Marin County
Ample open space, Mediterranean-like towns and fine dining invigorate SF’s neighbor to the north

By Laura Del Rosso

PHOTO: Matt Tilghman

Just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco lies picturesque Marin County, a place filled with natural beauty and small-town charm.

It starts within seconds of crossing the bridge: Marin’s outdoors beckon in the park-like open space of the Marin Headlands, perched high above the bay and the Pacific Ocean. Below, practically in the bridge’s shadow, the Bay Area Discovery Museum nurtures creativity in children through exhibits that emphasize play. Nearby, the Headlands Institute Retreat & Conference Center provides environmental educational studies for all ages, and the Marine Mammal Center, one of the country’s leading rescue facilities, offers a chance to learn about sea lions and other ocean mammals up close.

Mediterranean Villages

Rising as a backdrop to the Mediterranean-like waterfront villages of Tiburon and Sausalito and the leafy suburbs of Mill Valley, San Rafael and San Anselmo is Mount Tamalpais, a sprawling mountain that is laced with hiking and mountain biking trails. The 360-degree panorama from its top is dazzling: San Francisco, the Pacific Ocean and redwood and fir forests.

Ancient Redwoods

Tucked into one of its canyons is Muir Woods National Monument, which preserves uncut stands of ancient redwoods. To the west is Stinson Beach, where lifeguards perch on duty along a wide, sandy beach. Just a few miles north, the coastal hamlet of Bolinas remains an artist haven.

Outdoor recreation is abundant everywhere in Marin. Mountain biking was invented here and boating and kayaking are popular. Ferries depart from Tiburon’s Main Street dock for Angel Island, the 740-acre bay island and state park where visitors explore a Civil War-era military base and early-20th-century immigration station on foot, by bicycle or with a guided tram tour.

In western Marin, Point Reyes National Seashore draws visitors with its spectacular rocky coastline, historic lighthouse and hiking trails. Towns nearby gained fame for their food—such as cheese from Cowgirl Creamery and oysters harvested in Tomales Bay—when Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visited the area in 2005 to foster organic farming.

San Rafael, the county seat, offers a lively downtown and a piece of California history: the Mission San Rafael Arcangel, established in 1817. Nearby, the Marin Civic Center, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building that is a national historic landmark, is the scene of a vibrant farmers market considered one of California’s best.

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