Mimi Towle was born and raised in Hawaii, landed in the Bay Area by way of U.C. Berkeley, and never looked back. Like many of us, Marin captured her heart. Not like many of us, she’s made a living writing about it. Towle’s been in publishing for an impressive 30 years—the last 17 at Marin Magazine alone.
Before Marin, Mimi lived in San Francisco for ten years and like many, migrated one stop north with her then-husband of 25 years. Theirs was a Marin divorce happy ending: he ended up in a log cabin on the Dipsea stairs and she on a houseboat in Sausalito, two beautiful daughters between them.
In addition to her magazine work, Mimi wrote a book called Bilingual Babycare and contributed essays to others—including one I had the pleasure of editing and helping to publish! She’s a local inspiration to me, having come up through magazine (and later book) publishing.
Today, find Mimi hiking, with one of her girls on a paddleboard in the bay, but most certainly, with a notepad in hand.
MN: Mimi, I’m so excited to have you with us! We have so much to talk about, but let’s start with: How long have you been in Marin and how did you come here?
MT: I moved to Mill Valley in 1997 with my then-husband Pete, and our golden retriever, Sam (a girl). We had moved from the City, Arguello and Lake to be specific, because our landlord was selling our building for $800K. I still kick myself for not trying to buy that beautiful, historic building, but instead we plunked down a downpayment for our home at 25 Plymouth Avenue for (I think) $250 or $300K. Pete is 5th generation San Franciscan, making our daughter’s the sixth generation to have been born in San Francisco. Pete’s family also had many ties to Marin, so when it came time to find a place where we could have a dog, Marin was the natural choice. We got lucky by landing on Plymouth Ave in what we called the Sycamore Park neighborhood; it felt like moving to a college campus with young families. Within months, I was pregnant and a few years later we had two of the 20 kids under the age of seven roaming the street.
MN: Why Marin?
MT: Besides having to find a dog-friendly house, Marin County was the best of all worlds for us. Proximity to hikes and the beach. Since nearly eighty five percent of the county is open space, Pete and I spent nearly every weekend exploring Mt. Tam’s hiking trails and once we had kids, we just opted for places we could bring a stroller. Marin is basically surrounded by water, with many access points in San Rafael, Tiburon, Sausalito with Stinson and Bolinas beaches just a short drive. Each community is a unique small town. I loved being in Mill Valley, but when I visited friends in Ross and Kentfield, I envied the idyllic town square with a baseball field, post office and warm weather just up Hwy 101. I could just be lucky with my particular friend group, but I also feel like the vast majority of the people are open-minded and can have a conversation with their neighbor who might have a different opinion.
MN: Do you think Marin has changed?
MT: Even though I’ve called Marin home for almost twenty-five years, raised two kids and had the privilege of being involved with Marin Magazine since its launch in 2004, I still feel like a newcomer. In my opinion, what I’ve seen change is the food—vast improvement from when I first crossed the bridge and ordered a falafel in Mill Valley and it was served in a cold tortilla. I eventually found the now-defunct European Deli in Strawberry for falafels, and a few other authentically ethnic places. Now if I moved back to San Francisco, I would be coming back to Marin for Harmony (sweet rice dumpling and chicken salad) and Thep Lela (eggplant tofu) in Strawberry Village, seafood noodle soup and chicken salad at Kitti’s Place in Sausalito, anything at Comforts, Fattoush salad from Insalatas…and the Puffy Fish tacos from LaVier in San Rafael.
MN: How did you get involved in Marin Magazine?
MT: I’ll try to make this short. I’ve always loved regional lifestyle publishing. In the early 90s, I worked with friends on a start-up magazine in San Francisco called The City; that same time, my mom and step dad, Jim Wood, started Coast Magazine in Orange County. Fast forward a few editorial/content jobs for me plus two kids and the successful sale of Coast Magazine then in 2003. Nikki and Jim moved to Tiburon, and in 2004, partnered with sales dynamo Lisa Shanower, to create Marin Magazine. I was there from the beginning, but it took quite a few years to become editor. I would do anything needed, which included going out with my friend Sheri to take event photos.his was a great introduction to all of the important groups/people making our county a better place.
MN: I’m sure this will be tough to narrow down but...any favorite articles come to mind?
MT: There are so many, but I’ll try. Top of mind are the interviews; the magazine gave all of us access to amazing people and institutions. I’m sure I’ll miss a few, but some that stick out to me areThe Buck Institute’s research on aging and Alzheimer's that is used around the world to improve people’s lives; Lifehouse, founded in 1950s, has created national protocols for helping people with mental differences become engaged and productive members of society as well as live independently. Through the now-defunct Marin Organics, I learned how valuable, precious and innovative our West Marin farmers and ranchers have been to the state. Now groups like the Agricultural Institute of Marin and Futurewell have taken the torch and are promoting a sustainable future that basically starts with our soil. California Film Institute has provided over 40 years of emotional highs and lows bringing the award-winning movie makers into our backyard. No one will ever remember, but we did publish a quote from the first study that disproved the link between Marin and extraordinarily high breast cancer rates. Marin cancer rates are high, but we are not at the very top of the list. On the lighter side, I’ve loved getting into the nitty gritty of the community through articles like the top Dive Bars, and then the Not So Haughty Yacht Clubs (an article we did). And of course meeting celebrities and the county’s movers and shakers—it’s been a great ride!
MN: Can you tell us about a time where you addressed a more difficult topic?
MT: I was caught off guard many years ago by an acquaintance who scolded me in a Facebook messenger about one of my aforementioned favorite topics, the dive bars. I really respected this guy, and at first was I was defensive and wanted to prove to him that I was focusing on what I saw were beloved, eclectically decorated shrines to community, where people have gathered for decades to relax, have a beer, and be in a welcoming place (like cheers with a cool edge). He disagreed and shamed me/us for promoting alcohol in a county that clearly struggles with addiction. His comments did make a difference. Soon after our exchange, we published an article about Teen Binge Drinking, hoping that the stats that pointed to Marin as being one of the highest counties in the nation for Teens binge drinking were inflated. Unfortunately, the research did point to us (Marin) and the point we tried to make was: look in the mirror, parents. The writer and I had some great conversations at the time about parenting kids in this community. We didn’t stop all the articles on alcohol, but it did make me pause and think about how to balance the content.
MN: Let’s talk about perks!
MT: One thing to consider is that the average editor makes $60,000 a year, some more, many less, and I don’t know of many publications that still have an expense account, so you can do the math. In order to understand what’s latest at the local restaurants or what to recommend for travel experiences, press trips are definitely a perk. However, there is always the caveat that the experience was less than favorable, and in those cases, at least for Marin, we just didn’t write about it. I learned early on at the aforementioned The City Magazine, the gravity of the words character assisination, when one of our team members thought it would be a reader service (and funny) to berate a difficult restaurant owner. We were in our 20s, the restaurant owner also happened to be a lawyer. Lesson learned. That said, I recently enjoyed one of the best perks of publishing ever, when Wiebke Lui and her team from BlissHaus, came over to my tiny kitchen on my houseboat and gave it a sustainable makeover. I had always wanted to do something like this, and this was an amazing kick start.
MN: What are you doing now?
MT: Thanks for asking! I’ve partnered up with my mom, Nikki Wood, former publisher of Marin Magazine, and a second woman named Nikki Wood who has also been a publisher here in the Bay Area to create a media company called 270 Media (270-media.com). We just launched our first product, LocalGetaways.com, which brings our many years of regional publishing experience to travel in Hawaii and California. Please sign up for our newsletter, for fun, unique content to inspire your next getaway.