are located on the west side of the bay. It is off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard three miles north of Inverness. There is a boat launch fee and if you pay the launch fee, you may leave your car overnight. No dump station.
Lawson's Landing - (707) 878-2443
The campground and boat launch are located in Dillon Beach with direct access to Tomales Bay. There is gas, dump station, and boat rentals. Restrooms and water available. There is a day-use and overnight fee charged.

If you plan to have a beach fire on national seashore beaches, stop by national park visitor centers for a free required permit. No beach fires are permitted on state park beaches. Some beaches you may enjoy on a visit to Tomales include:

Hearts Desire Beach features a swimming area during the summer. Boaters may pull up on the southern edge of the beach to access the restrooms and drinking water. No overnight use or beach fires. Indian Beach north of Hearts Desire has a redwood kotca, a traditional Coast Miwok sleeping shelter on it. There is no overnight use or beach fires.

There is a fee and permit system for overnight camping on the west side beaches of Tomales Bay (within Point Reyes National Seashore). Overnight beach camping is not permitted anywhere else on Tomales Bay or within Point Reyes National Seashore. Contact the National Seashore reservation office at (415) 663-8054 for reservations and to place your name on the mailing list for information. Some Tomales Bay beaches that are open for overnight camping to those who have a current and valid permit are (listed from south to north): Kilkenny Beach; Marshall Beach on the west side of Tomales Bay across from the town of Marshall; Tomales Beach; Fruit Tree Beach; Blue Gum Beach which experiences seasonal closures to protect harbor seal pupping; Avalis Beach which sometimes has high tides and strong currents.

Tomales can seem distant and removed from the city, due to its small size and rural atmosphere. You'll be hard pressed to find a McDonald's restaurant, and that's part of its incredible charm. Locals actually eat better, enjoying a plethora of natural resources both at the Point Reyes National Seashore and nearby. In close proximity, there's abundant wine production, delicious seafood served in local restaurants and great chefs who find this part of California a desirable location for intimate, upscale meal preparations in small, boutique restaurants.

Lending to the ambiance are 100-year old buildings representing a variety of architectural styles from Queen Anne Queen Anne to Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival. Stop in Tomales to shop, dine and even visit the Tomales Regional History Center located at 26701 Highway 1. Though the Center which is housed in a 1921 High School gymnasium is usually open Friday through Sunday, you should call before going: (707) 878-9443.

Tomales is located in Marin County in northern California.  Major destinations not far from Tomales include the San Francisco Bay area and Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino wine country. Distances to major destinations with a variety of hotel accommodations include:

28 miles -  37 minutes   Santa Rosa Hotels
16 miles - 25 minutes    Petaluma Hotels


Tomales is located near the Pacific Ocean in Marin County, California. It's distance to other cities is:

28 miles -  37 minutes   Santa Rosa Hotels
16 miles - 25 minutes    Petaluma
15 miles -  27 minutes   Bodgea Bay
30 miles - 37 minutes    Novato
17 miles - 27 minutes    Cotati
30 miles - 45 minutes    Sonoma
42 miles - 60 minutes    Napa
58 miles - 72 minutes    San Francisco

Tomales, California Photos and Information
Tomales, California  Population: 200

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