Marin Blog · Marin Arts and Culture Collection

A Weekend in San Rafael: The Arts and Open Spaces

Posted in Best Marin Attractions on Thursday, June 1, 2023 by MCVB Staff

By Joe Kukura


The arts and the great outdoors come together for a unique combination in San Rafael—the largest, oldest, and most culturally diverse city in Marin County. While beautiful parks and wide-open spaces make up nearly 30 percent of San Rafael, the city’s love for art and architecture also defines this captivating weekend getaway.

Known as “The City With a Mission” because of its authentic replica of the 1817 Mission San Rafael Arcangel, San Rafael features a gorgeous downtown shopping district full of boutique stores, theaters, and both daytime and nighttime farmers’ markets. But there’s more that makes San Rafael memorable for a weekend trip, and here are a few can’t-miss art and open-space attractions you’ll want to soak up here.


Art Walks and Frank Lloyd Wright

The arts in San Rafael are incorporated into the landscape of this charming city, and strolls outdoors are peppered with breathtaking creations.

This is especially true at each month’s 2nd Friday Art Walk in downtown San Rafael, hosted by the Art Works Downtown art center, which also features sprawling indoor galleries, exhibits, and art classes five days a week. With a restored, turn-of-the-century Queen Anne-style Victorian building, the Falkirk Cultural Center is another popular Art Walk gallery with 11 acres of outdoor sculptures and grounds.

And San Rafael is home to the Marin County Civic Center, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, equipped with an 11-acre lagoon, a 20-acre park, and of course a regular schedule of theatrical productions and nationally known musical acts.


Scenic Wonders

The shores of San Rafael Creek and San Pablo Bay provide plenty of scenic wonders, and San Rafael has a collection of marinas and yacht clubs to best enjoy those waters. Serious fishers love fishing on San Pablo Bay, and 101 Surf Sports can get you on the water in a kayak, kiteboard or stand-up paddleboard.

The water’s also just fine at China Camp State Park, 1,600 acres looking out at the San Francisco Bay. This unique historical park is always popular for swimming, boating, and windsurfing, and has miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife watching.


International and Down-Home Dining Out

Marin County restaurants have always been at the forefront of the farm-to-table food movement, and San Rafael has a few standouts that will be a high point of your weekend.

For locally sourced cuisine, the Hillside Tavern serves California-inspired dining options at their on-site restaurant at the Four Points San Rafael. An award-winning wine bar makes Il Davide a premier Italian destination, with a vanguard interior and dishes prepared with an inspired presentation.

Mexican fare at Mi Pueblo at Northgate Mall, serving authentic Mexican food and hosting a full bar. Mi Pueblo is known for its specialty house burritos and good combo dishes.


Places to Stay: Budget to Luxury

A weekend trip calls for an overnight stay, and there are plenty of distinctive places to stay in San Rafael that make for a magical home base on your trip.

The AC Hotel San Rafael will welcome you with classic design and intuitive service. The minimalist-style guest rooms offer the absolute best, from complimentary Wi-Fi, HDTVs with streaming capabilities, to mini-fridges and deluxe bedding. Start your mornings sunny side up with European inspired fare at AC Kitchen, then later for cocktails and tapas at AC Lounge in the evenings. 

The Panama Hotel and Restaurant is a luxurious, historic bed-and-breakfast with an eclectic collection of themed rooms like a bungalow, a Venetian room, a honeymoon room, and more.

Family-owned and -operated Villa Inn has a retro, motor lodge charm, the North Bay Inn is located just a mile from downtown San Rafael with bed-and-breakfast-style amenities, and the Marin Lodge is a deluxe-budget inn that’s been a one-of-a-kind, affordable San Rafael favorite for generations.

If you prefer the familiarity of established national hotel brands, the Four Points by Sheraton San Rafael provides luxury rooms, with a poolside bar and a gym with all the accommodations.

Embassy Suites by Hilton San Rafael will dazzle you with its balcony and courtyard views, and its signature complimentary cooked-to-order breakfast is of course part of your wake-up call. Well-known budget stops are the SureStay by Best Western and Motel 6 San Rafael - both surround those mainstays with California scenery and style. The Extended Stay America lets you make a longer San Rafael stay of your trip.

The arts, the architecture and the outdoors make San Rafael an unbeatable choice for a weekend trip, with a vibrant cultural scene to complement the sunshine, shores, and scenery.


For all you need to plan your Marin County vacation, visit the Marin Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website or Facebook page.

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Explore This Frank Lloyd Wright Masterpiece in Marin

By John Egan


The Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael stands as a testament to arguably the most revered architect in American history.

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China Camp State Park

China Camp State Park is located on the southwest shore of San Pablo Bay, three miles northeast of downtown San Rafael. The...[Learn More]

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Visitors who like to fish can find many locations in Marin County for fresh and salt water fishing. Some of the popular places include the following:

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