The Franciscan Missionaries created 21 missions in California– the 20th of which was Mission San Rafael. For many years, the Indians at Mission Dolores, just south of San Francisco, suffered from a constant ailment, which was termed “White Man’s Disease”. It was thought that the sunny hills north of the Golden Gate would be a far healthier location, and the Missionaries named the Mission after Saint Raphael, the saint of bodily healing. For a period of time the Mission was both a sanitarium and an outpost chapel of the San Francisco Mission. In 1822, it became a full-fledged mission. A replica of the original San Rafael Mission was built in 1949 and stands as a museum containing interesting artifacts of the Mission’s early days and is worth a gander if you are looking for a cultural activity in San Rafael.
San Rafael incorporated in early 1874 and is Marin County’s oldest city. With a population of approximately 60,000, San Rafael is far larger than any other Marin County town, with the exception of Novato which is roughly the same size. San Rafael is also the governmental center of Marin County, with the county offices located at the Civic Center in North San Rafael. The Civic Center is a beautiful example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural work. Due to its unique architecture, the Civic Center was staged for the 1997 science fiction film Gattaca. Similarly, George Lucas got his start when he filmed American Graffiti on 4th Street in San Rafael.
San Rafael is a large town / small city with a diverse population, more so than any town in Marin, except Novato. The city has been gentrifying for a decade and now hosts fantastic new restaurants, boutiques and specialty stores. There are a great many neighborhoods in San Rafael, some of which are still quite affordable for families and others offer breathtaking views of the Bay, Bridges and Marin Headlands.
Comparing San Rafael to other suburban towns so close to major metropolitan areas, it is hard not to consider San Rafael a relative value. The town is gentrifying albeit at a slower pace than other Marin County towns.
San Rafael has 14 civic parks including China Camp, the location of an old Chinese fishing village on the San Pablo Bay, which boasts fantastic mountain biking and hiking on the hills surrounding it. The Civic Center Park hosts a plentiful farmer’s market on Thursdays and Sundays, as well as the annual Marin County Fair held during the summer. Also of note is the Jewish Community Center in Santa Venetia, near the Civic Center. The JCC was recently immaculately re-done and offers people of all faiths very affordable memberships to the athletic club, 2 pools, gyms, spinning and aerobic classes, and other related facilities.
San Rafael Public school district is large and diverse