San Francisco is a huge tourist destination, with Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge all drawing crowds. Sure, on my trip out west, I had to see the sights, but right across the famous red bridge was the best part of my getaway: The often-overlooked Mill Valley, located 14 miles north of San Francisco in the beautiful, mountainous Marin County.
What feels like a combination of beach town and Swiss mountain hamlet, Mill Valley offers a quiet taste of NorCal life, with boutique shops, eco-conscious restaurants and enough outdoor space to fill days and days with hiking. When I escaped to warmer climes for a week, stumbling upon Mill Valley was a happy accident.
My Top Picks in Marin County:
Mill Valley Inn
Imagine an upscale beachside hotel. But at the foot of a mountain. Surrounded by woods. With free breakfast, a free wine and cheese reception, a fireplace in the room and a balcony overlooking redwoods, this is my new favorite hotel. They’ll also offer you a bike, if you’d like to explore that way. But beware: there are a lot of hills.
Tucked away in a stone-covered alleyway, El Paseo is Tyler Florence and Sammy Hagar’s take on a traditional chophouse, serving up finely aged steaks and local, sustainable ingredients. The pair worked together to restore this historic restaurant, which was originally opened in 1948. El Paseo retains its rustic feel with exposed brick, reclaimed wood and plenty of candlelight. Also, you have to order a steak. And perhaps the crispy duck wings.
A stylish bar with large, cushy booths, Bungalow 44 prides itself on its California cuisine, as well as its creative cocktails. It doesn’t get much fresher than their cucumber margarita and perfectly cooked ahi tuna. Even though I ate here before the live Jazz started, I still felt like I was dining in a 1940s supper club.
Super Duper Burger
This place may claim to serve fast food, but it is anything but typical. There are 5 locations throughout San Francisco, and luckily there is one right down the street from the Mill Valley Inn. The beef is delivered from San Fran’s own Niman Ranch and ground fresh daily. The pickles are homemade and the buns are toasted. Top it all off with fries finished with fresh garlic and 6-month aged cheddar. I mean, come on.
Even on a foggy day, Stinson Beach is a beautiful place for a walk. Climb over rocks and watch the waves crash below you, or sit along the shore and watch the surfers take their chances. Hidden on the other side of Mount Tamalpais, (if you’re prone to car sickness, watch out – the road is CURVY) this beach feels worlds away from Mill Valley. On the drive back, pull over wherever you can find a parking spot, because sure enough, there will be a trailhead with spectacular views of the water.
If you pull off the road right before getting on the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll come across the Marin Headlands. Drive up the road a little and you’ll find overlooks that’ll take your breath away. After grabbing pics of the San Francisco skyline, hike a little further. Not only will the Golden Gate look so close you could touch it, but there you’ll also find the historic Fort Barry and Fort Cronkhite. Or what’s left of them.