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Politics & Policy

Biden helicopters into Marin County. Small town goes crazy

President Biden landed on a soccer field behind homes in the Marin County town of Larkspur on Tuesday. | Courtesy Don Thompson

Richard Simpson was working Friday when he heard the helicopters.

“Those chicken thighs can wait,” the Woodlands Market butcher told himself and rushed outside. Two huge Ospreys and two Marine One helicopters came in and landed one at a time in a College of Marin field across from the grocery store. 

“Holy crap, that’s presidential detail!” thought Simpson, who immediately knew what he was watching having seen President Barack Obama land at Crissy Field in San Francisco years ago.  “We’re gonna get a visit from the Big Man himself.”

Marine helicopters surprised the town of Larkspur with a practice landing on a sports field on June 16, 2023. | Courtesy Don Thompson and Richard Simpson

But most residents had no idea what was going on. Dozens of posts on Nextdoor wondered about the noise and worried about the sight of giant helicopters in the quiet (and boring) Central Marin County suburbs of Larkspur and Kentfield that border the area on the Corte Madera Creek.  

For security reasons, there was no public announcement preceding the dress rehearsal’s thunderous landing. The only sounds ever heard coming from that field were the howls of coyotes and youth soccer.

“It doesn't matter what side of the aisle you are on; that is some stirring shit,” said Simpson, who was born in England and is now a U.S. citizen living in Kentfield. And though reports of a bear roaming nearby recently rattled some nerves, the Close Encounters feeling of having a house-sized flying object roar overhead is far more extraordinary.

The presidential aircraft landed on a soccer field behind backyards in Larkspur. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

Though news reports had just announced that President Joe Biden would be coming to Marin County for a campaign fundraiser during his two-day trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, locals thought his motorcade would cross the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco and drive out Sir Francis Drake Boulevard like everyone else. No one expected presidential aircraft to land on a soccer field in the backyards of Larkspur—especially a few days ahead of the official visit.

“The leader of the free world is coming to our sleepy hollow,” Simpson said. "It's pretty cool."

Not an Air Field—a Soccer Field

The president’s official calendar for Tuesday announced a 3:10 p.m. arrival at Larkspur’s “Mackey Field”—coming as a surprise to many neighbors who never knew the old College of Marin practice field had a name.  The weedy, lumpy pitch known to players as one of the worst fields in the area was to become a red carpet for a not-too-surefooted world leader.

Tuesday morning broke clear and calm for the president's visit—a welcome change from recent windy, June-gloomy days. And though neighbors expected some kind of security lockdown at dawn, there was no sign of anything out of the ordinary until about 10 a.m. when fighter jets began to screech across the sky. Though some thought it might be some special Blue Angel fly-by related to the president's visit, it was actually fighter jets intercepting private planes that had entered restricted air space. 

Firetrucks and Marin County Sheriff vehicles began to arrive at noon and took positions on the entrances to the field, roping off adjacent parking lots and blocking paths that skirt between the field and the creek. Men in suits and security gear began to walk the edges of the soccer field and crisscross the adjacent open space. 

Security officers patrol the perimeter of President Joe Biden's landing site at a College of Marin Field in Larkspur. | Courtesy Patty Spinks

“I walk here every day,” said Kevin Manniko of San Rafael, who was stopped by a sheriff who had parked his patrol car on the walking path. “He wouldn’t tell me what is going on but said it is a ‘security issue.’” 

The Marin County Sheriff’s Office served as the lead local agency assisting the Secret Service on the president’s visit. The sheriff led a team of 40 law enforcement units from partners in San Rafael, Central Marin, College of Marin, Ross and the California Highway Patrol—and that’s not counting the vehicles of the presidential motorcade, Secret Service and more than a dozen other Sprinter-type vans, minivans and other vans that parked in the area.

The Marin County Sheriff's Office led the local law enforcement for the presidential landing. | Courtesy Patty Spinks

“The Marin County Sheriff’s Office is honored to have assisted with this operation and thanks the United States Secret Service for the opportunity,” said Adam Schermerhorn, who served as team leader for the sheriff's Special Response Team.

As landing time approached, locals noticed that snipers had taken positions on the edges of the field and the roofs of nearby buildings. 

Snipers wait on the edge of the grass where Marine One is parked. | Courtesy Richard Simpson

A First-Ever Visit

The northern end of Larkspur on Magnolia Avenue near the “landing” field is a quiet street lined with a mix of shops and service businesses. People in offices immediately adjacent to the landing zone said they had been told of Tuesday’s incoming visitor, but others were surprised at the hubbub. 

On the opposite side of the street, Geri Wilson was sitting behind the counter at Balloon Delights, a shop she’s owned for 40 years. Wilson hadn’t heard about the president’s visit until she saw it on the news and asked herself, “Where?! Where’s he going to land in Larkspur?!” 

Marine One is the call sign given to the helicopter carrying the president of the United States. | Courtesy Patty Spinks

The original location of Marin’s famous Rustic Bakery is a few doors down. It was a favorite of Gavin Newsom’s when he lived in Kentfield before moving to the Sacramento area in 2019. “I used to see Gavin Newsom when he lived up the street,” said Wilson. “But I’ve never heard of a president coming to Larkspur.”

Indeed, the Larkspur Community Foundation told The Standard that a U.S. president has never visited the 115-year-old town of 13,000—and no one could remember the nation’s leader arriving in neighboring Kentfield, either.

A V-22 Osprey passes low in front of King Mountain and Mount Tam as it lands in Larkspur. | Courtesy Patty Spinks

The only confirmed sighting of a sitting president in Marin County that The Standard could find was a stealth one: Marin Magazine recounted a secret tour that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made in 1942 during World War II to see some of the nation’s military facilities. After the president visited what was then the army’s Hamilton Field in Novato, a librarian shot a photo of FDR driving down a street in San Rafael. 

Lining the Streets

Word of Biden’s impending arrival spread quickly throughout the towns surrounding Larkspur. By 2 p.m. Tuesday, there were dozens of locals starting to line Magnolia Avenue across from the entrance to the field.

“After hearing the ‘dress rehearsal’ landing on Friday, I looked online for the time like a good citizen would because I told myself, ‘I’m not missing this,’” said Lisa Mantua of Larkspur, who was holding a homemade sign supporting Biden. She had thought about bringing a large American flag, but her husband told her it would be “too MAGA.” 

Lisa Mantua of Larkspur waited on Magnolia Avenue to see President Joe Biden's motorcade. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

Flags were a popular purchase on Tuesday at Larkspur's Corbet’s, the neighborhood hardware store in the heavily blue town, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1.

Nick Spahr of Larkspur and his daughter were lined up along Magnolia waiting to see the president. They had been returning from a mountain bike ride when a sheriff turned the pair away from their usual route through the College of Marin campus. “He said, 'The bridge is closed,' but didn't tell us why,” Spahr said.

How’d it feel to find out the president is coming to their town? “Well, it’s great—but you know the first lady was just here,” said Spahr, who pulled out his phone to share a video of Jill Biden in Larkspur on June 13. Arriving for a fundraiser in Downtown Larkspur, she looked a lot like any Marin mom—getting out of an SUV, walking by a portable basketball hoop and into a suburban home—except for her gold buttoned-up, brilliant blue suit

Police block the entrance to the landing field area in Larkspur for the president's arrival. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

“I’m excited—this is once in a lifetime,” said Delsa Lagumbay of Kentfield, who was waiting with her husband and son in the parking lot of R'Noh Thai Restaurant, which was closed for the day but provided a nice overview of the busy field.  “But what time is he due?”

Because even as the landing drew near, most people in the crowd still had no official word on when or if the president would drive by.


As the first V-22 Osprey neared the ground, Mackey Field’s two resident jackrabbits were seen bounding for their lives.

Locals were wildly impressed to watch the hulking military machinery approach low over homes and trees and then vertically descend into the marshy open space. But it was the thwoop-thwoop-thwooping of the rotors that was truly memorable.

Marine One lands in Larkspur on Tuesday. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

“I’ll never forget that sound,” said Patty Spinks, a photographer who lives across the creek in Greenbrae and had arrived early to scout out a good site for her zoom lens. 

Dozens of families, bikers and even stand-up paddleboarders gathered near the Corte Madera Creek to watch the soccer field turn into a presidential airstrip. With binoculars and zoomed-in cameras, spectators speculated about who was getting off what aircraft as they tried to pick out the president among the group.

Locals gather along the creek to watch the president's landing. | Courtesy Patty Spinks

First, the two Ospreys landed and each one let out a large group—presumably press, Secret Service and other staffers—who left in waiting SUVs. Then, two Marine One helicopters landed, one carrying the president and one a decoy.

And when a crowd of suits surrounded the group getting off the second helicopter, everyone yelled, “That’s him!” 

A crowd watches Marine One come in for a landing carrying President Biden. | Courtesy Scott Jones

When the excitement subsided, Spinks shared her shots with The Standard, providing what hundreds of locals had gathered Tuesday afternoon to see: A glimpse of the president of the United States arriving in Larkspur.

President Joe Biden and Gov. Gavin Newsom land on College of Marin's Mackey Field in Larkspur on Tuesday. | Courtesy Patty Spinks

Biden and Gov. Gavin Newsom walked to their waiting motorcade and drove off into the crowds gathered along Magnolia Avenue.

A massive caravan moved onto the two-lane street, led by a California Highway Patrol squad and followed by three Chevrolet Suburbans affixed with both U.S. and presidential flags. Onlookers cheered and used one hand to wave and the other to video on their phones. 

A local waves at Biden's motorcade as it moves through Larkspur on Tuesday. | Courtesy Scott Jones

From the landing field in Larkspur, Biden drove just a few minutes to the campaign fundraiser at an estate in Kentfield, an affluent, unincorporated Marin County community of 7,400 where the average home value runs $2.7 million, according to Zillow.

"I don't know why you'd ever leave here—it's magnificent," Biden said of Marin to the 130 attendees who each donated $5,000 to $100,000 to attend.

Biden, Newsom and their entourage head for the motorcade. | Courtesy Patty Spinks

Eight backers put on the fundraiser, which was hosted by Mark and Stephanie Robinson. Stephanie Robinson is a longtime member of the Marin County Board of Education and a Biden appointee to the Commission on Presidential Scholars. Mark Robinson has managed corporate acquisitions in the life sciences sector worth hundreds of billions of dollars over the past 25 years and is a Newsom appointee to the UC Board of Regents

Security officers work near the president's landing site. | Courtesy Patty Spinks

“This is a remarkable leader who is living at a remarkable moment in time,” said Newsom when introducing Biden at the event. “And we have a responsibility to do more and step up our game to support this president not just now for the next year and a half as he finishes out this first term, but to make sure we deliver him back to the White House for an additional four-year term.”

But folks milling around on Magnolia Avenue to watch the presidential party’s return to the field had no idea about the goings-on at the party (or that Biden’s comments in Kentfield reportedly set off a rift with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.)

Presidential staff and security prepare to board the aircraft and fly back to San Francisco. | Courtesy Patty Spinks

Just two hours after it arrived, Biden's motorcade once again passed cheering onlookers and returned to Mackey Field where rotors were already whirring. Two Marines saluted the president as he boarded Marine One. Within minutes, all four aircraft took off, blowing over the soccer bleachers and blasting the last spectators in a cloud of dust.

Headed for Crissy Field and another fundraiser in San Francisco, the president's air corps first headed north then U-turned for a final fly-by over Marin supporters waving goodbye.

Of course, the cheers and jeers began on Nextdoor before the dust settled, with comments ranging from "They flew right over me!" and "I can't believe he landed right here!" to "Your tax dollars at work" and "Imagine the outrage if this was the former president."

But for one historic afternoon, all of Central Marin felt the thrill of a presidential spectacle.

"There's money in those hills so where better to start a campaign than with the well-heeled folk of Marin County?” asked Richard Simpson, pointing out that Tuesday might not be the last day a president lands in Larkspur.

The presidential aircraft depart from Larkspur. | Courtesy Patty Spinks