Feature: Place oddities

Quirky North Bay adventures to satisfy your inner resident tourist

By Flora Tsapovsky

Call it “post-travel optimism:” You come back from a successful trip abroad, and vow to make your everyday routine every bit as exciting as the vacation that just ended. You make a promise to yourself to explore, step out of the comfort zone and be a curious tourist in your own town—on a daily basis. And then life happens, and it’s all back to normal.

Being a resident tourist doesn’t mean every adventure has to be grand and magnificent. An outing could take the form of a tiny detour on the way home from work, a whimsical day trip around the corner, or a photo snapped in your own neighborhood. Hidden spots and unlikely destinations are all around us—you just have to take a closer look, and do the following things as soon as possible.

Eat amazing avocado toast in a parking lot

Lonely Planet guides to trips abroad often send you to nondescript locations, promising mind-blowing local fare. Here’s a similar scenario: Go to the busy Safeway parking lot in Mill Valley and look for Juice Girl, a tiny juice shop abundant with smiling, catalogue-worthy families. When there, request the $4.50 avocado square, and you’ll be served what is arguably the best avocado toast in the county; half an avocado sliced with medical precision and served on a thick slab of crispy homemade bread, drizzled with garlic oil and spicy salt. Add a squirt of lemon, and California bliss is guaranteed.

Juice Girl, 45 Camino Alto Ave., Mill Valley; 415/322-6160; juicegirlmv.com.

Take a peek at a mystery hotel

Druids Hall, Olema’s historic structure (built in 1885), is the stuff local tourism is made of. Hidden behind a leafy trail, its white facade and impressive architecture have otherworldly appeal, and the recent takeover and renovation by the owners of the neighboring Sir and Star restaurant only benefited the landmark. Druids Hall is now a hotel, but no need to stay here to feel special. Sneak in and pose on the terrace—that’s adventurous enough.

Druids Hall, 9870 Shoreline Highway One, Olema; 415/663-1034; olemadruidshall.com.

Expose yourself to magic

Lucky Mojo is a trip in every possible way. Tucked away in a magical grove, this store is a pocket of quirk and oddity in the middle of an otherwise sleepy town, filled to the brim with objects of magic, spirituality and hoodoo. The shop—packed with talismans and sexually explicit candles and potions, among other things—is transformative; you lose all sense of time and space while familiarizing yourself with the goods. The garden around Lucky Mojo, complete with a fortune teller’s hut, is worth a stroll. Most importantly, leave with a souvenir, as tourists do.

Lucky Mojo, 6632 Covey Rd., Forestville; 707/887-1521; luckymojo.com.

Attend a fancy pop-up dinner

The joy of the pop-up is not limited to visits to exciting European capitals. Right here at home, Sonoma’s Hand Made Events is the creation of Garrett Sathre and Nicole Benjamin-Sathre, a stylish couple who specialize in cool pop-up dinners in unlikely spots in cities across the country. Their San Francisco and Sonoma events sell out long in advance and include lifestyle connoisseurs dressed in all white, dinner under the stars and other gimmicks designed to make for an unforgettable evening. Tickets are still available for the next Wine Country pop-up on Saturday, June 18, and include “early location reveal.”

Hand Made Events, 307 Mountain Ave., Sonoma; handmade-events.com.

Drink beer in Bavaria

Everyone loves hiking Mount Tamalpais, but have you ever been to the Nature Friends Tourist Club, settled in a Bavarian lodge on its slope? The adventure starts with a hike and ends with an ornamental alpine lodge, home of the Vienna-originated club. Although members only, the nature-appreciation club does sell beer to visitors, and its website announces annual festivals and events, which make the location feel even more European. The biggest of them, Maifest, is coming up on May 15—German food, traditional costumes and cheery dancing await.

Nature Friends Tourist Club, 30 Ridge Ave., Mill Valley; 415/388-9987; touristclubsf.org.

Dive into history

When traveling, monumental buildings and grand spaces play an important role in atmospheric build-up. The San Francisco Theological Seminary serves this purpose very well, surrounding the visitor with historic, spiritual atmosphere. Located on a hill overlooking Mount Tamalpais, the Presbyterian facility looks like it’s been cut out of a children’s book, in the best possible way. The seminary consists of numerous Victorian buildings, gardens and a castle, all built in 1892. The 14-acre property is big enough for a lengthy stroll, and feels unlike anything else in Marin County.

San Francisco Theological Seminary, 105 Seminary Rd., San Anselmo; 415/451-2800; sfts.edu.

Document a creepy roadside attraction

The best thing about traveling is often the lack of context: The building you’re marveling at might be an important landmark, or a totally meaningless structure—you never know. Enjoy a similar feeling at this weird Highway 116 sight. The abandoned building, carrying signs signifying that it used to host Guayaki Yerba Mate and Kalani Organic Coffee, is now a crumbling labyrinth of sealed doors and windows, decorated brightly in chalk and paint and projecting a somewhat creepy anarchist vibe reminiscent of Copenhagen’s commune of Freetown Christiania. Is it a squat? A local Clarion Alley? One thing is certain: It’s available for wild and fun photo sessions.

Gravenstein Highway and Bloomfield Rd., Sebastopol.

Take a tram to a winery

Winetasting is a pretty standard affair in wine country. But a ride up a mountain, on a tram that leads to the winery? Now, that’s a weekend upgrade. For $30, Sterling Vineyards offers exactly that, and then some: A thrilling ride on a tram while you rub elbows with real tourists, enjoy killer views of the valley and a tour of the whole place, glass of wine in hand. Not your average wine experience, and the tram alone is pure experience gold.

Sterling Vineyards, 1111 Dunaweal Ln., Calistoga; sterlingvineyards.com.

Find yourself in Agua Caliente

The ride on Highway 12 towards Sonoma is classic California—luxury homes, rolling hills, wineries and restaurants aplenty. Suddenly, the view changes dramatically and you find yourself in Mexico. Welcome to Agua Caliente, a strange little town, population 4,500, half of which is Latino. Signs in Spanish, storefronts displaying quinceañera dresses, taco joints and a general sense of another country are all around—no plane ticket needed.

Agua Caliente, Highway 12.

Disconnect at the botanical gardens

Botanical gardens are oftentimes urban oases ideal for disconnecting from the surrounding city. Quarryhill Botanical Garden in Glen Ellen is the perfect spot, and it hosts one of the world’s largest collections of wild-collected Asian plants, from Chinese roses to Japanese Stewartia trees. Picturesque and serene, the garden is great for soul-searching, pondering and other activities that we often save for solo trips.

Quarryhill Botanical Garden, 12841 Hwy. 12, Glen Ellen; 707/996-3166; quarryhillbg.org.

Pose with a lighthouse

There’s something about lighthouses that instantly screams vacation. Unlike the Point Reyes Lighthouse, Sausalito’s Point Bonita Lighthouse is less famous, less toured and therefore, way more romantic and charming. The third lighthouse ever built on the West Coast is accessible by a dramatic tunnel followed by a bridge over a rock—both highly Instagrammable. Once at the lighthouse, visitors enjoy familiar California views of endless blue water. But it’s the journey to this point that matters.

Point Bonita Lighthouse, Fort Barry, Building 948, Sausalito; nps.gov.

Buy salmon from a stranger

What could be more touristy than trusting street food? In Jenner, this becomes especially tempting thanks to the Salmon Man, a local staple named Greg Brummett, who smokes his own salmon and makes excellent fish jerky. On weekends, Brummett can be found on Highway 1 between Jenner and Bodega Bay, selling his salty snack out of a colorful minivan. Every package of jerky is accompanied by lively stories and a dose of Brummett’s personality, making this a local must-stop.

Salmon Man, Highway 1 between Jenner and Bodega Bay.

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