San Rafael offers a lot of choices for housing, holding a large majority of Central Marin's inventory.
On the west end of San Rafael there are some excellent options.
The Sun Valley neighborhood offers a good mix of entry level homes, and is very close to downtown. You are close to some city parks and a few minutes drive to the base of Mount Tam, which is the epicenter of all hiking and biking in Marin County. Gerstle Park is another area of San Rafael that is very close to downtown, close to parks, and offers a number of options for commuting.
I think the West End of town offers the closest proximity to downtown, while being close to parks as well.
I had the same thought 6 years ago!
We lived in the Sunset district in San Francisco and I was looking for a sunny place and good public schools. I started coming down to Mill Valey Community Center bringing my kids to swimming classes on Saturdays, to have a flavor for Marin...
We now live in San Rafael and we love it. It feels like a city, with a square in downtown with restaurants, bars, caffees, movie teathers and boutiques etc. The weather is good, the parks are beatifull... my kids are in an excellent public school (Glenwood). And the drive to San Francisco is short and pleasant, when you want to go back there.
I would love to take you around Marin and show you options.
Close to the city to enjoy the diversity and cultural the city provides.
Marin itself (hence San Rafael) has tons of great outdoor activities, hiking, biking, kyaking, sailing, horseback riding; national forest, national seshore, state parks, free concerts, theaters, entertainment, gourmet and casual restaurants; upscale, funky shops, the list goes on and on. You ask for it, you get it;
Great schools is a must! http://www.sylviasellsmarin.com/Forbes+Rates+Marin+Schools+B
Yes, Heather, we would love to have you move here!