Tucked between the 101 and the Pacific coast, Fairfax has the quirky personality required of a town renowned for an organic foods store and a museum devoted to mountain biking.
But it's also an oasis for gorgeous nature and excellent food and drink.
Sure, it's very much Marin (you know, yoga moms pushing strollers at the farmer's market), but Fairfax is its own distinct destination, more so than you might think as you glance from your car window along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. So get out of the car, see a waterfall, and discover some ice cream, tacos, and sushi as good as any in the city.
Croissants + Hikes
You could think of Taste Kitchen & Table(71 Broadway Blvd.) as Fairfax's morning town hall (though they also have a second location in San Rafael). The four-year-old bakery-cafe serves up all your glutenous (and in some cases gluten-free) cravings including a breakfast BLT with egg, and tempting homemade breads and pastries. Eat in or take nibbles to go with your cappuccino. // Another local favorite, Barefoot Cafe(1900 Sir Francis Drake) is known for its creative use of seasonal, organic produce in dishes such as banana walnut pancakes and garden browns—a double order of hash browns topped with sauteed onions, mushrooms, and cheese. Take a smoothie for the road.
The Bay Area wins for its easy access to ample gorgeous nature spots, but here's something we don't have much of: waterfalls. The trailhead to Cascade Falls, in the Cascade Canyon Open Space Preserve, is just over a mile from central Fairfax. From the (always crowded) parking lot, the trail will take you just 1.2 miles roundtrip to the falls and back. At 20 feet tall, Cascade Falls is no Niagara, but it's still a gorgeous stretch of water in a lush forest that seems more Pacific Northwest than Bay Area. // From downtown Fairfax, Lake Lagunitas ($8/day entry fee)is a scenic 15-minute drive away. The mostly flat, mile-and-a-half hike around the lake is achievable for even the most die-hard city slicker, and despite its proximity to civilization, the quiet little lake feels as remote as the Sierra. With benches strategically positioned along the walk, you won't be able to resist sitting a spell and taking in the view. // Bon Tempe Lake is a reservoir to the southwest of downtown Fairfax that can be accessed by a short hike from the paid parking lot ($8). The four-mile loop guarantees a flat and pleasant stroll for gazing at the shimmering water and bird watching—if you're lucky, you might spy a bald eagle. In warmer months, please do take precautions against ticks.
Lunch, Bikes, Beer + More
Tacos + Coffee (...and ok, maybe Beer)
After a good hike, head back into town for a lunch of pan-seared ono tacos and al pastor quesadillas at Más Masa(31 Bolinas Rd. B), a fast-casual Californian-meets-Mexican street food spot from a Thomas Keller Restaurant Group alum. Still in its first year, this place has rapidly become a local favorite for all things in homemade corn masa. // If exercise and tacos leave you in need of a recharge, you'll want to head to the...bike store? Don't worry, Split Rock Tap & Wheel(2020 Sir Francis Drake) also packs a craft beer bar and coffee shop. Throw back an afternoon espresso or a Lagunitas Cherry Jane sour on tap, and browse the selection of Whyte USA brand mountain bikes for your next two-wheel adventure.
The Bike Museum
Speaking of wheels... Know where the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame is? Yup. Fairfax is home to the Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame(1966 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.), and it's a really fun place to spend an hour looking at the evolution of bikes over the past two centuries. You can also learn about mountain biking's most influential figures. For the record, the original Hall of Fame was in Crested Butte, Colorado, but moved to Fairfax three years ago because Marin sort of "invented" mountain biking.
A Little Shopping
Among the cute boutiques in downtown Fairfax, The Potting Shed(55A Bolinas Ave.) has become a destination for Bay Area residents beyond Marin County looking for succulents, air plants, and many more garden-related items. This adorable indoor-outdoor venue also bursts with quirky gifts and jewelry. If you're up for it, try the DIY potting station for an extra unique Fairfax souvenir. // Good Earth Natural Foods(720 Center Blvd.) might not be the only all-organic grocery store in the country, but it's certainly one of the most historic. When it opened in 1969, Chez Panisse and Whole Foods were but a distant dream. You're well taken care of in terms of meals in Fairfax, but spend some time checking out this bit of Fairfax history.
From Happy Hour to Nightcaps, Dinner in Between
(But first, put your name on the waitlist for dinner at Village Sake, 19 Bolinas Rd.). Craft beer's massive movement was just getting brewing when Iron Springs Pub & Brewery(765 Center Blvd.) opened here in 2004—and the place still combines great housemade beers with a family-friendly brewpub atmosphere. In fact, it's one of the best breweries in the Bay Area. So go for a $4.75 pint at happy hour on a weeknight (until 6pm). First time? It pays off to explore the roughly 16 house brews on tap; hopheads will be easily charmed by the JC Flyer and the Casey Jones Imperial IPAs. // Wine bar-slash-restaurant 123 Bolinas(123 Bolinas Rd.) is another great waiting room before dinner Village Sake—it's also destination in its own right for local Miyagi oysters with mustard seed mignonette and more substantial fare like roast chicken leg with yogurt and salsa verde. But don't spoil your appetite too much—you're here for the oysters, a local cheese board, and perhaps some butter-roasted artichokes to pair with a glass of Sonoma County's Cazadero Chardonnay. You can also design your own flight of wines with their "smidge" half-glass pours.
Time for Dinner
Finally, you receive the golden text: "Your table is ready at Village Sake." With longtime Sushi Ran chef Scott Whitman at the helm, the critically adored Japanese izakaya has only grown in popularity since its 2015 debut. And it's true, we're not helping lessen the wait—but Village Sake is about as special as casual dining gets. Ask for some help in choosing the right sake to suit your preferences. Then you'll inevitably over-order but still finish everything from tea-smoked ocean trout maki rolls to matcha-dusted corn tempura to, perhaps, a daily special of clam and kimchi hotpot that leans heavily toward the Korean staple.
Sweet Endings + Nightcaps
It's a well-traveled circuit in Fairfax: dinner at Village Sake followed by ice cream at Fairfax Scoop(63 Broadway Blvd.) a tiny shop barely the size of a giant sundae. Like many of the Bay Area's top ice cream makers, Scoop uses Marin's own Straus Creamery milk as its ice cream base, then offers a host of organic ingredients. Strawberry ice cream that truly tastes like a peak ripe strawberry? Vanilla honey lavender that tastes of big Marin meadows? Your choice (tough one, eh?). // It's not like you can really eat anymore, but Gestalt Haus(28 Bolinas Rd.) is an après mountain bike ride favorite for a bowl of chili or a Swiss bockwurst in a pretzel bun. It's also a late night staple with 30 taps of German beers and Northern Californian craft brews, open until 2am on weekends. // For music with your nightcap, Peri's Silver Dollar Bar(29 Broadway) has been entertaining Fairfax with local musicians nightly for over 80 years, having moved locations just once since 1949. Check their website for shows and cover charge, bring cash, and enjoy that last pint on the patio.
(Courtesy of Marin CVB)
Located just one famous bridge away from a world-class city, Marin County is the Bay Area's outdoor entertainment center for those who like blue skies. For more information, go to visitmarin.org. Thank you to our partners at Marin Convention and Visitors Bureau.