Don't pass by the hills of San Geronimo Valley

Giacomini Preserve Yellow Door Cafe Open space at Gary Giacomini Preserve; lunchtime at the Yellow Door Cafe; snacks to go at the Lagunitas Grocery.
Lagunitas Grocery

To my mind, spring starts when the wildflowers appear atRoy's Redwoods Open Space Preserve in San Geronimo Valley. When Iwas growing up, my friends and I used to mark the season's launchby the first day we could picnic here.

The 5 1/2-mile-long San Geronimo Valley, over White Hill west ofFairfax in Marin County, sees many visitors briefly as they whizthrough on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard en route to Point ReyesNational Seashore. But the towns lined up here - Woodacre, SanGeronimo, Forest Knolls, and Lagunitas - make nice destinations ontheir own.

After you top White Hill and head west, the fields framed byrolling green hills signify that you've left the urban side ofMarin behind. Start a valley visit at Roy's Redwoods Open SpacePreserve (entrance off Nicasio Valley Rd., 1/2 mile north of Sir FrancisDrake Blvd.). You'll find an open meadow, shade under theredwood trees, and trails leading over the hills for out-and-backhikes. For picnic fixings, stop en route at the Woodacre CountryMarket & Deli ($; 175 San Geronimo Valley Dr.; 415/488-9064).

To the south, along San Geronimo Ridge, you can hike for days inthe vast Gary Giacomini Open Space Preserve (in Woodacre, take Railroad Ave. to Carson Rd., then head westup to Conifer Way). Though trailheads can be tricky to find,the preserve is worth seeking out for hikes through grassy fieldsthe color of gold.

For art shows as well as local history and information, pop intothe San Geronimo Valley Cultural Center (6350 Sir Francis Drake; www.sgvcc.org or415/488-9385). Hearty meals can be found at the Yellow DoorCafe ($$; closed Mon-Wed; 7282 Sir Francis Drake; 415/488-0311)and Two Bird Café at the Valley Inn ($$$; closed Mon-Tue; 625 San Geronimo Valley Dr.;415/488-0105), where there's live music on weekends. Finally,at the Lagunitas Grocery ($; 7290 Sir Francis Drake; 415/488-4844), order amilkshake, my favorite post-hike treat, to savor the flavor ofyouth and spring.

To the valley
San Geronimo Valley is 20 miles northwest of San Francisco;from U.S. 101, take Sir Francis Drake Blvd. west. www.marinopenspace.orgor 415/499-6387.

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