Marin County in the Bay Area of California is a bedroom community across the Golden Gate Bridge to the north of San Francisco. Affluent Marin County is home to ex-hippies and dot-com millionaires. It has rugged wilderness areas on its western coast, while towns on the Bay have a nautical air dating to the 1800s.
- 1 Bolinas: A counterculture enclave whose residents notoriously remove any signs pointing the way into town.
- 2 Fairfax: Another counterculture enclave and the gateway to the rural western half of the county
- 3 Larkspur and Corte Madera: A pair of small towns best known for upscale shopping and the county's main ferry terminal.
- 4 Mill Valley: The starting point for hikes in Muir Woods and on Mount Tamalpais.
- 5 Novato: Large and quiet bedroom community
- 6 San Anselmo
- 7 San Rafael: The cultural and political center of Marin, home to the unique Civic Center, lively Fourth Street, the historic mission, and China Camp State Park.
- 8 Sausalito: A picturesque hillside town with sailing and views of San Francisco right across the bay.
- 9 Tiburon: A small, wealthy town on a peninsula, home to historic buildings, attractive hills, and the gateway to Angel Island State Park.
- 1 Point Reyes National Seashore
- 2 Marin Headlands
- 3 Muir Woods National Monument - This national monument, located in Mill Valley, has some of the oldest remaining giant coastal redwoods in the world.
- 4 Angel Island State Park. The largest natural island in the San Francisco Bay and a good place for hiking, accessible by ferry from Tiburon or by private boat.
- 5 Samuel P. Taylor State Park, 8889 Sir Francis Drake Ave, Lagunitas.
- 6 Stinson Beach - a clean beach, and not too crowded, though the water is a little chilly for swimming
Marin is known for affluence and left-wing politics, even compared to the rest of the famously liberal and economically booming Bay Area. To give you an idea of the politics, Marin County's Fairfax is the only town in the nation with a Green Party majority in its town council. Meanwhile, the money in the area means that there's no shortage of fine restaurants and shopping, as well as a fair share of performances, festivals, and so on.
But the big draw for most visitors is Marin's nature: steep hills, rugged beaches, ancient forests, and state parks for hiking, biking, and camping.
Marin has a temperate climate, with warm, dry summers and mild, rainy winters. Temperatures rarely go below freezing. During the summer, it's usually sunny and almost never rains, which means that this is the best season for planning outdoor activities, and it's the time when outdoor festivals and other interesting events tend to be scheduled.
The temperature tends to change a lot over the course of the day, so dress in layers. Always bring a sweatshirt or jacket (even on warm days), especially if you plan to be out past sundown.
Like its neighbor to the south, Marin can sometimes get foggy. The typical pattern is for the fog to come in overnight and burn off during the day. Be careful if you plan to drive after midnight. The fog can interfere with the views on a hike, but the good news is that it burns off—so if you get to a lookout and feel like the fog is blocking a good view, it might be worth waiting a few minutes to see if it clears.
The closest major airports are San Francisco International Airport (SFO IATA) in San Francisco and Oakland International Airport (OAK IATA) in Oakland. Convenient airport bus service is provided by the Marin Airporter from San Francisco International Airport (every 30 minutes, 5AM to midnight, fare is $23 to be paid when you get off the bus, stops in Sausalito, Mill Valley (Manzanita and Seminary Drive), Larkspur Landing, San Rafael (Anderson Drive and the Transit Center), and Novato) and by Groome Transportation from Oakland International Airport (every two hours, early morning to evening, $37 for adults and free for children 12 and under).
- 1 Marin County Airport (NOT IATA) (at Gnoss Field). For those with the means to charter their own flight, Marin does have its own small airport.But not served by commercial airlines.
Golden Gate Transit offers public bus service from other parts of the Bay Area. There are several GGT buses into the county; two of the key ones are the 101 from San Francisco and Santa Rosa, and the 580 from El Cerrito and Richmond in the East Bay. Both of these have connections to BART.
Greyhound buses stop at the San Rafael Transit Center (3rd St and Hetherton St).
By commuter rail
SMART (Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit) provides commuter rail service to Sonoma County on a line from the Sonoma County Airport to Larkspur, with stops in between including Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Novato, and San Rafael. The Larkspur station allows connections to ferries to San Francisco. Fares range from $3.50 to $11.50 depending on how far you go, and must be paid by Clipper card or an "eTickets" app.
Marin is not served by BART, the commuter rail system that connects San Francisco with the East Bay and the Peninsula. If you're travelling by BART, you'll have to transfer to a ferry or bus in San Francisco, or to a bus in Richmond. The San Francisco option is probably better in terms of safety.
A popular way to reach Sausalito is by biking across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. From Sausalito, a network of bike routes lead to Marin County's other cities.
The walk into Marin across the Golden Gate Bridge is charming and scenic, if it isn't too foggy. If you want to continue past the immediate area north of the bridge, the navigation is a bit tricky but still possible; see Sausalito for details.
Most people get around by car. The main highway is US 101, which continues north to Sonoma County and south to San Francisco.
Marin Transit provides bus service. In addition to connecting the Marin County cities, it offers a seasonal shuttle to Muir Woods (buses 66 and 66F), and the West Marin stagecoach goes to Stinson Beach (bus 61) and Point Reyes (bus 68). The system's biggest hub is the San Rafael Transit Center in San Rafael, with smaller hubs in Novato, San Anselmo, and Marin City. Connections to Golden Gate Transit buses to San Francisco, Richmond, and Sonoma County are available.
Unfortunately, Marin Transit's service is optimized for locals rather than visitors. It's useful (though sometimes awkward) for getting between the main cities along 101, but service is sparse at best for the outdoorsy attractions that are the county's main draws. Still, sparse is better than none, and Marin Transit has a webpage to help you find your way to the county's parks by bus.
Service is infrequent enough that you should always check the schedule before setting off, and for the West Marin routes frequencies can be as low as one bus every two hours, or even less. Delays are not uncommon.
By commuter rail
Marin has a strong biking culture and lots of bike trails, and drivers here are used to making room for bikes. So as long as you don't mind hills, biking can be a very effective way to get around Marin. Not only that, Marin is one of the places where mountain biking first got started – people have been enjoying the county's renowned nature on two wheels for decades.
- Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed government building in the world
- Point Reyes Lighthouse at the end of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Point Reyes National Seashore
- Old-growth redwoods, the tallest living things on the planet, in Muir Woods
- Views of San Francisco across the bay from Sausalito
Marin has lots of beaches and mountains and is a great destination for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, kayaking, horseback riding, and sailing.
- Hike from Mill Valley to the peak of Mount Tamalpais, which has beautiful views of Marin and (on a clear day) San Francisco and the East Bay.
- The annual Dipsea Race is one of the oldest footraces in the U.S., a 7.5-mile (12-km) cross-country race on a scenic route from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach. Held on the second Sunday in June.
As a rule, lodging is expensive in Marin.
Hotels range from familiar chains to more distinctive local inns. Airbnbs are available too. If you want to sleep out in nature instead, there are a couple of hostels (one in the Marin Headlands and one at Point Reyes) and plenty of campsites.
Lower-income areas (the Canal in San Rafael and Marin City) can carry a slight risk for violent crime. In central San Rafael, exercise caution at night. In other parts of Marin, crime is generally not a significant concern.
Be careful to check for ticks after hiking in fields in the bay area. There is a high rate of lyme disease transmission in the Bay Area. If a bulls' eye rash develops at the tick bite site, immediately seek medical help and treatment with antibiotics.
Rattlesnakes, bobcats, and coyotes can be found in Marin, but they usually avoid humans, and you're unlikely to see one. If you do, don't bother them and they won't bother you.
The Marin County Free Library has branches scattered throughout the county's cities, with public computers and free Wi-Fi.
- Marin Independent Journal – the "IJ" provides daily local news coverage.
- 1 Sonoma County - Although its wineries may not be as famous as those in the Napa Valley, Marin County's northwestern neighbor is actually the largest wine producer in California Wine Country and home to over 250 wineries. More than seven million visitors each year explore the county's open spaces and beautiful coastline, including the big trees at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve and the seaside town of Bodega Bay where Alfred Hitchcock's thriller The Birds was filmed. For those interested in early California history, Fort Ross is a state historic site that preserves a fur trading outpost that was operated by Russia from 1812-1841.
- 2 Napa County - Neighboring Marin County across the Bay to the northeast, America's preeminent wine-producing region attracts more than five million annual visitors to over two hundred wineries, often overcrowding the roadways on summer weekends. Travelers will find world-famous restaurants to complement the wines, and lodging that includes luxury spas, B&Bs, and upscale hotels. Those uninterested in viticulture may choose to enjoy the hot springs of Calistoga or hike/bike the many parks and trails in the area's beautiful rolling hills.
- 3 Solano County - Located across the Bay to the east of Marin County, Solano County is far more rural than the other Bay Area counties, and includes significant portions of the California Delta, as well as parts of San Pablo Bay. Two of the county's cities served as early state capitals: Vallejo was the capital in 1852 and again in 1853, while Benicia served as the capital from February 1853 until February 1854; today Benicia Capitol State Historic Park provides the opportunity for visitors to explore the Capitol building from that era.
- 4 Contra Costa County - Across the bay to the east, Contra Costa County is a primarily residential county that offers a vast array of food, shopping, and lodging options for Bay Area visitors. The landscape is dominated by Mount Diablo, a peak that provides excellent hiking opportunities and, on clear days, summit views that stretch for well over 100 miles in all directions. Other attractions include the John Muir Historic Site in Martinez, the estate of Nobel winning playwright Eugene O'Neill in Danville, and a WWII shipyard, now a national historic site, in Richmond.
- 5 Alameda County - Alameda County is located across the Bay to the southeast of Marin County. The densely populated northern part of the county is home to the many parks and museums of Oakland, the counter-cultural hub that is Berkeley, and even a historic aircraft carrier in Alameda. The county's southern region provides a chance to experience dozens of immigrant communities, particularly in Fremont, while the eastern part of the county is rural, with the windmills and rolling hills surrounding Livermore offering opportunities for outdoor activities.
- 6 San Francisco - The heart of the Bay Area, famous for its scenic beauty and unique culture