Marin County

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If there is such a thing as the California dream, much of its source material might be found in Marin County. The 800-odd-square-mile area just north of the Golden Gate Bridge is home to a slew of cozy, picturesque towns such as Sausalito and Mill Valley, ensconced in stunning natural beauty — from the rugged coastline of Point Reyes National Seashore to the old-growth redwoods at Mount Tam. Marin is home to Hollywood titans (George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch is here) and technological juggernauts (Autodesk is headquartered in the county seat, San Rafael). The county has a reputation for both hippie eccentricity (the small town of Bolinas feels like it could have been recently exhumed from a 1960s time capsule) and liberal entitlement (Marin's per-capita income soars among the nation's highest, and gas-guzzling SUVs and non-organic vegetables are likely to draw disapproving stares). Still, when you're tucked between the sophisticated splendor of San Francisco and a mind-boggling display of bucolic beauty, it's hard not to feel you're in a special place.