Hello, sunshine! Foggy August is winding down, with sunnier September right around the corner, just in time for the kids to be back in school and the doldrums of summer’s cut-out-early-Fridays to slip away. So grab these last couple of weekends before Labor Day, sling your sandals and beach towels in the back of the car, and get out of the city in search of sunnier climes.
From Oakland or San Francisco, my vacation compass always points north. Yes, the delights of Pacifica, Pescadero, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Luis Obispo on down to Los Angeles are many, and I’d happily return for a second slice of olallieberry pie at Duarte’s, or another view of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s undulating kelp forest and huge, prehistoric-looking sunfish. But what always lures me to the back roads is the sea-tinged scent of eucalyptus and coastal scrub, and the small farms, quirky towns, and rolling sheep-dotted hills of West Marin. So, 101 North, what have you to offer for the casual daytripper?
For starters, get out of town early, before the bridges and highway are clogged with the rest of the vacationing hordes. A promise of really excellent doughnuts and a superior cappuccino is usually enough to rouse even the most sluggish of un-morning people. A decade or so ago, I was working on a round-up of doughnut shops in the Bay Area for a local magazine. Not a single chocolate-glazed was worth getting up for until my friend Liz, born and bred in Marin, turned me on to her favorite high school hangout, Donut Alley in Larkspur. (The exit was Paradise Drive, easy to remember, for what is paradise but a morning that starts with a perfect doughnut?) I went there and fell in love.
The same guy had been running the place for years. They opened at 6:30am and closed when they ran out of doughnuts, usually before noon. There were no maple-bacon or vegan plum-cardamom doughnuts, just good old old-fashioned old fashioneds, your buttermilk bars and apple fritters and cute, tender, just-sweet-enough cake doughnuts, chocolate-iced, cinnamon-sugared, or pink-sprinkled. Parents came in with their kids for a bag to go; old guys sat around a few Formica tables scattered with copies of the Marin I-J and drank paper cups of coffee from the help-yourself Bun-o-matic machine. And while a recent visit revealed the place to be a little spiffed up (the coffee is organic now, the tables dark wood, and a new blueberry doughnut, made with dried berries, is selling fast), the spirit and doughnuts are exactly the same. Polite kids still point and ask, “Can my little brother have that chocolate one, please?” while their baby sisters squeal for sprinkles and chocolate milk.