Northside SF
Common Knowledge
The Bay Area Fun Belt
When she’s not giving financial planning advice, Cathy Curtis searches for and enjoys the Bay Area’s best organic and independent restaurants and food producers. photo: Beth Byrne

After the fall of the Soviet Union, a new Russian term came into vogue: “the near afar.” It referred to those newly independent countries bordering the Russian Federation, at once close by and yet more distant than before because they were no longer part of the same empire.

In the Bay Area, our “near afar” is a stunning belt of hills, wine country, farms, and small towns that girdles our metropolis, and getting there is quite easy. Knowing how to make the most of your time there can be a challenge, so I turned to an expert. When Cathy Curtis is not busy with her duties as the owner of Curtis Financial Planning, she volunteers at The Commonwealth Club as chair of our Bay Gourmet Forum, and she also leads groups of travelers on day trips and slightly longer visits to exciting destinations in the near afar.
Visit the Marin French Cheese Company in Petaluma for tours, tastings and picnics. photo: Courtesy of

I asked Curtis to share with Northside San Francisco readers some tips for finding great local getaways. From her choices of places and experiences, you can gather a sense of Curtis’s passions for sustainable agriculture and healthful living.

Bay Area features people generally don’t know about: “The gorgeous beaches of San Mateo County on a hot day. The sand is white, the seaside cliffs majestic, and you can walk for miles.” Curtis suggests visits to Mavericks Beach if you’re into surfing; other good spots include Francis, Venice and Dunes beaches. But it’s not all about the water and sand: “Stop at Princeton Seafood to buy fresh fish. Enjoy a glass of wine or beer [while you’re] wrapped up in blankets on the patio at the Moss Beach Distillery, or enjoy a delicious organic meal at Cafe Gibraltar.” She warns that traffic can be “horrendous” and urges visitors to plan on arriving and leaving at off-peak times.

Tips for someone who doesn’t know the area well, but who still wants to get out of San Francisco and explore nearby towns and countryside: “Take a culinary tour of West Marin. Search the Internet for dairy farms – cow, goat and sheep – that give tours. Stop at Nicasio Valley Cheese Company and taste the delicious fresh cheese. Have a picnic on the grounds of Marin French Cheese Company, where you can buy your picnic goodies. Enjoy fresh oysters at Tamales Bay Oyster Company. Have dinner at Osteria Stellina in Point Reyes Station, and be sure to stop at Cow Girl Creamery to taste cheese. Visit Pey-Marin Winery’s tasting room for delicious Pinot Noir.”

Her favorite Bay Area escape for a day or a weekend: “Wine tasting in and around the town of Healdsburg – Dry Creek, Alexander and Russian River Valleys. You can find spectacular Zinfandels and Pinot Noirs. It is some of the most beautiful, unspoiled countryside in the world.” She suggests starting out in the town of Healdsburg with a coffee and fruit galette at the Downtown Bakery & Creamery, or perhaps coffee and pastry at The Flying Goat Cafe.

“Forage for a high-quality selection of picnic foods at Oakville Grocery, then head out on the country roads to visit the many small, many times family-owned wineries of the region.” If you’re looking to stock up on some of these wines, she highlights J Vineyards & Winery for its Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and sparkling wine; Truett-Hurst for Zinfandels; Richioli for Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc; Michel-Schlumberger for Syrah, Pinot Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Then finish your day by having dinner in Healdsburg at Barndiva, “or for a big splurge, Cyrus. Roam around the square, stopping in at upscale boutiques, art galleries and funky shops.”

Places she takes out-of-towners on their first visit to the Bay Area: Over to Marin County for “lunch in Tiburon on the patio at Guaymas, or a hike and picnic on Mount Tamalpais. Coffee on the patio of the Depot Bookstore and Cafe in Mill Valley.”

Place she would like to visit but hasn’t. Even Curtis hasn’t been everywhere. “I have never been to the redwood forests of Mendocino County. I would love to hike there. I’ve heard that it is the most incredibly peaceful place. I can imagine laying down and just staring up at the trees.”

Curtis is a San Francisco native who now lives in the Oakland Hills with her husband. So while she tries to fit a trip to the redwoods into her busy schedule, give some of her suggestions a try this holiday season, perhaps with some out-of-town guests. Whether you’re a lifelong San Franciscan or a transplant, like I am, there always seems to be more to see and do.
John Zipperer is vice president of editorial and media at The Commonwealth Club of California, E-mail:

March 2012
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