Population 59,070 approximate
Named after the Mission San Rafael Archangel, built by Spanish missionaries in 1817, San Rafael is located 18 miles north of San Francisco, halfway between San Francisco and the Sonoma wine country. The area enjoys a mild, Mediterranean climate year round. Beautiful Mount Tamalpais dominates the landscape to the south and west, providing protection from the ocean breezes and coastal fog.
Marin's premier city, San Rafael, is the oldest and largest city in the County and it is also the seat of County Government. Marin's second most popular tourist spot after Muir Woods, the Frank Lloyd Wright Civic Center, was the last major structure and the only government building designed by the world famous architect. It is now a national historic landmark.
The 20 acre Marin County Civic Center is home to Marin County's government offices, the main County Library, and the Marin Center for the Performing Arts. Nearby China Camp State Park, a Chinese shrimp-fishing village thrived on this site in the 1880’s.
Nearly 500 people, originally from Canton, China, lived in the village. In its heyday, there were three general stores, a marine supply store and a barber shop. Fisherman by trade in their native country, they gravitated to the work they knew best. Over 90% of the shrimp they netted were dried and shipped to China or Chinese communities throughout the US. Visit China Camp Village and walk through the house museum describing early Chinese settlement.
Marin's oldest city offers a wide assortment of housing, from Peacock Gap Golf and Country Club's contemporary homes and condominiums overlooking the Bay, to spacious traditional homes in the prestigious Dominican area and San Rafael Country Club to Gerstle Park, a sought after area for vintage homes.
San Rafael has 14 parks, yacht clubs, outstanding docking and launching facilities, tennis-swim clubs and bicycle trails. In the Northern part of San Rafael you will find ranch style and Eichler homes, which are quite prevalent in the Terra Linda and Marinwood areas. At the city’s heart is its charming, vibrant downtown shopping district. Downtown’s mixture of Victorian buildings, ethnic restaurants, street cafes, retail stores and financial institutions creates San Rafael’s hometown flavor.
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 Archangel; 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, attract many visitors. It is also the backdrop for the annual Youth in Arts, Italian Street Painting Festival held in June.
The city is served by two school districts; Dixie School District and the San Rafael School District. It is also home to the lovely Dominican College campus, founded in 1888. 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 where visitors enjoy camping, wildlife watching, hiking, swimming, boating and wind surfing.
Other notable places to visit are McNear's Beach Park,on the eastern side of San Rafael, which rims a picture perfect shoreline, is wonderfully secluded and offers lush lawn for picnicking, swimming and tennis, yet only minutes from town San Rafael the center of Marin County offers one almost every convenience.
The History Of San Rafael
San Rafael’s history is present in many of its beautifully restored turn of the century buildings, including the Marin County Historical Society Museum, the Falkirk Cultural Center, a handsomely preserved, 17 room Victorian mansion, set on 11 acres of formal grounds just a block from downtown, 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.
San Rafael was once the site of several Coast Miwok villages in San Rafael, Terra Linda, and Marinwood. Mission San Rafael Archangel was founded in what is now downtown San Rafael as the 20th Spanish mission in the colonial province of Alta California by Father Perfect Vicente Francisco de Sarria, along with an escort of soldiers, four years before Mexico gained independence from Spain.
The mission and city are named for the Archangel Raphael, the Angel of Healing. The mission was originally planned as a hospital site for Central Valley American Indians who had become ill at the cold San Francisco Mission Dolores. Father Luis Gil, who spoke several Native American languages, was put in charge of the facility. In part because of its ideal weather, San Rafael was later upgraded to full mission status in 1822.
The mission had 300 converts within its first year and 1,140 converts by 1828. The Mexican government took over the California missions in 1834, and Mission San Rafael was abandoned in 1844, eventually falling into ruin. The current mission was built in the style of the original in 1949, but faces at right angles to the alignment of the original.