It's a funny thing with travel – sometimes the best experiences are right under your nose without you ever realising it. Situated 80 kilometres north, up the coast from San Francisco, my wife and I had driven past Nick's Cove many times, its alluring row of waterfront cabins never failing to pique our interest, but we never acted on it.
Then one day, we acted on it.
It's late afternoon on a crisp winter Saturday when we pull up outside the property's Restaurant and Oyster Bar. The sun is fading and there's a certain magic in the air, people drinking wine and eating oysters on the front deck, the smell of smoke winding from the cabins' chimneys, an arrow-straight pier stretching across the water towards a wooden boat shed and jetty.
Most times, when I check-in to a hotel, I can't get my room key fast enough. All I want is to throw my suitcase down and flop on the bed to unwind from the palaver it took to get there. But here, the atmosphere is such that once we have our keys, we simply opt to join the crowd, grabbing a glass of wine and meandering down the pier to watch the sun descend over Tomales Bay.
Once in our cabin though, it's hard not to be a little giddy at the prospect of a couple of nights here. A pot-bellied stove in the far corner has been prepared with firewood and kindling so all I need do is strike a match. A balcony extends directly over gently lapping waters, there's a king-sized bed, a Chesterfield sofa, dark oak furnishings and a free-standing bathtub. It's something like alpine cabin meets an admiral's mess onboard a vintage clipper ship.
There's 12 cabins at Nick's Cove, each with a distinct personality and decor. Arguably the pick of the bunch are the five waterfront properties which range in size, but the other seven across the street all have water views and can generally accommodate a larger number of people.
With night approaching, a bottle of red on the go and the fire flickering, it's tempting to never leave our new home-away-from-home, but next door's Restaurant and Oyster Bar calls.
Conjuring the nostalgic charm of an upscale hunting lodge, it's an understated set-up, with reclaimed wood furniture, a mahogany bar, fireplace and a few vaguely disconcerting game heads on the wall. We order a steak, cocktails and paella, all of which is very pleasant, a step up from regular bar fare, without being excessively frilly.
Aside from the calming, cosy atmosphere, Nick's other core strength is its location. Situated on the shores of Tomales Bay, north of Point Reyes National Seashore and south of Bodega Bay and the stunning Sonoma coast, it's a stone's throw from San Francisco but another world.
Over the weekend, we run our dog ragged on blustery Pacific beaches, cruise meandering roads past tumbledown farm sheds and drop in at nearby Hog Island Oyster Co for fresh, plump oysters shucked on site and paired with icy cans of beer.
In truth though, the beauty of Nick's Cove is the lack of a need for extensive research, planning or undue fuss. Just pack a good book, a bottle of wine, breathe the sea air and unplug from the world for a while.
Guy Wilkinson travelled at his own expense.
Qantas flies several times a week to San Francisco. Nick's Cove is a 90-minute drive north of the city. See qantas.com
Water view cottages from $US299 a night; waterfront cottages from $425 a night. See nickscove.com
Enjoy fresh oysters overlooking the waters they grow in at Hog Island Oyster Co. See hogislandoysters.com