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California || Vic at the Grand Hotel

"They said the beach was rocky, the surf was lousy, and that I lived in a shed in the backyard."

This is Vic Amoroso, longtime resident of Bolinas, Ca., on the subject of a New York Times article that reviewed his establishment on Brighton Avenue.

The building sits back from the street, obscured by overgrown rose bushes and a motley collection of junkshop paraphernalia on the lawn. It definitely gives off a "keep moving" vibe...except there's that giant marquee on the roof.

The sign was really only there because Vic and his wife liked it--they weren't intending to open a hotel. Bolinas in general doesn't encourage tourism. Residents used to pull down signposts from State Highway 1 until the state finally quit putting them up.

They also would prefer that nobody else move there. In 1971, the town council placed a moratorium on new water permits, and followed it up with another moratorium on new sewer connections. This has proved satisfactorily vexing to millionaires who would like very much to block the roadside views of the ocean with their dreamhouses.

Those who do manage to obtain building permits are best advised to make a peace offering to the town, like  a certain Silicon Valley mogul recently did by donating funds to build what is now Bolinas Community Park. He made the donation anonymously but everyone in town knows who he is. (For the life of me, I can't remember--sorry.)

His deed is recounted in a tone of begrudging respect, as much for the money he donated as for the preservation of the park's history. Formerly the site of a restaurant burned down by the psychotic owner, it became a gathering place for drinkers and burnouts. People still persist in calling it "Burnt Park," though now the name could also refer to the cob oven newly erected there.



A photo posted by jack_colton (@jack_colton) on

People here don't want other people to move here. I mean, this town is the only civilization between the San Andreas Fault and the sea--how much clearer can they make it? You even need a password to read the local newspaper.

(Update: they've made back issues available to read. Which you should, if only for the police blotter notes sandwiched between the "articles" and "ads.")

But those who do live here look after each other with fierce loyalty. Between the co-op grocery and the community center, you'll find a Free Box overflowing with stuff people drop off for the use of their neighbors. Their only gas pump is a nonprofit supporting affordable housing. The only bookstore in town operates on an honor basis (take what you want, leave what you think is fair). The only bar in town maintains the most egalitarian seating policy I've ever seen.


Back in 1951, the Ford Times identified Bolinas as the first in its series of "Tom Sawyer Towns...a good place for boys and girls to live and grow...its school days, its summer vacations, its vast adventures in fishing, swimming, baseball, basking and dreaming in the sun. Such a place is Bolinas."

They clearly didn't consult Vic, who said this to the NYT the first time they came pestering him:

"There's no reason to come to Bolinas. The beaches are dirty, the Fire Department is terrible, the natives are hostile and have a tendency towards cannibalism."

You might think all this a good reason for Vic take the hotel sign down. Then again, that might be just what the terrorists tourists want. Instead, Vic operates his hotel according to classic Bolinas ethos: he makes people work for it. To those who arrive and ask nicely, he makes rooms available; to those who call ahead, he says they're booked up.

As for Vic, he's totally happy with the shade cast on him and his establishment by the NYT.

"In Bolinas we have an ethos about publicity; avoid it wherever possible, but if you do get publicity, make sure it's bad." 


You know what, forget everything I wrote up here. Bolinas is a shit place to visit. The beaches are rocky, the surf is lousy, and the only hotel in town is already booked up.

bolinas, California, the connoisseurs, travel, marin county, bay area

It's actually totally worth reading the NYT article. Just for comparison, here's another (less snotty) review