Bolinas is a special little unincorporated coastal town off the famous Hwy 1 in Northern California’s Marin County. We spent a night here after a day exploring Point Reyes National Seashore and stuffing ourselves silly with oysters at Hog Island. I heard rumors that Bolinas as a special place different from the other neighboring towns, so I had to discover for myself.
I fell in love with Bolinas pretty quick. The drive in takes you under a canopy of towering trees, past an old schoolhouse and fields of beautiful wildflowers. By the time we turned the corner onto the main street of colorful houses, I was hooked and couldn’t wait to see our hotel, the Smiley’s Saloon. Built in 1851, this saloon turned hotel is the oldest saloon in California and was an experience I couldn’t pass up! Keep reading and let me take you inside Smiley’s Saloon, a historic Bolinas hotel.
Nestled in the heart of downtown Bolinas- of you can call it downtown, this is a small community after all! – is the Smiley Saloon. There will probably be a dog (or three) hanging outside the front with their owners. The entire town seems to have a love affair with dogs, I swear every other person we encountered had a pup in tow (and I, of course, was loving it as a self-proclaimed crazy dog lady!) The bar is on the street level, but don’t worry, the 6 hotel rooms are tucked back into the hillside, covered by tropical feeling plants and away from the noise of saloon patrons.
Fun fact: the locals are notorious for trying to keep their town hidden by doing things like rip down any street signs directing tourists to Bolinas CA. They worry everyone will discover how amazing this little town and move here!
There are many Bolinas hotels and the saloon is the best in my opinion. (There are 3 Bolinas hotels if I counted correctly. The Grand Hotel Bolinas, a B&B above eleven, and Smileys. There is also the Sandpiper Lodging in Stinson Beach about 20 minutes down the road. And that’s it!) Not only does Smiley’s Salon boast a fantastic history, but the rooms are big and clean and the saloon is one of the highlights of the town itself. Plus, you can’t beat the location! Everything you may need or want to see is within a couple of minutes walk from the hotel.
We stayed in Room 1, which had two beds, a couple of windows letting in natural light, a small but comfortable bathroom and a few chairs. It was big enough for myself, Robin (my husband) and his parents who joined us on this trip. All the rooms are tucked back behind the saloon facing a courtyard full of lush plants. It feels a bit like you walked into Hawaii, which added to the magic of this hotel saloon!
My only complaint was they the door to our bathroom was a smidge too big and you had to throw your weight into the door to close it. My mother-in-law said she also heard people through the walls talking that night (but I used the earplugs the hotel provided and couldn’t hear anything.)
Guests check-in at the saloon bar. It may be busy during happy hour, but the bartenders will happily help check you in and will still probably be able to show you up to your rooms unless they are totally slammed (the saloon is a favorite among the locals!) Every guest gets a free Smiley’s Buck, which is good for one drink. We loved this perk!
Full Smiley Saloon Ammenties
- Wifi (weak in rooms, FYI)
- Towels, bed sheets, soap, and toilet paper
- Hot water
- Free parking on premises
- Free street parking
- Space where guests can cook their own meals
- Bed and bath
- Hair dryer
- Fire extinguisher
- Carbon monoxide detector
- Smoke detector
- First aid kit
- One Smiley’s Buck per guest
Read more hotel reviews on their Airbnb page here!
Read more about the history of Smiley’s Saloon here!
Top Things To Do In Bolinas
Smiley’s Saloon: Obviously, the saloon is a destination point of interest in itself! They have live music on the weekends and even if there isn’t music playing, you simply must grab a drink in the historic saloon room.
Bolinas Beach: Bolinas Beach is about a 5-minute walk from Smiley’s Saloon. It doesn’t matter if you go right or left from the saloon’s front door – each way will eventually lead you to the beach! For me, the beach was one of my favorite things in this town. It’s full of unique, wacky things like a teepee made of Seawood, shells hanging from strings and stacked rocks. From Bolinas Beach, you can see the western side of San Francisco! On a clear day, that is (Karl the Fog is famous for covering the city in a blanket of white.)
Coast Cafe: Right across the street from Smiley’s Saloon is the Coast Cafe, which is the best restaurant in town. On Thursday and Sunday nights, come for dinner and live music. The menu is full of California coastal cuisine – everything from vegan soup to crab enchiladas (I recommend the later.) it’s cash only. Smiley’s doesn’t serve breakfast, but in the morning, you can pop over to the Coast Cafe’s side hut which sells coffee and pastries.
eleven: Another place to eat is eleven, a restaurant open Thursday-Mondays that serves locally sourced food. They also have a guest house above it!
Artisan Galleries: Bolinas is full of a handful of great galleries and artisan shops! Set aside an hour to explore this small town, stop in shops and soak in all the charm!
After we checked in, we walked around Bolinas for about an hour and visited the beach. Once it started getting dark out, we grabbed a happy hour drink at the Saloon and then dinner (with live music!) at the Coast Cafe. After dinner, Robin’s parents read in their room while us kids went back down to the saloon to use up the rest of the Smiley’s bucks we received. They have a great tap list here!
In the morning, we made coffee in the little kitchen available to hotel guests and grabbed the best blueberry muffin of my life at Coast Cafe’s hut. We then explored the city more by daylight before checking out and heading to Muir Woods for a hike!
On your way back into San Francisco, stop by another little town for lunch! We love the chill vibes of Mill Valley, the restaurant Sol Food in San Rafael or even the Western Corte Madera makes for a nice pit-stop before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge! Or, go for a hike at Muir Woods like we did!
The Smiley’s Schooner Saloon & Hotel in Bolinas made for the best Bolinas lodging in my opinion. It was historic, clean, charming and in the perfect location. I would happily stay here again! Book your stay at the Bolinas Airbnb here.