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Renter’s Guide to Moving to San Rafael, CA

Are you looking for picture-perfect views of the mountainside and the San Francisco Bay area? Settle into San Rafael for spacious homes and apartments, outdoor fun, a vibrant downtown, and just a 20-mile commute to San Francisco.

Nearly 60,000 people call San Rafael home, including celebrities and business giants. George Lucas launched Lucasfilm from San Rafael. The city served as a backdrop and inspiration for films like American Graffiti and Star Wars. Ready to see what inspired the minds of creatives, business leaders, and nature lovers for yourself? Here’s what to know before moving to San Rafael, California.

San Rafael Real Estate Overview

San Rafael apartments and houses will prove less expensive than San Francisco ones, but are still pricey. According to Best Places, the cost of living in San Rafael is 217.8, compared to the U.S. average of 100. The good news is you can find a larger apartment with desirable amenities or a home for less than the cost of what you’ll find in San Francisco.

San Rafael is the largest city in the Marin county, with a diverse mix of neighborhoods. The area is highly residential, but there’s also plenty to see and do. The average rent for apartments in San Rafael is about $2,543 and the average apartment size is about 821-square feet. Luxury amenities and upgrades will cost extra, as well as larger apartment units. The median listing price for a home in San Rafael is currently $1.1 million.

Local Rental Tips

The South San Rafael neighborhood is home to strip malls, big-box retailers, and service shops for convenience and ease. For something quieter, wooded streets line East San Rafael with elegant homes and hilly country clubs. 

You’ll get some of the best views when you live in West San Rafael. And North San Rafael is the home to Skywalker Ranch, where filmmaker George Lucas resides in an area of oak-covered hills. Look for more condos and apartments in Northwest San Rafael.

Marin Transit offers local service through Marin County and San Rafael. Walking downtown is recommended to soak up the pleasant weather and views. Bike paths are also plentiful throughout San Rafael and the rest of Marin County. 

It’s possible to get around without a car, but your options are limited. Look for housing near public transportation routes or rely heavily on rideshares, biking, and walking everywhere you need to go. 

Employment & Education

San Rafael is a commuting town, and it’s easy to get to San Francisco by bus or ferry. You can also find major employers right in the city limits with options like Autodesk, Inc, Piatti, and Marin General Hospital. 

Pursuing a career in the arts is also embraced in San Rafael. The 2nd Friday Art Walk draws visitors to galleries, open studios, workshops, live music, and art exhibits. You’ll find creative support at Art Works Downtown, a premier non-profit art center serving Marin county.

Schools in San Rafael are generally well-regarded and span across several districts. Options include Dixie Elementary School, Miller Creek Middle School, and Terra Linda High School. Private and charter schools are also available. 

You’re also never far from higher education opportunities in San Rafael. Choose from Contra Costa College, Dominican University of California, or nearby options like Berkeley in the Bay Area.

Things to Do in San Rafael

San Rafael is gorgeous and offers outdoor opportunities and greenspace to soak up nature. Go mountain biking or hiking in China Camp State Park with over 1,500 acres of beaches. It’s also the perfect spot for a weekend picnic. Stop by the Marin County Farmers’ Market in San Rafael to pick-up fresh produce, fresh seafood, snacks, and treats. 

Marin County Civic Center was designed by Frank Loyd Wright and features unusual design and architecture. It’s also said to be the inspiration for some of the buildings in Naboo City of Theed from The Phantom Menace.

Art lovers are never disappointed at the Bartolini gallery in the Marin Center, where photos, fiber art, oil, and exhibits abound. From fine art to found objects, there’s always something to inspire your creative side. 

There are also quirky stops to see in San Rafael. The Museum of International Propaganda offers an impressive collection of propaganda from different corners of the globe designed to condemn and inspire people. 

San Rafael even has its own Pacifics Baseball team that plays at Albert Park. Come and cheer for the home team along with the Sir Frances Drake duck mascot. You’ll get swept up in the community spirit. 

There’s no shortage of places to eat at in San Rafael. Cafe Arrivederci serves up pasta, toasted bread, and an antipasto Lucchese with assorted Italian meats and fresh mozzarella. The local favorite Il Davide Restaurant dishes up rustic meatballs, burrata, pancetta, torta di porri, and a well-paired wine list. 

Italian restaurants are popular around San Rafael, with more options like Ristorante La Toscana. Pork and beef meatballs, arancini, organic spaghetti, and wild boar pappardelle keep locals coming back for more.

For something more casual, the best cheeseburgers in town are found at San Rafael Joe’s. There are also options for salads and treats after a day of hiking at a nearby park or gem, like Angel Island State Park.

Living in San Rafael blends the best of urban living with a softer touch. Enjoy the green space, dining, culture, and entertainment without leaving the city limits. You’ll have everything you need without leaving your new hometown of San Rafael.