I left my heart in San Francisco. However, as a result of these last 12 days in California, I moved it up slightly…20 minutes north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate, to Mill Valley.
What a hidden gem that is. In all these years traveling to San Francisco, nobody ever told me about this little perfect place.
Upon arrival we find ourselves (one of us and her significant other) in fairy woods where in between the forest, quite some nice wooden houses are blended into the trees, as if they have arisen from within the forest itself.
We went for a first Airbnb experience and ended up renting a private hide-away studio on Mount Tamalpais in Mill Valley from the owners Greg and Barbara who live in the upper house. The private studio in the lowest level of the house is rented out to visitors and the perfect spot for winding down from work, enjoying perfect nature close to the city of San Francisco, relaxing and having a great holiday amongst the locals, living the Californian dream.
That’s exactly what this trip is all about. Arriving Saturday noon in San Francisco, picking up a rental car and driving across the Golden Gate bridge, staying in Mill Valley until Thursday and onwards to Goleta, 10 minutes north of Santa Barbara for another seven days and day tripping away from these two Californian treasures.
Let’s walk you through the highlights of our twelve days living the Californian dream!
Mill Valley, San Francisco
Mill Valley is a city in Marin County, California, United States, located about 14 miles (23 km) north of San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge, on the western and northern shores of Richardson Bay, and the eastern slopes of Mount Tamalpais.
Avatars Punjabi Burrito: we all know Mexican burritos but have you ever tried a Punjabi Burrito which is basically the Indian version of the burrito? For us it was definitely a first and we enjoyed it to the very last bite. You can find them in Mill Valley at 15 Madrona Street. Don’t expect to find a fancy restaurant, it’s basically an open kitchen and counter, 3 tiny tables inside and 3 outside and that’s it. So if you’re in for a quick, uncomplicated, healthy, fast bite at location or you fancy a totally different take-away, this is the place! I was surprised to find out they are part of a chain: Avatars, purveyors of ethnic confusions, since 1989 in Sausalito, Larkspur, Fairfax and Mill Valley.
Equator Coffees and Teas: nice to find a different coffee shop in Mill Valley than the typical Starbucks of which the Bay Area supposedly counts 540. Yes, there is also a Peet’s Coffee. But we had our eyes on Equator Coffees and Teas on the corner of Throckmorton and Miller Avenue in downtown Mill Valley. Founded by business partners Brooke McDonnell and Helen Russell who in 1995 began roasting coffee in a Marin County garage which marked the beginning of their journey to build a high impact coffee company focused on quality, sustainability and social responsibility. Read their full story here.
Muir Beach – Stinson Beach – Golden Gate Viewpoint – Sausalito: a great combo of venues to experience on a clear blue Indian summer kind of day.
Muir beach is tiny, cute, perfect, in the middle of a nature protected area and on the right sight protected by a hill covered by a couple of houses. Oh boy perfect place to own a house…! Further up the 101 the next beach you pass is Stinson beach. Much wider and longer than Muir beach but still manageable size wise. A couple of houses right on the beach and accessible through the small town of Stinson where you have a couple of shops and some good places to eat, outdoors preferably. Our favourite over there is Breakers!
If you want to experience uncomplicated and not too fancy Californian beach life, there are also a couple of B&B’s and small motel/hotel kind of accommodations. Driving back along the same coastal 101 that you came on is actually not a punishment as the view is the same but also spectacularly different as you’re driving in the direction of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Don’t miss the Golden Gate viewpoints and stop for sure. You’ll feel you’re on a special place on earth as you gaze out at the ocean, the bridge and the city – no one can deny that!
End you’re day by driving to the other side of the bridge where you will find the picturesque town of Sausalito. Perfect to wonder along on the waterfront boulevard and for some eating, drinking and shopping. Great outdoor view you get at The Trident where you can sit by the water and gaze out at the San Francisco skyline. Life is good!
Tiburon: tiny little town where you can catch the San Francisco ferry to the Ferry Building or Pier 39. Prior to that have crab cakes at Sam’s Café or any other delicious dish as you cannot go wrong here! They have the best outdoor spot in Tiburon!
Autodesk Gallery: not a museum fan but still want to learn something new in between all the site seeing, eating, drinking, shopping, enjoying? Then for sure visit the Autodesk Gallery at 1 Market Street where one of us used to work for 14 years, be it in Europe and visiting frequently the San Francisco headquarters. The Gallery features design work of interesting clients made with Autodesk design software. Imagine Design Create is their tagline.
Lori’s Diner: when you’ve walked all the way up from the Ferry Building on Market Street to Union Square, you for sure deserved a big American lunch at Lori’s Diner. Emerge yourself in the fifties. This is Grease all over and will not disappoint if you fancy yum American diner’s food. From pancakes to hamburgers, chicken with mash to Sunday milkshakes. Eat your heart out!
Westfield: is the shopping mall if you’re in for shop till you drop! All the brands you need in one place. Rest areas with Wi-Fi. Food courts to ensure you don’t need to leave or waste too much time feeding and drinking. And at the end of it a movie theatre if you want to go all the way. You can for sure leave happy and satisfied from this place.
Napa Valley: when in San Francisco you definitely want to allocate one day to wine tasting. Sonoma is a nice option but if you’re in for the real deal you go for Napa Valley. The city centre of Napa itself is nice to walk through but nothing too special. You however do want to stop there if you’re looking for expert advice on the route and choice between over 400 wineries spread across the Valley. In the Napa Valley Welcome Center you will find that and more. Suggestions but also tips on where you can score wine tasting deals like ‘two for one’ or which wineries also offer food to compensate for the wine. It’s worth a stop before you dive into the vineyards!
Oxbow Public Market: if you want to ensure a good stomach layer before you start the wine tasting, for sure stop at the Oxbow Public Market which is basically a huge covered market hall with lots of different food and drink boutiques. From vegetables to muffins to star Italian food. Plenty of options to choose from and also just nice to watch, smell and taste!
Winery V. Sattui: 400+ wineries so which one(s) do you go for when only one day in Napa…difficult choice. And as we are no wine experts, we go for one of the tips of the nice lady at the Napa Valley Welcome Center. This winery has a 2 for 1 deal, also offers a delicious food market apart from of course, wine tasting. And a hit it was! We tasted some delicious wines, had a nice rest and bite in the winery garden and went home with a gorgeous V. Sattui’s 130th Anniversary collector’s bottling of Madeira. A Solera-made, wood-aged wine, fortified with brandy. Over 120 years old, one of the oldest in the U.S. The wine is sweet and luscious with flavours of almonds, caramel, toffee and orange zest. It shares similar characteristics with a 20-year-old Tawny Port. Bring one home for holiday after thoughts.
Boo Koo Asian Food: definitely a spot to eat in Mill Valley. You might be confused by the outside so for sure stick your nose inside the door as otherwise you could just pass it. Boo Koo serves Southeast Asian street food with a California twist: fresh, healthy, and flavourful dishes that are both fast and affordable.
Everything’s made on the spot (no preservatives or MSG), and the meats and produce are sourced locally. The basic menu is vegan, customizable with high-quality proteins, from wild salmon and free-range chicken to natural pork and grass-fed beef.
San Francisco city highlights: of course I would recommend to walk San Francisco as much as possible. However, if your trip is not endless and you have a lot of other plans on the agenda outside of San Francisco, like Santa Barbara, then you can keep it short and sweet by driving to some of the must see spots. You’ll feel like you have covered most of what you needed to see in a convenient, easy and fast way. Our city daytrip by car this time, went from Golden Gate towards Lombard Street where you can admire the famous steep street with 8 hairpin turns. You can also drive it down if you dare. Next stop takes us to Alamo Square and the painted ladies. Then off to Twin Peaks where you have the most amazing view over the city from the back looking out to the bay. From there it’s a short drive towards Ocean Beach where you can enjoy ocean breeze and views. Time for lunch at the Cliff House. On the route back to the other side of the Golden Gate you can stop at China Beach, Baker Beach and Sausalito. Great one day trip if you ask me!
Piazza D’Angelo: in the centre of Mill Valley, you find this superb Italian restaurant where you can have the real Italian food. Really delicious and enjoyable space to have lunch or dinner. The pictures featured on the website speak for themselves if you ask me.
Gilroy Premium Outlets: ok, this does not satisfy the culturally or delicious food hungry people amongst us but it does more than do for the shopaholics. Why shop at a 100% price if you can also around the clock shop at very interesting discounts? That’s really what you think when you cruise the shops around here. Who are we kidding when shopping in downtown San Francisco shopping heaven? Ourselves, as you can find the same and more at one of the out of town outlet centres and save plenty of bucks. We stopped on our way to Santa Barbara and had lunch at Applebee’s, like real tourists do😉 In a way this is also local culture.
Want to know all about part II of our trip! Follow the link!