The JdV Chronicles, Part III – Marin with Mom

Note: This is an ongoing series of my travels through California thanks to the California Passport I won from the Joie de Vivre hotels in May 2009.

When you’re a busy executive with an unnamed financial company who travels a LOT for business, finding time to travel for fun requires planning.  So a few months ago I convinced said executive, my mom, to reserve a June weekend to go play in the Sonoma region.  Our first choice,  Gaige House , was full, so we opted for the Acqua Hotel in Mill Valley instead.  It was almost a better option, as it gave us proximity to both the Sonoma wine region (Mom’s choice) and Muir Woods (my pick).

Acqua Hotel

Striped walls & groovy furniture

I’ve found when I first get to a JdV hotel I try to figure out which magazine it represents.  Acqua made it really easy, as issues of Dwell were in our room.  I’d read reviews that complained about the noise from the nearby 101, but our double queen room, situated on the far end of the hotel closer to said highway, wasn’t that bad at all, especially compared to the street noise of SF hotels.  I did sleep with the windows shut though.

The hotel looks out on the Richardson Bay, which has a number of trails and paths that contour along the wetlands.   It’s not a hugely commercial area, and besides our hotel, a Ferrari & Maserati dealership, there were a handful of restaurants, some office space, and the rest, homes & condos.  This, I learned, was only part of Mill Valley, with the more central part of town a few miles inland.

We didn’t spend much time in Mill Valley proper, as Sonoma was calling on Saturday, and I wanted us to get there before the NASCAR race began at the nearby track.  Having never explored the old town square, we decided to stop there first, and between the history, shopping and terrific lunch, we didn’t have much time for tasting in the outlying areas.  Mom made the executive recommendation that we visit one very good winery, so St. Francis it was.    Despite horrific allergic reactions to the grasses in the Sonoma countryside that left me unable to smell anything, I was still able to appreciate the fantastic zinfandels this winery produces.  Especially the 2006 vintages, which was a very good year in the region.

Redwoods at Muir Woods

Mom shows just how big the redwoods really are

After experiencing true localvore dining at a little restaurant near San Anselmo on Saturday night, we figured we’d hit the apex of our culinary experiences.  Interestingly enough, we learned that in the Bay Area, even the national monuments have sustainable local cuisine.  We spent Sunday morning hiking around Muir Woods, whose stands of coastal redwoods are pretty amazing given their proximity to such a huge population center.  Looking back on it, the Kents, who donated the land to the federal government over 100 years ago, were probably considered insane by their peers.   I’m probably not the only one grateful for this gift, as evidenced by the sheer mass of humanity we encountered towards the end of our morning hike!

Marin headlands

Looking north from Muir Beach

Before heading out to the Muir Beach overlook for lunch, we stopped by the Muir Woods Café, where we learned how culinarily correct it truly was.  Everything on the menu was organic or sustainable, and had been harvested/grown/baked locally.  The sandwiches sure beat the anemic energy bars I had brought, and getting to enjoy lunch on a picnic bench overlooking the Pacific beat fighting the Father’s Day restaurant crowds.

Overall, it was a perfect weekend getaway, and piqued my interest in a return trip to explore the coast, Mt. Tam, and the many wineries we missed this time around.

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