Even with a bustling population of more than 53,000 residents, of all the cities in Marin County, Novato best captures a small-town-America feeling. Located just below Petaluma, adjacent to Sonoma and Napa counties, and surrounded by oak and bay tree-studded hills, it’s about a half hour drive from San Francisco at non-peak times (but can take over an hour in traffic). Golden Gate Transit offers Wi-Fi on board and a very comfy commute of 55 minutes to just over an hour to San Francisco’s Financial District, depending on the starting point.

Novato offers immediate access to several mountain bike and foot trail systems, the refurbished Black Point Boat launch, and several children’s camps and family programs. Many homes enjoy generous lots with flat lawns, tons of sun, and a high quality school system. Some recent changes are making Novato an even more appealing choice. The Grant Avenue downtown business district has been charmingly redeveloped and includes Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and the Tuesday night farmer’s market. Along with the annual Art, Wine and Music Festival, Novato has become an extension of nearby Sonoma’s culinary focus.

Vintage Oaks Shopping Center offers just about every convenience, including both Costco and Target, as well as dining and live music at Hopmonk Tavern, and a whole host of other retail options. The beer garden at nearby Moylan’s Brewery is a great place to watch a game and is a favorite among locals.

Novato is served by Novato Unified Public School System, which includes the top-rated Pleasant Valley and Rancho Elementary schools.