(Above): Majestic redwoods are found everywhere in Fairfax. [Al Auger]
When I first moved to the hamlet of Fairfax, in the renowned Northern California riches of Marin County, I followed my usual program when first visiting an unknown locale: Find a corner of local activity and observe. This took me to the Coffee Roastery, a “hangout” where the inhabitants indulge in exotic coffee refreshments, fair-trade coffee from around the world, light food offerings and seductive pastries. Some five days later, sipping on a double macchiato, a sudden revelation enveloped me. I thought, “this is a strange arrangement. This isn’t Marin County, this is Berkeley.”
Ah, yes; Berkeley, the mythical Mecca of Beatkniks, Hippies, artists, musicians, poets, etc. And here I sat, in one of the richest counties in the country, surrounded by gray-haired ponytails and faded tie-dyes of aging Deadheads, teen-aged Goths, nascent and hopeful writers, artists and, at times, familiar faces of famed musicians, such as Joan Baez visiting her son, and followers – both successful and nascent – of the many genres of the art world, escaping the mythic hot tub and peacock feather provenance of inner Marin. The small town of Fairfax seems to draw people from around the world and often found in the Roastery. I’ve met so many visitors from different areas of Europe, many from villages I’ve visited, who have discovered Fairfax through local friends or from recommendations, they check us out before going home.
Claudette, a comely lass from Provence in France, was studying for a music degree at the College of Marin, identifies with these visitors and immigrants. “I was first looking at San Francisco, of course,” she noted. “It is a city everyone at my village told me to see and, possibly live. It is everything they said it was and expensive, but I wanted to find a place where I could find the small town ambiance of my home.” With a small smile, Claudette said it was many of her college friends who suggested Fairfax. She bolstered my concept of Fairfax with her comment, “It (Fairfax) was the perfect answer.”
(Above): The Coffee Roastery where the Fairfax elite meet to enjoy coffee creations, light food and tasty treats. [Al Auger]
Still, there are the objects of Marin wealth and education; the streets are filled with logos of Mercedes-Benz, Porsches, BMWs, Toyota Prius’ and mid-crisis Miata sports cars. One day, sitting at the Roastery window, I eyed two new Ferraris within minutes of each other. These are just a few of the icons that make funky Fairfax such a fascinating and ever-changing place. At the end of Broadway Street is the Fairfax Cinema that offers first-run movies in a 6-screen venue all-day and night. Considered the birthplace of mountain biking, a dedicated Hall of Fame is currently being created in the town center.
One of the great conundrums of Fairfax, is how a population of 7,500 can keep the numerous restaurants and saloons (for lack of a better definition) operating nearly 24/7. The three lounges stand should-to-shoulder on Broadway with a mélange of music that spans every genre of popular music one can imagine. From rock ’n roll, blues, jazz, pop, reggae, hip-hop, vocalists and even weekly banjo and mandolin concerts. The sounds fill the air afternoons and evenings with well-attended sets.
The international palette of Fairfax is well cared for by cuisine artists of perennial award-winners Lotus Café, Fradelizio‘s Italian Ristorante and Michelin-worthy Sorella’s. Down-home worldly comfort food can be found at Avatar for Punjab burritos, Barefoot Café, the Hummingbird serving Beignets to Gumbo to Po’boy favorites from New Orleans and Thai delicacies can be enjoyed at Siam Lotus. These are but a few of the long list of food palaces in Fairfax and nearby areas.
(Above): Hunger for a juicy hamburger and cold beer is slaked at the M&G. [Al Auger]
Not only are these the “place to be” and to run into friends and families, but the owners and staffs are as much a part of this organic mix. At the Roastery the faces behind the counter, Poppie, Jojo the Mojo, el Jefe and the others, greet the regulars with a smile and a “so what’s new, amigo?” Polly, owner of the Fairfax Variety – shades of the five-and-dime of yore, needs no rolodex to put a face and name together. Enter Fradelizio’s and meet the wide grin of Laura, the weekend hostess.
Shopping is as instinctive in a village as in a big city, only different. This is illustrated with a stroll down Broadway and Bolinas streets, the two shopping avenues of Fairfax. Not a franchised sign to be seen; neighbor-owned shops ranging from consignment purveyors of fashionable “one-more-time” fashions, boutiques of sensible to the out of the ordinary, unusual gifts and so much more to tantalize your good (or outrageous) taste. If you’re a deeply entrenched vegan or organic-minded, there is the newly enlarged Good Earth Market where you can’t leave disappointed. The family-owned Fairfax Market is the only grocery game in town. For a colorful and tactile delight step into the exotic world of soft silks, vibrant toppers, fun hats and jewelry at Tibet Moon. Just a few minutes strolling through the aisles while breathing in the soothing aroma of the East and you‘re enveloped by the far-away lands in the shadow of the soaring Himalayas.
So like the villages of New England and Europe is the center-piece of this coming together of this environmental and people magic, the weekly seasonal Farmer’s Market. Farmers from the outer limits of the County bring their fresh vegetables and fruits, artists and artisans nestle beneath the towering redwoods proudly show their works of jewelry, crystal, sculptures and more. Local food, beer and wine vendors offer the hungry masses surcease from pangs of hunger and thirst after hard-core negotiating prices.
(Above): The “Bubble Man” is always a favorite. [Al Auger]
Come the soft summer breezes of June and the annual Fairfax Festival and EcoFest is on the weekend front burner. This is the village’s most dramatic and waited-for event of the year. For two days, woodsy Bolinas Park, the cavernous Pavilion and Contratti Park is alive with the vibes of revelers, children, music, vendors of hand-crafted jewelry, sculptures, paintings, beautifully created clothing, emollients and lotions to pander the skin, and the beat goes on and on. Artists and artisans from every corner of Marin County converge on the biggest free party of the year.
The merriment actually begins Friday night with a free film in Contratti Park Ball field. This year the feature was the award-winning Pixar animated film “Up.” Saturday is the official opening of the Festival with the traditional parade down Broadway. Parade Grand Marshal, by unanimous choice was Phyllis Gould, of Fairfax. Gould is a reminder of the women who stepped up to take over the job of producing the needs of our World War II troops. Nicknamed Rosie the Riveter after the celebrated icon of WWII, Gould worked in the Sausalito shipyards and recently led a contingent of surviving “Rosie Riveters” on a trip to the White House as guests of vice-president Joe Biden.
(Above): Cuddly, furry “monsters” enthrall the children at the Fairfax Festivities. [Al Auger]
In the Pavilion the EcoFest theme is broadly played with organic health foods, products and information for eco-friendly farming and gardens. And, most colorfully, a step in the always-present past with vividly imaged peasant dresses, tie-dye fashions and the ubiquitous crystal in lovingly formed neckwear, bracelets and rings. Behind the Pavilion people relax with a cool beverage and listen to the folk music, soft rock and world music of local groups.
A few steps away is, without a doubt, the most entertaining part of the festivities. The complete park and ball-yard is turned over to the children – of all ages. Games, face-painting, palettes to explore your colorful artistic-bent, a magician, puppets, rides and, most indulgent, are the antics of the children glorifying in a world made just for them. And, as always the star is whom I call the “Bubble Man.” He fills the sky with giant, vibrant and shimmering bubbles to the delight of the children attempting to capture his ephemeral creations. Soon to follow is the annual downtown exhibition of vintage and classic automobiles, hot rods and motorcycles.
(Above): Bicycle Patio is a colorful and resting place for warm, sunny days. [Al Auger]
Living in Fairfax brings back the memories of the years traveling the backroads of Europe, discovering the close-knit world of hamlets and the people who put the darkness of the outside world aside. Their world is one of neighbors, friends and life to be lived and indulged. And, while the inhabitants of Fairfax are as geopolitically sophisticated and hardworking as you can imagine, they still ply their hopes over a laptop at the Roastery, relax on a bench outside the Scoop gossiping with neighbors while slurping a homespun ice cream cone or indulging their basic instincts for a juicy burger at M&G Burgers.
While small-town environments such as Fairfax are a fading breed in the U.S., mauled by the hammers and saws of the capitalists and politicians, Fairfax is an irreplaceable township. It is a domain to be experienced, to be visited; an extraordinary vista spilling over with so many seductions (see sidebar) for the soul and mind.
WHEN YOU’RE HERE
LOCATION: Fairfax is approximately 3-miles from San Rafael on Sir Francis Drake Blvd.
TRANSPORTATION: Golden Gate Transit is operated by the Golden Gate Bridge Authority. The agency operates a bus system covering not only Marin County, but reaches Santa Rosa in Sonoma County plus a well-defined commute to and from San Francisco and the East Bay communities Ferries from Larkspur and Sausalito augments the San Francisco commute plus all-day service. Alternate system, colloquially-called “The Stagecoach” serves most areas in the county and the outer corners of Sir Francisco Drake Highway and Highway One such as Point Reyes Station, Inverness. Etc.
NATURAL WONDERS: Surrounding Fairfax are a virtual world of wonders to pleasure the soul. Point Reyes National Seashore, hiking, biking and horseback riding on the myriad of trails that lace Mt. Tam and Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Meditate at the internationally renown Spirit Rock, a spiritual center for meditation, retreat and teaching. Take a stroll to the many lakes and waterfalls that abound nearby. Experiences not only to enjoy, but remember.