San Rafael is at the center of things. The oldest, largest and most culturally diverse city in Marin also enjoys the best weather. San Rafael is a lively business and cultural center located in an area of incomparable natural beauty.
At the city’s heart is its charming, vibrant downtown shopping district. Downtown’s mixture of Victorian buildings, ethnic restaurants, retail stores and financial institutions creates San Rafael’s hometown flavor. Art Works Downtown, Inc. is located on Fourth Street and is Marin's premier non-profit art center, with 4 art galleries, 28 art studios, a jewelers guild and frame shop, a restaurant, and more.
In the center of town is the new San Rafael City Plaza, with its innovative water wall fountain. The plaza has become a community gathering place and the center of seasonal events such as the Thursday night farmers markets and summertime concerts.
Nearby is an authentic recreation of Mission San Rafael Arcangel; founded in 1817 as part of California’s mission chain, a replica of the original mission with a museum, gift shop and self-guided tours, attracts many visitors. It is also the backdrop for the annual Italian Street Painting Marin, where hundreds of artists, art lovers, families, students, and people from communities all over the Bay Area come to celebrate the magnificent art of Italian Street Painting.
San Rafael’s history is present in many of its beautifully restored turn-of-the century buildings, including the Marin History Museum, the Falkirk Cultural Center, and the 106-year-old Dominican University. Many of these buildings are featured in a self-guided walking tour guide, available at the local Chamber of Commerce.
The Marin County Civic Center, home to the county’s government offices and an architectural treasure, is a national and state designated historical landmark. Designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, it is available on weekdays for self-guided or docent-led tours.
Parklands and open space account for nearly 30 percent of the city’s land. Since it borders the San Pablo Bay, San Rafael has an abundance of marinas and many water-oriented recreational activities are available. Nature lovers will appreciate the quiet beauty of China Camp State Park, a 1,600-acre park with hiking and biking trails and overnight campsites. The park’s visitor center presents the site’s interesting history as a Chinese immigrant shrimping village.