Marin County is just North of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge. With just slightly more than 250,000 people, it is one of the least densely populated counties in the Bay Area metropolitan area.
It is also one of the most beautiful counties on the West coast. It has spectacular headlands, dozens of beaches, numerous redwood groves including the celebrated Muir Woods, Mount Tamalpais, and the Point Reyes National Seashore.
The good news is you can be in incredibly beautiful coastlands 5 minutes North of San Francisco. The bad news is it is not a secret anymore. Travel during weekends after 9 AM and you will find yourself in painfully slow traffic. So travel to the area on week days or get up early on weekends and get on the road by 7 AM to avoid the crowds, especially in the summer and any warm days.
Here are some of our favorite spots.
From the City, go North over the Golden Gate Bridge (US 101 N). As soon as you cross the bridge be in the far right lane and take the first exit, Vista Point. There is a large parking lot and excellent views and photo ops of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.
When ready exit where you entered (right turn only) and stay in the right lane which will be the Alexander Avenue exit. As soon as you exit there will be an immediate left hand turn going under the freeway and then Southbound back towards the bridge. Just before the entering US 101 South, take a right turn up the hill. It is not marked but this will be Conzelman Road. This road will wind its way all the way to the top of the headlands with many pull outs on your left. The views will get more expansive as you go higher.
About half way up, keep an eye out on the left for an unpaved road and a small parking lot. This will be Black Sands Beach Trail. It is a short steep trail to one of only a handful of black sand beaches in the Bay Area.
Continue on Conzelman Road, you will end up first at Point Bonita Trailhead and next Point Bonita Lighthouse (active). Access is via a tunnel opened Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, 12:30 PM to 3:30 PM. Note: from February to May, the northward migration of mother whales and their babies stay close to shore to avoid predators.
Take Field Road down the Headlands, turning left on Bunker Road. Soon you bear right and up the hill to The Marine Mammals Center. This is where sick or injured animals are nursed back to life and returned to their natural habitat once healthy again.
Adjacent is the Rodeo Lagoon, Rodeo Beach and beyond are miles and miles of headland trails. Bunker Road will take you back to US 101 via a unique, one lane tunnel.
Travel North on US 101 to the US 1 exit (also known as the Shoreline Highway). There will be a left at the Arco Station and a traffic light. Do not miss this turn. The road will meander through a town-and-country area and eventually into open protected lands. Soon you will approach the entrance to Muir Beach to the left. It is a beautiful spot for a picnic, walk, or hike. It is popular on weekends and the parking lot is often full. Just beyond Muir Beach is The Pelican Inn. It looks like it just dropped in from the British Iles. It is a charming B&B, with a pub and small restaurant with a charming patio. They serve an excellent breakfast buffet on weekends. It too is popular and busy on weekends.
Do not miss the Muir Beach overlook on the left at the top of the hill going North. Walk out to the overlook perched on the cliff. Spectacular views/photos!
This is one of the best beaches in Marin. It is also a popular destination for weekend homes. It is extremely popular in good weather. Parking and crowded conditions are common on weekend and good weather. There are a handful of cafes and restaurants. We like it early in the day, on nice days off season and midweek.
Point Reyes Station
Beyond Stinson Beach is a beautiful drive that will take you to the town of Point Reyes Station. It is a charming and lively little town dating back to the early days of California. There are a handful of unique shops and restaurants, farmers markets and coffee houses. It is home to the famed Cowgirl Creamery that reinvented farm to table artisanal cheeses.
Lunch at Osteria Stellina has become a must when we visit. They serve the best pastas, pizzas, salads and deserts all sourced locally.
Point Reyes National Seashore
This is a huge area with trails, beaches, a famed lighthouse, ranch and farmlands dating back for generations.
There are elk herds and wildlife in abundance. The area is connected to the mainland by a thin piece of lowlands. The infamous San Andreas fault runs directly through these lowlands. Some day, Point Reyes may become an island.
We recently visited the area in perfect weather and shared the massive North Beach with one fisherman and his dog. We spotted two humpback whales heading north. They said “HI” leaping out of the water four times before disappearing into the sea.
It is possible to continue North almost to the Oregon Border. There are so many gorgeous sites along the way but that would take many port postings. Enjoy!!