By Jane Vick
Oakland is great and all, but the noise and grime of a city can wear on one, and in those moments, I fling myself into my car and retreat to the gently murmuring streets of Corte Madera and Larkspur.
I’m seeking nature, a touch of the nautical, coffee, food, wine and culture. And I find it all, in spades. See below.
Corte Madera is a little town with a lot to offer. I like to start outside, because I don’t get nearly enough outdoor time in the asphalt and streetlights of Oakland. Ring Mountain Preserve off Paradise Drive is a beautiful beginning to any day. Not too trafficked and with spectacular 360 views of the Bay, Ring Mountain is the outside boost everyone needs right now. Rock lovers will enjoy the wide variety of geology to be found, from serpentine to garnet crystal, and birders will appreciate the year-round presence of rock wrens. Doggos, leashed, are welcome.
Nothing hits the spot better than a post-hike brunch. After a few hours cavorting amongst the wildflowers and minerals, I make my way back into town and head for brunch at Pig in a Pickle, a brunch, lunch and dinner spot that more than lives up to its name.
Brunch usually puts me in a sleepy, contemplative mood, optimal for the leisurely perusal of a bookstore. Book Passage is my go-to spot, reminding me of simpler times, when I saw Bill Bryson read from his then new release, Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. It’s a great place to slow down and explore the literary side of life. And Book Passage has an ongoing lineup of author events well worth attending.
Post book shop is an optimal moment to stroll the Northwestern Pacific Railroad trail. It’s a little over a mile, and flat. An easy post-meal walk, built along the railroad tracks.
For some later-in-the evening fun, dinner at Il Fornaio is always tremendous. The fusilloni al pesto e pollo is mouth-watering, as is the ravioli lucana. It’s a dinner spot to enjoy a My Dinner with Andre-like conversation with a friend.
If Italian isn’t on the menu I highly recommend Burmatown, an exceptional mother and daughter-owned Burmese and Asian fusion that I truly die for. The BBQ pork garlic noodles are one for the books.
After dinner, season permitting, I like to participate in one of Corte Madera’s more recent attractions, The Lark Drive In Theater. New as of the pandemic, when the Lark Theater was unable to host in-person events, the drive-in movie theater in Corte Madera Village has become so beloved it’s staying on. Films like Jumanji, Grease, Harry Potter and Indiana Jones all grace the outdoor screen. For some reason, seeing a movie in the car remains one of the best ways to see a movie.
There is a lot to enjoy in the town of Larkspur. If I’m making a day of it, I’ll start with a cappuccino and a pastry or baguette from Emporio Rulli, an Italian-style coffee and pastry bar that transports patrons straight to Europe. Enjoy a bustling morning surrounded by full pastry cases and the whirring of the espresso machine over a book or a newspaper.
Those looking for the outdoors, as I often am, can take their coffee to one of the many delightful parks Larkspur has to offer, including Piper Park, a personal favorite, a 2.2 acre park that offers sports and activities year-round. I’m a tennis and pickleball fan myself, and often make use of the courts with friends on a weekend.
The more bookish and those who appreciate history will enjoy exploring the Larkspur Library, which was founded in 1913 by the Larkspur Women’s Club and is represented by “Larky,” their “book-devouring” hippopotamus mascot.
History buffs or just the curious are also encouraged to take a self-guided walking tour of the town, using a book entitled Larkspur Past and Present: A History and Walking Guide. Part of Larkspur’s downtown has been designated a state and city historic district, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its untarnished turn-of-the-century California architecture. This is a delightful sojourn through the confluence of California past and present.
One such historical landmark is the Lark Theater, which produces the Lark Drive-In in Corte Madera. The theater itself is a refurbished building from 1936 which looks and feels as deco as it has ever been, from the red velvet seats to the art deco murals.
In terms of food, there’s no shortage in the little town of Larkspur. Live opera screenings from the Met, as well as current films and musical programming, can all be found there, and the popcorn never fails to delight.
Dinner-wise, Larkspur leaves nothing lacking, and my favorite spot to stop, pre- or post-show at the Lark, is Farmshop. Revel in their wild mushroom pizza or buttermilk fried jidori chicken. Always fresh and sourced from a farmers’ market, Farmshop is a Marin County jewel of which we’re all proud.
The Larkspur Ferry is a delightful way to head to the city, for those looking to expand their sojourn into San Francisco. Enjoy stunning views of the bay, and purchase a bag of peanut M&Ms to take to the top deck.