The County's Gifts

Did you notice that the Ferry Building in San Francisco was recently named one of America’s 10 Greatest Public Spaces by the American Planning Association? I wholeheartedly agree. The Ferry Building is fun and engaging. The list also includes Bryant Park in New York City, Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia and Emerald Necklace Park in Boston. The community planning organization called them “publicly accessible places where people want to be that are enjoyable and safe.”

Marin County is also filled with great public spaces. In no particular order, here are my favorites. How do they compare to yours?

• Sunday Farmers’ Market at the Civic Center: Operated by the Marin Agricultural Institute, the market is probably the county’s most consistent public event, a colorful gathering of upwards of 10,000 people who buy from nearly 200 local farmers, specialty food purveyors and artisans. Sundays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

• North Vista Point at the Golden Gate Bridge: Thousands visit this spectacular Marin public space daily. Views stretch for miles from Angel Island west to the bridge itself. While you’re there, why not walk or run across the bridge? Park in the Marin Headlands lot and walk under the bridge.

• The Tennessee Valley Trail: A wide, almost level, two-mile trail passing redwood and eucalyptus trees and a lagoon en route to a delightful beach and cove. This is where the Tennessee, a steamship, ran aground in 1853. Bikes, strollers OK; dogs no. Follow Tennessee Valley Road off Shoreline Highway in Tam Valley.

• The Marin County Civic Center: Built in the 1960s, this is Frank Lloyd Wright’s last work and only municipal building. Open daily, closed Sundays; informative walking tour given Wednesdays, 10:30 a.m., $5, meet at the library on the fourth floor.

• Larkspur’s Magnolia Avenue: Start at the public library (its card catalog is still there!), then get an ice cream at Emporio Rulli. This bustling Norman Rockwell–like Main Street has several fine restaurants, an art gallery, shops and the restored Lark Theater. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

• Mount Tamalpais’ East Peak: At 2,571 feet (looks taller), Marin’s highest point is accessible by hiking or driving. Attractions include a visitor center, the short, level Verna Dunshee Trail, the historic Gravity Car Barn Museum and an old fire lookout post at the very top.

• Mill Valley Depot Plaza: The heart of Mill Valley, this was a railroad depot in the 1890s. Now a popular bookstore and cafe occupies the depot and the surrounding tree-lined plaza attracts musicians, artists and chess and backgammon players.

• Downtown Point Reyes Station: Ranching town? Not totally. Gallery Route One, Toby’s Feed Barn, Zuma, Epicenter and Point Reyes Books attract shoppers from throughout the world. For foodies, there’s Osteria Stellina, The Station House and Bovine Bakery.

• Main Street in Tiburon: It is “the World’s Shortest Main Street,” so this also includes the “Coming About” fountain plaza and Shoreline Park with its views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. The site of summertime’s popular Friday Nights on Main. En route, walk the scenic multiuse path along Richardson Bay.

• Bridgeway in Sausalito: It’s touristy, but we’re all tourists somewhere, at some time. Walk along San Francisco Bay and drink in the spectacular views. Stop at one of many landmark restaurants and drink … well, that’s your call. An added attraction: when the “Boulder Balancer” works his (or her) magic.

Special mentions:
• The “Barrel Bar” at the Marshall Store: Strips of redwood planks atop wooden barrels; goes for 40 feet on public land. On a sunny day, it’s the perfect spot to sit and enjoy a cold beer and oysters from Tomales Bay. Also called “the Marshall Riviera.” Open till dark; closed Tuesdays. Ten miles north of Point Reyes Station on Shoreline Highway.

• The Cal Park Hill Tunnel: It cost $27 million to reconstruct this 1,100-foot former railroad tunnel. The accompanying trail between Larkspur and San Rafael is 1.5 miles long. Connecting points are behind the Larkspur Landing theater and at the corner of Bellum Boulevard and Anderson Drive in San Rafael. Open December 10. Prediction: it’ll be popular.

Those are my favorite public spaces in Marin. You might consider them “gifts” to Marin’s residents and visitors. Did I miss some of yours? Let me know and they’ll appear in January’s Marin Magazine. Until then, Happy Holidays!

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