San Rafael

The county seat of Marin, San Rafael is large, diverse, eclectic and historic. That history stretches from California’s beginnings, with the founding in 1817 of Mission San Rafael on the old El Camino Real, to the construction of the eye-popping Marin Civic Center in the 1960’s. Designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Civic Center was completed in 1962, and is so futuristic it pops up in science fiction films like THX and Gattaca.

San Rafael still looks to the future, thanks to a vibrant downtown redevelopment effort. The focal point of downtown is the Smith Rafael Film Center that features a state of the art multiplex cinema showing adventurous independent and foreign films. Its speaker series invites star and directors to discuss their work, including Sean Penn, Julie Delpy, and Benjamin Bratt.

Cuisine is eclectic – within a few blocks on 4th Street diners can find Sushi, Indian, Thai, Italian, Mexican, and perhaps most popular of all, the Puerto Rican restaurant, Sol Food. With its acid green exterior walls, Sol Food brings some hard to miss home cooking to the Bay Area. Thursday afternoons in the spring and summer finds 4th Street hosting a farmers market, live music, and street fair that attract thousands.

The neighborhoods of San Rafael are equally distinctive. From the sought after mid-century Eichler homes of Terra Linda, the Victorians that surround Dominican College, and the custom homes of Lucas Valley, San Rafael provides diversity of price and style.

It’s easy to get away from it all. Nearby China Camp State Park is a jewel by the bay, offering a kid-friendly walk-in campground for tents only, a shallow, protected swimming beach, and sweet single-track mountain biking and trail running for the athletic.

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