Monday, December 03, 2018

Beautiful West Marin County - Part I

Below is the October edition of "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron's free newsletter of fun things to do in San Francisco and the Bay Area.  If you would like to subscribe, email me at
Beautiful West Marin County - Part I
One of my favorite parts of the Bay Area is West Marin County. From San Francisco, visitors quickly get to wide open spaces and can see rugged coastline, explore quaint towns, drive through rolling hills of dairy farms, and eat some pretty good food. When Blue Heron opened in 2003, I hoped to share my love of this area with many visitors from out of town by offering two West Marin tours on the Blue Heron website. Unfortunately, not many visitors pick these tours. I hope it's because they prefer to explore West Marin on their own rather than to not take the time to visit this less-traveled region. In an effort to encourage more guests to visit this beautiful part of the Bay Area, I am republishing, with updates, two "Rick's Tips" that originally covered this area in 2005. Below is Part I. Part II will be in the January 2019 issue of "Rick's Tips." 

The area called West Marin stretches along the Pacific Ocean from Muir Beach in the south to Dillon Beach in the north. It is a world apart from the suburban life found in the rest of Marin County. Much of the land is protected. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Point Reyes National Seashore, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, and Tomales Bay State Park are part of West Marin. Much land is watershed and still more is reserved for agricultural uses. Dairy farming has a rich history in West Marin. Today this area is home to organic dairies and artisan cheese-makers. 

Each of the small communities that straddle California Route 1 - the main north/south artery through the area - has a unique character. We'll take a tour of West Marin in this issue from Muir Beach to Bolinas. In January, we'll explore the area from Point Reyes National Seashore to Dillon Beach.  

Muir Beach 

If you visit Muir Woods, turn right when you leave the parking lot. You will follow Redwood Creek on its journey to the ocean. When you arrive at Route 1, you will be in the small community of Muir Beach. In good years, which have been rare recently, our winter rains start in late October or early November. By December or early January, Redwood Creek gains enough force to break through the sandbar at Muir Beach. Then steelhead trout and salmon are able to swim up the creek and spawn in Muir Woods. Unfortunately, drought and other factors have greatly reduced the number of spawning fish. 

Muir Beach is home to a lovely bed and breakfast, The Pelican Inn. The inn has nine charming guest rooms as well as a restaurant that features country English fare. The bar has a great selection of ale, lager, and stout on tap. One of my favorite day hikes is to walk from Tennessee Valley in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area along the Coastal Trail to Muir Beach. I then stop for lunch or a brew (just one) at The Pelican Inn and head back. The round-trip walk is about nine miles. There's a fair amount of up and down, but the spectacular coastal views make it worth the effort. 

Just north of town is the Muir Beach Overlook, an old base-end station where soldiers searched for enemy ships during World War II. Today this beautiful bluff affords views of the rugged California coast from Point Reyes to the Golden Gate. Standing here, it is hard to imagine that one is in the midst of a metropolitan area of over seven million people. If you are lucky, you might see whales off shore.  

Stinson Beach 

The next town north on Route 1 is Stinson Beach. This is where San Franciscans go when the sun is shining and we just want to lie on the beach. (Yes, there are a few days in the Bay Area when the temperature hits 90, and you can walk on the beach in a bathing suit rather than a down jacket.) Stinson has that funky beach feel that is scarce in Northern California. No gourmet restaurants with extensive wine lists here, but there are three good places to grab a casual lunch. Parkside Cafe, Sand Dollar Restaurant, and Stinson Beach Breakers Cafe all have sandwiches, salads, and other dishes. You may also want to stroll through the shops that line the two blocks of Route 1 in town. 

Stinson Beach is all about escaping San Francisco's fog for a sunny day at the beach. Be warned: if one of these rare 90 degree days falls on a weekend, traffic will be heavy and parking scarce in town. 


Bolinas has a reputation for being quirky and a refuge for former hippies and other free thinkers. For many years the highway department tried to place signs on Route 1 to indicate the turn-off to Bolinas. Within days the signs would disappear. Today, the main road into Bolinas is unmarked. It is the first left turn off Route 1 after you pass Bolinas Lagoon if you are driving from Stinson Beach. When you arrive, you may no longer find many hippies, but you will find a unique village to wander around for a short while. 

South of the Bolinas turn-off on Route 1 (3.5 miles north of Stinson Beach) is the Audubon Canyon Ranch's Martin Griffin Preserve. During the spectacular heron and egret nesting season, you can walk up on a hillside and use telescopes to view chicks in their nests. Hours vary depending on the season, so check the Preserve's website before visiting.  

Agate Beach County Park, just west of Bolinas, is a nice place to enjoy the beach on a warm, sunny day. At low tide, you can walk to the park along the shore from the town of Bolinas. Check a tide table before taking this pleasant, hour-long walk to make sure you can complete your journey before the tide comes in.  

Coast Cafe in Bolinas is a friendly spot for breakfast or lunch. A new hotel and restaurant, Eleven, recently opened for dinner. While I have not yet dined there, early reviews of the restaurant look promising. That's it for our journey in West Marin for this issue. For more information on visiting West Marin, visit the Chamber of Commerce's website. We'll head to Point Reyes in January.

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