Surrounded by state and federal parkland, this small, sunny town located about 30 minutes from San Francisco at the base of majestic Mt. Tamalpais is packed with thick redwood groves and creeks. The resident aging rock stars and ex-hippies give the wealthy, educated (try to stop by the stunning public library) enclave known for pricey real estate a crunchy, progressive vibe. The quaint, leafy downtown is home to sophisticated boutiques, restaurants and an old railroad depot from the hamlet’s days as a logging town that’s now a bookstore and cafe. Thanks to the local population’s investment in conservation, lush woods and rolling blond hills make for some of the best hiking and biking in the Bay Area. In fact, the mountain bike was invented here, and the town also claims the country’s oldest trail run, the notoriously challenging annual Dipsea Race.
The preeminent attraction here is Muir Woods National Monument, the world’s most famous grove of virgin redwoods. The trees are 400-800 years old and grow to more than 250 feet high. San Franciscans flock to Mount Tamalpais State Park, which connects to more than 200 miles of scenic hiking trails, wildflowers and dramatic canyons. From the mountain’s 2,571-foot peak, the sweeping views encompass San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean. Three of the park’s best hikes are Matt Davis Trail, Dipsea Trail and Tennessee Valley Trail. To explore the town’s many rigorous mountain bike trails or leisurely cycling paths, rent a pair of wheels at Studio Velo or Tam Bikes.
Entertainment + Dining
Fall brings the world-class Mill Valley Film Festival (Oct. 2-12). A-list actors and 200 filmmakers from more than 50 countries descend on the small town to present the screenings, which typically include a future Academy Award Winner for Best Picture. Opened in 1972, the intimate Sweetwater Music Hall has hosted Carlos Santana, Jerry Garcia and Elvis Costello. After a slick remodel in 2012, today it’s a state-of-the-art club with a French cafe. Throckmorton Theatre is an intimate, character-laden cultural venue best known for its Tuesday night shows starring comedy greats.
When dinnertime rolls around, you can’t go wrong with Molina, a new restaurant housed in a tiny chalet where the already critically acclaimed coastal cuisine is prepared in a wood-fired oven in the middle of the restaurant. More than a stellar brewery, Mill Valley Beerworks is also a sophisticated restaurant serving unexpected beer-pairing fare. Celebrity chef and local Tyler Florence and rocker Sammy Hagar own El Paseo, a beautiful indoor/outdoor chophouse in downtown.
The upscale boutiques downtown focus on one-of-a-kind merchandise. Rustic-chic Summerhouse displays beautifully curated home designs and gifts at its two locations. Terrestra, founded by two former Apple employees, stocks streamlined goods made primarily from natural materials by talented craftspeople. Find recycled glass dinnerware, Mywalit leather accessories and cherry wood kitchen utensils. For quality home goods, women’s apparel and kids items from Europe, South America, Japan and California, stop at Mint. Munich-based luxury label Oska is a go-to for design-minded travelers looking for practical combinations.