The Bay Area is one of the most popular destinations in the United States, and for good reason: it has it all. Between its lush forests, cities filled with urban gems, and wild ocean, there’s something for everyone. The problem is, the guidebooks typically give tourists mediocre destinations to hit, and as a result the area gets a bad reputation. People often return from their trips to San Francisco having been grossly disappointed. And for good reason: as fantastic a city as is San Francisco, there are much more interesting sites to see outside of the peninsular space.
For example, the East Bay offers incredible hikes in a variety of environments and boasts some of the best eateries in the whole Bay Area. In fact, the home of the slow food movement is located in none other than Berkeley, just a stone’s throw from the UC Berkeley Campus! Even the campus itself is worth the trip across the Bay. Unlike the cramped San Francisco State and UCSF universities, the UC Berkeley campus is the size of a small town. Built on a hill, it offers incredible views of the entire Bay Area from the north side of the campus.
The North Bay has gems of its own far beyond the ritzy neighborhoods of Mill Valley, which offers incredible boutique shopping at a premium price. The Marin area is also home to the best beaches in the Bay Area, such as Stinson or Muir. Check out Muir beach for a family picnic, but choose Stinson if you prefer long walks in the sand. Up for a really long hike? Look for the trail that starts at Muir Beach and ends at the Green Gulch Zen Center, where you can spend a day meditating and attending lectures led by Buddhist monks.
In the Bay for just a couple days and insistent upon seeing as much as the area as much as possible? Enjoy a half-day trip to Angel Island, where you can either be chauffeured around in a golf cart or walk around enjoying spectacular ocean views. The island was home to internment camps at the turn of the 20th century, but now primarily serves as a popular tourist destination. Swing by Pier 39 for a bowl of clam chowder and let yourself be tempted by some tacky souvenirs. Enjoy dinner at La Mar, a little known gem of a Peruvian restaurant with views over the Embarcardero. Still hungry? Visit the Ferry Building down the street for a taste of local artisan breads, coffee and more! Looking for a fun evening activity in the area? On Thursdays the Exploratorium Museum of Science offers an adults-only night, where you can enjoy great cocktails and California wines while wandering through the museum.
The next day, jump in an Uber and asked to be dropped off at the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge. Yes, it will be packed with tourists taking selfies every ten feet, but it’s still well worth the hassle. Learn about the construction of the bridge, then wander across Gate with your face in the wind. Make sure to bring a windbreaker as it gets mighty chilly up there, even on the sunniest of days.
Enjoy your trip in the city of San Francisco, but don’t be afraid to jump in a rental car and get out of the urban sprawl for a day or two!