For Benicians looking for an off-the-beaten-path half-day or day trip, Fairfax, CA is a gem of a small town in Marin County, nestled between the green hills beneath Mount Tam, about 15 minutes west of the 101 freeway. With a population of only 7,500 and ordinances against chain stores, the town, which was incorporated in 1931 but settled in the 1800s, retains its unique historical charm. According to town-of-fairfax.org, “the Art Deco era movie theater is the centerpiece of a vibrant nightlife with top-notch restaurants and well-known clubs with venues for jazz and other popular music.”
Fairfax’s historical heritage also involves one-time popularity with the Grateful Dead and their followers, highlighted by a mid-1960’s softball game between the Dead and Jefferson Airplane at the downtown baseball field. Today, its demographics include the highest number of green party voters in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as avid hikers mountain bikers. The Fairfax website touts the town as a hiking and biking Mecca, surrounded by committed open space and a nature preserve, with miles of hiking trails on all sides.
Visitors enjoy the bucolic setting tucked away from urban activity, world-class eateries, small-town charm and surprisingly happening nightlife. If you plan a day-trip, stop by the Good Earth Natural Foods on your way into town for daily specials prepared in their own kitchen, which includes organic sandwiches, taqueria, pizza, salad bar & hot bar, soup, stew and chowder, and deli case specials. Take your food to go and head to the reservoirs above town for a picnic and walk around Lake Lagunitas, or try out one of 37 hiking trails. If you’re feeling more low-key, eat your lunch in downtown’s Bolinas Park, which has a lovely grassy area in front and a small stand of redwoods in back. Then take in the shops downtown and stop in the tiny ice cream store, The Scoop, which makes 100 rotating flavors of all-organic ice cream using Strauss Family Creamery cream base and locally sourced ingredients. Be prepared for lines out the door.
If you’re sticking around for dinner, Iron Springs Brewery has the highest-quality pub-grub around. If you’re craving aromatic spices, Café Lotus has world-class, authentic, organic Indian dining with gluten-free options. Set behind the main drag against a backdrop of trees, with mystical lighting, Sorella Caffe’s seafood and traditional Italian fare will make you feel like you’re lost in Italy.
For the best nightlife, take in a show at the movie theater or go to Peri’s Bar (where the locals hang out) or 19 Broadway for live music and drinks. Both venues book acts most nights of the week. Peri’s features seasonal music on the patio Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and 19 Broadway features music in genres ranging from “dance-hall and roots to blues, funk, rock, soul, Americana and jazz, and a diverse range of international, regional and local artists.”
And if you want to soak up the community vibe, Fairfax has the most adorable seasonal Farmer’s Market in Bolinas Park, Wednesdays 4-8pm.