Day Out in Downtown Novato
February 26, 2012Posted by pamela |
This is the second in our series of "Day Out" articles profiling family-friendly shopping, dining, and activities in Marin's communities. Read our first article in the series: Day Out in Point Reyes Station.
While Novato doesn't have the upscale cachet of its southern neighbors like Mill Valley or Tiburon, you'll find that there's more to Marin's northernmost town than just Target and Costco. Look beyond the suburban sprawl and big-box stores and you'll find a charming family-friendly community with a small-town atmosphere that belies its large size.
Novato has much to offer for families, from its parks and open space areas to locally-run family-friendly restaurants and shops. Novato also boasts great weather—giving it its nickname of "Valley of the Gentle Seasons"—so if you wish is to escape the summer fog of southern Marin, Novato is the place to go for a little sunshine.
A great place to see what Novato is all about is in its downtown in and around Grant Avenue. Start in the Old Town neighborhood at Grant and Reichert Avenues, home to Novato's iconic city hall (housed in a a red 1890s Carpenter Gothic church), the Novato History Museum, and a number of locally run businesses and restaurants.
Here are a few of our favorite family-friendly places in downtown Novato.
Novato Family-Friendly Dining
While Novato isn't renowned as a culinary hot-spot, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised at the family-friendly fare offered in town. Many restaurants take advantage of Novato's proximity to Marin's agricultural areas and offer food crafted from locally sourced ingredients.
- A favorite local breakfast brunch, and lunch spot, the Golden Egg Omelet House at 807 Grant Avenue dishes up 101 different kinds of omelets and comfort-food classics, as well as kids' favorites like Mickey Mouse pancakes, all made with locally sourced ingredients. They even offer gluten-free pancakes! They're open daily from 7 am to 3 pm. Learn more and check out their menus on their website.
- Down the street a bit at 877 Grant Avenue you'll find Finnegan's Marin an Irish-style pub that's a favorite with local families. Finnegan's offers sophisticated takes on traditional pub grub (make sure you try the Guiness fish and chips), and is locally famous for its extensive and inexpensive children's menu. Families flock here on Sunday nights from 5 to 10 pm when kids 12 and under dine for free with the purchase of an adult meal. Open weekdays from 11:30 am and weekends from 10 am. Find out more at www.finnegansmarin.com.
- Around the corner at 1017 Reichert Avenue is Las Guitarras, which has been serving Mexican-American classics to local families for over 30 years. The restaurant is housed in a charming Victorian farmhouse, but if the weather's nice many people opt to dine outdoors on their pleasant, shady patio, complete with burbling fountain. Open Sunday through Wednesday from 10 am to 9 pm and Thursday through Saturday from 10 am to 10 pm for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. www.lasguitarrasnovato.com
- Take a coffee or tea break at Dr. Insomnia's, an independent coffee shop housed in a 19th-century blacksmith's shop on the corner of Reichert and Grant at 800 Grant Avenue. They're open Monday through Friday 5:30 am to 5 pm, Saturday 6:30 am to 5 pm, and Sunday 6:30 to 1 pm.
- Flour Chylde Bakery—familiar to many from local farmers markets—at 850 Grant offers delicious pastries, cookies, bars, and coffee drinks, as well as breads, pies, tarts, variety of wheat-free cakes and tortes, and lunch salads and sandwiches. We often stop here for a cookie if we're downtown on errands. They're open Monday from 7 am to 4 pm, Tuesday through Saturday from 7 am to 5:30 pm, and Sunday from 9 am to 4 pm. www.flourchylde.com
- At the other end of Grant Avenue you'll find the Novato outpost of Larkspur-based Rustic Bakery. Their café is a great place to get hand-made organic pastries, bread, cookies, gourmet flatbreads, sandwiches, and more. There's outdoor seating on the sidewalk in front of the store, too. www.rusticbakery.com
Novato Family Shopping & Activities
- One of my family's go-to places for birthday presents and holiday gifts is Five Little Monkeys in downtown Novato. They offer toys, gifts, and books for kids of all ages. I usually purchase birthday gifts there—they offer free gift wrapping and a selection of toys that you won't find anywhere else in town. www.5littlemonkeys.com
- Powell's Sweet Shoppe at 879 Grant Avenue is an old-school candy shop and temple to all things sugar. They carry a bewildering variety of candies and chocolates (some of which you probably haven't seen since you were a kid), as well as other treats like retro sodas and nostalgic toys. Powell's is open Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 9 pm and Sundays from 10 am to 8 pm. www.powellsss.com.
- The Friends of the Marin County Free Library run The Book Place at 1608 Grant Avenue. With prices starting at only 25¢, this used book store is a bargain-hunter's dream, with books in every category, including a great selection of children's titles. It's open Monday through Thursday and Saturdays from 10 am to 4 pm,, Fridays from 10 am to 7 pm, and noon to 4 pm on Sundays. marinlibraryfriends.marin.org
- Drop in at Studio 4 Art at 1133 Grant Avenue to create an artistic masterpiece in clay, paint, fabric, or a variety of other media. Studio 4 Art offers drop-in art-making activities, art classes, and camps for kids of all ages. Drop-in hours vary, get the complete schedule here. Kebby, the owner, recently expanded into the Studio 4 Art Annex, directly behind the main storefront, to add space for birthday parties, holiday camps, and classes. www.studio4art.net
- Novato's new Whole Foods Market can be found in Old Town's Millworks complex. Shop for produce, baked goods, and prepared foods. They also offer a variety of programs and events for kids and families. wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/novato
- Novato is home to a lively seasonal Farmers Market, open Tuesdays from 4 to 8 pm, May through September on Grant Avenue from Reichert to Machin. www.agriculturalinstitute.org/novato
Being a family-oriented community, Novato has many wonderful parks, playgrounds and open space areas for hiking. Close to downtown at 1007 Simmons Lane you'll find popular Pioneer Park. This large park has lush lawns, a huge modern play structure, picnic areas, and tennis courts. There's also a 19th-century pioneer cemetery on the hill above the park, which gives it its name.
Down the street at 2200 Novato Boulevard is Miwok Park. This shady park features swings, a play structure, bocce courts, a large lawn area, and hiking trails. It's also home to the Marin Museum of the American Indian, open Tuesday through Friday from noon to 5 pm and weekends from noon to 4 pm.
Novato also abounds in open space areas, many of which are perfect for a family hike. Mount Burdell, Rush Creek, Deer Island, and Indian Valley Open Space Preserves are all perfect for a hike with the kids, and Stafford Lake County Park, just west of Novato on Novato Boulevard, offers hiking, fishing, picnic areas, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, a playground, and even a disk golf course.
The Novato branch of the Marin County Free Library isn't right in the downtown area, but is very close by at 1720 Novato Boulevard. It features a large children's section as well as story times and other events for kids of all ages. The library is open Saturday through Thursday (closed Fridays).
If You Go
Novato's downtown is located along Grant Avenue. To get there, take Highway 101 to the Delong Avenue exit, then head west on Delong into town. Take your first right onto Reichert Avenue, and then your first left onto Grant. Parking is available along the street or in the city lot on Reichert between Grant and Delong.