At the junction of Pacific Highway 1 and 101, nestled into the side of Mt Tamalpias is the cute and cozy town of Mill Valley. Considering it’s just a 20-minute drive from the Marina in San Francisco, it’s hard to believe this redwood-filled town is so close to city life. And the ocean for that matter.
Its small-town feel is more reminiscent of the ones you find in the foothills near Tahoe.
Are you planning to spend the day in Mill Valley CA? Check endless possibilities of great things to do in Mill Valley!
Always remember to double-check dates, opening times, and weather conditions before traveling.
Often noted for its low-key celebrity residents such as Robin Williams, Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, and Tom Cruise, just to name a few. But you wouldn’t know it’s such a draw for the infamous when you visit. All you know is that it’s a great little town with some tasty restaurants, cute shops, great trails, and an epic art scene.
So whether it’s just for the day or a quick weekend, here are some of the best things to do when you visit the charming town of Mill Valley.
Incredible things to do in Mill Valley CA
It’s crazy to think that one of the most well-known and visited National Monuments is a quick stop off the PCH 1 and a short drive from the city. Seeing Muir Woods National Park is a must-do for anyone with even the slightest inkling of an appreciation for the outdoors. Some of these ancient coastal redwoods have been standing for over 1200 years. And standing strong.
There are 3 easy paved loop trails to see the woods with many surrounding trails starting from there for the more adventurous hikers. We will talk about that in a second, but first, a few things to know if you plan on putting this outdoor treat into your itinerary.
How to visit Muir Woods
- Make parking reservations beforehand, about 2 weeks ahead if possible. If you do not have a reservation you will be turned away. This doesn’t guarantee an immediate parking spot, so be prepared that you might have to wait for one to open up.
- It will be crowded. Just know that going in. A local once told me that there is no trade secret to when it’s quiet. It’s just that popular. But still totally worth it.
- If you are driving, try going during the weekdays. It’s still busy but there tend to be more spots readily available.
- Shuttles are your friend on the weekend when parking can seem impossible. Check out this link for more information on where to catch them and how to book.
- If you don’t have a car, book a guided tour, it’s the easiest way. As I mentioned in the Ultimate Guide to SF list, this tour of Muir Woods w/ a Wine Tour or something like it is ideal.
You can use Muir Woods as a starting point to some of the most popular trails in the Bay Area or try a few lesser-known ones within Mill Valley CA and Mt. Tam. There is no lack of hiking trails to try, and below are just a few.
I recommend using the Alltrails app for details on starting points and the duration/ease of them. But for a quick list of trails to check out, start here:
Dipsea Trail, Steep Ravine Trail, and Matt Davis Loop
You can make this one as easy or as hard as you like. Done in full it comes in at about 15 miles. There are a few points that can get pretty steep, but the coastal views and magical forest paths can make it very worth it.
The Bootjack Trail
Once you’ve entered the trail from Muir Woods the crowds disappear and this turns into one beautiful hike.
The Tennessee Valley Golden Gate Loop Trail
This is a popular path with great views. It can get a little muddy so wear proper shoes.
Verna Dunshee Trail at Mt Tam East Peak
For an easy but breathtaking trail, drive up to the top and do the short 1+ mile loop around the top of Mt. Tam or just do the Plank Trail for a stunning view of the bay and some proper selfies.
Right off of Highway 1 is this stunning overlook and easy walk to Muir Beach. Dots of history in the ways of old Navy dugouts give you an idea of what it was like for soldiers to keep an eye out for enemy ships after the Pearl Harbor bombing and during the wars.
Easy to get to and lots of parking make this a great checkmark on the list of things to see off the Pacific Coastal Highway 1.
If hiking is not your thing and you are more in the mood to stroll through the streets at a more leisurely pace, then head down to Throckmorton Ave. Small boutiques, cafes, art galleries, and more.
Mill Valley Depot Cafe & Bookstore
Check out the Mill Valley Depot Cafe & Bookstore at 87 Throckmorton Ave Mill Valley, CA 94941. What used to be an old railroad depot is now home to one of the most popular lunch spots in the town.
Art Galleries in Mill Valley
Meander through some of the most gorgeous art galleries dotted throughout the downtown area. The art scene in Mill Valley is strong, and this is apparent as you see one at every turn.
Shop for Home Decor
Refresh your home with inspiration from a multitude of adorable home decor stores downtown. Modern, antiques, french farms are just a few examples. And don’t worry if there isn’t any room in the car, I’m sure they’d be happy to ship it for you.
Add to your Wardrobe
Add to your wardrobe or have your own Julia Roberts “Pretty Woman” moment with the adorable boutiques and clothing stores littered along Throckmorton and the side streets.
- Address: 129 Miller Ave Mill Valley, CA 94941
Another fun shopping experience is to wander around the recently updated Mill Valley Lumber Yard. A historic property turned community gathering spot. With fan favorites like the gluten-free Flour Craft Bakery and Watershed, which focuses on local produce and classic flavors with the backdrop of a creek bubbling underneath.
After eating, roam around some of the shops and dream of revamping your house to look like Martha Stewarts or throwing everything out of your closet and starting over. Or is that just me?
Great Restaurants in Mill Valley
There are definitely more delicious restaurants to try than just the cafes and joints lucky enough to be in the heart of the popular shopping areas. Below is a handful to check out, whether it be for a date night spot or a place to grab a beer and some grub.
One of the best meals I have ever had was a glass of champagne and a ribeye at this steakhouse right off the highway. You can’t miss this mansion of a restaurant nestled into the side of the hill as you head into Mill Valley. A great date spot, it is recommended to make reservations. Visit Website
Hook Fish at Proof Lab Beer Garden
Great seafood and beer (wine & cocktails too). A great spot to fuel up after a hike nearby.
This is the perfect spot to load up before hitting the trails or back on the road. Friendly staff and great eggs benedict.
Did I mention that Mill Valley takes its art scene very seriously? Maybe this is why celebrities tend to be so drawn to the town. Or maybe their presence is what ignites it? What came first, the celebrity or the art, is not what we are here to discuss though. It’s how to enjoy said art scene.
Performance, film, and music are all staples of this small town, due in large part to the passion in which its residents support it, through good times and in bad.
Many theatres and music halls have been on the brink of extension when lo and behold the resident’s rally and fundraise to support an ailing business. And then there is the famous annual Mill Valley Film Festival. An internationally recognized festival that highlights some of the most well know films released every year.
Do your part to support whatever scene you lean towards. Below are a few of the best houses to see a show when visiting.
This venue houses performance art, plays, music, and even a popular comedy show on Tuesday nights. Back in the day, Robin Williams used to pop his head in for a surprise stand-up occasionally.
Cine Arts Sequoia
Get into the film noir mood and see a movie in this cozy theatre that devotes itself to all films “cool”.
Sweetwater Music Hall
*(A personal favorite)
Get your fill of some live music and some great food at this fantastic venue that has housed some of the greatest names in music history. Originally opening in a tiny storefront location in 1972, you can imagine the shows this place has seen. With residents such as Carlos Santana, Bob Weir, and Huey Lewis, it was a mecca for off-the-cuff jam sessions of epic proportions.
After closing its original location, they reopened nearby in what is now known as the Sweetwater Music Hall. Now, not only can you see a great show but you can get dinner in as well at the Rock & Rye. We like to get a couple of appetizers and some cocktails before a show, but you can do a full-on dinner if you like. It’s recommended to make reservations for dinner.
Mountain Play at Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre
See an outdoor play at the Greek-style theatre tucked into the side of Mt. Tamalpais. Shuttles can take you up to the venue if you don’t want to do the walk and make sure to bring layers in case of the coastal fog rolling in. Not only are the plays fantastic but some great outdoor concerts can be seen here.
- Address: 17 Cascade Way Mill Valley, CA 94941
If you are looking for a place for the kids to get some zoomies out, head over to Old Mill Park. This fun and interactive playground has a ton of things for the kids to do, all while being surrounded by gorgeous towering redwood trees. Or let them splash in the nearby creek. Tuck some sandwiches in a bag and make a lunch out of it.
While you are in the neighborhood and you’re into checking out beautiful homes and architecture, then take a walk down Cascade Drive to see how the other half lives. If you prefer to be walking towards something, go check out Cascade Falls and the Three Wells watering hole at the end. A local swimming spot during the hotter months.
Hotels in Mill Valley
Ok, so listing a bunch of places to stay that the tourist board suggests is easy, but I’ve got something a little different to start off the list. And this is the definition of “off the beaten path” as you can get. Hike or bike to the living, working, gas-lit West Point Inn.
West Point Inn
- Address: Fire Road, 100 Old Railroad Grade, Mill Valley, CA 94941
- Booking Details
Its history is fascinating, originally being a stop on the railway, where visitors would stay before continuing via a stagecoach down to Stinson Beach and Bolinas. Now run by members and volunteers, this hikers haven is a must-do for the adventurous.
All food must be brought in and taken, there’s a working kitchen to use, and rooms are simple and modest.
Listed as an easy to moderate hike, be prepared for beautiful views once you reach the inn. Not accessible to cars but there is a designated parking area to leave yours before hiking in.
Mountain Home Inn
- Address: 810 Panoramic Hwy Mill Valley, CA 94941
- Booking Details
If rustic chic is more of what you are looking for, then check out the Mountain Home Inn. Located perfectly for hikers who want to step out the door and begin the hike. Beautiful deck views, a solid menu, and a recently updated interior make this a great place for a pit stop on your road trip down the PCH 1.
- Address: 555 Redwood Hwy Mill Valley, CA 94941
- Booking Details
Essentially the polar opposite of where we started, this clean, modern hotel right on the water’s edge is everything posh and sweet about Mill Valley. Gorgeous views from any room and easy access to the highway, so you can get back on the road to your next destination.
There you have it, tons of fun things to do in Mill Valley, California for a perfect one-day escape or even for a longer visit.