50 Perfect Hours: Marin County

Each week, travel writer Katie Morell will detail how to spend 50 hours in a different San Francisco Bay Area city for the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee’s #Perfect50 Hour Series. 

Drive north across the Golden Gate Bridge and you will arrive in Marin County, arguably one of the most beautiful regions in the Bay Area. Miles of hiking trails, rugged beaches and quaint, European-style villages, make Marin, a county with only about 250,000 residents, a magnet for visitors.

Here, we detail the perfect way to spend a 50-hour getaway in Marin.

Day 1

8:00 a.m. – Wake up on high thread count sheets and within the tall-ceilinged rooms of Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa, located on Sausalito’s main drag of Bridgeway. Linger in your room for a bit, make yourself a coffee and sit out on your balcony overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Casa Madrona is one of the most loved properties in Marin; it was built in 1885 as a private home, was used as a temporary lodging facility for WWII soldiers and was converted into a high-end hotel in 1959. Make sure to stay in The Mansion, a recently renovated section of the property.

9:00 a.m. – Grab several layers of clothing, slather on sunscreen and pack your bathing suit and flip-flops in separate bag. Exit your suite and walk a few blocks south down Bridgeway until you get to Cibo, a cute coffee and pastry shop on the left. The roasted veggie hash is delicious here, as is the coffee (but watch out, it is seriously strong).

9:30 a.m. – After a light breakfast, hop in your car and drive about a mile down the road to 2100 Marinship Way. Park your car and walk over to Sea Trek Kayak & SUP, a kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding outfitter that offers rentals. Stand-up paddle boarding is a great way to see the Sausalito Harbor and it only costs $20/hour. Might want to throw on your bathing suit, especially if it is a warm day. And don’t forget to bring a water bottle.

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11:00 a.m. – Following your paddle boarding adventure, dry off and walk less than a half mile through the parking lot over to Liberty Ship Way. Follow the crowds (yes, you are in the right place even though it looks like a random parking lot) into Le Garage Bistro, a popular brunch spot. This place is a hidden gem; don’t leave without trying the ham sandwich (the fries are divine).

12:30 p.m. – Drive back to Casa Madrona and drop off your bathing suit in your room. Change into workout gear and walk over to the corner of Litho Street and Bridgeway. Belly up to the counter at The Sausalito Bicycle Company and ask to rent a road bike. Request a map, hop on the Mill Valley-Sausalito Path (crazy scenic, bring a camera) and follow the signs to Tiburon (this is about a 10-mile ride), another quaint village town right on the Bay.

2:00 p.m. – Ride until you hit the Bay. You will see boats docked and a grassy area that will look quite inviting after your long ride. Grab a snack at one of the nearby shops. Better yet, lock up your bike and walk over to The Grass Shack at 1694 Tiburon Blvd, which serves Three Twins Ice Cream, an organic varietal founded in the Bay Area. Go back to the water’s edge and sit on the grass while watching the boats go by. If you are really tired, lie down and nap (everyone does it). Otherwise, walk along Main Street to do some window-shopping.

4:00 p.m. – Hop on your bike and ride back the way you came. While your legs may feel like spaghetti, try to embrace the beauty of the area around you. These views have inspired everyone from visual artists (as evident in the vast number of galleries along Bridgeway) to singers like Otis Redding, who wrote “(Sitting On) The Dock Of The Bay” while on Sausalito houseboat.

6:00 p.m. – Once back in town, drop off your bikes at The Sausalito Bicycle Company and walk over Casa Madrona to shower and change into some casual clothes. Then, drive about a mile down the road until you get to Avatar’s, an Indian food restaurant with a Mexican flair (curry is served in a burrito form). This place is a family-owned Sausalito institution and has been around since the late 80s. Insider’s tip: Don’t look at the menu. Tell Ashok, the host, what types of food you like and leave it up to him as to what he will give to you. Chances are very high that you will want to lick your plate.

After dinner, drive about seven miles through the woods and towards the ocean to The Pelican Inn, in Muir Beach. This place will bring visions of rural England into your head.

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Day 2

7:00 a.m. – Wake up early in your canopy bed at The Pelican Inn and walk downstairs for your free breakfast of eggs, oatmeal, bacon, baked beans and jam. Wash it down with some fresh orange juice and you will be ready to go. Before leaving, make sure you are wearing comfortable walking shoes and have a light jacket on hand. Note: try to leave the Inn by 7:50 a.m.

7:50 a.m. – Load your crew into the car and drive three miles down the road to Muir Woods National Monument. This is where you will see a massive collection of old growth redwood trees. The sight is a treasure and known the world over, which makes it also a tourist magnet. Muir Woods opens every day at 8:00 a.m.—to avoid the crowds, get there a close to opening time as you can.

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Spend the next three to four hours taking in the natural beauty of this incredible park. Try out some of the hiking trails and peak into the shop for one-of-a-kind treats, perfect for holiday gifts.

12:00 p.m. – Emerge from the forest and out into the sun as you drive north along Highway 1 to Stinson Beach. Stop at The Lunch Box at 15 Calle del Mar and grab a salmon po’boy to go (the veggie sandwich is also delicious). Then, park next to the beach and walk out on the sand. Sit down for a picnic and enjoy unparalleled views of the Pacific.

1:30 p.m. – Now that your legs and body are tired from hiking today and biking and stand-up paddle boarding yesterday, it is time to relax. Drive 10 miles over to the town of Mill Valley and settle into the Mill Valley Inn, an downtown hotel right on Throckmorton Avenue. Spend the afternoon peaking into the shops along Madrona Street, Miller Avenue, Throckmorton Avenue and Bernard Street. Head back to the hotel after a few hours for a much-deserved nap.

6:00 p.m. – Wake up from your nap, take a shower and put on some decent dinner clothes. Then, walk two blocks down the street to El Paseo, a French chophouse owned by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Sammy Hagar, the former Van Halen frontman who is currently on tour with his band Chickenfoot  (local trivia: Hagar lives in Marin County). Don’t leave without ordering the bacon wrapped filet for dinner and chocolate coconut cake for dessert.

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Day 3

9:00 a.m. – Wake up slowly and pack your things before heading out on the road. As you drive back toward San Francisco, take the Sausalito exit off 101 South and drive down to Cavallo Point, a lodge at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sit down at Murray Circle Restaurant and enjoy some organic oatmeal or a fresh crab sandwich. Ask for a table on the patio for the best views of the Bay. Then, walk the grounds of the resort (and relax on an outdoor rocking chair near the reception area) before heading back to the city.

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Katie Morell is an independent journalist based in San Francisco who writes about travel, business and social justice issues. Her work has appeared in Hemispheres, Fast Company, USA Today, Diversity Woman, BBC Travel and others. Read more of her work at www.katiemorell.com