The mostly unglitzy hamlet of Mill Valley seems an unlikely place to see actress Helen Mirren sit down for tea. But when the Mill Valley Film Festival sweeps into town, residents often find themselves elbow to elbow with Hollywood's A-list.
Not that it goes to their heads. "At a lot of film festivals, you get people showing off what they're wearing - or not wearing," says producer-actor-director Sydney Pollack. "Here, you get intelligent people who are interested in really good film."
Mill Valley is 10 miles north of San Francisco in Marin County. From U.S. 101, take the E. Blithedale Ave. exit to Throckmorton Ave. The intersection of Throckmorton and Miller Avenues marks the center of town, which usually buzzes with activity during the festival.
The 30th annual Mill Valley Film Festival Screenings, discussions, and other events at CinéArts at Sequoia Theatre (25 Throckmorton Ave.) and other Marin County venues. INFO: Oct 4-14; advance tickets (from $12) highly recommended; 877/874-6833.
142 Throckmorton Theatre With movie luminaries in town, top-name musicians also convene. Woody Allen tooted his clarinet here recently. INFO: 142 Throckmorton Ave.; 415/383-9600.
Bungalow 44 A bustling neighborhood hangout offers comfort foods like "kickin' fried chicken." INFO: $$; 44 E. Blithedale Ave.; 415/381-2500.
Ora Restaurant Bar & Lounge Sake cocktails, crispy whole sea bass, and five-spice Peking duck are standouts. INFO: $$$; 24 Sunnyside Ave.; 415/381-7500.
Small Shed Flatbreads Exceptional flatbread pizzas with surprising toppings, including walnut-olive pesto and sugar pumpkin. INFO: $$; 17 Madrona St.; 415/383-4200.
Persimmon Intricately dyed silk scarves, 22-karat gold jewelry studded with gems, and lushly embroidered tunics, perfect for a premiere. INFO: 144 Throckmorton Ave.; 415/389-5443.
G2 Mill Valley Travel, home, and fashion accessories, including handbags by Italian designers like Mandarina Duck and Vivia. INFO: Closed Sun; 149 Throckmorton Ave.; 415/388-7741.
Private cottages in the redwoods right downtown are movie-set perfect at the Mill Valley Inn (25 rooms from $189; 415/389-6608). The Pacific Rim-style Acqua Hotel (49 rooms from $159; 415/380-0400) sits on the edge of Richardson Bay and boasts incomparable view of Mt. Tamalpais sunsets.