We travel so much that people assume any trip is work-related. And while that’s often the case, not always. In fact, our recent trip to Northern California was entirely for pleasure—and for a change, there were days at a time where I didn’t even open my laptop like during our weekend staying at the Muir Beach Overlook. It was glorious. I should do more of this.
The trip came about rather quickly when a few of our Nashville friends told us they’d gotten insanely cheap flights to the Bay Area and needed our recommendations. A quick search told me that, indeed, there were still $99 direct fares, so without hesitation, we snatched them up—fully knowing that we were pushing it with my sister’s pregnancy; we were scheduled to fly back three days before Charlotte was due. So of course she decided to show up early. Naturally.
The problem with traveling to the Bay Area is the ludicrous cost of lodging. A mid-level hotel in the city starts around $250, and the rooms are tiny, as we found during our first night staying at the Alise, which we booked through points. Luckily, the rest of our trip would be far more comfortable as we’d booked a three-night vacation rental in Muir Beach, followed by a four-night apartment swap with our friend who lives in a sprawling home in a quiet part of the Mission. I highly recommend home-swapping with friends if you can swing it; this wound up being such a good fit for us—and bonus, she got a pair of cat-sitters out of it!
But I digress. I’ll get to San Francisco later; this post is dedicated to exploring Marin County, which may very well be my favorite stretch of coastline in Northern California.
Where to Stay in the North Bay
As you know, I live and die by Airbnb usually; it’s simply the way we like to travel in terms of finding both affordable and unique accommodation. Only, in Marin County, the Airbnbs were either a) ridiculously priced for what they were or b) non-existent. The same goes for hotels; there wasn’t really anything nice and worth paying for around Point Reyes, Olema or even up to Bodega Bay.
We went back and forth about where to stay for ages—we wanted to have a nice time and a comfortable stay, but we didn’t want this trip to break the bank, especially when we have a boatload of house expenses coming up this quarter. So in the end, we went old school and found the perfect HomeAway listing directly at the Muir Beach Overlook. (If you want the link, let me know and I’ll email it to you.)
Owned by a sweet family who lives in the main house, our darling carriage house offered these views:
Not too shabby, right?
And good thing, too, as it rained nearly the whole time we were there and yet we didn’t feel cooped up as our surrounds were so stunning.
Best of all: We were not more than five minutes from the Pelican Inn, the very spot we got married.
And directly across from the incomparable Muir Beach Overlook.
If you’re looking for a rental that’s a bit more urban, there are plenty of places to stay in and around Mill Valley or even up in Larkspur. But we came here for the coast, and the coast we got. We’ve already made a pact that any subsequent visit to the Bay Area will begin or end with a few nights at Nancie’s perfect Muir Beach perch.
Where to Eat In and Around Muir Beach
Of course, we went to the Pelican Inn twice. How could we not? We liked it enough to book our wedding there, after all! The funny thing is that I’ve still not actually stayed there; we looked at it on this trip, but it was out of our budget with rooms starting around $300 a night. Eek!
But the pub is a lovely, cozy respite, and it rained the entire time we were in Muir Beach, so we spent two soggy afternoons warming up there with pints in hand. Not a bad way to spend a vacation if you ask me.
We also went into Mill Valley a couple of times; it’s a winding, 15-minute drive that I recommend reserving for daylight hours. While there, we lucked out on two stellar meals: dinner at Sol Food, the best Puerto Rican food I’ve ever tasted, and brunch at Kitchen Sunnyside with its bottomless mimosas (when on vacation…).
Mill Valley has really blossomed into a high-end development full of cool shops and restaurants. I probably wouldn’t opt to stay there on any subsequent visit, but it’s great for finding a delicious bite to eat.
SVV’s parents were staying up in Olema in their trailer, so we scooped them up one evening at the RV campground then drove into Inverness for dinner at Saltwater Oyster Depot, which offers an ever-changing prix-fixe menus.
On another afternoon, we met the entire VV clan for a fun afternoon around Point Reyes, and we went to the famed Marshall Store for oysters and crab cocktails.
Our final night in town, we headed 15 minutes north of our rental in Muir Beach to Stinson Beach where there are a number of small cafes, patio bars and bistros. We chose Parkside Café based on its proximity to the beach, then were treated to a front-row view of a spectacular sunset.
What to Do in Marin County
Go to the beach. While you’ll rarely be in a bathing suit in the Bay Area, the beaches are too good to pass up—even if you are bundled in three layers, a scarf and a wool hat as I was.
A favorite of both of ours is Stinson Beach, which is also one of the sharkiest beaches in Northern California (don’t go surfing there!).
Just below where we were staying beyond the Pelican Inn is Muir Beach, where we had our wedding photos taken. And while we didn’t actually go down there on this trip, we did fly the drone past it, which offered an entirely new perspective of a beloved spot of ours.
I had really wanted to get in a few hikes at Mount Tam and even around Bodega and Tomales Bay, but see: didn’t stop raining. Ah well, the hikes will be there when next we return.
If you’re a oenophile, you can take advantage of the nearby wine country. Petaluma and Santa Rosa aren’t far, then of course you have the more famous Sonoma and Napa Valley. We’ve done plenty of Wine Country exploration in the past, so no wine for us on this visit but I do recommend it if you haven’t.
Somehow though we were there for seven full days, we still didn’t tackle even half of our vacation to-do list. And for once, I didn’t stress over having a schedule and eating and drinking all the things for fear I’d be missing out on the greatest meal of my life.
I’ve never considered myself a lazy human, but I did little other than lounge around our rental, read a book and scroll through Instagram Stories for the duration of those three days. And you know what? I regret nothing.
Planning a California vacation? I have plenty of travel tips here:
- Windswept + Wild Down Highway 1
- A Day Trip to Half Moon Bay
- A Detour to Point Reyes National Seashore
- Planning a Family Vacation to Santa Cruz
- Sunny Days on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk
- Planning the Ultimate California Road Trip
- Art and Food in San Francisco’s Mission District
- Berkeley in Bloom: 24 Hours in the East Bay
- Skiing Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Resort