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Novato, California

Coordinates: 38°06′27″N 122°34′11″W / 38.10750°N 122.56972°W / 38.10750; -122.56972
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

City of Novato
Clockwise from left: Marin Museum of Contemporary Art; City Hall; Unity Church; Downtown Novato. Motto: “The place to be”
Valley of No Regrets
Location in Marin County and California
Location in Marin County and California
City of Novato is located in the United States
City of Novato
City of Novato
Location in the United States
Coordinates: 38°06′27″N 122°34′11″W / 38.10750°N 122.56972°W / 38.10750; -122.56972[1]
CountryUnited States
IncorporatedJanuary 20, 1960[2]
 • MayorMark Milberg[3]
 • County BoardDistricts 5 & 4
Eric Lucan
Dennis Rodoni[4]
 • State SenatorMike McGuire (D)[5]
 • AssemblymemberDamon Connolly (D)[5]
 • U. S. Rep.Jared Huffman (D)[6]
 • Total27.99 sq mi (72.48 km2)
 • Land27.48 sq mi (71.16 km2)
 • Water0.51 sq mi (1.32 km2)  1.85%
Elevation30 ft (9 m)
 • Total53,225
 • Density1,900/sq mi (730/km2)
 • Demonym
Time zoneUTC−8 (Pacific)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−7 (PDT)
ZIP codes
94945, 94947–94949, 94998
Area codes415/628
FIPS code06-52582
GNIS feature IDs277612, 2411283

Novato (Spanish for "Novatus") is a city in Marin County, California, United States, situated in the North Bay region of the Bay Area. At the 2020 census, Novato had a population of 53,225.



What is now Novato was originally the site of several Coast Miwok villages: Chokecherry, near downtown Novato; Puyuku, near Ignacio; and Olómpali, at the present-day Olompali State Historic Park.[9]

Mexican era

Rancho Olómpali was granted in 1834 by Governor Manuel Micheltorena to Miwok ranchero Camilo Ynitia.

In 1839, the Mexican government granted the 8,876-acre (35.92 km2) Rancho Novato to Fernando Feliz. The rancho was named after a local Miwok leader who had probably been given the name of Saint Novatus at his baptism.[10] Subsequently, four additional land grants were made in the area: Rancho Corte Madera de Novato, to John Martin in 1839; Rancho San Jose, to Ignacio Pacheco in 1840; Rancho Olómpali, awarded in 1843 to Camilo Ynitia, son of a Coast Miwok chief; and Rancho Nicasio, by far the largest at 56,621 acres (229.1 km2), awarded to Pablo de la Guerra and John B.R. Cooper in 1844.[11]

Post-Conquest era


Following the American Conquest of California and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Novato, along with the rest of California, became part of the United States on February 2, 1848. Early pioneers included Joseph Sweetser and Francis De Long who bought 15,000 acres (61 km2) in the mid-1850s and planted orchards and vineyards.[12]

The first post office at Novato opened in 1856; it closed in 1860, and a new post office opened in 1891.[13]

The first school was built in 1859, at the corner of Grant Avenue and what is today Redwood Boulevard.

California Churrigueresque architecture at Hamilton Airfield; 1936.

The original town was located around Novato Creek at what is now South Novato Boulevard. A railroad was built in 1879, connecting Novato to Sonoma County and San Rafael. The area around the train depot became known as New Town, and forms the edge of what today is Old Town Novato. The Novato Flatiron Building was built in 1908.

Modern era


The Great Depression of the 1930s had a marked effect on the area, as many farmers lost their land. After World War II, Novato grew quickly with the construction of tract homes and a freeway. As the area was unincorporated, much of the growth was unplanned and uncontrolled.

Novato was finally incorporated as a city in 1960.[14] One of the most important venues of the time (1960 to 1965) was "Western Weekend". Beard-growing contests, sponsored by Bob's Barber Shop, and many other odd activities helped to bring this community together.


Diked fields in Eastern Novato

According to the United States Census Bureau, Novato has a total area of 28.0 square miles (73 km2) and is the largest city in area in Marin County. A total of 27.4 square miles (71 km2) is land and 0.5 square miles (1.3 km2) (1.85%) is water.

The southwestern part of Novato is significantly more mountainous, whereas eastern Novato is characterized by marshland and diked fields and pastures.

Major geographical features nearby include Mount Burdell and Mount Burdell Open Space Preserve to the north and Big Rock Ridge to the southwest. Stafford Lake to the west is a secondary water supply for Novato, with the Russian River in Sonoma County to the north supplying 80% of the city's water.[15]

Big Rock Ridge, the highest point in Novato

Novato includes ten Marin County Open Space District preserves: Mount Burdell, Rush Creek, Little Mountain, Verissimo Hills, Indian Tree, Deer Island, Indian Valley, Ignacio Valley, Loma Verde, and Pacheco Valle. Although Novato is located on the water, access to the water is blocked by expansive farmland and wetlands.

Hamilton Amphitheater Park.



Official weather observations were taken at Hamilton Air Force Base through 1964. Average January temperatures were a maximum of 53.6 °F (12.0 °C) and a minimum of 38.7 °F (3.7 °C). Average July temperatures were a maximum of 79.9 °F (26.6 °C) and a minimum of 52.0 °F (11.1 °C). There were an average of 12.4 days with highs of 90 °F (32 °C) or higher and an average of 12.5 days with lows of 32 °F (0 °C) or lower. The record high temperature was 111 °F (44 °C) on September 5, 2022.[16] The record low temperature was 16 °F (−9 °C) in December 2013. Average annual precipitation was 25.49 inches (64.7 cm). The wettest year was 1940 with 46.63 inches (118.4 cm) and the driest year was 2015 with 6.35 inches (16.1 cm). The most rainfall in one month was 18.87 inches (47.9 cm) in December 1955. The most rainfall in 24 hours was 10.55 inches (26.8 cm) between December 10, 2014 – December 11, 2014.[17]

Today, the nearest National Weather Service cooperative weather station is in San Rafael, where records date back to 1894. Compared to records from Hamilton Air Force Base, San Rafael is generally several degrees warmer than Novato and has an average of about 10 inches (25 cm) more rainfall. The record high temperature in San Rafael was 110 °F (43 °C) on September 7, 1904, and June 14, 1961. The record low temperature was 20 °F (−7 °C) on December 26, 1967.[18]

Flooding in Northeastern Novato

According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Novato has a warm-summer mediterranean climate, abbreviated "Csb" on climate maps. This means that Summers are Hot, but Winters are rainy and can be mild to chilly. Precipitation occurs in the colder seasons, but there are a number of clear sunny days even during the wetter seasons, except during spells of seasonal tule fog, when it can be quite chilly for many days.

Novato has a history of flooding due to its low-lying position, as well as the fact that much of the city used to be marshland. Due to the system of levees in Eastern Novato, flooding is quite common in that area, both from excessive rain and levee breaches.[19][20]

Climate data for Novato, California (Hamilton Army Airfield)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 77
Mean daily maximum °F (°C) 53.6
Daily mean °F (°C) 46.2
Mean daily minimum °F (°C) 38.7
Record low °F (°C) 23
Average precipitation inches (mm) 5.80
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 11 9 9 5 3 1 0 0 1 4 6 9 58
Source: Western Regional Climate Center[21]


Novato City Hall.

Novato is governed by a city council of five members. All five councilmembers are elected by city council districts to staggered four-year terms. The city council elects a mayor and mayor pro tem each year from its membership. The current councilmembers are:[22]

  • District 1 Councilmember: Susan Wernick
  • District 2 Councilmember: Rachel Farac
  • District 3 Councilmember: Tim O'Connor (Mayor Pro Tem)
  • District 4 Councilmember: Pat Eklund
  • District 5 Councilmember: Mark Milberg (Mayor)

In the United States House of Representatives, Novato is in California's 2nd congressional district, represented by Democrat Jared Huffman.[6] From 2008 to 2012, Huffman represented Marin County in the California State Assembly.

In the California State Legislature, Novato is in:

According to the California Secretary of State, as of February 10, 2019, Novato had 31,544 registered voters. Of those, 15,794 (50.1%) were registered Democrats, 6,048 (19.2%) were registered Republicans, and 8,188 (26%) declined to state a political party.[24]


Historical population
U.S. Decennial Census[25]



At the 2020 census Novato had a population of 52,225. The population density was 1,900 inhabitants per square mile (730/km2). The racial makeup of Novato was 32,509 (62.2%) White, 1,435 (2.7%) African American, 961 (1.8%) Native American, 3,966 (7.6%) Asian, 108 (0.2%) Pacific Islander, 7,099 (13.6%) from other races, and 7,147 (13.7%) from two or more races.[26]


Spanish Colonial Revival homes at Hamilton Army Airfield.

At the 2010 census Novato had a population of 51,904. The population density was 1,856.6 inhabitants per square mile (716.8/km2). The racial makeup of Novato was 39,443 (76.0%) White, 1,419 (2.7%) African American, 286 (0.6%) Native American, 3,428 (6.6%) Asian, 117 (0.2%) Pacific Islander, 4,693 (9.0%) from other races, and 2,518 (4.9%) from two or more races. There were 11,046 Hispanic or Latino residents (21.3%) of any race.[27]

The census reported that 51,278 people (98.8% of the population) lived in households, 449 (0.9%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 177 (0.3%) were institutionalized.

There were 21,279 households, 6,679 (32.9%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 10,393 (51.3%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 2,237 (11.0%) had a female householder with no husband present, 854 (4.2%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 1,010 (5.0%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 195 (1.0%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 5,358 households (26.4%) were one person and 2,415 (11.9%) had someone living alone who was 65 or older. The average household size was 2.53. There were 13,484 families (66.5% of households); the average family size was 3.04.

The age distribution was 11,769 people (22.7%) under the age of 18, 3,355 people (6.5%) aged 18 to 24, 12,743 people (24.6%) aged 25 to 44, 15,914 people (30.7%) aged 45 to 64, and 8,123 people (15.7%) who were 65 or older. The median age was 42.6 years. For every 100 females, there were 93.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.1 males.

There were 21,158 housing units at an average density of 756.8 per square mile, of the occupied units 13,591 (67.0%) were owner-occupied and 6,688 (33.0%) were rented. The homeowner vacancy rate was 1.0%; the rental vacancy rate was 4.7%. 33,252 people (64.1% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 18,026 people (34.7%) lived in rental housing units.


Marin Museum of Contemporary Art.

At the 2000 census there were 47,630 people in 18,524 households, including 12,411 families, in the city. The population density was 1,719.2 inhabitants per square mile (663.8/km2). There were 18,994 housing units at an average density of 685.6 units per square mile (264.7 units/km2). The racial makeup of the city in 2010 was 65.8% non-Hispanic White American, 2.5% non-Hispanic Black American, 0.2% Native American, 6.5% Asian, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 0.3% from other races, and 3.2% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino residents of any race were 21.3%.[28]

Of the 18,524 households 32.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.7% were married couples living together, 10.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.0% were non-families. 25.2% of households were one person and 9.3% were one person aged 65 or older. The average household size was 2.52 and the average family size was 3.01.

The age distribution was 23.1% under the age of 18, 6.4% from 18 to 24, 29.9% from 25 to 44, 27.5% from 45 to 64, and 13.0% 65 or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females, there were 93.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.3 males.

The median household income was $63,453 and the median family income was $74,434 (these figures had risen to $78,895 and $91,890 respectively as of a 2007 estimate).[29] Males had a median income of $55,822 versus $40,287 for females. The per capita income for the city was $32,402. About 3.1% of families and 5.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 6.1% of those under age 18 and 4.0% of those age 65 or over.


The Buck Institute for Research on Aging is a world leader on aging-associated diseases research.
The historic Hamilton Theatre.
Doctor Insomniac's Coffee, a Historic Landmark[30] on Grant Avenue

The city is home to the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, and several biotech firms, such as Biosearch Technologies, BioMarin Pharmaceutical and Ultragenyx.[31] Several small technology companies are also based in Novato, such as 2K, Radiant Logic, Toys For Bob, One Legal, International Genetics Incorporated, Channel Management Solutions, Enwisen, Sonic Solutions and DriveSavers.

The former Hamilton Air Force Base is also located in Novato, but was decommissioned in 1974 and designated a Historic District in 1998. After lying stagnant for many years, major renovations were pushed through by then-mayor Michael DiGiorgio. As of 2008 the base has largely been redeveloped into single-family homes. The former hangar buildings were gutted and redeveloped into two-story office buildings; tenants include 2K Sports, Sony Imageworks, Visual Concepts, The Republic of Tea, Toys For Bob, and Birkenstock Distribution USA.

From 1983 to 1998, the iconic[32] developer of video games, Brøderbund Software, was headquartered in Novato, known through games Choplifter, Lode Runner, Karateka, and Prince of Persia, and others.[33] From the 1982 until 2015, Novato was headquarters for Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, which was Marin County's largest employer at one time, with 2,400 employees as of 2000. By 2015, the company had laid off or transferred most its employees and relocated its remaining employees to a smaller headquarters in nearby Petaluma.[34]

In Eastern Novato, north of Hamilton, there are several hayfields contributing to the local economy, but they are diminishing as more and more of them are restored to wetlands.

Mining and Quarrying


Novato's history of mines and quarries goes back to 1863, when all of a sudden, multiple mining claims popped up in the area. At this time, most of the mines were either gold, silver, or copper mines. Initial results seemed promising, but eventually, prospects shifted elsewhere. Instead of mining for silver or gold, Novato's quarries and mines turned to Mount Burdell. Mount Burdell ended up being the source of hundreds of thousands of hand-cut andesite paving blocks, that were used as ballast in ships and street construction as far away as in Europe. Many of San Francisco's foundations and retaining walls from before the 1906 earthquake also came from Mount Burdell. Novato's largest quarry, the Burdell quarry, produced upwards of 2000-4000 tons of stone daily. Even with such high production, the quarrying activity in Novato slowly waned until the last quarry, located on the west side of Mount Burdell, shut down in the 1990s.[35]

Top employers

The Villas at Hamilton.

As of 2018–19 the city's principal employers were:[36]

# Employer # of Employees % of Total City Employed
1 BioMarin Pharmaceutical 1005 3.56%
2 Novato Unified School District 803 2.85%
3 2K/Visual Concepts 660 2.34%
4 Bradley Electric 342 1.21%
5 Costco Wholesale 316 1.12%
6 Novato Community Hospital 304 1.08%
7 City of Novato 290 1.03%
8 Ultragenyx 275 0.98%
9 Safeway Stores 250 0.89%
10 Novato Healthcare Center 233 0.83%



Novato is a destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with its many parks and open space preserves providing ample hiking trails, biking trails, picnic spots, and playgrounds. Parks and open space preserves featuring hiking trails include:

Buck Gulch Falls (also known as the Fairway Waterfall)[37] is located in the Ignacio Valley Preserve, and can be accessed from the trailhead at the end of Fairway Drive. There is also a waterfall in the Indian Valley Open Space Preserve, along the Ken Harth Waterfall Trail, and another in the Pacheco Valle Preserve, at the end of Pacheco Creek Drive. These waterfalls are seasonal, flowing in winter and spring, but slowing to a trickle or drying up completely in the summer and fall.

Popular parks featuring playgrounds in Novato include Miwok Park, Josef Hoog Park, South Hamilton Park, and Pioneer Park. The playground at Pioneer Park was rebuilt in 2023 and is the first fully accessible and inclusive playground in Marin County.[38]

Scottsdale Pond is a small pond suitable for fishing. The pathway around the pond displays signs created by artist Emma Oyle that highlight the wildlife seen in the area.[39]

Novato operates the Hamilton Community Pool, open seasonally.[40]

The Stafford Lake Bike Park at Stafford Lake County Park offers 17 acres of terrain for bikers of all skill levels.[41]


Hamilton Field History Museum.

Prominent museums in Novato include:

In the summer, Novato's Parks and Recreation Department hosts a summer concert series, featuring eight free concerts at the Hamilton Amphitheater and the Novato Civic Green.[42] Each June, Novato produces the Novato Art Wine & Music Festival,[43] featuring two music stages, 200 arts and crafts booths, wine and beer booths, and a kids section with games. Other popular Novato events include Rock the Block, a series of concerts on Grant Avenue in the summer, Safe Trick or Treat[44] each Halloween, the annual Christmas Tree Lighting on Sherman Avenue,[45] and the annual Bouncy Ball New Year on Machin Avenue,[46] where 24,000 bouncy balls are dropped from a fire engine ladder for children to catch.



Novato is served by the Novato Unified School District. The public high schools are Novato High School and San Marin High School. These schools offer two specialized programs. Students from Marin County and surrounding counties may apply for acceptance to the Marin School of the Arts,[47] on the Novato High School campus, or STEM Marin,[48] on the San Marin High School campus. Novato Charter School is a charter school in Novato. Novato is also home to the Indian Valley Campus of College of Marin.


Novato Downtown station is served by Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit.

Major highways in Novato include U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 37, and major roads in Novato include Atherton Avenue, Novato Boulevard, San Marin Drive, and Ignacio Boulevard.

Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) operates three commuter rail stations in Novato: San Marin / Atherton station, Hamilton station, and Novato Downtown station. Novato is also served by several bus routes of Golden Gate Transit and Marin Transit, with a transit center in the downtown area, which serves 2 Golden Gate Transit routes and 6 Marin Transit routes.[49]

Notable people

Cherry Blossoms bloom on Grant Street in Novato, California

Sister cities



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