Novato, like most other parts of Marin, was occupied by the Coast Miwok Indians for thousands of years. It wasn't until the 1820's and 1830's that the Mexican government made several land grants in the area, which were later purchased and combined by two settlers, Francis Delong and Joseph Sweeter. Delong and Sweeter planted thousands of fruit trees and eventually created one of the largest orchards in the world. The North Pacific Railroad connected the area to Southern Marin in the 1880's and it remained a rural, agricultural area for the next century.
Novato is 30 miles north of San Francisco and is the second largest town in Marin, with a population of approximately 50,000. It is the northernmost town in Marin and borders Sonoma County, and correspondingly, has the warmest summers and the coldest winters. The town is experiencing a surge in popularity due to the renovation of downtown coupled with the cheapest home values of any of the 13 primary towns of Marin (Sausalito, Mill Valley, Tiburon, Belvedere, Corte Madera, Larkspur, Greenbrae, Kentfield, Ross, San Anselmo, Fairfax, San Rafael and Novato). For roughly the same entry-level price of a home on a hilly lot in Mill Valley, you can buy a beautifully finished, much larger home, on a larger, flat lot in Novato.
The Benefits of living in Novato are many: much closer to Napa, Sonoma (think French Laundry), you'll have more disposable income and may live in a nicer home. The pace of life is slower with much warmer summers, during which you can grow all manner of fruits and vegetables (think heirloom tomatoes); you will be closer to Coastal towns such as Bodega Bay and Mendocino, and even a little closer to Tahoe.
Chief Drawback: The commute to and from San Francisco during normal West Coast business hours is a grind, particularly on the way home, and most folks who make it on a daily basis try to leave San Francisco before 4:15 or after 6:15 as traffic lightens up a bit by then. Friday afternoons in the summer will take even longer as people flee the San Francisco fog. If you want to live in Novato and work in San Francisco, you are going to have to get creative with your work schedules and commuting. However, if you work East Coast hours, you have a longer than average commute for Marin but still well within acceptable parameters.