Dillon Beach

A fresh sandwich paired with a side salad.

It’s a quiet afternoon in December, Chef Jennifer McMurry is standing in the kitchen of Dillon Beach Coastal Kitchen—a casual restaurant perched along a coastal bluff in Northern California—putting the finishing touches on an appetizer. This is her chef’s special: a plate of raw ahi tuna, sliced into chunks and placed atop a bed of mashed avocado, then decorated with dots of kewpie aioli and some sprigs of micro radish. It’s a decidedly gourmet dish given the eatery’s low-key vibe. But then again, this really isn’t your typical beach cafe. Not with McMurry at the helm. 

Since the late 1800s, vacationers have been flocking to the Dillon Beach Resort, a 55-acre coastal property with its own nearly mile-long private beach, just a 60-mile drive north of San Francisco. Despite its proximity to SF, the place feels worlds away from the complexity of city life—a cozy getaway where the biggest thing to worry about is whether or not the fog is going to disrupt your sunset views. The resort’s lodgings, restaurant, and adjacent general are mainstays in this tiny community, which looks out onto the Pacific Ocean from a bluff overlooking the beach. Over the years, the property has grown and transformed. Rather than hotel rooms, the resort now features a selection of stylish cabins and cottages, but it’s unpretentious ambiance remains. Despite having lived in the bay area for 25+ years, I only just discovered this gem of a place last September, when my boyfriend and I found ourselves happily devouring a serving of housemade chips and peach and corn salsa, followed by a peach, mozzarella, and bacon sandwich​​—the ingredients so perfectly paired that I’ve been dreaming about it since. But while it was the resort’s relaxed setting that first attracted us, it was the food that most surprised us. McMurry had pulled together the seasonal bounty of Northern California’s coastal corridor and put it on full display in this unassuming place.

Chef Jennifer McMurry.
A fresh plate of ahi tuna resting on avocado.

“But then again, this really isn’t your typical beach cafe.”


It’s no secret that the North Bay, a subregion of the San Francisco Bay Area that includes both Marin and Sonoma counties, is a hotbed of fresh food. Its rolling grasslands and Mediterranean-style climate are ideal for grazing sheep and cattle, as well as for growing produce such as tomatoes, greens, and edible flowers. Dairy farms like Clover Sonoma and Mertens Dairy, and cheesemakers such as Petaluma Creamery and Nicasio Valley Cheese Company dot the idyllic landscape, as do pesticide-free ranches that produce grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken. Miles and miles of coastline offer seas ripe with salmon, halibut, and dungeness crab, while the shallow waters of Tomales Bay are ideal for cultivating and harvesting shellfish like clams, mussels, and oysters, which thrive in the plankton-rich inlet. Then, of course, there’s the wine. 

Dillon Beach is tucked away from it all at the mouth of Tomales Bay, a narrow strip of water formed between the Highway 1 coastline and the northernmost tip of the Point Reyes Peninsula. It sits at the northernmost part of Marin County, straddling the line into Sonoma County. Most visitors arrive to the community from a series of undulating two-lane roads that vere off from Highway 101, winding among hillsides marked with cattle too many to count, or along the slower, though even-more-jaw-dropping, coastal highway.

The Dillon Beach community.
The Dillon Beach Coastal Kitchen cabins.


The restaurant itself is an open space with both a front and back dining room, and a handful of umbrellaed picnic tables out front. Its interior is bright and inviting, especially the front room, with its blue deck floor, white clapboard walls, and a series of floor-to-ceiling windows where patrons can soak in the ocean views. Crab traps that have found new life as light fixtures hang overhead, perfect decor for the influx of flip-flopped locals and lodgers, and layered-up San Franciscans that roll in and out with the coastal fog. Once inside, they pour over the restaurant’s menu, a selection of standard and seasonal choices that might include a fried chicken sandwich or fondue made with caramelized onions and cremini mushrooms, and then order at the waitstand before bellying up to a table of their choice. 

But things haven’t always been so informal. The Coastal Kitchen had been a full-service eatery before switching to “to-go only” service at the start of the pandemic. By the time McMurry came onboard in May 2021, it seemed the restaurant still hadn’t found its identity. In fact, the resort had only changed hands a limited number of times over its 130-plus year history, but its newest owners—who’d only required the property a few of years earlier—were ready to make some changes. So McMurry worked together with them to craft a menu that would both delight, and satisfy. “The dishes that were on the menu when I first arrived were very basic,” she says, “and not a lot of stuff was being made in house.” In an effort to change this, McMurry started experimenting with exciting new ways to combine local ingredients. Her idea: to still keep things relatively simple while allowing the individual ingredients to shine. She also liked the thought of switching from full-service to counter-service only, a move that would better mesh with the restaurant’s casual atmosphere “We are at the beach,” says McMurry. “Eating here should be fun.”

Chef McMurry plating food.
The coastal views from Dillon Beach Coastal Kitchen.
The interior of Dillon Beach Coastal Kitchen.


A native of nearby Santa Rosa, McMurry spent her childhood enjoying every aspect of the region’s culinary bounty. She spent summer afternoons at her grandparents’ nearby property, where her grandmother made cheeses and canned her own foods, and the couple raised meat along with their own fruits and vegetables. She then sold their goods at farmers markets. But while McMurry eventually went a different route, earning a degree in business, she was never too far from good food. Ultimately, she found herself back in the culinary world, returning to school for pastry arts. By the time she arrived at the Coastal Kitchen, McMurry already had a wealth of accolades—both sweet and savory—under her belt, including back-of-the-house experience at Wolfgang Puck’s trio of Las Vegas restaurants (Spago, Wolfgang Puck’s Bar and Grill, and Postrio), as co-owner of Santa Rosa’s The Pharmacy—a breakfast-and-lunch cafe serving up local, organic food—and even running a private supper club that had quite a dedicated following.

A bowl of seasonal winter salad.
The dining area of Dillon Beach Coastal Kitchen.
A plate of baked Alaska.


To put together her Coastal Kitchen menu, McMurry enlists the help of local food purveyors like Aloha Seafood, a seafood wholesaler and distributor that provides the rock cod for the fish and chips, and halibut, which McMurry has recently begun incorporating as an entree. She uses meat from Stemple Creek Ranch, a family owned and operated fourth-generation ranch in Tomales that specializes in grass-fed lamb, beef, and pork. She even works with area foragers. “It’s all about highlighting the region’s ingredients,” says McMurry. This also holds true for the menu’s more traditional items, like the veggie burger topped with Mt. Tam cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, a beloved artisan cheese maker based in nearby Point Reyes Station; and the seasonal beet and avocado toast made with freshly baked pain de ville from Santa Rosa’s French-style Goguette bakery. Other menu items, such as the focaccia bread that goes with McMurry’s bacon-topped clam chowder, and the bread and butter pickles served alongside her burger, are made right in the restaurant’s own kitchen.


“It’s all about highlighting the region’s ingredients.”


One of the best things about McMurry’s menu is that it balances perennial favorites (we’re looking at you, fish & chips!) with dishes you wouldn’t necessarily expect. The ahi tuna appetizer is a perfect example. Though it’s a simple dish, it’s one made with top-notch ingredients, the kind you’d expect to find in San Francisco or Wine Country, but not so much in a space where beach towels and swimsuits are the norm. Then there are the seasonal delicacies, which McMurry uses to showcase the North Bay’s incredible produce. For example, during summer months she served up a vegetable salad consisting of organic baby lettuce tossed with cherry tomatoes, green beans, and fresh corn. In winter, the salad became a hearty helping of sweet potatoes, ruby-red pomegranate seeds, and Gravenstein apples from nearby Sebastopol, where this fragile fruit varietal reigns queen.  

It wasn’t until we returned for a second visit that I had my favorite dish, McMurry’s very own Baked Alaska, a photo-worthy meringue that hid a combo of chocolate devil’s food cake and mint chip ice cream made in-house with candy canes. The two couples seated nearby were positively drooling over it when it arrived at our table, and for good reason. Every bite of that dessert was a delicious surprise, much like the restaurant itself.

The interior of Dillon Beach General Store.
A sunset over Dillon Beach.


For anyone wanting to bring the greater Bay Area’s culinary bounty home with them, the Dillon Beach General Store, adjacent to the restaurant, is a one-stop shop for regional artisan foods. You’ll find smoked spicy Italian and salt & pepper sausages from Berkeley-based Fra’ Mani Handcrafted Foods, and such cheeses as Tomales Farmstead Creamery’s Teleeka, which blends goat, sheep, and cow’s milk, as well as Valley Ford Cheese & Creamery’s Highway 1, a old-style Fontina type of cheese that’s nutty, creamy, and delectable. The shelves are stocked with fruit preserves from We Love Jam in flavors like blackberry vanilla, peach bourbon, and strawberry rose, and there’s a front-counter coffee bar whipping up steaming cups of joe from Marin-based Equator Coffees. The store even offers soft-serve ice cream straight from nearby Petaluma’s own Double 8 Dairy, not to mention plenty of regional beers and wines.