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A Weekend in San Rafael: The Arts and Open Spaces

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Posted in Best Marin Attractions on Monday, June 4, 2018 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 international cuisine, Vin Antico uses local, sustainable seafood and ingredients to serve Italian fare with impeccable ambiance. An award-winning wine bar makes Il Davide a premier Italian destination, with a vanguard interior and dishes prepared with inspired presentation.

For down-home American eats, the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh welcomes you to his lounge and taproom Terrapin Crossroads for home cooking and Lesh’s frequent onstage jamming appearances.

The comfort food bakery Taste Kitchen & Table is a reliable standby for gourmet salads and sandwiches, and you might want to plan your trip around its monthly cooking classes and recurring artisan demos and lectures.

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 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 Travelodge San Rafael and Motel 6 San Rafael both surround those mainstays with California scenery and style, and 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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