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Sailing is one of the activities in Inverness

Inverness: A coastal retreat in West Marin

Brian Hilden and his wife have fond memories of their time spent in Inverness, Calif. Before they moved up to Ashland from the Bay Area, the Hildens only visited this tiny town in West Marin a handful of times. But the place made such a lasting impression on them that they have a hankering to go back.

&

I love its out-of-the-wayness,&

says Brian Hilden, &

and the beautiful natural geography. There&

s such a dramatic land&

s end feel to that whole area.&

About a six hour drive from Ashland, the Hildens&

favorite place in Inverness is Manka&

s Lodge (www.mankas.com; tel.: 415-669-1034), which has 14 accommodations scattered throughout town, including a restored 19th century boathouse on Tomales Bay. Once a rustic inexpensive place to stay, Manka&

s now has rooms that range from $265-$565 and recently counted Prince Charles among its guests.

&

We like to linger as long as possible at Manka&

s,&

says Hilden. &

It&

s home to the finest ambiance I&

ve ever experienced. The fireplace draws you like a moth and the walls have the smell of 10,000 wood fires.&

The main lodge, just outside of the village of Inverness, houses an intimate upscale restaurant that serves fresh, local California cuisine Thursdays through Sundays (but will be closed January 2nd &

150; February 14th, 2006). Those who have tried by the lodge&

s owner and chef Margaret Grade&

s cooking (the menu changes daily but this Saturday it was Rabbit sausage with wild Inverness chanterelles, soup of Tomales Bay mussels laced with wild kelp and fennel, a medley of crimson Bolinas beets with red endive and Satsuma tangerine, wood-roasted local crab, a clearing ice of lime, grilled lamb, a cheese course from Andante Dairy, followed by a deep dark chocolate cake with homemade tangerine ice cream) say the price is worth it: $58 per person except Saturdays, which, according to Lodge Keeper Polly Seddon is &

the most indulgent day of the week,&

and costs $88.

— — —

Above: seven-year-old Andy Noble of Anchorage, — Alaska, picks up a dead jellyfish at Shell Beach while visiting his grandfather — in Inverness.

The some one million visitors that flock to the National Seashore each year, however, don&

t come only for the food. Andrew Noble, sailing on Tomales Bay with his son and two grandchildren, lives in Ross, Calif. and has owned a weekend house in Inverness since 1967 but often comes for months at a time. Soaked and smiling Noble says the magic of sailing is something that can&

t be explained in words, &

you have to do it to find out.&

His son Eric, a pediatrician in Anchorage, Alaska, has been going out on his father&

s boat since he was a boy. &

I like sailing on the Bay, and all the birds that are out here,&

says Eric Noble. He&

s spied black-bellied clovers, willets, godwits, and black-necked stilts.

As a kid Eric Noble&

s favorite pastime was to walk up the creeks and look for Indian arrowheads.

Noble also recommends beach combing at Ten Mile Beach, whale watching, hiking up Mount Wittenberg, and going abalone fishing.

The hiking around Inverness is great, agrees 62-year-old Jeffrey Kessel. &

You can go out to the lighthouse,&

says Kessel, who lives in Oakland and has a house walking distance to Shell Beach. &

If it&

s the right time of year you can actually see whales.&

The quaint town of Point Reyes Station, just five miles from Inverness, is one of the Kessel&

s favorite destinations. He recommends trying the cornmeal scones at the Bovine Bakery (tel.: 415-663-9420) and looking for cows downtown. &

The ranches are right there,&

says Kessel. &

You can smell the cows while you&

re sitting out at the Bovine.&

According to Kessel, one downside to the area is the negative feelings between the weekenders and the people who live in West Marin year round. The tourists are great for local businesses but, says Kessel, during peak season things get really overcrowded and local patience runs thin.

— — Below: Tomales Bay in Inverness. In the summer, — kids like to swim out from Shell Beach and jump off the dock. In November, — sailing is the activity of choice.

Still, whether you live there or just go to visit, everyone agrees there is something unique about Inverness. &

There&

s a big sense of place here,&

says Kessel. &

It&

s a special place.&