Mill Valley, CA
Seemingly untouched by the relentless march of time, Mill Valley in California retains the rustic charm of its idyllic setting, 10 miles north of San Francisco. Bordered by Muir Woods National Monument to the southwest and Mount Tamalpais State Park to the west, this diminutive city of 14,000 residents sits among the redwoods in some of the state’s most picturesque terrain.
Home to the tallest trees in the world, Muir Woods National Monument is a major sightseeing opportunity near Mill Valley. Visitors walk among the old-growth coast redwoods, dwarfed by giants that can reach the height of a 35-story building, with trunks that may exceed 20 feet in diameter. The park has six miles of trails, including asphalt or boardwalk paths in the woods and more rugged dirt trails along the canyon walls. Some of the trails connect with Mount Tamalpais State Park. On clear days, hikers who push themselves to the top of the 2,571-foot peak are treated to a dazzling vista of San Francisco and the Bay.
Daring travelers can board a flight operated by Seaplane Adventures for an aerial sightseeing tour departing from Mill Valley neighbor Sausalito. Excursions range from a 30-minute tour to a half-day trip. The first flight heads south to San Francisco, where passengers catch sight of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the city skyline. The half-day Ceago Wine Tasting Tour includes a stop at Ceago Vinegardens Winery for a tasting.
Mill Valley owes its name to a sawmill built on Cascade Creek in the 1830s. Reed Mill still stands today as the historic centerpiece of Old Mill Park. Another feature of the park is the amphitheater. Anyone visiting Mill Valley during the summer can join residents and catch free productions of Shakespearean comedies performed by the non-profit Curtain Theatre group.
Not far from town is another outdoor venue with a 100-year tradition of live entertainment. Set close to the crest of Mount Tamalpais, the Sidney B. Cushing Amphitheatre is an immense stone theater that seats audiences of 4,000. During the Great Depression the California Conservation Corporation built the current structure at the site of a natural amphitheater already in use for two decades. The non-profit Mountain Play Association produces annual musical performances each spring. Recent productions include The Music Man, Hairspray, and Guys and Dolls.
Tourists planning to visit Mill Valley would do well to check the city’s calendar of festivals and events before committing to specific dates. For oenophiles and gourmands, June is the time to go. The city touts its Mill Valley Wine & Gourmet Celebration in downtown’s Depot Plaza as the premier event of its kind in the Bay Area. Lovers of the arts may prefer to postpone a trip until September, when they can attend the Mill Valley Arts Festival held at Old Mill Park. Perhaps the top event in town, however, is the 11-day Mill Valley Film Festival, which draws 40,000 people, including more than 200 filmmakers.