San Rafael Top 5
1 Art Works Downtown With changing exhibits at rotating venues, Art Walks happen the second Friday of the month. Pick up discount coupons at Art Works for food and drinks. Don’t miss the underground “catacombs” of hidden galleries. artworksdowntown.org
2 Country Club Bowling Alley Put your best foot forward in your rented bowling shoe for some retro fun. Forty lanes, a pizza parlor, cocktails and arcade games make Country Club’s assurance that “we aren’t your grandpa’s bowling alley” believable…but Grandpa would like it, too. bowlmarin.com
3 Marelli Bros Customers have loved this shoe repair shop whether it was run by Charlie and Louie Marelli who opened it in 1921, their sons who took it over in the ’60s, or Charlie’s three grandsons who run it now. Good work, good material and no newfangled equipment. 415.454.3831
4 Downtown San Rafael Farmers Market Festival Is it the food, the music or the people? There isn’t a better place to shop, eat and be entertained than Fourth Street on Thursday evenings April through September.
5 Western Boat & Tackle For 30 years, local crabbers have supplied their catches of sweet Dungeness for crustacean-craving Marinites. Take home a quart of freshly picked crab or pick up a chilled crab sandwich. Don’t like crab? You can buy or special-order almost any other fish. 101 Third Street. 415.454.4177
Peek in on sunrise mass at Saint Raphael Church and the adjacent 1949 replica of the 19th-century Mission San Rafael Arcangel and look for three of the original bells in the museum. Next stop: breakfast. Secure an outside table at Le Croissant on Bellam Boulevard and order the signature item—a big, buttery croissant, plain, almond or chocolate.
Midmorning is a great time to explore the 1,648-acre China Camp State Park, an erstwhile Chinese shrimping village. Poke around the buildings; fish, hike nearby trails or sit in on a seasonal Junior Ranger program. For lunch, spring for spring rolls, papaya salad and pumpkin curry over rice at the popular My Thai on Fourth Street.
It’s serious competition during league time at Albert Park’s bocce ball courts, but you can join in for fun during open hours. While you’re in the neighborhood, pop into WildCare at either of two feeding times to watch the pool birds dive for fish. Head to Fifth Avenue and stroll down mansion row starting at the Marin History Museum at 1125 Boyd Street. Pass Maple Lawn (now the Elks Lodge) and end at Falkirk Cultural Center, a 17-room Victorian that was the home of Scottish shipping magnate Robert Dollar.
In the evening, take in the latest independent film—with or without subtitles—at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center. Afterward, share tapas and sip Spanish wines at Sabor of Spain; then enjoy some live jazz and dinner under the palms in the courtyard at the Panama Hotel and Restaurant. Book a room and spend the night.
San Rafael’s cultural diversity intersects at the table. Within ten blocks, you’ll find a world of tastes: bangers and mash at the Mayflower Pub; pad thai at Citrus & Spice or My Thai; maize porridge at Brazil Marin Cafe & Market; tempura at Tenkyu Japanese; tapas at Sabor of Spain; dim sum at Yet Wah; pizza at Amici’s; tostones con queso at Sol Food; falafels at Falafel Hut; pho at Siamese Dream; tacos at Taqueria San Jose.
Did You Know?
• At 1010 B Street, the neoclassical Albert Building was Marin’s first skyscraper (circa 1920).
• The Rafael theater was originally called the Orpheus.
• Marin Academy is the former site of the Mount Tamalpais Military Academy, founded in 1890.
• San Rafael Arcangel was the 20th California mission.