While Mission Dolores is off the beaten path for San Rafael it is right in the heart of history of the San Francisco area. This was the first white settlement in the Bay area. Begun in 1776, while Jefferson and friends were fighting for freedom from England Father Francisco Palou celebrated Mass. Dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi it is where San Fransicso gets its name. What is left is the original chapel and cemetary. Added after the 1906 earthquake is a newly dedicated Basilica. This is a great little chapel, well cared for and loved. Sit in the pews and look up to see the ceiling design which was taken from native basket weaves. Explore the small museum and wander through the quiet and lovely cemetary. I was taken back 200 years in time for a little while. It is on a quiet street away from the main tourist or business activities. San Francisco has come a long way.
I got to it on the F-line trolley down Market Street ($1.25 fare). Entrance was $5
The Rouge et Noir Cheese Factory
Take a drive out the Marin County backroads to visit the Rouge et Noir cheese factory. They make tasty brie and camembert. You can tour the facilities, buy some lunch and eat by the pond, feeding the extra bits of your baguette to the ducks!
7500 Red Hill Road
Petaluma, CA 94952
I'm a sunrise freak. Odd as it sounds, my day just doesn't feel right if I don't get up in the dark. On weekends, I enjoy trekking up to the second highest peak in Marin with a flashlight and my Mp3 player. Or I'll just enjoy the sounds of nature - the wild turkeys, cooing doves and occasional peacock make their three part harmony of sorts.
The trail I usually take starts near my house in North San Rafael, and it takes me about 50 minutes to get to the top. Trails are to be found all over the hills.
At the top, if I've timed my hike just right, I'll be rewarded with a spectacular sunrise over San Pablo Bay.
- Hiking and Walking
Trails of China Camp
China Camp State Park located on the San Pablo Bay side of the city has a number of beautiful hiking trails, many of which provide beautiful views of the Bay.
Some, but not all, of these trails permit mountain bikes. If you do plan to ride bikes, make sure you know where you can ride them. Pick up a mountain bike trail guide at any bicycle store, such as Mike's Bike on 4th Street in San Rafael.
When hiking in China Camp, I prefer to stick to the trails where bikes are not allowed. The bikers can be maniacs - a little harrowing if your mode of transportation is your two feet.
- Hiking and Walking
St. Vincent School for Boys
To prove that Marin County isn't all post 1950's development, here is a picture St. Vincent, an Italian Renaissance Mission-style church built in 1855, and a California historical landmark.
Originally an orphanage during the Gold Rush era, St. Vincent is now a residential home for boys with serious emotional and learning problems.
Strapped for cash desperately needed to continue to fund its programs, St. Vincent recently has tried to develop some of the ranch land that surrounds it to (1) establish a foundation to fund its operating needs and (2) provide affordable housing for the community. Outraged residents quashed that and litigation now looks very likely.
Tours are provided on request, or you can obtain a self-guided walking tour map by calling the number listed below.
- Historical Travel
Hike from Big Rock
George Lucas recently finished construction of his new facility for Lucasfilm located in Lucas Valley (not named for him) in North San Rafael. To head off community opposition, he dedicated more than 2,000 acres of his land as a permanent conservation easement.
A scenic hiking trail over Lucasfilm property begins at the trail head at Big Rock near the summit and near the Lucasfilm front gate. Park along side the road opposite the Big Rock.
The buildings in this picture are part of the Lucasfilm facility. Big Rock is the large boulder immediately before the buildings on the side of the road.
- Hiking and Walking
Wildlife and water fowl viewing
The Gallinas marsh in San Rafael has over 4 miles of trails in protected wetlands. You'll see an abundance of water birds, especially on a winter morning.
See my "Morning in San Rafael Wetlands" Travelogue on my San Rafael page for more photos of this beautiful area.
Located at the end of Smith Ranch Road in San Rafael. Park in golf course parking lot or small lot for sports fields.
- Family Travel
China Camp State Park
A great place for a picnic or other event. There are several picnic spots that can be reserved. The biggest, most secluded and best is Miwok Meadows. It's big enough for a couple hundred people and is... well, it's a perfect spot for a party. This was the site for our July 2003 VT Looney Luau, and those that attended all agreed... rockin' spot!
Terwilliger Nature Ctr. & Wildlife Rehabilitation
This volunteer center rescues, cares for, rehabilitates and releases back to nature wild animals in Marin County. Staffed by volunteers and publicly funded, this is a wonderful place. You can go there 7 days a week to check out the latest inhabitants and patients. Heck, volunteer if you've got the time! Lovely place.
When in Marin, you must go for...
When in Marin, you must go for a drive (or a bike ride!) through the West Marin (also known as the 'Backroads'). These roads will take you to Point Reyes, Petaluma, Bodega Bay, Tomales Bay, Dog Town... but often it's the journey, not the destination that's the reward.
More beautiful hiking and biking
This trail is on a ridge between Terra Linda in San Rafael and Lucas Valley.
There are several access points. The one I use is the trailhead on Lucas Valley Road across from Mt. Muir Ct.
- Hiking and Walking
You never know what you'll see...
You never know what you'll see in West Marin. What do you think? Ostrich or emu? I've seen llamas in this same pen from time to time.
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