16 Best Things to Do in Stinson Beach, CA

Stinson Beach, CA
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Stinson Beach is a free-spirited and lovely seaside community north of San Francisco and surrounded by Mount Tamalpais.

It is a census-designated place in Marin County, California, located east-southeast of Bolinas and close to attractions such as Mount Tamalpais and Muir Beach.

Its location puts it within Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate Natural Area, and it is located right in the middle of spectacular sights in Marin County.

The community was established in 1906 when refugees displaced by the San Francisco earthquake arrived.

These refugees built the first hotel, stores, and the first Stinson subdivision accepted by the County.

In 1916, with the building of the post office, they changed the place’s name to Stinson Beach in honor of landowners Rose and Nathan Stinson.

In the 1920s, the first motor stage took tourists to the then-new beach resorts, Dipsea Lodge and Sea Downs.

The Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, and the community began to see day use of the County Park on the beach.

Today, Stinson Beach is one of northern California’s most popular beaches.

Here, many people come to enjoy the shore and the ocean, trek the Dipsea Trail, and visit Mount Tamalpais State Park.

In the town, you will see cafes, restaurants, family homes, art galleries, shops, and luxurious mansions with ocean views.

Stinson Beach has endless hiking trails and recreations, such as surfing, hiking, kayaking, and other beach activities.

Stinson Beach is a part seaside town, part hiking area, part white sand beach, and is a wonderful shore destination.

For your next vacation destination, start with this list of the best things to explore in Stinson Beach.

Have Fun in the Sun on Stinson Beach

Sunset reflecting on Stinson Beach
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Stinson Beach is famous for its remarkable red cliffs and soft white sand stretching on for almost 3 miles.

It is among the few beaches on the Northern California coast boasting fine white sand.

With rock formations and Muir Woods in the background, the beach is pretty as a picture.

The fine sand makes it perfect for digging sandcastles, and you can take your kids to splash and swim in the shallow water.

Waves covering the Stinson Beach shore
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Stinson Beach has a grassy 51-acre park with over 100 picnic tables and barbecue grills, and a snack shop where you can rent kayaks and boogie boards.

Waves are especially good on the beach, and surfers love the constant swells coming in from the southwest.

Stinson Beach is a spot for kitesurfing and windsurfing, with winds and waves breaking close to shore.

People also frequent it for soccer, volleyball, fishing, and the 7.4-mile annual Dipsea Race.

Sunny day at Stinson Beach
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Look for Vacation Reads at Stinson Beach Books

Stinson Beach Books is a stellar general bookstore with an emphasis on children’s books, current fiction and classics, local field guides, and nature tomes.

This bookstore has flourished alongside Stinson Beach, remaining a local institution for more than 45 years.

If you’re searching for maps, trails, information on local floral and fauna, and books on local lore, this is a good place to locate them.

There is an extensive section for children’s books, books about the local region and by local authors, and hard-to-find-writers sold alongside the bestsellers.

You can also see gifts, children’s toys, postcards, kitchen and table linens, vintage tool boxes, home goods, and other beach essentials.

The bookstore is in a quirky old home with a delightful ambiance and an old-fashioned air.

Its staff is wonderfully helpful with great recommendations and is available for any tourist questions you might have about the county and the town.

Made Contemporary Craft Gallery is a Stinson Beach gallery that features handmade crafts created by regional and national artists.

It represents all mediums and crafts from artists everywhere in the country, including the proprietor, Heidi Paul, a textile artist who has her studio in-house.

Paul opened her gallery after years of looking for a perfect place, finally finding it in Stinson Beach.

Visitors come to town not just to tour the surroundings but to shop for original American crafts in different mediums.

Visit Made to see outstanding work in clay, glass, wood, metal, textiles, and 2-dimensional art.

See earrings and necklaces wrought in metal, felt, glass, stone, leather, and nylon.

Buy glass creations that are hand-blown-fused, slumped, and recycled.

Find clay crafts with ceramics, pottery, stoneware, earthenware, porcelain, hand-built, and wheel-thrown creations.

Support artists whose works are clean, sophisticated, and elegant, with vibrant and bold designs.

Hike to Cataract Falls

Scenic view of Cataract Falls
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If you’re looking for a natural gem in Northern California, the hike to Cataract Falls is a 3-mile wonder that will take you to a landscape of lush beauty.

Prepare to stretch your legs on the trail, and make sure to wear layers.

Upon embarking on the trail, find yourself in a verdant forest filled with the lovely sight of coastal redwoods, bay laurel, tan oak, and sword fern.

Downstream of Cataract Falls
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Starting from the southern tip of Alpine Lake, the crossing cataracts make a pleasant accompaniment to your hike.

Take pictures of the rapids flowing down creek beds and horsetail cascades descending into narrow pools.

After a hike along a narrow bridge and rest at the Laurel Dell picnic area, you will finally catch vantage points of the beautiful Cataract Falls.

Cataract Falls is a stunning and heavenly series of waterfalls and rapids starting at Laurel Dell and cascading into Alpine Lake.

Plants and trees surrounding Cataract Falls
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Walk on the Shore at Red Rock Beach

Red Rock Beach is a clothing-optional beach just south of Stinson Beach.

It is a remote crescent of seashore battered by waves and preferred by naturists, with a rocky shoreline and large boulders that you can get past to reach the white sand.

You can reach it at low tide by following the sand and clambering over boulders at Rocky Point coming from Stinson Beach.

At low tide, you can find a hot spring that appears from the sand close to the large boulders south of the access path.

On a cautious note, the strong riptides make the beach unsuitable for swimming.

However, the beach is frequented for bouldering, sunbathing, and rock-climbing, and sometimes people set up camp at Steep Ravine.

If you like to hike, you can enjoy the strenuous Rocky Point Trail, which is a 1.6-mile round hike coming from Red Rock Beach.

Wander and Roam with Fritz Bikes

Fritz Bikes is a big believer in biking: what it does for one’s health and the environment.

They offer several guided bike tours and camps to propel one’s adventures around the West Marin country.

They are eager to guide all levels of riders around the West Marin trails, destinations, and vistas.

Their Marin Headlands tour takes you from the Lodge under Golden Gate Bridge into the place known as the Headlands.

There you will have amazing views of Alcatraz, San Francisco, and the Pacific Ocean, and see the many seals, bobcats, and wildlife living in the Headlands.

Their Mount Tam Tour takes you from Cavallo Point to the top of Mount Tamalpais, the birthplace of mountain biking.

There you will ride through huge redwoods and go through the Old Railroad Grade trail.

Enjoy a break and gorgeous views at the West Point Inn and climb up to Mount Tamalpais.

Shop for a Cool Outfit at Sacred Tide

Sacred Tide is a brand based in Stinson Beach, founded by textile artist, designer, and quilter, Kelsea Kirsch.

Kirsch specializes in denim artwear jackets, quilting fabric, and hand-appliqueing them onto denim.

This unique aesthetic melds a sculptural quilting style, trapunto, with unique imagery.

Sacred Tide is an ecologically conscious brand with a mission to upcycle, using vintage and secondhand jackets as a canvas.

No 2 Sacred Tide jackets are the same, with Kirsch aiming for unique and bespoke items, sourcing the perfect jacket for every quilted piece.

Pick from special and intricate Tarot Jacket designs such as the Empress, the Sun, the Moon, the World, the High Priestess, the Queen of Wands, and the Lovers.

Jackets from the Hokusai Collection include designs such as Kabuki, Mount Fuji, Great Wave, Maiko, and three Beauties.

These designs invite customers to relish nature’s energy and connection to the elements.

Dine on the Beach at Sand Dollar Restaurant

Exterior of Sand Dollar Restaurant
Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sand Dollar Restaurant is a charming beachside oyster bar and seafood stopover offering fresh fish dishes and charming views of the bay.

It has become an institution in Stinson Beach, built in 1921 on three barges.

The founders floated these barges into Stinson Beach and fused them together to become the historic restaurant everyone loves today.

Sand Dollar Restaurant has a tight-knit and friendly team that offers wonderful service and exceptional cuisine.

Their patrons are a diverse group that ranges from politicians who favor the restaurant and firefighters coming in for a meal.

Sand Dollar is a family-owned business and is the oldest established, continuously functioning restaurant in Stinson Beach.

Try their fresh local seafood specialties, such as herbed mussels, oysters roasted in garlic butter, clam linguine, grilled salmon, Sand Dollar fish tacos, and grilled calamari.

Their entertainment ranges from bluegrass to jazz, hillbilly bebop, Americana, and honky-tonk.

Get Active with Marine Outdoor Adventure

Marine Outdoor Adventure offers guided hikes, mountain biking, surf lessons, and a mindfulness in nature experience.

They believe in the therapeutic experience of adventure and connecting with Mother Nature.

Their guided mountain bike sessions connect with people’s sense of adventure, teach basic mountain bike skills and techniques, and show new trails to ride.

Their guided plant walk takes you with naturalist Nick Nutu to explore flora, fauna, and fungi in the Headlands, where you will learn to forage medicinal, edible, and magical plants.

Their one-on-one Private Lessons give surfing instructions to any level of surfer.

Mother-Daughter Workshop teaches women and girls to surf while building healthy relationships.

5 Pack Surf Sessions is for people committed to surfing who are interested in honing their skills.

10 Pack Surf Sessions are for kids and adults who want to surf regularly and improve immediately.

Emmeline Craig’s Blissful Gallery is a picturesque art gallery featuring beautiful seaside views in prints, books, and miniatures.

Emmeline Craig first opened her art studio to the public in 2006 and observed people’s relaxed and soothed reactions to her paintings.

Today, she paints each of her pieces like a blissful meditation that helps to calm the mind’s chatter and expand one’s consciousness.

She believes in creating visual pieces where you can let the mind roam freely and feel safe while bringing your own story into the picture.

She designs her original pieces as virtual spaces with themes like Cloudy May Day, Promise of Rain, Smooth Emergence, and The Golden Hour.

Her giclee fine art prints have themes like Dawn Magic, Soul Whisper, Caribbean Dream, and Tidal Stillness.

She also commissions works, considering the customer’s special wish to fit with her expertise in creation.

Connect With the Outside World at Audobon Canyon Ranch

Audobon Canyon Ranch is a not-for-profit educational and environmental conservation organization headquartered in Stinson Beach on Bolinas Lagoon’s eastern shore.

It stewards a preserve network totaling 5000 acres across 26 properties in the Sonoma, Lake, and Marin counties.

Its mission is to connect people, science, and nature in a rapidly developing world.

For more than 40 years, it has monitored the heron and egrets’ nesting successes in the North Bay region.

Its Fire Forward program advances the community’s use of “good fire,” reducing risk and building ecosystem resistance against climate-driven wildfire.

Its experiential nature program connected thousands of Bay Area kids and adults to nature’s wonders, cultivating a conservation ethic and environmental learning.

Its Martin Griffin Preserve is a protected wildlife sanctuary encompassing 1000 acres with mixed evergreen forests and open hillsides.

It is home to 25 mammal species, 90 land bird species, 13 reptile species, and eight amphibian species.

Other Things to Do Nearby

See the Wonders of Mount Tamalpais State Park

Wooden pathway at Mount Tamalpais State Park
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Mount Tamalpais State Park is one of the Bay Area’s jewels, rising majestically from the depths of Marin County.

Known affectionately as ‘Mount Tam,’ it has sprawling hillsides, craggy canyons, oak woodlands, redwood forests, wide grasslands, and solid chaparral.

It has over 50 miles of trails, hiking, and campgrounds, and includes Marin County’s highest point, East Peak, at 2571 feet.

Mountain views at Mount Tamalpais State Park
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On a clear day, anyone can spot San Francisco Bay, the Farallon Islands, the Marin County hills, the East Bay peaks, Mount Diablo, and even the snowy Sierra Nevada.

It is a longtime treasured pace for equestrians, cyclists, wildlife watchers, picnickers, and hikers.

At the Gravity Car Barn, listen to stories of the Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway, and at the East Visitor Information Center, find knowledge, snacks, and merchandise.

Also find the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre, a 3,750 structure made of natural stone, which hosts astronomy programs and a Mountain Play every spring.

Flowers at Mount Tamalpais State Park
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Explore the Bolinas Lagoon Preserve

Bolinas Lagoon Preserve's marsh
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Bolinas Lagoon is one of the rare remaining untouched estuaries of the East Coast.

It is bordered by Highway 1 and the seaside village of Bolinas, and it is located 5 minutes from the white arc of Stinson Beach.

It is a 1000-acre estuary whose serene marshes and wildlife-rich mudflats are home to a trove of harbor seals, river otters, leopard sharks, great egrets, and blue herons.

It is a spot where ocean water melds with fresh streams from Mount Tamalpais, protected from waves and tides, making it ideal for kayaking and casual swims.

A bird at Bolinas Lagoon Preserve
Len Blumin from Mill Valley, California, United States, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Take photographs of the sunrises and sunsets that reflect enchantingly off the lagoon’s glimmering surface.

Walk the Bob Stewart Trail, which meanders through alders and willows, with a marsh full of gum plants, monarch butterflies, and buzzing honeybees.

The lagoon is an important stopover for tens of thousands of migrant birds that you can observe from a distance.

Wander through the Woods at Muir Woods National Monument

Steps leading to Muir Woods National Monument
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Just 22 minutes from Stinson Beach, Muir Woods National Monument is a redwood sanctuary with a rare old-growth forest covering 558 acres.

Two million acres of redwoods once grew along the West Coast, but 97% of these are now altered or impaired.

The trees of Muir Woods are a rare remnant, the lone old-growth redwood coastal forest in the Bay Area and one of the few that remains on the planet.

The average age of the redwoods at Muir Woods is from 600 to 800 years, and they reach heights of over 250 feet.

Top half of the trees at Muir Woods National Monument
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President Theodore Roosevelt declared the land to be a national monument in 1908.

California politician William Kent then insisted that it be named after influential naturalist and scientist, John Muir.

Muir Woods offers 6 miles of hiking trails through towering redwood trees, a wide range of interpretive programs, ranger-pioneered talks, guided walks, educational programs, and overnight camping.

Trail at Muir Woods National Monument
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Buy Oysters at Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Tomales Bay Oyster Company has been providing farm-fresh oysters to the San Francisco Bay Area since 1909.

Terry Weinard sowed the first Tomales Bay oyster beds at Millerton Point in 1875, and the founders established Morgan Oyster Company near Millerton Point in 1909.

In 1913, a group of businessmen bought the company’s holdings, officially renaming it to Tomales Bay Oyster Company.

Oscar Johannson, hired by the parent company in 1926, managed the operations at the Tomales beds.

He eventually gained ownership of the company’s farming side and continued to cultivate the tidelands until 1988, when he sold the company.

To this day, Tomales Bay Oyster Company is the longest-lasting, continually operating oyster farm in California.

They sell oysters in bags of 50 or by the dozen, farm Pacific Oysters, and also sell Manila Clams and Bay Mussels.

Their well-known Special Reserve Tomales Bay Golden Nuggets are top-tier cocktail oysters farmed in an innovative system that flips oysters with every tide.

You can buy their oysters and head to the beaches and parks to have a sumptuous meal as the ocean waves crash nearby.

Explore Art and History at Bolinas Museum

Exterior of Bolinas Museum
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Located 13 minutes from Stinson Beach, Bolinas Museum is the premier fine arts museum in Marin County.

It started as Bolinas Memorial Museum in 1983 and dedicated itself to preserving the town's history.

The museum founders presented exhibitions of history and historical art, later adding works by contemporary coastal Marin creators.

They originally established the museum to preserve and share Bolinas’s intriguing history, starting with the Coast Miwok people, the Gold Rush, and the early settlement of San Francisco.

The museum’s growing fine art collection includes art created in or around coastal Marin and creations by Bay Area artists.

These range from historical 19th-century landscape works to graphic arts, contemporary sculpture, and photography.

Its archives and history collection have documents, photographs, oral histories, letters, maps, and artifacts.

These trace the storied past of families, artists, scientists, poets, surfing, shipwrecks, ranching, and schooner building.

Final Thoughts

This scenic and entertaining town has opened visitors up to the loveliness of West Marin County since 1906.

Bring this list along and check off the finest occupations and activities at this dreamy location.

If you want to relax in a quaint seaside small town with beautiful wilderness within reach, Stinson Beach is for you.