Marin's Cheese Factory Loop

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in City Sports, November 1992

While Marin County is most noted for its mountain biking, it also offers some of the best road biking in Northern California. Just a hop, skip, and a jump from major metropolitan mania lies hundreds of miles of spectacular scenery, California poppies, lush green pasture lands, and refreshingly pure air. Once there, it's hard to believe that so much of humanity even exists on just the other side of Tam.

This loop begins at the Marin French Cheese Company on the Pt. Reyes-Petaluma Road, immediately south of the intersection with the westernmost end of Novato Blvd. Get there via the 101 and downtown Novato or Petaluma. Park in back and be sure your bottles are full before heading north on Pt. Reyes-Petaluma Road (0.0mi. / 340ft. elev.). Turn left towards Marshall on Hicks Valley Road / Wilson Hill Road after 0.9 mi. Let the quiet and beautiful countryside begin!

At 3.6 mi. turn left off of Wilson Hill Road onto Marshall-Petaluma Road. This is a fast and spectacular stretch of road! The S/2 Aberdeen Angus Cattle Ranch at mile 10.0 brings you to the start of the infamous "Marshall Wall" (270ft.). Lucky for you this mega climb is far steeper in the opposite direction! By the way, enjoy the Poppies along this stretch, but you risk being arrested if you pick any! After two miles of climbing the "Wall," the summit (800ft.) offers splendid views of Pt. Reyes and Tomales Bay.

Except for one tiny hill, the road makes a speedy, windy descent into Marshall. Just past the little red church, you'll head south (left) at the stop sign onto Shoreline Highway (14.6mi.). This stretch from here south along Tomales Bay features many rollers and curves, and usually a tailwind. It does, however, get a little trafficky on weekend afternoons, so make this a weekday ride or a weekend morning ride! Marshall is made up of a short string of historical buildings, one of which house an art gallery featuring works by local painters such as Laura Chariton. Stop in and check it out! I picked up a free "Perform Random Acts of Kindness" bumper sticker.

The few grades beginning around mile 22.0 signal the outskirts of Pt. Reyes Station. At 23.7 the route heads left towards Petaluma, but you'll want to make the jog into town, so stay straight on Hwy. 1 and head down the hill. On your right, just as the hill flattens out, you'll spot Pt. Reyes Pro Cyclery. Stop in for an energy bar and to drool on the incredible selection of mega buck custom off-road bikes. Formerly Pt. Reyes Bikes, this shop is the original (and thus oldest) mountain bikes only shop anywhere. Roadies are welcome, too, off course! After your pit stop, make a loop through town to see the old buildings and to pick up something more substantial at the deli. This hamlet defines "quaint."

When you're done sightseeing, head back up the hill from whence you came and return to that left turn towards Petaluma. (It will now be a right, of course!) Your turn onto Pt. Reyes Petaluma Road puts you at mile 24.2., more or less, depending on the length of your tour in town. Eventually you'll cross a bridge, then go left at the T-intersection onto Platform Bridge Road (28.1mi.). It's now a straight shot back to the Cheese Factory. You'll pass the Nicasio Reservoir at 28.9, then begin your last climb of the day at mile 31.1 (190ft. elev.). The summit is at mile 32.6 and an elevation of 530 ft. Blast down the hill and roll back to the parking lot.

Of course, the ride doesn't end yet! Park your bike and head inside to stock up on fresh Rouge et Noir camembert, brie, schloss, and breakfast cheeses, along with french baguettes, wine, and the best apples in the world. You can take a tour, then have a picnic next to the pond, watch the duck and geese, catch some rays, and reflect back on a beautiful ride. Is this the life or what?