What’s Best: Stroll Frank Lloyd Wright’s futuristic architecture; or take a short hike with the shorebirds at your choice of three marsh and lagoon parks.
Parking: From Hwy. 101, take the Marin Civic Center-N. San Pedro Rd. exit. Turn left at first light, which is Civic Center Dr, and then turn right on Armory Dr, just past post office. Follow signs to Lagoon Park. Agency: Marin County Open Space District; Marin Department of Parks
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Paths go around both the lagoon and rolling lawn at Lagoon Park totaling about a mile if you walk both. Noontime strollers usually roam the park’s 20 acres, descending from civic center offices. Picnic tables and trees at one end of the lagoon create quiet spots among frolicking waterfowl and gulls, while a bridge at the east end gives you an open-water look back toward the civic center. Kids can feed the birds, or take a romp at an upscale playground climbing and enjoying water play on hot days. A pooch park is nearby.
Santa Margarita Island is an oak-studded, 9-acre preserve surrounded by the waters of Gallinas Creek. Parking: Drive from the Marin Civic Center on N. San Pedro Road about .75-mile, turn left on Meadow Drive, and continue to the end. The oversized bridge to the tiny island was constructed by a would-be developer, prior to the county’s purchase of the island in 1978. Santa Venetia Marsh is another open space preserve. Parking: From the civic center, drive almost 2 miles farther east on N. San Pedro Road and turn left on Vendola Way. Park at the end of Vendola. The marsh loop is along a levee that protects the Santa Venetia homes, which are below sea level, from flooding. Across Gallinas Creek is McInnis Park, TH36. Flat trails invite joggers with dogs.
Walk: Marin Civic Center
To the Marin Civic Center, turn left off Civic Center Drive, on the road that takes you up to and under the building. Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright was 90 years old in 1957 when he designed the sleek building, although he didn’t live to see its completion in 1969. A central, 80-foot-diameter dome is flanked by two wings one 584 feet in length and the other 880 feet. Inside are open atriums, four-stories high. Wright designed the low-slung civic center to “bridge these hills with graceful arches.” Wright artfully realized his organic intent, although some say the center’s signature bright blue roofs don’t quite match the sky. The Marin County Civic Center is a National Historic Landmark. Some of the sci-fi flick Gattaca was filmed here. A cafeteria, open to all, features an outdoor picnic area. Docent-led tours are given weekly.
Civic Center and Lagoon Park
Bike: The Marin Civic Center is a crossroads of sorts for trans-Marin cycling. To go north toward Terra Linda and Lucas Valley, ride under the freeway on N. San Pedro Road and turn right on Los Ranchitos, which later becomes Las Gallinas Avenue. To head south toward San Rafael, go under the freeway on N. San Pedro and turn left on Merrydale. A bike path connects the top of Merrydale with Lincoln Avenue in San Rafael. From Lincoln, if you want to ride the bay shore via Starkweather Park to Larkspur Landing, turn left on Linden, toward Dominican University. Linden goes under the freeway in a short tunnel to Grand Avenue. You then turn right on Grand. See Shoreline Park, TH30.