Living in San Rafael

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi All. We live in Albany and are considering GATE Academy in San Rafael for our almost 5 yr old son. We have been doing test drives to the school to figure out how long it takes in the morning to get there. One other option we are considering is moving to San Rafael. My husband works in Emeryville but I have an option to work from home. After living in Berkeley area I am a bit worried that we may not fit in San Rafael. We are Indians (from India) and have a very diverse circle of friends here. Can anyone living there comment about the demographics ? Are there many Indians there ? I have read posts about how its all rich, thin, white people but I want to hear from families who've moved there recently. Any family move there recently for GATE Academy ?

    I lived in Terra Linda (northern San Rafael neighborhood) and nearby in Santa Venetia (Marin County unincorporated) for a total of 11 years and currently live in Novato. So my observations apply to northern Marin.  All of these neighborhoods are mostly but not exclusively white, to my eye no more than Albany is.  We are not thin or rich and my husband is Chinese-American. Our cousins in Terra Linda are a mixed race couple; their child is in a Boy Scout troop and one of the leaders is an Indian-American woman. If you look at the AreaVibes website you can get more details, which shows over 25% of residents in 94903 are foreign-born.  I would say overall what I notice about northern Marin vs. Albany is that the educational level is more variable (not everyone has a PhD).  You have lots of people who have lived here for years and years, people who have cops in the family or who are contractors.  There are a lot of second generation Italians, Portuguese, Irish, etc.  (I do hear a lot of complaints from locals about entitled newcomers, but they always seem to live somewhere else.) 

    On a more practical note, I do find grocery store prices here shocking; there is nothing like Monterey Market.  So I shop a lot at Grocery Outlet, Costco, etc.  Highway traffic is not as bad as the East Bay but it's still pretty awful and the Richmond bridge can back up. The libraries are well-supported and fabulous.

    It's easy to find nice people here but do find it takes a lot of time to find true friends when you move, no matter what your race.


    I'd like to chime in only because I hear in your post your reluctance to lose your community which is something my husband and I have had to deal with when we moved from Washington state for 2 job moves to Los Angeles and then to San Rafael. (I'm from SF but had been living in WA for a while when my son was born). We had a diverse group of friends in both Washington and Los Angeles and when we moved to SR we found ourselves home alone a lot wondering where all the friendly people were! We have lived in SR for 5 years and we are white (although not very thin nor rich, lol!) and it has been challenging to find strong social circles. We have yet to be able to pinpoint why exactly it is so difficult other than it seems that the folks here are just not as open or friendly as they are in Berkeley. Why? Well, there is poverty and drug use here as well as a lot of people working hard to just maintain their average lifestyles, leaving very little room for socialization. Demographically you will find a strong mix of white and hispanic but in my opinion, very small numbers of Indians or other cultures. In my circles I have one Indian (British) friend and we know one Canadian/Portuguese family and everyone else is white. GATE is near Marinwood which is even more white than San Rafael. If I had known then what I know now I would have better researched surrounding communities before agreeing to this last move to SR. Community is important! If you don't mind traveling back to Berkeley for your social engagements and it's worth it to you that your son go to GATE academy then it may be a move you can handle. Otherwise I'd stay put and commute my child. My two cents! Good luck! 

    Hi Mom AV,

    We are an Indian family that moved from Fremont in 2011 for our then 5 year old for Gate academy. We are happy with our move. The school worked well for him for a many years, but he's now homeschooling . My daughter (8) is very happy at Gate. I had the same concerns as you with demographics, but were pleasantly surprised with Marin and Marinites. I have to say though that we were not well connected prior to that and don't have or want a big circle of friends either. So it may be different for your family. We have a small circle of Indian friends , half of whom are nostalgic about South and East bay and the other half of whom would dread leaving Marin for other parts of the Bay. There are maybe 300-500 Indian families throughout Marin but you'll find most of them are in Novato or maybe San Rafael. We have a proposed Temple project and also an Indian association that connects us. I'm not sure how to share my contact details here, but I'd be happy to talk more if you'd like to take my information from Sandy, our admin at Gate.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Activities for 12-year-old in San Rafael

May 2005

Hi, I work with an emotionally disturbed boy who lives in San Rafael. He is 12 years old, but is emotionally about 7yrs old. I live in San Francisco and don't know San Rafael at all. I want to take him out to do things, but don't know where to go/what to do. He loves sports and bike riding, but with all the rain, most of our time must be spent in-doors. He really likes going shopping, but I really prefer activities that don't require spending money. Any ideas about places and activities in the area would be greatly appreciated.

indoors: 1.Bay Area Discovery Museum is great, in Saualito. 2. quasi-educational, but a store: Dollhouses, Trains, and More in Novato. model trains and the entire material world in dollhouse scale. my daughter's class went with miniature notebooks, wrote down what they liked, and left and made miniature stuff for free (recycled materials) 3. since he likes shopping could you make up a treasure hunt game and goto the San Rafael Goodwill?

OUTDOORS: gear up and go outside for a rain walk if raining? 1. google directions to Madrone Larkspur/ Corte Madera. amazing residential street lined with amazing madrone redwood trees. sweet playground with small creek at bottom of street and drive up to top (more than a mile) where there's an enchanting trail 2. walk across Golden Gate Bridge and take bus back or bike across (from Sausalito) and maybe down to Crissy Field (bus back) 3. Olompali State Park in Novato-ish (south-bound side of highway only so u-turn on highway 101 few miles past)has a small Miwok Indian Village and a small creek. fun to check out the various Miwok structures. tourist in Marin

Moving to San Rafael vs. Berkeley

May 2005

My husband, two year old and I are relatively new arrivals to the Bay area and looking for a place to rent - a place to call home: Berkeley/Albany or San Rafael (esp. Gerstler Park area) are candidates. We need to be within walking distance to the following: organic food stores (e.g. Berkeley Bowl, Whole Foods, Farmer's Markets, Trader Joe's, etc.), mass transit and parks. Quality of public schools matters. The parks we've seen in San Rafael are really beautiful (even considering Live Oak Park in Berkeley), and I have some vague impression that the schools are better than in Berkeley/Albany (is that true?). The rents are lower in San Rafael, which matters to us. But Berkeley seems more bike friendly. Which is better for raising a kid? Any thoughts or other suggestions would be welcome. (We consider Rockridge from time to time, but it seems kind of yuppy, and without many playgrounds: Colby Park is kind of tiny and Froggy Park is under a freeway.)
still looking for a place to call home

I live in Albany and work in San Rafael, near the Gerstle Park neighborhood. My husband and I considered moving to San Rafael when my employer did, but pretty quickly decided that we belonged in the Berkeley area.

San Rafael does boast some wonderful parks, and a nice farmer's market on Thursday evenings from May to October. But its Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are not really within walking distance of Gerstle Park. Biking, yes, perhaps, but I'd hate to walk it regularly. And its access to mass transit is significantly inferior because it lacks BART. (Though I must admit that Golden Gate Transit busses are a lot nicer than AC Transit busses!) It's also a lot harder to get out of Marin and go anywhere else than it is from the East Bay.

The rep of Albany's schools is just as good as Marin's. Berkeley's are typically considered not quite as good. However, of course the individual student's experience depends on a lot of things other than API scores and I would send my children to any of them.

Your experience in Berkeley or Albany would depend a lot on exactly where you lived; North Albany, within walking distance of Trader Joe's, is significantly different from South Berkeley near Berkeley Bowl. But in general I think you're correct that Berkeley and Albany are more bike friendly, if only because you can go a lot farther without having to deal with hills. And we certainly have plenty of nice parks and good farmers' markets!

One of the main differences, I think, is sort of...cultural. San Rafael is more affluent, with a sharper divide between the wealthier white families and the poorer Hispanic families. Berkeley and Albany are home to a wider mix of socioeconomic/ethnic patterns, partly because there are so many foreign students at UC Berkeley. There is certainly a different ''feel'' to the population of the two areas which relates to that difference in diversity. I often feel a bit ''frumpy'' in San Rafael, where it often seems as if every other woman I see on the street or in the stores is blonde, manicured, thin, and fashionably dressed! Of course this is an overgeneralization -- but I think it may be a more significant factor for your comparison than the relative accessibility of Whole Foods. :-) anon

In terms of transportation (public, biking, walking) Berkeley is a much more reasonable place than San Rafael. San Rafael is about the only place in Marin with semi-decent public transit but the buses have to travel on a usually-congested highway. The service to San Francisco is once every half-hour (BART runs every 7-1/2 min during commute hours). Some neighborhoods would be ok to bike in, particularly the one on the ''wrong'' side of the freeway which is fairly close to Trader Joes. Depend where in San Rafael you rented, you could probably walk to shopping and a bus, but not to work. Many streets, particularly the ones near Trader Joes, are pretty unpleasant to walk on.

In terms of a balance of transit and good stores, I'd suggest Berkeley near Ashby BART(Berk Bowl), or N.Berkeley BART (Monteray Market, Berkeley Natural Foods).

N Berkeley has the Ohlone Greenway bike trail, which takes you to campus and most of the way to downtown. Berkeley has BART (to SF, downtown Oakland) and buses (local destination). Many people in Berkeley also walk to work.

We've been having a good experience with the Berkeley schools, but I don't know anything about the San Rafael schools. Carol