When the frigid fog rolls into San Francisco, locals head across the Golden Gate Bridge
to hike, bike or drive to Marin County where the wether is sunnier and the temperatures are warmer.
Although Marin was the birthplace of George Lucas’ Obi Wan Kenobi and home to the Grateful Dead, it is the rural landscape of rolling hills, redwood groves and coastlines that make it one of the most popular San Francisco getaways.
Circle back under the freeway and climb the winding, steep Conzelman Road into the Marin Headlands. Expansive views through the red towers of the bridge frame the city skyline and the bay. Then pose for a snapshot of the bridge with a breathtaking background of the sparkling city of San Francisco.
Don’t miss Battery Spencer at the first vista point. Explore the crumbling buildings of this former military installation that protected the bridge, bay and city from submarines or attack during World War II.
The best time to catch the perfect shot is in the afternoon or at sunset when the light will be at your back. Parking can be sparse on weekends. Just wait a few minutes and a spot will open up. Take a jacket, it can be windy.
Hit the trail – any trail
Marin is a hiker’s paradise. There’s Muir Woods, home to some of California’s legendary redwoods. Located between the ocean and Mill Valley, Muir Woods has the areas’ oldest tree (more than 1,000 years old) and tallest tree (254 feet). An easy walking path leads you into the peaceful quiet of the redwood sanctuary and is accessible to strollers and wheel chairs. Parking is limited and can fill up on weekends and holidays. Plan your visit for early morning (8:45 before opening) or late afternoon. Join the ranger if he or she is gathering a group. Their nature talks are excellent.
Or get lost in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area encompassing 80,000 acres—the largest urban national park in the United States. There is something for everyone in the park from tons of hiking trails, to whale watching from Muir Beach overlook or at the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse (during the winter migration), to horseback riding and ranger-led programs.
Marin is the self-proclaimed birthplace of mountain biking and it is easy to rent bikes and helmets in Sausalito, Tiburon, Mill Valley or Fairfax. Pedal on Mt. Tamalpais through oak-dotted hills, over rocky peaks or linger by mountain lakes in Mt. Tamalpais State Park. The county’s most visible landmark is “ Mt. Tam” a 2,571-foot “sleeping lady”. You’ll need a vivid imagination to see the silhouette of the sleeping princess along the tree line.
Life’s A Beach on the Pacific Coast
Swimming in the cold Pacific Ocean at Stinson Beach may be only for the strongest and hardiest of bathers, surfers, buggy boarders, or windsurfers, but you can still enjoy the 3.5 mile long, languorous beach.
Walk for miles on the white sand –collecting sand dollars– or take a jog, have a barbeque, sunbathe or play Frisbee without getting wet. Close your eyes and listen to the waves crashing.
Located 20 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, most visitors drive to the beach along the steep, winding Route 1, or over the forested flanks of Mt. Tamalpais from Mill Valley.
On hot, weekend days the roads can turn into a long traffic jam and the parking lot fills by noon. The beach facilities include rest rooms, showers, a 51-acre park adjacent to the beach with more than 100 picnic tables, barbeque grills, and a snack bar that is open during summer months.
In recent years there have been shark attacks close to shore in shallow water. The migrating salmon attract sea lions, which attract great white sharks. There are occasional sightings and lifeguards clear the water if there’ a sighting. Alerts are visibly publicized. Lifeguards are on duty May to September.
Parking is free. If you don’t have a private car, the beach is linked to Marin City by daily bus service.
Before you leave the beach community, stop at the Parkside Café or The Sand Dollar Restaurant for grilled oysters or cup of chowder.
European-style communities in Southern Marin
The towns of Sausalito, Tiburon and Belvedere hug the shores of San Francisco Bay offering birds-eye views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island, Alcatraz, San Francisco and sailboats. Mill Valley is nestled in a forest at the base of Mt. Tam. These popular Southern Marin towns offer top quality restaurants, cafes, lodging, and shopping and music clubs such as Sweetwater in Mill Valley.
As a local resident, it is difficult to recommend just a few restaurants, but here are my go-to favorites in Southern Marin.
In Sausalito have a casual dinner at Le Garage, Seafood Peddler and Poggio Trattoria. In Tiburon indulge your “foodie fantasies” at the Tiburon Tavern, Luna Blue (with a deck overlooking the yachts), or Salt and Pepper. Linger for people watching, pastries and coffee at Café Acri. In Mill Valley check out The Buckeye Roadhouse, Piazza di Angelo and El Paseo.
Don’t stop in Southern Marin. For a full day getaway, drive west to the 80,000 acres of Point Reyes National Seashore and Tomales Bay State Park for even more hiking, kayaking, biking and outdoor activities.
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Part of this article appeared in Travelgirl Magazine.