About halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge you enter Marin County. While it’s only a short drive from the city, Marin offers just about every kind of outdoor activity you could wish for – as well as breathtaking views of San Francisco, the Bay, and the Pacific Ocean.
Just after exiting the Golden Gate in Marin County, you’ll see Vista Point on the right — a terrific place to pull off and take photos. If you happen to be there on a clear day, you’ll take in some great views of the city. If you are there on one of the far more common foggy days, the city may not be visible, but the bridge enveloped in fog is a memorable sight as well.
For breakfast, it has to be the Dipsea Café, located off Highway One in the quaint little town of Mill Valley. The café, which is situated between a waterway and a bike path, is a local tradition and frequently crowded, but worth the wait. Since this is eclectic Northern California, the café offers traditional breakfast favorites such as pancakes and eggs Benedict mixed with less traditional menu items like a tofu scramble with soy sauce and rice.
It’s a short drive from the Dipsea to Muir Woods, one of the first National Parks created in the United States. Filled with magnificent thousand-year-old Redwood trees, Muir Woods is a beautiful place for a quiet walk or, for the more energetic, a hike. There are six miles of trails, including 30, 60, and 90-minute loops. It’s usually cool and damp, and even on warm days the temperature in the park stays under 70 degrees, so a jacket or layers come in quite handy. Picnicking is not permitted inside the park, and while there is a café in Muir Woods, it’s better for hot beverages and snacks than a meal.
After a morning hike, drive along the coast of West Marin toward the Point Reyes National Seashore. It’s an absolutely beautiful drive, though it can be crowded, especially on summer days when the locals head to Stinson Beach.
Along the way, you will find a couple of different local favorites for lunch. Your first choice, only a short drive from Muir Woods, is the Pelican Inn. Perfect for a warm meal after a chilly hike, the Pelican is a British hotel and restaurant serving wonderful English classics like Shepherd’s Pie and Bread Pudding. In addition to a substantial wine and beer list, they serve specialty drinks like a Shandy, or a Black and Tan — not recommended for whomever is doing the driving!
If British food doesn’t tempt your taste buds, try the Olema Farm House and Deli, established in 1865 and located, as their advertising points out, “only one mile from the epicenter of the 1906 earthquake.” Don’t be fooled by the name; it’s a California farmhouse that serves quesadillas and pastas with organic marinara or pesto sauce, as well as sandwiches, burgers, and more traditional fare.
After lunch, make your way to Cycle Point Reyes, where you can rent bicycles to explore some of West Marin’s many beauties. Out here, it’s hard to believe that you’re still so close to San Francisco; it feels like you’re miles away from any civilization at all. The staff at the bike shop can recommend trails and provide maps as well as rent single or tandem bikes and even have child trailers and all are available by the hour, the half-day, or the day.
Still full of energy? There’s nothing quite like a nighttime ocean kayak trip. Sea Trek, based in Sausalito, hosts Starlight and Full Moon paddling trips to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner (round trip about 5 hours). No previous kayaking experience is necessary; they’ll teach you everything you need to know. You will get wet, so it’s wise to dress appropriately, and don’t make any big plans for afterwards unless you bring a change of clothes.
By the time you paddle back from dinner, it’s probably about time to retire for the evening, and what better way to end your outdoor excursions than at Mill Valley’s Acqua Hotel, on the edge of San Francisco Bay. From the moment you enter its lobby, with a gentle flowing waterfall on either side of a warm fireplace, you’re surrounded by comfort and elegance. This boutique hotel offers only 50 rooms, including some junior suites with fireplaces. Sink into your cozy bed with the promise of continental breakfast and an espresso bar awaiting you the next morning, and know that there’s nothing quite like an outdoor excursion in Marin County.
What & Where:
The Dipsea Café (200 Shoreline Highway, Mill Valley; 415-381-0298)
Muir Woods National Monument (Mill Valley; 415-388-2595)
Pelican Inn (10 Pacific Way, Muir Beach; 415-383-6000)
The Olema Farm House & Deli (10005 State Highway One, Olema; 415-663-1264)
Cycle Point Reyes (State Route 1, Point Reyes Station; 415-663-9164)
Sea Trek (Schoonmaker Point, Sausalito; 415-488-1000)
Acqua Hotel (555 Redwood Highway, Mill Valley; 888-662-9555)