First in a series of articles exploring opportunities for day trips near popular destinations.
Within two hours of San Francisco, day-tripping visitors can find expansive views of the cold Pacific, thousands of acres of vineyards, a vast array of native wildlife, and restaurants that rival those found in any city.
It's easy to turn a San Francisco vacation into a regional adventure without unduly inflating trip expenses. Here's how to make the most of five greater Bay Area day trips.
Time: 15 to 30 minutes by car; 25 minutes by ferry from the Ferry Building in San Francisco
A popular stop on the ferry, Sausalito is tucked into a cove in the North Bay, across the Golden Gate from San Francisco. Art galleries, upscale shops, and waterfront restaurants line the main street, and San Francisco city views give visitors the chance to appreciate the skyline from a distance. With a car, it's easy to explore nearby family-friendly options such as the Bay Area Discovery Museum for children, and the Bay Model, a miniaturized version of the Bay complete with tides and currents. From Sausalito, it's a short drive to Muir Woods, Mount Tamalpais, and other Marin County hiking destinations.
On the ferry, there are discounted fares for children and seniors. And on weekends and holidays, children under 12 travel free when accompanied by full-fare adults. From San Francisco, day-trippers can avoid the steep parking fees at the Ferry Building by taking the BART train to Embarcadero station and then walking towards the water, or by hopping on a historic F Line MUNI streetcar that travels down Market Street and along the Embarcadero.
Those who come by car should know that parking in Sausalito can be limited, and that parking meters are enforced 365 days a year. In addition to street parking, there are five city lots that charge hourly rates. Note that coming back into San Francisco the toll on the Golden Gate Bridge is $5. Those who want to bike one-way and ferry back can rent bikes from one of many rental companies.
Time: 15 to 30 minutes by car; 25 minutes by BART train to Downtown Berkeley station
Berkeley's two enduring legacies are countercultural and culinary. It's still easy to find tie-dye and political bumper stickers for sale at stands along Telegraph Avenue, and the Free Speech Movement cafe on the UC Berkeley campus is a good stop for coffee and a pictorial primer on the past.
Alongside free speech rose chefs who believed in celebrating fresh food. That idea has evolved into today's mania for seasonal ingredients and innovation that's apparent at restaurants throughout the city. And the exceptional dining isn't constrained by borders: neighboring Oakland has its share of notable restaurants as well. Citysearch lists many of the restaurants in the area, and a local's opinion can help with a final dining decision.
Since the school year sees an influx of 32,000 students, summers are a quieter time to explore Berkeley. Parking is easier, and bars and restaurants are less crowded. The Downtown Berkeley BART station is within walking distance of Gourmet Ghetto (home to Chez Panisse and a host of other restaurants and food shops), the UC Berkeley campus, Telegraph Avenue, and downtown. Visitors who want to explore more of the city's smaller neighborhoods should consider driving.
Time: 40 to 50 minutes by car
Coastside is a series of coastal communities south of San Francisco. The small, welcoming towns along Highway 1 are separated by beaches where it's easy to spot the intrepid surfers and avid tide pool explorers who frequent the area. Coastside is a good spot for whale watching, and elephant seals take up residence at nearby Ano Nuevo, where it's possible to watch the giant mammals from a safe distance. Just inland, visitors will find wineries, pick-your own produce farms, and beautiful hiking.