California Road Trip: Marin County

Travel Tips for visiting Northern California

California is my happy place. For several months we were planning our Pacific Coast Highway roadtrip from San Francisco to Los Angeles. A large chunk of our trip was going to be in Big Sur–we booked a few nights at a lodge there (the cheapest we could find was still at $250/night) and we had all of our hikes planned for the state parks in the area. Sadly, the area was devastated by the Soberanes fire in late July that they are still battling two months later. Because of the wildfire and poor air quality, we decided to change our travel plans and go north instead. With just a few weeks to go, we had to find new places to stay and come up with a Northern California itinerary. It was part stressful and part creative problem solving!

Two years ago we spent a week in California—3 nights in San Francisco and 5 nights in Yosemite National Park. We fell in love with Marin County when we ventured north to hike in Muir Woods. So for this trip, we knew we wanted to spend some more time exploring the area. We happened to hit the Airbnb jackpot when we booked the Oceanview Retreat in Stinson Beach.

Perfect stay in a Japanese-inspired treehouse in Marin County, California

This Japanese-inspired treehouse was a perfect retreat for us after a chaotic summer. We drank strong coffee out on the balcony, where we could see the Pacific ocean and hear the tide coming in. The bathroom was separate from the main house and included an outdoor shower and Japanese soaking tub, which I am now a big fan of. Breakfast was an art form complete with warm croissants, seasonal fruit, and granola, and was delivered each morning on our doorstep.

Muir Woods: My Happy Place

Feeling similar emotions to Jack Shepard in season 5 of Lost, we had to go back to Muir Woods. This time we vowed to go early and skip the crowds. We just so happened to go on the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service–there was free admission and by 11:00 the park was full. We walked through the Cathedral Grove and then made a right to take the Canopy View/Lost Creek/Fern Creek hike, which was about 3 miles and moderate in difficulty. It got us away from the crowds, and a few times we had the trail entirely to ourselves.

Guide to Muir Woods

After our hike, we drove over to Muir Beach and had a picnic. I haven’t mentioned this yet, but it was foggy and overcast for most of our trip, with the temperature reaching into the low 60s. But hey, we weren’t complaining! We had just survived the hottest July on record in Charleston with the heat index at 110 and beyond. And our AC unit had to be entirely replaced after it broke down in mid-August, leaving our house a sweltering 92 degrees. So we could deal with fog and mist. Muir Beach is a pocket-sized cove, offering a pretty view of the rocky coast Northern California is known for. There’s also an overlook trail with connections to longer hikes including a link to the 550-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail.

Muir Beach

We spent the evening relaxing on Stinson Beach. This beach town, which Highway 1 passes right through, is small and charming. We saw lots of harbor seals and dolphins swimming with the ocean current. For dinner, we ate a quick bite at The Siren Canteen, a family-owned restaurant on the south end of the beach that specializes in tacos, quesadillas, and margaritas. Works for me!

The Siren Canteen was the perfect spot for a casual dinner after a day of hiking.

The Siren Canteen was the perfect spot for a casual dinner after a day of hiking.

The next day we headed north to Point Reyes National Seashore. We came here two years ago and I learned two very important lessons: bathroom options are extremely limited and Google Maps (and cell service in general) will not be accessible. Driving out to the lighthouse makes you feel like you are driving on the edge of the world. You’ll see more cows than people—there’s several historic cattle ranches and dairy farms. You’ll also probably see deer, coyotes, elk, and if you’re lucky, whales migrating offshore. Not only is this a remote yet beautiful part of coastal California, it’s also rich in history.

PCH Roadtrip: Point Reyes

Drakes Beach is named for Sir Francis Drake, the Elizabethan era explorer who came ashore here (or somewhere close by, historians debate this today) in 1579 where he stayed while his ships were being restocked and repaired. He claimed the area north of Mexico for England, naming it Nova Albion. The white sandstone cliffs reminded him of the white cliffs of Dover. We reached Drakes Beach around 10 in the morning and had the entire place to ourselves, aside from the dozens of shorebirds seeking refuge there.

Northern California's Drake Beach

By the time we arrived to the outermost edge of Point Reyes Seashore—the lighthouse—the fog was thick and the wind was whipping around us. It was very obvious we were from the Deep South, considering I was wearing two pairs of pants, three layers on top (two of which were fleece), and a scarf wrapped around my head and neck as many times as it would allow. We braved the half mile hike along the ridge to the lighthouse, then walked down the 300 steps. Miraculously, the clouds passed and there was some visibility, enough for us to see migrating grey whales offshore. This was my first time seeing whales, and I was instantly hooked. For the rest of the trip I kept my eyes fixed on the horizon, yearning to see another one.

Visiting Point Reyes

Next, we headed north to Redwood Country.

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