San Rafael was the site of what was originally a number of Miwok Native American villages. The city itself was founded in 1817 as an extension of Mission Dolores in San Francisco. Ailing newly baptized Native Americans from the Miwok tribe were recommended to move to the "beautiful valley surrounded with hills studded with oak trees," where many of them recovered . The mission was then named after Saint Rafael, whose name means "healing of God." Today, a replica of the original mission church stands overlooking downtown San Rafael.
San Rafael is situated in Marin County, whose county line begins halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge and extends North until it reaches Sonoma County. Marin is an affluent suburb of San Francisco with many protected parks and ecosystems and 11 towns total, with San Rafael being the largest in population. San Rafael is the county seat for Marin County.
The city has a population of roughly 58,000. San Rafael has a mild climate, with an average temperature of 59 degrees . There's heavy rain in the fall and winter, with occasional frosts and temperatures hovering between 40 and 60 degrees during these seasons. Summers are generally hot (into high 80s or more) so pack a swimsuit!
San Rafael is home to many schools, including multiple high schools and a university, so a young crowd is always present walking through downtown on a daily basis as well as during community events.
The Marin County Visitor's Bureau  located in the Civic Center in San Rafael offers information on all surrounding towns as well as activities, attractions, events, and transportation in San Rafael. The phone number is +1 415 925-2060.
San Francisco International Airport is about 40 minutes away across the Golden Gate Bridge and is the largest airport in the area. This airport offers the Marin Airporter, a shuttle with scheduled service between the airport and several Marin County towns including San Rafael.
Oakland International Airport is also located about 40 minutes away, but across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. This airport offers the Airport Express shuttle.
San Rafael is on the 101 Freeway, north of San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge. 101 crosses Highway 580 in San Rafael, making the city a major influx point for drivers from the East Bay.
If coming through San Francisco, you'll be taking the 101 across the famous Golden Gate Bridge and through the rainbow tunnel. This route takes you through Southern Marin County, until you see an exit for Central San Rafael.
If coming through Berkeley or other East Bay cities, you'll be taking the 580 across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, driving past San Quentin State Prison, where it connects to the 101 in the center of San Rafael.
The Golden Gate Ferry is another way to get into San Rafael, though less direct. It leaves San Francisco or AT&T Park (from baseball games) and arrives in nearby Larkspur, less than 5 minutes down the 101 from San Rafael.
San Rafael is home to the San Rafael Transit Center, which serves the Golden Gate Transit  (San Francisco, Sonoma, and Marin counties), the Marin Transit , the airport shuttles, and Greyhound bus lines among others.
Marin Airporter, +1 415 461-4222, offers service between various Marin County locations, including the San Rafael Transit Center, and San Francisco International Airport.
Airport Express, +1 415 775-5121, offers service between various Marin County locations and Oakland Airport.
Mission San Rafael Arcangel, 1104 Fifth Avenue (at A Street), 415-456-3016, . M-F 6:30AM-5PM, Sa 8:30AM-5PM, Su 9AM-5PM. The northernmost of California's 21 missions, San Rafael was founded in 1817 as an asistencia or adjunct to Mission Dolores in San Francisco. San Rafael was a hospital mission, tending the sick from Spanish settlements and natives. The mission chapel has been restored in 1949, and tours of the site as well as a museum are open to the public. Free.
Marin County Civic Center The Civic Center is the only example of a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed government building in the world, and was considered to be well ahead of its time, making it a creative choice as the backdrop of the film Gattaca.
Gerstle Park, . This is a beautiful park and neighborhood right next to downtown. The park is a wonderful place to spend a relaxing day. The neighborhood even has a few restaurants, including Muffin Mania and the Panama Hotel Restaurant (see "Eat" section). edit
Falkirk Cultural Center, 1408 Mission Avenue, . This beautiful Victorian house dates back to the 1880s and is now operated by the city of San Rafael. The property includes expansive gardens and ponds open to the public daily, and the center hosts a bevy of events throughout the year including tea parties, musical performances, and holiday festivals. edit
Marin History Museum, 1125 B Street, ☎ +1 415-454-8538, . Tu/Wed 11am-4pm, Thurs 11am-8pm, Fri/Sat 11am-4pm. This historical Victorian house now serves as a museum dedicated to Marin County's past. It is located right next to the Falkirk Cultural Center. Free admission. edit
McNear's Beach County Park (McNear's), 201 Cantera Way, ☎ +1 415-499-6387, . Daily, 7am-8pm. This park is located along the shoreline of the San Pablo bay. It includes sprawling lawns with panoramic views of the bay, a swimming pool with a snack bar, tennis and volleyball courts, picnic tables, and a fishing pier. This is a great place to spend a day regardless of the season, with many activities available. $8 per weekday, $10 Fri/Sat. edit
The Farmers Market every Sunday at the Civic Center is a great place to stock up on farm fresh vegetables & fruit, bread from many local bakeries, and gourmet cheeses and fresh seafood. Grab a cup of coffee, sample a fresh crepe or waffle, and get to know some of the most dedicated farmers in Marin.
Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street San Rafael, CA 94901 (On 4th Street between A & B Street), ☎ 415-454-5813, . Mon - Thur 6pm - 9pm Fri 4pm - 9pm Sat & Sun 2pm - 9pm. The Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center is a beautifully restored Art Deco theater that was seen in the film American Graffiti. It plays independent films, popular foreign films, and documentaries daily and is located at the heart of 4th street. $6.50-10. edit
Downtown San Rafael Farmers Market, 4th Street between D St and Lincoln Ave, . Thursdays 6pm-9pm, April through September. This market is different from the one at the Civic Center. It takes place in Downtown San Rafael on 4th Street, the main thoroughfare of downtown, which is shut down for the public during the market. The market features fresh fruits and vegetables, restaurant tents, kids activities, and live music. Many bars along 4th Street also have a special Happy Hour during the Farmers Market season. edit
McInnis Park Golf Center (McInnis), 350 Smith Ranch Road, ☎ +1 415-492-1800, . McInnis features a 9-hole par 31 golf course with views of the San Francisco Bay and nearby Mount Tamalpais. The center also includes a driving range and a Golf Academy where it provides lessons to the general public for a fee. There is a mini-golf course for children as well as batting cages and a snack shop. Inside, there is a restaurant and full bar which are both open to the general public. edit
China Camp State Park, 101 Peacock Gap Trail, ☎ +1 415-456-0766, . China Camp offers activities such as camping, boating, mountain biking, horseback riding, and hiking. Swimming and picnic site reservations are also available. China Camp Village contains a museum, and there is a variety of wildlife to be observed throughout the park. edit
San Rafael has multiple shopping locations. Downtown San Rafael, namely 4th Street, contains a variety of shops.
Spider Murphy's Tattoo on Lincoln Ave.
Dharma Trading Company, 1604 Fourth St., San Rafael (Walkable from the San Rafael Golden Gate Transit hub.), ☎ 415-456-1211, . A spectacular collection of materials for dyeing fabric. You can also order from them online.edit
Northgate Mall, 5800 Northgate Mall Rd, ☎ +1 415-479-5955, . Located in Northern San Rafael, this newly renovated mall contains a Macy's, Forever 21, H&M, Gap, and other big name brands. There are also a few restaurants including Applebee's, BJ's Restaurant and Brewery, and Panera Bread, among others. edit
Viva Diva Boutique, 1327 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-256-8380, . One of many 4th Street establishments, Viva Diva is a go-to for girly style and trendy clothes. This store also sells prom and evening dresses, and the staff is very friendly! edit
Triumph, 907 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-457-1625, . Mon-Fri 11am-7pm, Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 11am-6pm. Another 4th Street staple is Triumph, a skate shop run by two young men from San Rafael. The shop sells items by brands like Nike SB, The Hundreds, HUF, and others. The owners often organize events, like in-store movie nights and promotions at neighborhood skate parks. edit
The Mighty Quinn, 1099 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-457-2420. Mon-Sat 11am-8pm, Sun 11am-7pm. Keeping with Marin County's hippie roots, The Mighty Quinn is a head shop that sells hookahs, vaporizers, pipes, and bongs. This quirky shop is located on 4th Street downstairs from the First Republic Bank. edit
T&B Sports, 1345 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-453-2433, . 9am-6pm. T&B Sports has been a staple on 4th Street for decades, providing quality equipment for the following sports: baseball, softball, football, soccer, basketball, wrestling, lacrosse, and volleyball. The store also sells local sports team jerseys, clothing articles, and accessories (Oakland As, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco Giants, and San Francisco 49ers). This store has almost anything you would need for sports. edit
Image for Success, 1557 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-453-1694, . This store is actually a non-profit! The store provides clients with wardrobes to aid them in a successful transition to self-reliance, whether helping individuals dress for job interviews or helping struggling families. The shop is also open to the general public. Feel free to help with donations! edit
Baubles and Beads, 1104 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-457-8891, . A go-to for jewelry products in Marin, this store sells pearls, silver, and stone pieces, among others, and everything you would need to create earrings, necklaces, and more! edit
Aubergine Vintage Clothing, 1344 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-524-8965, . Tues-Sat 11am-6pm. Aubergine specializes in authentic vintage clothing from a number of different eras. The store is also a consignment shop, but only accepts vintage clothing in near-perfect condition. edit
Pleasures of the Heart, 1310 4th Street, . This fun and quirky boutique is actually an "intimate apparel and accessories" store. They sell sex toys, costumes, lingerie, and games, among other items. The store itself is really small and cozy, and the staff is extremely friendly and helpful--the result is a comfortable, laid back feel. They even hold classes that discuss things related to a healthy sex life, and can be rented out for private parties. It’s definitely become a staple in San Rafael. edit
Like most Bay Area towns, San Rafael has a number of pubs and taco joints as well as cafes and bars. Many restaurants are located on Fourth Street
Muffin Mania, Vegan and cornmeal muffins. Grateful dead atmosphere. Delicious sandwiches. Excellent coffee.
Mayflower Inn, 1533 Fourth Street, . Phone: +1 415 456-1011 British Pub serving lunch & dinner. Great salads, burgers, fish & chips, bangers & mash, sausage rolls, and other standards.
Broken Drum Brewery & Wood Grill, 1132 Fourth Street. California pub / dinner food with burgers, fish tacos, and other standards.
Sushi To Dai For, 869 4th St, Phone: +1 415 721-0392
Taqueria San Jose, 615 4th St, Phone: +1 415 455-0999 Just under highway 101.
Panama Hotel Restaurant and Inn, 4 Bayview St, Phone: +1 415 457-3993, 800-899-3993. Cozy Marin County Bed and Breakfast and Restaurant. Check out the Jazz Thursday nights. Mexican-Italian-Californian Cuisine in an artsy Interior. Great outdoor dining in spring and summer.
Lotus Indian Cuisine, 4704 4th St., Phone: +1 415 456-5808 Simply the best Indian food in Marin, relaxed and quiet atmosphere, excellent service, and a retractable ceiling to let in the sun on a warm day.
Sol Food, 732 Fourth Street, . Phone: +1 415 451-4765. Puerto Rican cuisine and tropical ambiance make this restaurant very popular with the locals.
Amici's East Coast Pizzeria, 1242 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-455-9777, . Mon-Thu 11am-10pm, Fri-Sat 11am-11pm, Sun 11:30am-10pm. Amici's is considered by many as one of the best pizza places in Marin County. They serve New York style pizza with a variety of toppings, pasta, soups, salads, and desserts, and they also deliver. edit
Il Davide Restaurant, 901 A Street, ☎ +1 415-454-8080, . Sun 4pm-9pm, Tues-Sat 11:30am-10pm. Il Davide was recently voted as the best restaurant in Marin County. They serve authentic Italian food, and their extensive menu features small plates, salads, pastas, meat, and seafood, as well as dessert, wine and drinks. edit
My Thai Restaurant, 1230 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-456-4455, . This is a delicious Thai food restaurant with both a lunch menu and a dinner menu. It has a beautiful decor with a fountain and bamboo sticks. It's considered one of the best Thai food restaurants in Marin County. edit
Napoli Pizza & Pasta, 869 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-459-3315, . Lunch Mon-Sat 11am-2pm, Dinner Sun-Thu 5pm-10pm, Fri/Sat 5pm-11pm. This family-owned restaurant opened in 2009 and has been a popular spot ever since. They serve fresh Italian food and also have a generous wine and beer list. They're particularly known for their fresh house-made cannoli. edit
Pizza Orgasmica, 812 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-457-2337. Sun-Tues 11am-11pm, Weds 11am-12am, Thu-Sat 11am-1am. This pizza place made famous in San Francisco brews its own beer. The laid back layout offers cushioned seating on the ground around low tables on oriental rugs, which makes it a great late night hangout. edit
Sabor of Spain, 1301 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-457-8466, . Tues/Weds 5pm-9:30pm, Thurs 5pm-10pm, Fri/Sat 5pm-11pm, Sun 5pm-9pm. This restaurant sticks to its Spanish roots, with popular tapas accompanied with wine and apéritifs as well as delicious entrées. They often have live music. Their bar includes a very extensive wine list, as well as sherry. edit
San Rafael Joe's, 931 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-456-2425, . Sun/Mon 11am-10pm, Tues-Thurs 11am-11pm, Fri/Sat 11am-12am. San Rafael Joe's has become a tradition among Marinites, having been around since 1947! They have a classic Italian menu and offer nightly specials, as well as a fairly long wine list. There's often featured art hanging on the walls and some nights have live music by local musicians. edit
Theresa & Johnny's Comfort Food (Theresa & Johnny's), 817 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-259-0182, . Every day 8am-3pm. Voted Best Breakfast in Marin in 2012, this is a local favorite. With classic breakfast and lunch menus as well as weekly specials, you're sure to find the comfort food you're craving. Has a hole-in-the-wall feel to it, but is very cozy and quirky. edit
Yet Wah, 1238 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-460-9883, . Mon 11am-10pm, Tues-Sun 11am-12am. This restaurant serves up classic Chinese cuisine and even has a banquet menu for parties of 10 or more. Their Kung Fu Lounge offers a full bar, a late night menu, and live music. Overall, this is a very popular eatery in San Rafael. edit
Michael's Sourdough Sandwiches (Mike's Sourdough), 3095 Kerner Blvd, ☎ +1 415-485-0964. Mon-Fri 7:30am-3:30pm. By far the best sandwich shop in Marin County, Mike's Sourdough is a favorite, especially among high school students (so be wary of a long--yet fairly quick--line around lunchtime during the school year!). Their sandwiches come on their fresh baked sourdough bread, and it makes all the difference! They also feature a daily special, and have sides available to add to your sandwich. Absolutely delicious, and if you're from out of town it's definitely worth trying some of San Francisco's famous sourdough bread! edit
Le Chalet Basque Restaurant, 405 N San Pedro Rd, ☎ +1 415-479-1070, . If you're in the mood for some unique food, try Le Chalet Basque. This restaurant serves food inspired by the Basque areas of Spain and Southern France, and features a full bar and beautiful outdoor patio. The food is authentic, as well--the head chef and owner is from France and dedicated to preserving Basque traditions with a slight twist. edit
Mayflower Inn -- Authentic British Pub & Grill, same location since 1971 -- 1533 Fourth Street
Trevor's Tavern -- A home away from home.
Whipper Snapper, 1613 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-256-1818, . Lunch Tues-Sun 11:30am-3pm; Dinner Tues-Thurs 5pm-9:30pm, Fri/Sat 5pm-10pm, Sun 5pm-9pm. This new restaurant and sangria bar has become a popular stop on 4th Street. They serve fun and unique tapas and have delicious sangria, beers on tap, and wine. The decor is bright and fun, and gives off a laid-back Caribbean vibe. Almost like a mini vacation! edit
Vin Antico, 881 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-454-4492, . Sun-Thurs 5pm-9pm, Fri/Sat 5pm-10pm. Vin Antico is a highly popular spot in San Rafael. The restaurant has dishes that change daily as well as fixed seasonal menus, which include flatbreads, seafood, local cheeses, and tapas. But the real kick here is the wine list, over 7 pages long. There's also a happy hour on weekdays from 5:00-6:00, and the restaurant often hosts events such as wine tastings. edit
Broken Drum Brewery & Wood Grill (Broken Drum), 1132 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-456-4677, . The Broken Drum is a popular hangout, especially during the 4th Street Farmer's Market due to their outdoor patio. They offer special twists on classic bar food and brew their own beers, their I.P.A. being the most popular; there's also a full bar. Join them for Taco Tuesday or Wednesday Trivia Night!edit
Nickel Rose, 848 B Street, ☎ +1 415-454-5551, . The Nickel Rose is popular amongst the younger crowd (of drinking age!) in San Rafael. This spot is popular because of its karaoke nights, live DJs, and themed nights. Check their Facebook page to find out what event is going on each night; sometimes you’ll find a secret code for a free drink! edit
Aroma Cafe, 1122 4th Street, ☎ +1 415-459-4340, . Mon-Sat 7am-11pm, Sun 7:30am-11:30 pm. This is a local hangout for high school and college students, but is also a great place for anyone to sit, relax, and enjoy a drink or pastry. Aroma often features art by local students or artists, and has sofas and comfy chairs in the back, perfect for hanging out or getting some work done on the computer. They have a wide list of smoothies, hot and cold beverages (non-alcoholic), and pastries or sandwiches. Just keep in mind they only accept cash.edit
Embassy Suites San Rafael / Marin County Hotel and Conference Center 101 McInnis Parkway. (415) 499-9222, . Located towards the north of the renowned Golden Gate Bridge.
Days Inn, 737 E. Francisco Blvd., +1 415-453-3450, .
Panama Hotel Restaurant and Inn, 4 Bayview St, 415-457-3993, 800-899-3993, . Bed & Breakfast. Wireless Internet, Restaurant and friendly staff.
Extended Stay Deluxe, 1775 Francisco Blvd, 415-451-1887, . Accommodations geared towards the Extended Stay Traveler. 112 guest rooms complete with fully equipped kitchens, on-site laundry facility, Indoor Pool, Outdoor Hot Tub, Meeting Room, Breakfast in the morning, Business Center, Wireless Internet throughout the property, Flat Screen Televisions in all rooms, and Fitness Center on-site.
North Bay Inn - San Rafael, 855 East Francisco Blvd, ☎ 415-456-8620, . B&B.edit
Panama Restaurant and Inn, San Rafael, CA. Actually, the Panama is NOT a B & B. It is a small, quaint, nice hotel, with unusual and uniquely decorated theme rooms (not corny). The restaurant is likewise unusual and pleasing, and yes, the jazz is a nice addition. The whole affair is located in a quiet district, near the center of town. Rates include a very nice (no fruit loops) continental breakfast. If you like eclectic, not the same-as-usual experiences, this is the place. edit
San Rafael's crime rate would be considered moderately high. Murder and gang violence has reached high levels and are increasing at disturbingly high rates, with stabings and/or shootings occuring every few weeks. The downtown area does have a higher amount of car break ins than one might expect.
If you decide to venture into the Canal District, stay alert, even in the daytime. The District is home to many first-generation immigrants who densely populate apartment buildings to offset the relatively high cost of living, and street gangs are relatively common. Try not to wear too much red- or blue-colored clothing--you may easily be confused as a rival to another gang and appraoched. It is best not to walk around the Canal District at night, even if traveling with someone else. The neighborhood has a fairly high amount of gang violence, robbery, and car theft. If driving through the Canal District, it is best to keep your windows rolled up and your doors locked at all times.Be sure that not all part of the Canal Disrtict is Dangerous(Novato street is the street with most gang members hangingout) On some streets of the Canal District you can literally see massive amounts of broken glass where car windows have been smashed. However, it is home to some of the best Latin food in the Bay Area.
(Note: As a resident of the canal district, I would love to see some hard numbers on the violence and property damage. It doesn't surprise me that cars are broken into in a poor neighborhood, but the danger of violence seems radically overstated. It's true that ethnic minorities abound, but that doesn't mean you'll get ripped out of your car while you're driving--feel free to keep your windows rolled down until you park.)