San Rafael is the largest city in Marin County, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Historically home to one of the original Spanish missions, San Rafael is now a mid-sized commuter town with beautiful hills, peaceful nature, interesting architecture, and a bustling downtown area centered around 4th Street. San Rafael is the cultural and political center of Marin, and offers its own set of attractions as well as easy access to other parts of the county.
Ferries run from the ferry terminal in Union Square-Financial District, downtown San Francisco. With hourly departures, every 30 minutes during rush hours, ferries are a convenient way of reaching San Rafael. 1 Larkspur Ferry Terminal is about two kilometers from downtown, but is served by buses and the SMART train.
The 2 San Rafael Transit Center is a hub for local buses, with service to other parts of Marin provided by Marin Transit and service to Sonoma County, San Francisco, and Richmond provided by Golden Gate Transit. The Marin and Oakland airporters (with service to San Francisco International Airport and Oakland International Airport) and Greyhound buses also stop at the transit center.
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, or SMART, has two stations in San Rafael, connecting it with Novato, Larkspur (with connections to the Golden Gate Ferry to San Francisco), and places in Sonoma County: Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, and Sonoma County Airport. One railroad station is located downtown next to the Transit Center, and the other is near the Civic Center.
The nearest major airports are San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Oakland International Airport (OAK). To get to San Rafael from SFO, you can take the Marin Airporter, which departs SFO every half hour, early morning to late evening, and drops passengers at Anderson Drive and at the Transit Center. Fare is $23 to be paid in cash when you get off.
Groome Transportation, formerly the Airport Express or Oakland Airporter, goes to San Rafael from Oakland Airport, departing every two hours.
Downtown San Rafael is based on a grid network, with numbered streets running east-west and lettered streets running north-south. The downtown area is walkable, but to visit other places like the Civic Center or China Camp, you're better off driving or biking. Marin Transit's bus service, mentioned above, is also a feasible option for getting to different areas.
Taxis are available in San Rafael, and they can also take you to other towns in Marin. You won't usually be able to hail one off the street, but you can call one, and they also line up at the transit center. You can call a taxi from North Bay Cooperative Taxi at +1-415-258-2800.
Fourth Street, the main street in central San Rafael, is full of shops and restaurants and has a vibrant downtown feel.
- 1 Mission San Rafael Arcangel, 1104 Fifth Ave (at A Street), ☏ . W-F Su 11AM to 4PM. The 20th of the 21 California missions, San Rafael was founded as an asistencia or adjunct to Mission Dolores in San Francisco in 1817, but was promoted to full mission status in 1822. San Rafael was a hospital mission, tending the sick from Spanish settlements and natives. The first mission secularized, it was used by General John C. Fremont during the Mexican-American War, and during statehood as the Marin County Courthouse. The original church was torn down in 1861, and a series of Catholic churches were erected at that site. The mission chapel has been restored in 1949, and tours of the site as well as a museum containing three original mission bells are open to the public. Free.
- 2 Marin County Civic Center. The Civic Center is the only example of a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed government building in the world, and was considered to be well ahead of its time, making it a creative choice as the backdrop of the film Gattaca. Ninety-minute tours of the building leave every Wednesday and Friday at 10:30AM from the café on the second floor (room 233) and cost $10 ($5 for seniors and students). A branch of the county's public library, where you can see a model of the Civic Center, is located on the fourth floor. Next to the building is the large Duck Pond, officially the Civic Center Lagoon, a nice, shady area to take a walk or feed ducks.
- 1 Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (Rafael Theater), 1118 Fourth St (between A & B Street), ☏ . M-Th 6PM-9PM, F 4PM-9PM, Sa Su 2PM-9PM. The Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center is a beautifully restored Art Deco theater that was seen in the film American Graffiti. It plays independent films, popular foreign films, and documentaries daily and is located at the heart of 4th street. $6.50-10.
- 2 China Camp State Park (from downtown San Rafael, head east on 3rd St and keep following it after it turns into Point San Pedro Rd), ☏ . China Camp was established as a village by Chinese immigrants. Now it's a state park with hiking trails, a beach, a museum, and natural scenery. If you keep your eyes open, you may still stumble across shards of Chinese pottery during your visit.
- 3 McNears Beach, 201 Cantera Way (Just south of China Camp). Featuring a swimming pool, fishing pier, snack bar, picnic areas, and volleyball and tennis. A fishing license is not needed when fishing from the pier, but is required when fishing from shore. $5/vehicle.
- 4 Marin Shakespeare (Forest Meadows Amphitheater), 890 Belle Ave, ☏ , [email protected]. Shakespeare and other classic plays performed every summer in an outdoor theater. Sit near the front to make sure you can hear clearly, and consider bringing or renting cushions for the wooden bench seats. Bring a jacket or a blanket for evening performances—San Rafael cools down quickly when the sun sets.
- Marin County Fair. Food, rides, art and performances at a large fair held every summer near the Civic Center. Don't miss the firework shows every night of the fair, culminating on the Fourth of July.
- Hiking. The hills north of San Rafael have some hiking trails, as does China Camp, though for really great views you have to go a little further afield to other parts of Marin.
This region of California is full of fertile farmland, so fresh produce is plentiful. There are several weekly farmers' markets which feature music, crafts, and activities for kids as well as a variety of local food.
The main street downtown is 4th Street, full of shops, boutiques, and restaurants with a lively feel.
- 1 Thursday Farmer's Market (near the Civic Center). every Thursday 8AM-1PM.
- 2 Sunday Farmers Market (near the Civic Center). every Sunday 8AM-1PM. A great place to stock up on farm fresh vegetables & fruit, bread from many local bakeries, and gourmet cheeses and fresh seafood. Grab a cup of coffee, sample a fresh crepe or waffle, and get to know some of the most dedicated farmers in Marin.
- 3 San Rafael Downtown Farmer's Market (Fourth Street between B & Cijos). Thursdays (May–September) 6PM to 9PM. Unlike the Civic Center farmer's markets, this market is more focused on entertainment. Approximately 100 farmers, food vendors, and artists attend each week.
- 4 Northgate Mall (The Mall at Northgate), 5800 Northgate Mall, ☏ . Nothing to write home about, but a perfectly nice mall with a movie theater and food court.
- 5 Gamescape, 1225 4th St, ☏ . M-F 11AM-7PM, Sa 10AM-7PM, Su 11AM-6PM. Popular local store for board games, card games, and role-playing games. Has a huge variety that will interest anyone from families looking to pass time on a car ride to serious roleplayers or wargamers. In the back you'll sometimes see groups playing Warhammer, Magic, or Pokemon. The staff are knowledgeable and very helpful.
Like most Bay Area towns, San Rafael has a number of pubs and taco joints as well as cafes and bars. Many restaurants are located on Fourth Street
- 1 Armida's Bakery (formerly Muffin Mania), 2 Bayview St, ☏ . Vegan and cornmeal muffins, among others. Grateful dead atmosphere. Delicious sandwiches. Excellent coffee.
- 2 Sushi To Dai For, 816 4th St, ☏ .
- 3 Taqueria San Jose, 615 4th St, ☏ . Just under highway 101.
- 4 Lotus Indian Cuisine, 4704 4th St, ☏ . Simply the best Indian food in Marin, relaxed and quiet atmosphere, excellent service, and a retractable ceiling to let in the sun on a warm day.
- 5 Sol Food, 901 Lincoln Ave, ☏ . Puerto Rican cuisine and tropical ambiance make this restaurant very popular with the locals.
- 6 Puentez Taqueria, 243 3rd St (Located in the east corner of Montecito Plaza, near Trader Joe's), ☏ , [email protected]. M-Sa 10AM-9PM. Mom & pop taqueria in Montecito plaza. $3-5.
- 7 Aroma Cafe, 1122 4th Street (next to the Rafael Theater), ☏ . M–Sa 7AM–10PM, Su 7:30AM–10PM. Coffee shop vibe, but the menu has a variety of food, including wraps and pita. Grab a bite to eat or just chat over coffee.
- 8 Arizmendi, 1002 4th Street, ☏ . M–F 7AM–7PM, Sa 8AM–7PM, Su 9AM–3PM. Worker-owned bakery and pizzeria with delicious cookies. Lots of vegan and gluten-free options.
- 9 Double Rainbow Café, 860 4th Street, ☏ . M–Th 11AM–10PM, F Sa 11AM–midnight, Su noon–10PM. It calls itself a café, and yes, there are drinks and sandwiches, but the real draw here is the ice cream. Double Rainbow just has good old-fashioned ice cream—nothing fancy, not too expensive. There's usually a vegan/dairy-free option or two.
- 1 The Mayflower Pub, 1533 Fourth Street, ☏ . Authentic British pub & grill, same location since 1971. Serves lunch & dinner. Great salads, burgers, fish & chips, bangers & mash, sausage rolls, and other standards.
- 2 Red Whale Coffee, 169 Paul Drive, ☏ , toll-free: . M-F 7AM-4:40PM, Sa Su 8AM-2PM. Unpretentious coffee place with a unique approach to coffee.
- 1 Embassy Suites by Hilton San Rafael Marin County, 101 McInnis Pkwy, ☏ .
- 2 Motel 6, 737 E Francisco Blvd, ☏ .
- 3 Extended Stay America, 1775 Francisco Blvd E, ☏ , [email protected]. Accommodations geared towards the extended stay traveler. 112 guest rooms complete with fully equipped kitchens, on-site laundry facility, indoor pool, outdoor hot tub, meeting room, breakfast in the morning, business center, Wireless Internet throughout the property, flat screen televisions in all rooms, and fitness center on-site.
- 4 North Bay Inn - San Rafael, 855 E Francisco Blvd, ☏ . B&B.
- 5 Panama Hotel, 4 Bayview St, ☏ , toll-free: . A small, quaint, eclectic hotel, with unusual and uniquely decorated theme rooms. The restaurant is likewise unusual and pleasing, and yes, the jazz is a nice addition. Mexican-Italian-Californian cuisine in an artsy interior, and outdoor dining in spring and summer. The whole affair is located in a quiet district, near the center of town. Rates include a very nice continental breakfast.
San Rafael's crime rate is higher than most of Marin County, but it is still much safer than larger nearby cities like San Francisco or Oakland.
If you decide to venture into the Canal District, stay alert, even in the daytime, as parts of it are quite dangerous. However, it is home to some of the best Latin food in the Bay Area. Try not to wear too much red- or blue-colored clothing—you may be confused as a rival to another gang and approached. It is best not to walk around the Canal District at night. West of Kerner is more dangerous than East of Kerner, which has nice town homes along the water.
Parts of Downtown, Terra Linda, and near Woodland Avenue have some crime as well so just be aware of your surroundings and don't dress all in red or blue.
- Nearby Fairfax
- Mill Valley, gateway to the beautiful Muir Woods and Mount Tamalpais
- Continue north on 101 towards Napa Valley and the wine country.
- Point Reyes is to the west on the Pacific coastline.
- San Francisco is just a 20-30 minute drive south on 101.
- Head over the hill to Stinson Beach on the Pacific Coast.
|Routes through San Rafael|
|END ←||W E||→ Richmond → Oakland|
|Santa Rosa ← Novato ←||N S||→ Larkspur → San Francisco|
|Santa Rosa ← Novato ←||N S||→ Larkspur → END|