Blissful Tomales Bay

Words by Sheri Baer

Words by Sheri Baer

Driving north through Marshall on Highway 1 in West Marin, it’s easy to overshoot the “blink and you’ll miss it” turnoff. With the splendor of Tomales Bay unfolding on the left, the modest Marconi Conference Center sign on the right hardly merits a glance. But traverse the winding uphill road and you’ll discover an idyllic setting with a storied and, at one point, controversial past. Recently transformed into an upscale coastal retreat, the Lodge at Marconi offers stand-alone respite and the perfect home base for exploring the region’s timeless beauty.


Today, visitors flock to coastal West Marin for sweeping views—along with famously fresh air and fresh oysters—but back in the early 20th century, Italian inventor and engineer Guglielmo Marconi discerned a different appeal: the optimal conditions for long-distance radio signal transmission. Credited as the “father of radio,” Marconi developed the historic Marshall Trans-Pacific receiving station here, along with a majestic hotel for staff and visitors. (Interesting side note: after the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, the British postmaster general was quoted as saying, “Those who have been saved, have been saved through one man, Mr. Marconi… and his marvelous invention.”)

Cover Photo: Courtesy of Remy Anthes - Hog Island Oyster Co. / Photography: Courtesy of Brian Ferry

During World War I, the military appropriated Marconi’s transmitters. In the early 1960s, a rehab facility known as Synanon took over the site. Morphing into an infamous cult, Synanon eventually collapsed amid scandal and bankruptcy. The state claimed ownership in the 1980s, turning the property into Marconi Historic State Park.

Now, tucked within the park’s 62 scenic acres sits the newest incarnation: Lodge at Marconi, which opened to guests in late 2023 after an extensive multi-million dollar renovation. Seamlessly entwined with the wooded hillscape, the Lodge is actually a collection of free-standing structures encompassing 45 guest rooms and suites, with a range of layouts suitable for couples, families, corporate travelers and groups.

Here, nature abounds—outside and in—with 3.5 miles of hiking trails and cohesive design elements inspired by the surrounding vistas. Whether you’re lounging in an Adirondack chair or meeting up for a game of cornhole, Lodge at Marconi presents like a destination in itself. Here’s the bonus: You’re also a quick hop down the hill to West Marin’s many iconic attractions.


Measuring about 15 miles long and a mile across, Tomales Bay divides mainland Marin from the Point Reyes Peninsula. To immerse yourself in this scenic inlet, just push off from shore. “Tomales Bay was formed by plate tectonics from the San Andreas fault line,” explains Blue Water Kayaking guide Lori Budish, as she leads a half-day tour from Miller Boat Launch, a short stretch up Highway 1. Paddling towards Point Reyes National Seashore, countless points of interest catch the eye. Hog Island. Pierce Point Ranch. Tomales Point Trail. Tule elk grazing on the hillside. Harbor seals lazing up on the beach. Skimming along the rugged shoreline unveils green sea anemones, bat stars and clams shooting up water from under the mud. And everywhere, birds. “Point Reyes probably has more migratory birds than any other national park in the U.S.,” notes Lori. “And about 45 percent of all California birds can be spotted here.” Blue Water also offers full-day and evening bioluminescence tours, along with kayak rentals.

Given that you’re at the gateway to Point Reyes National Seashore, even a short getaway merits a trip to Point Reyes Lighthouse, appropriately dubbed the windiest place on the Pacific Coast. Every bend in the road and crest of a hill reveals bucolic scenery and dramatic seascapes. From the parking lot, the final half-mile by foot delivers jaw-dropping views of Point Reyes South Beach and the feeling that you’ve reached the end of the world.

If the beach beckons, try Heart’s Desire or Limantour for sandy expanses you can reach by car. In recent years, Drakes Beach experienced an unexpected surge in popularity—with a northern elephant seal colony. The beach is now off-limits but you can catch the wildly entertaining show from the parking lot. Other good viewing spots include the Elephant Seal Overlook near Chimney Rock and the South Beach Overlook.

Photo: Courtesy of Remy Anthes - Hog Island Oyster Co.

Given Tomales Bay’s ideal conditions for cultivating and harvesting shellfish, it’s not surprising that the most famous critter here is arguably a mollusk. Book a tour of Hog Island Oyster Farm to explore the fascinating journey from oyster seed to your plate. Follow up with a bite at The Boat Oyster Bar or get take-out from the Hog Shack to put all the shucking and tasting tips into action.

For another tour and tasting opportunity, get ye to Heidrun Meadery. Known as “nectar of the gods” to ancient Greeks, this fabled wine uses honey as its main ferment. “It’s easy to make but it’s hard to make well,” acknowledges Michael Zilber, as he pours from bottles labeled California Orange Blossom and Hawaiian Macadamia Nut. Founded in 1997, Heidrun (named for Norse god Odin’s mead-producing goat) is the only commercial meadery using true Champagne methods to create sparkling mead—appreciably different from any dubious home brews you may have sampled in the past.

Photography: Courtesy of Denise Rocco-Zilber-Heidrun Meadery


Whether you’re relaxing or roaming about, you’ll find a slew of tantalizing options within easy reach. Lodge at Marconi currently offers a coffee bar and grab-and-go market with plans for onsite dining in the works. Heading north on Highway 1, pull over for The Marshall Store, a more-than-one-visit-worthy seafood shack perched right over the bay. Just a stretch farther, Nick’s Cove is a go-to spot for coastal classics. Heading south, meander through charming Point Reyes Station with a stop at Station House Café, a standout farm-to-table gathering place celebrating 60 years. And in Olema, drop by Due West Tavern and Market, with the added perk of a Tesla supercharger station.

Abundant fresh seafood and scenery is an enticing mix, so look for better deals—and fewer folks on the road—off-season or weekdays. But you can always explore Lodge at Marconi’s forested acres or a secluded trail or beach to find blissful escape year-round.