First-Timer’s Guide to San Rafael

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    Marin Civic Center

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    Marin Farmer's Market

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    Terrapin Crossroads

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    Downtown San Rafael

Posted in Blogging Marin on Thursday, November 5, 2015 by MCVB Staff

By Megan Eileen McDonough

 

San Rafael might not be at the top of your travel wish list, but it should be! As one of the original Spanish mission settlements, the city has quite a fascinating history. Founded in 1817, San Rafael was once home to several Miwok Native American villages. Today, the city feels modern yet quaint, and it’s this winning combination that keeps travelers coming back year after year. For first-time visitors, deciding what to see and do can be tricky, but we've rounded up the best activities and attractions so you don't have to!

 

What to See

As Marin County's oldest and largest city, San Rafael sure has a lot of cultural intrigue, and with a historic old town, it’s no wonder travelers love spending time downtown. Start your day at the San Rafael City Plaza. It's the middle of town and also quite a photo-op, with its impressive water-wall fountain. Culture buffs can’t miss the Marin County Civic Center, the last commissioned work by internationally acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as the spectacular Falkirk Cultural Center, a Victorian estate turned center for the arts. When your stomach starts growling, pop into one of downtown's ethnic restaurants or do a little shopping at the fashion boutiques. Be sure to take note of the beautiful Victorian buildings that flank the streets on either side.

 

Things to Do

One of the best tips for touring San Rafael is to do as the locals do. Set aside a few hours for Art Works Downtown, Inc. Located on Fourth Street downtown, there are four art galleries, 28 art studios, a frame shop, a jewelers’ guild and a restaurant. Gallery hop, take a class or attend one of the regularly scheduled events. Another popular spot is the Thursday-night farmers’ market. Listen to live music from local talent or shop for the perfect souvenir at one of the many artisan stalls. When you need a break from the crowds, take a walk through the 1,600-acre China Camp State Park while learning about its history as a shrimping village.

 

Where to Eat

San Rafael is home to some of Marin County’s best restaurants, so don’t be shy about ordering the special. For traditional Italian fare, head straight to Il Davide, which sources food from local farms and uses organic ingredients in most dishes. Even celiacs can enjoy house-made pasta. Just make sure to request gluten-free pasta. For seasonal farm-to-table American food, make a reservation at Terrapin Crossroads. Take in the waterfront view outside or opt for a romantic table in the recently renovated living room. Craving seafood? Look no further than Vin Antico. Split a few of the shared plates like pan-seared scallops and trio of meatballs or indulge in a flavorful entrée.

 

Where to Stay

A trip to San Rafael can be as luxurious or as lean as your budget allows, and luckily, there are enough accommodation options to make everyone happy. The Embassy Suites by Hilton San Rafael is a smart choice, as it’s located 15 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge and 15 minutes south of Sonoma and Napa. The newly renovated Four Points by Sheraton San Rafael, with its relaxed, contemporary atmosphere, is an ideal destination for business and leisure travelers alike. For longer stays, Extended Stay America is a safe bet. Rooms come with fully equipped kitchens and plenty of space to set up a "home" office. If you're looking for a boutique hotel with lots of personality, book a room at The Panama Hotel and Restaurant. There's as much charm inside as there is nature outside.

 

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

More information on featured attractions:

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Downtown San Rafael

The Downtown San Rafael Business Improvement District (BID) is a 501 C(6) nonprofit corporation established to revitalize the downtown corridor and promote the common interests of Downtown businesses....[Learn More]

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Marin County Civic Center

Thousands of visitors come to Marin County each year to see the futuristic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Marin County Civic Center. It was Wright’s last major commission and is...[Learn More]

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Falkirk Cultural Center

Falkirk, an 1888 Queen Anne-style Victorian building is the former home of shipping magnate Robert Dollar. The 17-room mansion was purchased by the community in 1974 to be...[Learn More]

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Art Works Downtown, Inc.

Art Works Downtown Inc. is a premier nonprofit art center in a 40,000 sq.ft historic building in the heart of downtown San Rafael on Fourth Street.  Featuring 4...[Learn More]

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Marin Farmers Market

Marin County is known as a center for organic food and cutting-edge organic farming techniques. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visited Marin County in 2005 to...[Learn More]

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China Camp State Park

This 1,648-acre bayside park just outside of San Rafael, acquired its name from a Chinese fishing village that once flourished there. Visitors may view a preserved fisherman’s cottage...[Learn More]

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Terrapin Crossroads

Perched beautifully along the canals of San Rafael, Terrapin Crossroads is a fantastic new restaurant and music venue that pays homage to the abundant varieties of fresh ingredients...[Learn More]

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Il Davide

Il Davide is considered one of the best Italian restaurants in Marin. Owner / Chef David Haydon is the master behind Il Davide and is often found in...[Learn More]

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Vin Antico

 Farm-to-table fare, "where passion meets the plate"~

 Vin Antico's theme "where passion meets the plate," showcases the bounty of local farmers by bringing to the table dishes made up...[Learn More]

Tags: SanRafael