It wasn’t the somewhat salacious history of The Lodge at Marconi that drew me to the new hotel on the shore of Tomales Bay.
I hadn’t heard any of it—not about Marconi’s essential role in the development of radio transmissions in the 1910s, not about the drug rehab facility that moved in in the ‘60s, not about the cult that evolved out of the rehab’s dubious psychological treatments in the ‘70s.
I had no idea that the recent renovation of The Lodge at Marconi on Tomales Bay, one of Northern California’s most magical places, was just the most recent chapter in a century of stories.
It’s dark and drizzly when I turn onto the inky road that weaves through the lodge’s 62 acres. I pass the once-luxurious hotel that radio inventor Guglielmo Marconi built for staff and visitors of his trans-Pacific radio receiving station more than 100 years ago without even noticing the vacant stare of its empty window eyes. The night is like a shroud over everything that falls outside the beam of my headlights.
The view of Tomales Bay from The Lodge at Marconi.(Courtesy of Lodge at Marconi)
It’s a little unsettling, this secluded hillside unpolluted by light, but the lodge's reception is an antidote to the darkness, warm and welcoming, with sunny colors in muted shades and a funky ‘70s vibe courtesy of Brooklyn designers Home Studios. In the great room, woven tapestries hang and stacks of windows wrap around a large tiled fireplace. Built-in couches line marigold walls in the lounge, accented by wood paneling and a giant game of Connect 4.
“I almost gave you the room that has tiles made by cult members in the shower,” the woman behind the desk says nonchalantly before leading me out the door to my room. “I’m sorry, what?! Made by cult members?” I laugh, following close at her heels. She doesn’t answer.
We pass through a courtyard, a large communal fire pit at its center, and head up the stairs of one of four forest-green buildings, each a swooping, angular construction in the sustainably minded Sea Ranch style that became popular along this stretch of Highway 1 in the mid-century.
She opens the door onto a comfortably dressed room with a touch of vintage coastal flair: graphic prints, framed black-and-white photos, retro details like pseudo-rotary phones. But I can’t stop mulling over that cult comment. Once I’m settled in, I pull out my phone and search “Marconi Tomales Bay cult,” thinking that maybe the original buildings had purchased their decor from a nearby commune—the area certainly had a few of them back in the ‘70s.
A guest room at The Lodge at Marconi.(Steven J. Magner)
But I’m way off base. It wasn’t some art-producing hippie collective that had its fingers in the grout of Marconi’s mid-century bathrooms; it was the followers of something far more sinister. Beginning in the 1960s, the property had been a base of operations for Synanon, a drug rehabilitation program that morphed into a cult based on “attack therapy,” a supposedly “therapeutic” practice that subjected members to hours or days on end of critical verbal haranguing.
Followers were forced to shave their heads, undergo vasectomies, terminate pregnancies, and engage in violence. That tiled shower? That belonged to leader Charles Dederich Sr., who lived among his flock in what is now one of the lodge’s main buildings. When Synanon went bankrupt in the early ‘80s due to the $17 million the cult owed after its tax exempt status was revoked, the property was handed over to the state, eventually becoming the Marconi Historic State Park. Now it’s in the capable hands of Oliver Hospitality, the same group behind the Station House Inn in South Lake Tahoe.
That history has both nothing and everything to do with The Lodge at Marconi today, which emerges in its full beauty with the bright morning sun. From bed, I can see the sparkling blue waters of the bay and a lovingly restored property, embroidered with five miles of trails and a broad meadow—with picnic tables, volleyball courts, and lawn games—that’s open to the public.
There’s more to come at Marconi, too, chapters yet to be written that will include a restaurant, spa, and eventually the renovation of the original Marconi hotel from the property’s radio days. But even without those additions, the secluded hotel is a beautiful place to stay right at the heart of Tomales Bay.
The best hotels have a story to tell. At The Lodge at Marconi, there are more than enough to choose from.
// The Lodge at Marconi, 18500 CA-1 (Marshall), lodgeatmarconi.com
Where to Eat + Drink While You're in Tomales Bay
Crab claws at Tony's Seafood.
(Courtesy of @tonysseafoodrestaurant)
One thing The Lodge at Marconi doesn’t have quite yet is a restaurant (though they do have a pantry stocked with healthy snacks, beer, wine, and more). Here are a few of our favorite places to fill up on local oysters, mead, and fermented soda nearby.
When Marshall’s kitschy old-school seafood spot Tony’s shut down a few years back, Hog Island Oyster Company (whose flagship oyster farm is just up the road) rescued it from pending obscurity. Now they serve a delicious menu packed with moules frites, crab claws, cioppino, and clam chowder—plus oysters by the ton, including Tony’s OG barbecued version. // 18863 CA-1 (Marshall), tonysseafoodrestaurant.com
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company
You’ve probably already swooned over Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co’s Toma or Original Blue cheeses (Oprah definitely has, she chose the creamery’s Celebration Collection as one of her Favorite Things in 2023), but there are so many more varieties to explore at their Tomales Bay dairy. Tastings at the farm ($45/person, available June through September and scheduled holidays) include a massive cheese board stacked with gouda, quinta, pimento cheese spread, and so much more. They also have a seasonal chef’s choice menu, plus regular brunches and dinners that showcase the best of what the farm has to offer. // 14700 CA-1 (Point Reyes Station), pointreyescheese.com
Get a sip of something different at Heidrun Meadery. The farm produces sparkling honey wines that run the gamut from light and floral to savory and herbaceous. Do a tasting ($25/person, reservations recommended), a tour (Saturdays at 11:30am, $45/person) or pick up a bottle (or two) for later. // 11925 CA-1 (Point Reyes Station), heidrunmeadery.com
West Marin Culture Shop
Where Cowgirl Creamery once stood, a petite food hall now thrives. Inside, you’ll find sandwiches so big at The Farmer’s Wife that even they recommend two people share one, and fermented fresh fruit sodas at Wild West Ferments (it sounds a little strange, but do not miss turning the soda into a float with soft-serve buffalo milk ice cream), plus a selection of salumi and charcuterie from Canteen Meats, chocolate from Louisa Abram, artisanal cheeses and crackers, and the commingled flower and wool shops Flower Bed Florals and Blue Dot Farm. // 80 4th St. (Point Reyes Station), wildwestferments.com
Station House Cafe
This long-standing local favorite specializes in locally sourced organic eats that include classic dishes like linguini and clams, seared steelhead with white bean ragout, and grilled pork chops with creamy potatoes. They do baked goods exceptionally well, including light-as-air popovers and a to-die-for bread pudding. // 11285 CA-1 (Point Reyes Station), stationhousecafe.com