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.
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
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.
When I do not have time to go too far away, my most favorite way get a mini vacation would be taking a drive on this windy coastal highway. Both south and north bounds are very scenic. It passes through many lay back towns where you can taste home made breads, freshly picked fruits and vegetables, see local artwork, and enjoy a cup coffee in simple comfort. Just rent a car and start from San Francisco.
If you go south on hwy 1 for about 30 minutes there is Half Moon Bay. On the coastal side of hwy 1 is a bustling fishing town where you can get seafood and watch amateur fishers in action. On the inland side of hwy 1, there is a quaint strip of main street full of coffee shops, art and crafts, bakeries, and restaurants, all very characterically northern california small
***If you continue down on Hwy 1, you will reach Santa Cruz. From this town you can return via the route on my other Day Trip tip "Driving Hwy 35" to make it a loop back to San Francisco.
If you go north on hwy 1 for about 45 minutes, there is Stinson Beach. This town is less busy compared Half Moon Bay, less out of town visitors, having more of a local community feel to it.
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.
When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I read an article about the Winchester Mystery House and I always thought it would be really neat to visit this rather eccentric mansion. My trip to San Francisco being my first time out in California, I did a bit of research online to see if it was possible to book a trip from SF to San Jose to visit the Winchester Mystery House and when I found out that Super Sightseeing Tours could take us there, I immediately decided to book it (http://www.supersightseeing.com).
The shuttle picked us up at our hotel - they showed up 40 minutes late, so I was glad the lady at our hotel's tourist info desk could call them to make sure they were coming. We left San Francisco at 2:30 pm and made our way down to San Jose aboard a not-so-comfy shuttle bus, but at least the scenery was very nice. Once we got to the Winchester Mystery House, we were given some time to visit the firearms museum, which features a large collection of Winchester rifles, "The Gun that Won the West". Our guide Dzimitry then took us on an amazing 1h tour of Sarah Winchester's fantastic mansion. The tour goes through 110 of the house's 160 rooms, which are filled with weird architectural details. Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Winchester and heiress to the rifle maker's fortune, believed her family was being haunted by the spirits of men and women killed by the famous rifles. In order to appease the spirits, a medium recommended she built a house for them - construction began in 1884, and for the next 38 years (until Sarah Winchester died at the age of 83) carpenters worked on the house 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Mrs. Winchester would hold "seances" at night and give instructions to the crew the following day, many of which were down right bizarre: staircases leading to the ceiling, windows and doors opening up on a wall, chimneys that stop a few feet short of the ceiling... it all makes for a very entertaining tour!
Once we were done touring around the house, we were invited to do the garden tour on our own, and we also had a bit of time to visit the giftshop before it was time to head back to San Francisco (we got back at around 6:30 pm). I thought the price ($60) was fairly reasonable, especially considering that it costs $26 just to visit the house. For me, visiting the Winchester Mystery House was a bit of a dream come true and it definitely lived up to my expectations!
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.
Just 30 minutes north of the city is Muir Woods. Named for John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, the Woods are one of the few remaining groves of coastal redwoods. Coastal redwoods are taller than sequoias but not as large around. Walking through the woods is an awe-inspiring experience. There are a number of different trails within the park (which is a US National Park) and you can select your hike based on your ability and time available. The easiest trail is paved so even those with limited mobility can get into see these magnificent trees. If you're able to take the time and go off on one of the less crowded trails, you will be rewarded with great scenery.
The Park Service charges $5 for those 16 and above; free from those 15 and below. There is no picnicing in the park. The greatest challenge may be finding parking. The two parking lots are of limited size so you're well advised to try and arrive before noon. Obviously, week days are less crowded.
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!
Marin Headlands are about half an hour north of the city across the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a great place to go for a hike or a bike ride. You can get some of the most amazing views of the city and the Pacific from the Marin. Make sure to check the weather forecast though, you don't want to waste your time on a foggy day!
More information, maps and directions can be found at the website below.
Half Moon Bay is located about 20 miles south of San Francisco along the coast. While entering the town of Half Moon Bay from the south on Highway 1, we spotted something large in a grassy field along the side of the road. After a few U-turns we were back in the same area and sure enough, a large cat was sitting in the grass, probably looking for mice or rabbits. He posed for a few pictures, then looking kind of upset that we spoiled his dinner, wandered off into the woods. Our first thought was that it might be a mountain lion, but its short, stubby tail got us thinking bobcat or lynx. After getting home and pulling up some photos on the internet, we decided it was indeed a bobcat, probably a male due to its size. I was amazed to see any wild cat such as this in broad daylight along a road as busy as Highway 1.
Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are found in the US, southern Canada, and northern Mexico. These felines are distinguishable by their unique tufts of fur on their ears and cheeks as well as its short "bobbed" tail, and its coloring is a shade of brown, often with black spots. The bobcat is one of the smallest of the big cats with adult males being two to three feet long and around 20 to 30 pounds, not a whole lot larger than a big house cat.
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.
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!
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.
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.