About San Rafael

Helpful Links | Centrally located in beautiful Marin County, San Rafael is the oldest, largest, and most culturally diverse city in Marin, and is the county seat.

With parklands and open space accounting for nearly 30 percent of the city's land, there is a thriving natural environment to enjoy outdoor recreation. Along with this lush landscape, there is also a lively business district and great shopping in the downtown area. The Mediterranean climate enables residents to enjoy all that the town has to offer, and there are community-based events held throughout the year.

San Rafael's deep-rooted history in Marin County can still be felt today. Many of the turn-of-the-century buildings have been restored and are beautiful remnants of times past. These buildings include the Marin History Museum, the Falkirk Cultural Center, and the 106-year-old Dominican University. An enduring symbol of the town, the Mission San Rafael Arcangel, is an authentic recreation. It was founded in 1817 as part of California's mission chain and is a replica of the original mission. The Marin Civic Center, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is an architectural treasure and a nationally designated historical landmark.

The 59,178 (2020) San Rafael residents enjoy the temperate climate throughout its 22.4 square miles. It has an excellent school district, and diverse neighborhoods make it an excellent place to raise a family.



San Rafael was originally the site of three Coastal Miwok villages. In 1817, four years before Mexico gained independence from Spain, the Mission San Rafael Arcangel was founded. It was the 20th Spanish mission and was used as a hospital because of the ideal sunny weather. The mission and the city are named after the Archangel Raphael, the Angel of Healing.

In the decades that followed, San Rafael expanded and diversified. In the 1870s and 1880s, several wealthy families built mansions behind where the original mission was. People began to realize the serenity that San Rafael offered and, as the population continued to grow, it was the first Marin city to build a luxury hotel, and the first Marin city to be incorporated. It was also the first city in Marin to build a railroad when in 1879 the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad developed their tracks. This significantly increased the number of people that immigrated to San Rafael. Beautiful schools and churches were built, businesses developed in the region, and San Rafael eventually became what it is today.


Location | Climate | Weather

Located in the North Bay 15 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, San Rafael is the oldest city in Marin County. San Rafael is approximately 22 square miles, the second largest city in Marin after Novato. There are 30 recognized neighborhoods in the San Rafael General Plan. Some of the most notable is Gerstle Park, which is west of downtown Fourth Street and features historic homes, Forbes, Sun Valley, West End, the Canal which borders the San Francisco Bay, Terra Linda, which features many Eichler homes and the Northgate Shopping Mall, Santa Venetia, an area near the Civic Center that extends to the Bay, and the affluent Country Club, Dominican, and Peacock Gap areas.

The town enjoys mild winter lows seldom reaching the freezing mark. Average temperatures range from the middle 40s to the low 80s, with around 34 inches of rain annually.



At the heart of San Rafael is its charming, vibrant downtown shopping district on 4th Street, featuring the Rafael Film Center and historic Mission San Rafael. Downtown's mixture of Victorian buildings, ethnic restaurants, retail stores, and financial institutions creates San Rafael's hometown flavor and a social hub all centered on the pedestrian-only City Plaza.

Multiple neighborhoods, each with its own distinctive character, radiate from San Rafael's downtown providing a variety of housing from condos, townhouses, single-family homes in every price range, and gated estates.

Being the first town to be incorporated in Marin County, the town is known for its beautiful traditional architecture. In several neighborhoods, well-preserved, classic homes can still be seen and this adds to the charm of San Rafael. Along with these antiques, there are many modern designs as well. Most homes in San Rafael were built between 1960 and 1969.



The city of San Rafael serves more than 5,400 students at 11 different schools and is comprised of two different school districts.

The first is San Rafael City Schools which administers six elementary schools, one middle school, a combination elementary/middle school, two comprehensive high schools, a continuation high school, and an independent study high school.

The second is Dixie School District which oversees four schools: Dixie Elementary, Mary Silveira Elementary, Miller Creek Middle School, and Vallecito Elementary. High school students in the Dixie School District attend Terra Linda High School which is part of the San Rafael City Schools district.

There are many private schools to allow students to pursue their own distinct brand of education. To name just a few; Saint Raphael School, established in 1889, is a Catholic institution and serves pre-kindergarten through 8th grade. Marin Waldorf School provides an education that will prepare children to fulfill their highest potential as free human beings energized by the lifelong joy of learning for children in pre-kindergarten through 8th grade. Brandeis Hillel Day School is an independent co-educational school for students in grades kindergarten through 8th grade whose mission is to serve the Jewish community by providing children with an outstanding academic program in general and Judaic studies. Marin Academy is a college preparatory high school whose mission invites students to reflect and demand action, creating a vibrancy that captures their attention and imagination.

The Dominican University of San Rafael is an independent international school with a long history in the community and excellent academics. Click Helpful Links for additional information.



San Rafael is the central bus hub in Marin County. Conveniently located in downtown San Rafael and immediately adjacent to 101 Highway. The bus ride to San Francisco is about 45 minutes. San Rafael is located 20 miles from Lombard Street in San Francisco and the estimated drive time is 35 minutes without commute traffic. Alternatively, the Larkspur Ferry Terminal is located 5 miles south in Larkspur Landing. The ferry ride takes 40 minutes to cross the Bay to San Francisco. For a schedule and fees, please visit Golden Gate Transit for more details.


Things To Do

San Rafael offers the greatest choices for entertainment in Marin. The Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center is a beautiful non-profit venue that showcases a great selection of independent films. There are multiple theater locations, too—one in Northgate Shopping Center and another at Smith Ranch Road.

There is the historic Falkirk Cultural Center, the Mission San Rafael Arcangel, and the Marin History Museum. Art Works Downtown hosts an art gallery and art classes, and there is WildCare, a rescue rehabilitation center for native species. These points of interest, along with the nightlife and community-wide events, make San Rafael a very entertaining place to be. Click Helpful Links for additional information.


Parks & Recreation

San Rafael is perfect for biking, jogging, and hiking in the beautiful hills surrounding the community. Windsurfing, sailing, and boating are popular activities with multiple marinas and boat launches for easy access to the San Francisco Bay.

Enjoy McNear's Beach for family fun and splashing in the Bay. Visit China Camp State Park which is nestled along the shore of San Pablo Bay. The road through the park offers beautiful views of the waterfront. Features include an extensive intertidal salt marsh, meadow, and oak habitats. Sun Valley Park has basketball and volleyball courts, picnic areas, and a children's playground. San Rafael's Community Services programs feature aquatics to art, bocce to baseball, and jumping jacks to jazzercise.

San Rafael has Mount Tamalpais at its doorstep. With the mountain's numerous trails, lakes, and incredible views this venue is challenging enough for the seasoned hiker, and easy enough for everyone in the family. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area and numerous Marin County Open Spaces offer adventures galore. Click Helpful Links for additional information.



San Rafael has a thriving restaurant scene. The town's blend of nationalities and ethnic mix creates a delightful selection of dining establishments. They range from casual, with a laid-back atmosphere, to high-end, upscale dining with a classy ambiance. Most of the restaurants are located in the beautiful downtown area which is lined with trees that are lit up all year round. People can always be seen taking a stroll down 4th Street, window shopping, and deciding on the right place to eat such as Sol Food, Lotus Cuisine of India, Royal Thai Restaurant, Bistro Ginolina, San Rafael Joe's, Vin Antico, and Umi Sushi.

There are restaurants located outside of this main business district as well and are just as popular. In the San Pablo neighborhood, there is Le Chalet Basque serving dishes inspired by the Basque regions of France and Spain. Across the way in the Los Ranchitos neighborhood enjoy Toscana Ristorante and Bar.



When the sun sets in San Rafael there is still fun to be had. The well-developed downtown area is full of bars, restaurants, and live music venues. To name just a few there's the Fenix for live music with a full-service bar and restaurant. Also, you might visit the Mayflower Pub which hosts live jazz, Irish music, and karaoke. Drop in at George's Nightclub for live salsa, jazz, fusion, rock, and comedy shows.

San Rafael has Film Night in the Park, a local favorite where movies are played beginning at dusk in China Camp. Click Helpful Links for additional information.



People from all over the Bay Area and beyond come to San Rafael for several events throughout the year. One of the most popular is the Farmer's Market during the summer months from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm. This event has provided delicious food, local music, and a local business presence for over 20 years. The Thursday Marin Farmers Market located at the Marin Civic Center is from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm and takes place year-round. It is known as the local chef's market, welcoming premier chefs from around the Bay Area seeking out the freshest ingredients of the season. There can be up to 100 local farmers, specialty food purveyors, and a handful of artisans. The Sunday Marin Farmer's Market takes place every Sunday from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm at the Marin Civic Center as well. It is the third largest farmers market in California and at summer's peak, nearly 200 local farmers, specialty food purveyors, and artisans come together to celebrate a vibrant local food movement.

The Rafael Film Center hosts independent films from around the world. In October the Film Center is a venue supporting the annual Mill Valley Film Festival sponsored by the California Film Institute.

Along with these San Rafael events, there is also the Second Fridays Art Walk, the May Madness Car Parade, the Twilight Criterium bike races, the Parade of Lights and Winter Wonderland, the Lighted Boat Parade, the Italian Street Painting Festival, and numerous children's events at San Rafael's public library.

The Marin County Fair is also held in July and draws thousands of people every year. Click Helpful Links for additional information.



The downtown business district of San Rafael is the epicenter of commerce in the city. The Downtown San Rafael Business Improvement District, a nonprofit corporation, was established and serves to revitalize and promote the downtown business area through increased public facilities improvement, stimulation of new capital investment, and blending of public and private economic development strategies. This has ensured that this area is a safe, clean, family-friendly environment for shopping.

San Rafael has art galleries, antique stores, beauty stores, florists, home furnishing stores, bookstores, and groceries. There are many local merchants as well as internationally known brands.

Along with the downtown San Rafael area, there is also Northgate Mall located north in the Terra Linda community. It is Marin County’s only enclosed shopping center and is a sustainable environment with windows that open to the outdoors and skylights that bring in loads of natural sunlight. It has many stores to choose from including Macy's, Gap, Victoria's Secret, H&M, Forever 21, and Sears. There is sure to be something to satisfy all of your shopping needs in San Rafael.

Located to the east of San Rafael's downtown is Montecito Plaza Shopping Center, featuring a pharmacy, pet supply store, and many restaurants and shops, including Trader Joe's. Across the road is Whole Foods Market, bustling with shoppers of all ages enjoying the store, deli, and pizza oven. Click Helpful Links for more San Rafael information.

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