The Perfect Weekend Itinerary in Marin County, California
From crabbing and surfing the iconic coast to hiking and biking the redwood-covered hills, the San Francisco Bay Area enclave of Marin County is an awesome destination for recreationists and foodies year-round. Here’s how to do it right.
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It’s a Saturday in early November, the opening day of Dungeness crab season in California. My friend Micah is pulling his boat up to the wooden dock at Horseshoe Cove, directly underneath the north end of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, in Sausalito. An avid fisherman from nearby San Rafael, Micah has brought hoop nets, his two sons, and enough foul-weather gear to ward off the encroaching fog and rain. My family and I pile in, and off we go, jetting across the bay and beneath the bridge, into a cove that we’re all hoping is teeming with crab.
After an hour or so, the ocean delivers. We pull in nets full of crabs, throwing back what we can’t keep due to size and daily limits, and dropping the rest into a tank on the boat. En route back to the dock, Micah asks if we want to come over for a crab lunch at his place. Obviously, the answer is yes. A quick stop at the Saturday farmers’ market at Marin Country Mart in Larkspur yields a bag of fresh-from-the-soil potatoes and a crusty French baguette from Rustic Bakery to accompany the steamed crabs.
I’ve eaten a lot of delicious food over the years in bountiful Marin County, a verdant peninsula surrounded by the Pacific just north of San Francisco. But honestly, those crabs we caught ourselves might top the list—the freshest of seafood, dunked in bowls of melted butter.
These days Marin is known as the affluent, family-centric home base for the Bay Area’s wealthy remote and tech workers. Real estate prices here are among the highest in the country. But it hasn’t always been that way. In the 1970s, Marin was the groovy epicenter of the Grateful Dead and the birthplace of the renegade sport of mountain biking. As a result, the area’s hippie, counterculture roots as a rock-and-roll commune still persevere and can be felt in Marin’s laid-back, unpretentious, outdoorsy vibe.
Over half of Marin’s open space remains off-limits to development, thanks to long-standing conservation efforts. The county boasts three federally protected wild spaces—Muir Woods National Monument, Point Reyes National Seashore, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area—and six state parks. And residents here treasure both their expansive public and private lands for more than just recreation, regularly frequenting the 250 local farms and ranches that make the most of the mild climate and fertile landscape, from cheesemakers and winemakers to apple, artichoke, and oyster farmers.
I love coming to Marin. There are many wonderful ways to spend a weekend here, but if you’re looking to tie together a variety of outdoor activities, accommodations situated near wildlands, and food options that will keep you singing the praises of this corner of the country for years to come, here’s my favorite itinerary to experience the best Marin has to offer.
3 P.M. Hit the Trails
Start your weekend outside with a short hike or trail run within the Marin Headlands, part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, where miles of winding singletrack offer ocean views. Go out and back on the SCA Trail—about two miles one way, though it connects to other trails if you want to make the hike longer—for vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge and a steady climb along a narrow ridge. It’s hard to believe a city as dense and populated as San Francisco is just a famous bridge commute or short ferry ride away when you’re out here exploring these areas of uncrowded wilderness.
5 P.M. Check In to Your Digs
A stay at the LEED-certified Cavallo Point (from $425) is hard to beat.This gorgeous, 350-acre resort at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge was formerly the site of the U.S. Army post at For Baker and feels like a true getaway, with incredible views and the scent of eucalyptus permeating the air. The hotel has a spa, a top-notch farm-to-fork restaurant, and tries to keep its guests out and moving with offerings such as daily yoga, vintage electric bikes, summertime lawn games, and guided hikes that leave right from the property. Dogs are treated like VIP guests, and there’s expansive grounds for you and your pup to play.
If you’d rather sleep beneath the stars, there’s camping on the ocean at Kirby Cove (from $40), west of the Golden Gate Bridge, from March through late November, or for year-round options, head about ten miles north to Mount Tamalpais State Park and stay in the rustic Steep Ravine Cabins ($100) or at one of its campsites ($25)—though both are highly coveted and most reservations should be booked six months’ out. The backcountry campsites (from $30) in Point Reyes National Seashore are stunning (not to mention more available), if you’re willing to hike in with your gear.
7 P.M. Nosh Time
Head to the upscale hamlet of Sausalito for an evening stroll along the water, followed by dinner of kale-and-ricotta pizza at Bar Bocce, with views of houseboats in the harbor. Afterward, go for a pint next door at Joinery, a casual beer hall with picnic tables on the dock. Save room for a scoop of mango or cinnamon-horchata ice cream at Lappert’s.
7:30 A.M. First, Coffee
There’s coffee and complimentary pastries in the hotel lobby at Cavallo Point if you need an immediate fix. For a proper meal, start your day with a leisurely breakfast of avocado toast with perfectly poached eggs—plus a side of vanilla bean doughnuts—at Farley, the in-house restaurant.
10 A.M. Take a Guided Food Tour
Love learning where your food comes from? Sign up with Food and Farm Tours, a locally owned outfitter that leads public, small-group excursions around Marin County’s best oyster farms, cheesemakers, and flower and food growers. As part of two of its tours, you’ll snack on pastries at the Bovine Bakery, in Point Reyes Station, which is worth standing in line for.
1 P.M. Yes, You Should Order the Oysters
There are many superb places to dine on locally harvested oysters in coastal Marin. The most famous is probably Hog Island Oyster Co., in Marshall, a dreamy outdoor café with a raw bar, barbecued oysters, and cheese platters stacked with offerings from nearby Cowgirl Creamery. If you’re on the Food and Farm Tour, you’ll likely make a stop here; if not, make a reservation well in advance to score a table. (If you can’t get a reservation, there’s a grab-and-go shack for picnic supplies to take with you, or there’s an easier-to-get-into Hog Island café in the southern Marin town of Larkspur.) As an alternative option, check out Nick’s Cove and Cottages in Marshall, where you can dine on oysters harvested from Tomales Bay at the lodge’s on-site restaurant, situated at the end of a pier. The cottages at Nick’s (from $375) were recently renovated and make for a great home base as well.
3 P.M. Taste Wine Made from Bees
Marin isn’t known for its wine—that would be neighboring Sonoma and Napa counties—but the sparkling mead wine made from honeybees by a geologist turned brewer at Heidrun Meadery, also in Point Reyes Station, is worth a stop for a quick tasting.
4 P.M. Make a Break for the Beach
With 80 miles of shoreline, you can enjoy Point Reyes National Seashore by walking endless sandy beaches, like Drake’s Beach or North Beach, both of which are easily accessible via car. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to get out on the water, you can rent a kayak from Blue Waters Kayaking, which also runs nighttime bioluminescence tours from Heart’s Desire Beach in Tomales Bay. If sailing is more your style, book a chartered trip with Tomales Bay Sailing in Point Reyes.
8 P.M. Splurge on the Best Sushi in the Bay
Ask anyone around and they’ll tell you the best and freshest sushi in the Bay Area is at Sausalito’s Sushi Ran. The owner, Yoshi Tome, who grew up in Japan, knows a great deal about sake and has been running his beloved restaurant since 1986.
8 A.M. Fill Up with a Farmers’ Market Breakfast
Pick up coffee and breakfast—as well as everything from pies to pickles—from the plentiful and iconic Sunday Marin Farmers’ Market in San Rafael, the third-largest farmers’ market in California, which is set at the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed civic center and open year-round on Sundays from 8 A.M. until 1 P.M.
9:30 A.M. Walk in the Woods
Wander among old-growth redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument, which has six miles of trails (again, you can connect to other trail networks for longer outings). In order to visit, you’ll need to make a parking reservation in advance or arrive by shuttle. The oldest trail-running race in the country, the Dipsea Race, first held in 1905 on the steep Dipsea Trail and now a bucket-list event for many that happens each June, crosses through Muir Woods as competitors make their way from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach. But anyone can test their mettle on the trail year-round—it makes for a technical and challenging 7.4-mile hike.
11:30 A.M. Stop for Sourdough and Surf
Another reason to love Marin: the 24-hour honor-system farm stand from the family-run Gospel Flat Farm, about a mile and a half north of Bolinas Beach on the Olema-Bolinas Road. Drop your money in the box or make a Venmo payment to grab fresh eggs, a loaf of homemade sourdough, or produce grown in the adjacent field. If you’re a surfer, the break at Bolinas is the place to be. The 2 Mile Surf Shop in the quaint coastal town of Bolinas rents boards and wetsuits and offers lessons.
1 P.M. Taco Time
A solid morning of exertion calls for a lunch of fish tacos or a midday brunch of saucy, avocado-topped huevos rancheros at the nearby Coast Café.
3 P.M. Spin Your Wheels near the Birthplace of Mountain Biking
Fifty years ago, a group of road cyclists from Marin began using fat-tire, singlespeed vintage bikes to ride the trails around towering 2,571-foot Mount Tamalpais, recognized as the birthplace of mountain biking. These days, the area’s best purpose-built mountain-bike trails can be found at Camp Tamarancho, a Boy Scout–run open space west of Fairfax. In town, Split Rock Tap and Wheel is known for its tune-ups, rentals, and a staff with ample local trail knowledge. Another great option is Mountain Bike SF, which leads guided trail rides in Marin and also rents bikes. Next door is the Marin Museum of Bicycling, well worth a stop to learn more on the history of the sport in the area. Afterward, order a cold Kölsch, surrounded by mountain bikes hanging off the walls, at Gestalt Haus, a lively beer hall.
When to Go to Marin County
There’s no bad time of year to visit the San Francisco Bay Area, but late fall—from September to November—is actually when the city sees some of its warmest weather of the year. And there’s a reason Marin is called the sunny side of the Golden Gate Bridge: winter temperatures rarely drop below 50 degrees. Early winter is a great time for spotting migratory birds and whale-watching. California gray whales can be spotted heading north along the Northern California coast between mid-January and mid-March, and Point Reyes National Seashore is a great place to look for them.
Megan Michelson is a frequent Outside contributor who lives in Tahoe City, California, and travels to Marin County a couple of times per year for trail running and the good food.