Insider Tips for Things to Do in Mill Valley, California

Friday March 25, 2011 at 12:12 AM | 1 Comment

Marin county, mill valley, flowers, travel

Stop and smell the flowers in this Mill Valley, California neighborhood

Welcome to the Neighborhood, A Series About San Francisco Neighborhoods

Mill Valley
In our fourth installment of the “Welcome to the Neighborhood” series, we’re heading North over the Golden Gate Bridge to one of Marin County’s iconic towns – Mill Valley. While technically not a San Francisco neighborhood, we believe the bridge is just a mental barrier that once overcome, opens up another neighborhood – and world –  for visitors and locals alike.
And that other world is just right there.  According to google maps, the drive time between the Marina in San Francisco and the center of downtown Mill Valley is less than 20 minutes. To put that in perspective, that’s the same amount of time it takes to get to the Mission from the same spot.
The close proximity of Marin County to San Francisco adds a perfect counterpoint to the “city” experience. We like to think of them as a package deal – each strengthening the appeal of the other.  It’s wonderful that these two places exist side-by-side, offering a bounty of city and natural pleasures; next time you’re visiting San Francisco, extend your footprint by just a smidge and you’ll be richly rewarded.
With that, here are our insider tips for things to do in Mill Valley, a straight-out-of-central-casting town that is watched over by the 2,751 foot Mt. Tamalpais.


To start your Mill Valley exploration, we recommend checking out a couple of the natural attractions, followed by putting yourself in the center of the action:
Old Mill Park. Don’t want to go all the way to Muir Woods to see Redwoods, or just want a more intimate experience? Old Mill Park is for you! Just a few blocks from the center of downtown, Old Mill Park is a true hidden gem. Located on an historic mill site, there are towering trees, picnic facilities, play structures, and a creek. Plus, the added bonus of some spectacular homes to be seen from a level walk beyond the park area.
Outdoor Art Club. Visit this historic Bernard Maybeck building in the heart of Mill Valley to get a sense of how the town has always treasured its natural setting. The Outdoor Art Club was founded in 1902 by wives of Bohemian club members who wanted to preserve the beauty of Mill Valley, and Maybeck designed the building shortly thereafter. The club is a private women’s organization of diverse membership, but there are tours and events available to the public. Check the calendar before you go.
The Depot Bookstore and Cafe. Drink in the local scene at this bookstore/cafe. Get a seat outdoors so that you can watch the town going about its business in Depot Plaza. Sitting in that spot, you’ll have no problem imagining the former train depot, whose tracks connected Mill Valley to the ferries.

Maison Reve, chairs, French, store

Maison Reve is the perfect Mill Valley neighborhood shop to fill your dream home

Once you’ve had your hit of nature, there’s plenty of shopping to be had. Whether you’re a home chef, an oenophile, or a francophile, you can fill a few hours with browsing. Here are a few of our favorites:
Maison Reve.  If you “dream in French”, then this is the perfect place to source items for your dream home. The furniture, objet d’art, architectural pieces are either from France or look like they are. And we’re not talking Louis IV France, more like farmhouse France. Yasmin, the shop owner, holds events in the store and also puts on a “French Flea Market” from time to time, so you might want to plan your visit around that.


Tyler Florence, Food Network, Mill Valley, California

Since Tyler Florence moved to Marin, he has been making his mark in the Bay Area. Visit his store in Mill Valley.

Tyler Florence is in the neighborhood

Since Tyler Florence moved to Marin, he has been making his mark on the Bay Area. His shop in Mill Valley was a great addition to the town. You’ll find new and vintage culinary and decorating items for the heart of your home, as well as fantastic cook books. The reading room in the back of the store – with comfy chairs and a fireplace – may grab you and never let you go.
Vintage Wine & Spirits. We just love a wine shop that carries everything from an $18 Prosecco to a $900 Cab (just browsing, naturellement). Wine lovers will happily get lost in this shop, but if you need guidance, the staff is knowledgeable and super helpful regardless of your budget.

It’s best to go casual in Mill Valley, and to eat in restos that take advantage of the local, organic, healthy(ish) ethos that Marin is known for:
Small Shed Flatbreads. What wouldn’t we order on the menu here? All of the flatbreads are delicious. We like the Shhhh! but if you don’t like clams, there are over 10 flatbreads to choose from. Order up a few, plus a salad (we like The Wedge and the Bolinas Beat) and you are set for a Mill Valley-style meal you’ll want to come back for.
Charlie Hong Kong. “Organic Asian Street Cuisine”. When we heard this, we were one of the first to line up, and we weren’t disappointed. There’s a tiny dine-in space; if it is a nice day order your meal to go and enjoy your Gado Gado in Depot Plaza or Old Mill Park.
Joe’s Taco Lounge. It might be fair to call this a Mill Valley institution. We’ve been going here for 20 years, usually after a little jaunt around the trails of Mt. Tam. Joe’s is situated on Miller, outside of the downtown area, making a good stop on your way into or out of Mill Valley. Grab a seat at the counter, and order the fish or crab tacos. There may be a wait, but the staff handles the crowd perfectly.


Mill Valley, Beerworks, beer,

If you want to cap off your day of exploring in Mill Valley with a little happy hour, here are two of our favorite places to unwind:
Piazza D’Angelo. Everyone shows up here – old people from the Redwoods retirement village down the street, young couples with babies, singles looking to mingle, you name it. Sit in the bar area at the front of the restaurant with a glass of Prosecco and watch the foot traffic go by and ponder your next trip to Mill Valley.
Mill Valley Beerworks. We don’t know what took so long for a place like this to open in Mill Valley. It is just perfectly “Marin” – from the interior to the crowd (lots of bicyclers) to the menu. Beer is brewed onsite, plus there’s a huge selection of imported beers. For something different, we love their brewed-on-site Botanical Series (made with juniper berries and bay leaf) and their barley wine. Both are great with the fresh and interesting small plates and boards.

What is your favorite neighborhood in Marin? What are your favorite things to do in Mill Valley, California?

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Golf at Bayonet Black Horse, Monterey Bay, California

Friday March 18, 2011 at 12:12 AM | 1 Comment


Bayonet black horse, golf, travel, monterey bay, california, nancy d brown


Black Horse Golf Course

Playing golf under blue skies with that lovely ocean air, a day after pouring rain in late February, without one plugged ball just goes to show  Black Horse Golf Course is perfectly adapted for seaside Monterey Bay golf.  Black Horse Golf Course  is a simple, yet elegant par 72 course redesigned by Gene Bates. This golf course is a sure hit with any golfer looking for a quick, fun round. With trees and bunkers galore, there is plenty of opportunity to make it an extremely challenging round,  yet with no forced carries, an experienced golfer could surely have a round to remember. An impressive golf course itself, Bayonet paired with Black Horse Golf Course, truly combine to make “The Best 36 holes on Monterey Bay.”


Bayonet black horse, fairway, bunkers, travel, golf, nancy d brown

Black Horse Golf Course Receives Gene Bates Makeover

Golf Course Designer Gene Bates gave Black Horse a major makeover and it looks and plays better than ever. With a Pacific Ocean backdrop and large, spider web styled sand traps on every hole, you’d think you were playing on the beach. The traps were very well maintained and not overly sinister.  The Bentgrass greens were nearly flawless with placements of the pins providing fun putts to read as the Monterey Bay shimmered to the west.  Not all putts broke toward the ocean, so one must keep their concentration.


Evan Brown, golf, bayonet black horse, monterey bay, california

Bayonet  and Black Horse Honors Military Personnel

Formerly a military golf course,  Black Horse has been nicely updated, while still honoring those in the service by giving great discounts for local military personnel.  My Dad and I had the privilege of playing with Dax, a Coast Guard boatswain stationed in nearby Fort Ord.  When playing a course for the first time, we generally choose to ride in a golf cart. Dax enjoyed walking the golf course, as the greens and tee boxes are not too spread out.  The yardage from the white tees was 5910 yards. Big hitters can create a completely different perspective by moving back past the Blues to the Black tees which play at 7024 yards.



Bayonet black horse, fairway, golf, golf course, evan d brown, travel

Black Horse Golf Course Pricing

Rates at Black Horse vary from $120 on weekends to late afternoon rates of $40.  Military personnel must live within 50 miles of former Fort Ord to qualify for discounted rates.

What are your favorite things to do in Monterey, California?

If You Go

Bayonet Black Horse Golf Course phone 831.899.7271

One McClure Way

Seaside, California 93955

This review of  Black Horse Golf Course is a guest post by Evan D. Brown.  Evan is a high school student and avid golfer. Evan was a guest of Black Horse Golf Course. All photos courtesy of Evan D. Brown


bayonet black horse golf course, golf, monterey bay, california, evan brown

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Best Things to Do in Monterey, California

Friday March 11, 2011 at 12:12 AM | 1 Comment

Clown Fish, Monterey Bay Aquarium, travel, Nancy D. Brown

When I have a visitor, I take them to the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Are you visiting Monterey, California for the first time? Below is a list of Insider Tips and recommendations for things to see and do in Monterey.

When I have a visitor from out of town, I  take them to Asilomar Beach and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

If you are looking for typical Monterey seafood, I head to Passionfish in Pacific Grove.

Looking for a quiet place to relax and recharge? Go to Accista Spa at The Hyatt Regency Hotel. For the budget spa experience, Massage Envy has a location on Munras Avenue.


For something completely different, visit Vision Quest Bed and Breakfast in Salinas.

If you come to Big Sur, get your picture taken in front of the Bixby Bridge.

Del Monte Forest, horseback riding, travel, nancy d. brown

When in Monterey, go horseback riding through Del Monte Forest in Pebble Beach

The best item on the menu at Nepenthe in Big Sur, is the Ambrosia Burger, but the Long Island Iced Tea is a great way to drink in the view.

On your way back to Monterey, from a day trip to Big Sur, be sure to check out Carmel-by-the-Sea for their many art galleries.

When I’m low on money for dining out or want some of the freshest produce around, I go to the Monterey Farmers Market – every Thursday, rain or shine.


If you are looking for a great dinner out, where the locals dine,  go to Fandango Restaurant in Pacific Grove (their paella is amazing, while the rack of lamb is my personal favorite.) 

In Monterey, take your picture down at the wharf with the year round resident sea otters and sea lions.

Walk to the top of the Point Pinos Lighthouse for a great view.

Personally, I’m never experienced the Tours of Monterey Ghost Tour. Let me know what you think.

There are plenty of outdoor activities to discover in Monterey.  Besides golf and hiking, try horseback riding, kayaking or walking around the Monterey Bay.


Looking for a little exercise? Walk  the recreation trail that runs through the sand dunes in Marina to the rocky shore of Pacific Grove.


Monterey, pacific ocean, travel, nancy d. brown

When I have a visitor from out of town, I take them to the Pacific Ocean in Monterey

If you are a museum lover, Monterey’s best museum is the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History.


Enjoy a night out on the town? Go to the Hippodrome Nightclub and Lounge.

Are you a night owl? While Carmel shuts down early, the Cibo Ristorante Italiano is the spot for late night dining, and jazz music.

The Monterey County Weekly will keep you posted on local happenings in the newspaper.


You can tell a lot about Monterey from visiting and watching the Sloat Landing Ceremony. Full disclosure: I’ve never heard of the Sloat Landing Ceremony – something to check out.

The  Castroville Artichoke Festival takes place in the spring.

In the summer you should attend Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix & MotoGP World Championship at the Mazda Raceway.

Whalers Cove, Point Lobos, California, travel, nancy d. brown

Visit Whaler’s Cove in Point Lobos State Nature Reserve for a day trip from Carmel or Monterey, California

If you are a jazz fan, come to Monterey in the fall for the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Come to Monterey  in the winter to experience  Christmas in the Adobes.

Insider Tip:  Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, outside of Carmel is a great day trip. Whaler’s Cove is my favorite spot.

Go to Toasties in Pacific Grove for a great breakfast that won’t break the bank.


If  you like antiques, nearby to  Monterey is Moss Landing, have lunch at Phil’s Fish Market. The cioppino is a local favorite. You can bring your own container and take it back to your hotel.


The best way to see Monterey is to walk The Downtown Historic Walking Tour in Monterey


Cypress Point, golf, pebble beach, travel, nancy d. brown

Tiger Woods was not invited to play at the private Cypress Point Golf Course in Monterey

Don’t miss: My Museum and Dennis the Menace Park if you are traveling with kids.  While my children are now teenagers, we spent many hours at My Museum and Dennis the Menace Park when they were young.

What are your favorite things to do in Monterey, California?

Thanks to Jenna Palacio and the Monterey Convention and Visitors Bureau for assistance with this post.  All photos courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown.

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