An Insiders’ Tell-All

Secrets beyond guidebooks and our editors’ best picks of restaurants, stores and hideouts.

SPECTACULAR MARIN — from fog-covered Mount Tamalpais to hundreds of miles of scenic roads to pastoral landscapes, beaches and state parks — is a mecca for nature and outdoor lovers of all kinds. We also have architectural landmarks such as the Marin County Civic Center — Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, recently nominated for UNESCO’s World Heritage list — and many other earthly delights. Below we present insider tips on county standouts, culled from our editors and area designers, artists, athletes and entrepreneurs. Marin’s brightest stars tell us what brings them — and keeps them — here.


After a long day at my studio in San Rafael the whole band goes for burritos at Casa Del Palmar, where I order the pork verde rice and beans. I like driving one of my exotic cars out through Nicasio and stopping at Nick’s Cove for some oysters or fish and chips. And if Kari and I feel like it, we even sleep over there sometimes. In Southern Marin, if we don’t go to our favorite table at El Paseo, we take a stroll around Sausalito in the afternoon from one end to the other and then stop at Poggio for a margherita pizza with a side of arugula salad and prosciutto with a glass or two of gavi di gavi or a pinot grigio — then we head home for a nap. Sammy Hagar, Mill Valley. Musician, restaurateur

One of our favorite ways to enjoy Belvedere’s weather is taking an Angel Island Ferry sunset cruise. It’s a two-ish-hour ride around the bay, with historical fun facts from Captain Maggie (the great granddaughter of the man who started ferry service to Angel Island in the 1930s). On the way, we stop by Tiburon Wine in Ark Row and grab a bottle of whatever owner Jerry Horn recommends, paired with a flank steak pizza from Waypoint Pizza. And speaking of food, a couple other favorites are duck fat fries at Bel Campo in Larkspur and the bacon cheeseburger at Pearl’s Phat Burgers in Mill Valley. Paul Vincent Wiseman, Belvedere. Founder, The Wiseman Group

Farmshop and Fish restaurants are doing some of the most creative cooking in Marin. Jeff Cerciello and Mark Hopper of Farmshop used our Five Spice — a wonderful savory-sweet blend of star anise and cassia with Szechuan peppers that’s great on pork, beef or stir-fry — for their signature entrée in the Cecilia Chiang tribute dinner at the Pebble Beach Food and Wine event. Nicholas Davoren, Novato Spicerer, Local Spicery


Mount Tam is the best backyard one could possibly have. I always love taking out-of-town friends on the Matt Davis–Steep Ravine Loop or, when I am short on time, the Indian Fire Road/Eldridge Grade from Crown Road in Kent Woodlands. For dinner, we head over to Burmatown, where the wait is worth it and the tea leaf salad is so, so good. Erik Hughes, Corte Madera. Co-creative director, De Sousa Hughes

What I love about Marin is hanging at home in the evening looking out at Mount Tam and Mount Diablo and the bay. Taking a Ducati ride up the Fairfax-Bolinas Road to watch the sunset with my partner, Leslie. And if we do head into town for a meal, the new Village Sake is incredible, Gestalt House is a great, fun place to go, 123 Bolinas is a nice wine bar and everyone likes Iron Springs Pub and Brewery for its house-brewed beverages. Otis Guy, Fairfax. Member, Marin Museum of Bicycling

With our rather large dog, Blaubar, we love to go to Dillon Beach early on Sundays, at the mouth of Tomales Bay; no matter what the weather, this is the most beautiful part of the Northern California coastline. And since it’s the weekend, we stop by the Tomales Bakery for a cup of local roast and the rosemary raisin focaccia bread made by Carmen. Thomas Heinser, West Marin. Commercial and fine art photographer

Phoenix Lake is my escape to nature. Sitting on a rock and watching the still lake after a nice hike always puts me in a meditative state of gratitude. Emebet B. Korn, San Anselmo.  Owner, Desta Epicures Guild & Desta Gallery


Frank Lloyd Wright expressed this area so easily and effortlessly through his design for the Marin County Civic Center. The soft stretched lines and curves of the building never compete with our views. The hills and landscape beyond are perfectly framed by the arched entry over the road. It’s a memorable and befitting entrance to our remarkable farmers’ market every Sunday. One of the little jewels of the building’s design is a startling outdoor garden area off the cafeteria — a perfect design time capsule. Ronette King, San Rafael. Interior Design Hall of Fame inductee

Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy
Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy

I am drawn to unique, handcrafted objects for the home, such as Heath Ceramics’ rustic brown glazes, and there might be a few people who don’t realize Heath has a retail shop attached to its factory in Sausalito. At our store, in the Marin Country Mart, my current favorite handcrafted items include mouth-blown Belgium glass and hand-carved oversize wooden bowls. I’m also a huge fan of EO Products, especially with the fact that you can recycle the bottles at their store in Mill Valley. Food-wise, the Chinese chicken salad at Comforts stops my clock, as does the coconut cake. Gary McNatton, Larkspur. Co-founder, Hudson Grace

Molina Restaurant in Mill Valley gives you a playlist with every meal. The food is hearty and inspired, the quarters cozy. I love going to places that take me on journeys, like Molina does with its ever-changing vinyl playlist curated by chef/owner Todd Shoberg. Alia Gaffney, Corte Madera. Proprietress, Lunaria

The most luxurious place in Marin is probably the suite overlooking the bay and San Francisco at The Inn Above Tide in Sausalito. It’s spacious and has its own little bar and romantic fireplace. Bill Higgins, Mill Valley Restaurateur and co-founder, Real Restaurants

The Inn Above Tide.
The Inn Above Tide.

The most romantic thing I’ve experienced is surfing at sunset, watching the full moon rise over Mount Tam and then enjoying a delicious bottle of Sean Thackrey’s Orion from the local market in Bolinas. Sabrina Buell, West Marin. Art adviser, Zlot + Buell Associates

Editors’ Picks

TASTE OF JAPAN Village Sake, the izakaya that two guys named Scott (one a Michelin-starred chef, the other a local firefighter) and a Kickstarter campaign made possible, is a popular destination for Fairfax locals. Pair the okonomiyaki — a pancake made with shrimp, mountain potato, kimchee and bonito flake — with a glass of the intriguingly packaged shochu, Window’s Migaki, for the perfect snack after a mountain bike ride. —L.B.

A HIVE OF ACTIVITY IN WEST MARIN Perhaps the bees at Heidrun Meadery farm in Point Reyes Station also like the acoustic guitar bands, Portuguese gumbo, Heidrun-grown salads, oysters and Brickmaiden breads sometimes on offer there, but what draws us to Heidrun is the mead made from their honey. Heidrun is at least the first if not the only commercial producer of naturally sparkling mead — a kind of medieval Viking-era beer that is effervescent — in the country, and it is ready to drink in four months, stylishly contained like Champagne in longneck bottles. Founded by environmental geologist Gordon Hull, the meadery moved from Humboldt County to West Marin a few years ago and meshed with the area’s artisanal food culture, and Hull developed a twice-fermented recipe for mead that is slightly acidic and not cloyingly sweet. A wildflower varietal mead, for instance, preserves the essence of local flowers the honey comes from. As Hull likes to say, the fact that it is all “bubbly is what’s fun.” Tasting tours: $15.  —Zahid Sardar

PEDAL POWER Any time you’re driving in Marin there’s at least one brave soul, clad in spandex, climbing a windy path — you’ve seen them out there. So it only makes sense that the resilient biking community should be honored with a museum in our county. Previously housed in Crested Butte, Colorado, the Marin Museum of Bicycling and cultural center moved to Fairfax in the summer of 2015 and expanded significantly. Its Hall of Fame focuses primarily on the evolution of the mountain bike, though other bikes are highlighted as well. —Kasia Pawlowska

Marin Museum of Bicycling
Marin Museum of Bicycling.