The Best Places to Go in Marin County
Looking for the best things to do in Marin County? Just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, the county offers activities, cultural events, and entertainment for all ages. Due to its natural surroundings, much of the recreation is oriented around the outdoors.
Heading north across the bridge is the seaside village of Sausalito, an artists enclave known for its sweeping vistas of San Francisco Bay and its walkable, visitor-oriented downtown. But there’s also much to explore off-the-beaten-path. Take a hike and snap postcard photos from the rolling hills overlooking the bridge on the rugged Marin Headlands. Located within the headlands is the Marine Mammal Center, a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation facility that includes a visitor's center and animal viewing area. At Fort Baker, kids of all ages will enjoy the Bay Area Discovery Museum, an interactive educational center that focuses on the local environment. Most exhibits are geared for children ages eight and under. Built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1957 to replicate tidal patterns, the Bay Model, to the north, is a fully functioning hydraulic model of the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta system. Self-guided tours are available to explore the indoor model, which is the size of two football fields.
In Tiburon, you can catch a ferry to Angel Island State Park, where you can hike or bike in loops ranging from three to five miles around San Francisco Bay's largest island for unobstructed views of the entire Bay Area. Rich in history, the island has been used by the U.S. military for fortifications, as a quarantine facility and an immigration station. Segway and motorized tram tours are also available during the peak season. For those who prefer to stay on the mainland, the Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum celebrates Tiburon's history as a train terminus and bustling port town.
From San Francisco and elsewhere in Marin, take a short road trip to Muir Woods National Monument for a walk on raised pathways through a pristine forest of towering redwoods, one of the most visited sites in the Bay Area. Continue your trip up to Mt. Tamalpais State Park for miles of hiking and biking, or continue 14 miles down the Panoramic Highway to Stinson Beach.
The largest city in Marin County, San Rafael has a vibrant downtown that showcases its history as well as its present. In heart of downtown lies Mission San Rafael Arcangel, one of the original California Missions, which was established in 1817 and still in use today. Also in downtown, the Rafael Film Center, which is owned and operated by the nonprofit California Film Institute, features independent films and special events.
Spreading out from San Rafael’s downtown hub are several other fun places to visit. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and featured in the film 1997 science fiction film Gattaca, the futuristic Marin Civic Center is headquarters for city and county operations and hosts many cultural events. China Camp State Park, on the fringes of the bay, features sandy beaches, hiking and biking trails, and a historic fishing village. McNear's Beach Park features a rocky shoreline, public pool, fishing pier, and sports courts.
Marin's northernmost city, Novato, is home to two museums, as well as numerous outdoor recreation options. The Marin Museum of the America Indian, which explores local native culture, is situated on an actual site of a Miwok village, while the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art showcases local artists in a historic building in the Hamilton Field neighborhood, which was previously a U.S. Air Force base. Major retailers Costco and Target anchor The Vintage Oaks Shopping Center, an outdoor mall with more than 50 shops and restaurants. Hikers and those who prefer more outdoor pursuits can explore miles of trails on Mount Burdell, perhaps venturing the 1,558-foot climb to its peak.
—By Christopher Laddish
Christopher Laddish is Marin County-based writer, reporter, and photographer. He contributes regularly to the Marinscope chain of six newspapers covering the entire county.