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San Rafael

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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, nature parks, 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.

Get in[edit]

Larkspur landing with express ferries from San Francisco.

By car[edit]

San Rafael is on the 101 Freeway, north of San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge. 101 crosses Highway 580 in San Rafael, making the city a major influx point for drivers from the East Bay.

By ferry[edit]

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.

By bus[edit]

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.

By train[edit]

Starting in 2017, the new SMART system, or Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, will connect San Rafael with Santa Rosa and eventually Cloverdale.

Get around[edit]

Downtown San Rafael is based on a grid network, with numbered streets running east-west and lettered streets running north-south.

See[edit]

  • 1 Mission San Rafael Arcangel1104 Fifth Ave (at A Street),  +1-415-456-3016. 11AM to 4PM Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. The 20th of the 21 California missions, San Rafael was originally 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. Mission San Rafael Arcángel on Wikipedia Q728990 on Wikidata
  • 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. Marin County Civic Center on Wikipedia Q1150950 on Wikidata

Do[edit]

  • 1 Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center1118 Fourth St (between A & B Street),  +1-415-454-5813. 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),  +1 415 456-0766. China Camp was originally a village established 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. China Camp State Park on Wikipedia Q1073221 on Wikidata
  • 3 McNears Beach (Just south of China Camp). Featuring a swimming pool, fishing pier, snack bar, picnic areas, and volleyball and tennis. McNears Beach, California on Wikipedia Q6802501 on Wikidata
  • 4 Marin Shakespeare (Forest Meadows Amphitheater), 890 Belle Ave +1 415-499-4488, e-mail: . 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 Shakespeare Company on Wikipedia Q6763753 on Wikidata

Buy[edit]

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.

  • 1 Thursday Farmer's Market (near the Civic Center). every Thursday 8AM-1PM.
  • 2 Sunday Farmer's 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.100 local farmers, hot food purveyors, artisans, prepared food vendors, restaurants, and downtown businesses.
  • 4 Spider Murphy's Tattoo1006 Lincoln Ave. Noon–7PM daily.
  • 5 Northgate Mall (The Mall at Northgate), 5800 Northgate Mall +1 415 479-5955. Nothing to write home about, but a perfectly nice mall with a movie theater and food court. The Mall at Northgate on Wikipedia Q7749779 on Wikidata

Eat[edit]

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 Muffin Mania2 Bayview St +1 415 485-1027. Vegan and cornmeal muffins, among others. Grateful dead atmosphere. Delicious sandwiches. Excellent coffee.
  • 2 Mayflower Inn1533 Fourth St +1-415-456-1011. British Pub serving lunch & dinner. Great salads, burgers, fish & chips, bangers & mash, sausage rolls, and other standards.
  • 3 Sushi To Dai For816 4th St +1-415-721-0392.
  • 4 Taqueria San Jose615 4th St +1-415-455-0999. Just under highway 101.
  • 5 Panama Hotel Restaurant and Inn4 Bayview St +1-415-457-3993, toll-free: +1-800-899-3993. Cozy Marin County Bed and Breakfast and Restaurant. Check out the Jazz Thursday nights. Mexican-Italian-Californian Cuisine in an artsy Interior. Great outdoor dining in spring and summer.
  • 6 Lotus Indian Cuisine4704 4th St +1-415-456-5808. 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.
  • 7 Sol Food901 Lincoln Ave +1-415-451-4765. Puerto Rican cuisine and tropical ambiance make this restaurant very popular with the locals.
  • 8 Puentez Taqueria243 3rd St (Located in the east corner of Montecito Plaza, near Trader Joe's),  +1-415-721-7992, e-mail: . M-Sa 10AM-9PM. Mom & pop taqueria in Montecito plaza. $3-5.

Drink[edit]

  • Fourth St. Tavern
  • Mayflower Inn—Authentic British Pub & Grill, same location since 1971–1533 Fourth Street
  • Trevor's Tavern—A home away from home.

Sleep[edit]

  • 1 Embassy Suites by Hilton San Rafael Marin County101 McInnis Pkwy +1-415-499-9222.
  • 2 Motel 6737 E Francisco Blvd +1-415-453-3450.
  • 3 Extended Stay Deluxe1775 Francisco Blvd E +1-415-451-1887. 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 Rafael855 E Francisco Blvd +1-415-456-8620. B&B.
  • 5 Panama Hotel4 Bayview St +1-415-457-3993. A small, quaint, nice hotel, with unusual and uniquely decorated theme rooms. The restaurant is likewise unusual and pleasing, and yes, the jazz is a nice addition. The whole affair is located in a quiet district, near the center of town. Rates include a very nice continental breakfast. If you like eclectic, not the same-as-usual experiences, this is the place.

Stay safe[edit]

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.

Go next[edit]

Routes through San Rafael
END  W I-580.svg E  RichmondOakland
Santa RosaNovato  N US 101.svg S  LarkspurSan Francisco


This city travel guide to San Rafael is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.