Sometimes city-weary people don't want to drive very far before their escape begins, and sometimes they simply can't be away for long. Spending Sunday night away and taking a vacation day on Monday permits not only a less-expensive escape, due to the usual drop of minimum-night requirements or room rates during the week, but a less-crowded one because everyone else is at work.
Voila. The Mountain Home Inn.
Built atop Mount Tamalpais in West Marin in 1912 by a Swiss-German couple homesick for the Alps, the inn was then accessible only by train. It has become a literary landmark in that long ago Jack London was a frequent overnight guest, and also a literal landmark now in that it is on maps as a trail head for the area.
Rebuilt in the original footprint in 1985, the current building features multi-angled rooms, stained-glass windows, and entire redwood tree trunks as support beams. A self-contained evening here requires no driving. Guests have only to walk upstairs from their room to enjoy a romantic three-course dinner in what is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Marin County.
On our visit, my companion and I arrived for the 3 p.m. check-in to take advantage of relaxing on our room's deck and enjoying the view over treetops to Richardson Bay. (The view had been painted on top of the dresser by a local artist.) Soft sounds emanated from the upstairs dining deck as we spotted the occasional hawk gliding by. In cooler weather, guests can warm up by the communal room's fireplace or book a deluxe guest room with a wood-burning fireplace.
It's a good idea to make dinner and room reservation at the same time. Other dining options aren't convenient, and you'll want to take advantage of that easy commute up the stairs to the dining room.
On most evenings, even in the summer, the fireplace in the cozy, romantic dining room crackles in the background. The three-course menu highlights tasty fare using local products options and might include an appetizer of chilled white corn and vine-ripened tomato soup; main courses of grain-fed top sirloin with German butterball potatoes, or a crisp confit of Bolinas-raised rabbit leg with toasted faro; and a chocolate ganache cake or blueberry tart for dessert. And since no driving is required, you can easily finish off a nice bottle of wine.
Rooms here have no TVs. To ensure enjoying the delicious nighttime sounds of silence and the soft morning sounds of chirping chickadees--and sometimes the more insistent alarm of squawking jays--leave iPods at home and turn off cell phones. There's no need to set an alarm, especially in east-facing rooms, which light up particularly bright as the sun rises. Tub soakers will enjoy the satisfyingly vigorous water pressure and can opt for a room with a large oval tub with a louver-covered opening looking through the bedroom to the view.
On fair days, the full breakfast is best taken on the expansive deck, but in winter all but the hardiest (and the English, according to a French friend) opt for indoors. After a breakfast of, say, Bolinas farm eggs with crispy bacon or a vegetable omelet and a cuppa Peet's, a delicious sense of playing hooky envelopes those who find themselves here on a weekday morning.
Options to fill the day:
●Hike the popular, mostly shady and flat, Matt Davis Trail, where yellow finches and lizards abound. Going all the way to the West Point Inn and its spectacular panoramic view takes about three hours round-trip.
●Mountain bike one of the mountain's trails. (Mt. Tam is credited as the "birthplace of mountain biking.")
●Drive the windy road down to Muir Woods National Monument, which is particularly uncrowded and quiet on a weekday morning. Easy walking trails and more rigorous hiking trails are also found here.
●Stop at picturesque Muir Beach for a walk, or a nap, in the sand. If you take a pre-hike, I recommend not removing your boots until you arrive. Then have your companion remove them and follow that with a massage.
●On a rainy day, head to The Pelican Inn--a sister inn in Muir Beach--for a pint and lunch in the English pub atmosphere.
Note that upon request, the Mountain Home Inn chef will pack up a picnic lunch.
Before starting home, stop for an early dinner in a comfy bar booth at the Buckeye Roadhouse. Situated in an updated 1937 Bavarian-style chalet, this restaurant serves generous portions of all-American food at reasonable prices. Particularly tasty items include a well-seasoned coleslaw, a tangy pulled-pork sandwich, barbecue baby back ribs, spit-roasted chicken, crisp housemade potato chips, and thin onion rings. The perfect conclusion is a yummy slice of s'mores pie made with toasted housemade marshmallow.
Carole Terwilliger Meyers blogs at Travels With Carole.
copyright 2013 Carole Terwilliger Meyers