Marin Blog · Outdoor Adventures Collection

Guide to Marin County's Most Exotic Wildlife

Posted in Blogging Marin on Monday, January 2, 2023 by MCVB Staff

By Megan Eileen McDonough


It’s no secret that Marin County has some pretty fantastic viewpoints, but did you know that it is also home to some of the world’s rarest living species? It’s true! While these clever creatures are often taking advantage of their camouflage abilities, Marin County is actually filled with colorful birds, predatory mammals, rare fish and so much more. Whether you’re an avid birder or have a soft spot for cute and cuddly animals, here is a beginner’s guide to Marin’s most diverse and impressive wildlife.


1. Birds: more than 150 species like the red-tailed hawk

Marin County is a dream destination for birdwatchers, and for good reason. There are more than 150 species of birds living in the county, including a handful of rare and exotic ones. The majority of birds live in Marin's coastal Baylands, relying on mature riparian trees and snags to build their nests and fish and small land creatures for food. To catch a glimpse of the threatened northern spotted owl, your best bet is to tour through Muir Woods, where there are redwood trees. Alternatively, head to Marin's lower hills and valleys, where you're likely to see the red-tailed hawk. We also recommend the Marin Headlands, an area that stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Beach.


2. Mammals: large predators like bobcats and mountain lions

Marin County is home to some very fascinating mammals, and we’re not just talking about your typical furry forest friends. From mountain lions and black-tailed deer to cunning coyotes, it's easy to feel like you're on a safari. Speaking of which, Point Reyes Safaris brings visitors up close and personal to their favorite animals. The tours cater to small groups of one to three people to ensure that participants get a personalized wildlife experience. For example, if you're eager to photograph a bobcat, your guide will dedicate most of the day to achieving that goal. Full-day safaris span 10 hours, from sunrise to sunset. If you're on a time crunch, opt for the half-day tour (five hours).


3. Fish: predominantly coho salmon and steelhead

For the most part, coho salmon and steelhead trout dominate Marin's waterways. While they certainly have distinct differences, their lifecycles are fairly similar. Both species need year-round cool, clean water, deep pools and shallow rocky areas. Woody debris comes in handy during their reproductive stages and also serves as protection against storms and predators. In West Marin, you might see some chinook salmon swimming in the Lagunitas Creek system. For even more marine life in Marin, spend a day at the Aquarium of the Bay. There are dozens of daily programs, not to mention an impressive crystal-clear tunnel where you can see more than 20,000 marine animals representative of the bay.


4. Invertebrates: rare species like the California freshwater shrimp

Invertebrates are often overlooked compared to cuddly mammals and colorful birds, but Marin is home to several rare species you won’t want to miss. For example, the endangered California freshwater shrimp has been spotted in several creeks in Marin along with Napa and Sonoma counties. Along the coastline, you're likely to see a variety of species: California oysters, red abalone (edible sea snail), Dungeness crabs and native clams. If you're less into looking at invertebrates and more into eating them, book a foodie tour with Food & Farm Tours. The Oyster Lover's Tour includes a behind-the-scenes look at how oyster farms operate, plus lots of local-history fun facts.


5. Reptiles and amphibians: stream-dependent creatures like salamanders and turtles

Creeks play a large role in the lives of reptiles and amphibians so, naturally, Marin is a safe haven for them. Among their basic needs are good water quality and healthy vegetation. The nocturnal and highly secretive Pacific giant salamanders, for instance, require woody debris for protection during breeding, which occurs in streams. The California red-legged frog is considered a threatened species yet thrives in Marin's ponds and streams. Northwestern pond turtles also frequent these areas.

In terms of reptiles, it’s not uncommon to see traces of the rare and beautiful San Francisco garter snake, western fence lizards and even alligator lizards in the grasslands. Deer Island Open Space Preserve in Novato is a great spot to look for gopher snakes and alligator lizards. A hotspot for amphibians is Rush Creek, a 552-acre preserve on the northern end of Novato, where you're likely to see lizards and snakes along with salamanders and even the occasional toad.


For all you need to plan your Marin County vacation, visit the Marin Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website or Facebook page.

More information on featured attractions:

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Marin Headlands

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) offers two hide-in and two walk-in campgrounds in the Marin Headlands, located at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge....[Learn More]

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Point Reyes Safaris


On a Point Reyes Safari, you will be joining professional wildlife photographer Daniel Dietrich on an unforgettable experience seeing and photographing the amazing wildlife and scenic...[Learn More]

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Muir Woods National Monument

Just 12 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge on Highway 1 grows an ancient coast redwood forest named Muir Woods. Within this isolated forest, visitors from all...[Learn More]

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Food & Farm Tours

Since 2012, Food & Farm Tours has been a beloved experience for Bay Area locals and out-of-towners looking to experience the bounty of Marin and Sonoma Counties through...[Learn More]

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Novato is blessed with scenic beauty, eclectic shopping and dining options, and an ideal location. Right at the northern tip of Marin County, the city is surrounded...[Learn More]

Tags: wildlife