Serving as the county seat for Marin County, San Rafael was once the site of several Coast Miwok villages. Mission San Rafael Arcangel was founded in what is now downtown San Rafael as the 20th Spanish mission in the colonial Mexican province of Alta California by Father Junipero Serra on Dec. 14, 1817, four years before Mexico gained independence from Spain. Mission San Rafael Arcangel was located a donkey's day walk to the mission below it. The mission and the city are named after the Archangel Raphael, the Angel of Healing.
The mission was originally planned as a hospital site for Central Valley American Indians who had become ill at the cold San Francisco Mission Dolores. Father Luis Gil, who spoke several Native American languages, was put in charge of the facility. In part because of its ideal weather, San Rafael was later upgraded to full mission status in 1822. The Mexican government took over the California missions in 1834, and Mission San Rafael was abandoned in 1844, eventually falling into ruin. The current mission was built in 1949 in the style of the original, but faces at right angles to the alignment of the original.
Other notable landmarks in San Rafael include: the Marin County Civic Center building, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; the Rafael Film Center; China Camp State Park; Kerner Studios, the George Lucas's Skywalker Ranch, and the Falkirk Cultural Center, a handsomely preserved, 17-room Victorian mansion that is set on 11 acres of formal grounds just a block from downtown.
After the arrival of George Lucas in San Rafael in 1970 to film the movie THX 1138, the city became a center for the entertainment industry, particularly the high-tech elements of the business. Lucasfilm was founded by George Lucas in 1971, and is best known for the global hit movie series Star Wars and also for Indiana Jones. Some of the company's operations were moved to San Francisco in 2005. Portions of the Universal movie production American Graffiti were filmed in downtown San Rafael under George Lucas's direction, and portions of THX 1138 were shot at the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael. Much of the movie Gattaca, starring Ethan Hawke, was also shot in the Marin County Civic Center. Industrial Light & Magic was founded in 1975 by Lucas to do special effects for his films and those of other filmmakers. The new age music program Hearts of Space is headquartered here.
San Rafael has one university, Dominican University, founded in 1888 and typically has approximately 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
San Rafael offers a wide assortment of housing; The City of San Rafael 2020 General Plan recognizes 30 distinct neighborhoods in San Rafael, each neighborhood with its own distinct characteristics and communities. Information about neighborhoods can be found here: (www.cityofsanrafael.org/Residents/Neighborhoods.htm)
San Rafael has 149 parks, yacht clubs, outstanding docking and launching facilities, tennis / swim clubs and bicycle trails. It is truly a community where families can enjoy an active lifestyle and partake of a rich historical and cultural heritage.