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Happy (Summer) Trails, Marin Horizon Families!

The weather has turned. The flowers are blooming. Afternoon heat is upon us. Evening fog is rolling in. In short, we’re all suddenly remembering why we live here (just in time to spend a bunch of money traveling to other vacation destinations). Weekdays in June, July, and August are arguably the best time to explore in Marin County. School traffic is gone. Kids are in camps. SF and East Bay beachgoers generally hold off their invasions until the weekend. With that in mind, we thought we’d share a few beachy destinations for all-day summer outings, from super relaxed to awfully ambitious. 


Angel Island Bike Ride and Picnic


If you’ve never visited Angel Island, you are missing out one of the best recreation bets in the Bay Area. If you want to make a full day of it, consider biking from Blackie’s Pasture in Tiburon. The pancake flat bike path makes for an easy ride to downtown Tiburon. Alternatively (or for those who want to bring a cooler and make a party of the day), parking is available by the hour in downtown Tiburon. Buy tickets in advance for the Angel Island Ferry and bring your bike aboard.



The short trip lands you at Ayala Cove, a sheltered marina with several picnic areas and a small beach for wading. Many people bring food to grill on the built-in BBQs. There’s even a cafe with darn good eats if you don’t feel like schlepping your own provisions. Bring an inflatable SUP or inner-tube to paddle around the calm waters of the cove. Harbor seals and sea lions are apt to swim up and say hello.


You and your family can enjoy a beautiful afternoon if you never leave the picnic area, but for those looking to break a sweat or learn about Angel Island’s extraordinary history, there is a well marked trail network that leads to the many beaches and places of historical importance on the island. Angel Island was home to Coastal Miwoks, Spanish missionaries, and the US Military, before becoming the most important immigration station on the West Coast. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants arrived in America at “the Ellis Island of the West”. Much of this history is well preserved and documented. For the truly ambitious, overnight camping is available, though sites are often reserved months in advance. Check back frequently for cancellations. 


Stairway to (Pizza) Heaven (aka the Dipsea Trail to the Parkside Cafe and Stinson Beach)


On a summer Saturday, the Dipsea Trail can feel like a freeway with foxtails. It gets overrun with tourists and locals alike. And with good reason. It’s arguably the most gratifying hike in the Bay Area. And if you’ve never taken the challenge, it’s high time you did. But if you can sneak away on a midweek morning, you may have the trail to yourself, save for a few hardcore runners and Mt. Tam residents. 


The trail starts just beyond Old Mill Park in Mill Valley, and it lets you know right away what you’ve gotten yourself into. There’s some debate about how many stairs you’ll climb. Most put it at 688. And that’s just the beginning. But here’s the secret. It doesn’t have to be. You can catch the Dipsea at various points along its 7.5 mile journey to the Pacific. It crosses Panoramic Highway at Bayview Drive (not Bayview Ave.). It crosses Muir Woods Road at the Muir Woods parking lot. You can even pick up the final downhill stretch from the Pantoll Ranger Station. Choose a starting point that matches your fitness level. Remember to bring lots of water, sunscreen, and layers of clothing.   


Regardless of where you start, you’ll encounter nearly every coastal Northern California ecosystem on your journey, from towering redwoods and riparian streams to bay laurel and oak forests to coastal chaparral. When the trail finally emerges and Stinson Beach stretches out before you, there is no greater reward. 


Miguel Vieira from Redwood City, CA, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Speaking of rewards, the Parkside Cafe serves some of the best pizza in the county, but you can only order it to go. If you can steer clear of the burgers, fries, and shakes at the snack bar next door, order a pie (the #3 is our favorite) and a few beverages of your choice and make your way to the sand. Cool your feet in the waves and reflect on the magic of where we live. 


And here’s the best part. You don’t have to hike back! Hop on the Stinson Beach Stagecoach and hitch a ride over the hill. 


Paradise Beach Park or McNears Beach Park


For something a bit more leisurely, consider these two lovely and underutilized jewels of the Marin County Parks system. Both are exceedingly well maintained, offering large grassy areas for fun and games, established picnic and BBQ sites, and beautiful bayfront views. Bring a bluetooth speaker, a frisbee, a bag of charcoal and something to grill, and make a day of it. 


Mx. Granger, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons


McNears has a small sandy beachfront with calm water, making it ideal for younger kids. There is also a swimming pool with changing rooms and tennis court. Paradise is a great place to launch a kayak and explore the nearby coastline. Watch out for currents if you get close to Raccoon Strait. The highlight of both parks is a long fishing pier. No license is required if you fish from the pier itself. Even if you don’t cast a line, on any given day you can chat with anglers catching striped bass, flounder, and even occasional halibut or sturgeon. 


Hearts Desire Beach


If you’re up for a bit of a drive (and a gorgeous one at that), Hearts Desire and nearby Indian Beach are hidden gems on the shores of Tomales Bay.


Pick a warm day and arrive early to avoid afternoon breezes that often kick up. The drive out Sir Francis Drake Blvd. takes you through the majestic redwoods of Samuel P Taylor State Park. Take a quick detour into Pt. Reyes Station and grab snacks at the Palace Market. Then head through Inverness, bear right on Pierce Point Road, and follow the signs. Heart Desire has a large parking lot (fee required), picnic areas, and restrooms.



Indian Beach requires a short scenic hike. If you make the trek, what you sacrifice in convenience and amenities you will gain in solitude. To be clear, these beaches are not Stinson or Muir. They are neither broad nor especially sandy. But there is something magical about them, especially for kids. The water is warmer and calmer and clearer than open ocean beaches, making it ideal for families with young children who are apt to misjudge the strength of bigger waves.


Astute foodies may notice a wharf-style restaurant on the west-facing shore across Tomales Bay. This is Tony’s Seafood, a West Marin institution. It’s only a mile or so, as the pelican flies, from Hearts Desire, but the drive around the bay will take you about 30 minutes. If you have the energy, time, and appetite, it’s well worth the trip.


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