Despite its quasi-suburban and “under the radar” rep, Mill Valley has always drawn creative types. Smith & Hawken opened their first store here, as did Banana Republic and Tyler Florence.
Mill Valley is far from a big-box suburb though – parts of the town came into existence in the 1830s, when California was still Spanish territory and the area was used by ranchers and for logging. That old spirit is still palpable in the town, which has a great vibe and a lot of creativity and style. Allison Bloom of Dehn Bloom Design in Mill Valley gives us an insider’s guide of what not to miss!
Here are some current faves to explore:
WHERE TO STAY
AIR BNB – Has some of the best options for staying in Mill Valley – there are hundreds of amazing homes up in the hills where you can stay among the redwoods or have a beautiful view of the city and still be within walking distance of town. Mill Valley has a network of stairs that lead from all points through the hills down into town, so walking to town often isn’t hard – just get directions from your host!
MILL VALLEY INN – Is a favorite if you want to stay in a boutique hotel right in town. Address: 165 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley, CA, 94941 Phone: 415-389-6608
MOUNTAIN HOME INN – Has stunning panoramic views, yummy food and tons of trails as it sits right on Mt Tamalpais, but it’s also a 20 minute drive into town down steep and winding roads, so staying here requires an appetite for driving to do anything other than hike or bike. Address: 810 Panoramic Highway, Mill Valley, CA, 94941 Phone: 415-381-9000
That old spirit is still palpable in the town, which has a great vibe and a lot of creativity and style.
SEE + DO
MOUNT TAMALPAIS – Get up on the mountain, “Tam,” as locals call it. Bike, hike or run: your choice! There are several trails that are easily accessible from downtown Mill Valley which will get you up in the trees and show off incredible views of San Francisco and the Pacific. My favorite trail for biking is the Hoo-Koo-e-Koo and for hiking or running they are Blithedale Open Space, or the Dipsea/Sun Trail. The Dipsea takes you on a historical route – the 2nd oldest footrace in the United States goes along the Dipsea steps, which roughly trace a highly frequented historical foot route by local Miwok Native Americans between the Bay and the ocean. Address: 3801 Panoramic Highway, Mill Valley, CA, 94941 Phone: 415-388-2070
SWEETWATER MUSIC HALL – Steeped in Grateful Dead history, and with notable past performances by Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello and Carlos Santana, it’s the spot to see a local band and have drinks and dinner. Address: 19 Corte Madera Avenue, Mill Valley, CA, 94941 Phone: 415-388-3850
142 THROCKMORTON THEATER – For Tuesday comedy nights with Mark Pitta. Local resident Dana Carvey has been known to headline and Robin Williams used to perform (unannounced) regularly. On weekends, there are often notable theater performances and every seat in the house is good! Address: 142 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley, CA, 94941 Phone: 415-383-9600
DAY TRIP TO STINSON BEACH – Just 25 minutes over the hill from Mill Valley, Stinson is the quintessential hidden NorCal surf town, numbering only 400 people but with beautiful beaches, hiking and a few great places to eat (Parkside Café outdoors is a must do). Warning – this is the windiest road you’ll likely ever drive – it puts many Italian mountain passes to shame – so caution to you if you get carsick! Address: 43 Arenal Avenue, Stinson Beach, CA, 94941 Phone: 415-868-1272
FOOD + DRINK
BEERWORKS – Best spot for a late night date – dark, minimal but cozy interiors always feature amazing small plates. Large scale seasonal branches and florals lend an earthy vibe. Address: 173 Throckmorton Ave, Mill Valley, CA 94941 Phone: 415-888-8218
MOLINA – Feels like a Swedish alpine pub but with sophisticated San Francisco food. Sit at the bar to admire the open cook fire and check out the vintage album art to see what’s spinning on their record player. Address: 17 Madrona St. Mill Valley, CA 94941 Phone: 415-383-4200
EQUATOR COFFEE + PROOF LAB – My first stop of the day. I always find good inspiration in the local art they hang. I often swing into Proof Lab (next door) while waiting on my coffee. They can hook you up with wetsuit rentals for Stinson or a sweet T shirt or flannel. Address: 244 Shoreline Highway Mill Valley, CA 94941 Phone: 415.209.3733
SWEETWATER – Best local spot for dinner outside and to catch a band and dance away the blues. There is a legend/history behind the ownership of this place. Address: 19 Corte Madera Ave, Mill Valley, CA 94941 Phone: 415-388-3850
EL PASEO – Their outdoor courtyard is cozy in the summer when the fog is rolling in and their small dining room has a terrific, old English tavern vibe. Address: 17 Throckmorton Ave, Mill Valley, CA 94941 Phone: 415-388-0741
SEVEN on LOCUST – Best chic boutique for clothes, accessories and some interesting home goods. Nadine (the owner) has her finger on the boho-glam vibe. She’s our local Kelly Wearstler! Address: 7 Locust Ave Mill Valley, CA 94941 Phone: 415-388-9696
HENRYBUILT – Totally inspiring showroom (in a former light-bathed auto garage) for warm, beautiful, clean cabinetry and furniture. Address: 356 Miller Avenue Mill Valley, CA 94941 Phone: 415-360-2915
MINT – Darling, sophisticated and funky – inspiring for aesthetes, young and old. Address: 167 Throckmorton Ave, Mill Valley, CA 94941 Phone: 415-383-6468
SUMMERHOUSE – Relentlessly boho-chic. Go for the pillows, cool lighting and rugs! Address: 21 Throckmorton Ave, Mill Valley, CA 94941 Phone: 415-383-6695
BLOOMINGAYLES – Funky, hip foraged florist in the old actual mill that Mill Valley was named for. By appointment only but worth it. Address: 129 B Miller Avenue, Mill Valley, CA 94941 Phone: 415-298-4047
AMBATALIA – Small and lovely textiles store, for the “non-disposable life” – lovely fire pit nearby for hanging out in the evening! Address: 129 Miller Ave Mill Valley, CA, 94941 Phone: 415-259-9582
Have you discovered Mill Valley yet? Where are your favorite spots?
Top image via Elle Daniels