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Best of the North Bay 2016
San Francisco magazine | Photo: Courtesy of Retailers | July 1, 2016
It's not all about wine. It's also about mineral pools, fresh-shucked oysters, strawberry pie, and, OK, fine, wine.
Movie Theater: Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center
1118 4th St. (near A St.), San Rafael, 415-454-1222
This isn’t your usual blockbuster pusher—masterfully restored by starchitect Mark Cavagnero, it’s a 1938 art deco theater outfitted with state-of-the-art technology. The three-screen movie house has a town hall feel, presenting provocative programming of first runs, foreign-language films, classics, and retrospectives. The U-shaped seating means there’s never a bad seat in the house, and, thanks to high-tech screening capabilities, the theater showcases a broad range of films from 35mm print to 3-D.
Runner-up: Lark Theater, Larkspur
Joy Ride: Auberge du Soleil
180 Rutherford Hill Rd. (near Auberge Rd.), Rutherford, 800-348-5406
With nightly rates starting at $675, this French-inspired hilltop resort is a rare splurge. But the luxurious property sweetens the deal every spring by unveiling a new fleet of wheels: Any hotel guest with a valid license has complimentary access to his or her choice of a luxury Mercedes for the day, including the S550 sedan, the SL550 convertible, and the GL350 SUV. How better to explore the wine country’s open roads?
Runner-up: Calistoga Ranch, Calistoga
Cooking Class: Cavallo Point Cooking School
601 Murray Cir. (near McReynolds Rd.), Sausalito, 415-339-4700
A glass of prosecco and an appetizer of roasted almonds and farm-stand cheese set the tone for an indulgent cooking lesson taught in a sunny, country-style kitchen (from $85). Ingredients are sourced from the neighboring San Rafael Downtown Farmers Market, as well as farms like Marin Roots and Iacopi. And the impressive teacher roster includes local epicurean celebs like Brown Sugar Kitchen’s Tanya Holland, who leads a lesson in fried chicken and waffles. Maximum class size is 20, so you won’t get stuck playing sous-chef. Afterward, participants gather around the kitchen’s long country wood tables to feast on the finished product.
Runner-up: Ramekins Culinary School, Sonoma
B&B: Farmhouse Inn
7871 River Rd. (near Wohler Rd.), Forestville, 707-887-3300
Some of the best features of this Russian River inn are what’s lacking: traffic, cell reception, pretension. Instead, the spot focuses on what matters—country-chic rooms with vaulted ceilings, crackling fires, and intimate patios. Thoughtful perks include homemade lavender soap and a build-your-own-s’more station (from $545 per night). The Michelin-starred restaurant serves decadent three-course breakfasts each morning, and the rustic, barn-style spa features a menu of organic, herb-based treatments. The scenic location is also convenient, offering easy access to dozens of surrounding Russian River wineries.
Runner-up: The Inn Above Tide, Sausalito
Pool: Indian Springs
1712 Lincoln Ave. (near Brannan St.), Calistoga, 707-942-4913
Just because this bohemian resort turned 154 this year doesn’t mean it looks its age. Mission Revival design accents and a collection of framed vintage bathing suits from the 1920s may pay tribute to its roots, but the palm-and-cactus-studded oasis just completed a major facelift this year. There are ample poolside loungers, shaded canopies, and a eucalyptus steam hut. As for the main attraction, the mineral pool is Olympic size—one of the largest in the state, meaning you never have to fight for space—and it’s kept at a temperature of between 98 and 100 degrees. Road-weary day-trippers take note: A spa treatment (from $95) grants you access to the pool.
Runner-up: Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Geyserville
EAT & DRINK
Diner: Fremont Diner
2698 Fremont Dr. (near S. Central Ave.), Sonoma, 707-938-7370
This quirky roadside diner feels like it could be in Nashville—rockabilly servers, homemade strawberry-buttermilk pies—but the menu certainly places you in Sonoma. Hearty country fare, from chilaquiles to an oyster-and-arugula sandwich, is made with local, seasonal ingredients. Carneros Valley wine is served in mason jars, and biscuits arrive by the bucket (and could lure any Paleo back to the dark side). Order a horchata milkshake for the road.
Runner-up: Dipsea Cafe, Mill Valley
Oysters: Hog Island Oyster Co.
20215 Shoreline Hwy. (near Marshall Petaluma Rd.), Marshall, 415-663-9218
In some West Marin towns, it seems as if there are more places to get fresh-shucked oysters than there are residents. For day-trippers seeking the best perch for some briny goodness, Hog Island Oyster Co. offers a trifecta: a BYOB grilling area where you can sling tangy barbecued oysters and enjoy raw Sweetwaters and scenic views of Tomales Bay, and a full-service café serving Cowgirl Creamery cheese boards. Those in a hurry can grab shellfish to go from the charmingly crusty Hog Shack.
Runner-up: Marshall Store, Marshall
Tasting Room: Odette Winery
5998 Silverado Trail, Napa, 707-224-7533
Amid grand châteaux overflowing with busloads of tourists, Odette’s small tasting room on Napa’s Silverado Trail is deceptively unassuming. It sits back from the road, tucked behind a stand of olive trees. That means that, for once, you won’t have to elbow your way to the tasting bar. The airy setup extends onto the semiprivate patio, where guests sample flights of the winery’s cabernet sauvignon, which has black currant and lavender notes, and creamy chardonnay (five wines for $35). Settle in for a three-course lunch—with wine pairings, naturally—in the new Estate Lounge, which looks as if it could double as an art gallery and overlooks 40 acres of vineyards.
Runner-up: Charles Krug, St. Helena
Brewery: Russian River Brewing Company
725 4th St. (near E St.), Santa Rosa, 707-545-2337
Befitting its location, this cultish Santa Rosa brewery gives its beer the wine treatment: The sour brown ale is aged for around a year in pinot noir barrels, while the sour blonde matures in chardonnay barrels. Nearly two dozen brews rotate on tap, from hoppy California-style brews with notes of pine and citrus to spicy Belgian ales and unfiltered wheat beer with notes of coriander and orange peel—all with memorable names like Defenestration and Erudition. Casual fare like thin-crust pizza and blue-cheese-topped chicken wings is designed to pair with (and sop up) all those suds.
Runner-up: Lagunitas Brewing Company, Petaluma
Kid-Friendly Restaurant: Finnegan’s Marin Restaurant & Bar
877 Grant Ave. (near Machin Ave.), Novato, 415-899-1516
This restaurant might call itself an Irish pub, but don’t expect rowdies lining the bar. Instead, a multigenerational clientele fills the dining room and sunny patio for nightly events ranging from live bands to bingo and trivia. The affordable kids’ menu goes well beyond the usual PB&J fare, spanning from pot roast to fish and chips, and kids eat free on Sundays (coloring books included). Meanwhile, adults can opt for grown-up dishes like chicken with brussels sprouts and applewood bacon hash.
Runner-up: Red Boy Pizza, Novato
Distillery: Spirit Works Distillery
6790 McKinley St. (near Laguna Park Way), Sebastopol, 707-634-4793
Husband-and-wife team Ashby and Timo Marshall mill, mash, ferment, and bottle all of their craft booze onsite. The guided tour ($20) culminates in the tasting room, where an observation window affords a bird’s-eye view of the grain-to-glass process. But the real draw here is the tasting bar, where guests can sample experimental spirits like whiskey-barrel-aged gin, tobacco-and-butterscotch-tinged organic white oak wheat whiskey, and rye whiskey with white peppercorn notes ($20 for a one-hour tour with tasting; tastings from $5).
Runner-up: Sonoma County Distilling Company, Rohnert Park
813 Main St. (near 3rd St.), Napa, 707-226-7821
When recovering from a marathon day of cab tastings, brunch is a necessity. At Ninebark, a two-Michelin-star chef serves satisfying fare like a coastal take on eggs Benedict (crudo-style strips of Mount Lassen trout topped with caper-infused hollandaise) and a gut-busting fried-chicken-and-biscuit sandwich laden with gravy and cheddar. Herbaceous cocktails like the Napa Spring Punch—gin with juiced spring peas, cucumber, basil, and thyme—are a healing spin on the hair of the dog. The atmospheric space, from the cornucopia of produce on display before the open kitchen to the herb sprigs tucked into each menu, was thoughtfully created by the design firm Avroko. The three-story setup allows you to choose your ambience: the casual bar downstairs, the upscale dining room upstairs, or the sunny rooftop.
Runner-up: Sam’s Social Club, Calistoga
Jewelry Boutique: Lulu Designs
473 Coloma St. (near Bridgeway), Sausalito, 415-729-9570
Stacy King launched her jewelry line out of her Mill Valley garage; 16 years later, Anthropologie was stocking her baubles. After gaining a devout local following, she opened this Sausalito atelier beside the Heath Ceramics studio. In it, she creates a fine-jewelry collection incorporating gemstones from Madagascar, Newfoundland, and Jaipur, as well as a casual spin-off line of necklaces, earrings, and rings.
Runner-up: Napa Valley Jewelers, Napa
Pantry Shop: Healdsburg Shed
25 North St. (near Foss St.), Healdsburg, 707-431-7433
This is not your grandmother’s pantry. The wood-swathed culinary complex—which won the James Beard Award for design in 2014—contains a café, a shop, and an event space for dinner parties and pop-ups. But it’s the assortment of local and hard-to-find specialty spices, sauces, and grains that makes it particularly destination-worthy for Bay Area foodies. Swap out your old Morton salt and Nutella for pantry pick-me-ups like botanical shrubs and soda syrups, pickled sea beans, salted pistachio butter, and sauvignon blanc vinegar.
Runner-up: Olivier, St. Helena
Paper Store: PS Paper
135 San Anselmo Ave. (near Mariposa Ave.), San Anselmo, 415-459-4984
You don’t have to be a Luddite to appreciate a quality paper store. Founded by a pair of fashion industry alums, the shop is packed with colorful, hand-painted stationery and other snail mail treasures. You’ll find cards by Rifle Paper Co. and Snow & Graham, DIY card kits, books by Bella Figura, and fun extras like stamps and ribbons. Not in the market for a card? Repurposed used-book covers are given a second life protecting journals.
Runner-up: Papyrus, Napa
Sex Shop: Pleasures of the Heart
1310 4th St. (near C St.), San Rafael, 415-482-9899
“Pleasures,” as Marinites refer to it, has been a North Bay fixture for more than a decade. The open-minded staff can guide newbies through sections devoted to lingerie and accessories, sex toys, books, and games. Don’t overlook the store’s cultural offerings, which include erotic art, author signings, and R-rated discussion groups. Champagne-fueled private parties are common.
Runner-up: Spice Sensuality Boutique, Rohnert Park
Toy Store: Little Luma
151 Petaluma Blvd. S. (near D St.), Petaluma, 707-769-7202
Inspired by her experiences as a mother and a teacher, shop owner Kimberly Scot opted out of the mass-produced Toys “R” Us model. Instead she’s curated a collection of toys that promote problem-solving and foster the imagination for kids up to seven years old. Nontoxic construction kits, puzzles, art supplies, and building blocks hail from around the world; there’s also an assortment of multicultural and multilingual books. The game tester area—complete with a cushy couch for parents—has become an impromptu local hangout.
Runner-up: Five Little Monkeys, multiple locations
Plants: West End Nursery
1938 5th Ave. (near Eye St.), San Rafael, 415-454-4175
This microclimate-conscious nursery receives daily deliveries of exotic and drought-tolerant plants, from succulents to seasonal dahlias and hydrangeas. Simple potted plants are fi t for livening up the office, while birdbaths, accent fountains, garden benches, and Mexican Talavera pottery are available to transform your yard, patio, or porch. Don’t miss the garden lab, where West End’s resident gardeners test out heirloom produce.
Runner-up: Cottage Gardens Nursery, Petaluma
Furniture: Sons of Salvage
145 Kentucky St. (near Washington St.), Petaluma, 415-686-8986
Aiming to furnish their own apartment on the cheap, friends Aaron Beatrice and Serge Biryukov built their first items of furniture in 2015 out of wood from old barns and fences. Soon after, neighbors and friends were requesting their own farmhouse-style tables, benches, and headboards. Today you can find the duo’s salvaged-wood work in their new brick-and-mortar store, as well as gracing local establishments like Oakland’s Homegrown and Berkeley’s Yoga Tree.
Runner-up: Dovetail Collection, Healdsburg
Outdoor Gear: Any Mountain
71 Tamal Vista Blvd. (near Wornum Dr.), Corte Madera, 415-927-0170
With sight lines from the store to Mount Tamalpais, the staff here includes snowboarders, mountain bikers, and ski bums. Using California’s mountain ranges as the guiding inspiration for its gear, the shop specializes in mountain bikes, skis, snowboards, and trendy activewear—with plenty of kids’ equipment. Welcome extras include a ski and snowboard tune-up shop, pro boot fitters, snow sport rentals, and a thoughtful trade-in program that lets you exchange old equipment to be repurposed or donated.
Runner-up: Sonoma Outfitters, Santa Rosa
Family Photographer: Blink Inc
109 Corte Madera Town Ctr., Corte Madera, 415-924-4500
It’s tough to beat this photo studio’s price: $25 for a 10-minute studio session. (Coincidentally, that’s also about the attention span of most toddlers.) Though the time frame is short, you’ll receive more than 100 digital photos to peruse, available for purchase individually ($10 each). The regular cast of photographers specializes in high-quality images and fast turnaround times for family photos, holiday pictures, head shots, and pet portraits.
Runner-up: Katie Rain Photography, various locations
900 Meadowood Ln. (near Silverado Trail N.), St. Helena, 707-531-4788
When in wine country, you don’t just drink the wine—you luxuriate in it. Treatments (from $225) at Meadowood’s six-month-old spa include moisturizing vinotherapy, an exfoliating black walnut scrub, and detoxifying mud wraps—many of the products locally sourced. Post-treatment, guests kick back in the bamboo-shaded garden or soak in the heated mineral pool.
Runner-up: Calistoga Ranch, Calistoga
Flowers: Bloomers of Larkspur
501 Magnolia Ave. (near Ward St.), Larkspur, 415-927-7422
Gathering blooms from surrounding North Bay farms, this is the equivalent of a CSA for flower geeks. Field-to-vase arrangements are created daily with the freshest of the season’s haul. In the summer, that means garden-style bouquets (from $25) bursting with snapdragons, roses, irises, freesia, and tulips, as well as nontraditional floral wreaths incorporating sea urchin shells ($80).
Runner-up: Vanda Floral Design, Petaluma
Groomer: Hair of the Dog
2770 Stony Point Rd. (near Yuba Dr.), Santa Rosa, 707-331-3143
Despite offering such pooch-pampering treatments as blueberry face scrubs and blowouts (from $75), certified groomers Amy Cadogan and Heather Strickland are known for delivering personalized care without pretension. Nose-to-tail treatments are tailored for individual pets, including breed-specific haircuts and pedicures (from $15). Afterward, pets mingle in spotless socializing areas outfitted with colorful animal art. Gentle, all-natural flea sprays and grooming products are available.
Runner-up: Doggie Styles, Mill Valley
Frame Shop: Sausalito Picture Framing
310 Caledonia St. (near Litho St.), Sausalito, 415-331-3567
At first glance, it’s easy to mistake the interior of this airy frame shop for another Marin gallery. Rather than being stacked warehouse style, here the frames are displayed on the walls. A small staff of expert framers specializes in selecting the proper molding, glaze, and matting for art, mirrors, or textiles (from $30). UV-blocking glass, for example, protects valuable works from sun damage.
Runner-up: Blue Dot Picture Framing, San Rafael
Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco