This post was contributed by Lisa Crovo Dion
Every time I visit Bolinas, Ca, I make it a point to stop at Smiley’s Saloon & Hotel in the middle of town. Smiley’s, established in 1851, boasts that it’s the oldest saloon in California and that they have served booze straight through Prohibition. They also a hotel, so I decided to check that out on a recent visit.
I keep going back to Smiley’s Saloon for the atmosphere — scruffy, Old West, and populated with sometimes dodgy, hard-drinking characters who play pool and dice games. There is usually a mutt or two on the front porch. Smiley’s hosts music many nights of the week running the gamut from blues, rock, and country to funk, jazz, and hip hop. It’s also one of the main meeting places in this small, quirky town.
I knew Smiley’s had a hotel that I figured was above the bar and would look like a set from a Deadwood episode. But when I asked the bartender, he showed me to a strip of cute bungalows behind the bar in a lush overgrown garden that reminded me of the Filbert steps in San Francisco. It was quiet and quite serene back there — a very different ambiance than the saloon.
The rooms are small and spartan but comfortable — no phones or television, but free (albeit spotty) WiFi. The rates vary by size and day of the week:
Friday, Saturday & Holidays: $175 – $225
Sunday & Thursday nights: $155 – $200
Mid-Week Mon, Tues, Wed Specials: $135 – $175
Bolinas is known for many things — surfers, hippies, artists, sailors, drunks, poets and writers, the Jefferson Airplane beach house, the place where writer Richard Brautigan‘s (Trout Fishing in America) committed suicide, and dogs. Lots of dogs. Everywhere.
As a deterrent to tourists, the local residents maintain a tradition of removing the sign that indicates the turnoff to their seaside hamlet. In the 30 years I’ve been visiting, I’ve never seen a sign.
The locals may try to keep it a secret, but Bolinas is a Northern California experience worth having. If you can find that is.
Smiley’s Saloon & Hotel
41 Wharf Road., Bolinas, CA
Photo credit: Lisa Dion