Serving as the seat of Marin County, San Rafael hugs the northern end of San Francisco Bay where it meets San Pablo Bay. Originally home to the Coast Miwok people, it was founded as a Spanish mission in 1817 before being incorporated as a city in 1874, following the American Conquest of California.
Things to do in San Rafael
One of the city’s most important architectural landmarks is the Mission San Rafael Archangel, which was founded as a hospital to treat Native Americans. While the original buildings were taken down in 1870, a replica chapel built in 1949 stands on the site and houses a small museum. Nearby is the modern Parish Church, which features a large bronze sculpture of Saint Raphael.
A short walk away is Art Works Downtown, a not-for-profit arts centre that occupies one of San Rafael’s historic buildings. It houses four galleries where changing exhibitions are held, as well as artist studios, a jeweller’s guild and a ceramics centre. Check out the goods for sale in the clothing boutique or coincide your visit with one of the regular events and art classes.
San Rafael is a convenient base for visiting China Camp State Park, which preserves a historic Chinese American shrimp fishing village and a prehistoric shell midden. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is best explored along its hiking and mountain biking trails. On Chinese-American Heritage Day, lion dances and tai chi demonstrations are held at the park.
Getting around San Rafael
San Rafael is around 30 minutes’ drive from San Francisco and 40 minutes from San Francisco International Airport, which has flights to destinations across the globe. Regular trains stop at the San Rafael railway station and buses travel throughout the city. San Rafael’s downtown area can easily be explored on foot.