The quake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.0 happened at 6:06 p.m. near the San Andreas Fault about 10 miles southwest of San Rafael, said U.S. Geological Survey spokesman Dale Cox.
No injuries or damage were immediately reported.
Bolinas is about 20 miles north of San Francisco.
The quake rocked cars and made streetlights swing in San Francisco's Sunset district. Items fell off shelves and people 15 miles south of San Francisco said it felt like a heavy truck rumbling by.
"It was very quick, five or six seconds at the most," said Graham Church, an assistant manager at a San Francisco gas station. "It was pretty sharp, pretty severe."