Day Trips, San Francisco
POint Reyes National Park is a great daytrip from SF. There are a number of different activities to particiapte in including horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, birdwatching and when in-season: whale watching. There are also a number of historical sites in the park including an old lighthouse.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse, built in 1870, was operational until 1975 when the U.S. Coast Guard installed an automated light.
Point Reyes is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent so make sure you bring a jacket as the fog can roll in unexpectedly.
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.
This unique organization was founded to save, rehabilitate, and ultimately release marine mammals who've been injured, poisoned, or sickened. It was set up at what was once a Cold War-era Nike-Hercules missile site. Marine mammals are protected by law. If you see one in distress, in the Bay area, contact the hotline below.
1065 Fort Cronkhite
Sausalito, CA 94965
Rescue hotline: 415-289-SEAL (7325)
This is another scenic drive, a close second to Hwy 1.
Connecting from Hwy 92, the road passes through several Open Space Reserves sprinkled with residential houses in park like settings. The Open Space Reserves are lined with extensive webs of hiking trails, trailheads right off of the road. After about an hour on this road, you will see junction to Hwy 9 where it takes you to Boulder Creek, a town that has an ancient history of mountain retreat destination for San Franciscans in the past. This town is a good point to grab a bite or coffee before deciding whether to continue down on hwy 35 which ends at Santa Cruz, a college beach town.
***This trip can be done in a loop is you return to San Francisco from Santa Cruz via Hwy 1. See my other Day Trip tip "Scenic Drive Along the Coast - Hwy 1".
Or wonder off from Boulder Creek on Hwy 236 towards Big Basin State Park to see redwoods.
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.
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!
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.
One of the northern missions, this was originally part of Mission Dolores in San Francisco. Founded in 1817 as a sanitarium for Indians afflicted with European diseases, it was named for the patron saint of healing. This is still an active church and school. The phone number is that of the gift shop.
Father Junipero Serra founded this and most of the other missions in California.
This often overlooked park is directly across the bay from San Francisco, just west of the Golden Gate. It offers stunning views of the city, as well as some great hiking. The lighthouse at Bonita Point is also worth a visit; guided tours are given daily.
For many years, coastal defense gun batteries guarded San Francisco bay. Later, Nike-Hercules surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries were installed here. The weapons are all gone now, but the emplacements, barracks, and other historic Army buildings are still here, along with historical markers. The Headlands are also home to a variety of wildlife, and a stop-over for many species of migratory birds.
Uvas Canyon County Park is a fantastic getaway just 90 minutes south of The City. It’s great for camping any time of the year, but really shines in the spring when the park’s many waterfalls are at their fullest and the forest is covered in a lush carpet of moss and ferns.
Another nice thing about the place is the last 30 minutes of the drive to get there. After you get past San Jose (make sure to take 280 – not 101), the route goes along some beautiful roads through mercifully undeveloped ranch land and then through stands of redwoods before culminating in a single lane road to the park entrance.
San Rafael is the seat of Marin County. It make a good day trip, with regular ferry service to San Francisco. It's also the best place to stay in Marin County, with plenty of hotels, restaurants, bars, and cinemas.
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.
An amusent park and wild animal park all in one. My absolute favorite is the Orca (Killer Whale) Show. They only have one killer whale now named Shouka. I also really enjoy the dolphin show. They also have a dolphin feeding which costs money. If you want to do it, I suggest lining up early because they only have a specific number of spots per scheduled feeding. But when you feed the dolphins, they also take pictures, let you pet them, and let you play with them. The elephant show is really neat as well, it is a two part show. One part each with an Asian and African elephant. After one of them, you can feed the elephant. They have a tiger show, but don't sit too close in the spray zone because the tiger may pee on you. They warn you about the signs to look out for prior to the start of the show and one of the lions definitely sprayed while we were there (but luckily not on us). They also have a sea lion show which is really cute because it tells an actual story rather than just doing tricks. They also have a viewing area for baby animals just born there, and they are cute. Not all the animals are in shows, some are just there like the zoo. The roller coasters are pretty fun. They even have a small area for kiddie rides. And while I was there, they were building another area. Walking throughout the park, they have superheroes and other characters in costumes which is always fun for the kids (and some adults too).