This sweet little city is anything but vanilla (unless you’re there to visit the original location of Three Twins Ice Cream). From a super skate park to some stunning architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright, San Rafael is a vibrant, diverse city that’s rich with history, surrounded by peaceful oak studded valleys, and also home to Mission San Rafael Arcángel. It’s located just 20 miles north of San Francisco in the banana belt of Marin, making it an excellent escape from the city’s foggier summers. With its many different neighborhoods there are plenty of places to play, visit, and nosh in this gem of a town.

downtownSRPhoto by Skip Moore via Flickr

Play

McNear’s Beach County Park
This sprawling park with amazing bay views is perfect for year round family time, with its many lawns, gigantic pool, picnic tables, fishing pier and of course, its bayside beach. Their hours and entrance fees change depending on the season, so visit their website for the most updated information.

201 Cantera Way
San Rafael, Ca
415-446-4424
Online: marincountyparks.org

Gerstle Park
Surrounded by trees and with plenty of picnic tables and shade on hand, this is sweet place to host play dates or birthday parties (just make sure to reserve your picnic area ahead of time).

San Rafael Ave. at Clark St.
San Rafael, Ca 94901
415-450-1520

skateparkPhoto by Mae Respicio


McInnis County Skatepark

This massive awesome sea of bowls, ramps, and half-pipes is the place for kiddos to get their skate on. Scooters allowed too every day until 1 p.m.

10 Smith Ranch Rd.
San Rafael, Ca
Online: marincounty.org

Civic Center Lagoon Park
With the picturesque mountain backdrop, a fun adjacent playground, and some easy strolling and biking trails around a lagoon full of swans and ducks, this 10-acre park is a great stop after a day trip to the San Rafael Farmer’s Market.  It’s an easy place to take the kids–especially since parking is in abundance.

Civic Center Dr. & Memorial Dr.
San Rafael, Ca
Online: marincounty.org

Albert Field Park
Andersen Dr. & Lindaro St.
San Rafael, Ca 94901

Bret Harte Park
217 Irwin St.
San Rafael, Ca 94901

China Camp State Park
101 Peacock Gap Trail
San Rafael, Ca 94901

Freitas Park
Montecillo & Trellis Dr.
San Rafael, Ca 94903

Marinwood Community Park
75 Miller Creek Rd.
San Rafael, Ca 94903

Pickleweed Park
50 Canal St.
San Rafael, Ca 94901

Schoen Park
Kerner Blvd. & Canal St.
San Rafael, CA 94901

Santa Margarita Park
1055 Las Ovejas
San Rafael, Ca 94903

Sun Valley Park
Solano St. & California Ave.
San Rafael, Ca 94901

Terra Linda Park
670 Del Ganado Rd.
San Rafael, Ca 94903

Victor Jones Park
Maplewood Dr. & Robinhood Dr.
San Rafael, Ca 94901

Explore

WildCare
This amazing urban wildlife hospital treats sick and injured animals, and offers extensive educational opportunities for everyone to experience the richness of California’s ecosystems. Admission to their regular courtyard presentations is free and the kiddos get to meet (or feed) opossums, tortoises, gopher snakes, and more. Throughout the year they also offer tours, hikes, and other fun outdoor adventures geared toward families.

76 Albert Park Ln.
San Rafael, Ca
415-456-7283
Online: wildcarebayarea.org

historymuseumPhoto by Skip Moore via Flickr

Marin History Museum
Tradition is in abundance here. The museum showcases the innovation and creativity of the people and history of Marin County through exhibits and special programs. Open Wednesday through Saturday from 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm. Fees vary according to program.

1125 B St.
San Rafael, Ca
415-454-8538
Online: marinhistory.org

San Rafael Civic Center Farmers’ Market
Celebrate a vibrant local food movement at what has long been considered one of the premiere farmers’ markets in the state. This one takes up a gigantic lot and has nearly 200 local farmers, an array of artisans, tables of tasty samples, live local music, the book mobile, bouncy houses, horse rides, and petting farms all year long, rain or shine. (Yes!) And yet another reason why we heart Northern California. Sundays from 8:00am – 1:00pm.

Civic Center Dr. & Peter Behr Dr.
San Rafael, Ca

Downtown San Rafael Farmers Market
Their website says it best: “Where else can you ride a motorized bull while rocking out to a local band, and chowing down on a gyro?” This awesomeness happens on Thursday evenings from April through September, 6:00 – 9:00pm all along Fourth Street in downtown San Rafael.

4th St. between B & Cijos
San Rafael, Ca
Online: sanrafaelmarket.org

CivicCtrPhoto by Bob Daas via Flickr

Marin Civic Center
This Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building is not only a National Historic Landmark but it houses a sweet little library, is adjacent to the Civic Center Lagoon Park, and hosts the ginormous vibrant farmer’s market and a ton of year-round events and performances including the Marin County Fair. Bonus: Jude Law, Uma Thurman, and Ethan Hawke have also graced its futuristic-looking lobby (remember the movie Gattaca?).

10 Ave of the Flags
San Rafael, Ca
415-473-6400

S/W Ver: 96.B0.0FRPhoto by Jim E via Flickr

Second Fridays Art Walks
Enjoy galleries, open studios, live music and noshing while strolling colorful downtown San Rafael, a perfect evening out for your artistes-in-training. Check their website for details and a map of participating venues for each walk.

Online: artworksdowntown.org

Falkirk Cultural Center
This beautiful Victorian house dates back to the 1880s and luckily is still around for families to enjoy including its gardens and ponds. The center also hosts a variety of events throughout the year like musical performances, holiday festivals, and tea parties.

1408 Mission Ave.
San Rafael, Ca
415-485-3328
Online: falkirkculturalcenter.org

Eat

Uchiwa Ramen
From pop up to full-fledged restaurant, this is the place for you and the kiddos to get your noodle fix.

821 B. St.
San Rafael, Ca
415-891-8528
Online: uchiwaramen.com

Lotus Chaat and Spices
Indian street food in Marin is the focus here with a kaleidoscope of flavors, textures and spices in the form of quick bites and full meals. It’s also a colorful Indian grocery with all kinds of delicious things like organic yogurt (made in-house, of course!).

1559 Fourth St.
San Rafael, Ca
415-454-6887
Online: lotuschaat.com

toys-floorPhoto of Pizza Orgasmica by Mae Respicio

Pizza Orgasmica & Brewing Co
Admit it—your favorite go-to family dining places are only those that have toys for them… and drinks for you. (Hey, we’re not judging!) This place has a whole toy room in the back to keep the kiddos occupied, and a full menu of home brews for your end of the deal. And if you’re too embarrassed to call it by name in front of the kids, try “yellow pizza place” (which is also the easiest way to spot it).

812 4th St.
San Rafael, Ca
415-457-2337
Online: pizzaorgasmica.com

The Mayflower
Fish plus chips plus trivia night equal the perfect family date night.

1533 Fourth St.
San Rafael, Ca 94901
415-456-1011
Online: themayflowerpub.com

Mauna Loa Hawaiian BBQ
If authentic Hawaiian and Asian food is what you’re craving (who doesn’t love a little Spam Musubi from time to time?), this little hole in the wall serves up everything from barbeque beef short ribs to chicken adobo to slow roasted Kalua pig. Just enough to hold you over until your next island vacation.

810 Third St.
San Rafael, Ca
415-453-2003
Online: maunaloabbq.com

Theresa & Johnny’s Comfort Food
Classic comfort food in a quirky setting where the kiddos can request breakfast for lunch (since breakfast is served all day long!). Open every day from 8 a.m.-3 p.m.

817 4th St.
San Rafael, Ca
415-259-0182
Online: theresa-and-johnnys.com

Treat

Johnny Donuts
Whole foods are great but so are “hole foods.” This is the place to fulfill all of your coffee and donut-holed dreams with everything from the classics (glazed, chocolate, and maple old fashioned) to CroDoughs and Lime Marscapone Bismark. Insider tip: they have a donut truck, great for all kinds of events (think birthdays!)

1617 4th St.
San Rafael, Ca
415- 450-1866
Online: johnnydoughnuts.com

Muffin Mania Cafe
With muffins the size of your head (okay, we’re exaggerating but you get the picture), this is a great little neighborhood spot for pastries and coffee (hot choco for the kids).

2 Bayview St.
San Rafael, Ca
415-485-1027
Online: muffinmaniacafe.com

threetwinsPhoto by Star 5112 via Flickr

Three Twins Ice Cream
Located in the Terra Linda neighborhood of San Rafael is the original Three Twins Ice Cream, dishing out organic trusty favorites like Lemon Cookie, Fair Trade Vanilla Bean Speck, and Dad’s Cardamom.

641 Del Ganado Rd.
San Rafael, Ca
415-492-TWIN (8946)
Online: threetwinsicecream.com

Silbermann’s
Another scoop stop in the Terra Linda neighborhood of San Rafael. What started as years ago as a family business still is—and a delicious go-to for homemade ice cream.

196 Northgate One
San Rafael, Ca
415-479-1657
Online: silbermanns.com

What is your favorite thing to do in San Rafael? Tell us in the comments below! 

—Mae Respicio