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The Best of the North Bay 2015

From Marin to Napa County, the most succulent desserts, the most surfable boards, and the most drinkable wine—lots of wine.

SLIDESHOW

Bar Boccee

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Thistle Meats

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Molina

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Read more of the best of San Francisco 2015 here.

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Kids’ Birthday: Cal-Star Gymnastics
70 Digital Dr. (Near Bel Marin Keys Blvd.), Novato, 415-382-7827
Imagine a birthday party with no bee stings or pavement falls, where kids are free to romp, tumble, and swing on whatever they please. Welcome to Cal- Star gymnastics, where booking a birthday celebration (from $245) means you can unleash up to 30 kids on the gymnasium’s 5,500-square-foot play space, which is staffed with chaperones. They’ll swing on the hurricane swing, backflip in the foam pit, soar on the trampolines, and then head to the Present Pyramid for gift opening and, of course, cake and ice cream. Bonus (if you’re a willing chaperone): Cal-Star just started hosting birthday slumber parties.
Runner-Up: Scientopia Discovery Center, Napa

Outdoor: Bar Bar Bocce
1250 Bridgeway (Near Turney St.), Sausalito, 415-331-0555
Sure, Sam’s may have the sunniest deck for lazily tossing back mimosas, but that’s only one requirement for a good outdoor bar on the bay. Throw in a bocce court and a fire pit, and you have the holy trinity of outdoor drinking. At Sausalito’s Bar Bocce, the court stands between the bar and a small sandy beach, and servers make sure that players always have a glass of the potent housemade sangria in hand. When that inevitable afternoon chill rolls in, a menu of crispy wood-fired pizza and a blazing fire pit surrounded by cushy seating await.
Runner-Up: Goose & Gander, St. Helena

Kayak Tours: Sea Trek
seatrek.com
Kayaking on the Bay seems like a good idea—until you encounter the insane currents and whiplash winds. Seek refuge in the cove of Richardson Bay, where the veterans at Sea Trek, the first commercial sea kayak company in California, will guide you through calm waters lined by houseboats and brimming with harbor seals and pelicans—and teach you how to self-rescue. (Note: You’ll be getting wet.) Once you’ve worked up the courage, venture to Angel Island (with a guide, of course).
Runner-Up: Blue Waters Kayaking, Point Reyes Station

Running Club: San Francisco Running Company
247 Shoreline Hwy. (Near Almonte Blvd.), Mill Valley, 415-450-7031
Forsake the pricey personal trainer for something more motivating—like 50 of your peers cheering you on. You’ll find them every Saturday at 8 a.m. at the San Francisco Running Company’s shop, nestled near the base of ground zero for trail runners: Mount Tamalpais. Runners, ranging from endurance monsters to joggers, follow 13- to 16-mile routes to Muir Beach or through the Marin Headlands at their own pace and distance. Recovery food (read: bagels and coffee) occasionally awaits back at the store.
Runner-Up: Empire Runners Club, Sonoma Coutnty

Art Gallery: Headlands Center for the Arts
944 Simmonds Rd. (Near Rosnstock Rd.), Sausalito, headlands.org
The rehabilitated military barracks is a haven for emerging and established artists participating in onsite residencies. But you don’t have to be an artist to get in on the perks—visit Sunday through Thursday to see installations created by the in-house artists throughout the campus. And now the public can delve into the creative process with the center’s Fieldwork Sessions, frequent classes that range from plant–based dyeing to scent experiences.
Runner-Up: Gallery Route One, Point Reyes Station

Glamping Spot: Safari West
3115 Porter Creek Rd. (Near Franz Valley Rd.), Santa Rosa, 707-579-2551
Consider this: From the private deck of your platform canvas tent, you can scan this nature preserve’s 400-acre savanna plain, populated by lemurs, giraffes, gazelles, and wildebeests—all while swilling a Sonoma chardonnay. The cluster of glamping tents are filled with furniture hand-carved by the owner and king beds with jungle-print sheets, and are strategically set in the middle of the preserve so you’re never far from the action. But if you want to get closer, strap into an open-air jeep for a full tour.
Runner-Up: Steep Ravine Cabins, Mount Tamalpais

 

Eat + Drink

Butcher: Thistle Meats
160 Petaluma Blvd. N. (Near Washington St.), Petaluma, 707-772-5442
You won’t get meat that’s much fresher than what’s available at Petaluma’s whole-animal butchery: It sources almost all of its meats from within a 20-mile radius. Entire (organic!) animals are broken down into common and hard-to-find cuts—from a whole rabbit to lamb neck and pork butt—and there’s a whole case entirely dedicated to housemade charcuterie, terrines, and liver mousse.
Runner-Up: Belcampo Meat Co., Larkspur

Bakery: Wild Flour Bread
140 Bohemian Hwy. (Near Bodega Hwy.), Freestone, 707-874-2938
It’s way off the beaten path (10 bucks says you’ve never even heard of Freestone), but a visit out to Wild Flour is well worth the trek: the bakery’s imperfectly shaped loaves are piled high on a center table, with a wood-fired oven burning just behind. But it’s the baked goods that count: Cakey scones made with whipping cream and chunks of fruit from the orchard; hearty loaves stuffed with pear, fig, and candied ginger; and the coveted sticky buns.
Runner-Up: Bouchon Bakery, Yountville

Wine Country Lunch: Addendum
6476 Washington St. (Near Mission St.), Yountville, 707-944-2487
Thomas Keller made his name with the French Laundry, but he put his mark on the quick-bite market with Addendum. The tiny takeout window behind Ad Hoc serves up innovations like fried chicken brined for 12 hours with crispy thyme and bay leaves and pulled pork on ciabatta bread. All are best consumed in the overgrown yard, where a dozen picnic tables sit among redwoods and raised herb gardens.
Runner-Up: Gott’s Roadside, St. Helena

Dessert: Noble Folk
116 Matheson St. (Near Healdsburg Ave.), Healdsburg, 707-395-4426
Certain desserts fade in and out of vogue (we’re looking at you, macarons), but pie has always been dependable. and Healdsburg’s Noble Folk has a modernized vision of the classic American treat, sourcing most of its ingredients from Sonoma County’s bounty of seasonal fruit. Think silky blood orange buttermilk custard with a light graham cracker–like crust, served by the slice in the sleek white shop. And because it’s not really pie unless it’s served with ice cream, Noble Folk makes ice cream with equally innovative flavors, like orange-clove sherbet and Japanese purple yam.
Runner-Up: Sift Dessert Bar, Multiple Locations

Cheese Shop: Cowgirl Creamery
80 4th St. (Near Shoreline Hwy.), Point Reyes Station, 415-663-9335
Cowgirl Creamery’s reputation has spread far beyond its original outpost in an old Point Reyes Station barn, but the shop remains true to its roots. Cheesemongers behind the glossy case serve up the famous aged cheeses to go with West Marin breads and wines that are stocked in the Cowgirl Cantina deli, providing an impromptu lunch to eat in the shaded picnic area out back. Should you need to walk off some of that Mt. tam triple cream, look to the nearby network of coastal trails.
Runner-Up: Vella Cheese Company, Sonoma

Date Restaurant: Molina
17 Madrona St. (Near Throckmorton Ave.), Mill Valley, 415-383-4200
The North Bay has no shortage of white-linen special-occasion restaurants, but not every date night requires the anniversary experience. Enter Molina, a cozy restaurant in a Swiss chalet–style space (sheepskin throws, exposed rafters) warmed by the glow of the kitchen’s wood-burning oven. Dishes are elegant but far from precious—like succulent angus rib eye with jalapeño chimichurri and beef jus—and are all cooked in the live fire.
Runner-Up: The Girl & The Fig, Sonoma

Wine List: Press
587 St. Helena Hwy. (Near White Ln.), St. Helena, 707-967-0550
Why sit in Highway 29 traffic when you can go to one restaurant in St. Helena with 1,800 Napa wines represented on its list? Press has the most complete selection of Napa wines, not just in the North Bay, but in the world. Bold claim, we know, but the iPad-armed somms can guide you from Stag’s Leap to Coombsville to classic Napa cabs to grenache, and to harder-to-find varietals like vermentino, picpoul, and charbono and vintages dating back to the 1950s.
Runner-up: Cook St. Helena, St. Helena

Winery: Scribe
2300 Napa Rd. (Near Nicholas Rd.), Sonoma, 707-939-1858
There’s no shortage of wineries north of the city, but the ever-pragmatic Scribe winery is a rare breed: Its wines include balanced unfiltered estate pinot noirs and creamy chardonnays; it treats its members to over-the-top pickup (as in picking up your wine) parties; and it hosts dinners in the vineyard with A-list chefs, from the Mission’s Thomas McNaughton to Kyoto’s Masayo Funakoshi.
Runer-Up: Ram’s Gate Winery, Sonoma

Food Delivery: 180Eats
180eats.com
Last year, a busy husband-wife duo decided they were sick of ordering from Marin’s limited, and often unhealthy, meal-delivery options, so they tapped an ex–Google chef, as well as the North Bay’s bounty of organic farms and ranches, and started their own. 180eats now offers a nightly menu with fresh items like soba noodle salad, korean short ribs, and chocolate pots. Oh, and there’s a kids’ option every night, too.
Runner-Up: Jessie et Laurent, San Rafael

 

Shop

Surf Shop: Proof Lab
254-244 Shoreline Hwy. (Near Almonte Blvd.), Mill Valley, 415-380-8900
Strategically situated near the dependable waves of Bolinas, this warehouse-style shop has a main room packed with hundreds of surfboards short and long, from Stewart to Firewire. Go behind the wall of board shorts and you’ll find an impressive skateboard selection as well—plus a graffiti-soaked indoor skate park for when the waves aren’t so good.
Runner-Up: 2 Mile Surf Shop, Bolinas

Bike Shop: Mike’s Bikes
Multiple Locations, mikesbikes.com
When you’re considered the birthplace of mountain biking, you damn well better have some good bike shops. Luckily, none is quite as impressive as the original: Mike’s Bikes, which claims that it sold some of the first mountain bikes in the country, in 1964. With its expertise comes hyper-specificity: the shops are run by bike fiends–cum–docents for the 21 brands of cycles they sell, and they stock everything from simple 6-speeds for tweens itching to hit beginner trails to a $14k Santa Cruz Highball Carbon CC 29 for bombing down Mount Tam.
Runner-Up: A Bicycle Odyssey, Sausalito

Bookstore: Book Passage
51 Tammal Vista Blvd. (Near Wornum Dr.), Corte Madera, 415-927-0960
Corte Madera’s Book Passage offers something that Amazon never could: events that bring books to life. Symposiums and readings with literary heavy- weights like Anne Lamott, Amy Tan, and Michael Chabon often turn into lively discussions, while regular salons and workshops support aspiring writers. oh, and they sell books, too.
Runner-Up: Napa Bookmine, Napa

Shopping Center: Marin Country Mart
2257 Larkspur Landing CIr. (Near Sir Francis Drake Blvd.), Larkspur, 415-461-5700
Marin Country Mart has been re-crafting the mall experience ever since it changed ownership a few years ago. The outdoor shopping center has outposts from Erica Tanov, Unionmade, Hutchinson Fine Jewelry, and SoulCycle (you know, for a casual break from a long day of shopping)—even meat queen Anya Fernald of Belcampo has set up shop. A farmers’ market occupies the courtyard every Saturday, and poetry pop-ups, jazz concerts, and outdoor movie nights make occasional appearances.
Runner-Up: Town Center, Corte Madera

Vintage Home Shop: Artefact Design & Salvage
23562 Arnold Dr. (Near Wagner Rd.), Sonoma, 707-933-0660
In a region dotted with big-name home stores, Artefact Design & Salvage is a rare resource for household quirks. While it garners inspiration from the wine country mansions across the road, it throws in more than enough oddities to keep your curiosity piqued as you navigate the large shop and showroom. Statement pieces span the salvaged-goods spectrum—from animal skulls to vintage fairground rides to, uh, stone phalli.
Runner-Up: Antique Society, Sebastopol

 

Help

Dog Walker: Paw Trekkers
Pawtrekkers.com
Think of Paw Trekkers as the canine equivalent of the double-Dipsea race. Meaning, it’s a dog-walking service for the most adventurous of dogs, with infinite energy to expend on southern Marin’s empty golden hills and coastal trails. Groups stay small (around five dogs), and owners receive a regular stream of photos in their Facebook feed while at work. Paw trekkers will even indulge your dog with manicures and de-shedding treatments.
Runner-Up: Strutt Your Mutt, San Rafael

Florist: Dragonfly Floral
425 Westside Rd. (Near Lucius Way), Healdsburg, 707-433-3739
Forget contrived floral arrangements that make your wedding (or anniversary, or dining table) look like a corporate catalog. This wine country florist uprooted a vineyard in Healdsburg’s Dry Creek Valley and created an organic flower farm that creates unruly yet sophisticated bouquets of unusual seasonal flowers—think sunshine-yellow euphorbias or coral grevilleas accented with figs, unripe blackberries, and herbs.
Runner-Up: Grant Avenue Florist, Novato

Spa: Osmosis
209 Bohemia Hwy. (Near Bodega Hwy.), Freestone, 707-823-8231
Forgo the poshness of infinity pools and steam spas for Osmosis’s unrivaled tranquillity, modeled after Kyoto’s famed gardens. a soothing Japanese cedar enzyme bath awaits in lieu of a hot tub, and outdoor massage pagodas stand in for stuffy windowless treatment rooms. Let it all soak in during a traditional tea service in the private garden.
Runner-Up: Milliken Creek Inn and Spa, Napa

Kids' Camp: Bay Area Discovery Museum
557 McReynolds Rd. (Near East Rd.), Sausalito, baykidsmusuem.com
If you’re not ready for the separation anxiety involved in shipping your kid off for two weeks, try the Bay Area Discovery Museum’s über-specialized programs. The Summer Camp Sampler helps kids answer the age-old question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” treasure hunts kick off the week on Mondays, leading into science-investigation Tuesdays, the highlight of which is animal-pellet dissection. Potential future architects learn tricks to building forts, and little tough Mudders–in–training can conquer obstacle courses.
Runner-Up: Marin Ranch Camp, Petaluma

 

Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco

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