Some of the most beautiful parts of California's long coastline are in Marin County, between Point Reyes and the Marin Headlands. Just drive along the coastal highway.
One item of historical interest is an old observation post, used by the Army to spot targets for coastal artillery batteries nearby. Artillery spotters at two of these would use data from both positions to triangulate the location of a ship, enabling the big guns to target them.
Point of contact:
Marin County Visitors Bureau
1013 Larkspur Landing Circle,
Larkspur, California 94939
Phone and website are given below.
Just .2 mile north of the Golden Gate Bridge is a small road that takes you West, hugging the cliffs, and provides one of the most stunning views imaginable of the bridge and San Francisco. [This is not "inside" the Golden Gate, but out on the Pacific side.] Many car advertisements have been photographed at one point along this road, but if you KEEP DRIVING, eventually the road (Conzelman) turns into a NARROW ONE-WAY ROAD which you have to see to believe. There’s a gate which is closed after dusk. It's a bit scary since there is no guardrail and it's a steep drop off down to the ocean on the left. You have to watch out for the occasional crazy bicyclists who go flying down this little-traveled piece of pavement. Just take it slow, and you’ll be fine. It will eventually take you out to several points where you can look up and down the Pacific coast, back towards the bridge, the Pt. Bonita Lighthouse, San Francisco, the East Bay, etc. Still plainly visible are a lot of old bunkers and gun mounts built into the hillsides during WWII, and several old military "forts" that have been converted into peace-time use as artists studios and the like. Great hiking trails everywhere. After checking out the views from the SW-most point, you can continue driving along the many little roads that eventually lead you back to Hwy 101, or not ! The general area is known as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and extends many miles up the coast, and includes so many other spectacular spots to visit, you should consult some books such as "Hiking Marin" by Don and Kay Martin (Martin Press P.O. Box 2109, San Anselmo, CA 94979.) My husband and I have done about a dozen of the "121 Great Hikes in Marin County" described and mapped in this great book, but I didn't realize until just now, when looking through it closely, that it's produced privately by a local couple!
Catch the ferry over to Alcatraz. It's actually a beautiful island. There are birds and wildflowers there. Then you look out to the sea and wonder how this could be such a tough place.
You can rent a tape/headset and it will take you on a tour of the prison. You'll feel like you were there in the old days.
If you want to get away from the city and the fog take a trip south the Palo Alto where it's usually warm and sunny. The Stanford campus is beautiful. Lots of palm trees and old buildings. The main drag is University Avenue where you can find some great restaurants and shops. One of my favorite restaurants is a vietnamese place called Tamarine. They have artwork on the walls from vietnamese artists and a creative menu. I like the comfy chairs.
Los Gatos is a small picturesque town located south of San Francisco just before the Santa Cruz Mountains. It actually reminds me of a small mountain town in Colorado. The name Los Gatos comes from "El Rancho Rinconda de Los Gatos," a ranch established in 1839 by a Mexican land grant and named for the large number of mountain lions in the area at the time. You will see statues of mountain lions throughout the area.
Our first stop was Gilley's Cafe for breakfast (we are all about food). They have the best homemade salsa and perfect hashbrowns. And if you have a dog they offer free dog treats and a water bowl just outside the restaurant.
Then we walked to the park at the end of the main street. The park has just enough trees for shade and a water fountain for kids to run through. After that we walked around a neighborhood with some beautiful homes.
Next stop was Cold Stone Creamery for ice cream. Then we took a detour to Old Town which originally was built as a school but is now a shopping center with a bookstore and some chain clothing stores. After some more window shopping it was time to go home. We didn't want to leave.
Los Gatos also has some nice trails but we didn't allow enough time for hiking. Maybe next time. One thing I did notice right away......free parking! After living and working in the city for so long I couldn't get over the fact that parking was free. Free!
Half Moon Bay is a quiet town near the coast (about 45 minutes south of SF). Famous for their annual Pumpkin Festival and Mavericks surf competition which are a lot of fun.
The drive along the coast is amazing. There are a few places to stop and take pictures. Or you can stop at the beach before heading to the downtown area. The main street in Half Moon Bay has cute shops and restaurants. It has a quaint small town feel to it. People are friendly. For me it's a nice break from the city.
Berkeley is a cool place to visit in its own right. It’s a college town and quite the alternative one at that. It’s a noted place of political thought and was at the forefront of the anti-war movement in the sixties. You can get there in about 20 minutes on a BART train so if you have the time and inclination, give it a go. There are lots of great inexpensive places to eat but if you’re out that way, stop by the Triple Rock Brewery. It’s a great old time feeling pub with a throwback neon sign calling you in. It’s very convenient to the BART station, only three short blocks away. The food looked good but since we’d already eaten that day, we just dug into some of their tasty house made ales. The Dragon’s Breath was a nitro dispensed unfiltered milk stout with both big hop and malt elements to its nose and palate, ending in a signature bittersweet finish. Much too drinkable at 7.6% alcohol! The contemplative Stonehenge Stout was black with a creamy tan head and coffee/cacao aroma. Full-bodied with lots of roast bitterness offset by considerable malt, it dries out nicely by hops in the long finish. They have a good happy hour and I just missed their cask offering that week. Worth the trek.
We booked a wine tour before we left with www.travelsf.com, I was very impressed. I mention the specific company because of the service. Our tourguide Max was extremely knowledgable about Wine, his family has been in the wine business for years. The best part is that the day we went there were only about 7 people so we took a van instead of a bus. The advantage being that we were able to go to some of the smaller vineyards that won't allow buses. We got to go to about 5 winerys, ranging from large Francis Coppola's vinyard that produces about 4 million cases a year to a very small Homewood winery that produces only about 3500.
The Scharffen Berger Chocolate Factory located in the city of Berkeley just across the bay offers free one-hour tours daily. We recently went with some friends and had a blast. We got to sample all the different varieties of chocolate made at the factory and walk through the facilities to see how the chocolate is transformed from a beans to something edible. I recommend bringing a hat or else you will be required to wear the most ridiculous hairnets you will ever see.
Reservations are not required but they are encouraged and may be done online.
The factory is located at 914 Heinz Ave, on the corner of Heinz and 7th St, in Berkeley. Take the Ashby Ave. exit off of Interstate 80, make a left on 7th St. and a right on Heinz Ave. The entrance is the second driveway on your right.
Waaaaay off the beaten path - figuratively and literally - is the spit of land known as the Albany Bulb, in the city of Albany just north of Berkeley on I-80 behind the Golden Gate Fields horse track.
A former dump, then homeless encampment, the place is now a great walking and biking park. But what makes it special is the bizarre artwork you'll find all around, made mostly of the indigenous junk.
For more on the bulb, see my Albany Page.
This is a serene Redwood grove set in the middle of paradise- 805 acres. It is located along the picturesqe Guerneville Rd.
There are nice walks that can be taken throughout the park on self-guided trails and a picnic area.
Here are the official directions from the CA Govt Park website:
The reserve is located two miles north of Guerneville on Armstrong Woods Road. From Highway 101- coming North or South- take the River Road exit (in Santa Rosa). Go west on River Road until you reach Guerneville. At the second stop light make a right hand turn onto Armstrong Woods Road. This road will end in the park.
17020 Armstrong Woods Road
Guerneville, CA 95446
Armstrong Redwood Grove State Park
Go visit the California Redwoods that served as the dramatic backdrop to the Star Wars movie The Empire Strikes Back (the planet the Ewoks lived on). This park is a beautiful place for renting horses, walking or hiking, or camping. The views are dramatic! This is my favorite place to take friends and family who aren't from California. This is a great family trip.
17020 Armstrong Woods Road
Guerneville, CA 95446
You can also visit the Russian River for swimming, renting kayaks, inner tubing, and riverside camping under the Redwoods.
Stanford University in Palo Alto. Stanford is one of the premiere universities in the United States. It's often referred to as 'the Harvard of the West.' This is a picture of the cloister on campus.
You could also visit another prestigious university, the University of California at Berkeley. Berkelely is easy to access via public transportation and is definitely worth the trip. There are some great restaurants and pubs to check out!
And don't forget Oakland just across the Bay Bridge.
It's not really off the beaten path and it's not out of town, but it's the trip I love to take over and over. If you're vacationing and have a car in San Francisco (at which point I would question your sanity), try taking this little tour. You'll see so much of what is beautiful in San Francisco: twin peaks, the coastline west of the golden gate bridge, golden gate park, and the marina. Ok.. maybe I could pass on the marina. :) Instead of the marina I would head up the hill from the marina and snoop around Union Street and Buchanan, to see how the other half live... or should I say other 5%? I really wonder how much some of these properties are worth.
All in all it's a beautiful trip. Don't miss it. Be sure to click on the picture of the map in the link below for the full route.
This is a rescue centre for seals & sealions, most of whom are orphaned or abandoned. The aim is to get them back into the wild as soon as they are fit & healthy. You can watch them swimming or basking, & learning to catch fish.
The centre is a short drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, on the Marin Headlands. You take the exit immediately after the crossing & then turn under the highway.