San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo (©Visit Marin/Dennis Anderson)
Drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and continue north to visit Marin County and its appealing small towns surrounded by pristine wilderness—thanks to a legacy of assertive conservation efforts. Sixteen miles past San Francisco you’ll arrive at Fairfax, a town with a population of around 7,600, an impressive number of shops and restaurants and an enduring air of Northern California quirk. Just down the road is San Anselmo, known for its sunshine, railroad history and antiquing and home to a population of over 12,000.
Play and Explore
San Anselmo residents frequent the nearby Phoenix Lake Trail, a serene and shady loop around a reservoir rife with wildlife. In town, Memorial Park has a peaceful garden and the kid-designed Millennium Playground. The grounds of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, founded in 1871, make for an inviting stroll with the stone “castles on the hill” and a view of Mt. Tamalpais. Fans of the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” franchises will want to visit the Yoda and Indiana Jones statues in Imagination Park (George Lucas is a longtime resident of the town.)
Fairfax sits in the middle of swaths of protected open space filled with trails that draw hikers, cyclists and horseback riders. One of the best hikes is the Cataract Falls Trail, which follows a creek through redwoods to several waterfalls. Peri Park is a wonderland for children, with its climbing structures, slides, playhouses and picnic area set in a redwood grove. On a rainy day, see a movie at Fairfax Theatre 6, a solar-powered multiplex, or visit the new Marin Museum of Bicycling to learn about how Marin County’s legacy as the birthplace of mountain biking. After dark, check out the town’s famous music scene (live music has supposedly been playing nightly for over three decades). Get a taste at Peri’s Bar, a dive where local musicians regularly perform.
Shop and Browse
San Anselmo has been nicknamed the “Northern California Antique Capital” (the local antique dealers association is 130 members strong), and in addition to antique shops, you’ll encounter independent boutiques, galleries and a small winery to explore in its downtown. PS Paper, conveniently located in a cottage next to a post office, is the perfect spot to pick up cards, wrapping paper, tags and gifts. Other highlights include Whytes Booksmith for new and used reads and Stella’s Fine Consignments for designer threads. In downtown Fairfax, Broadway is the commercial hub. Stop by Revolution 9 for toys and eccentric gifts and be sure to visit Trouve, a cozy shop selling jewelry and home goods from indie designers alongside accessible fine art.
Eat and Drink
When in San Anselmo, get lunch or breakfast at M.H. Bread and Butter, a bakery and cafe from a Tartine Bakery alum. Comforts, popular for its to-go menu and Chinese chicken salad, delivers home-style, Northern California food that lives up to its name. Insalata’s is a longtime local favorite serving Mediterranean fare in a fine dining atmosphere and running a popular take-out operation. Morning or afternoon, stop by the homey Hilda’s Coffee to order a stack of the legendary pancakes.
In Fairfax, the cycling-themed Gestalt Haus Fairfax is a casual spot to play board games, drink beer and eat sausage. At 123 Bolinas, you can sip wine and share food at a bar made from a century-old oak tree. And weekend visitors shouldn’t miss the town’s festive year-round farmers’ market (held on Sundays during winter months).