Just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, stretching north from the bay through forest, mountain, and pasture, lies Marin County. Thanks to slow-growth policies, Marin has a relatively small population and thousands of acres of open space. The county manages to encompass a little bit of everything, from the cosmopolitan seaside cafes of Tiburon and Sausalito to the dairies and ranches of West Marin. There are 11 incorporated cities in the county. Southern Marin comprises the wealthy communities of Sausalito, Belvedere, Tiburon and Mill Valley. Drive a little farther up on Highway 101 and you'll pass Larkspur, Corte Madera, Greenbrae, Fairfax and Ross. San Rafael and Novato are the county's two largest cities.
San Rafael - Overview
San Rafael became Marin's first city in 1874. Its roots can be traced to December 1817, when Spanish Franciscans founded Mission San Rafael Archangel at the foot of San Rafael Hill, the 20th of California's 21 missions. A replica of the mission stands at St. Raphael's Church. More than 52,000 residents make their home in the county seat, the commercial, cultural and governmental center of Marin. Just 17 miles north of San Francisco and surrounded by wooded, grassy hillsides and the bay, about one-third of the city's 17 square miles is open space.
Mill Valley - Overview
Mill Valley, which stands in the shadow of Mount Tamalpais, has a charm all its own. Besides the quaint downtown, home to antique stores, bookstores, a theater, nightclub, art gallery, coffee shops, and the Depot Bookstore cafe, Mill Valley offers hiking and biking trails, a dog run, a nine-hole public golf course, and the annual Dipsea foot race.
Greenbrae and Kentfield - Overview
Greenbrae, site of an old dairy ranch, has its modern roots in the family of Niels Schultz Sr., a pioneer Marin developer who liked the sound of "brae", Scottish for hillside. The family bought the 700-acre Greenbrae Ranch near Larkspur in 1946. Early residential development focused on smaller homes under a postwar edict setting a $10,000 limit on building materials used for home construction. More recent additions to the community provide larger quarters. Suburban growth was augmented by construction of the popular Bon Air Center, home of a number of businesses including a Mollie Stones market, a popular shopping destination for neighbors as well residents who live elsewhere.
Larkspur - Overview
If developer Charles Wright's wife knew her plants, this picturesque Central Marin town would be called Lupine. Mrs. Wright, whose husband helped to incorporate the town at the turn of the century, admired the fields of what she thought were larkspur plants blooming near her new homestead, and named the village Larkspur. Most of the town lies inland, but the part that fronts the water is home to the county's largest ferry terminal, as well as a huge metal sculpture of Sir Francis Drake. Larkspur shares schools and a police department with Corte Madera together they make up the Twin Cities. Outlying neighborhoods Kentfield and Greenbrae have their own school district, but share utilities and many public services with Larkspur.
San Anselmo, once the county's railroad hub, is larger than many of its neighbors, but retains a small-town charm. The self-proclaimed "Antiques Capital of Northern California,'' San Anselmo has about 130 antique dealers, as well as bookstores, coffee shops, boutiques, and restaurants along San Anselmo Avenue next to Creek Park. Homes are older and smaller than those in nearby Ross. Larger lots grace some hill areas. Five roads converge through The Hub, with Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and The Miracle Mile jamming from traffic during the rush hours.
Novato began as Rancho de Novato, a Spanish land grant given in 1839 to Fernando Feliz, but its roots are far deeper. Olompali State Historical Park just north of the city is where a panorama of history unfolds in a single afternoon. It's named for a key Miwok settlement, the location of the only battle of the Bear Flag Revolt leading to California's statehood, the setting for Marin's first formal garden, and a hippie commune in the 1960s.
Overview of Corte Madera
Incorporated in 1916, Corte Madera is best known today for the two shopping malls that line the freeway. But the town, translated as "cut wood" in Spanish, has much more going for it than that. Besides boasting a 22-acre park with tennis courts, two playgrounds, and recreation equipment, the town also has an historic village square and numerous biking paths. The amenities as well as the area's central location, moderate home prices and taxes, friendly neighborhoods, and a good commute all help make Corte Madera a popular place to live. East Corte Madera is a flat, mostly ranch-style home area, including some properties that back up on the bay or Ring Mountain, an ancient Miwok site. Tamalpais Drive follows the west side of town up past the recreation center and City Hall to the base of Christmas Tree Hill.
Named after Lord Charles Snowden Fairfax, a Virginian who became a state Assemblyman and Marin supervisor in the 19th century, the town was noted for its lavish parties. Shortly after the turn of the century, Fairfax drew crowds to its "funicular railroad,'' a cable-drawn car that took visitors up the hillside from 1913 to 1929 for barbecues and land auctions. The area also gained fame for huge Fourth of July picnics, Big Band parties at the Town and Country Club, and in the '60s, for Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters and colorful crowds of party-happy, tie-dyed hipsters, some of whom still remain. Fairfax is an ideal spot for outdoor lovers. Residents and visitors bike and climb its hills, and picnic at Bon Tempe, Lagunitas and Alpine lakes, and other forested watershed lands surrounding the town.