Into The Storm Part 2: Martinez and Point Reyes

Home Base: Martinez, California

After a wet night in Fresno, we make our way up Highway 99, cut over to Hollister to visit Casa de Fruta, then Highway 101, which turns into 680, which brings us to our destination: the cozy little town of Martinez, California.

This will serve as our home base for the Bay Area and all things Andy’s Family.

Once we are settled in, our hosts are eager to share their town with us. And it’s easy to see why! Martinez is located in the East Bay on the south shore of the Carquinez Strait. Dating back to the early 1800’s, Martinez played a big role in the Gold Rush, serving as a sort of gateway to San Francisco. It’s a cute little town filled with historic buildings, parks, nice shops and restaurants.

We tour town from the back of our hosts’ car, them pointing out the sites and highlights of Martinez as we head out for dinner. Downtown Martinez is near the harbor, and the same storm that trapped us in Fresno the night before caused quite a bit of flooding here. The water has receded, but there are still sandbags protecting some businesses.

Many of the restaurants are closed this evening, including our hosts’ favorite (which we got to visit later.)

Fun Martinez Facts

  • Naturalist John Muir lived in Martinez from 1890 until his death in 1914
  • The martini cocktail was named for Martinez
  • Home to two oil refineries (Shell Oil and Marathon Petroleum), though neither is among the city’s Top 10 employers
  • County Seat of Contra Costa County

Far East in the Far West

However, we find a place called Lemongrass Bistro open, and they can seat us right away. They serve cuisine from Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia. Our server is named Scarlet, and she’s fun and plenty attentive to make sure all our needs are met.

My Panang Curry at Lemongrass Bistro was very tasty!
It’s January, but with all the rain, Martinez keeps the festive mood going!

I see Panang Curry on the menu, and I get excited! It’s a red curry dish with with lots of veggies, chicken, and a side of rice. We also get a cucumber salad. Andy’s choice is a tasty, spicy beef salad. Our hosts order up summer rolls to share.

The food was great and delivered fast (and with a laugh). This restaurant gets a thumbs up!

Downtown Martinez has a lovely historic shopping and dining district on the main street. Art and history meet in a mix of murals, fun shops, architectural treasures, and even a food hall with oyster bar! Martinez seems to be a magnet for nice restaurants.

Martinez Gastronomy

Shopping is on the docket for what we hope will be future visits. But I want to highlight two more wonderful places we ate.

Our hosts brought us to one of their favorites just walking distance from their home, Vic’s Martinez. This family-owned-and-run casual bistro has a lovely outdoor patio with five fire pits and heaters. We’re outdoors, but very cozy on this wet January evening!

We all share an appetizer of Mascarpone Toast, drizzled with honey and topped with walnuts. These are so good! The bruschetta is nice and thick, and the mascarpone is decadent. I will be making this at home for sure. It would make a great dessert, brunch, or fika.

My entre is Pasta Puntanesca. I am excited to see it on the menu. It was a favorite thing to order when I lived in the Bay Area in the ’90s, and one of the first things I learned to cook. Our server says it’s an underrated dish. I’m inspired to give this linguine dish a revival in my own kitchen. I forgot how good it is! Their presentation is very up-to-date, keeping the black olives as garnish rather than chopping them up.

My wine choice is a Paso Robles Bordeaux called Rabble. I could not pass up a name like that. It works very well with both my pasta and bruschetta.

Andy orders Honey Fried Chicken with smashed potatoes and braised kale. Seems like enough chicken to feed a small family! And so very tasty, with a perfectly-breaded crust on the juicy chicken.

Greek to Me

Another notable restaurant in downtown Martinez is Troy Greek Cuisine. Andy is not crazy about Greek food, but Troy was a different level of flavor. The staff is so friendly, it almost feels like being invited into their home! They have a great vibe, and WOW food.

Andy loves his Lamb Souvlaki Wrap. My Seared Ahi is served with flaky rice, grilled veggies, and the pita is delicious. The ahi is a very generous portion. Naturally, we start with a Meza Platter with hummus, feta, stuffed grape leaves, all the good stuff.

Guided Tour

Our hosts take us all over town to give us a nice immersion into Martinez. We get a walking tour of historic buildings and homes, peek into a few shops, the train station and waterfront.

We walk down to Granger’s Wharf Wetland Park. However there is a sign saying “No Dogs Allowed!” This is especially disturbing to Farnsworth as he watches a CAT enjoying his morning walk through the the park. No worries, Farnsworth. There are plenty of places you can walk.

When our feet get tired, we all take a drive up in the hills on the Carquinez Scenic Drive. This winding road overlooking the strait wanders the grassy hillside dotted with huge trees, home to plenty of wild life. We notice potential trails to hike on future, less-stormy visits.

Summing Up Martinez

Our overall impression is that Martinez is cozy, very friendly, and easy to get around. There is lots of art (including murals) and history, and they seem to be keeping up the holiday spirit right into January! Could be because all the storms are making it hard to undecorate, but we appreciate it nonetheless. The town has deep historic roots in the foundation of the greater Bay Area, and is a destination in itself.

We are perfectly located to enjoy all things family, including a very special visit to Andy’s boyhood home, Sunday church services, and day trips!

Risky Point Reyes

Our first excursion is Point Reyes. I left all the planning up to Andy and his cousin on this vacation. Andy’s goal was for me to have as many culinary experiences as possible. Having already checked off Casa de Fruta, we are now off to the land of cheese and oysters!

We totally planned to hit Point Reyes on our Relocation Road Trip, but sadly it got missed. I’m so glad we waited! Even with all the rain, maybe especially because of the rain, this is the perfect time to visit. Whether you are looking for a foodie experience, outdoor adventure, or both (like us), Point Reyes has you covered.

Heading west on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

Our day of exploring starts out raining quite hard, but lightens up as we head over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. I freak out on bridges. (you should have seen me when I lived in Portland!) Feeling pretty chill now, though. I’ve got this. No screaming. Not bad!

Getting off the bridge, the highway we need is blocked. Oh, and there’s that car we saw on social media this morning… submerged!

We Google another route. A long, scenic, winding country road. The rain is now gone.

Happy California Cows

Our first stop is a major destination for me: Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. The dairy is nestled high in beautiful green rolling hills dotted with munching Happy California Cows as far as the eye can see, overlooking the very south end of Tomales Bay.

Our happy bovine buddies are very interested in Farnsworth! Perhaps they’re bonding over the fact that Farnsworth loves eating grass too.

Because of all the storms, the creamery is short-staffed. But they allow us to roam the grounds and photograph the showroom. Views from the creamery are stunning, with a view of Tomales Bay. As you drive through, keep your eyes open for curious grazing cows. The road winds right though their pasture.

Cheese Cheese Cheese

No worries about the showroom being closed. A quick drive into nearby Point Reyes Station provides all the cheese our hearts desire. This tiny town feels about two blocks long, but has so much to offer.

We stop at the Palace Market for a gourmet cheese rampage! Point Reyes Blue, Point Reyes Blue Truffle, Humboldt Fog, Cow Girl Creamery Mt. Tam… we lose control! They also have a wonderful chocolate section, and of course deli meats. We grab some of that too, as well as some treasures for our hosts. The meat and seafood counter is likewise impressive.

We are looking to lunch on some local oysters. Our checker sends us to the Station House Café, just a short walk down the street.


Our server, Temby, get us hooked up right away with a dozen fresh-out-of-the-water Tomales Bay oysters. The oysters on Point Reyes are legendary, and we can testify that it’s all true!

These oysters are fresh, clean, sweet, and firm in texture. I am sure all this rain has added to their goodness. These are the best oysters we’ve had since our days on the Oregon coast. We’re definitely reaping the benefit of ocean-to-table going on here!

My wine choice is a Honig Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc from Napa, which pairs very nicely with the oysters. Andy is sipping a nice, oaky Chardonnay. I sneak a sip and it brings back memories of my early wine days in the Bay Area. Napa and Sonoma Chardonnays have a distinctive taste. (Stay tuned for our visit to Migration Winery in Napa.)

We need a little more than oysters to fill us up. I get an avocado toast with smoked salmon and poached egg, served with a pea shoot salad. I discovered the joys of pea shoots on our trip to Stockholm. (This reminds me, I need to grow some when we get home.)

Andy is doing a tasty Cubano sandwich with yummy house-made potato chips.

We take a little stroll around the town before we head deep into nature.

Getting to the Point

With our bellies full and our trunk loaded up with cheese, it’s time to explore all the majestic sights Point Reyes has to offer. We point the car towards Tomales Bay and Point Reyes Headlands.

The first road, Sir Thomas Drake, is under water. Many other sights like the light house and dog friendly Limantour Beach are closed too. Lots of trees down as well, but we’re going to push it to see how far we can go.

We turn on the park radio station to get the latest updates, and learn that Point Reyes is the only National Seashore on the West Coast. It received that designation in 1962. And, just like the Oregon Coast, deadly “sneaker waves” can happen at high tide.

We wind our way through the little town of Inverness. Keep an eye out for coyotes, because apparently they will walk right up to your car! After Inverness comes wilderness.

We pass rolling green pastures filled with Tule Elk and grazing happy California Cows, the roaring ocean crashing on the cliffs just beyond. Tule Elk are are smaller and lighter in color than elk of the Pacific Northwest, and are only found in California.

Warning: watch the road! Those cows are so happy they don’t always stay in their own lane. We encounter quite a few cows outside the fence.

Beef on the lam!

Many of the roads in the area may be blocked, but we make it all the way to the Headlands and Chimney Rock Trailhead.

We stop at the Headlands and get out of the car to take in the views of crashing waves beating the rugged coast below us.

We’re treated to a herd of deer trotting by. Farnsworth samples the grass, paying the deer no mind, but we are thrilled!

Chimney Rock Trailhead is the end of the line for us. Well, it would be for anyone who didn’t feel like swimming!

Chimney Rock Trailhead

From here, we have a distant view of noisy sea lions taking a break from the stormy seas across Drake Bay.

Dusky Luck

The highlight of our day comes as the sun begins to set. The conditions are perfect for a jaw-dropping sunset over the Headlands as elk casually graze in the shot.

This has been an amazing day! As the darkness returns, so does the rain. Navigating these narrow roads with windshield wipers on steady is a bit scary.

But our adventure today reminds me of our early dating days: exploring the Oregon coast, getting back late at night, and sharing a glass of wine while we look over the day’s photos.