Recreation

Highway 1: Best Stops Within Marin County

August 1, 2022

Highway 1 is without a doubt one of the most idyllic routes in the world. If you’ve been lucky enough to traverse the gnarliest sections along the Big Sur coastline, then you likely understand why it’s one of the most visited destinations in California — a road so fantastic it defies even the wildest of imaginations. 

Further north, the Golden Gate Bridge beckons travelers to a less celebrated but equally as stunning section of Highway 1. From here the road winds its way north through the rugged landscape of Marin County and one of the most productive agricultural regions in the Bay Area. With each twist and turn, the route coaxes another jewel from Marin’s treasure chest: historic farms, epic vistas, beautiful beaches, and ridiculously delicious local food.

Venturing to this section of Highway 1, travelers will find themselves entering a landscape that still looks and feels much as it has for decades. Since 1980, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (folks just call us “MALT”) has been protecting agricultural land from the threat of suburban development and the loss of the farms and ranches that provide the food we eat. With more than 50,000 acres of protected agricultural land, traveling here is like entering a time warp with plenty of stops for world-class food. The road awaits!

Here are my favorite stops along Marin County’s Highway 1:

Stinson Beach is a great place to start a Highway 1 road trip adventure.

Stinson Beach and Bolinas

There’s no easy way to get to Stinson Beach and that’s exactly what folks like about living on this section of remote coastline. Climbing out of the Mill Valley area, this section of Highway 1 traverses some of the most dramatic sections of the Pacific coastline. The narrow, two-lane road across these steep mountains is not for the faint of heart, but it’s worth it for some of the best views in the West.

Our family likes to stock up on snacks and good vibes at the Good Earth market before making the trek westward. Once underway, be sure to allow enough time on this section of the route for a visit to the Green Gulch Farm, and a chance to get your feet wet at Muir Beach and warm up with a cup of hot chocolate across the street at the Pelican Inn

Disclaimer: Many local businesses still have modified hours of operation or availability due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please plan ahead accordingly.

You could spend a lifetime playing in and around the Stinson Beach area and some locals have done just that. Most folks gravitate toward the southern section of the beach managed by the National Park Service (note that accessible parking and beach wheelchairs are available upon request). The northern end of the beach is also dog-friendly and so are both the Parkside Cafe and Breakers Cafe. Tails will be waggin’! 

For my family, a trip to this part of the Golden State isn’t complete without a stop at the Gospel Flat Farmstand in Bolinas for a chance to connect with the hipped-out farming community. Las Baulines Nursery is also a must, especially for travelers with a green thumb looking for native plant varieties. And plan to wash it all down with a cold one at Smiley’s Saloon, rumored to be one of the oldest continually operating saloons on the West Coast.  

Just north of downtown Bolinas lies Fresh Run Farms, one of the state’s first certified organic farms that grows more than 40 varieties of organic produce for Bay Area restaurants, including Quince and Chez Panisse. This is the first of many local farms and ranches you will pass on your route north that have been protected by MALT through agricultural conservation easements, safeguarding land from the threat of suburban development and ensuring it remains in agricultural production. 

Onwards to Olema! 

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Highway 1 bending through section of  Marin County farmland.

Olema

Headed north from the life-rich waters of the Bolinas Lagoon, Highway 1 climbs gently through the thick forest of the Pine Gulch watershed before cresting a shallow ridgeline and descending into the Olema Valley. Named after the nearby Coast Miwok village of “Olemaloke” (which means Coyote Village), this landscape has a rich and storied history and has been home to indigenous communities since time immemorial. A visit to Kule Loklo, a recreated Coast Miwok Village site, is a great chance to learn more about this landscape’s deep history. 

The Five Brooks Trailhead is the most prominent hiking destination along this section of the route, with miles of gentle hiking trails including a .7 mile wheelchair-accessible loop around the pond. Western horseback riding is also available and I can’t think of a better way to experience this corner of the Point Reyes National Seashore. 

Descending deeper into the Olema Valley, you will pass Victorian farmhouses, weathered dairy barns, and vibrant pastures still actively grazed by the local ranching community. Agriculture has deep roots in this corner of the Bay Area as mild coastal breezes and long grazing seasons provide for an abundance of grass and some of the best pastureland in the state. Try some of this local flavor for yourself with a stop for a bite at Due West and enjoy the old-fashioned atmosphere and locally-sourced seafood and steak dishes.  

You can extend your stay in the Olema Valley with a meditative retreat at the Vendetta Society, which is also open to the public for day visits. My kids, however, can’t get enough of the Olema Campground’s playground and easy creekside access; it’s one of the few camping options in the area. Stay as long as you can to soak up the valley’s laid-back rhythm. 

The Station House along Marin County's section of Highway 1.

Point Reyes Station 

Despite being such a small town, Point Reyes Station has an abundance of good food and just about everything a westward adventurer might need. It is a community with an ethos centered on its agricultural heritage and steadfast commitment to sustainable living. In my unprofessional opinion, a tour along this section of Highway 1 isn’t complete without a thorough exploration of the unofficial capital of West Marin. It’s the spot!

Start your tour of town with the pastries at the Bovine Bakery, fresh reading material at Point Reyes Books before cruising around the corner for a hot lunch at Brickmaiden Breads, Station House Cafe (pictured above) or the Side Street Kitchen (the local tri-tip sandwich is amazing). The Cowgirl Creamery is a local institution and is a mandatory stop, in my opinion, to sample some of the local artisan foods. The Palace Market is also a regular stop for our family as we seem to always forget something and frequently restock there for local cheese, honey wine or other picnicking essentials. And top things off with a woodfired pizza and fresh local oysters at Cafe Reyes. So yum!

Over two million people a year pass through Point Reyes Station on their way to the Point Reyes National Seashore. But most visitors to the area don’t realize that the 71,028 acres within the Seashore are adjacent to an additional 54,459 acres of MALT-protected agricultural land. These combined blocks of protected land (both public and private) are vital for all life moving within, across and past their boundaries — migratory birds, native pollinators, badgers, Coho salmon and so much more. Dig in and learn more here. 

View of Tomales Bay looking towards Highway 1. Paige Green

Tomales Bay & Tomales

North of Point Reyes Station, Highway 1 glides along the eastern shore of Tomales Bay and through what I think is one of the most stunning landscapes in North America. Idyllic pastureland rolls gently to the edge of the bay’s vibrantly blue waters. Many of the ranches along this section of the route have been protected by MALT and form a contiguous corridor of more than 10,000 acres of protected agricultural land. 

The Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company offers the chance to stop and soak in the surrounding landscape and learn more about the cutting-edge technology of today’s sustainable dairy operations. Millerton Point (which is wheelchair accessible & dog-friendly) and the Tomales Bay Trail are also close by and offer the chance to stretch your legs and experience the landscape firsthand. Note that it can be cold and windy along the water even in the summer months, so plan ahead and pack layers. 

If you have a hankering for oysters and seafood then you’ve come to the right place. A little further north and you’ll find Tony’s Seafood, Marshall Store, Boat Oyster Bar and Nick’s Cove and they are all ideally located along the water’s edge and are all fabulously delicious. Or keep it simple and pick up some fresh oysters directly from the source at the Hog Island Oyster Co.’s roadside “Hog Shack”. If time allows, you can also take a farm tour to learn about their innovative mariculture practices and stewardship of the MALT-protected Leali Ranch.  

The town of Tomales is the cherry on top of this Marin County road trip. Abundantly quaint, this coastside town miraculously escaped the pressures of big development and has maintained an authentic charm. The Route One Bakery & Kitchen is the go-to spot for most visitors but a stop at the William Tell House is key to a complete tour of town, the county’s oldest saloon delivering tasty goods from many local farms and purveyors.

From Tomales, Highway 1 enters the heart of the Petaluma Gap, a low point in the coast range where the fog penetrates inland areas and creates part of Sonoma County’s ideal wine-growing conditions. Intrepid travelers can continue north to Bodega Bay and the jaw-dropping sections of the Sonoma coastline. 

But for me, everything I need is right here in Marin County. 

Have fun and drive safe!


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