Coastal Commuter

The grass is always greener — and probably costlier

As much as i love the change of pace and professional opportunities that my frequent time in Los Angeles provides me, I can’t imagine packing up all of my belongings, pulling up roots, leaving San Francisco behind, and relocating to Southern California 24/7. It could happen, depending on a number of variables, but I’m not planning on it, nor would I welcome severing ties with the Bay Area. Still, if you reverse the migration, I know of some in Los Angeles who sound ready to buy in — especially if they’ve had history in San Francisco.

To be precise, two members of my SoCal crew designated Marin County and, more specifically, Mill Valley as their dream destination. One buddy is an executive who has toiled long and hard in the entertainment business — jacket and tie, board meetings, expense account, and all — after a scruffy Bohemian run in Berkeley and Oakland back in the day. Way back, that is. He’s been an Angeleno for over three decades. When he’s ready to unwind, he leaves his rather comfortable two-story house in Sherman Oaks and invariably heads for Mill Valley and his favorite lodgings there: the Mill Valley Inn, a charming downtown hotel with a grove of trees in back and a creek running through the grounds.


On what is almost a monthly basis, he departs Los Angeles for four days at a time to recharge his batteries up north. He arrives in Mill Valley and immediately depressurizes. In short order, he’s walking through the inviting downtown area at the foot of Mt. Tamalpais, and heading for one of his favorite restaurants — either Piazza D’Angelo or Bungalow 44, both acclaimed as among the best for miles around. Afterward, he’s likely to take in a movie at the Sequoia, a comedy performance at the Throckmorton Theatre, or live music at the legendary Sweetwater (spawning ground and playground for a variety of middle-to-big-name artists), all a block or two or three from the inn. In the mornings, he runs the trails up to the top of Mt. Tam, where he can take a breather and, depending on visibility and which way he turns, look down on the bay, Sausalito, the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, across the span to the skyline of San Francisco, or out to the Pacific. It’s the whole package, if that which you seek is a rural, small-town vibe with the trappings of upscale civilization.

As a bonus, the getaway affords him the time and clarity to be more creative than he can be in his corporate job, so he often uses his Marin weekends to pursue writing projects that are otherwise quelled by his weekday work schedule. It’s enough that the thought of living in Mill Valley or thereabouts, full-time, crosses his mind regularly. There are worse things than being a writer who also telecommutes as a media consultant while residing in the quaint town that was ground zero for numerous newly moneyed Northern California rock stars of the late 1960s and ’70s, where the hippie ideal still seems alive and well. So he asks himself if this could be the culmination of his career and life goals. Then, he looks at the real estate prices in the vicinity.


Suddenly, the idea of selling the house in Sherman Oaks and leaving Los Angeles for good, of relocating from the land of the lotus to the land of the eucalyptus, from the desert to the hills and forests, might be better as a fantasy. Or so he says. No surprise. It’s really more expensive to live in the nicer neighborhoods of Marin than in those of Los Angeles, and a Mill Valley house comparable to his current one would be significantly and prohibitively pricier — particularly in the wake of the latest and most economically impactful tech boom. Don’t even start in about the stunningly overpriced housing on the San Francisco side of the Golden Gate.

Of course, a town where so many iconic musicians hung out on the top rung of the ladder would hold appeal for someone in the music business who is gratified by the company of such inventive people. That may explain why another friend has set her sights on Mill Valley as a potential base of operations for her song catalogue administration company, rather than continuing to do her thing in the bottom-line-driven industry center of Los Angeles. She had a cozy Nob Hill apartment once, and the siren call of the fog horns teases her in her memory. Sure, she might now dwell off the Pacific Coast Highway near Malibu in a lovely hillside aerie with a view of the pounding surf, and have a tough time finding that sort of showplace and comfort for a similar cost in Marin. Still, if she’s determined, she could opt for a bay-view condo in South Beach, and that’s only 15 minutes from the Haight, where all those psychedelic bands went wild in the ’60s until they moved to Mill Valley. Close enough, I guess, despite any sticker shock she’d encounter.

Caveats aside, the lure of the verdant North is strong, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find one or the other of these folks actually bailing on Angel City. Just as long as they don’t end up in a tent city a few months after they get here.

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Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on KPFK/Pacifica Radio’s David Feldman Show and on Michael Snyder’s Culture Blast, via, Roku, and YouTube. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster