Your Guide to Marin County, California

|March 23, 2018

Marin County spans from the northernmost tip of the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito all the way up north to Tomales and Dillon Beach. Characterized by its easy-going nature, open spaces and proximity to the water, it’s the perfect place for hikers, families, retirees and anyone looking for a small-town atmosphere just across the bridge from San Francisco. It also gets bonus points for being neighbors with Sonoma County and the Napa Valley!

Known for its art-loving communities and family-friendly events, attractions and outdoor adventures, a visit to Marin also includes world-class restaurants and plenty of fun things to do. Trust us when we say living in this cozy part of the North Bay is even better than swinging through for the breathtaking views.

Whether you’re just visiting or you’re looking to make your stay more permanent, here is what you need to know about Marin County.

Major Cities

Marin County’s communities range in size from 2,000 to over 55,000. Below, we’ve highlighted a few of the largest populations that offer the densest cultural and entertainment centers.

The biggest cities in Marin County, California

San Rafael

Located just on the other side of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, this is the county seat of Marin County and the region’s largest city. At over 55,000 people, it has a combined culture that includes a revitalized downtown district, a college atmosphere, a lively film and technology sector, a characteristic artistic culture, and plenty of outdoor activities. Learn more in our guide, The 9 Most Affordable Neighborhoods Outside San Francisco!

Novato

As one of the hubs of northern Marin, Novato is located on San Pablo Bay which puts it right next to the expansive San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Alongside a thriving community of local eateries and businesses throughout the downtown district, you’ll also find Deer Island Preserve, Indian Valley Preserve, Loma Verde Preserve, Pacheco Valle Preserve and Ignacio Valley Preserve — all within the city limits!

Mill Valley

Settled on the eastern slopes of Mount Tamalpais, Mill Valley’s natural landscape consists of flat coastal areas, marshlands, wooded canyons and second-growth redwoods along the base of the mountain. Just outside the city limits, you’ll find Muir Woods National Monument and inside, you’ll find a selection of the best restaurants and attractions in the entire county.

The Essential Restaurants

Due to its neighboring food and drink destinations, San Francisco and Sonoma County, Marin can often get overlooked, but we’re here to say it shouldn’t be. These coastal, farm-inspired and global eateries are worth a visit!

Sushi in Marin County California Bay Area sushi

Sushi Ran | Sausalito | This sushi spot is often called the best in the Bay, which includes competition in the sushi-loving communities of SF and San Jose.

Farmshop | Larkspur | Famous for its farm-to-table fare, this restaurant boasts a 50-foot, hand-sculpted wooden bar, an open kitchen and pizza oven, and a spacious patio perfect for brunch.

Sir and Star | Olema | This upscale dinner destination is located inside The Hotel Olema and offers an outstanding Chefs Meal every Saturday evening.

Picco | Larkspur | Tucked in downtown Larkspur, this bar and restaurant is set in a cozy dining room of red brick and redwood.

Poggio Trattoria | Sausalito | Using local ingredients, the chefs at Poggio develop daily changing menus inspired by the cuisine of Northern Italy.

M.H. Bread and Butter | San Anselmo | This beloved Marin bakery and cafe offers freshly baked breads, pastries and a full menu of breakfast, lunch, early dinner, local craft beer on tap, and regional wines.

Sol Food | San Rafael + Mill Valley | This famous Marin eatery serves up delicious Puerto Rican food.

Osteria Stellina | Point Reyes Station | This unpretentious, fine dining osteria provides rustic Italian cuisine made with local, organic ingredients.

Marché aux Fleurs | Ross | This neighborhood bistro creates French country cuisine from fresh, farmers’ market ingredients.

Must-Visit Attractions

Marin loves art whether it comes in the form of craft beer, live music, painting or theater. We’re highlighting just a few of the best — with a must-visit family spot and a must-see view thrown in for good measure!

What to do see in Marin County California

Photo courtesy of Marin Museum of Contemporary Art

Marin Brewing Company | Larkspur | This casual spot offers pub fare alongside beers brewed in-house. You can drink them on the outdoor patio or inside under mountain bikes in the rafters!

Bay Area Discovery Museum | Sausalito | This outstanding children’s museum is located inside the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Point Bonita Lighthouse | Sausalito | Located on the San Francisco Bay, Point Bonita was the last manned lighthouse on the California coast.

Sweetwater Music Hall | Mill Valley | One of the region’s most intimate venues, this cafe and concert venue is located inside the historic Masonic Lodge.

Trek Winery | Novato | Trek began as a family-owned and operated winery in 2007 and the tasting room has become both a gathering place and a local venue for both music and comedy.

Marin Museum of Contemporary Art | Novato | This museum is housed in what was once the headquarters of the Hamilton Air Force Base and offers free admission to view their outstanding art exhibits.

Marin Theatre Company | Mill Valley | This nonprofit theatre company put on some of the county’s best shows.

Outdoor Adventures  

This coastal region of the North Bay has long been a destination for bikers, hikers and view-seekers. You can get all of this and more from nearly every town, city or park, but we’ve collected a few of the best starting points.

Hiking biking outdoors Marin County California

Angel Island State Park | Tiburon | This historic island has been ranked fifth in the world on the 7 Islands Perfect For Day Trips by CNN travel. Hiking and biking trails circle the island and climb to the top of Mount Livermore.

Point Reyes National Seashore | Inverness | Point Reyes offers visitors over 1,500 species of plants and animals along terrain that includes rocky headlands, sandy beaches, open grasslands, brushy hillsides and forested ridges.

Muir Woods National Monument | Mill Valley | Federally protected as a National Monument since 1908, this old-growth redwood forest is breathtaking. You’ll find the tallest tree in Bohemian Grove and it stands at 260 feet!

Marin Headlands | Sausalito | One of the most photographed natural landscapes in the Bay Area, this park has been home to the Miwok Indians, the American Military and everything in between. If you’re bringing your dog along, stop by dog-friendly Rodeo Beach!

Mount Tamalpais State Park | Mill Valley | Covered in Redwood and Oak forests, the primary feature is the 2571-foot Mount Tamalpais. From the top, you’ll get sweeping views of the surrounding Bay Area.

Can’t-Miss Events

The communities of Marin County are famous for their festivals of art, music and family fun. There are countless options throughout the year, so we rounded up just a few of the can’t-miss annual and monthly events.

Marin County Fair events annual California

Photo courtesy of Marin County Fair

2nd Friday Art Walks | San Rafael | Hosted by the landmark art space Art Works Downtown, these monthly events explore the lively community of San Rafael.

Friday Nights on Main | Tiburon | This summer series closes down Tiburon’s Main Street and opens it up for the community to walk through tables and food booths from local restaurants while listening to live music from the main stage.

Fairfax Brewfest | Fairfax | This celebration of California craft beer occurs around St. Patrick’s Day every year.

Fairfax Festival | Fairfax | This June festival is over 40-years-old and brings Marin families together for Family Film Night, local music on three stages, market shopping, a kids’ play area, fresh food, beer, and an organic wine tasting.

Tiburon Wine Festival | Tiburon | As one of the Bay Area’s premier wine events, this May festival showcases established and small production wineries.

Marin Greek Festival | Novato | Held every year on Memorial Day Weekend at the beautiful Nativity Of Christ Greek Orthodox Christian Church, this festival features authentic Greek food, live music, Minoan folk dancing, ethnic vendors and cooking demonstrations.  

Novato Festival of Art, Wine and Music | Novato | This free, all-ages event incorporates all of the best parts of living in Northern California — from the wine, microbrews and food to the local live music available on two stages.

Marin County Fair | San Rafael | Host to one of the Bay Area’s favorite fourth of July events, this county fair is an entire weekend of food, competition, family fun and marketplace shopping.

Mountain Play Association | Mill Valley | Each summer, The Mountain Play Association hosts the Bay Area’s most magical outdoor theater experience and has been doing so for more than 100 seasons!

Italian Street Painting MarinSan Rafael | Each June, professional artists take to the streets of Downtown San Rafael and transform them into an inspiring and rich tapestry of talent, color and awe. Entertainment includes live music, a silent auction and more.

Mill Valley Wine, Beer & Gourmet Food Tasting | Mill Valley | This iconic North Bay summer event brings wine from more than 65 premium wineries, fine craft beers from 11 breweries and food from nearly 30 food purveyors and 12 local restaurants to the heart of Downtown Mill Valley.

What do you love about Marin?

Let us know in the comments below!

Category Community Guides, Marin County

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