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Place Oddities

Quirky North Bay adventures to satisfy your inner resident tourist

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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, 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.

EXPOSE YOURSELF TO MAGIC

Lucky Mojo is a trip in every possible way. Tucked away in a magical grove, this is a pocket of quirkiness in the middle of an otherwise sleepy town, a store filled to the brim with objects of magic, spirituality and hoodoo. The shop—packed with talismans, 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 important, leave with a souvenir, as tourists do. 6632 Covey Road, Forestville. 707.887.1521. luckymojo.com.

EAT AMAZING AVOCADO TOAST IN A PARKING LOT

The Lonely Planet guides 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 sublime avocado square ($4.50), half an avocado sliced with surgical 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. 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 there to feel special. Sneak in and pose on the terrace—that's adventurous enough. 9870 Hwy. 1, Olema. 415.663.8727. olemadruidshall.com.

LOCAL YOKEL  No need to leave town when the North Bay offers such an abundance of sights, flavors and experiences.
  • LOCAL YOKEL No need to leave town when the North Bay offers such an abundance of sights, flavors and experiences.

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, 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." 307 Mountain Ave., Sonoma. handmade-events.com.

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 a weird, abandoned building on Highway 116. The building, carrying signs signifying that it used to host Guayakí 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 Road, Sebastopol.

TAKE A TRAM TO A WINERY

Winetasting is a pretty standard affair in wine country, sure—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 live 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 ride alone is pure gold. 1111 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga. sterlingvineyards.com.

FIND YOURSELF IN AGUA CALIENTE

The eastbound ride on Highway 12 toward 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, an expected 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 GARDEN

Botanical gardens are often urban oases ideal for disconnecting from the surrounding city. The 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. 12841 Sonoma Hwy., Glen Ellen. 707.996.3166. quarryhillbg.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 a historical and 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. 105 Seminary Road, San Anselmo. 415.451.2836. sfts.edu.

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 costume and cheery dancing await. 30 Ridge Ave., Mill Valley. 415.388.9987. touristclubsf.org.

ALTER ALTAR Step into Forestville’s Lucky Mojo and pick up candles and talismans for a shrine all your own.
  • ALTER ALTAR Step into Forestville‚Äôs Lucky Mojo and pick up candles and talismans for a shrine all your own.

POSE WITH A LIGHTHOUSE

There's something about lighthouses that instantly screams "vacation!" Unlike the Point Reyes Lighthouse, Sausalito's Point Bonita 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. Once at the lighthouse, visitors enjoy familiar California views of endless blue water. But it's the journey to this point that matters. 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. Highway One between Jenner and Bodega Bay.

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