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15B: City Scenes — Novato

17 January 2011, Monday

Next in my City Scenes series: it is the second-largest city in Marin County and my current hometown, Novato. With a population of 50,000, the city boasts of the only Target and Costco, two big-box retailers, in the entire county, as well as several grocery stores, restaurants, and a major movie house. Aside from the City of Novato itself, it also encompasses five districts as well: San Marin to the north, Bel Marin Keys, Ignacio, and Hamilton to the south, and Black Point to the east, many of which having both similarities and (striking) differences among each other.


Grant Avenue, Downtown Novato

A view of some shops along Grant Avenue, the Main Street of Novato


IHOP, Vintage Oaks Shopping Center, Novato

A branch of the famous pancake chain, IHOP, at the Vintage Oaks Shopping Center in Novato

Downtown Novato is compact and easily accessible from the main freeway, US 101, with Grant Avenue as the main street of the city. It has a branch of Whole Foods Market, recently named America’s Healthiest Grocery Store, as well as a branch of Safeway, the main grocery store chain in Northern California (as well as in parts of Nevada and Arizona), and several shops, restaurants, and service outlets, catering to the community. It also hosts to one of two branches of the DMV in the entire county (the other branch is in Corte Madera), as well as the only city with a Little Caesar’s Pizza branch in the county. Just north of downtown are the corporate headquarters of Fireman’s Fund (a company of Allianz) and the Marin County Airport, also known as Gnoss Field, which is a private airport catering to small propeller planes. Immediately south of it is the city’s administrative center, with the City Offices and main fire station located north of Rowland Blvd., along with the city’s only hospital, Sutter Novato Medical Campus. South of Rowland Blvd. is the Vintage Oaks Shopping Complex, which houses the only Old Navy, Sports Authority, Marshalls, Costco, and Target in the entire county, as well as a branch of Macy’s Furniture Store, several restaurants, and services.


Lake Stafford, Novato (from

Lake Stafford, a quaint place of relaxation northwest of Downtown, in San Marin.

San Marin, northwest of Downtown Novato, is mainly a residential area that has its own outdoor shopping center, high school (aptly named San Marin High School), and a county park, Stafford Lake. The area reminds me of a real residential suburb, with houses lining nearly all of the area’s main arteries and side streets. Stafford Lake also provides a place of relaxation, and it hosts to a yearly Blues Festival every Fall.


Marin Country Club

Marin Country Club, one of two golf courses located in Novato

South of downtown are several communities that act similarly as San Marin, but, the area consists of more shopping centers, services, and even a golf course. Ignacio, the main district in southern Novato, is similar to San Marin as it has a high concentration of residences along many of the area’s main roads. However, it has more than just that: it is the location of a campus of the College of Marin, named Indian Valley Campus. It offers classes similar to the main campus of the College of Marin in Kentfield, but, it specializes in automobile technology and court reporting (stenography), as well as many night and weekend classes. It is also home to one of Marin’s several golf courses, the Marin County Club, as well as a branch of Paradise Foods, a locally-owned grocery store based in Corte Madera (at the Pacheco Plaza Shopping Center), and several restaurants that dot the area. Ignacio also encompasses Bel Marin Keys, a mixed commercial and residential development, which for some time also was an industrial center (thus the name Bel Marin Keys Industrial Park). The area consists of housing similar to those in Florida and the Netherlands wherein housing units face the water, allowing residents to sail sailing boats and yachts through the lagoons that surround the area, as well as possible exploration to San Pablo Bay which feeds into Bel Marin Keys.


View of Hamilton, Novato

A view of the former Hamilton Air Force Base, now a mostly-residential neighborhood

Hamilton Theatre, Novato

The old Hamilton Theatre, formerly a place of entertainment, now closed indefinitely

The former Hamilton Air Force Base, located south of Ignacio, has been converted into another residential neighborhood, similar to San Marin and Ignacio. But, it also has a commercial component to it, with an outdoor shopping center (Hamilton Marketplace) nearby, as well as the old hangars being converted into offices (Hamilton Landing). But, the US military has not completely pulled out of the former base, as it is still home to the US Coast Guard Pacific Division, and military families still live in the area as well. Immediately next to the military housing is the so-called “low-income housing” that is subsidized by the state: many well-maintained apartments have been built just east of Nave Drive, a frontage road east of US 101, in the early 2000s, and it is sometimes dubbed as “north Marin City” because of the number of low-income families that live there. The area hosts to a branch of the YMCA, as well as the city’s only skate park, a public pool, a library, and the home of both the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art and Unity in Marin.


Stonetree Golf Course, Novato (from Visit Marin)

Stonetree Golf Course, an attraction in the Black Point community east of Downtown

Black Point, along Hwy 37 east of Downtown Novato, is a loosely-attached area of residences, and the major attraction in the area is the Stonetree Golf Course, another golf range in the city. Its distance from Downtown makes it a secluded area, and its location next to San Pablo Bay and the Petaluma River makes it a good place to launch boats.

Beyond the city, the Olompali State Park, north of Downtown, is a popular place for hikers and visitors alike. It is believed that the Coast Miwoks, the original inhabitants of the area, have been living within the park grounds as early as 6,000 B.C. until the early 1850s A.D., and the park today hosts to hiking and horseback riding trails, a picnic area, a visitors center, and a native plant garden, all of which draw visitors to the park (open daylight hours only, from 10am to 5pm). But, access to the park is only available from southbound US-101: northbound, vehicles must make a safe U-turn to head southbound to the park.

Next in the City Scenes series: San Francisco… I’ll decide the district.

From → Bay Area, Travel

  1. Lake Stafford and the Country club look very nice.

    • Thanks a lot! Those are just some of the many sights in the city, and I’ve been to those places before since it’s just a 10 to 15-minute drive from my place. Good thing, however, that I did not put up a pic of my place since I will post that on a later date…

  2. Nice PICS from Marin County, Anthony.
    Since I lived in Hayward for about a year they bring back memories for me.
    Take care, cc

    • Ah ok. Hayward’s a so-so place for me, and I haven’t explored that city fully to warrant a City Scenes profile. Rest assured, though, that there will be more towns that I will cover for the series. I’m just that happy that I live in Marin County, and I hope you had a great time visiting it too.

  3. Hi There…. I see you have a photo of mine that you credit the Marin Independent Journal with. The one of the outdoor dining area at Boca Pizzeria, next to Paradise Foods. You really should ask permission before reposting my photos.

    That said, I do offer updated monthly real estate market reports for those interested:

    • I’m sorry if I took one of your pictures, but I cannot find one in my current albums. I will remove it if you wish and I will replace it with an image I personally take so that we will not face copyright infringement issues.

  4. Anthony, if you would like to use my images, please ask first and then link back to me with credit for the photos. I’d appreciate credit for my work.

  5. Sorry about the PIC stuff folks, but it looks like they do some serious elbow bending in that Country Club.

    I never did any drinking at the CC, but when my golf buddies had a snoot full I usually won all the bets. 🙂

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