Travel Writings

To Learn to Love Marin, I Had To Leave

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Growing up in Marin County, I developed a gradual, itching awareness that I wanted to be elsewhere, namely San Francisco.  As a child, I remembered fondly the trips to the city with my parents, to see Kronos Quartet perform at Stern Grove or to watch one of the films at the Herbst for the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

The city, I decided early on, was where it’s at.

My cliche youthful cynicism, that comes naturally to all budding teenage assholes, turned specific. I hated Marin, I decided. I judged my friends who preferred house parties and movies and trips to the mall to the unknown adventures that awaited in The City.

“It’s so farrrrrr,” they’d groan.

I went to high school in San Francisco, diverging from the well-worn path of others at the local public middle school I attended, Davidson, to the adjacent local public high school, San Rafael High. [A high school aptly named, it turns out, because it was also where the term “420” was born.] So well-worn was this path that, according to a friend, I was called “absent” at SR for two weeks, despite never having enrolled.

St. Ignatius, the Catholic school in the Sunset District, was my first home base in San Francisco. I did the daily commute via school bus for two years, before getting my license and the ability to drive myself over the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge every day to school. SI introduced me to a disgust for Marin that didn’t come from me. “Ugh, you take the Marin bus?” a fellow student said to me once, his voice dripping with judgment.

Marin, I learned, was for rich, snooty white people. And while demographically that was arguably true, I couldn’t help but compare my public school upbringing, the dogeared textbooks, the lingering marijuana smell in the middle school bathrooms, etc. to the posh, snobby environment I supposedly came from. And in fact, the posh, snobby catholic school education of many of my SF native classmates.


From then on I developed the habit of saying the line apologetically, “yeah, I’m from Marin,” delivered with an apologetic shrug. Even when I left the county, state, and country behind to study abroad in China, I found a fellow American who, once we telescoped down from:

“I’m from California.” “Me too.”

“Well, I’m from the Bay Area.” “Me too.”

“I’m from San Francisco.” “Me too!”

When I admitted I was actually from Marin, he scoffed, a proud resident of the Richmond District and true San Franciscan, and tell me “Oh, you’re not really from The City.”

Marin shaming, apparently, crosses international borders.  While I internalized this for many years, it took leaving the Bay for good for my opinions to start to change.

Moving to Los Angeles in 2017 for my husband’s job, I pined for San Francisco, where we’d lived for the past five years. I still didn’t miss Marin.

But a gradual realization dawned with distance… I’d grown up mountain biking where mountain biking was invented. I returned to China Camp State Park, which had essentially been my backyard growing up, to compete in a triathlon, revelling in knowing every curve of the bike route, the shape of the coastline at McNears Beach where we started and finished the swim, those places worn smooth in my memory by the countless beach trips and bike rides of my childhood.

I had my wedding in a historic home in San Rafael, mere blocks from where I grew up. Marin, I came to realize, was pretty. Pretty enough, I decided, to be the backdrop for one of the most important days of my life.

I reflected on how, before moving away, I’d unwitting become the tour guide for my San Francisco friends, directing them to read the framed letter outside Sol Food, to try the hot sauces at Joe’s Taco Lounge, to order the waffle bowl at Scoop in Fairfax, to locate and then jump from the rocks at the Inkwells.

I didn’t hate Marin anymore. The broad strokes I’d painted the county with — Tiburon people are stuck up snobs, Fairfax is full of hippies, Marin City is too sketchy and should be avoided entirely, the anti-BART protestors claiming to be environmentalists are really just NIMBY dickheads (ok, that last one is still true)… are just that, broad.

The paperweight my parents bought me years ago, in an ironic nod to my then full-blown Marin-hate, “Come to Scenic Marin,” was now an appealing proposition.

The headlands are gorgeous, Mt. Tam is a treasure. The fish tacos at Joe’s are excellent, as are the bistec sandwiches at Sol Food.

I may still shudder, as I did on my last trip home, when I saw a bumper sticker proudly stating “5 generations Marin!” but it really is not such a bad place to be. At least for a visit.

Marin Headlands
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Jillian Robertson

Jillian Robertson

Jillian Robertson has the right stuff and likes to write stuff. Especially when it takes her to weird corners of big cities. Her first love is San Francisco, but is currently learning to love Los Angeles, one taco at a time.