San Francisco Bay Area Travel Guide

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View of Coit Tower from a Boat

View of Coit Tower from a Boat

Eddie C

On the surface San Francisco has all the cliché tourist icons that we know: the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Chinatown, to name but a few. But keep in mind that San Francisco itself is fairly small geographically, covering roughly 50 square miles.

"The City," as it is called by locals, is the home of the Giants (MLB), the 49ers (NFL), and the Golden State Warriors (NBA). During the summertime, AT&T Park is a great family-friendly place to catch a ballgame. Sit in the upper deck to see the Bay and the real obvious tourist areas of SF, which are seldom visited by residents except to bring friends and relatives.

There are restaurants and lots of shopping geared toward tourists. Of course, at Fisherman’s Wharf, you can get the famous Dungeness crab.  You can eat crab all year round but they’re best when they're in season, which runs from September/October to about April. And while it’s really more of a Los Angeles tradition, the only In ‘N Out Burger joint in SF is in the Fisherman’s Wharf area so if you haven’t had one, get it there!
The Pier area (Pier 40 and further south at the Ferry Building) is where the ferries arrive from around the rest of the Bay Area. The mile between the Ferry Building and Pier 39 is an uncluttered waterfront view of underneath the Bay Bridge and the East Bay.  Pier 39 itself is a popular landmark, as it has been transformed into a two-story outdoor shopping area, complete with sporting goods stores, a magic shop, and a number of eateries.

San Francisco is less a single city than it is an amalgamation of many neighborhoods. The major neighborhoods are North Beach, Castro, Mission, the Haight, Hayes Valley, Bernal Heights, Noe Valley, and South of Market. Not all of the neighborhoods are tourist destinations, but all of them contain good shopping and cute bistros and cafes.

San Francisco is home to a sizable gay population. The main gay neighborhood is the Castro. The Castro is a neighborhood unlike any other and it's a fun one to visit, offering many fine restaurants and places to stay.

The Mission district is also popular. Although it's become more gentrified, you can expect some wonderful burritos from places like el Farolito, Taqueria Cancun and plenty of wonderful tapas places.

Across the Golden Gate North is the North Bay, starting with Marin County. You can hop on a ferry at Pier 40 to visit the artisan cove, Sausalito, for the day (it is also accessible by car). Further north along the coast are Stinson Beach and Point Reyes – both beautiful and romantic whether you travel up Highway 1 or through the forest via Sir Francis Drake Road off Highway 101. There are also other fun, romantic and charming towns in the South Marin area such as Tiburon, Mill Valley and San Anselmo. All of these are within 30-45 minutes of SF.

Mt. Tamalpais State Park is another recreational area encompassing biking, hiking, water sports and so forth. You can continue along (another hour or so) to the quaint quasi-resort-rustic village of Mendocino – or choose from dozens of coastal rustic-fishing-resort communities such as Tomales Bay, Inverness, Bodega Bay (where Alfred Hitchcock filmed "The Birds") and Olema along the way – each with its unique charms! You can even take a regional bus to various Marin County parks and overnight camping at Samuel Taylor State Park.

To the Northeast is Napa Valley and to the North is Sonoma Valley, both part of Northern California's famed wine country. Many of your favorite vineyards are located along these highways and backroads.  Napa Valley is the more famous of the two, but both offer opportunities to visit small, rustic, family-owned vineyards and larger, more commercial wineries.  Calistoga is famous for the spa treatments, mudbaths, massages and body wraps.

To the East is the East Bay, home of UC Berkeley, one of the premier public education universities in the world, and Oakland, the home of the A's (MLB) and Raiders (NFL).


March 22, 2004 change by jbelkin

February 22, 2007 change by rfujitani

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