Mill Valley and San Rafael are two unique and beautiful neighbors of San Ramon in California’s lovely San Francisco Bay Area. Nestled in the beautiful canyons and hills of Marin County, at the edge of the Pacific seashore, with the grandeur of California Redwoods, wooded hills and the majestic Mount Tamalpais around them, San Rafael and Mill Valley are vital and exciting centers of urban culture, arts, entertainment and year-round activities and events as well. Just a short drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, the two cities are close enough to make for an enjoyable day trip to see the sights, savor a meal and join in one of the many events that dot their calendars. There is so much to see and do that you will find yourself coming again and again to Mill Valley and San Rafael, and visiting both on the same trip, for they are just less than eight miles apart.
Mill Valley, 48 miles from San Ramon, lying between the coast and wooded hills, skirted round by Redwoods and Mt. Tamalpais is a quiet, picturesque town that evokes the feel of an old European small town, with charming buildings, sidewalk cafes, a strong arts and culture tradition, Farmers’ Markets and community events.
One of the must-do things in Mill Valley is, of course, to go to the parks around it. Go to Muir Woods to experience the awe-inspiring majesty and serenity of this ancient forest of California Redwoods, or climb the landmark of Marin County, Mount Tamalpais, and be amazed by the stunning views. There are miles of wonderful hiking trails around Mill Valley. For a day at the seaside, head for Muir Beach or Paradise Beach Park.
While it is a pleasure to simply wander through the pretty streets of Mill Valley, stopping at a sidewalk café to see the world go by, there is much to do and see in this deceptively quiet town. There is a strong and lively arts and culture scene, with world class performances in music and entertainment making Mill Valley the place to be in and to be seen. Theaters with year-round programs of all levels of theater and movies, The Mountain Play Association’s musical productions in the famous amphitheater on Mt. Tamalpais, Mill Valley Philharmonic’s concerts, free Shakespeare drama among the Redwoods, are just some of the things to enjoy, besides annual events like the acclaimed Mill Valley Film Festival showing handpicked independent and world cinema. For art lovers a visit to downtown with its many art galleries is a must. Go to the annual Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival, famed in the Bay Area. The Marian Eakins Archaeological Museum is a fascinating trove of ancient and classical artifacts related to the development of Christianity.
The weekly Farmers’ Market showcases the best produce and handicrafts of Mill Valley. Foodies should not miss the Annual Gourmet Food and Wine Tasting in Mill Valley’s downtown. The Cheese Trail will interest cheese aficionados.
Eating out is an important part of any trip. Mill Valley has more than 70 restaurants to cater to your tastes and budget, and with its access to the organic produce of Marin County, the freshest catch from the Ocean, and fine local California wines, you are sure to dine well. From gourmet dining to romantic dinners to casual home cooked food, you have a choice of cuisines, ranging from American, Asian and Asian Fusion, California-Continental, to Italian and Mexican, as well as seafood and barbeque.
Round off your day at Mill Valley with a night out. There is live music, theater, and film; and clubs, bars, and lounges, to head to after dinner. You will get great live music by established names and newcomers, and world class entertainment, at Sweetwater Music Hall; old-fashioned sports club and card room ambience at spots like Peter’s 881 Club; a fun bar atmosphere at the 2AM club; and the choicest art and independent films at the Sequoia Theater, besides a variety of events at 142 Throckmorton Theater.
San Rafael, almost 45 miles from San Ramon, gives you the best of both worlds – set in beautiful Marin County, California, with fine Mediterranean climate, it is a lively urban center with the best in dining, shopping, arts and culture, lively entertainment and nightlife, and a variety of annual events. The oldest and largest of the county’s cities, San Rafael maintains a small town charm, and its many attractions draw visitors from all round the Bay Area.
Fourth Street in downtown San Rafael is the urban heart of the city, with restaurants, shops, businesses, art galleries, night clubs, and theaters. It is the venue for many of the city’s most famous annual events which draw enthusiastic crowds. If you love to shop, Northgate is the place for you. Art lovers will enjoy the “Discover Art on the Fourth” tour that takes you along Fourth Street, into an artist’s studio, through galleries, to shops where you can buy locally created fine art, from jewelry to paintings. Theaters here screen the best of independent and commercial cinema, including Mill Valley Film Festival screenings. Many festivals are staged in Fourth Street, such as Youth in Arts Italian Street Painting Festival, Marin Arts Festival, May Madness, the classic car show and carnival, and Marin County Fair, as well as the weekly Farmers’ Market.
San Rafael has outstanding museums, historical places and heritage sites. The Marin History Museum is worth a visit, and a fun learning experience for the entire family. The Mission San Rafael Arcangel is a replica of the 1817 original. Some other museums are Falkirk Cultural Center and the World War II US Military Vehicle Museum. Take the Downtown Walking Tour to get to know San Rafael intimately.
San Rafael offers dining options from elegant gourmet restaurants to cafes and delis, and cuisines from American to Continental to Asian to casual fast food.
Nightlife in San Rafael offers many things to do for a perfect night out – drinks, live music, dancing, and entertainment. Fourth Street comes alive as restaurants, bars, nightclubs and theaters sparkle down its length. Enjoy great live music at The Broken Drum, where there is no cover charge or drink minimums, on Fridays and Saturdays; George’s Nightclub, an upscale venue for live music and dancing; The Grate Room built by Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead has live music, dance nights, and other events on different days. There are many more clubs, bars, and lounges you can visit. Theaters give performances ranging from Shakespeare to modern and alternative theater.
Keep tabs on the numerous annual events in San Rafael, for they are worth making a trip for. Some of them are Marin Human Race, a walk/run to benefit Marin non-profit organizations, where adults, kids, dogs and their walkers can all participate. There’s May Madness—Annual Home Show and Jazz Festival, a home and garden show with jazz and great ethnic food, and kid-friendly, too. The Marin County Fair, a good, old fashioned rural county fair that keeps the home town tradition by creating a meeting place for people in the county, with competitions and exhibits, free fairground rides and a fireworks display over the lagoon as the highlight of the fair.