This is a terrific place to get good views of the city, the bay, the ocean, & the pacific coastline, on a clear day. There's fairly easy walking, and interesting flora & fauna.
North of the Goden Gate Bridge, then follow Hwy 1 & take the signs.
After a few days walking up hills and window shopping in way too many souvenir shops, I decided to venture further afield. Luckily at the Youth Hostel at Union Square, they had pre-arranged day trips with a company called Extranomical Adventures. I went on both the Yosemite Day Trip and Winery Trip, and can heartily recommend them...
You get picked up from your hotel/hostel and driven in a comfortable (air-conditioned)people carrier, in a small group of no more than 14, led by a knowledgeable guide.
While working in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to spend the weekend in Placerville. It's a small town within a very easy drive from the city. Partway to Lake Tahoe, Placerville is set in the hills and is worth a weekend (or a week's!) stay. River rafting, shopping in unique boutiques, hiking, and good restaurants.
I stayed at a wonderful bed and breakfast called the Shafsky house. Stephanie and Rita, the owners, made sure I was comfortable and have everything I needed, including a full and delightful breakfast each morning. They had great ideas for things to do. The house/rooms are charming and the location is terrific, close enough to downtown to walk to restaurants and bars, but since it's a few blocks away, it's very quiet. Best, the price was definitely right!
Santa Cruz is a about a three hour drive from San Francisco and we passed thru on the way back from Big Sur. We only spent a night there (so I won't bother making a special page although I am sure it deserves one) but decided to stay that one night because of the KIVA RETREAT HOUSE.
It is a relaxation centre where you can have a massage and relax in a variety of hot tubs outside in a garden. I have been to a number of hot springs in Japan but they have always been segregated by sex, Kiva isn't so I was a little nervous at first. Although it says it is 'Clothing Optional', I quickly realized that this is the American term for nude.....It was the middle of Winter and it was the most relaxing thing we did on our trip. It costs $16 for an adult and $8 for a student. This allows for all-day access so you can go home and then come back again later that day if you like.
HOURS: Sun-Thu noon-11pm, Sat and Sun noon-midnight.
ADDRESS: 702 Water St, Santa Cruz
A definitely liberating experience!
Point Reyes National Seashore is about an hour northwest of San Francisco. Take highway 1 along the coast and enjoy the beatiful views of the Pacific Ocean. Check out Drakes Beach or Stinson Beach if it isn't too foggy. Go to http://www.nps.gov/pore/home.htm or http://www.pointreyes.net for more information.
The University of California Berkeley is not too far from the beaten path. The Campanile tower is visable from parts of San Francisco. One can take the BART subway train to Berkeley station. AC Transit buses are somewhat cheaper and leave from the Transbay Terminal at Mission and 1st Streets. MUNI's 38 bus also leaves from the Transbay Terminal and goes to Union Square and then Geary Blvd. in the Richmond District. Several films were filmed on location at the campus including Claire Forlani and Freddie Prinze, Jr.'s Boys and Girls (2000). Sean Connery, Nicholas Cage, and Clair Forlani also starred in The Rock, filmed on Alcatraz Prison (1994).
Mt Tamalpias or Mt. 'Tam' as the locals call it, is a beautiful place to hike and take in spectacular views. Those of you who are Dharma Bums, may recall Kerouac describing the Dipsey Trail, which is pretty much in the shadow of Mt. Tam. It's an 8 mile hike along the Dipsey trail to Stinson beach, and well worth it. But for those who like to rely on thier legs a little less, the sumit of Mt. Tam is accessible by car. You should pick up a map if you decide to go there, but basically you take 101 over the Golden Gate, and then take the hwy 1 exit at Mill Valley. it's roughly a 30 minute drive from the city to the very top of the mountain. (if ya don't get caught in traffic on the bridge)
Berkeley - This historic town that gave a home to the freedom fights of the 60's is now one of the nicest places on earth to visit. (Not that it wasn't then)Go to Berkeley and visit the famous People's Park, The UC Berkeley campus, Botanical Gardens, the winding hills for a great sunset or just hang out at one of the many unique restaurants throughout the city.
Head over into Marin County, which is just North over the Golden Gate Bridge, and head into the quiet town of Mill Valley. This is an interesting little town nestled in the trees and hills, with shops and cafes and bookstores and a residential feel. It gave me the impression of a town that was full of old hippies that have settled down and done ok for themselves - nice, but not stuffy, classy but not snooty. You may also have a celebrity sighting here - Huey Lewis, Bob Weir, Carlos Santana, Sammy Hagar, and Merle Saunders all live nearby. Check out the bar Sweetwaters for a nice relaxing drink in a local atmosphere, or stop by at night and catch one of their live bands!
Across the Bay Bridge, in Oakland's Jack London Square, there is a sushi restaurant called Yoshi's. The food is rather good, but Yoshi's is also a world-class jazz club that hosts some very impressive performers in a small stage room which is table-seating only. The room has great acoustics, cool decorations, and there isn't a bad seat in the house. In the past I've seen Joshua Redman, Branford Marsalis, and Dr. John perform here. See Yoshis.com for more information.
Hop across to east bay and explore Berkeley and the university campus which is ranked as one of the top universities in United States. Berkeley is an amazing place for a small area. In the 60s the students protested for free speech and til this day the student body continues the tradition of voicing its opinions. South of campus leads straight to Telegraph Avenue where there are shops and street vendors. You'll see homeless and scruffy kids sitting along the streets but Berkeley is supposed to give you a cultural shock. My suggestion: stop for a coffee at Milano or Caffe Strada on Bancroft Street. This is where you'll find students studying and/or having intellectual conversations.
OAKLAND, also east of San Francisco, is another place to visit if you have the extra time. Jack London Square is perhaps the most famous spot for this city. Plenty of restaurants, cinemas, yachts, etc. Try YOSHI. It's a Japanese restaurant and the adjacent room, a live band gives a fantastic jazz performance. Blew me away... it's very popular among the locals. (There is a separate fee for the jazz show.)
Over in San Jose, the Winchester Mystery House is the strangest house I've ever seen!! It was built by Sara Winchester, the wife of the heir to the Winchester Rifle fortune. After her husband died, and then her young child, she consulted a medium who told her that the spirits of those who were killed by the Winchester rifle would haunt her unless she appeased them by building on her house 24-7!! So she did for almost 40 years!! She also wanted to confuse these spirits so her house reflects just that. There are staircases that go no where, doors that open to the wall, cupboards with an inch shelf space, etc. etc. It's amazing to walk through, the guides very helpful(and necesary since you would easily get lost!!), and an oddity thats not to be missed!! I had some difficulty finding it(get a good map of San Jose) but its just off the 280 on Winchester Blvd,but there's no off ramp so try exiting off 280 to Saratoga Ave north, to Stevens Creek Blvd then turn south on Winchester Blvd. Good luck!! It's worth the trip.
It's south of San Francisco -- near Monterey -- and well worth a visit. Please see the travelogue on this page.