I have visited Sausalito many times but somehow never spent any time in neighboring Mill Valley, nestled in Marin County at the foot of Mt. Tamalpais 10 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s less crowded than its touristy neighbor and offers plenty of charm, with narrow canyons and tree-lined neighborhoods. If you’re the outdoorsy type, you could easily spend the morning hiking in the nearby redwoods, then hit the village for coffee at Equator, where locals congregate. The small downtown area has boutiques, galleries, restaurants and entertainment. The tab: My husband and I spent $518 for two nights at the Acqua Hotel and about $200 for meals.
The east side of the Acqua Hotel overlooks cars hurtling by on U.S.101, the other offers a lovely, serene view of Richardson Bay. Our 150-square-foot “best value” queen-bed room was snug; there was barely enough elbow room — let alone personal space — for two of us. But we had a cute Juliet balcony overlooking the bay and EOS bath products to enjoy. (A tip: Spend a few more bucks and spring for a larger room.) A major upside at the Acqua is the value; it serves a delicious buffet breakfast with veggie frittatas, chicken mango sausages, flaky croissants and more. Plus there’s an evening wine-and-cheese hour in the lobby.
Go old school: The historic 1930s Buckeye Roadhouse has a hunting-lodge feel with lots of wood and a river rock fireplace. The restaurant is always packed, so be sure to make reservations. They offer hearty comfort classics (chicken pot pie, braised lamb shank); we had entrees from the smoker — barbecue ribs and beef brisket — both solid choices. Go new school: In the heart of the village, Playa is a hip Mexican eatery with an open kitchen and an adventurous menu. We shared a variety of tacos (octopus, al pastor, carne asada) and enchiladas de mole rojo (beef cheeks with avocado and queso fresco); the place has a nice margarita and cocktail selection.
Make it a four-day weekend if you want to catch a set by legendary social-political satirist Mort Sahl, 91, who holds court most Thursday nights at the Throckmorton Theatre in the heart of town. Robin Williams used to drop in to try out material in this historic venue; check the online schedule before you visit.
THE LESSON LEARNED
You need not drive into the wilderness to find a challenging hiking trail. The Dipsea Trail, two blocks from the center of the village, begins with the Dipsea Steps: three crazy long, steep stairways that will have you gasping for air and your Fitbit straining to keep up with your pounding pulse. I wimped out about a quarter of the way up the nearly 700 steps, but if you can make it to the top, raise your arms in triumph like Rocky Balboa, then take the rest of the seven-mile-long trail, which runs through forests and rolling hills from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach.
Acqua Hotel, 555 Redwood Highway, Mill Valley, Calif.; (415) 380-0400. Wheelchair accessible.
Buckeye Roadhouse, 5 Shoreline Highway, Mill Valley, Calif.; (415) 331-2600. Wheelchair accessible.
Playa, 41 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley, Calif.; (415) 384-8871. Wheelchair accessible.
Throckmorton Theatre, 142 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley, Calif.; (415) 383-9600. Wheelchair accessible.