Known for its scenic natural wonders, bohemian towns, excellent cheeses and oysters, West Marin is one of the most magical regions in the San Francisco Bay Area. Where else can you find hundreds of hiking and biking trails, pristine and wild beaches, various waterways to kayak, and gorgeous sweeping views around every corner—all within easy reach.
Take a day trip, a weekend or a long holiday, then choose one or more of the fun and wild activities offered in this idyllic wonderland. Bring your hiking shoes, mountain bike, kayak, swimsuit, or surfboard and head out for adventure. Or, if you’re looking for a more relaxing day, pack a good book, your binoculars, and a camera and wander off to read, watch for wildlife, or photograph a sunset. Round out the day visiting the area’s abundant unique boutiques, museums, and art galleries.
When it’s time to dine, you’ll have plenty of options. Most West Marin restaurants offer menus featuring sustainable or organic dishes made with locally grown produce, artisan products, and locally fed or grass-fed meats, as well as vegetarian meals. Be ready for some of the best oysters in the country from Hog Island or Drakes Bay, delicious world-renowned cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery or Point Reyes Cheese, fresh baked goods from the well-known Bovine Bakery, and restaurants of the finest quality to the greasiest spoon.
West Marin is on Highway 1 north of the Golden Gate Bridge and east of San Rafael. We focus here on Stinson Beach, Bolinas, and Point Reyes Station, the best known of the West Marin communities. Just remember to wear layers of clothing, as the weather is unpredictable.
The most popular of the coastal towns, Stinson features a three-mile long beach that is well kept, clean, and easily to get to from Mill Valley. Swimming, surfing, and sunbathing are the favorite activities here. Lifeguards are on duty during summer weekends. Next to the beach is an ideal state park area with shade, lawns, picnic tables, and barbecues for day use.
On a sunny day this little beach town gets flooded with visitors. If you do not want to be a part of the pack, choose from many of the other beaches up the coast such as Limantour or Hearts Desire near Pt. Reyes. With three formal restaurants, two snack bars, and a deli for purchasing picnic lunches, you have plenty of dining options, and on weekends, there’s often live music. After a day in the sun, enjoy a Double Rainbow ice cream from the local video store. You will also find several unique boutiques, galleries, and even a flower shop.
Rent Kayaks: Stinson Beach Kayak
Art Gallery: Claudia Chapline
A wonderful bohemian town that refuses to change, Bolinas is home to about 2,000 eclectic residents. You know you’re almost there when you see a sign announcing that you are “Entering a socially acknowledged nature-loving town” (this was officially voted on). When you reach the downtown areas, it is a flashback to the ’70s. Downtown Bo (as the locals call it) is quite distinctive: The wooden walkway in front of the grocery store still exists, there is an organic grocery store, and in the courtyard next door is a “free box” filled with donated clothing. Down the street, an artistically created nook invites those passing by to write a note to the universe, to give gratitude, or to write a poem. Most things in Bolinas have an artistic flair, and the unique shops in town highlight its artistic residents. Then, of course, there is Smiley’s Saloon, said to be the oldest continuously running bar in California. It offers music almost every night.
Both of the downtown streets end at the beach. Parking is sometimes difficult because Bolinas has become a surfer’s nirvana. At high tide, the beach is almost non-existent, so plan your trip according to the tide charts.
Surfing: Rent gear or sign up for a lesson at the 2 Mile Surf Shop
Music: Smileys Saloon
Restaurant: Coast Cafe
Point Reyes has the largest downtown area in West Marin—but it is still only three blocks long and a couple of blocks deep. Window-shop along the busy main drag; stop at Toby’s feed barn, your all-in-one general store, art gallery, coffee cart, gift shop, feed store, farmers market, and more. Pick up picnic provisions at the Palace Market grocery store, browse for a good read at Pt. Reyes Books, buy some cowboy boots at the western shop Cabaline’s, or grab a kite to take to the beach from Into the Blue kite shop.
Point Reyes is a good jumping off place to the Point Reyes National Seashore, where you can take a long picturesque drive to the lighthouse or go to the Bear Valley Visitors Center to catch up on the history of Marin County, the native Miwok Indians, and the wonderful wildlife that continues to flourish in the huge protected area.
Kayak Rentals: Blue Water Kayaks
Art Gallery: Route One Gallery
Music: Dance Palace
Other Places to Research Before You Go
—By Shannon Kilkenny
West Marin resident Shannon Kilkenny is a writer, event planner, travel concierge, and adventurer. Visit her at Enterprising Events.