Location: Dillon Beach, California (about 90 minutes north of San Francisco)
Length of hike to secluded beach: 1 mile to secluded beach from end of Oceana Drive
When I was about a year old my parents bought a beat up old station wagon and drove across the US from New York to California visiting as many National Parks along the way. They thought that this would be their last time ever in America (they were so wrong about that) before heading back to Japan so they went all out and did everything and went everywhere they could think of. They fell in love with the beauty of the National Park system and they often to this day talk of them as America’s greatest treasure. Camping back then in the “olden days” was a different experience when everything was big and heavy and it took serious work to set up camp. But they did it because they were young and full of energy (even with a one year old!) and everyday was an adventure. Nowadays, my parents aren’t the first ones (nor the last) to volunteer to come with us camping, but they do like to get away and enjoy nature. This usually means renting a house somewhere with a view or surrounding nature area and inviting all the family, especially the grandkids!
Right about this time a few years ago my dad suggested we rent a beach house somewhere on the coast of California for the Fourth of July weekend. Really? July Fourth is next month! A quick search on VRBO confirmed my suspicions that beach houses that are big enough to accommodate 11 people were completely booked up already, especially during a holiday weekend. Many houses were even booked solid for the entire summer. We were about to give up when we found a bunch of listings in Dillon Beach. Why? The pictures of these houses on VRBO showed amazing houses with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. The town is south of Bodega Bay and North of Tomales. We really had no other options, so we decided to give Dillon Beach a chance. We were so happy we did!
Dillon beach is a small coastal community filled with vacation homes that have beautiful views of the ocean. It’s a little off the beaten path, it takes about 1.5 hours from San Francisco, but the drive is beautiful and there are many places to stop on the way. The houses are worth renting just for the views, but the reason we’d go back is because of the secluded beach we happened to come across while exploring. This beach as we later learned was called Estero de San Antonio Beach. This beach can be described as a sandbar at the mouth of the Estero de San Antonio stream. The only land based access is by a trail from the private housing community of Oceana Marin in Dillon Beach. The caveat is that this land belongs to the State Marine Recreational Management Area and there is a sign that says this is a private easement for the Oceana Marin Association members and guests only and that anyone parking near the trailhead must have an OMA parking pass to avoid getting towed. Therefore, there are only two ways to access this beach if you do not live in this community. Hence, the reason why it was a secluded beach. The first way is to get there by boat or kayak which you can launch from Dillon Beach, the closest access point. The second is to rent a house in this community, which I highly recommend. The houses are spaced apart with plenty of open spaces all around to explore and the views were just incredible.
The rental property that we stayed in is no longer available through VRBO, but there are many in all sizes and price ranges. If you’re looking for a coastal getaway with family and friends, the Dillon Beach community is a great place (especially with access to Estero de San Antonio Beach). We spent the day BBQing oysters from the Tomales Bay Oyster company, (Hog Island Oyster Co. is another local place to pick up oysters) that we picked up on the way, as well as sampling cheeses from Nicasio Valley Cheese Co. which was also on the way. Of course, being on the Sonoma Coast there are many places to pick up locally produced wines. We spent the day eating and drinking our way through the local bounty, hanging out on the patio and soaking in the hot tub, all while admiring the… wait for it… view. Dillon Beach is not a place to come for fine dining or a night life (there was only one cafe that we found in the area), but we found that it was perfect for our family get together. A beautiful home to have our family time (for all ages) and enough nature in the surrounding areas to keep everyone busy (when we needed a little break from all that family time 😉 ). Also, Bodega Bay is 30 minutes north of Dillon Beach where a few of us went to check out the fish market and restaurants there.We took all the kids to Dillon beach (it’s a little confusing when both the beach and the town is called Dillon Beach) for a bit. There is a parking lot on Cliff Street right next to the beach you can park in for a fee. The beach area was a bit chaotic, which was not surprising since it was the Fourth of July weekend, but the kids had fun exploring the tidepools and playing in the sand. On the way back to the house we stopped by the General Store at the top of Beach Ave to pick up souvenirs and an ice cream bar for the kids and they kept letting us know, “this is the best vacation – EVER!”
In the late afternoon my hubby and I went out for a quick stroll on a trail that started at the end of the road where our rental house was (Oceana Drive). Right about when we were about to turn around, we spotted the sandbar. This is how we found Estero de San Antonio. The place draws you in, you can’t help but go explore it. We made it down to the sandbar and had the place to ourselves. It was so magical to have your own beach surrounded by cliffs and water. I didn’t want to leave, but I didn’t want my family to send out a search party for us. I didn’t have my camera with me (rookie!) so I was determined to bring the family back the next day.
It was an easy 1 mile hike to the secluded beach from the end of Oceana Drive.