LEEDing the way
Construction is afoot to transform a more than 40-year-old mall last remodeled in the ’80s into a $70 million, 725,000-square-foot shoppers’ paradise. That’s right: the biggest enclosed retail mecca in Marin, Northgate, is changing its look and aiming to be the first shopping center in the nation with the coveted hard-to-earn LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. The renovation, being done in stages while the complex remains open, calls for rooftop windows, new landscaping, light-filled courtyards and giant sliding glass doors that can be opened or closed as weather allows. Look for the new completed Northgate by fall 2009. 415.479.5955,

Get in character
Jen Harland and mother Denise Foster’s Sausalito-based online shop, Pose Prints, features custom-order stationery that showcases the sender in a personalized “pose.” Clients go to the site and create one- or two-person illustration renderings of themselves to adorn invitations, announcements, thank-you cards and more. With more than 30 backgrounds and hundreds of design elements (all original hand drawings by Harland) to choose from, it’s an instant way to be immortalized in print. Pose Prints (Sausalito). 888.526.7673,

Local arrangements
Forget the tulips and give a loved one local sunflowers or West Marin dahlias. San Anselmo has a new flower shop with an eco-friendly twist: Local Flora stocks mostly seasonal, sustainably grown blooms from growers in Bolinas, Nicasio and Petaluma, as opposed to the traditional route of having them shipped in from out of state or out of the country. Plus, delivery is by biodiesel. 415.459.4490,

Carry your tune
San Rafael’s Daniel and Lauren Ng’s line of guitar bags, Mono, has just launched in the Netherlands and U.K. The couple works from their backyard, aiming to be a zero-waste company; plans are under way to debut a new deejay bag at the NAMM show, one of the largest music trade shows, this January.

Fit in Marin
One of Marin’s newest fitness destinations, Grasshopper Pilates, has opened in San Anselmo. The fully equipped studio offers classical Pilates instruction in both one-on-one and group format and will be a licensed training center for the international Pilates Center, certifying future teachers. Post-workout, students get a jasmine/green-tea-infused dark chocolate disk for an antioxidant boost. Grasshopper Pilates (San Anselmo). 415.419.5871,

Expect the best
Pilot your way through pregnancy with San Anselmo resident Tori Kropp’s recently published book. In The Joy of Pregnancy (Harvard Common Press), Kropp, a California Pacific Medical Center prenatal nurse, presents 10 chapters organized according to each lunar month after pregnancy is confirmed, plus one for the early postpartum period. From calculating due date to morning sickness to choosing childbirth classes, here’s a new encouraging tome for expectant parents to turn to. $15 at local bookstores and

Kid friendly skies
The Let’s Go Chipper! Get Ready to Fly Activity Set helps young travelers get their wings. From what to pack to check-in, boarding, flying and landing, the fundamentals of flying are laid out in a colorful set that includes activity book, crayons, plush pillow backpack and reusable tote. This is the fourth project for kids from Marin-based IAGMedia, whose founder Stephanie Rach is committed to offering family-friendly products with minimal packaging. Retails for $35 at and Monkey Business in Mill Valley.

Join the club
In one of the wealthiest counties in California, it is easy to forget that homelessness and poverty affect many local young people. Now there is help on the horizon for this underserved population, as the Boys and Girls Clubs plans to introduce its first-ever clubhouses in the county next year. The new clubs—one opening in San Rafael next month and the other in Novato this spring—will provide a safe haven and a positive, structured environment for area youth. Funds for the effort are still needed; call 415.435.1023 or visit to learn how to help.

Top soccer for all kids
This year Mill Valley Soccer introduced a new community-based, county-wide program for children with physical challenges and/or learning differences. “Frank Bonardi [of Mill Valley Soccer Club] has created an environment for our kids that has literally leveled the playing field and makes them feel good about themselves,” says Ross Buffington, who has two sons in the program. “There are many elements of this program that make it work. But I think the fact that they get uniforms and play on the same fields as their siblings builds their self-confidence in a way that can’t be described. We will definitely sign up again for the next season.” For more details, call 415.381.KICK or go to

The suite spa
As local gourmands eagerly await the opening of two more landmark Yountville restaurants—Michael Chiarello’s Bottega Ristorante and Laura Cunningham’s (formerly of French Laundry) forthcoming Italian eatery, Vita—spa-lovers can already celebrate Villagio’s long-awaited new 13,000-square-foot space. The folks at Spa Villagio have come up with five special spa experience packages to show off their new luxury suites. Each Suite Sensation (or “SS”) includes three and a half hours of pure pampering with a custom-picked menu of treatments plus cleansing steam shower, in a setting that includes private indoor-outdoor lounge with fireplace and flat-screen TV. A well-stocked wet bar with gourmet spa cuisine is also available.

All hail the cabs!
The distinguished Stag’s Leap District has made gift giving easy this year with its Appellation Collection—a bottle from each of the 15 participating wineries. This year’s featured varietal is 2004 cabernet sauvignon, says Nancy Bialek of Larkspur, executive director of the Stags Leap District Winegrowers Association for the past 13 years. “This cellar-worthy vintage, highly acclaimed by winemakers and critics alike, will continue to increase in value,” she adds. At $1,200 a box, it’s a generous way to say happy holidays.

For the past two centuries, 400 West Spain Street has been a Sonoma Valley destination address. Built in 1864, the two-story Victorian surrounded by fertile gardens and pastureland was the reputed home (or one of the homes) of General Mariano Vallejo, a key player in California’s transition from Mexico to United States hands. For the past 15 years, the General’s Daughter, one of the region’s most talked-about eateries, resided here, but last month Sondra Bernstein, proprietor of the popular girl & the fig and the fig café, took the keys and opened the Estate. The restaurant features regional Italian fare made from the bounty of the property’s gardens, nearby farms and ranches.

Calling all oenophiles!
Thursdays Mustards Grill is the place to be to taste wines rarely offered by the glass paired with chef Cindy Pawlcyn’s award-winning cuisine. This ongoing event is aptly named Way Too Many Wines.

Side of sushi
Congrats to Sushi Ran master chef Mitsunori Kusakabe, aka “Nori,” who took top prize at last fall’s Seven Sushi Samurai, a world championship of sushi innovators. This London competition featured chefs from Japan, Sweden, the United States, England and Russia. Kusakabe beat out the competition with his presentation of “Seven Rice Samurai,” featuring the fermentation, frying, toasting, sautéing, roasting, freezing and extraction of rice. Perhaps those Michelin judges should rethink taking away that star. Sushi Ran is open nightly.

Calling all tree-hugging sushi-lovers—or make that anyone even slightly concerned about dwindling fish species in our oceans. We now have many sources to tell us which menu items to opt for (wild salmon and wild shrimp) and which to avoid (bluefin tuna, farmed salmon). The Monterey Bay Aquarium has sponsored a set of three separate written guides in collaboration with the Blue Ocean Institute and Environmental Defense Fund, all available at For further reading on the topic, San Francisco–based fishery and sustainability expert Aaron Casson Trenor’s just-released book Sustainable Sushi breaks down the typical sushi menu into three categories: sustainable (green), use caution (yellow) and unsustainable (red). For those who’d rather just order without mental gymnastics, there’s Tataki Sushi & Sake Bar at 2815 California Street in San Francisco, North America’s only sustainable sushi restaurant.