Number 38 - May 2012
Welcome to "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's quarterly newsletter of fun and interesting things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California. Whether you are visiting San Francisco or hosting visitors, Blue Heron can provide an unforgettable experience. Visit our website, www.BlueHeronTours.com, to learn more about our private, custom tours.
In 2005, Rick's Tips featured two articles on traveling in West Marin County. You can see Beautiful West Marin, Part I, which covered the drive along CA 1 from Muir Beach to Bolinas by clicking here. Part II continued north along CA 1 through Point Reyes National Seashore, up to the small town of Marshall. You can read Beautiful West Marin, Part II by clicking here.
Not much has changed in West Marin during the intervening seven years. One big loss was the restaurant at Manka's Inverness Lodge. A fire swept through the building a few years ago. While lodging is still available, meals are served only to guests staying at the lodge. Two new restaurants have opened in Point Reyes Station since I last wrote about West Marin. Osteria Stellina serves excellent Italian cuisine in a casual setting. Cafe Reyes has some of the best pizza in the Bay Area.
The remainder of this issue of Rick's Tips will focus on highlights in other parts of Marin County.
The Marin Headlands are the hills that tower over the north side of the Golden Gate. Great views are available at any of the pull-outs along Conzelman Road. My two favorite spots are Battery Spencer (the first parking area as you climb the hill) and Hawk Hill (the highest point on Conzelman). After you finish gazing out over the Golden Gate and San Francisco, continue on Conzelman as it drops down over the Pacific.
If the weather is good and you time your visit right, stop at Point Bonita Lighthouse for even more amazing views. After a two-year closure, the tunnel leading to the lighthouse is open again on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 12:30 - 3:30.
Another interesting spot to visit is Nike Missile Site SF-88. Docents lead tours of this cold war artifact. One of the highlights is a ride on the missile elevator into the underground storage area. The Nike Missile Site is open from 12:30 - 3:30 on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and the first Saturday of each month.
Battery Townsley, one of the largest World War II era coastal batteries, sits along the Coastal Trail above Rodeo Beach. Between noon and 4:00 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month, docents will take you into this behemoth. You will learn about the guns that could fire shells, weighing over one ton, 25 miles out to sea and the men who ran one of the Bay Area's most secret locations during World War II.
Lastly, The Marine Mammal Center cares for sick seals, sea lions, elephant seals, and other pinnipeds. When the hospital has patients, you can watch them being cared for and recuperating in their pens. The Center is open daily from 10:00 - 5:00. Audio tours are available. Docents lead tours on Fridays and Mondays at 1:00 and 3:00 and on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00, 1:00, and 3:00. I frequently take families to the Marine Mammal Center. Everyone enjoys seeing the animals and learning about the care they receive from the dedicated group of volunteers and professionals.
This small town on San Francisco Bay features breathtaking views of San Francisco. Visitors usually come by ferry from San Francisco or on a tour that also includes Muir Woods National Monument. The small downtown is home to a variety of shops, galleries, and restaurants. Unfortunately, the rule, the better the view, the worse the food, largely holds in Sausalito. Poggio is the only restaurant in the heart of Sausalito that I can really recommend. The restaurant does not have a view but it does have very good Italian food.
Further north in Sausalito there are more restaurants worth seeking out. Three restaurants less than ? mile north of the ferry terminal serve very good food. Sushi Ran is consistently among the best reviewed sushi restaurants in the Bay Area. The restaurant is open only for dinner and ferry service back to San Francisco does not run very late, so most visitors don't get to dine here. Bar Bocce serves excellent thin crust pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and Italian-inspired baked dishes. You can sit on the terrace and enjoy a beautiful view of Richardson Bay while you dine. Across the street, Cibo serves tasty paninis.
If you have a car, head further north on Bridgeway where you will find two very good restaurants in the old shipyards. Fish serves the freshest of seafood. You can eat at picnic tables in the restaurant or on the bayside patio. Fish does not take credit cards so bring cash. An ATM is available at the restaurant. Le Garage is a good French cafe in, yes - you guessed it - an old garage. The restaurant is a bit tough to find so bring good directions. Reservations are recommended at Le Garage.
While you are in the shipyards, check out the Bay Model Visitor Center. This model of San Francisco Bay and Delta is an educational center that lets you see a hydraulic model of the entire bay and its tributaries. This is a great spot to go with children. The hours for the Visitor Center vary with the season so check out the Bay Model's website before going.
Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods is home to coastal redwoods - the tallest trees in the world. While not the biggest grove of Redwoods, these trees are the closest first-growth redwoods to San Francisco. A stroll among the redwoods should not be missed. Unfortunately, the park can get very crowded so try to avoid weekends. The best times to visit are weekdays when the park opens at 8:00 a.m. or between 4:00 p.m. and closing time, which varies throughout the year.
Mount Tamalpais State Park
The view from the top of Mount Tamalpais, known as Mt. Tam to locals, should not be missed. The old fire lookout is 2,571 feet above sea level and provides a 360 degree view of the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco, San Francisco Bay, and all of Marin County. You can see as far north as Sonoma and Napa Counties. On many weekend days, you can visit the barn that houses a replica of a Gravity Car, which enabled late 19th century and early 20th century visitors to ride from Mt. Tam to Muir Woods by using only gravity.
Mount Tam is home to numerous hiking and mountain biking trails, making it a good place to get some exercise and enjoy the outdoors.
This small suburb is similar to Sausalito in that it is a very wealthy community with a cute downtown that is accessible from San Francisco by ferry. Main Street has bayside restaurants with nice views of San Francisco. Nearby is Ark Row, a collection of interesting shops housed in old arks.
Angel Island State Park can be reached by boat from San Francisco or more frequently from Tiburon. Bring a picnic lunch and take a walk or bike ride around the perimeter road. You can also walk to the top of Mount Livermore for a beautiful view of San Francisco, the bay, and the Golden Gate.
Angel Island Immigration Station, a National Historic Landmark, was where Chinese and others were detained while undergoing inspection before being allowed to enter the United States. Tours are available but must be reserved in advance.
Information on the San Francisco ferry is available here. For more information on the Tiburon ferry, click here.
Marin County Civic Center
San Rafael is the largest city in Marin County as well as the county seat. Government offices are located in the Marin County Civic Center, one of the last commissions of the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Hour-long tours of the building depart the cafe in room 233 on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. Self-guided tours are also available.
As you can see, there is much to do in San Francisco's neighbor to the north. Most visitors from afar don't see more than Muir Woods and Sausalito. If you like beautiful scenery and/or rich history, there's much to do in Marin County. Check it out during your next visit. For more information on visiting Marin Country, see The Marin Convention and Visitors Bureau's website.
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