Winter Water and Wildlife Guide to Marin County
By Joe Kukura
Winter is the time to cozy up and stay indoors — unless you’re in Marin County. The northern California getaway known as the “sunny side of the Golden Gate Bridge” is that rare place that’s even better to visit in the wintertime because the great outdoors get even greater. Winter in Marin County features a Mediterranean climate that rarely dips below a comfy 50 degrees, and the winter months mean less traffic, fewer tourists and special seasonal wonders on both the land and the waters.
Rare and magnificent animals come out to play in the Marin County winter months, whether they’re coming through on migratory treks or just enjoying the weather. The water beckons in rivers and lakes for kayaking, canoeing, kiteboarding, and more varieties of water adventures. The days may get shorter, but here’s why the days also get better in Marin County winter.
Winter Wildlife Watching
The animals know that Marin County is the place to visit in the winter months, and there’s nothing like watching these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. Winter wildlife in Marin County gives wildlife watchers a chance to see birds, beasts and marine majesties.
Marin County whale watching makes these mammals maybe the most famous animals that pass through Marin’s Pacific shores in the wintertime. Whale season peaks in Marin County in December through April, when the California gray whales migrate to Mexico. Some of the best places to watch whales in Marin County are at the Muir Beach Overlook and Point Reyes National Seashore. Binoculars, of course, are highly recommended.
The whales are so popular though that some Point Reyes roads are closed to private vehicles on weekends and holidays between Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, and late March or mid-April 2019. But on those days, you can catch the Point Reyes National Park’s Winter Shuttle Bus System, which offers $7 rides on these closed roads from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Right along Marin County’s coastal shores, elephant seals, harbor seals and sea lions can be seen doing what they do best: relaxing. One of the best places to watch seals in Marin County is from Point Reyes’ Chimney Rock — just keep those weekend road restrictions in mind.
Migratory birds love to fly through Marin County too, creating great Marin County bird-watching opportunities throughout the winter. Bald eagles are making a big comeback in Marin County, providing a rare opportunity to see these incredible birds in the winter months. Mountain bluebirds, warblers and long-tailed ducks also breeze through during wintertime. You can catch sights of these of these amazing birds at Muir Woods and Mount Tamalpais, and naturally, the Audubon Canyon Ranch.
Winter Kayaking and Water Sports
The water’s great in Marin County, even in the winter. Kayaking, stand up paddleboarding and canoeing opportunities await and the experts are ready to help.
At the Point Reyes National Seashore, Blue Waters Kayaking lets you get the most out of those Pacific Ocean waters with canoe and kayak rentals, classes and guided tours or classes for all skill levels. Point Reyes Outdoors also offers sea kayaking and overnight camping tours, plus the amazing nighttime bioluminescence tours that everyone must experience at least once.
On the other side of Marin County, San Rafael Bay’s 101 Surf Sports has been voted one of the top water sports shops in the United States. They offer the full array of paddleboard, kayak, canoe and windsurfing rentals, along with lessons and guided tours.
There’s more winter wonder in Marin County, including a warm-weather outdoor ice skating rink at Northgate Mall in San Rafael and heaping helpings of the famed Dungeness crab at Marin County seafood restaurants. Make it a long weekend with overnighters at the best places to stay in Marin County, and you’ll find yourself quickly warming up to winter in Marin County.
For all you need to plan your Marin County vacation, visit the Marin Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website or Facebook page.