Most people drive through Fairfax on their way to Point Reyes or other coastal attractions, but it's high time this small town at the foot of Mount Tamalpais became a destination of its own. It may be small in acreage and population, but Fairfax is chock-full of outdoor pursuits, browse-worthy shops, hip cafes and live music hot spots that resound every night of the week.
It's the total package: The town nestles against a backdrop of rolling hills, watershed reservoirs and the mighty mountain. Trails wend their way past streams and through groves of redwood, oaks and madrone. After your hike, head for the tiny downtown, which brims with craft shops, art galleries and boutiques. Some time-travel to the '60s with tie-dyed decor and incense-infused air; others embrace the present with the work of local artists.
Sip some joe -- or a local craft brew. Brunch, lunch or dine. Then take in a show -- Fairfax's bars, clubs and concert venues have served up live music every single night for the last 30 years.
Here's how to spend a perfect day in this hidden gem of a town.
In the early morning chill, throngs of cyclists congregate outside the Fairfax Coffee Roastery for a preride latte or high octane espresso. Fairfax's claim as the birthplace of mountain biking is hardly surprising. Those gorgeous trails draw hikers, cyclists and languid strollers alike. So follow their lead: java, then trail.
Part of the Mount Tamalpais watershed, Bon Tempe and Lagunitas lakes both offer a sense of wilderness adventure, as if you were in some distant mountain town, rather than minutes from lattes. The reservoirs and their connecting trails offer a multitude of hiking options, including a short, scenic 1.5-mile walk and a 3-mile loop hike between both lakes.
Bon Tempe's low water line offers a stark reminder of California's ongoing drought, but its bright blue water and scenic vistas -- and the occasional great blue heron on food-alert -- retain their beauty. Lagunitas Lake seems relatively untouched by climate concerns, at least from the vantage point of the forest-edged lake trail -- used by hikers and bicyclists alike. Take a break on a picnic bench in the shade of the towering redwoods and listen to the birds and rustling breezes.
There are several good reasons to hike early in the day: that cool morning air and the prospect of brunch afterward. My post-hike hunger propelled me back to town, where the The Hummingbird and its New Orleans-style menu drew me in. The cafe does a brisk business in sugar-dusted beignets, crawfish omelets and po'boys, as well as classic American diner fare, such as the Fairfax Sunrise Breakfast -- eggs, bacon, a pancake and hash browns.
Sated, I headed out for a little boutique browsing, starting at Herban Garden, where the eco-friendly, fair-trade and vintage goods include soft cotton sari quilts and chic Nepalese leather-hemp messenger bags.
Nearby at the Potting Shed, succulents share cozy indoor and outdoor spaces with home and garden decor. Tiny translucent shells filled with budding air plants looked like little works of art.
Antiques mingle with the work of local artists at Trouve, and contemporary pieces -- graphic, modern laser-cut jewelry, for example -- coexist with old-school works, like the framed retro photographs of ethereal, misty forest scenes.
Be sure to check out the huge Garage, where the philosophy (repurpose, up-cycle and add whimsy) results in an eclectic collection of quirky items outdoors and an interior filled with locally made goods.
If you're out with the kids, stop by Peri Park, where imaginative play structures rule the day, then surrender to the inevitable. Everyone, it seems, has ice cream. You should too. So head to the closet-sized home of Fairfax Scoop, where addictively crunchy waffle cones hold scoops of house-made organic ice cream, flavored with local ingredients. May I suggest the vanilla with honey and lavender?
Beer, wine and music
It's a rare grown-up who doesn't love ice cream, but if you're looking for a more adult repast, Gestalt Haus should be your next stop. You can savor some great sausages, choose from 20 beers on tap and hang out with cyclists swapping "where did you bike today" tales.
At 123 Bolinas, locally sourced artisanal fare -- food, wine and craft beer -- is served in a rustic chic space with white oak trusses, beams and barn siding.
You'll find music of every variety, from rock, blues and funk to jazz, reggae and world music at Fairfax nightclubs, such as 19 Broadway, Peri's Silver Dollar Bar and the Sleeping Lady, where a recent Saturday afternoon gig featured a ukulele band. You're as likely to find Euro-gypsy as soul music at Peri's, and 19 Broadway boasts live music -- jazz, rock and more -- nearly every night.
Whatever you choose, it's the perfect way to end a perfectly charming day.
IF YOU GO
Fairfax Coffee Roastery: 4 Bolinas Road
Hummingbird Cafe: 57 Broadway Blvd., http://bit.ly/HummingbirdCafe
Gestalt Haus: 28 Bolinas Road, http://bit.ly/GestaltHaus
123 Bolinas: 123 Bolinas Road, www.123bolinas.com
Fairfax Scoop: 63 Broadway Blvd., http://bit.ly/FairfaxScoop
The Sleeping Lady: 23 Broadway Blvd., www.sleepingladyfairfax.com
The Herban Garden: 15 Bolinas Road, www.theherbangarden.net
The Potting Shed: 55A Bolinas Road, www.potting-shed.com
Trouve Art & Antiques: 51 Bolinas Road, www.trouvestudio.com
The Garage: 2000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., www.thefairfaxgarage.com
Bon Tempe and Lagunitas lakes are part of the Mount Tamalpais watershed and can be accessed through the Sky Oaks Watershed Headquarters (49 Sky Oaks Road, www.marinwater.org). No swimming or wading. Parking is $8 per vehicle. Find a trail map at www.mappery.com/Mt-Tamalpais-Watershed-Trail-Map.