Once advertised as "The Gem of California", this San Francisco bedroom community sparkles, its appraisal always high.

By Paige Porter
September 28, 2004

At the Larkspur Library on Magnolia Avenue, delicate rose petalsblanket the top of the mahogany card catalog. "We have patrons whobring fresh flowers every time they check out or return a book,"says director Frances Gordon. She points to vases scattered aboutthe library, where stained-glass windows cast a silvery glow."Larkspur has retained its neighborhood feel in the midst of21st-century development," she says, adding a proud note: "We'vestayed on the destination map without becoming overlytouristy."

Having built its reputation as a mecca for peaceful escape,Larkspur once enjoyed the nickname "The Great Sanatorium." Today,the town lures for other reasons. For one, foodies journey here forBradley Ogden's sensational cuisine (Lark Creek Inn and YankeePier). And Larkspur serves as a primary residence for many whoprefer its quiet charm over nearby San Francisco's urbanism.

"Larkspur is a bedroom community," says Diane Greer, a formerLarkspur real estate agent who still sells many homes here. "Andit's one affordable to those who have 'made it,' economicallyspeaking."

Still, Larkspur resists homogenization, and its eclectic housesdemonstrate diversity. Magnolia Avenue cuts through the heart ofdowntown and cuddles the area's most prized historic houses. Listedon the National Register of Historic Places, downtown Larkspurhasn't changed much in the past century.

Sandwiched between Corte Madera and Mill Valley to the south andGreenbrae and San Rafael to the north, Larkspur enjoys a compactspot in these north-of-Golden-Gate-Bridge communities. At LarkspurLanding, city-hungry residents and commuters catch the ferry for30- to 50-minute crossings via San Francisco Bay to The City.

"We do have easy access to San Francisco. But to be honest, ifI'm given the choice, I usually stay here," says Catlyn Fendler. ASan Rafael resident, Catlyn once lived near the Larkspur Library,in a historic cottage owned by her husband's family, and she nowowns property here. "My Texas brother came out to visit us once,and he walked around town, looked at the neighborhoods, and said,'This is Mayberry.'"

Larkspur's bulletin boards read much like Mayberry's might:adult softball and cricket leagues; picnics at Piper Park; outdoormovies.

"I used to come to Larkspur with my father," says orchestraleader Earl Heckscher. His father, bandleader Ernie Heckscher,played for Larkspur's Rosebowl dances in the 1940s. "That was theBig Band era, and the small-town coziness that existed then isstill alive and well," Earl says. Now living in next-doorKentfield, he hangs out in Larkspur. "It speaks of a way of lifeone has to search far and wide to find," he says.

Flowers spread this feeling not only at the library. In a coffeeshop just off Magnolia Street, a basket full of blossoms welcomespatrons. "Free Roses," reads the sign. "Have one, and have a niceday."

For a wide range of information about Larkspur, visitci.larkspur.ca.us.