North Bay

Featured Photo: Nathan Barteau via Unsplash

Muir Woods, Sonoma Coast and Redwood Forests: Explore the North Bay

  • It’s oyster heaven — Tomales Bay is one of the two main oyster farms in California.
  • With over 90 wineries, Mendocino County grows more varieties of grapes than anywhere else in the United States.

Local Getaways is taking a liberal approach to our definition of North Bay. We are starting with the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge and sticking to the coast all the way up to Mendocino. When you travel north from San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll begin the Redwood Highway in Marin County, home to about 250,000 folks.

Marin County: First, drive over to the Marin Headlands for that high-demand selfie with most of SF behind the bridge. Next, curl down Alexander Avenue to Sausalito, reminiscent of an Italian fishing village dotted with great seafood restaurants and teeming shops along Bridgeway. Local and tourist favorites include Poggio, Bar Bocce, and Sushi Ran.

Tiburon is the next exit along 101, taking you to an old railway town with incredible bay and city views 7 nautical miles from SF with plenty of seafood eateries. The newest and most anticipated is coming soon: The Bungalow Kitchen Tiburon by Michael Mina, featuring California Cuisine with local ingredients, while Sam’s Anchor Café — with its bootlegging history — just has been popular since 1920.

Nearby is the exit to Muir Woods National Monument, an old-growth coastal redwood forest. (Note: parking is limited and requires a reservation, so be sure to book in advance). From there, it’s a 45-minute scenic ride over Mt. Tamalpais to spacious Stinson Beach and Bolinas, and another 30 minutes to the popular towns of Point Reyes Station and Tomales Bay. Bring your appetite, this rural coast is foodie heaven, with locally-sourced cheese, bread, wine and oysters that are available year round.

A few more miles up US-101, you’ll see the Larkspur Ferry Terminal with service from SF, while the Marin Country Mart offer a Farmers Market every Saturday and food trucks every Sunday.

San Rafael is further north, where you’ll marvel at the futuristic architecture of the Marin County Civic Center, designed in 1957 by Frank Lloyd Wright, with docent-led tours twice a week. It’s adjacent to where the annual Marin County Fair is staged each July, and the vibrant Marin Farmers Market, California’s third-largest, is held every Sunday.

Sonoma County: If you continue along Highway 1 from Point Reyes Station, you’ll reach Bodega Bay. Visitors enjoy its no-frills seaside restaurants, kayaking, whale-watching along Bodega Head, and visiting venues from The Birds, an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.

Fort Ross was originally inhabited by Russian fur traders and is now a National Historic Landmark with a distinctive architecture. A shipwreck in 40 feet of water, the S.S. Pomona, is popular with SCUBA divers. Harbor seals and two species of sea lions can be seen from the bluffs.

North of that is Sea Ranch, a planned community best-known for blending into the landscape and a great weekend getaway.

Mendocino County: About 150 miles north of the Golden Gate on Highway 1, you’ll reach the town of Fort Bragg, home to the award-winning North Coast Brewing Company and its Taproom, along with a twice-yearly Whale Festival.

Finally, 10 miles north, the quiet town of Mendocino has less than 1,000 inhabitants, but many cute B&Bs, hotels, and inns, as well as fantastic restaurants like Café Beaujolais, Trillium Café and MacCallum House.

Sir Francis Drake mapped the Marin County coast in 1579 and named it Nova Albion (New Land). Spanish explorers later landed near Drakes Bay, east of Pt. Reyes and built the 20th California mission in current San Rafael. California became the 31st state in 1850.

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Annual Events in the North Bay

JANUARY: Come for piping-hot cocoa and of course all-day, family-centered skating at Marin on Ice in San Rafael.

FEBRUARY: Beer lovers rejoice — the infamous Pliny the Younger from Russian River Brewing Company is released the first Friday of February.

MARCH: The Mendocino Coast Whale Festivals, which take place on concurrent weekends in the villages of Mendocino, Little River and Fort Bragg, are timed to coincide with the annual grey whale migration to maximize your chances of a successful sighting. 

APRIL: Pick of the Vine is one of the fun one-day Santa Rosa events in April where you can sample the best of Sonoma’s wine and beer. More than 30 wineries and craft breweries tend to participate.

MAY: Nobody does Pinot Noir like Anderson Valley, one of the most beautiful places in California. More than 50 wineries participate in the annual Pinot Noir Festival, including two dozen prestige labels from Napa and Sonoma that covet the fabulous fruit.

JUNE: First run in 1905, the Dipsea is the oldest trail race in America. It is run every year on the second Sunday in June. The scenic 7.4 mile course from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach is considered to be one of the most beautiful courses in the world.

JULY: Fairs aren’t just corndogs and funnel cake! Celebrated as the Healthiest and Greenest County Fair on Earth since 2008, the Marin County Fair proudly features a solar powered carousel, solar powered stage, and a 92% waste diversion rate.

AUGUST: An intimate, relaxed, and upbeat celebration, the Petaluma Music Festival also offers an exceptional variety of music for people of all ages, fine beers, premium wine tasting, and specialty food vendors.

SEPTEMBER: Does the combination of fresh raw or grilled oysters and Peruvian Ceviche sound like a culinary delight? If so, come out to Petaluma Oyster Fest.

OCTOBER: The small, west Sonoma County town of Duncans Mills presents the Russian River Rodeo, a top notch professional rodeo each year. Catch some exciting cowboy skills and other entertainment.

NOVEMBER: Petaluma proudly hosts the largest Veteran’s Day Parade north of the Golden Gate. The event is dedicated to the men and women who set aside their civilian pursuits to serve our nation’s cause, defending our freedom and preserving American heritage.

DECEMBER: It isn’t Christmastime without a visit to the amazing Rombeiro Christmas House in Novato — it’s the ultimate holiday experience in Marin.

*Things change, so please check in with the organizers of these events for details.

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