California dreaming: Nick’s Cove is the most romantic hotel we found in 2011

All photos by Hadi Dadashian

We’ve stayed at more than two dozen hotels this year, from Canada to Colorado and California, and one stands above the rest as the most romantic:  Nick’s Cove.

Nick’s is as luxurious as any urban hotel, yet offers something they can’t duplicate — tranquility.  Cabins are so cosy, it feels as you’re settling into your own private cottage with private waterfront.

It’s secluded, yet easy to find on Hwy. 1 at Tomales Bay, about an hour’s drive north of San Francisco.

Getting there is relaxing on its own:  This is a lovely drive, from the north or south, with rolling hills, prosperous farms, ocean views, and whimsical, only-in-California architecture and design along the way.

Highway sign, just north of Nick's Cove

We didn’t see baby deer in the neighborhood as we approached Nick’s, despite this sign.

But a doe with two fawns left us awestruck our first morning, as soon as we opened our cabin door.

They were so beautiful in the morning mist, with dainty hooves clinging to the hillside, that we joked later the family was staged.

We didn’t see the deer again, but recognized their prints along a little trail in the eucalyptus groves that perfume the cove.

Eucalyptus grove, Nick's Cove

Ah, eucalyptus — nature’s own relaxant.

If it wasn’t for the fragrance of eucyalyptus at Nick’s, we would have gone kayaking — we spotted seals with kayakers nearby.  Or horseback riding.  Or any number of other activities suggested by Damon Marshall, a transplanted New Yorker who liked this coast so much he just traveled here on a whim this past summer and landed a job at Nick’s.

We hiked a little, and lounged a lot, taking advantage of a private deck overhanging the water.

Low-tide view from Al's deck, Nick's Cove

We stayed at Al’s, one of five old cabins rescued and refurbished with all the luxuries, from plasma TV to WiFi.  (Seven other cabins are on land, situated so all have water views.)

Nick’s is so relaxing, we didn’t bother with cellphones, laptops, or TV.  We just watched a great blue heron spearing fish near our deck and tried to discern if the raptors overhead were ospreys.

We were so laidback so quickly that the height of our afternoon excitement was watching the tide go out, underneath us.  Al’s is built on old pilings, so you can see fish and waterfowl from the deck.

We were so lazy, we didn’t go fishing either, although there were charters going in and out around us — and, more exciting still, a private helicopter with passengers too well-dressed for water sports.

They appear to have just dropped in for lunch.  The restaurant was designed by legendary San Francisco designer Pat Kuleto, and its sea-to-plate reputation is sterling.

antique oyster cart, Nick's Cove

One of the perks of the place is that it’s built near oyster beds, so San Franciscans have been traveling to Nick’s for bbq oysters since it was a roadhouse in the 1930s.

Nick's Cove specialty: bbq oysters

This appetizer is complementary with the room; non-oyster lovers can order a generous cheese platter instead.  These oysters are so fresh, they taste as if they were just lifted from the seabed.

Dining at Nick’s is pure California joy, surrounded by water and sunshine.  A glassed-in patio over the water makes seafood in winter especially satisfying, given the sunshine and temperate climate of the coast. (See Open Table reviews about the joys of dining outdoors at Nick’s in December.)

At night, the original wood-heavy restaurant is warm and comfortable, with fireplace, fishing and hunting memorabilia.

Organic wine and ingredients are so local, there’s a map on the menu showing the producers of everything from goat cheese to beef. (Watch them grazing on oceanside pastures and you’ll understand why farmers promote California cattle as “happy cows.”)

There’s a little bar at the end of Nick’s pier that draws couples just for a mid-day stroll, and drinks at sunset.

Pier to boathouse bar

It’s filled with antiques too (1941 Navy diving helmet), fishing memorabilia, and a wooden boat hanging from the ceiling. There’s an old barrel fireplace for cool nights.  The bartender sometimes puts out a fishing line from the pier next to his boathouse bar.

At sunset, the pier fills with couples snuggling and watching the light disappear over the rounded hills of Point Reyes National Seashore.  We watched fishermen returning with their catch, near dusk; and kitchen crews unloading oysters by the hundreds. (In the morning, we saw so many barrels full of empty oyster shells, we couldn’t believe how many the chefs go through in a day.)

Sunset, from Al's, Nick's Cove

As night cooled, we lit a fire and stayed on the deck past dark, enjoying the quiet.  Then it was indoors, for a cushy, leather couch by the fireplace.

There was a clawfoot tub, big, enamel sink, and heated marble floor in the bath; and king-sized bed with fine linens, looking out over the water.  There was also an old-fashioned bar, fully stocked.

Al's king bed, with bayside windows

One last walk along the pier, to enjoy the Christmas lights.

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5 thoughts on “California dreaming: Nick’s Cove is the most romantic hotel we found in 2011

  1. Pingback: Best eats of 2011, from Las Vegas to the Oregon Coast to Canada « tripsfor2

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