Posted in Blogging Marin on Thursday, January 9, 2020 by MCVB Staff
By Joe Kukura
The sleek Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) system has been a chic and very easy way to get around in Marin County. But now, its shiny, ultramodern green trains just added the final two Marin stopovers this past month with Larkspur and Downtown Novato. The plush reclining seats, full tables, and snack bars with wine and craft beer has redefined public transit with a Marin County sense of cool. But the best thing about the SMART train line isn’t the trains themselves, but the things you can do and the places you can go while avoiding traffic and leaving the driving to someone else.
There is also now a new timetable featuring expanded service on weekends with more train trips and better connections to regional transit services. The new 2020 service timetable is part of a coordinated effort with regional transit agencies to offer more efficient connections to the Larkspur Ferry and bus service throughout Sonoma and Marin counties.
The popular Clipper cards used all over the San Francisco Bay Area are valid for affordable SMART travel, and you can get to the SMART train from San Francisco using the Golden Gate Transit system. Bikes are allowed on SMART trains too, as there is a systemwide pedestrian and bike path parallel to the tracks to help you explore even more.
Here’s a rundown of the best attractions you’ll want to see at Marin County’s SMART train destinations.
Across from SMART's new Larkspur station, you'll find the Marin Country Mart's Farmers Market, the place to be on Saturdays from 9:00 to 2:00, with over 25 local farmers and vendors and complimentary kids activities. If you're planning a stay-over at the Courtyard by Marriott, there are a number of health and spa options available to you at the Country Mart as well. Larkspur is also the kick-off point to most of Marin County and beyond by rail.
Downtown San Rafael
Up the track a bit you'll find the gateway into Downtown San Rafael where you can experience its magnificently walkable downtown featuring an array of charming California boutiques like Art Works Downtown, host to the 2nd Friday Art Walk from 5:00 to 8:00, the nearby Northgate Mall, and one of California’s 21 Spanish Missions.
The best new innovative films are always playing at the art deco Smith Rafael Film Center, and live music often featuring the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh jams out nightly at the Terrapin Crossroads nightclub and gourmet restaurant that he owns.
You’ll also find farm-to-table Marin County cuisine at standout restaurants like legendary Tuscan eatery Il Davide. The Panama Hotel Restaurant is the overnighter’s spot to stay, serving gourmet lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. The Roadside BBQ hits the sweet spot for comfort food.
Marin Civic Center
SMART’s Marin Civic Center station is named for the Marin County Civic Center, the last work commissioned by Frank Lloyd Wright and an absolute architectural wonder to behold. You can also take in that beautiful sight from a distance at nearby Lagoon Park, whose majestic water fountains and wildlife are unforgettable.
Every foodie needs to visit the Marin Civic Center Farmers Market at least once, as it’s the third-largest farmer’s market in California and held every Thursday and Sunday.
Novato’s Hamilton neighborhood is the kind of stunning, open-space California landscape that makes SMART rides so very scenic. You’ll see even more unforgettable sights at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art (MarinMOCA) and the adjacent Novato Arts Center, both of which are less than a 10-minute walk or a rideshare hail away from the SMART train station.
Take in that Novato scenery—perhaps with a glass of famous Northern California wine—at Beso Bistro and Wine Bar, which is also right next to the MarinMOCA. If craft beers and wood-fired pizza are more your thing, check out Hopmonk Tavern. And spit-roasted meats and smoked prime ribs are always cooking at Rickey's Restaurant at Inn Marin.
The Downtown Novato train stop is the newest addition to the line. You are literarily a few steps from Novato's Whole Foods for shopping convenience! Stroll along Grant Avenue’s quaint tree-lined street with its historic buildings, sidewalk cafes, wine tasting rooms with live music, and unique boutiques.
The SMART train fare and schedule information is available online to help you handle your SMART trip as intelligently as possible. This makes Marin County an up-and-coming choice for your staycation or weekend getaway because the new SMART line is really going places.
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