Marin County may not be The City, and it isn’t exactly huge, but the wooded, hilly region north of the Golden Gate has way more to offer than just excellent schools for fleeing urbanites with kids.
There are, of course, the hike and bike trails that San Franciscans already know so well, from the Pacific Coast to Muir Woods. And then there are the floating homes and ritzy galleries that draw flocks of tourists to Sausalito (though, we promise, there’s much to do for locals here as well). But beyond all that, there’s no denying Marin is a fabulous place to escape to on the weekends or, should you be so lucky, to live, thanks to craft eats, a homespun yet totally sophisticated arts scene and, yes, all those outdoor activities and primo views. Here’s how to live life—be it for one day or forever—to the fullest in Mill Valley, San Rafael, Fairfax, Sausalito, and West Marin.
Sausalito: Just for Tourists No More
It was 25 years ago when I first time I became aware of a place called Sausalito. Pepperidge Farm had just come out with a macadamia and chocolate chunk cookie named after the city.
I never imagined that I’d eventually live in San Francisco, a 10 minute drive away from that mythic place.
Now, we are just 10 minutes away from warm summer days, 10 minutes away from paddle boarding on calm waters, from the loveliest of lemon mousses, my favorite design shop, and an invigorating morning jog to the ocean. Don’t get us wrong, the famous waterfront suffers from too many tourists, but can you blame them for making the pilgrimage to the namesake of the famous Pepperidge Farm cookie? It is a beautiful destination after all. —Leilani Marie Labong (Additional reporting by Ana Kamin and Trevor Felch)
Where to Stay in Sausalito
The Mansion at Casa Madrona
This stately hillside Victorian, once a B&B, has recently been rehabbed into the exclusive, upscale wing of the Casa Madrona Hotel. Fresh coats of white paint, fluffy four-poster beds, deep blue textiles, and old brass maritime instruments give the rooms a subtle nautical feel, although the priceless views of the bay—with sailboats bobbing about, wet-suited paddle boarders dodging helms, and kayakers pausing mid-row to gaze at frolicking seals—really drive the point home. Large parties can reserve the luxurious, 5,000-square-foot Alexandrite suite, complete with professional kitchen, expansive outdoor patio (seen above), and private fitness center, for their shoreside revelries. Book a no-frills Swedish massage at the nice, but decidedly bare-bones, spa for a relaxing way to pass the late afternoon before heading to dinner just down the street. While The Spa is currently under renovation, give the front desk a ring to find out which services are available (415)-332-0502 —L.M.L. // 801 Bridgeway (Sausalito), casamadrona.com
The Inn Above Tide
Opened in 2005 but beautifully spruced up in 2018, The Inn Above Tide is a coastal charmer with killer views. Plus, the recent addition on a luxury suite and a revamp of two more by designer Antonio Martins makes this spot well worthy of a romantic staycation. If you’re staying in a suite, you’ll find your room through a private entrance that opens onto tasteful seaside splendor—think grey silk wallpaper, heated tile bathroom floors, a rainwater shower, soaking tub, expansive patio, an indoor/outdoor fireplace, and cozy lounge chairs that swivel so you can choose your favorite among the jaw-dropping views of the city and the Bay. Get our full story here. —Sarah Chorey // 30 El Portal (Sausalito); rooms starting at $415 for a double can be reserved at innabovetide.com.
Eat + Drink in Sausalito
This U.S. Army post turned posh waterfront stay has a few delicious dining options. Just back from a hike? Sate your starvation with a hearty burger and a prickly pear Post Ranch margarita among locals at the casual Farley Bar. Named for a San Francisco Chronicle comic strip character, the lounge has a swank interior and fire pits on the porch where you might catch the day’s last rays slipping behind the Golden Gate Bridge. Fancier dinners are served in the hotel’s restaurant, Murray Circle, or for a select few at the Chef’s Counter—for more on the latter, read Nick Czap’s review for 7×7. —Trevor Felch // 601 Murray Circle, Fort Baker (Sausalito), cavallopoint.com
Don’t be fooled by the row of rental bikes parked on the sidewalk outside Scoma’s—this iconic seafood restaurant isn’t just for tourists. This Sausalito classic has been a local hangout for decades. Come for the fresh seafood dishes—including a rich scallop risotto and a crab cake burger with creamy cole slaw—and stay for the view of the Bay. —Ana Kamin // 588 Bridgeway (Sausalito), scomassausalito.com
The exceptionally delicious Italian trattoria was something of an urban-tourist legend to my mind, that is until I had one bite of the luscious sweet corn custard. I marveled at the miraculously tasty linguine. Until I almost asked, in my best Oliver Twist voice, for more lemon mousse, but then realized that even a trough full of the velvety pudding would not be enough. The delectable dishes left me wanting just one more bite of absolutely everything. Whatever you do, do not miss out on a negroni from Tony “Negroni” Diiorio, who’s been tending bar here for over 30 years. —L.M.L. // 777 Bridgeway (Sausalito), poggiotrattoria.com
Celebrity chef/author Joanne Weir’s Copita—hailed for its margaritas and lamb birria—has stepped up its game with a refined weekend brunch menu courtesy of chef Daniel Tellez, who hails from Mexico City. Start your exploration of Sausalito with the Chilaquiles Montados or the Enfrijoladas, scrambled egg fried tacos drenched in black bean sauce. Wash it all down with a cocktail from the tequila bar. —A.K. // 739 Bridgeway (Sausalito), copitarestaurant.com
With a classic name for a classic dive bar, Smitty’s is the place to get your jug of ale amongst the locals. Dating back to the 1920s, the town’s oldest bar keeps us coming back for the shuffleboard, billiards, a juke box, and an all-around carefree vibe. —T.F. // 214 Caledonia St. (Sausalito), smittysbar.com
If you’re in the mood for some of the Bay Area’s best sushi, Sushi Ran is a veritable landmark, serving more than 30 varieties of fresh fish for over 30 years. Chef Taka Toshi prides himself on expert slicing skills and artful presentations, but there is cooked Japanese and Pacific cuisine too for folks who don’t love raw fish. The tuna tartare rice “crostini” with spicy aioli is superb, and the miso-glazed black cod is a must among the hot offerings. —A.K. // 107 Caledonia St. (Sausalito), sushiran.com
For a laid-back lunch that promises soft naan dipped in buttery masala sauce, this small Indian Cafe has a menu full of tasty classics such as saag paneer, chicken tikka masala, samosas, and hot lamb curry. — A.K. // 43 Caledonia St. (Sausalito), yelp.com
Because a burger and fries is always a good idea, we recommend you refuel at F3, a casual eatery, from the owners of Sausalito’s Le Garage, that serves American staples with a French spin. Don’t miss the steak frites with sauce béarnaise and a French onion burger with soup and cheddar fondue. —A.K. // 39 Caledonia St. (Sausalito), eatf3.com
Beach club vibes rule the day at this Bridgeway hot spot where patio seating, a bocce ball court, and a swath of warm sand make for a fantastic mini-escape from the city on a sunny day. Grab a beer or a glass of rosé, order a crispy pizza (we love the heirloom tomato), and spread out your blanket for an extra-special picnic. Go early—space fills up quickly. — A.K. // 1250 Bridgeway (Sausalito), barbocce.com
Ask anyone where to find the best crab roll and they’ll most likely point you toward Fish, a restaurant known and loved for its sustainable sourcing practices. The sweet Dungeness crab meat on a toasted roll needs nothing more than a bit of butter and a sprinkling of minced chives, but it comes with a huge portion of fries too. Don’t sweat the line—it’s worth the wait. And bring cash—they don’t take credit cards. —A.K. // 350 Harbor Dr. (Sausalito), 331fish.com
Mexico meets Natucket at this colorful snack shack where lunch means simmered pork or Baja-style fish tacos, as well as fajitas, chicken- and goat cheese-stuffed chiles, and other Mexican classics. Cool the spice with a cold Mexican beer or a homemade agua fresca. —A.K. // 1115 Bridgeway (Sausalito), salsalitotacoshop.com
Located in the unassuming, industrial part of Sausalito, Seahorse serves such Tuscan coastal dishes as zuppeta di Moscardini, octopus steamed in seafood broth, and their signature Cacciucco, a seafood stew that hails from owner Mauro Dosolini’s birthplace of Viareggio. Go for dinner and join in as things heat up on the patio—evenings bring salsa and tango classes. Check the calendar for live entertainment. —A.K. // 305 Harbor Dr. (Sausalito), sausalitoseahorse.com
Are you a morning person? The cappuccinos here come with expertly made latte art courtesy of skilled baristas. Fuel up for the day with an avocado toast or a fresh vegetable hash. If not, this Bridgeway spot is a lunchtime staple for healthy salads—we recommend the Cibo salad with corn and nectarines. Eat on the patio or grab a refreshing lemonade and cross the street to the marina for an al fresco lunch with a view. —A.K. // 1201 Bridgeway (Sausalito), cibosausalito.com
Just around the corner from the crowded Bridgeway shops is Driver’s Market, a local grocery store with well-curated products from small-batch olive oil to local cheese and handcrafted chocolate. Fresh deli menu features sandwiches (try the North Bay, with roast beef, melted cheddar, horseradish crème fraîche, red onion and roasted red peppers), wraps, and bagels, plus juices, smoothies, and kombucha on tap. Few indoor and outdoor tables make Driver’s Market the perfect pitstop to have a peaceful break. — A.K. // 200 Caledonia St. (Sausalito), driversmarket.com
Our disinclination for touristy waterfront shopping notwithstanding, Munchies Candy draws me in with barrel after barrel of fresh (read: super soft) saltwater taffy in an eclectic assortment of flavors, from mango to molasses. There are other confections from which to choose—jawbreakers, circus peanuts, and Sunkist fruit gems (my childhood kryptonite)—so be sure to stock up. —L.M.L. // 607 Bridgeway (Sausalito), sausalitoshop.com/munchies
Where to Shop in Sausalito
About five years ago, I made a rather impetuous decision to stop living like a college student. I dumped all my Ikea dinnerware at the local Goodwill and stocked my shelves soon thereafter exclusively with Heath Ceramics. It cost me three freelance checks, but I’ve never regretted it. The brand’s midcentury design heritage, plus the glorious heft of each lovingly handcrafted piece, elevate even burnt Pop Tarts. I often swing by the Sausalito factory to browse the seconds—priced at a 20 percent discount, whatever imperfections they may have are likely too small to notice. Just chalk it up to wabi-sabi. I do.—L.M.L. // Book in advance for free factory tours, offered at 11:15am on Fridays and 11:45am on Saturdays and Sundays; 400 Gate Five Rd. (Sausalito), heathceramics.com/sausalito.
Treasure hunters will love this quirky antique shop, hidden on Caledonia Street and stuffed to the ceiling with memorabilia like old vases, porcelain knick knacks, flags, vinyls, books, paintings, and furniture. The owner, for whom the shop is named, also offers antique restoration and upholstery services, and even displays and sells his own paintings inspired by nature and his travels. You can take a virtual tour of his studio here. —A.K. // 333 Caledonia St. (Sausalito), johnwilmer.com
Part spacious studio, part eclectic shop, and part events space with an outdoor lounge, Studio 333 is a good place to pop in for a cocktail party or trunk show and to admire work from local designers. Keep an eye out for works from local artists, including the colorful glass objects Kathleen Walbridge and mixed media pieces by Kerri Warner. Looking for a fab spot to host your next fete? Inquire about rates and availability here. Also stop by the downtown Sausalito outpost of Studio 333 for upscale souvenirs (hats, jewelry, soaps, candles) all made by local artists. — A.K. // 333 Caledonia St. (Sausalito), studio333.info
While Natasha Kolenko’s studio isn’t technically open to shoppers, we recommend you take a peek at her website and Instagram for some serious floral magic. Kolenko arrangements, defined by their mix of modern and whimsical elements as seen in asymmetrical arrangement of delicate peonies above, are showstopping accents for any occasion. —A.K. // 225 Locust (Sausalito), natashakolenko.com
If you’re in the market for a lovely piece of handmade jewelry, check out local designer Sarah Swell’s shop for baubles with a sightly rugged feel inspired by California nature. Each creation takes up to four weeks to make, but a one-of-a-kind hammered band is worth the wait. Also shop a selection of fine home goods, including Brooklyn-made wall hangings and candles crafted in Maine. — A.K. // Tuesdays through Saturdays, 215 Caledonia St #102 (Sausalito), sarahswell.com
The atelier and showroom of fashion-design duo Jill Giordano and Brian Scheyer offers a behind-the-scenes peek into the process of making clothes. Gr.Dano’s women’s collection is “architecturally inspired,” with mostly solid colors and cleans lines that guarantee garments will be timeless and suited for any occasion. — A.K. // 42 Caledonia St. (Sausalito), grdano.com
For our standalone guide to Sausalito, click here.
San Rafael: Arts, film + food in an official California Cultural District
When the word Marin comes to the minds of most Bay Area residents, they think Headlands. Muir Woods. Mill Valley or Sausalito.
Unless of course you actually live in Marin County. If you do, you already know that San Rafael is the county seat and is, by far, the largest city here and probably the most impressive. Locals have always had great pride in Marin’s “metropolis.” And guess what: It’s having a moment.
Recently designated as one of 14 California Cultural Districts, San Rafael will celebrate the official launch of its Downtown Arts District starting October 2018. Packed with galleries, independent bookstores, and the headquarters of the Marin Shakespeare Company, San Rafael’s Fourth St. is a worthy daytime destination for culture vultures Bay Area–wide. Not too far away, the Marin Civic Center is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most photogenic architectural achievements.
Of course, there’s much here for foodies too with all the micro-brewed beer, artisanal donuts and eats, and craft cocktails you can swallow. Plus, an outstanding film center and all the beautiful nature and outdoor activities you’d expect of Marin.
Here’s how to spend a perfect—read: active, delicious, artistic, and intoxicating—day in San Rafael.
—by Trevor Felch
From Breakfast to Lunch (With Bikes in Between)
Sweet Beginnings: Coffee & Donuts
The best days in San Rafael begin at Red Whale Coffee (169 Paul Dr.), in a generic office park on the north side of town. Trust us, this homey café serves the finest cappuccinos and single origin drips to be found for miles. They even have a popcorn machine. // TBH, the Bay Area has no shortage of bakers doing crazy artisanal things with fried dough. Here in San Raf, Johnny Doughnuts (1617 4th St.) has been the go-to since 2012 for wild-berry-jam-filled Bismarks, caramel apple fritters, and chocolate-glazed “crodoughs” (a croissant-doughnut creation). There are even vegan and gluten-free options, as well as organic coffees and teas from fellow Marin purveyor Equator. Sweet tooths with a hankering for the holey stuff have likely seen the Johnny Doughnuts trucks at festivals and events across Northern California; more recently, the brand has opened a cafe in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley.
Of Bikes + Beaches
Marin County is often considered the cycling capital of the world, so if you’re going to do it up here, you’ll want to go all in with a big bike workout. Get started at Acme Bike (1820 4th St.)—yep, just a couple blocks from Johnny Doughnuts— where you can rent a basic Trek Marlin 7 bike for $35 a day. // Roll east down 3rd Street, which becomes Point San Pedro Road. You’ll end up at China Camp State Park, where a sprawling set of trails will lead you either inland or along the coast of the bay. Feel like taking a dip? The water will be chilly, but you can get your feet wet at China Camp State Beach or McNears Beach County Park. Care to spend more time here? There are several great round-trip bike trails ranging from three miles to 11 miles.
Lunchtime: Get in line at Sol Food.
Put your name down at Sol Food (901-903 Lincoln Ave.), the perpetually packed Puerto Rican food spot (they also have a Mill Valley location) where there’s guaranteed to be a wait. Since you’ll likely have 45 minutes to an hour to kill, go browse some downtown shops. Run by Andre Agassi’s longtime coach, Brad Gilbert’s Tennis Nation (874 4th St.) is arguably the finest tennis shop in the Bay Area. Don’t play? There’s a pair of eccentric independent bookstores that are calling your name: Opened in 2005, Rebound (1611 4th St.) calls itself the “Biggest Little Bookstore in the Universe”; Open Secret (923 C St.) is the place to go for more than 800,000 books, music items, and pieces of art including painted Tibetan textiles.
When your table is finally ready, lunch promises to be a delicious hour filled with fried plantain–coated shrimp in a “po-boy”; pollo al horno (baked chicken thighs); and pressed revoltillo sandwiches stuffed with scrambled eggs, cheese, tomato and ham.
Arts + Culture in San Rafael
An Afternoon of History, Art + Architecture
There are 21 Spanish missions in California, from San Diego to Sonoma. Here in Marin you’ll find the 1817 Mission San Rafael Arcángel (1104 5th Ave.) in the heart of downtown San Rafael. // For a totally different vibe, the two-year old Museum of International Propaganda (1000 5th Ave.) has a can’t-look-away train wreck collection of hundreds of works devoted to terrible dictators (Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong) as well as all kinds of posters and advertisements. You could complain about how close to home this all feels in the age of mein Trumpf, but at least admission is free.
San Rafael has a pretty mighty arts scene: In fact, this October marks the official launch of the Downtown San Rafael Arts District; located along 4th Street, the neighborhood has been designated as one of 14 California Cultural Districts. You’ll find Art Works Downtown (1337 4th St.), a nonprofit hub of galleries and artist studios; the Falkirk Cultural Center (1408 Mission Ave.), an 1888 Queen Anne Victorian mansion that houses three contemporary art galleries plus beautiful gardens outside; as well as several more galleries and the home of the Marin Shakespeare Company. For information on the district’s launch events in Fall 2018, go to cityofsanrafael.org.
While you’re in the area, walk over to Boyd Park, a four-acre green space that is fun for all ages. Look out for the playground that evokes the Taj Mahal, plenty of redwood trees, and superb views of the San Francisco Bay and Mt. Tam from the fire road off Robert Dollar Drive.
A couple miles away, near the Marin County Fairgrounds, you can’t miss San Rafael’s most iconic building: the Marin County Civic Center (3501 Civic Center Dr.). Designed by the master himself, Frank Lloyd Wright, the pink stucco wonder, with its endless sky-blue roof, grand central rotunda, and soaring spire, opened after the architect’s death in 1962—he never got to see it finished. It’s worth stopping by just for the photo op; but if you’re here on a Wednesday or Friday, there are free docent-led tours at 10:30am.
Dinner, a Show + Late-Night Drinks
From Rosé to Dinner and Dessert
Begin the evening at a semi-hidden wine bar with a taste for small-batch Napa and Sonoma wines. At two-year old Incavo (1099 4th St, Suite F), the wine list changes regularly, spreading the love among hard-to-find boutique labels such as Claypool, Mark Herold, and former Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson’s Twenty Four. // The Basque region is far too often overlooked. But in San Rafael’s Santa Venetia neighborhood, Le Chalet Basque (405 N. San Pedro Rd.) has been serving escargots Bordelaise and frog legs for over 56 years. Tripe à la mode, anyone? // The city’s newest restaurant is already one of its best. At Atalaya (901 B St.), chef Sam Gallegos (he’s worked with the likes of Thomas Keller and Gary Danko) is infusing California cuisine with the flavors of the Southwest. Don’t miss the Santa Fe–style tacos in housemade tortillas or the Hatch green chile chicken enchiladas. // Cross the 101 for dessert at yet another San Rafael food staple. Since 1966, the family behind Silbermann’s Ice Cream (196 Northgate One), housed in a former Swensen’s, has been scooping chocolate brownie chunk and seasonal flavors—ask for pumpkin in the fall!
The Mill Valley Film Festival (Oct. 4-14, 2018) doesn’t actually take place exclusively in Mill Valley. One of its main cinemas is the gorgeous Art Deco–inspired Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 4th St.)—with a history dating back to 1920, it is now home to the nonprofit California Film Institute. Even once the festival’s red carpets have been rolled up for the season, the theater shows an extensive array of films on its three screens. You might encounter a new documentary, an Oscar-winning indie film, or a decades-old classic such as The King and I.
When you find yourself at the crossroads between an intimate nightcap and a more rowdy hour, San Rafael provides choices—and Terrapin Crossroads (100 Yacht Club Dr.) is its loud, beating heart. The restaurant and bar-slash-music venue is owned by Grateful Dead bass guitarist Phil Lesh, making it a true pilgrimage for 1960s and ’70s leftovers as well as modern music enthusiasts. Shows usually start around 8pm, but it’s no problem if you’re fashionably late. // Care for something quieter? Make for Marin’s premier (read: only) craft cocktail bar. A former dive has been transformed into The Tavern on Fourth (711 4th St.), where well-studied barkeeps pour excellent $11 cocktails such as the Griff Curry With the Shot (Griffo gin, banana gomme, rosemary syrup, and ginger cayenne bitters)—an ode to the Warriors’ #30. // Wrap up an action-packed day with a drink at what many consider to be San Rafael’s all-around greatest bar, State Room (1132 4th St.). The relatively ambitious cocktail menu and nicely curated wine list are well worth a look. However, you’re really here for the beer because State Room is also a brewery! Order up a $10 flight of four house brews (five-ounces each) and toast to a fantastic day in San Rafael.
For our standalone guide to San Rafael, click here.
Point Reyes National Seashore: Rustic-Chic Stays, All the Oysters + Nature Galore
The Point Reyes National Seashore ranks high among Bay Area day trips thanks to its proximity to the city, coastal hikes and, of course, oysters.
But the area, where the hubs of Point Reyes Station, Olema and Inverness have all the classic small town vibes you could want from a quick escape, is also home to some terrific overnight stays—from deliciously mom-and-pop to stunningly stylish—and restaurants to rival anything in San Francisco. It all adds up to a primo weekend getaway for urbanites, naturalists, and foodies. Here’s how to make the most of your next drive up the coast. —by Jessie Beck
Where to Stay in Point Reyes National Seashore
If it’s an old fashioned country escape you seek, you’ll find plenty of vintage vibes among the region’s boutique hotels.
For Cult-Worthy Style
Though Manka’s Inverness Lodge (Starting at $275 per night; 30 Callendar Way, Inverness, 415.669.1034) has never fully rebuilt since it devastatingly burned down in 2006, the rooms and restaurant still operated by its owners, Margaret Grade and Daniel DeLong, remain the region’s top choice for fashionable travelers with a taste for culinary riches. Where Manka’s main house once stood you’ll find an Airstream that serves as reception; once you procure your key, you’re free to enter your masterfully conceived forest getaway, whether you’re staying in the four-room Annex (a 1917 hunting and fishing lodge), in one of the standalone cabins, or at the boathouse down on Tomales Bay. The interiors here don’t feel entirely indoors—with chunky log beds, heavy flannels, plaids and leathers, stone fireplaces, and antlers galore, the vibe here is woodsy Ralph Lauren at its finest.
In 2015, Grade and DeLong restored and opened the nearby Hotel Olema (Starting at $250 per night; 10000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Olema, 415.669.1034) which, like its sister Manka’s, has style in spades despite no working website. Tucked above the couple’s absolutely dreamy restaurant, Sir and Star (more on that later), the inn has just five antique-filled rooms and an alluring avian theme.
Furthering the reach of their cult-worthy hospitality, the team recently opened Olema Druid’s Hall (Starting at $295 per night; 9870 Hwy. 1., Olema, 415.669.1034), an 1880s building that once hosted meetings of the United Ancient Order of Druids fraternity, just down the road. It’s a charming, comfortable stay that’s just a convenient stumble from the best dinner around. Call for reservations—these folks are old school.
For Books and Breakfast
If the tiny town of Inverness actually had a downtown, this contemporary B&B would be sitting just behind it. Ten Inverness Way has a lot going for it: affordability, quality, and proximity to Tomales Bay. You’ll check into one of six uniquely designed rooms but may find yourself drawn to the common space where comfy nooks and lots of books beckon for a quiet moment with a cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of wine at night. You’ll wake up each morning to something delicious—buckwheat waffles with fresh blackberries? Yes please. // Starting at $800 per night; 10 Inverness Way (Inverness), teninvernessway.com
For Nature Lovers
The Lodge at Point Reyes is a local mainstay. Built in 1988 on the edge of the national park, this 22-room, two-cottage retreat lures nature lovers with three acres of green lawns and English gardens bursting against Olema Creek. You could easily stay in all weekend with food and drink available at the relaxed in-house restaurant, Farm House, a library full of books, fireplaces and hot tubs. Look out for a refresh this October when the lodge unveils a new name: Olema House. // Starting at $250 per night; 10021 Coastal Highway 1, (Olema) thelodgeatptreyes.com
Eat + Drink Around Point Reyes
If you’re hanging around Tomales Bay, there’s one thing you have to eat: oysters. Well that and cheese. (Though not necessarily in the same bite.) Here’s where to chow.
Sir and Star
Make no mistake about it, Margaret Grade and chef Daniel DeLong’s Sir and Star, on the ground floor of the old-as-the-town Olema Inn, is one of the best restaurants anywhere. Serving the couple’s three boutique hotels as well as taking reservations for intimate feasts, the restaurant specializes in the kind of decadent fare you’d expect to eat by the fire as taxidermy birds keep an eye on things. Sir and Star is only open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday, and that may be a good thing: With dishes as richly flavored as they are named—Faux Gras Fashioned From Local Duck Livers So Delicious It Should Be Illegal; and Buns and Butter Laced with Once Wildly Stinging Nettles—you may need a whole day or two to recover from it. // 10000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. (Olema), sirandstar.com
Hog Island Oyster Company
This wildly popular go-to needs little introduction—since 1983, Hog Island has been farming fresh, sustainable oysters feeding them to the masses (those who managed to get reservations, that is). If you want a seat on the bay-side patio for fresh-shucked and barbecued oysters, you better call ahead. // 20215 Shoreline Highway (Marshall), hogislandoysters.com
The Marshall Store Oyster Bar & Smokehouse
When Tomales Bay Oyster Company was forced to close its picnic area due to permitting issues, a favorite BYOB bivalve spot was lost forever. While that’s not stopping us from picking up bags of oysters and mussels to take to the beach, we are also happy as clams to have a full-service meal at the company’s Marshall Store, where we can feast on in-season crab as well as smoked oysters on crostini and sandwiches. // 19225 State Route 1 (Marshall), themarshallstore.com
Saltwater Oyster Depot
At once refined and neighborly, this five-year-old seafood house run by chef Jeremy Whitcomb is serving food in tune with the land and the local community. The menu changes seasonally, but you can always find a long list of exquisite, local wines, freshly shucked oysters and, if you’re lucky, fish straight from the bay. // 12781 Sir Francis Drake Blvd (Inverness), saltwateroysterdepot.com
Side Street Kitchen
This bright and cheery eatery takes the place of the beloved old greasy spoon, the Pine Cone Diner. Opened last year by longtime Point Reyes resident Sheryl Cahill, the newly remodeled space still pays homage to its history—the diner’s 1950s counter and stools remain. Go for slow-cooked meats, smoked fish, and fresh vegetables before heading to your next adventure. // 60 4th St, (Point Reyes Station), sidestreet-prs.com
Inverness Park Market
This is the kind of place where neighbors run into each other, popping in to grab their morning coffee and a breakfast sandwich or, later in the day, saddling up for a brew at the new tap room next door. Deli, grocery, lunch spot, beer bar—what else is there. // 12301 Sir Francis Drake Blvd (Inverness), invernessparkmarket.com
Point Reyes Station’s five-block main stretch is home to clapboard buildings, small shops, and a saloon straight out of the 1800s. But never mind the decidedly wild west vibe—you’ll find modern Italian fare too. Christian Caiazzo’s Osteria Stellina is laid-back but vibrant, a perfect spot for noshing tasty pizzas, pastas, and nightly specials. // 11285 Highway 1 (Point Reyes Station) osteriastellina.com
Station House Cafe
Across the street, Station House Cafe’s secret garden-esque patio fills up quickly when the weather is nice. Loved by locals and tourists alike, the eatery serves up quality comfort food made with ingredients sourced from neighboring farms, fisheries, and creameries. Swing by for a breakfast of French toast, eggs Benedict, or chilaquiles. At lunch, get festive with oysters and bubbly. Dinner is reserved for guilty pleasures—think mac and cheese, turkey chili, roast chicken, and cocktails. If you’re around on a Sunday, pop in for live music. // 11180 Highway 1 (Point Reyes Station) stationhousecafe.com
Cheese and Mead Tastings
The Point Reyes Seashore also has a thriving agricultural community. While you’ll get a chance to try locally sourced produce, fish, and cheese at more than a few of the area’s restaurants, you can see where the stuff is made and take tours and tastings in Point Reyes Station.
At Cowgirl Creamery (80 4th St., Point Reyes Station) you can sample classics including their Mt.Tam and Red Hawk cheeses and pair them with bottles of wine and other grab and go snacks for a picnic outside. On Fridays, make a reservation for a tour ($5 per person).
When your belly’s full of snacks, head up the road to Heidrun Meadery (11925 State Route 1, Point Reyes Station), where you can witness “flower to flute” mead production. Drop by for a tasting; on Saturdays and Sundays, tour their farm, beehives, and meadery to learn how they make this sweet treat.
Things to Do in Point Reyes
The region is home to more than 1,500 species of plants and animals, but the herd at Tule Elk Preserve (nps.gov) is perhaps the most impressive. See more than 400 tule elk grazing freely, and schedule a tour during rut season in the fall. Alamere Falls is a must-hike and can draw a crowd, but the 8.4 mile round-trip trek rewards hikers with a glimpse of the splendid waterfall dropping directly into the Pacific.
Mountain bikers credit Mt. Tam as the birthplace of the sport, but neighboring Point Reyes National Seashore doesn’t exactly lack for excellent trails. Get dirty going downhill on the roads behind Inverness, on the Inverness Ridge Trail, or meander down Drake’s Bay on the Sunset Beach Trail. Need a rental? Swing by Mountain Bike San Francisco, in the bike-obsessed town of Fairfax (40 Manor Rd.), on your way up north.
Kayaking + Bioluminescence Tours
The Tomales Bay can be notoriously windy and chilly, but catch it on a calm day and you’ll make kayaking magic. Rent a rig from Point Reyes Outdoors (11401 Hwy 1, Point Reyes Station) and paddle your way up the 14-mile stretch of unspoiled coastline. Peer into tidal pools and keep an eye out for the birds who nest here. Starting in March, take your kayak trip after sundown for some incredible bioluminescent gazing. Point Reyes Outdoors and Blue Waters Kayaking (12944 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Inverness) both offer guided tours to visitors wanting to see the glittering, natural phenomenon that occurs when tiny plankton emit light.
Whale and Seal Watching
Nature’s giant mammals are the stars of the famous Whale Trail, which has viewing points from Alaska all the way down to San Diego. Head out to Point Reyes Lighthouse or Chimney Rock December through February and March through May, when pods of California Grey Whales make the trek south to Baja and back again. For a front row seat to the action, drive up to Bodega Bay to link up with one of four local outfitters.
If you want to see some seals, Chimney Rock is the best spot, home to a sizable population of northern Elephant seals. Hike up the two-mile roundtrip trail to the aptly named Elephant Seal Overlook. Check with the National Park Service for shuttles and road closures.
For our standalone guide to Point Reyes National Seashore, click here.
Fairfax: Watery hikes, bike shops with beer, a killer izakaya + more
Tucked between the 101 and the Pacific coast, Fairfax has the quirky personality required of a town renowned for an organic foods store and a museum devoted to mountain biking.
But it’s also an oasis for gorgeous nature and excellent food and drink.
Sure, it’s very much Marin (you know, yoga moms pushing strollers at the farmer’s market), but Fairfax is its own distinct destination, more so than you might think as you glance from your car window along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. So get out of the car, see a waterfall, and discover some ice cream, tacos, and sushi as good as any in the city. —Trevor Felch
Eats + Hikes + Bikes
You could think of Taste Kitchen & Table (71 Broadway Blvd.) as Fairfax’s morning town hall (though they also have a second location in San Rafael). The four-year-old bakery-cafe serves up all your glutenous (and in some cases gluten-free) cravings including a breakfast BLT with egg, and tempting homemade breads and pastries. Eat in or take nibbles to go with your cappuccino. // Another local favorite, Barefoot Cafe (1900 Sir Francis Drake) is known for its creative use of seasonal, organic produce in dishes such as banana walnut pancakes and garden browns—a double order of hash browns topped with sauteed onions, mushrooms, and cheese. Take a smoothie for the road.
The Bay Area wins for its easy access to ample gorgeous nature spots, but here’s something we don’t have much of: waterfalls. The trailhead to Cascade Falls, in the Cascade Canyon Open Space Preserve, is just over a mile from central Fairfax. From the (always crowded) parking lot, the trail will take you just 1.2 miles roundtrip to the falls and back. At 20 feet tall, Cascade Falls is no Niagara, but it’s still a gorgeous stretch of water in a lush forest that seems more Pacific Northwest than Bay Area. // From downtown Fairfax, Lake Lagunitas ($8/day entry fee) is a scenic 15-minute drive away. The mostly flat, mile-and-a-half hike around the lake is achievable for even the most die-hard city slicker, and despite its proximity to civilization, the quiet little lake feels as remote as the Sierra. With benches strategically positioned along the walk, you won’t be able to resist sitting a spell and taking in the view. // Bon Tempe Lake is a reservoir to the southwest of downtown Fairfax that can be accessed by a short hike from the paid parking lot ($8). The four-mile loop guarantees a flat and pleasant stroll for gazing at the shimmering water and bird watching—if you’re lucky, you might spy a bald eagle. In warmer months, please do take precautions against ticks.
Tacos + Coffee (…and ok, maybe Beer)
After a good hike, head back into town for a lunch of pan-seared ono tacos and al pastor quesadillas at Más Masa (31 Bolinas Rd. B), a fast-casual Californian-meets-Mexican street food spot from a Thomas Keller Restaurant Group alum. Still in its first year, this place has rapidly become a local favorite for all things in homemade corn masa. // If exercise and tacos leave you in need of a recharge, you’ll want to head to the…bike store? Don’t worry, Split Rock Tap & Wheel (2020 Sir Francis Drake) also packs a craft beer bar and coffee shop. Throw back an afternoon espresso or a Lagunitas Cherry Jane sour on tap, and browse the selection of Whyte USA brand mountain bikes for your next two-wheel adventure.
The Bike Museum
Speaking of wheels… Know where the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame is? Yup. Fairfax is home to the Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame (1966 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.), and it’s a really fun place to spend an hour looking at the evolution of bikes over the past two centuries. You can also learn about mountain biking’s most influential figures. For the record, the original Hall of Fame was in Crested Butte, Colorado, but moved to Fairfax three years ago because Marin sort of “invented” mountain biking.
A Little Shopping
Among the cute boutiques in downtown Fairfax, The Potting Shed (55A Bolinas Ave.) has become a destination for Bay Area residents beyond Marin County looking for succulents, air plants, and many more garden-related items. This adorable indoor-outdoor venue also bursts with quirky gifts and jewelry. If you’re up for it, try the DIY potting station for an extra unique Fairfax souvenir. // Good Earth Natural Foods (720 Center Blvd.) might not be the only all-organic grocery store in the country, but it’s certainly one of the most historic. When it opened in 1969, Chez Panisse and Whole Foods were but a distant dream. You’re well taken care of in terms of meals in Fairfax, but spend some time checking out this bit of Fairfax history.
From Happy Hour to Nightcaps, Dinner in Between
(But first, put your name on the waitlist for dinner at Village Sake, 19 Bolinas Rd.). Craft beer’s massive movement was just getting brewing when Iron Springs Pub & Brewery (765 Center Blvd.) opened here in 2004—and the place still combines great housemade beers with a family-friendly brewpub atmosphere. In fact, it’s one of the best breweries in the Bay Area. So go for a $4.75 pint at happy hour on a weeknight (until 6pm). First time? It pays off to explore the roughly 16 house brews on tap; hopheads will be easily charmed by the JC Flyer and the Casey Jones Imperial IPAs. // Wine bar-slash-restaurant 123 Bolinas (123 Bolinas Rd.) is another great waiting room before dinner Village Sake—it’s also destination in its own right for local Miyagi oysters with mustard seed mignonette and more substantial fare like roast chicken leg with yogurt and salsa verde. But don’t spoil your appetite too much—you’re here for the oysters, a local cheese board, and perhaps some butter-roasted artichokes to pair with a glass of Sonoma County’s Cazadero Chardonnay. You can also design your own flight of wines with their “smidge” half-glass pours.
Time for Dinner
Finally, you receive the golden text: “Your table is ready at Village Sake.” With longtime Sushi Ran chef Scott Whitman at the helm, the critically adored Japanese izakaya has only grown in popularity since its 2015 debut. And it’s true, we’re not helping lessen the wait—but Village Sake is about as special as casual dining gets. Ask for some help in choosing the right sake to suit your preferences. Then you’ll inevitably over-order but still finish everything from tea-smoked ocean trout maki rolls to matcha-dusted corn tempura to, perhaps, a daily special of clam and kimchi hotpot that leans heavily toward the Korean staple.
Sweet Endings + Nightcaps
It’s a well-traveled circuit in Fairfax: dinner at Village Sake followed by ice cream at Fairfax Scoop (63 Broadway Blvd.) a tiny shop barely the size of a giant sundae. Like many of the Bay Area’s top ice cream makers, Scoop uses Marin’s own Straus Creamery milk as its ice cream base, then offers a host of organic ingredients. Strawberry ice cream that truly tastes like a peak ripe strawberry? Vanilla honey lavender that tastes of big Marin meadows? Your choice (tough one, eh?). // It’s not like you can really eat anymore, but Gestalt Haus (28 Bolinas Rd.) is an après mountain bike ride favorite for a bowl of chili or a Swiss bockwurst in a pretzel bun. It’s also a late night staple with 30 taps of German beers and Northern Californian craft brews, open until 2am on weekends. // For music with your nightcap, Peri’s Silver Dollar Bar (29 Broadway) has been entertaining Fairfax with local musicians nightly for over 80 years, having moved locations just once since 1949. Check their website for shows and cover charge, bring cash, and enjoy that last pint on the patio.
For our standalone guide to Fairfax, click here.
Mill Valley: Sights + Eats Beyond Mt. Tam and Muir Woods
From the peak of Mt. Tam to the marshland and creeks around Richardson Bay, there is a lot of spectacular ground to cover in Mill Valley.
Of course, there are also equally notable eats and drinks. Here’s how to make a terrific day of it in this rustic-chic Marin County town. —by Trevor Felch
Mornings in Mill Valley
Breakfast + Coffee
A day in Mill Valley means a fair amount of physical activity—you’ll want to fuel up. Dig in at Mill Valley’s beloved, 30-year-old homestyle diner, The Dipsea Cafe (200 Shoreline Hwy.), where the banana-walnut pancakes are always a smart order. If it’s not your first rodeo, you might venture into new territory with the fried chicken and waffles served with jalapeño honey butter, or a mammoth gravlax and portobello mushroom Benedict. // Whether you waited for coffee or are in want of a second cup, a stop at one of Equator‘s two Mill Valley locations (244 Shoreline Hwy., and 2 Miller Ave.) is pretty much required. The homegrown roaster supplies beans to some of the Bay Area’s finest restaurants—if the cappuccinos are good enough for The French Laundry, they’re good enough to take to go—you have a winding drive ahead. If you choose the Equator kiosk inside Proof Lab Surf Shop on Shoreline Highway, you can gear up for a future outing at Stinson Beach.
The Scenic Route
When it comes to breathtaking vistas and hikes, it’s always a coin flip between Muir Woods or Mount Tamalpais. You can’t go wrong—unless of course you didn’t make advance reservations for a visit to Muir Woods. For a top-of-the-world panorama, drive up to the East Peak summit of Mt. Tam, pay $8 to park, and stroll the paved three-quarter-mile Verna Dunshee Trail. Wave at the now-diminutive skyline of San Francisco. During the summer, time your visit to see whatever play is being being staged at the spectacular Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre.
Do Some Shopping
Wind your way back down the mountain and into town to check out one of Mill Valley’s newest attractions: The 126-year old Mill Valley Lumber Yard (129 Miller Ave.) has been given new life as a mixed use space housing artsy shops—including the all-American Makers Market, the ever-so-chic Guideboat Co., and florist Bloomingayle’s—as well the gluten-free bakery Flour Craft. Grab a hazelnut brown butter brownie to snack on as you browse.
The Sight to See
Pay homage to Mill Valley’s namesake: the former saw mill in Old Mill Park, situated amid towering redwoods along the Old Mill Creek and near the popular Dipsea Steps trailhead. Make sure to come back for one of the park’s free movie nights, held one Friday evening monthly between June and October.
Grab a Book
Just down the road from Old Mill Park you’ll find the historic Depot Bookstore & Cafe (87 Throckmorton Ave.), housed in 1889 train depot Greyhound station. Pick out a few books to read in the next few months and you’ll remember that there’s nothing quite like holding an actual book with pages to turn.
Tacos + Beers + Fro Yo
Ok, it’s time for lunch—and a beer. Head back toward the Bay and settle in for salmon poke tacos on handmade corn tortillas or a roast chicken platter at Parranga (800 Strawberry Village), which also styles itself as a cerveceria. Pair your meal with a Baja Brewing IPA or one of the hard-to-find Mexican craft beers. // Save room for dessert because you’re just steps away from local favorite Woody’s Yogurt Place (802 Strawberry Village). It’s a tough choice between frozen yogurt, custard, ice cream milkshakes, and ice-free fruit smoothies, but you can’t go wrong with a chocolate custard with crumbled peanut butter cups on top.
Get Some Air
You’ve hiked far above Mill Valley today; now it’s time for some exercise at sea level. To rent a kayak, you’d have to head into Sausalito. Instead, lace up your hikers and hit the trail along Bothin Marsh for bird-watching and chill time along the water.
Cocktails, Oysters + More
Who’s ready for a cocktail? Buckeye Roadhouse (15 Shoreline Hwy.) has been a Mill Valley icon since 1937, perched above the 101 and luring hikers into the bar for hearty burgers as well as couples in the mood for romantic dates. The dark, Western-style bar mixes some of the finest cocktails in Mill Valley and has one of the strongest wine lists. Order the Napa Negroni and a round of the signature oysters Bingo, drenched in cheese and spinach. // If elevated pub fare are more your speed, veer toward Mill Valley Beerworks (173 Throckmorton Ave.), where you can enjoy brews from the Presidio’s Fort Point Beer Co. (don’t miss the Manzanita-smoked altbier) alongside such dishes as rainbow trout with French lentils or delicata squash with medjool date butter.
Go to the Theater
When it comes to culture, Mill Valley is best known for its annual Mill Valley Film Festival (Oct. 4-14, 2018). But, the town is also home to one of the finest mid-sized theaters in the country. At Marin Theatre Company (397 Miller Ave.), most shows begin at 7:30pm, allowing for a quick bite before or a late, post-show supper. This fall, catch Oslo (Sept. 27 through Oct. 21), the 2017 Tony Award winner for Best New Play.
Dinner and a Nightcap
The crowd at Playa (41 Throckmorton Ave.) may have started to quiet down by the time the play is over. The contemporary Mexican eats and drinks here are stellar, served in a hip atmosphere that doesn’t seem like typical Marin. Start with some local halibut ceviche before moving onto oxtail with mole negro and octopus tacos. // Nightcaps in Mill Vally are had at the classic dive bar 2am Club (380 Miller Ave.). Even if you don’t make it till last call, come for a round of pool or darts and Moscow mules in a space where Huey Lewis based the cover photo for his album Sports.
For our standalone guide to Mill Valley, click here.
More Marin Stories on 7×7.com
Marin’s 10 Best Day Hikes
1. Chimney Rock, 1.4 miles
2. Palomarin to Bass Lake, 5.2 miles, 8.2 miles
3. Palomarin to Alamere Falls, 5.4 miles
4. Coastal Trail, Pantoll to W Ridgecrest Blvd., 13.1 miles
5. Coastal Trail, Rodeo Beach to Muir Beach, 4.3 miles
6. Muir Woods, via Deer Park Fire Rd. 7 miles
7. Sky Trail Loop, Bear Valley to Mount Wittenberg, 3.4 miles
8. Steep Ravine Trail to Dipsea Trail Loop
9. Loma Alta Trail, 5.7 miles
10. East Peak via Hogback + Fern Creek Trail, 4 miles
To access the trailheads and get more information on where to park and all the glorious sights you’ll see—think waterfalls, ancient redwoods, historic military forts, and breathtaking coastline—go to 7×7.com/10-best-day-hikes-marin.
Secret Hike: Martin Griffin Preserve
As we rounded the last bit of Highway 1 before coming upon Stinson Beach, soundtracked by the clamor of a seal-pupping colony to our coastal left, we found ourselves at the foot of an ecological oasis—one that, until just last week, we had no clue existed.
Northern California is a cornucopia for all things nature, but for all its greenscaped grandeur, it seems pockets of publicly accessible woodlands commonly go unnoticed. There’s no telling how many times we’ve all driven past the gloriously secret Martin Griffin Preserve.
“We’ve had people pull in here on their way to Stinson Beach asking for directions,” said Claire Seda, the preserve’s weekend program coordinator and our guide for the afternoon, who was crowned by a wide-brimmed sun hat and armed with enough ecological know-how to answer our most pressing natural conundrums. And boy was she eager to talk about the 1,000-acre preserve’s unsung serenity. “We’re always like, ‘No, stay here and hike! It’s way less crowded, and there’s free parking.'”
Latticed by miles of clear-cut, at-times-steep trails that ebb and flow between evergreen forests and coastal scrublands, Martin Griffin Preserve is the West Marin legacy of the ecologist of the same name, who was committed to safeguarding the local flora and fauna. Griffin, a now-retired physician, essentially defeated the condo development that was slated for the area in the early 1960s; Martin Griffin Preserve has been protected as a wildlife sanctuary since 1962. It is among three other preserves that make up Audubon Canyon Ranch‘s land trust efforts in Northern California. —Matt Charnock
Marin’s Best Beaches
Marin County beaches have something for everyone, whether you’re in the mood for aquatic sports, family-friendly activities, a romp with your dog, or a romantic stroll. Check out four of our favorite stretches of sand.
With special thanks to our partners at Marin CVB.