From the surfer's at Ocean Beach to the vintners in Napa, this region
can capture you for a day, a weekend or a month without boredom. Only a
short drive separates big city San Francisco (and the nearby densely
developed East Bay) and the laid-back rolling hills of Napa, Sonoma and
the tiny hamlets of "wine country". The common theme is cuisine -
a high priority for the entire region where a bad restaurant doesn't
stand a chance.
San Francisco has something to offer everyone, including budget
travelers. The views are free; ferries and cable cars are
affordable and public transportation is widespread. With seven hills,
two iconic bridges, waterfront on three sides, an ocean and a bay, just
being in San Francisco is exhilarating. After that, there are the
museums (Asian, Modern Art, Science, Cable Car, Maritime, among many
more) and culturally distinct neighborhoods (Chinatown, Japantown, the
Mission, North Beach, etc.). Shopping is a big draw, with Union
Square, newly redesigned, as the starting point for most travelers.
For a family-friendly place, everyone takes the cable cars or hikes
over the hills to Fisherman's Wharf for more museums, tours, bicycle
rentals, novelty shops and the chocolate universe of Ghirardelli
Square. On the way, Lombard Street and its serpentine curves is worth a
stop and a photograph, especially when the landscaping is in
bloom. Take a picnic to the region's version of Ellis Island,
Angel Island (a State Park in the middle of the San Francisco Bay) -
ferries provide the transportation. There are trails, a small
beach and historic buildings - as well as the incredible views.
Wine country touring in Sonoma and Napa Counties is the perfect
antidote to urban life. En route, there is the Golden Gate
Bridge, Marin County's lovely walkable towns (Sausalito, Mill Valley,
Tiburon) swimmable Stinson Beach, a redwood grove with annotated trails
near Mt. Tamalpais and perhaps best of all, Point Reyes National
Napa and Sonoma valleys are distinct, separated by a ridge as well as a
mindset. Most wineries, from the famous grand estates to the
small boutique family operations, have tastings. The towns offer
shopping, restaurants, produce markets and frequent festivals. Summer is busy, with sometimes heavy traffic on the curvy, narrow
roads. Fall, winter and spring are excellent times to visit with
different rhythms and scenery.
This region also offers family theme park fun at Six Flags Marine World
in Vallejo and Paramount's Great America in Santa Clara. The East
Bay has notable towns, including Berkeley and Oakland, both with
multiple BART train stops.
The coast just south of San Francisco is a short drive from the city or
over highway 92 from Silicon Valley. From Pacifica to Half Moon
Bay, there are beaches, ocean vistas, small restaurants and even whale
watching and fishing boats at the Half Moon Bay harbor.