Marin County seems to frequently be overlooked by people visiting the San Francisco Bay area. Since it’s just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s an easy extension to your trip to San Francisco or wine country. Here are some ideas for making the most out of a visit to Marin.
I love to stay in Sausalito as my home base for exploring Marin. Even when San Francisco has been shrouded in fog, we have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to emerge into Sausalito’s sunshine. Casa Madrona, a small boutique hotel on Bridgeway, has panoramic San Francisco city views. Tip: Upgrade to a room with a balcony to watch the sunset over the city. Be sure to stop at Mollie Stone’s, a local supermarket, to pick up a bottle of wine and some noshables—they have a great selection of local artisanal cheeses, charcuterie items and breads.
Breakfast at Bridgeway Café
Bridgeway Café is a 5-minute stroll from Casa Madrona and is a great place for breakfast, brunch or lunch. With nothing but the bay between us and San Francisco, we love to sit outside enjoying the views of the city, Angel Island, Alcatraz, the Bay Bridge and the East Bay. We always go for a walk along Bridegway afterwards to see the resident seals. Last time we were there we saw two guys fishing—one had just caught a leopard shark.
Make the most of visiting the Marin Headlands
For amazing views of the Marin Headlands, Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, take the 15-minute drive from Sausalito along Conzelman Road. Parking can be difficult especially during the summer and on weekends. I would recommend driving to the furthest lookout first and then work your way back. My husband loves to explore the remnants of military fortifications dotting the coastline. I love to hang out in there in the late afternoon and watch as the fingers of fog creep over and under the Golden Gate Bridge. Tip: The Marin Headlands are part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. Check out AllTrails for planning your hiking options to explore the Marin Headlands.
An Unusual Way to Experience Marin
We chartered a 42-foot sailboat, complete with a captain, from Modern Sailing Club to spend an afternoon on San Francisco Bay. You can obviously see the bridge from San Francisco and the Marin Headlands or, you can walk or drive across it. But I will tell you that there is nothing as exhilarating as sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge. On the way back we got a close up view of both the Alcatraz and the SF skyline before we headed around Angel Island. The backside of Angel Island made a great place (protected from the wind) to stop for some wine and cheese.
Tips: You don’t have to be a member of Modern Sailing Club in Sausalito to charter a boat. Bring layers including a windbreaker even on the warmest and sunniest days—the wind can howl at times. And, only bring white wine on the boat (red wine if spilled tends to stain the fiberglass deck).
Take the ferry from Tiburon to Angel Island for the day. Perimeter Trail is a relatively easy 5.5 mile hike around the island that has great views almost every step. Be sure to stop for a picnic lunch. In addition to the multiple hiking trails, there are Segway and tram tours as well as bike rentals. As a side note, you can also take a ferry from San Francisco to Angel Island.
Tip: The Angel Island Ferry only takes cash (no credit cards)—the fare includes entrance into Angel Island State Park. Be sure to make reservations well in advance if you want to do any of the tours. Pack a picnic with you before getting on the ferry or pick up a box lunch at Angel Island Café.
The ferry back to Tiburon drops you off less than a one minute walk from Sam’s Anchor Café. After a full day on Angel Island, I love to stop at Sam’s, grab a drink, and hang out on their deck to watch the sun set over San Francisco Bay.
One of my all-time favorite places to hike is Muir Woods. The drive along the tortuous road to Muir Woods is not for the faint-hearted but it is totally worth it. Muir Woods is basically a forest of coastal redwoods. I can easily spend an entire day there. But, if your time is limited, you could easily do a shorter hike and get a great overview of the park in about two hours (and then I’m sure you will want to come back.)
Tip 1: You will only need hiking boots and trekking poles for the longer, more difficult hikes. Tip 2: Because of the park’s popularity, parking is an issue. Make sure to make a reservation in advance for either a parking spot or a ride on the shuttle.
Beaches of Marin
The rugged Northern California coastline is made up of cliffs that descend to the ocean sprinkled in between with beaches. The drive from Muir Woods up along Route 1 to Point Reyes Station is a great way to get a taste of this spectacular scenery. Two of my favorite stops on this route are Muir Beach Lookout and Stinson Beach. Muir Beach Lookout is on top of the cliff, looking down onto Muir Beach and on a clear day, you can see all the way up coastline. On a busy summer day, Stinson Beach is packed with sunbathers and a few brave enough to get in the (too cold for me) water. For me, it’s a great place to get out of the car and go for walk on the sand.
Point Reyes Station
Point Reyes Station is a small but totally happening town in West Marin. I always stop at Cowgirl Creamery to sample their cheese. Pull a number and wait your turn. A cheese monger will give you delectable tastes of their award-winning, best-selling cheeses (as many as you want to try.) We have never been able to walk out without buying at least 3-4 for an impromptu wine and cheese party later that day. After multiple taste tests, I still think the Red Hawk is my absolute favorite. Brickmaiden Bakery makes some of the best sourdough bread I have ever had. If you are in Point Reyes Station in the morning, you can pick it up directly from the Brickmaiden Bakery or at Cowgirl Creamery.
If you are looking for something more unusual less than one mile from Cowgirl Creamery is Heidrun Meadery. Mead is an alcoholic drink fermented from honey. Heidrun makes a champagne-style sparkling wine. You can walk in and do a tasting flight and try four different sparkling honey wines. We have also done the tour and tasting to learn the process of how mead is made. Tip: If you want to do the tour, schedule an appointment in advance.
West Marin Foodie Find
Continue further north along the coast and on your left you will encounter the Marshall Store. This very informal bayside eatery is my favorite and that of the locals and “tourists” alike. Some of the “tourists” come for a day from “far away” places like Oakland, San Francisco and the suburbs between San Francisco and San Jose. Don’t expect white linen and silver cutlery. It’s more of a picnic with outside high tables with some chairs and mostly standing room. Given the proximity of the bay, the stars of the show are oysters and seafood. There are raw oysters on a half shell and prepared baked oysters such as Rockefeller, Florentine, chorizo, etc. Grab a six-pack or a bottle of reasonably priced wine when you are ordering, have a seat outside and soak up the sun and the atmosphere.
Keep driving north on Route 1 and arrive at Hog Island Oyster Company. As the name would suggest, this is the place to eat oysters. It’s also a great place to learn about farming oysters. You can reserve a picnic table and shuck your own oysters. Tip: Make a 3 hour reservation for a picnic table. Hog Island will give you all the tools to shuck your own oysters. Alternatively, you can make a reservation for the Hog Island Boat Oyster Bar where they will shuck and grill the oysters for you.
After Your Great Day Exploring West Marin
After spending a full day driving exploring Marin, it is super easy to get either head back to San Francisco on Highway 101 or cut across to Napa or Sonoma. Like us, you will undoubtedly be planning your next trip back to Marin.