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Now That I’ve gotten my current hometown written out (See my post about Encinitas Here), I have to pay homage to where I was born and raised – Marin County. You may not have ever heard of Marin unless you have traveled to San Francisco or Napa Valley Wine Country, but Marin is the county just on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge that connects to San Francisco and stops when you head into Sonoma County.
If you’re heading north and departing San Francisco, you’ll cross the Golden Gate Bridge as you pass into the peninsula of Marin. You’ll leave behind the condensed scene of San Francisco, skyscrapers and houses built upon houses, and start heading towards what seems like rolling hills and open space. As you get farther into the county, you’ll see a great divide between suburb-like towns, and a great deal of national and state preserved land. This is what really gives Marin County its charm. There are so many valleys and hills and trails, that in any given town, you can climb its highest point and stumble across amazing views of the Pacific Ocean, Redwood forests (like Muir Woods), the East Bay, or San Francisco. Each town has its own secret spots that are unlike the others.
It truly wasn’t until I moved to Encinitas when I was 22 that I go home and realize how beautiful and unique Marin really is. Don’t get me wrong, North County San Diego is gorgeous and the surf is amazing, but I certainly took Marin for granted. Now when I get to visit a weekend every 4 months or so, I really enjoy my time being back. Spending time with family and friends is probably the most important thing to me, so living on my own down here has made the visit so much sweeter (Plus I miss being at home watching my 49ers, Giants and Warriors).
I could go on for days about what to do and what to see in Marin, there are just so many different directions you could take it, but I’ll try to cover as many bases as I can within reason.
When I first mention Marin County to someone not from there, Sausalito comes to mind. Mostly because of its amazing views of San Francisco from across the water, but Sausalito has also been mentioned in a handful of movies and television bits. I haven’t spent a ton of time in Sausalito, being from West Marin, but I have to tip my hat, its gorgeous. Its coastal downtown district has plenty of restaurants sitting right on the bay, with some of the best seafood. Try restaurants like Salito’s or Scoma’s, and order crab anything. You’re welcome in advance.
While you’re still out in the south part of the county, it’s worth mentioning to stop at Muir Woods National Monument, which is in the next town up, Mill Valley. My best friend from home grew up in Mill Valley, so I have a lot of favorite memories spent driving around M.V. and near Muir Woods to get out to the ocean to surf along Highway 1. You may recognize Muir Woods as part of Star Wars; Return of the Jedi, with the speeder bikes and Ewok’s on Endor. It really does make you feel like you’re on a different planet, especially if you’re coming over from Metropolitan San Francisco. Lush Redwood Trees that are as tall as buildings, and is especially eerie to see when the fog rolls in over the hills and consumes the forests.The Drive along Highway 1 speaks for itself. Long, windy roads along farm fields and hiking trails along the cliff line, Highway 1 is very reminiscent of the sporty roads driven in any given Cadillac or Mercedes commercial. You would forget that just 25 miles or so south is San Francisco, and all the 7 Million people of the Bay Area. Popular places to stop by would be the town of Stinson Beach, or Pt Reyes National Seashore. Both are great places to go for a picnic or weekend drive. Stop by one of the Oyster Farms on your way towards Tomales Bay, and if you know where to look, you could score yourself a great day of waves.(I won’t be giving up any of my secret spots! ;) )
My food suggestions will come with a little West Marin bias, because there are simply too many good places to eat in Marin to fit into one article. I could write all day on good places to try. It’s especially overwhelming when visiting home; it isn’t possible to get all of my local fixes in before my flight back south. But I do what I can.
Sol Food is a popular Puerto Rican restaurant in the county. To locals it is a bit cliché, but still a staple in the area. Starting in San Rafael, this small restaurant that used to be the size of a small dry cleaners shop has grown into one of the most successful restaurants in the area (partly because of a Food Network feature with Guy Fieri). The most popular item to order is the Bistec sandwich, its thinly sliced skirt steak on flat pressed French bread with caramelized onions, avocado, jack cheese and a special sauce. My personal favorite is the Polo sandwich, with chicken, ham, tomato, sautéed onions, Swiss cheese, greens and a cilantro lime mayo on French bread. Delicious. Garlic Plantains are also a must, and the limeade is ridiculous.
If you happen to be in my hometown of San Anselmo, you have to try Comfort’s Chinese Chicken Salad. Head straight to the refrigerators on the left side where the drinks are, and you will find white Chinese-style take out boxes that contain the best freaking’ salad and dressing I’ve ever had the pleasure of consuming. My mom will buy 2 large boxes for lunch on occasion for our family of 5, and It’s completely wiped clean 30 minutes after, not a drop of dressing goes to waste. Pick these up for a nice picnic on the beach or for a day sitting in the park.
To get to the beach from my hometown, you have to drive west on Sir Francis Drake Blvd towards Highway 1 to reach Point Reyes or Stinson Beach. Leaving San Anselmo, you will pass through the funky town of Fairfax. Don’t get me wrong; I love Fairfax for what it is, and for what it is not. Right in the heart of downtown Fairfax is Perry’s Deli, a small quaint deli/mart that is seriously one of my favorite sandwich places in the world. Any sandwich you get is going to be delicious, but for specialty sandwiches, try the Chicken Ranch, or Chicken Pesto. Whatever you do, get your sandwich on Dutch Crunch bread. I didn’t realize Dutch Crunch was a Northern California thing until I moved to Southern California, tried to order it, and no one knew what the hell I was talking about. It has a crunchy hard exterior, but is soft on the inside. If deli sandwiches don’t interest you, there are hot chicken sandwiches and burgers available in the back of Perry’s. $4.00 1⁄2 Pound Cheeseburgers. Need I say more?
Visit San Francisco. Do all the tourist things like Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Cable Cars, Golden Gate Bridge, etc? Then make sure you take some time to explore what’s north of the Golden Gate, because Marin County is unlike any other part of the Bay.
If you’re a surfer, there are plenty of good waves up there. If you’re into the outdoors in general, some of the most breath-taking viewpoints have come from my own backyard. And it took me 4 years and to move 500 miles away to realize that.