4. Mill Valley, CA
A Bay Area enclave that put mellow on the map keeps its funky vibe.
Mill Valley is one of the jewels in a necklace of beau- tiful towns—along with Sausalito, Marin City and Tiburon—across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. It’s tucked into a canyon on the flank of 2,571-foot Mount Tamalpais, near the giant redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument and marshland surrounding Richardson Bay. The setting and proximity to San Francisco attracted sawmills, dairy farms and resort operators, then Beat poets and hippies who scandalized locals by skinny-dipping and smoking weed. A more recent influx of wealthy commuters has made Mill Valley (pop. 13,900) one of the nation’s wealthiest ZIP codes. Shops, galleries, organic food restaurants and art festivals cater to the newcomers, threatening to crowd out ratty old landmarks like the beloved Sweetwater Saloon where Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder, Jerry Garcia and Elvis Costello played. The good news is that, as of this past January, the Sweetwater’s back, occupying new quarters in the town’s old Masonic Hall. The Art Commission sponsors concerts and comedy in the town plaza, and the Throckmorton Theater welcomes music groups like the Kingston Trio and Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, along with a June festival dedicated to gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. -- SS
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