I’ve never been happier to see my cell phone reception vanish. I know it means we’re close. The view outside my window turns to wide open stretches of land, feeling much further from urban vibrations than actuality. Cattle saunter on fields of golden straw-like grass, burned to a crisp from the season’s heat (side note – taking this same ride in February or March, the hills are so green and lush you’d think you were in Ireland.) If you’re wondering if I’m on my way to wine country, guess again. Just an hour and fifteen minutes north of San Francisco is a town that seems to have hit the unsubscribe button on today’s hustle & bustle and opted in on staying true to its rural roots.
Meet Marshall, California, an unincorporated community in Marin County located on the northeast shore of Tomales Bay. To be transparent, I haven’t spent much time anywhere else in Marshall, although I’ve been here many times. The reason for that is an enchanting place called Nick’s Cove that captured my heart over ten years ago and never let go. I mean it, this place will make you believe in magic.
Despite its distance from the conveniences of the city, Nick’s Cove really has it all. Cottage lodging, endless rustic charm, fresh seafood, and a boat shack at the end of their dock that will make you feel like you’re in another place in time. But before I get into all of that, let me tell you a little about the rich history of this place.
I learned that the story of these grounds goes back to the Civil War when President Lincoln’s chief of staff purchased the property in 1850 and sold it to a settler named Jeremiah Blake. During this time, the happenings of the land was largely industrial – from freight of dairy and fish by way of the North Pacific Coast railroad to duck raising and saddle making. It wasn’t until the 1930s that tourism in the area took hold mainly due to the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge and construction of a modern highway.
The story of Nick’s Cove itself began when original owners, the Nick Kojich family built a handful of houses close to the shore and opened a seafood restaurant. The houses became lodging for tourists visiting, as well as fisherman and hunters that were known to frequent the area. While the establishment has changed hands in ownership through the years, the essence of Nick’s Cove stays well intact and the current owners have put a great deal of care in maintaining its integrity and paying tribute to its historical significance.
SF Chronicle critic Michael Bauer once wrote “Nick’s is a very special place that honors and respects the area, giving visitors a glimmer of an agrarian life that’s so near but really so far from the city’s consciousness. It seems impossible to believe it’s still in the 415-area code.” I couldn’t agree with his sentiments more. If you were to walk inside the restaurant now (pre-pandemic, of course) its reminiscent of an old but well-maintained woodsy cabin. It’s just about as cozy as it gets, yet its expansive windows gives you an incredible light soaked view of the bay with the hills of Point Reyes perched in the distance.
If you walk around the side of the restaurant, you’ll follow a long pier with a small shed at the end of the dock, affectionately called The Boat Shack. To me, this tiny cabin is like the pearl inside an oyster. I can truthfully say when I first stepped foot inside, it took my breath away. A large canoe hangs from the ceiling and the walls are decked with old oars, buoys and other nautical flare. At the center is one table and if you’re lucky enough to get a seat, you can bring your food here and enjoy your meal inside. The tiny fireplace crackles, string lights twinkle, and a piano is stationed waiting for those brave - or drunk enough to play.
So, what are we dining on while we soak up Nick's incredible setting? Our go-to order is a dozen oysters, the cast iron mac and cheese and Dungeness crab cakes. And not to sound like a TV infomercial… “but wait there’s more!” there are a ton of other options from the Tomales Bay Clam Chowder, the hand cut Kennebec fries with truffle oil to heartier selections like the burger and the Petaluma roasted chicken. The libations menu is robust as well, but I almost always order something sparkling. With such festive surroundings, that always feels like a natural choice.
I had the good fortune to recently visit Nick’s with my partner and best friend and I was extremely impressed with the restaurant’s Covid-19 compliance. The welcoming staff is doing an incredible job to keep its patron’s safe while providing them an almost unaltered experience and quite frankly an escape from the chaotic year 2020 has been for all. Properly spaced tables have been set up along the pier and deck of the restaurant and food service has switched to an order at the counter approach to limit unnecessary and unsafe contact.
Being back at Nick’s Cove for good food, drink and laughter with loved ones after a difficult year certainly had me putting my rose-colored glasses back on and feeling a joyful sense of gratitude. I’m already counting down the days until I can get back.