Feature: Olema, Olema

I’m proud to be a post-post-hippie who drives through Olema pretty often

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Maggie Wolfe, owner of Olema’s new Sea to See shop, sells work by artists from around the Bay Area. Photo by tom Gogola.

There’s a pennant on the back wall at the newly opened Sea to See retail space in unincorporated Olema with a one-word message: Hustle.

Yup. That’s just what shop owner and West Marin resident Maggie Wolfe plans to do to find success in this tiny town at the crossroads of Highway One and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

Wolfe had been open for all of five days when the Pacific Sun stopped in on a recent afternoon for a greeting and to check out the wares, which come from various makers, crafters and artisans from around the Bay Area. In that sense the idea here is similar to that which animated the previous business here, known only as The Shop: Showcase really cool stuff that’s made locally.  

There’s stuff for kids and adults, and if my nieces and nephews hadn’t all gone and grown up while I wasn’t looking, those soft-ball-shooting slingshots would’ve been in everyone’s stocking this year.

Olema’s a funny little place that’s sort of neither here nor there and yet everywhere all at once. I recently went on a late-night adventure, fueled by curiosity and the local cannabis, which took me to Olema and back.

It was an online adventure, and an epic one. Embarkation point: YouTube. I was listening to some old Youngbloods tunes (and who doesn’t love the Youngbloods?), when the obscure track “Hippie From Olema” popped up in the playlist. A kind of corn-pone country classic issued from the computer speakers. It sounded familiar, for a reason.

What? What is this?!!?  

Well I’m proud to be a hippie from Olema

Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights

We still take in strangers if they’re ragged

We can’t think of anyone to hate.  

Despite its many charms and attractions, Olema’s “downtown” is a place to drive through when you’re going somewhere else, usually, and it goes by in a blur. The town is roughly framed to the north by the Olema campground, and to the south by the Hindu Vedanta Society of Northern California retreat center, a gem of a place for seekers of spiritual guidance, marked only by a simple roadside sign.  

Unfortunately, despite the Youngbloods’ lyric that says otherwise, they don’t necessarily take in strangers if they are ragged these days in Olema. San Francisco glampers with a pocketful of ayahuasca and a jones for the local oysters—no problem.

There are a few pricey inns and bed-and-breakfast options to choose between out here. The campground is on the upscale end of the spectrum, and one of the great draws of the place generally is its proximity to the Point Reyes National Seashore Bear Valley Visitor Center.

As a crossroads town, Olema is also an attractive option for anyone who is seeking to sell their soul to the devil in exchange for rock ’n’ roll infamy …  

C’mon people, smile at your brother …

We all know that Youngbloods tune. The big hit, written by Dino Valenti.

Another draw: For seekers of a ride to San Rafael or parts north, Olema jumps out as sort of a reliable spot for hitchhikers with a thumb out. It’s also where the Sir and Star restaurant is located, with its pleasantly non-punitive price point for menu items that include the roasting of your neighbor’s quail and eating it. If there’s a destination-location in Olema, it’s the Sir and Star.

The West Marin outpost of the nonprofit Marin Convention and Visitors Bureau is located in the same strip of old buildings that houses Sea to See, and Jude Vasconcellos behind the desk admits that hers is without question the coolest job in West Marin.

Vasconcellos, a Marshall resident and bronze-art sculptor, has worked here for years and the first thing visitors to the visitor’s center encounter are Mardi Gras-type love-beads in the opening to the door. Then there’s a big fake horse in the center, which is loaded down with all sorts of printed material for tourists. The visitor’s center is a destination in itself—a vast space with free Wi-Fi and tons of room to get cozy and kick back and appreciate the Olema ethic as described by the Youngbloods:

We don’t throw our beer cans on the highway

We don’t slight a man because he’s black

We don’t spill our oil out in the ocean

’Cause we love birds and fish too much for that  

Things do happen, in Olema, population 74, and according to Wikipedia, the town takes its name from a Miwok word,  Olema-loke, which means “little coyote.” There are coyotes here, and the delightful Olema Creek meanders about. And every so often a Marin County Sheriff’s deputy will perch his cruiser in a little nook at the intersection and nab speeders and blowers of the stop sign. People walk their horses down Highway One sometimes. Last year, a tree fell and I had to sleep in my car for a few hours since I couldn’t drive any further south than Olema. Good times.

I feel for Olema the way I’m always pulling for the underdog, the also-ran, the person who’s been kicked around in life. Don’t trash on Olema! And so I’ve been having this rolling anthromorphic moment of empathy for this sleepy village in competition with a bunch of funky downtowns and lots of walkability for tourists, shoppers and diners with a burning hole in their pockets and a holiday to-buy list: Stinson Beach, Bolinas, Point Reyes Station and even the diminutively vibrant Marshall are themselves destination spots—but who goes to Olema just for the heck of it?

Oh, let’s go to Olema just for the heck of it!

After all, it’s not like anyone ever wrote a song that you’ve actually heard or can find on YouTube, about Stinson Beach or Bolinas or Point Reyes Station.

But there is a song about Olema, written and recorded in 1967 by the Youngbloods. The song feels familiar because it was written as a response to the Merle Haggard hit, “Okie From Muskogee,” the anti-hippie country classic wherein certain residents of Oklahoma don’t smoke marijuana, have orgies or grow their hair long. In response, the Youngbloods sang:  

We don’t watch commercials in Olema

We don’t buy the plastic crap they sell

We still wear our hair long like folks used to

And we bathe often, therefore we don’t smell

Wolfe, who does not appear to carry any plastic crap in her store (and who has long hair and a pleasant aroma about her), says she’ll be keeping hours at Sea to See, Wednesday through Sunday 11am to 7pm, and just in time for the holiday season with its mad rushes to consume or be consumed.  

We’re in the thick of it now, the spending season, the season of high cheer and holiday hoo-ha and it’s a kind of make-or-break time for local artists and craftspeople who rely on stores such as Sea to See to feature their wares in a retail setting which would otherwise be out of the range of affordability.  

The hustle is on and the local artisans are trying to make bank over the next couple of weeks so they too can have a happy holiday. And ho-ho-ho, there are big craft fairs busting out all over between now and Christmas. A couple of weekends ago saw the Point Reyes event, and this weekend was Bolinas’ turn; the annual Bolinas Winter Faire at the Bolinas Community Center (where I am, full disclosure, an occasional part-time employee), featured all sorts of local makers and bakers deploying their home-grown goodies.  

I asked a few vendors and strollers-through over the weekend fair to share their thoughts about Olema and mostly folks just shrugged or told me that there used to be a DJ on KWMR who used the Youngbloods tune as his intro song. Nice town, was the general consensus. Not too much going on there, but good luck to anyone who wants to give it a go.

And I’m proud to be a hippie from Olema

Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights

We still take in strangers if they’re Haggard

In Olema, California, planet earth

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