It's impossible to pick a favorite cycling route in Marin County. Almost every ride has something to offer, whether the views, the terrain, or both. There are iconic routes like the Headlands or Alpine Dam, but for some reason, the route I'm going to share here is one of my all-time favorites.
You'll need a few hours to do this one, though. If you are crushing it, you can do a good sub-three hours for sure, but if you want to cruise and check out the views, count on it being closer to four hours, if not more. And that doesn't include stopping.
The ride starts at Above Category HQ in Sausalito and heads out of town past the houseboats and Bay until you hit the bike path that runs along HWY 101. After getting to Mill Valley, you will go up the first short but still cool climb. If you are from out of town and live in a vertically challenged area, it can be a relatively demanding climb depending on how hard you push it.
Then it's through the towns of Corte Madera, Larkspur, Kentfield, Ross, San Anselmo and finally Fairfax. I throw in a little detour and hit the back roads through Kentfield and Ross. Check the map well, though, as it can be a bit of a maze.
Once out of Fairfax, you'll head up the second short climb, Whites Hill. Again, if you push it, this can be a challenging 4-6 minute climb or an easy 6-10 minute one. The views to the right as you start the climb are fantastic. It feels like you are in a different world than the one you've been riding through. The hills are much more barren, and you'll notice the temperature tick up.
After you crest White's Hill, you'll descend a bit before taking a left onto a back road that parallels Sir Francis Drake. If you forgot something or need some water at this point, there is a small market on this road. I like this road as it's much quieter and offers more shade on a hot day. Just watch out for the first stop sign, as it's not a four-way stop, and the cars can catch you by surprise. When you reach the end of this road, you'll hang a left back onto Sir Francis Drake and head into the Redwoods.
First, though, you'll pass through the tiny town of Lagunitas, but once you do, the houses end, and you are on a pretty silky smooth road through the Redwoods. You can get going quickly here, and it's a super fun stretch when you do, with enough bends to keep things interesting and a gently rolling profile which rewards momentum. A few miles in, you can take a left at Samuel P. Taylor Park and ride on a tranquil bike path through the beautiful forest for a while. I remember the first time someone showed it to me, and I was amazed that there could be such a bike path in the middle of nowhere. I recommend chilling out and riding slowly through here. There are restrooms near the park's entry and water fountains if you need them. If you feel like keeping the speed up, I usually stay on the main road (Sir Francis Drake), which is also quite stunning. You're just going faster. While on the path, one last highlight is that you will also be skirting a creek that, during the season, Salmon run on, which I've been fortunate enough to see a few times.
When you reach the end of the path, you'll hit the next good climb, which takes you out of the woods and into another super small town called Olema. It also marks the route's halfway point, so it's the perfect rest stop. Olema is where we ran our first camp a few weeks back, specifically at the Olema House. There is also a small store next to the hotel and tavern called Due West, where you can get coffee, cookies and other things. There is a big jug with ice water in it for refills and bathrooms as well. The cool thing is that the hotel, tavern and store are owned by a fellow cyclist who lives in Marin. So, make sure to stop and say hi!
Once you finish up there, you'll head south on HWY 1. I always start my rides early, so I'm on this stretch (same with Sir Francis Drake) before all the traffic gets out. I've never felt unsafe on HWY 1, but it is a road with no shoulder and a 50MPH speed limit. For the most part, if you are a respectful rider, the car traffic will respect you.
This stretch is super fun. It's a fast, curvy, and rolling road with just one descent bump along the way. Don't get me wrong, if you push it, all those other, smaller bumps start adding up, but for the most part, it's pretty easy if you take it that way. After one good descent, you'll hit Dogtown (which is not a town or where all the OG skaters retired to), and right after that, you'll be taking a right turn onto Horseshoe Hill Rd. This takes you through the outskirts of Bolinas and then past the honor system farmers' market stand. If it's the right time of year, there can be some good local produce here. You'll take a left here and head back to HWY 1, where you'll continue south towards Stinson Beach.
At this stage, the views start changing again. You are leaving behind the thick woods and Redwood groves and riding beside Bolinas Lagoon until you get to Stinson Beach and the Pacific Ocean. When you get to Stinson, there is a little park to the right, before the stop sign, where you can get water at a fountain and use the restroom if needed. There are also plenty of places to stop if you prefer.
One of my favorite parts of the ride is the ascent as you leave Stinson Beach. As you climb out of town, the view to the right is magical, especially on a clear sunny day. The beach, the Pacific Ocean, the cliffs on the right, the hills on the left are just crazy gorgeous and the number one reason I live here.
Now we get to keep riding on HWY 1, except it's all up and down this time. Just keep enough in the tank to be able to enjoy the scenery. The real kicker starts right after you pass Slide Ranch farm (a small and super cool organic farm). The road kicks up pretty good with a really steep bit halfway up and then finishes with a lovely false flat, just to keep you honest. Then you have a ripping descent down to Muir Woods. Just keep an eye out for cars on a couple of roads on the right. At the bottom, you'll take a hard left turn that will take you into the heart of the iconic Muir Woods Park. This is another "pinch me, do I actually live here?" moment. The reason I go this way is to ride what may be my favorite climb in Marin: the ascent from Muir Woods to Four Corners. It's steep at the beginning and end, and the middle too! But it's super cool, twisting through the Redwoods until you get nearer the top, where the view is spectacular.
At the top, you'll cross the road and head down the hill to Mill Valley. If you are early enough, we recommend stopping at Shoreline Cafe in Tam Junction for the perfect recovery meal before hitting the last three-plus miles back to Above Category and falling asleep from a food coma.
We hope you get out there and enjoy this ride soon! Remember, if you plan to tackle this route on a weekend, the earlier you get out, the more enjoyable it is, regarding traffic at least.