2010 Editors' Choice

This year our editors combed the county to identify the unique people, businesses and experiences that make Marin County special. In the process we had the good fortune to see the county from above, taste local burgers, sample beers on tap, test the comforts of luxury mattresses and get our serenity back at a cherished Zen center.

The following pages reveal our Marin County picks—from A to Z.



A is for Altitude

A change of altitude provides perspective on where (or how) you’re living. We recommend hopping aboard one of Seaplane Tours’ de Havilland Beavers, small planes ideal for seeing the sights. Choose a scheduled tour ($149) or charter a there’s-my-house flight. The Sausalito-based Seaplane has offered sightseeing flights and advanced seaplane training since 1947. Owner Steve Price, a fourth-generation San Franciscan, remembers the first time he flew over Marin County at 1,800 feet: “The open space and beautiful topography were amazing. It’s a great way to appreciate what we’ve got here in Marin.” Sausalito, 415.332.4843, seaplane.com

B is for Burgers

Where’s the beef (from)?
These days the beef question has shifted from “Where is it?” to “Where is it from?” We queried our four burger choices on the origins of their patties. The Counter uses humanely raised (which includes a natural diet without GMOs, antibiotics or hormones) beef from Meyer ranch in Montana. Phyllis’ Giant Burgers and Pearl’s both use “natural” grass-fed beef from Niman Ranch in Bolinas. And Weezy’s buys its humanely raised beef from Prather Ranch near Mount Shasta.

Pearl’s Phat Burgers
Mid-century decor meets organic, sustainable, locally sourced patties. Choices range from mini (quarter-pound) to phat (half-pound) and from buffalo to beef to chicken. Oh, and don’t forget the garlic, chili-cheese or sweet potato fries! Mill Valley, 415.381.6010, pearlsdiner.com

Phyllis’ Giant Burgers
James and Michelle Cho are now running this award-winning burger spot founded by Phyllis Larson in 1981. The giant cheese and the bacon burger are the most popular. San Rafael, 415.456.0866, phyllisgiantburgers.com

The Counter
Choose from one-third, two-thirds or full-pound patties of various types, 30 toppings, 12 types of cheese, 21 sauces and six kinds of bun. Served with a martini if you choose. Corte Madera, 415.924.7000, thecounterburger.com

Weezy’s Grass-Fed Shed
People are wacky for Weezy’s. Instead of complaining about a dearth of healthy, appropriately portioned, locavore burger joints, Louise Clow-Birkenseer opened her own. Terra Linda, 415.310.6188, weezys-shed.com

C is for Comfort

You probably spend more time in your bed than you do in your car, but chances are your roadster cost more than your mattress. For the ultimate in sleep-time comfort, with a price tag to show for it, head to San Rafael’s Duxiana. For almost two decades owner Sharyn Johnson’s all-things-for-the-bed store has been giving customers a luxurious night’s sleep. Couples can choose from three different Dux beds complete with adjustable coils for a custom fit on each side. 901 A Street, San Rafael, 415.459.0365, duxiana.com

D is for Deli

del·i·ca·tes·sen: The word delicatessen comes from the German delikatesse and means “delicious things to eat.” Going back even further, the word originates from the Latin delicatus, which translates as “giving pleasure, delightful, pleasing.”

Mill Valley Market
Do your shopping, then grab a sandwich made with quality ingredients sold right in the store, including meats from Boar’s Head, Zoe’s, Harris Ranch and Columbus. Mill Valley, 415.388.3222, millvalleymarket.com
Top seller: Boar’s head oven-gold turkey breast sandwich

Michael’s Sourdough Sandwiches
How good are these sandwiches and the sourdough they’re served on? So good that when the fresh-baked bread runs out, this San Rafael shop closes. San Rafael, 415.485.0964, michaelssourdough.com
Top seller: Turkey Breast with mayo, onions, lettuce, cheese

Perry’s Delicatessen No. 3
This classic Fairfax deli is a great place to stop on the way out to West Marin. From sandwiches to hamburgers, everything is always fresh and tasty. Fairfax, 415.456.3580
Top seller: sliced chicken, bacon, jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, ranch dressing

Strawberry Gourmet Deli
Operated by brothers Marc and Samer Salman since 1982, this deli is a favorite southern Marin lunch spot. The amazing French dip and other sandwiches are standouts, but don’t leave without a fresh-baked pastry. Mill Valley, 415.381.2088, strawberrygourmetdeli.com
Top seller: Schnitzel Sandwich: breaded chicken breast, lettuce, tomato

E is for Earth

Marin Agricultural Land Trust
Ah, pastoral West Marin—those rolling hills, those curvy two-lane roads, those cows! It’s hard to imagine now, but decades ago developers had big plans for all that ranchland—houses, thousands of them. A persistent band of ranchers and conservationists fought that and won. Today, their legacy is found in the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, which since 1980 has preserved 41,600 acres of agricultural land on 65 family farms and ranches, soil that supports organic goat and grass-fed beef ranchers, potato farmers and, of course, those black-and-white Holsteins we West Marin weekenders love so much. malt.org

Marin’s Most populated city: San Rafael population: 55,602
Least populated town: Marshall population: 50

F is for Fashionista

Jean and Jane Ford
The Tiburon duo shook up the beauty biz as the brains behind Benefit Cosmetics and the brand’s best sellers, Dr. Feelgood complexion touch-up and Benetint lip and cheek stain (over 7.5 million bottles sold). When not making women look and feel better, Jean (left) can be found shopping at Mili and Sophia in Mill Valley; Jane loves shopping at Town Center in Corte Madera. Jane’s favorite wardrobe piece? “A Bogner sweater coat I bought at Wilkes Bashford in Mill Valley four years ago; it goes everywhere!” Jean’s? “My mother’s vintage Dior gold-plated cocktail belt, circa 1950.”

Blake Kuwahara
The Sausalito designer can be seen frequenting the shops near Caledonia Street and has a newfound penchant for San Rafael’s Aubergine Vintage Boutique, but what is the one piece in his closet he couldn’t give up? “Given the inclement weather in the Bay Area, I’m hanging on to my Manitou Sorels. I bought them when I was a grad student at Cal 20-plus years ago and have worn them ever since.”

More fashionistas –>

G is for Guest Rooms

Acqua Hotel 
Hey, if it’s good enough for President Obama, your fussy Aunt Louise should be fine at this hip 49-room haven just off Highway 101. Great views of Mount Tam and tasty breakfast included. Mill Valley, 415.380.0400, jdvhotels.com

Cavallo Point
For special occasions and/or relatives with deep pockets, these restored-army-base digs are the epitome of Marin-inspired luxury. Great for families, as many of the rooms are suites and dog friendly. Sausalito, 415.339.4700, cavallopoint.com

The Lodge at Tiburon
The renovated and popular Tiburon Grill is just one of the reasons for this 102-room hotel’s popularity. Outdoor fireplaces, heated pool with cabanas and updated rooms are a few more. Tiburon, 415.435.3133, thelodgeattiburon.com

Inn Marin
This green-certified, 70-room, pet-friendly inn just off 101 has a range of accommodations, including two king and two whirlpool suites. On-site Rick’s Cafe opens to the pool. Novato, 415.883.5952, innmarin.com

San Anselmo Inn 
Ideal for central Marin families, this 15-room B&B is in the heart of town, walking distance to restaurants and shops.
San Anselmo, 415.455.5366, sananselmoinn.com

H is for Hooves

Five Brooks
Cowboy up in Point Reyes at Five Brooks Stable, where a gentle, well-tended mount awaits for hay wagon rides, pony parties, horseback picnics, trail rides — or more frequent riding via affordable monthly sponsorship. 415.663.1570, fivebrooks.com

I is for Ink

West Marin review
In case you misguidedly think the Pacific side of Marin is all about cows, cute cafes and country kitsch, the West Marin Review exists to convince you otherwise. The two-year-old self-billed “literary and arts journal”—a nonprofit annual produced by the Tomales Bay Library Association, Point Reyes Books and a volunteer consortium of local artists and writers—celebrates the creative and intellectual output of West Marin in pages chock-a-block with compelling work, including poems by Pulitzer-winning Robert Hass, writings by journalist Philip L. Fradkin and photographs by Evvy Eisen. westmarinreview.org

J is for Java

Emporio Rulli
Hands down, one of the best places to have an honest-to-goodness Italian caffe experience in the Bay Area. One look at the classic espresso machine and you know this place is for real. Larkspur, 415.924.7478, rulli.com

Poggio Trattoria
Sure, the food is great and the people-watching along Bridgeway entertaining, but for a first-class Italian-style coffee or cappuccino, you can’t do much better. Sausalito, 415.332.7771, poggiotrattoria.com

Cable Car Coffee Company
Located right along Highway 101 in Mill Valley, Cable Car lets java-craving drivers grab a cup without leaving their cars and get a little San Francisco spirit at the same time. Mill Valley, 415.883.8594, cablecarcoffeecompany.com

The Ancona family’s cafe offers breakfast and lunch but is famous for its Blue Bottle Coffee, an artisan micro-roasted treat impressing coffee connoisseurs all over the Bay Area. Sausalito, 415.331.2426, cibosausalito.com

Dr. Insomnia’s Coffee and Teas
A name like that suggests a serious coffee-making business, and this locally owned Novato shop doesn’t disappoint. Try a cup from here and you could find yourself raring to finish that half-written novel. Novato, 415.897.9500, drinsomnia.com

K is for Knowledge

Mikhail Gorbachev, Carl Sagan, Maya Angelou, Garrison Keillor—by bringing fascinating internationally known figures to Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, the Marin Speakers Series has stoked our intellectual curiosity for 15 years. 650.340.7004, speakersseries.net

L is for Love

Jodi Klugman-Rabb
This San Rafael therapist doesn’t just offer marriage counseling; her services also include pre-wedding coaching to help partners get through the stressful wedding planning time and learn how to get along with difficult family members and new in-laws.

John Gray Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Enough said.

Pari Livermore
Matchmaking, for free? In lieu of a fee for her services, the San Rafael doyenne of philanthropy asks for a substantial donation to a Bay Area charity. Livermore has said she wants to be remembered as a woman who was “lucky in love and helped others find it too.”

M is for Milestone

Jean Murphy
Old joke: How do you live to be 100? Make it to 99 and then be very, very careful. Well, Jean Murphy’s 99, but she’s hardly sitting around waiting for the odometer to hit three digits December 2. She might be at the S.F. Symphony or Berkeley Rep or a community drumming session or protesting with the Mill Valley Seniors for Peace. Oh, yes, she’s also this year’s prom queen at the Redwoods retirement community. “I’ve lived a charmed life,” says Murphy, “with a sign above my head that said, ‘The Luck of the Irish.’”

N is for Nest

Sunrise Home
Sunrise Home has been dressing the homes of Marin beautifully for almost 35 years, thanks to owner Annie Bowman’s well-honed design sensibilities, her interior designer staff, wallet-friendly consultations, a loyal clientele list and 30,000 square feet of top-quality furnishings and accessories in various styles. Fans look for inspiration in Sunrise’s design space at Marin Designers Showcase, where the store has been a presence for 30 years, and at Bowman’s own “showcase” party during the holidays, where she spotlights favorite authors, florists, jewelers and crafters. But they look for deals at Sunrise’s annual summer sidewalk sales, when they can walk away with prized finds at a 50 to 90 percent discount. San Rafael, 415.456.3939, sunrisehome.com

O is for Olive Oil

Whether drizzled, drenched or for dipping, can anything be more lusciously delicious than the smooth richness of a complex olive oil? We don’t think so. And we love the nutty, peppery extra-virgin olive oil, with citrus undertones, of Nuovo Olio, produced by John and Cynthia Klock at their West Wind vineyard in Nicasio. Volunteers harvest the olives grown there (and at select wine country vineyards and estates), celebrate with an orchard-side feast then process the oil in West Wind’s wine cave. Join in the fun with tastings at Flights and Bites, two benefit fundraisers, at West Wind. All proceeds of the $25 olive oil are donated to Gilead House, a transitional housing and life skills program in Novato for homeless mothers and children.

Olives played a special role at Mission San Rafael Arcangel. In addition to their use in cooking, lighting and lubricating machinery, mission priests used sacramental olive oil to anoint the newly baptized, ordain priests and administer last rites to the dying.

P is for Paws

Pet Cottage
Pet Cottage in San Anselmo has helped its devoted customers keep their pets in fine form for more than 70 years. From a freezer full of high-quality raw foods to shelves stocked with organic kibble (from Avoderm to Wysong), canned food and healthful treats, Marin’s dogs and cats can’t go wrong here. Even bunnies can get organic food and chews from the small animal supply section. Looking for toys, dog apparel, leashes, beds or crates? Chances are you’ll find them at Pet Cottage, along with prices generally lower than at any pet store chain. The shop also offers discount programs and helps rescued kittens with on-site adoptions. Pet Cottage, 415.485.1158, pet-cottage.com

Q is for Quick

Home-grown speed demon
If you blink you might miss him. Sausalito native and former Redwood High baseball player
J. R. Hildebrand runs the bases fast; accepted into MIT, he clearly thinks fast; and, well, he also drives fast. We’re not talking a few miles over the speed limit fast, we’re talking Indy Car fast. Now 22, Hildebrand started racing go-karts at age 14 and never looked back. In 2009 he was the Firestone Indy Lights Series overall champion and he recently made his second start in the American Le Mans Series. jrhildebrandracing.com

R is for Relax

Spa at Cavallo Point
For ultimate relaxation, head to the Healing Arts Center & Spa at Cavallo Point. The modern wood-and-copper design includes large windows opening to the beauty of surrounding redwoods, indoor and outdoor fireplaces with cozy seating, and lots of places to curl up and meditate. A subtle aromatic mix of eucalyptus and pine underscores the feel of a lodge escape. A heated outdoor pool is ideal for floating or working out any excess energy; therapeutic massage is available if you still need to unwind. Edible fare includes organic, locally derived salads and sandwiches as well as high tea. Sausalito, 415.339.4700, cavallopoint.com

S is for Secret (Marin's best kept)

Angel Island Sunset Cruise
If you aren’t blessed with your own yacht, there’s still a way to take in the fresh bay air and sights from the sea for a fraction of boat-owner prices. The Angel Island Tiburon Ferry Sunset Cruise isn’t just the best-kept secret in Marin, it might also be the best deal at only $20 per adult, free for kids under three. Bring your own picnic (we suggest local Cowgirl Creamery cheese and a bottle of Stubbs Marin County chardonnay) and enjoy the one-and-a-half-hour journey with views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island and Belvedere on Friday and Saturday nights through October. The cruise departs Tiburon at 6:30 p.m. 415.435.2131

T is for Taps

The Mayflower Inn and Pub
While not really an inn, this British-style joint is all pub. Bangers and mash, fish and chips, a full bar, trivia night, soccer games, pool table, darts and British, Irish and American brews from 17 taps. Clearly, the Mayflower has arrived. San Rafael, 415.456.1011, themayflowerpub.com

Finnegan’s Marin
A rotating roster of beers from eight taps in a comfortable dark wood bar, plus a selection of Irish whiskeys, and a brunch, lunch and dinner menu to top it off. Novato, 415.899.1516, finnegansmarin.com

Iron Springs Pub and Brewery
Beers handcrafted in 10-barrel batches using fresh water straight from Marin—what could be better? But watch yourself: the popular 8.3 percent ABV Crippla’ Double Pale Ale is back. Fairfax, 415.485.1005, ironspringspub.com

Marin Brewing Co.
The beer, made by brewmaster Brendan Moylan, has won awards all over the world, but you don’t have to go far to find it. Stop by the MBC in Larkspur or Moylan’s in Novato and try a pint or two for yourself. Larkspur, 415.461.4677, marinbrewing.com

U is for Unmentionables

Birds of Sausalito Boxers
Sometimes cocktail-party talk is all it takes to spark a business idea for selling an item we never even knew we needed—like $75 handcrafted men’s undershorts. Is there anything more luxurious-feeling than two-ply, high-thread-count, Sea Island cotton? Choose the elastic-waistband-free custom fit or the classic stretch-waist version with a roomier fit. Either way, you’re supporting locals: these prized boxers are the brainchild of Sausalito husband-and-wife team Megan and Michael Papay. 415.828.7499, birdsofsausalito.com

V is for Vegan

Café Gratitude
It seems like most vegetarian restaurants have a message, but few deliver it more overtly —and more colorfully—than Café Gratitude in San Rafael, where the food is raw, the menu vegan and the diners seated under a dome painted like a sky and rimmed with the words “I choose to be love.” In fact, “I” is a big word in the Gratitude kitchen, whose servings include “I Am Sassy” (a virgin margarita), “I Am Present” (mushroom bruschetta) and “I Am Sensational” (pesto pizza on a buckwheat sunflower seed flatbread crust). San Rafael,  415.824.4652,

 W is for Water

Sea Trek
Marinites have been renting kayaks from Sausalito’s Sea Trek for almost 30 years, but the company’s latest offering, stand-up paddle boarding, is an adventurous new way to explore the Sausalito waterfront and Richardson Bay. Just $20 an hour gets you a short introduction to the sport, a stand-up paddle board and all the gear you need; Sea Trek also offers weekly social paddles, advanced lessons and custom tours. Schoonmaker Point Marina, Sausalito, 415.488.1000, seatrek.com

X is for Xylophone

The Magic Flute
Privately owned for over 35 years, this Terra Linda gem has thrived under the direction of Mike Mitchell, who retired last May and handed the baton to longtime employee Christian Dean. The shop is known for having the largest selection of sheet music in the Bay Area and for its extensive collection of instruments, from basses to xylophones. Customers range from first-time flutists to rock stars. Terra Linda, 415.479.3112, themagicflute.com

Y is for Yoga

Yoga Toes  When you find your breath during an asana, it contains a slight hint of hay, as it should in a yoga studio located inside a feed barn. Point Reyes Station, 415.663.9999, yogatoesstudio.com

YogaWorks   With large studios in Larkspur and Mill Valley, this chain runs an extensive schedule classes of every type for every level. Mill Valley, 415.318.7650, yogaworks.com

Yoga Center of Marin  A compact, community-oriented Corte Madera studio run by the teachers, its classes are small and Iyengar focused. Corte Madera, 415.927.1850, yogacenterofmarin.com

Red Dragon Yoga  Get your Bikram on at this Mill Valley studio, whose busy schedule of heated classes will raise your body temperature while they cool your mind. Mill Valley, 415.381.3724, reddragonyoga.com

Parents Center  Walk that downward dog even if you’re pre- or postnatal in the Gentle Mama–Baby Yoga classes offered by the Parents Center in San Rafael. San Rafael, 415.233.7456, theparentscenter.com

Z is for Zen

Spirit Rock
When you can no longer hear the sound of one hand clapping, seek out an uplifting dose of dharma at Spirit Rock, the Buddhist meditation and retreat center. Located on 400 acres of live oaks and golden hillsides in the San Geronimo Valley, Spirit Rock has been guiding the practice and teaching the technique of mindful living since 1987. Spirit Rock’s offerings, all affordably priced, range from short classes that might fall into the category of Buddhism for beginners to week long residential retreats, many held in silence and many others designed for families or teenagers. spiritrock.org