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The Secret Little Piece of Paradise - Mill Valley, California

By Jane & Brent Cassie
Photos by Brent Cassie

Brightly-coloured sailboards skittered across the breezy bay waters far below the spectacular Golden Gate, as we sat in the comfort of our preferred Airporter while bridging the gap between San Francisco and the Marin Peninsula. Stretching over forty-two hundred feet, it was the world's largest bridge when opened in 1937 and although the record has been surpassed many times, it continues to exemplify magnificent beauty and presence.

Driving fifteen minutes north of the Golden Gate, was our home base for the weekend, the charming village of Mill Valley, where narrow tree-lined streets boast a multitude of delightful shops and up-scale restaurants that all exude a quaint and ineffable feel. Protective hills border its three sides, offering endless meandering trails for avid hikers and cyclists, and the presence of hovering, heaven bound Mount Tamalpais creates a very Alpine-like village feel.

Founded in 1834 by Irish-born, John Reed, the head of this narrow and heavily-wooded valley was a prime location for his thriving saw mill. Today, just a few blocks from the popular town square, the restored mill still stands amidst Old Mill Park's grove of redwoods. Other historical keepsakes include the 1902 Outdoor Art Club structure, that still continues to act as a meeting site for town events and, since its launch in 1905, the annual Dypsea Race. Every year, fifteen hundred participants run this historical seven miles of madness from Mill Valley's town square to Stinson Beach. (via the 2600 vertical feet of Mount Tamalpais!)

Mill Valley Inn, our destination, was fronted with flower-clad balconies and French doors leading to our hopes for a peaceful and intimate weekend. Represented as one of the Joie de Vivre Hospitality collection, this sophisticated boutique-style hotel offers twenty-two pampering guestrooms, an executive penthouse suite and two creek-side cottages, all with Tuscany-style interiors. Relaxing on our private balcony, we felt nestled among the towering redwoods, where trellises of ivy and picturesque gardens embellished the peaceful retreat we had come here to find. Many of the rooms offer Franklin fireplaces, and some, like ours, spoil with soaker-tubs big enough for two (trust us). Fresh cut flowers and fine linens provided that extra special touch and we enjoyed the modern convenience of our armoire's hidden TV before snuggling in the comfort of our handcrafted king-size bed.

Warmed by California rays at the inn's open-air patio the next morning, we helped ourselves to the sumptuous continental-style buffet that was included with our stay. Oven-baked pastries, seasonal fruits, fresh-squeezed juices, and the variety of cereals provided us with enough energy for our planned day of perusing the surrounding turf.

Hiking the bordering summits are reported to be phenomenal, whether venturing onto Mount Tamaplias, trekking nature's untouched splendour of Muir Woods, or simply exploring trails around the town core, as we did. Strolling along a creek-bed, just a short distance from the inn, we paralleled winding Throckmorton Drive, where most of the sun's rays were obstructed by towering Sequoias. The scattering of prestigious homes donning thatched roofs and pine coated yards all appeared untouched and protected from mankind's altering. This community metaphorically resembles the prosperous folk who reside here; those who choose to escape the maddening city crowds in an effort to discover some peace and tranquility.

We continued our jaunt, away from the main thoroughfares, to where many timber-tread stairways lead from the town's steep slope to the eternally green hillsides dotted with charming homes and pristine vistas.

Working our way back and around the town, we truly savoured the flavour with a visit to the Mill Valley Market, where row after row of gourmet delectables were but a finger's touch away and eight aisles of wine selections would surely attract even the fussiest connoisseur. Moseying throughout the winding streets, we browsed the various galleries boasting local talents, sports shops offering recreational opportunities, and the trendy Depot Bookstore and coffee bar, which was once the site of the original railway station.

Ending our journey at the bustling brick-paved plaza, from our centre stage park bench of this town's focal point, we were entertained by variety of folk, young and old, while they frolicked on skateboards, challenged on chessboards and created on art boards. For more browsing and buying, a short ten minute drive will lead you to the seaside town of Sausalito where more artisans sell their wares, musicians reveal their talents and sailboats bob in Richards Bay. This enchanting artsy community is much like its neighbour, Tiburon, located on the opposite side of the bay. They both offer world class dining, both play a historical role in the development of the bay area, and both have accessibility to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf via the Blue and Gold Fleet Ferries.

Diversified arts, street entertainment, and a great romantic retreat is what we found. Outdoor adventure, exquisite dining, and wonderful vistas is what we enjoyed. A quote from our taxi driver, as we were heading out of town, couldn't have summed it up any better when he proudly stated, 'There's so much to enjoy in Mill Valley, it's really hard to keep this little piece of paradise a secret.'

How To Get There:
  • Consult your local travel agent for the selection of airlines and flights to San Francisco.
  • Upon arrival to San Francisco International, a cost-effective transportation route to Marin County is via regularly serviced Airporter Service. ($11.00 U.S. / person) - to Manzinita stop
  • From Manzinita - five minute Taxi drive into Mill Valley
  • From Sausalito or Tiburon to Fisherman's Wharf via Blue & Gold Fleet phone: 415-773-1188

    Where To Stay:
    Mill Valley Inn
    165 Throckmorton Avenue
    Mill Valley, CA 94941
    Ph: 415-389-6608 or 1-800-595-2100
    Fax: 415-389-5051
    Price range: $155.00 - $240.00 U.S. / night

    Jane and Brent Cassie are a travel writer/photographer team. Follow their other adventures on their website -