The former Gerstle Estate has been a 3.5 acre San Rafael city park since 1936, and it's a great place to take the family on a sunny day. There's a very nice children's playground with picnic tables and rest rooms nearby.
If the playground area is too noisy for you (the last time we were at the park, three different birthday parties were going on), go up the stone steps at the main entrance. There's a quiet grassy area at the top of the hill, with trees for shade, a couple of picnic tables, and a gazebo-like structure.
Not all hiking trails in the San Rafael area permit bicycles. If you are not familiar with the bike trails, it is best to pick up a Marin County Bicycle Trail Guide at one of the San Rafael bike shops.
The trail in this picture allows mountain bikes.
McNear's Beach is a very easy spot for launching a stand up paddleboard. This is part of the Marin County Park system. The beach is a close walk from the parking lot, and has an outdoor shower. Launching is easy whether it's low or high tide. That's because there is a real beach there, not just the usual mud that makes up most of the shoreline in San Pablo Bay. The water can be a bit choppier than China Camp, just a little farther north. From here, you can paddle out to The Sisters, south to San Rafael, or north to Gallinas Creek.
One thing I like about this area is the few number of boats. Of course, if you are tempted to cross over to the other side, you'll need to watch out for those high speed Vallejo ferries. Also the current in the middle of the Bay, even San Pablo Bay can be quite strong. Consider that this is the single point where the Petaluma, Napa and Sacramento Rivers and all their tributaries converge.
I also like that fact that the San Pablo Bay is really large. I've paddled quite far from shore, perhaps a mile or more - not right at McNears but farther north, and I haven't even made a dent in the Bay at that point. Another plus - I haven't known anyone to be cited for not wearing a PFD. I will usually wear one, particularly if I feel like venturing far from shore. However, the few other paddlers out there usually don't.
Officially called the John F. McCarthy Memorial Bridge, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge opened in 1956, and it supports a 5.5 mile span of Interstate-580. It is the northernmost span over the San Francisco Bay and has two lanes of traffic in each direction as will as two passageways for ships.
The $4 toll is applied westbound only.
This annual weekend art festival, sponsored by the non-profit Youth in Arts, features huge chalk "paintings" that are done directly on the street, an art form imported from Italy. The festival showcases the work of talented Madonnari (street painters), and some of the art is amazing. It's hard to accept that none of it is permanent.
There is also live music, food, and wine. Usually held in early June. Proceeds benefit Youth in Arts programs.
For more photos of the festival, see my Italian Street Painting travelogue.
The San Andreas Fault separates Point Reyes and Tomales Peninsulas from the mainland. We made our way across the fault at Inverness, and like the town in Scotland the road followed a narrow body of water north. We left Point Reyes and the seashore and lighthouse there for another day. We headed North. We passed dairy farms still operating (H and F) and stopped at the empty one at the end of the road. This was the old Pierce Point Dairy Farm and the buildings are in good condition. Signs explain the different activities of each building. Considering the road we had traveled in modern car over paved roads we marveled at the remoteness of this place when it would have been in full operation. The butter they produced was shipped to San Francisco.
We were able to see several groups of elk. There were two or three bull elk bugling and keeping their herds separate from each other.
You can walk the length of the penisula- about a 9 mile hike with the bay on one side and the ocean on the other. We chose instead to head down to McClure beach. This is only one of several beaches on the peninsulas. It was a gentle quarter mile hike down to the shore of wide and soft sand where we sat on a log all afternoon. We watched the waves come in and saw some whales blowing off shore but never saw more than four other people. Swimming is not recommended due to currents. There was no charge for the farm or the Elk Preserve when we were there.
On the way back we stopped to shop at Point Reyes Station. A small town with California flavor. For shopping or eating it is the place to be.
The Marin Headlands Park is new and fairly unknown. We went there to see the seals which were the highlight of the day. But there were other things to do as well. We started at Golden Gate Bridge overlooking the entrance to the Bay. It is hard to miss that. But right away we were in a military bunker. Pocketed all along the strait dating from 1908, to WW1 and WW2 to more advanced Nike rockets were military bunkers and old gun placements. It was fascinating to imagine soldiers manning these places looking for attacks that never came.
Next was the Light House at Point Bonita. It was a short walk to the bridge which took us over the rocks to the lighthouse. Only two people at a time here so there was a little wait. We watched the ships coming and going into the bay. Then the walk down to the shore to see the seals and explore the tidal pools. Lunch was overlooking the ocean at another gun battery.
There is a great little visitors center with interactive displays about flora and fauna and the native peoples who populated this area. There were herons and fox at the lagoon and people flying kites on Rodeo Beach. Truly an interesting area, within sight of San Francisco but a world away.
To some residents of San Rafael, the Marin County Civic Center is a fine example of Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural genius. (It was the last building he designed before his death.) To others, this is simply a place where we have to do jury duty.
The Civic Center has a surprisingly good cafeteria and gift shop.
San Rafael has an abundance of hiking trails. Over the years, Marin County has purchased thousands of acres of open space, now accessible to the public. Thanks to these efforts, San Rafael now has miles of trails interconnecting the hills and neighborhoods.
San Rafael is about 30 minutes from the Pacific Coast beaches, and 20 minutes from Point Reyes National Seashore. See my page on Olema for things to do at the Point Reyes National Seashore.
This picture is taken from San Rafael looking westward. The Pacific Ocean and Point Reyes National Seashore are just beyond the hills.
Every year, the Youth in Arts Council holds the Italian Street Painting Festival in downtown San Rafael.
This year's festival is June 14-15, 2003.
Three blocks of streets in the center of town are closed off to traffic, and are marked off as large squares. Starting on Friday night, artists take their spaces (purchased by sponsors beforehand) and start their artwork. They work throughout the weekend, and thousands of people attend to watch the artists work and revel in their talents. It's so much fun!
San Rafael has miles of moutain bike trails offering beautiful vistas.
This bicyclist is on the Big Rock Ridge fire road. The trail is strenuous, but worth the effort and a blast going downhill.
For the best views in San Rafael, put on your hiking boots and hike on any one of a number of trails leading into the hills.
34 Grove Street, San Rafael, California, 94901, United States
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1775 Francisco Boulevard East, San Rafael, California, 94901, United States
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