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Civilized shopping in Marin's historic town centers

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Holiday shopping has reached a frenzied pitch and the Bay Area's big box malls are bursting at the seams. It's a fine time to explore the more peaceful shopping opportunities just across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin, where historic, small town shopping districts offer a relaxed shopping ambiance and a variety of goods, from art galleries to chic clothing stores.

Novato's historic Grant Avenue has a host of holiday shopping surprises, from an over-the-top sweet shop to a soccer gear store, antique, toy and gift shops, art galleries and a boutique day spa. A number of fine bakeries and cafes are perfect places to rest tired feet.

San Anselmo's downtown is renowned for its antique stores but also offers a variety of small shops, including bike stores, a fine wine shop, kids craft store, clock shop and a bookstore.

Mill Valley's cozy downtown is centered around the redwood-shaded Depot Plaza, where a small bookstore and cafe is a great place to start a holiday gift hunt. Wander the streets surrounding the plaza, and you'll find chic and sophisticated clothing boutiques, art galleries, a postcard shop and several coffee cafes.

Fairfax is proud of its funky and eclectic mix of import shops, a surf shop, a classic variety store, and a plethora of cafes, coffee shops, and restaurants. Stroll and shop the historic downtown, then catch a film at the Fairfax Theater or relax with at one of the town's several pubs.

Larkspur's small but charming Magnolia Avenue shopping district offers a few blocks of fashionable stores, including a Provencal gift shop, an art gallery, a lingerie boutique and several cafes and restaurants. Take a shopping break at the Parisian-style Left Bank brasserie in the historic Blue Rock Inn.

San Rafael's Fourth Street offers artwork of all media, shapes and sizes direct from artists at ArtWorks Downtown, artisan jewelry stores and chic clothing boutiques. Shoppers can enjoy authentic cucina Italiana at Il Davide restaurant, catch a bite at the Parisian-style Odalisque Café or see a post-shopping show at the California Film Institute at the Rafael Film Center.

For complete Marin visitor information, including overnight lodging options, visit www.visitmarin.org.

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