Bay Area Insiders Reveal Where They Eat, Play and Love

Secrets beyond guidebooks and our editors’ best picks of restaurants, stores and hideouts.

WITH LAND STRETCHING FROM BAY TO SEA, Marin is a big county, and big things seem to happen here. Innovators who have influenced the world through food, film and fashion call it home. From passionate progressives raising the national standards for consumer products and farmers bringing organic fare to local tables to writers responsible for starting national conversations and designers making the world even more beautiful — it’s all happening here. We’ve asked a few of the community’s brightest to share what they love best about their locale.

Sushi Ran


I love to try lots and lots of new restaurants, but my favorites remain Kokkari and Perbacco in the city and Sushi Ran in Sausalito. If I’m not dining out, my favorite activity is fishing, whether in the bay, the Farallon Islands or Mexico. I enjoy chasing fish and keep only enough for that night’s dinner. Then, after a margarita, I grill the fish and everyone sits down to a table on the aft deck of our boat, sips a beautiful glass of vermentino, and enjoys really fresh fish and the good fortune of being in a beautiful place. Larry Mindel, Sausalito Owner, Poggio Trattoria; founder, Il Fornaio

Larry Mindel. Photo by Jennifer Martine.

One of the best ways to experience Marin is with a hike along the coast in Point Reyes, followed by a meal at Saltwater in Inverness. My favorite is Tomales Point Trail, which starts at Pierce Point Ranch and follows the ridge, where there are sweeping views of Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean. My favorite meal at Saltwater starts off with a dozen raw oysters and a glass of muscadet, followed by a nicely composed salad of chicories and pomegranate, then a main course of the halibut wrapped in parchment paper — it’s simply amazing. I like to sit at one of the two tables by the front window overlooking Sir Francis Drake. Martine Saunier, San Rafael Filmmaker and founder, Martine’s Wines

Rustic Bakery
Rustic Bakery’s Marin Melt.

After the rainfall stops, on a clear and sunny day, Marin is spectacular. Josh and I like to get outside to embrace spring and renew our energy out on the wonderful trails. We love the waterfall trails the best — and the views you see when hiking to them. From Steep Ravine to Cataract Falls, any time of year is amazing out-of-doors. We hike the hidden trails at Muir Woods and then stop in for the Muir Woods Trading Company’s version of our signature grilled cheese sandwich, the Marin Melt, featuring the Cowgirl and Pt. Reyes Farmstead cheeses. When it warms up later in the year, we pack up the beach blankets and the Sunday paper and head out to Stinson Beach, with our Rustic Bakery lattes and croissants, of course. Carol Levalley, Novato CEO, Rustic Bakery Inc.

Matt Davis Trail
Matt Davis Trail. Photo by Jack Wolford.


Any film lover should put the October Mill Valley Film Festival on the calendar and make sure to join the California Film Institute for year-round screenings at the Smith Rafael Film Center, Q&As with talent and other related events. For inspiring design, head straight to Mill Valley’s Summer House, Revelation and Henrybuilt and to the new mini-design mecca in Strawberry Village that now includes staples such as the Shade Store, West Elm and Pottery Barn Teen. Blye Faust, Belvedere Oscar-winning film producer and interior designer

I love the community aspect and natural beauty that surrounds us in Marin. I feel truly thankful to live here. I practice hot yoga at Red Dragon, walk the Lovell Loop and study Zen Buddhism at Green Gulch. I have dinner with friends most nights at Tamalpie — the best food and gathering spot in Mill Valley. I also enjoy breakfast at the Sweetwater Music Hall. Susan Griffin Black, Mill Valley Co-founder and co-CEO, EO Products

Osteria Stellina
Osteria Stellina Restaurant.

I love to cycle with my friends around the Nicasio Loop or the Marshall Wall or run with my dog Buddy around Bon Tempe Lake. I love the Alpine Dam Seven Sisters ride and the trip back to Fairfax — Good Earth is great for an after-ride lunch. Another epic ride is the Marshall Wall and then Osteria Stellina for lunch. Eric Blasen, Fairfax Principal, Blasen Landscape Architecture

Brenda Chapman
Brenda Chapman-Lima. at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar.

The hiking in Marin is just a little slice of heaven, from Tennessee Valley Beach Trail to the network of trails that connect to it, where I can take my little fluff ball of a dog. Muir Beach is another place I love to go with the fluff ball. The beaches up around Point Reyes are never crowded and are great for picnics and long walks, and it’s always a beautiful drive to get there. Before I head out for the day, my favorite breakfast stop is at Shoreline Coffee Shop in Mill Valley; the avocado toast is delicious. Say hello to Bonnie if you stop in. Brenda Chapman-Lima, Mill Valley Oscar- and Golden Globe–winning writer/director


Marin for me is the home of my heart. For the 20 years I have lived in Marin, I have absorbed her varied pleasures. Coming from rural Ireland, I see Marin through the lens of my childhood, which was inextricably linked to being outdoors. I have never found another place that speaks to me in the tonality of Marin, from which I draw my inspiration for the designs of Margaret O’Leary. Marin is my muse and will be for the rest of my life. Margaret O’Leary, Mill Valley Founder and designer, Margaret O’Leary

Margaret O'Leary
Margaret O’Leary.

Marin is many things to many people, but charitable has to be near the top. On any given weekend there are dozens of local charities raising money for everything from helping to fund the public schools to saving the local salmon population. Last year alone, through my two brewpubs Marin Brewing and Moylan’s, I filled more than 500 requests for donations to more than 300 worthy causes. Near and dear to my heart, though, is the Breastfest, a fundraiser for those affected by cancer, which I’ve personally sponsored and worked with for nearly two decades. Otherwise, you’ll find me on the bay, fishing for sturgeon with a cold six-pack of Mt. Tam Pale Ale in my cooler. Brendan Moylan, Novato Proprietor, Marin Brewing Company, Moylan’s and Stillwater Spirits

Head High Wine

Marin has it all. I love skateboarding with Erik Kirkwood at Proof Lab and doing hot yoga as a recovery from big wave surfing. One of the most passionate people I know is Bill Price of Tiburon; his wine label Head High benefits Sustainable Surf and the Sonoma Education Fund. I am deeply inspired by businesses and individuals who give back to the community. And the fresh white anchovy salad made by my dad, chef Duilio Valenti, at his restaurant Valenti is my go-to food these days — it’s athlete power food and sustainable, very Marin. Bianca Valenti, Mill Valley Professional big wave surfer


CRAFTERS PARADISE Passionate about crafting? So is Julie Stanton, owner of Once Around. Postcard calendar journals, multicolored felt fortune cookies and twig hearts — she’s got it all. For those with a creative urge, there might not be a better spot in the county to gather necessities like cyan-colored yarn, fragranced essential oils, sparkles, stencils and more. —M.T.

Once Around
Yarn at Once Around.

SUP ’N’ SIP Marin County is surrounded by water and populated with award-winning restaurants — so locals love to grab their stand-up paddleboards, hit the water and then eat at a great restaurant. Here are some attractive options: start from Horseshoe Cove (at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge) and then go to Bar Bocce in Sausalito, or from Bluerush launch at the public dock in Sausalito and either go to Piatti in Mill Valley or Sam’s Anchor Cafe in Tiburon. Another bay crossing launches from Tiburon and takes you to Le Garage at Schoonmaker Beach in Sausalito. For the easiest adventure, start at the dock at 101 Surf Sports and head to Pier 15 or Terrapin Crossroads, all in San Rafael. —M.T.

Sam's Cafe
Sam’s Cafe. Photo by TIm Porter.

FILM FANATICS You won’t find a group more dedicated to the art of cinema than the California Film Institute in San Rafael. From limited-release documentaries made on the other side of the world to Hollywood blockbusters, all types of movies can be seen throughout the year on the theater’s home screen at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center. And then in October, throughout Marin’s theaters, the Mill Valley Film Festival brings Oscar-worthy cinema right to the county. Become a member to enjoy special screenings and ongoing celluloid education. —Kasia Pawlowska

PEAK OF ROMANCE It’s hard to prove, but the East Peak of Mount Tamalpais just might be Marin’s epicenter of romance. From whispered longings to proclamations of deep and everlasting love, it happens there, at an elevation of 2,572 feet. Ask any group of Marinites where they got engaged and often you’ll hear “the top of Mount Tam.” But as with love, getting there can be easy or long and involved. For the easy way, take Panoramic Highway to the end of the road. There you can walk the 1.2-mile Verna Dunshee Loop that circumnavigates the peak or walk a half-mile to the Gardner Fire lookout, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935 using the “park rustic” style that relied on native stone and materials. —M.T.