Picnic at the Shore

With the Pacific Ocean less than an hour away from downtown Novato, you can enjoy the best Northern California beaches with a beautiful picnic at the shore. Whether you’re looking for laid-back crowds playing in the surf, or a quiet stroll along a solitary, driftwood strewn shore, Novato is a prime location to start your exploration. Here are my tips for enjoying the best Northern California beaches with a beautiful day out at the coast.

Karen Pavone

Karen Pavone is a Novato resident and writer, specializing in artisan food production and sustainable agriculture.

First Stop Coffee!

Rev up for a day at the beach with a morning stop at Dr. Insomniac's Coffee & Tea. Voted Best Coffee House in Marin, the Dr. will fix you up with a delicious selection of house-made "scuffins" (a cross between a scone and muffin), light breakfast fare, gourmet coffee, tea, and smoothies.

Pack a Picnic

Next, visit Italian Delite on Front Street, where you can stock your picnic basket with a delicious selection of sub sandwiches, chips, and drinks. Don't forget your beach blanket!

The Open Road

Your beach escape begins as you drive west on South Novato Boulevard past Novato’s beautiful Stafford Lake Park.

Turn left on Point Reyes-Petaluma Road and continue driving through rolling pastoral hills and protected farmland to Point Reyes Station--the gateway to West Marin where the sand meets the sea.

Waves & Wildlife at Limantour

Majestic waves greet visitors at Limantour Beach, a long narrow spit of sand in the protected Point Reyes National Seashore park.

Perfect for those seeking solitude, this remote stretch of beach is known for its bountiful wildlife. Bring your binoculars to view the many species of shorebirds and waterfowl that feed in the wetland estuary bordering this strand. If you're lucky you might spot Harbor seals basking in the sun or glimpse Gray whales migrating offshore with their calves in the spring.

Dogs are allowed on leash at the southeast end of this beach, but are not permitted in the protected wildlife habitat to the northwest.

Spectacular Stinson

Venture half an hour further south on windy Highway One to the charming seaside town of Stinson Beach where three-and-a-half miles of sand provide a popular gathering place for surfers, sun worshipers, and swimmers.

This popular North Bay destination has an adjacent fifty-one acre park that offers beach-goers more than 100 first-come first-serve picnic tables (some with BBQ grills), and a snack-shack that serves up a mean burger from April through September.

Bring friends along for a rousing game of beach volleyball on one of the public courts, or join the locals who escape here to relax or beachcomb. Downtown Stinson Beach offers several outdoor cafes and restaurants to choose from, as well as surfboard and kayak rentals.

Say Hello to Heart’s Desire

If you want to avoid ocean waves and wind, consider a day trip to the protected cove at Heart's Desire Beach in Tomales Bay State Park. Nestled on the east side of Inverness ridge amid stands of Bishop Pines, this gently sloping surf-free beach is a particular favorite among families with small children who enjoy frolicking in the calm, warmer waters of the bay.

The park has several accessible hiking trails, a large picnic area with tables, and a public restroom. Parking is limited and there is an $8 per vehicle parking fee ($7 for seniors 62+). Dogs are not permitted. Watch the sunset over the water before Novato beckons you back for dinner.


The parking lot fills quickly on busy summer weekends so plan to arrive by 11:00am to avoid being turned away.

Dinner at Boca Pizzeria

Head back to Novato and round out a perfect day with dinner at Boca Pizzeria in Pacheco Plaza. This laid-back local spot has delicious hand-stretched pizzas and a fantastic selection of beer and wine. I recommend the Creamy Mozzarella Burrata with diced tomatoes on crostini. If it’s a nice evening, be sure to grab a spot on the patio where you can dine al fresco and watch the world go by.


The plaza hosts a live summer music series each month featuring some of the Bay Area's hottest talents.

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