Each morning in Mill Valley began with a hike up the mountain just beyond the town. I passed the library on my left, the lower school on the right, continued up one of the neighborhood streets, and began to feel my hamstrings at work as the incline enhanced dramatically. It seems that Mill Valley is full of tree houses, only these homes are not your average treehouse; some of the homes are quite large, attached to the side of the mountain by seemingly little more than a string, and jutting out into the open air with soaring vistas of the redwood treetops. The higher I climbed, the more impressive the houses became. Architecture must be a booming industry in Mill Valley. A popular concept was a ‘roof garage:’ a covered car-park literally on the roof of your home. If you require extra verbiage to visualize, please, let me… The car-park is at street level. The homeowner pulls into the car-park, which is seemingly the only structure as seen from the road, and walks down a flight of steps to their actual home, which is fixated to the side of the cliff so that only a helicopter or perhaps a para-jumper can see the full frontal facade. Honey, where did you park the car? On the roof, of course.
I stayed at the Mill Valley Inn, one of the only hotels in Mill Valley proper. It was cozy and quaint with a very friendly and attentive staff. Parking is free and its central location right in town cannot be beat. The town itself is small and neighborly with only about 14,000 residents, 25% of them children under the age of 18, (so you can tell already how family-friendly it is.) I got the feeling that everybody knew each other, that most everyone started off in San Francisco and migrated north to give their budding families more room to breathe, and that, quite generally, the population of Mill Valley is full of San Francisco intelligentsias and sophisticates turned community-oriented, outdoorsy moms and dads. Everyone likes to walk and hike, everyone has a dog, and children are the priority. This is certainly not a town for young singles.
If Mill Valley residents grow tiresome of the town’s woodsy charm, they can drive 10 minutes to Tiburon, where boating and water sports are aplenty.
Residents and visitors alike value the town’s unique location, just 20 minutes from the city yet situated in narrow, wooded canyons with an abundance of trails. Muir Woods and Mt. Tamalpais State Park are two of Mill Valley’s most popular attractions. The town is surrounded by natural wilderness, and although winters can be rainy, residents take advantage of the hundreds of acres of parkland that ensconce the town. Cascade Falls Park, on the western side of Cascade Drive, is one of the closest natural habitats to the main village. Cascade Drive itself is one of my favorite walking roads because of its enormous redwood trees and its transmittable stillness. A walk up Lovell Avenue is also quite enjoyable, especially because I can ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at the interesting architecture and breathe in the thyme-like aroma of the nearby growth. I leave the sound of laughing children behind me, as the schoolyard sits at the foot of the road, and I follow the zigzagging incline, past workman’s trucks (as many new houses are being constructed), all the way up to the top of the mountain, where larger houses are secreted away beyond gates and giant redwoods.
After a day of hiking, a girl is apt to get hungry. For a town so close to San Francisco, I thought there would be more impressive dining options. Beerworks recently opened, and it seems to be one of the more modern offerings in town. It is open all day, with fabulous cappuccinos and homemade scones in the morning, a light lunch in the afternoon, happy hour after an evening bike ride, and dinner to end the day. Of course, there is an exhaustive list of beer varieties, but I hit the bar for a light dinner only. They have an ever-changing menu of small plates and a handful of large dishes as well. Their take on vegetables was colorful and not too trying, but I have to say, my preferred eatable from Beerworks was the truly delicious strawberry scone I rewarded myself with after a hike up Lovell Ave.