Explore three extraordinary places—then enjoy a delicious meal nearby.
Photo creditPhoto: Ethan Welty/Tandem Stock
Photo creditPhoto: Matthew Kuhns/Tandem Stock
Photo creditPhoto: Marc Fiorito/Gamma Nine Photography
Photo creditPhoto: Courtesy of Saltwater Oyster Depot
Photo creditPhoto: California Birdy/Getty Images
The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku: forest bathing. It's the polar opposite of a power walk—a slow, deliberate immersion in nature.
Anyone in need of such joy-inducing rambles should beeline to Marin County, Calif. Home to poppy-dotted hillsides, tranquil woodlands, and wave-swept coves, Marin is a true walker's paradise, with some of the world's most superlative scenery.
Three destinations in particular stand out: Muir Woods, Mount Tamalpais, and Point Reyes. Each showcases Marin's varied splendor and is also just a short drive from restaurants that work wonders with the region's produce, seafood, cheeses, and wines. So slow down, stroll, sample, and sip—and surround yourself with natural marvels.
Muir Woods National Monument Only 12 miles north of San Francisco, Muir Woods includes six miles of paved or boardwalk trails through thousands of old-growth coast redwoods. Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the park welcomes over 1 million visitors each year from around the globe (arrive when the park opens at 8 a.m. to beat the crowds). The magnitude of these ancient groves, sheltering entire communities of birds and insects, induces a powerful sense of humility and connection.
On the Main Trail, you can appreciate the massive trunk of a 700-year-old giant tree, the hopeful green of a sword fern frond, or the contemplative pace of a banana slug. A mile in, the buzz of other visitors is replaced by the squawk of a Steller's jay and the drip of condensing fog. Across a small footbridge over Redwood Creek, the Hillside Trail completes the two-mile loop, its modest elevation gain providing a different perspective on the forest and a neck-saving reprieve from gazing up in wonder.
Eat Here It's hard to top the majesty of Muir Woods, but the oceanfront Siren Canteen, nine miles away in Stinson Beach, comes close. The dining here is casual, as beachgoers with sandy feet stroll up to a covered patio below a lifeguard station. But little touches add sophistication: cut flowers, a curated beer and wine list, burgers and quesadillas made with grass-fed beef and organic chicken, a condiment bar stocked with salsas and pickled veggies. Order a plate of grilled tilapia tacos or a tangy Meyer lemon milk shake and grab any table. All come with ocean views.
Mount Tamalpais State Park The county's highest point, Mount Tamalpais, often photo-bombs the local landscape, inserting its 2,571-foot peak into vistas around the San Francisco Bay Area. Seen in close-up, the redwood groves, oak woodlands, and wildflower-filled meadows on the mountain's slopes capture the full range of Marin's natural beauty, earning Mount Tam, as it's called, a special place in hikers' hearts. Many summits can be reached only by the hardiest trekkers, but on Mount Tam, visitors can park just below the East Peak for an easy yet scenic stroll along the Verna Dunshee Trail, named after a crusader for the mountain's preservation. The flat 0.7-mile loop circles the crown, offering unforgettable panoramas and a crash course in Bay Area geography: in the distance, the pale line of surf along Ocean Beach, the sparkle of Richardson Bay, the sunbaked hills of wine country, the Farallon Islands emerging from the Pacific.
Eat Here After watching the sunset, drive down 11 miles of twisty road to Mill Valley's intimate and immensely popular Molina, located in a former cottage. Chef Kyle Swain showcases seasonal ingredients— look for king salmon, fire-roasted asparagus, and wild mushrooms on the spring menu—and his extensive collection of retro vinyl. Counter seating offers a view of Molina's brick oven, a fiery crucible that takes entrées such as clay pot black cod with nettles or Angus rib eye with padrón peppers and chimichurri sauce to a new level of wood-fired perfection. Save room for fresh, sugar-dusted beignets and a cup of San Francisco's Four Barrel coffee to dunk them in.
Point Reyes National Seashore One of Marin's unexpected wild places is this triangular peninsula jutting into the Pacific Ocean. Comprising more than 100 square miles of windswept bluffs, dark forests, and dramatic sea stacks pummeled by surf, Point Reyes may be a protected treasure, but it has never been tamed.
On the shore's northwestern edge, the two-plus-mile roundtrip Abbotts Lagoon Trail offers a slice of untrammeled beauty, skirting shimmering lagoons. Smaller surprises await hikers in the trailside scrub: the sudden flush of a quail brood, the twitch of a wide-eyed jackrabbit, the springtime unfurling of delicate pink checkerblooms and golden buttercups.
At the channel connecting the lagoons, cross a wooden bridge for the chance to spot diving ospreys or watch the clownish antics of river otters. From here, hikers can thread their way another half mile through dunes and driftwood to reach the crashing waves of the aptly named Great Beach.
Eat Here When you've been tasting salt on the air all day, nothing feels more fitting than seafood at rustic-chic Saltwater Oyster Depot, which overlooks Tomales Bay in the compact town of Inverness. Raw and baked bivalves—many sustainably farmed in the bay's cool waters—headline the menu, some zinged with red curry and ginger or topped with pesto and Parmesan. Other local delicacies share the spotlight, including semolina-crusted rockfish caught just down the coast in Bolinas and pineappleglazed barbecued pork ribs from Devil's Gulch Ranch in nearby Nicasio. Order a glass of Northern California wine and raise a toast to Marin's plenty.
Read Marin's Cheese Triangle for one of the country's finest cheese regions.
This article was first published in Spring 2016. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.