I recently spent a month in Mill Valley. It’s a fairy tale kind of place…set at the base of Mt. Tam in Marin County, California. For years I’d met people from Mill Valley. Interesting people. Creative people. “Cool” people. So, I put it on my list of places to visit…several years ago.
And I did visit it then. On my first visit, I was a bit underwhelmed, I must admit. Compared to some of the more dramatic towns I’ve visited and loved (such as Telluride, Hanalei, Aspen, Ashland, Paia, Big Sur, and so on), Mill Valley is pretty mello…at least on the surface. It is very quaint and pretty, but it is not dramatic.
It is a sweet place, really. With a cute little town square where the community loves to come sit in the sun on a nice day. There are kids on little scooters, babies in strollers, couples holding hands, friends chatting, individuals reading the paper, and maybe someone strumming the guitar. It’s a proper little scene. With a nice vibe!
There is a coffee shop right on the square called the Depot. It used to be a train station. If I’m being completely honest, I would have to say the food is just so-so, but it is definitely a wonderful spot to enjoy the action on the square. I suppose you are mostly going to the Depot just to hang out anyway. There are other places in Mill Valley (and other nearby towns) where you can definitely have a more epicurean experience.
I went to Mill Valley thinking it might be my home. I thought this the first time, the second time, and now the most recent time I was there. But each time I ended up leaving thinking, “No. That is a lovely place, but it is not my home.” I don’t know where my home is, except maybe within me. I keep looking and looking, and no where feels right. (Does that mean I’m not right? No. I think it just means I’m a gypsy!)
If you don’t have a family to orient around or a job, it actually can be quite challenging to decide where to be. Do you simply choose your favorite place? You must ask yourself why it is your favorite, really. I’ve definitely chosen to live in my favorite places (Kauai, Maui, Telluride, Santa Barbara). It’s a good bet. But, it doesn’t necessarily produce the results you want in all areas of your life. The prettiest places may not the best work-wise or socially. The most promising places socially or professionally may not be nurturing or inspiring on a more inner emotional or personal level. It’s a dilemma.
In choosing a place to live, you are essentially delineating your priorities.
Unfortunately, my priorities are not inclined to stay fixed! Often I prioritize beauty in a locale. But I also prioritize fun. There must be fun things to do in a place. Social opportunities are also important. That’s one of the reasons I came to Mill Valley, as I mentioned. I’d met many cool people from there. So, I thought I’d probably like the people in the town (since I already did like the few I’d met). I also know many people in other nearby towns in Marin and in San Francisco, too. So, out of anywhere in the country the San Francisco Bay area is probably the place where I already have the most friends and connections. Thus, I thought it would be great to live there! Seems logical! Right?
But, just having friends in a place doesn’t make you love it. Love for a place is almost as mysterious as love for a person. Turns out I couldn’t force it for Marin, even though I really wanted to!! And it is an incredible place, truly!! I know many people DO love Mill Valley. Genuinely. And honestly, what’s not to like? It’s quaint, pleasant, peaceful, pretty, and very close to San Francisco. There are many intelligent and spiritually aware people in the community. It’s great, like I said. If I had to cite some negatives I’d say that there are limited single young professionals (mostly families with young children). It’s also a bit to very limited in terms of diversity, and it’s very expensive (upper-upper-class). These are a few of the things I think anyone could notice. They aren’t necessarily the reasons I didn’t want to move there, but they are things that stuck with me.
I do like a bit of edge in a place. An underground art scene. Diversity. Street performers. Even a bit of graffiti is strangely appealing to me. Not sure you could say Telluride has an edge though, and I still love it there. So, I guess that’s not a reason for me to be somewhere. Too much edge I definitely don’t like (as it usually equals unsafe). But it is a quality of place that I like in small amounts. And I suppose there is a hint of an edge in Telluride. There are the ski bums and the transients. There is also a growing Hispanic population in Telluride. There are a lot of artists. And even a burlesque troupe. San Francisco certainly has diversity and edge… creativity. And it is very close. But again, I don’t think the lack of edge or diversity is why I didn’t love Mill Valley. I think love is just intuitive. It is there or it is not.
Sometimes you live in places you don’t love in life. You are there for a reason then. Tucson was kind of like that for me. In a way. I actually did grow to love Tucson, maybe even really love Tucson. I felt a connection to it from my first visit. I thought, “I could live here…I’m not sure why I would, but I could…” About 5 years later the “why” happened. Psychiatry residency. I had been a family medicine intern in Seattle, so really I was not expecting to move to Tucson when I did. I was expecting to become a family doctor while living in Seattle. But abrupt turns and changes seem to be the norm in my life, and residency was definitely no exception. Mid-way through my intern year I decided I wanted to be a psychiatrist instead of a family doc. I had to then search for an available second year psychiatry residency spot, and one of the places that just “happened” have have one was…TUCSON.
Because of my previous time and feeling that I might return there, I basically knew that it was right choice. This was my chance to live in Tucson. So, I took it. And it really was a great place for me. I feel good in the desert. It is so expansive and SUNNY. (I LOVE the sun!!!) I also loved the funky, arty vibe in Tucson. And the colorful desert architecture. And the food! Mmmm. Guacamole.
And the residency program was a good fit, too. They were the most open-minded program I’d encountered–very friendly to alternative medicine, including meditation, art therapy, herbalism, and even shamanism. There were many doctors on faculty who themselves dabbled or specialized in holistic approaches. There was even someone on the faculty who was researching psychedelic substances. The program was great! Definitely the right place for me. So, my premonition was correct. I returned to Tucson … and thrived.
Since I did so well in Tucson, I decided to stay longer than I had to…as if to prove something to myself. What I was proving was that I could embrace it of my own free will, not simply because I needed to be there for training. So, I stayed. Three years longer than I “had” to. And I opened an amazing holistic healing center there in a lovely, colorful adobe building in one of the oldest parts of downtown. It was super charming. And a real creative “birthing”. I loved it! I named it “Mystic Mandala Medicine” because I’m super mystical, and I love mandalas. That’s still the name of my holistic psychiatry business. Now it’s just nomadic!
Anyway, despite growing to truly love Tucson, the way one grows to love all things that are familiar and supportive to us, I eventually became restless there. Six years after I arrived I started to dream regularly of life in other places. I tried to release these thoughts and pulls on my heart (I really loved my patients and what I’d created in Tucson), but ultimately I could not get past the feeling that something more was “out there” for me. So, it was time to go. I could no longer be present in Tucson. I was always imagining my life elsewhere. I need to be present. So, I went with my dreams, and I jumped.
One of the places I landed was in Mill Valley!
So, back to the topic!
Mill Valley attracted me because of the friends I had there and also because I imagined it would be a good place for my work. There are many well-educated, holistically-minded, creative, and wealthy people in the area, and generally, these kinds of people do well as my clients. I also work with a range of people, including students and some who are not wealthy (I have a limited number of sliding-scale spots in my practice), but since I do not take insurance, my work is generally best suited for those who do have a steady and solid income. Holistic psychotherapy is indeed a bit of a luxury. It may be a bohemian luxury as I practice it, but it is a luxury none-the-less.
So, Mill Valley seemed like a great place for me to open my next in-person “boutique psychiatry” office. It really did. It didn’t captivate me like Hawaii (so, I went to Hawaii first). But it was a practical choice. So, I went there second. And then I went back to Hawaii. And then I went back to Mill Valley. And now I’m in Tahoe. Go figure.
Practical apparently doesn’t mean that much to me.
Anyway, I did enjoy my month in Mill Valley…for the most part. I want to share what was really wonderful about my experience and also what challenged me. I apologize now to anyone from Mill Valley who may be reading this. I hope I have conveyed that it is indeed a lovely place, and that the reasons it didn’t work for me are idiosyncratically linked to my own uniqueness. I hope I can still paint a nice picture of the magical wonderousness of the place, even if it wasn’t (x3) the right home for me.
So….Things I love about Mill Valley:
- The forest: Mill Valley is tucked away in a forest of redwood trees. Literally. The town is in a forest. You may not notice if you just drive straight to the town center square and back out again, but if you walk around through any of the neighborhoods on the edge of the square it will immediately be clear. This town a woodland paradise. And I’m pretty sure it’s enchanted.
- The steps: Well, along with the forest goes the steps. Mill Valley is a town spanning several hillsides around the central valley. There are public steps scattered across and through the forest-y hills going high up into the neighborhoods to all kinds of magical dwellings. Many people can walk from their homes down into town, giving the town a high walk score (something I really love). They also provide a great workout and access to miles of open space and hiking trails that are just over the ridge. The steps shown below are the most famous in Mill Valley (they essentially link up with a trail system that can take you all the way to Stinson Beach). They are called the Dipsea Steps. There’s a race every year called the Dipsea Race that apparently is the oldest trail running event in the country. It involves a super scenic run along the route from the center of town>>up the steps>>over the hills>>through the forest>>to the sea (7.4 miles) (and in some cases, back).
- The gardens: Mill Valley is a pretty lush place. It’s not warm and lush like Hawaii. It’s cool and lush. Like England. It’s sunnier than England, but it does still rain quite a lot in the winter. And it gets fog, like San Francisco. It has a kind of mystical climate in some ways (which of course is what supports its mystical landscape). The year that I was there (this year, 2016) was one of the rainiest in a long time. That’s El Nino for ya! I was asking for trouble by going there in the winter, especially this year in the winter. But I needed to see it at its worst, really. And I did. It rained for about 23 out of the 30 days that I was there. Seriously, it rained for 3 weeks straight. And was sunny for about 4 days and foggy for 3. That doesn’t work for me at all. But it works for the plants. Oh, yes. It definitely works for the plants. Seriously, have you ever seen something so beautiful? This is a secret garden, but it is open to the public (bit of a contradiction, I know). If you can find it, it’s yours to enjoy. I found it…on both my longer stays in Mill Valley. And I enjoyed it…immensely.
Calla lilies grow WILD out of the side of the street here. Yep. That’s unusual.
- The green hilly hiking trails: Mill Valley is home to some of the most beautiful countryside ever. It is straight out of a fairytale. Very European. When they get a lot of rain, such as when I was there, it is very GREEN. At other times, the hills are yellow. There are wonderful hiking trails throughout these hills–some of them starting directly from town, via the steps I mentioned above. There are also some cool, and in some cases hidden, restaurants and “hiking clubs” in the hills, which is very neat and also very European.
I managed to make it hiking on one of the 4 sunny days during my month in Mill Valley, and let me tell you, I WAS ECSTATIC!!!
I mostly chased the sun on this day, but down in the trees there are also some amazing spots. Waterfalls. Mystical forest vibes. You definitely kind of expect to see a gnome around here. But if you hear something, it’s probably just a dog. (There are a fair number of people in Mill Valley, after all. Many of them will join you on the trails, but it’s okay. They are generally very nice. And I did still manage to get some solitude…)
5. Moonrise over the Ocean: Okay, so this is a special one. You have to get up on the ridge for it. But, it’s doable. Try the Mountain Home Inn. They have an excellent, moonrise-capable view. And a great happy hour scene, too. They are one of the hillside hiking restaurants I was talking about above. The photos below aren’t from there, but were taken from a friend’s house near there. It really is so magical to watch the moonrise anywhere, at any time. But I gotta say, watching it rise from high over a beautiful valley with the San Francisco Bay below is pretty spectacular. It is definitely something to love about Mill Valley!
6. Tennessee Valley: You cannot go to Mill Valley without hearing about the Tennessee Valley. I did. Several times. On each visit. Strangely, I didn’t really feel called to explore it until my most recent trip, however. Same goes for Mt. Tam (which will be number 7). Everything has its time. I try to hit all the “major places” when I visit a town, but I’ve let go of needing to do that, too. I mostly go with the flow when I’m traveling. I have a few goals, usually, but I also just see what comes up, what I feel like doing, what’s “calling”. I always miss some things, sometimes some “important” things, but I trust they aren’t that important for me (at the present time, anyway). Always there are some surprises–some things I discover that may end up being really meaningful that I totally wouldn’t have thought to explore before I arrived. There are also usually some duds (things I thought would be great per Trip Advisor or Yelp but that I really didn’t love at all). Travel is definitely 1 part research, 1 part planning, and about 3 parts magic, synchronicity, or flow…
Anyway, the Tennessee Valley is indeed a beautiful place. I’m glad I finally got there. There are rolling green hills (similar to the ones pictured above–but this is a different location) and golden hiking/walking/biking trails. It is crowded here–more crowded than the other hiking spots I visited. But everyone is friendly, and it’s really quite nice. Just feels a bit like you’re in a park, rather than out in nature. Only, it’s one of the most beautiful parks you’ve ever seen. And parking is free (unlike many California parks)! I jogged the several mile trail down to the ocean, where there is a beautiful golden-sand beach, a funky graffitied dugout, and an incredible view from a neighboring cliff. It’s really spectacular.
7. Mt. Tam: The final item on my list is probably the best…Mt. Tam. It’s strange that I didn’t go here on my previous visits. The mountain is really a kind of energetic “father” hovering over town. I guess I was used to the Rocky Mountains…or the San Juans. Something more dramatic. Mt. Tam is pretty mello looking compared to the extreme, pointy peaks of the central west. Mt. Tam seems to be the papa of the rolling hills. Or maybe the mama. I think of mountains as being kind of masculine, in general, with hills being more feminine (rounded). Mt. Tam is a little of both. A little male, a little female. This is nice. Fortunately, I again choose a beautiful (one of only a few that I had) day to make the visit to Mt. Tam’s lovely lands. It was actually my last full day in Mill Valley. I had been waiting and waiting for a sunny day, and this was it. So, up I went. Mt. Tam is an easy 30 or so minute drive from downtown Mill Valley. Maybe 45 minutes up to the top. But I didn’t go straight to the top. I stopped at one of the first parking lots I saw. I had to. It was gorgeous!! Hello hilly green Heaven!!
Finally, the reward for sitting through three weeks of rain!! I’m so thrilled I got to collect it!! The hills really were alive! And there was music, too. (Someone playing the guitar…a bit later) This place is unbelievable. Amazing views of the city, of the ocean, wildflowers, prayer flags, moon rise. I think it may be one of my favorite hiking spots ever. The energy is expansive and sweet. (It’s weird that I don’t want to move there, really!! Baffling!)
(Can you see the moon rising in one of the photos? It was! Rising over the Bay again. Beautiful!) So, yes, Mt. Tam is a hilly paradise. And if you’re lucky, it may be a green hilly paradise. With orange poppies. And gold paths. The parking at the lower lots, which in my opinion were prettier, is free. Excellent! (I had not gathered that from my online research.) I basically stayed parked in the lot I originally landed in for most of the day. I explored trails and hills on both side of the road. They were different but of course both gorgeous. The other side of the road had more people…the guitar player included. And a turkey.
Sunset from up here was spectacular. I went all to the way to the top for it.
What an epic way to end my month in Mill Valley!!
Things weren’t perfect there for me. But, I’m glad I gave it another try. I needed to. And it really was beautiful. There was the rain (that was a big challenge), but there were also other challenges. I didn’t really talk much about the challenges (I meant to–but posts seem to have a life of their own on my blog!), but there have so be some reasons I didn’t just love it, right?
I’m not sure the challenges were so great that they turned me off completely, but they were there. Putting pressure on things. Dampening my mood. Constricting my energy. The challenges were varied, but they included some of the important things. There were challenges with a friend in town, challenges with the house I rented (literally things breaking), challenges with my landlord, challenges with my work, challenges with my sleep. There were good experiences with friends, strangers, the landlord, and the house, too, so it was a bit confusing. Still, the overall emotional climate for me in Mill Valley was strained. That is really not my norm! I am usually very upbeat (almost annoyingly so)!
To me, almost everything in the universe can kind of be taken as a sign. If things go well, that’s a sign. Kind of like a wink from the universe. If things go poorly, that’s a sign–a sign that to me says, “next”, “another door”, or maybe “try again”. I thought “try again” about Mill Valley actually. Three times! I can be very persistent. But I also do notice when my efforts meet the wall. And it does impact my next steps … for sure.
As it turns out, Mill Valley is really close to my Saturn line in Astrocartography.
Astrology Aside: Some of you may or may not know that Astrocartography is fascinating technique that allows astrologers to see the various astrological influences people can expect to feel in different places around the planet. It’s a bit tricky to interpret sometimes, but generally, I find it to be quite accurate. (Tucson was on a minor career success (Jupiter) line for me, for example.) The “tricky” part is just that sometimes we need to go to challenging places…to do things, learn things, meet people, have lessons, etc. I’m trying to work out a way to be able to predict this (the timing of when to go where and also what places are truly “necessary”). It seems theoretically possible that I could do it (since astrology does include a large predictive element). It’s a work in progress though, and I’m the only astrologer I’ve met that even talks about it (using predictive astrology concurrent with Astrocartography). (Write me if you are are another one!! I definitely want to talk to you!!)
Anyway…So, yes. Most astrologers would not highly recommend living too close to a Saturn line. Saturn represents restriction, slowness, delays, stoginess, order, structure, stricture, etc. It’s not an energy I’m very comfortable with! I thought perhaps it could be good for me, however, to live near the line and “get comfortable”. Structure can beget success, some might say. But, nope. Not feeling it. I don’t like delays and restriction. I’m okay with a bit of structure (I do have a Virgo moon)–mainly just to keep things efficient and running smoothly. But a lot of structure is very confining to me. In general I’m after freedom!!
I’d really rather go somewhere pleasant where everything is freely flowing.
This desire for pleasant experience may seem a bit one-dimensional or naive, but I assure you I am neither. I just really like FUN. And JOY. I’ve got a whole post about it! I also like the SUN. And ease. Grace. Flow. I like things to just work. Magically. So, if I need to do the Saturn thing, I guess I’m not ready for it yet. I honestly think Neptune is coming up next for me, not Saturn. Neptune governs spirituality, the arts, healing, dreams, film, the ocean, magic, and manifesting. Neptune is in charge of my career (it’s no surprise I named my business “Mystic” or that I focus on art as a healing modality) because I have Pisces on the midheaven (the career area) in my birthchart. Neptune is the planetary ruler of Pisces, and in a few years Neptune will be directly overhead in my chart (meaning Neptune is moving through Pisces in the sky right now and soon it will be at the degree that corresponds to the top of my birthchart). At that time, I think it will be an excellent idea for me to relocate close to my Pisces career line, which happens to go through LA.
LA… Ahh! BIG!!
I am an artist (and aspiring writer), in addition to being a doctor and healer, so I’m hoping living near the Neptune line will bring creative opportunities and also the opportunity to work with people in film (or work in film myself)(since Neptune is associated with film). Many film-industry people obviously do live in LA. And I really enjoy working with that demographic. It’s a nice fit for my work (they are generally creative, dynamic, forward thinking, eccentric, etc). They are also usually…entertaining! I can be, too, so working with entertaining people and having a mutually entertaining rapport makes my job more fun!
Anyway, I’m going on a theory I’ve concocted myself here, but I am an experienced astrologer (who is also creative and generally thinks outside of the box ). It feels like a sound hypothesis to me. In just a few years I’ll get to test it (if life hasn’t taken me in a totally different direction by then that makes testing it impossible). In the meantime, I’ve got a few years to spare. Not sure if I’m going to just keep rolling on my merry gypsy way or if I will pick one of my new or old favorite spots and stay for a while. Or get to class early and go on to LA.
As a not-a-city-girl, I’m thinking I may need some time to acclimate.
Perhaps I’ll go to Santa Barbara (or San Diego) first. If I DO make it to LA, don’t expect to see me downtown. I’ll be at the beach, in the canyon, in the gardens (there are many cool ones there), on a surfboard, or in the mountains. Or maybe on TV. Just kidding. (?? I think…)
To be continued for sure…
So, thanks Mill Valley. You’re not it, but I still like ya! A lot. And I think anyone who reads this probably will, too!