The San Francisco Bay Area spans nine counties near the San Francisco, Suisin, and San Pablo estuaries and is home to more than 7.6 million residents throughout major cities such as San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. It is known for iconic sights such as the world-renowned Golden Gate Bridge, great restaurants, beaches, wedding venues and fun activities like kayaking, RV parks, glamping, apple picking, date ideas and dog-friendly beaches.
1. Sonoma County
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Sonoma County is the northernmost county of the San Francisco Bay Area, located north of Marin County and encompassing cities such as Santa Rosa. The famous county is known for its world-famous Sonoma Valley wine production region, which features 13 designated American Viticultural Areas. More than 425 wineries are showcased throughout the region, which offer tasting rooms and tours and may be explored as part of a number of wine country excursion trips. Museums throughout the region include the Pacific Coast Air Museum, the Sonoma County Museum, and the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, while historic attractions include 19th-century Spanish Mission San Francisco Solano. More than 50 state and regional parks are located throughout the county, including Jack London State Historic Park, preserving the former home and gravesite of the American author. Things to Do in Sonoma
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Berkeley is a major city located along San Francisco Bay’s eastern shores that is best known as the birthplace of several national liberal and free speech movements throughout the mid-2oth century. It is home to a number of notable higher learning institutions, including the University of California Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union. The liberal, creative city offers a wide variety of cultural attractions, including the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, the Berkeley Repertory Theater, and the Hearst Greek Theatre, which presents concerts by nationally-recognized rock and independent music artists. Family-friendly attractions include the Habitot Children’s Discovery Museum, while outdoor landmarks include historic Tilden Park. The city’s major university thoroughfare, Telegraph Avenue, is filled to the brim with unique stores and cafes. Things to Do in Berkeley
3. Santa Rosa
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Santa Rosa is the county seat of Sonoma County and is the largest city within California’s Wine Country, serving as the gateway to both the Sonoma and Napa Valley regions. In recent years, it has also become a craft beer mecca, known nationally for its microbreweries, which have earned it the nickname the “Microbrew Capital of the United States.” Tourist attractions include the Charles M. Schulz Museum, dedicated to the life and career of the famous Peanuts cartoonist, and the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, which draws top national musicians. The city’s downtown district features the historic Railroad Square neighborhood, which is home to a variety of shopping, dining, and nightlife options and preserved historic buildings. Outdoor activities are offered at Annadel State Park and Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. Things to Do in Santa Rosa
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Sausalito is located in Marin County approximately four miles north of San Francisco, at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. The charming small community was developed as a shipbuilding center during World War II and soon became a popular artist’s colony and tourist destination. Its historic downtown offers a wide variety of quaint shops and businesses, including famous seafood restaurants with waterfront views. A wide variety of public parks and beaches are offered throughout the city, including Vina del Mar Plaza, Dunphy Park, and Schoonmaker Beach. A municipal fishing pier, boat ramp, and ungated marina are also offered, which are accessible via ferry service from San Francisco. Things to Do in Sausalito
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Yountville is located within the northern San Francisco Bay Area and is a popular destination for gourmet dining and wine appreciation in Napa County. A large number of top wineries offer tasting rooms and tours within the Yountville American Viticultural Area, including the Girard Winery, Domaine Chandon, Silver Trident Winery, and Jessup Cellars. The city is known for its fine dining establishments, including the Michelin-star French Laundry and Bouchon Bistro restaurants. Its world-famous Art Walk showcases 34 pieces of art that have been incorporated into the city’s landscape. Other attractions include the Napa Valley Museum, the Lincoln Theatre, and the Vine Trail Bike Path.
6.Big Basin Redwoods State Park
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Big Basin Redwood State Park is located in Santa Cruz County north of the city of Santa Cruz, encompassing the majority of the Waddell Creek watershed within its 18,000-acre land area. The park is the state’s oldest state park, originally established in 1902, and is recognized today as a California Historical Landmark. It is home to Northern California’s largest continuous stand of ancient coastal redwoods, preserving more than 10,000 acres of old-growth and recovering redwood forest areas. More than 81 miles of hiking trails are offered throughout the park, including trails linking to nearby Castle Rock State Park, Waddell Beach, and Theodore J. Hoover Natural Preserve. Abundant plant and animal life is found throughout the park, including deer, bobcats, Steller’s jays, herons, and egrets. Read more
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Walnut Creek is an urban oasis in the San Francisco East Bay Area surrounded by lush nature in the shadow of Mount Diablo. At its heart is the vibrant, busy, and charming downtown, managed by the Walnut Creek Downtown Association, consisting of 650 owners of businesses and properties within the downtown core. They goal is to make sure that the Walnut Creek downtown continues to thrive and welcome visitors and residents with its upscale stores, charming sidewalk cafes, gourmet restaurants, and endless festivals and activities. No wonder Walnut Creek was voted the best shopping town in the East Bay in 2013 and that it made the list of top ten foodie cities.
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Calistoga is located within California’s famed Napa Valley region and is known for its famous hot springs, which were originally discovered by indigenous Americans and Spanish explorers and first operated as a tourist attraction in the modern era by Samuel Brannan in 1867. Today, the region is known for its luxury spas offering volcanic ash mud bath treatments, as well as its Old Faithful Geyser of California, which erupts regularly out of the casing of a 19th-century well. A number of wineries are located a short drive from the city, including the Medieval castle-style Castello de Amorosa. Historic sites nearby include the Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park, which preserves an 1846 grist mill facility. Things to Do in Calistoga
9.Golden Gate National Recreational Area
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Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a United States National Recreation Area that spans more than 82,000 acres throughout the San Francisco Bay region, developed primarily on land formerly belonging to the United States Army. The recreation area is one of the National Park Service’s most-visited units, receiving more than 15 million annual visitors, and together in total surface area forms one of the world’s largest urban parks. Park locations are spread throughout the Bay region in areas such as Marin and San Mateo Counties, including park areas within the city of San Francisco. Major tourist attractions within the park include the historic former prison at Alcatraz Island, the coastal-redwood-populated Muir Woods National Monument, and the Presidio of San Francisco military reservation. Year-round and seasonal camping is offered at a number of sites, along with accommodations at the Marin Headlands Youth Hostel.
10.Half Moon Bay
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Half Moon Bay is a quaint city south of San Francisco that is home to the Colony of Coastside Artists art collective, which operates a number of downtown galleries and hosts public art classes and workshops. The city is home to a number of historic buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including its William Adam Simmons House, Robert Mills Dairy Barn, and Methodist Episcopal Church at Half Moon Bay. Expansive beachfront area is offered throughout the region, including the facilities of Half Moon Bay State beach. Pillar Point is home to the Mavericks surf spot, nationally known for its challenging waves reaching peaks of more than 50 feet. Things to Do in Half Moon Bay
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Healdsburg is home to three of the top wine-producing regions in Sonoma County, including the Russian River, Alexander Valley, and Dry Creek American Viticultural Areas. The town is located approximately an hour north of San Francisco and is consistently named as one of the United States’ top small towns for its artisan community, farm-to-table restaurants, and top national wineries such as Ferrari-Carano Vineyards, which showcases more than five acres of botanical gardens. Wine carriage tours are available, offering tastings at local vineyards and local tours aboard picturesque horse-drawn carriages. Other area attractions include the Healdsburg Museum and Historical Society, the Hand Fan Museum, and the historic 19th-century Healdsburg Plaza town square, which hosts live music and is home to a number of boutiques, breweries, and restaurants. Things to Do in Healdsburg
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Mill Valley is located just north of San Francisco in Marin County, at the foot of Mount Tamalpais. The town has been the home of many American music and arts luminaries, from singers Janis Joplin and John Lennon to writers Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder. It has been ranked as one of America’s best places to live and most expensive zip codes, offering the casual charm of a small European village just minutes from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and downtown San Francisco. It is nationally renowned for its artistic and cultural heritage, hosting annual events such as the Mill Valley Film Festival and offering a wide variety of boutiques, cafes, art galleries, and theater companies.
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Mountain View is located in Santa Clara County and, true to its name, offers spectacular views of the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. The city was founded as a stagecoach stop in the 19th century and today is known as a major Silicon Valley hub for technological corporations, housing the international headquarters of top companies such as Google, Symantec, Intuit, and Mozilla. Its pedestrian-friendly downtown offers unique restaurants, specialty shops, and quaint bookstores, while attractions such as the Computer History Museum offer family-friendly educational experiences. Live music and theater performances are hosted at the city’s Center for the Performing Arts, and a number of annual festivals serve as major tourist draws, including an Arts and Wine Festival and an annual civic summer concert series. The 750-acre Shoreline at Mountain View Park also offers hiking trails, an 18-hole championship golf course, and an outdoor amphitheater.
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Napa is the second-largest city within California’s Wine County and is the county seat of Napa County. The city serves both as a launch point for wine country tours and excursions and a tourist attraction in its own right, showcasing gorgeous late 19th-century architecture throughout its historic downtown region. Cultural attractions within the city include the Napa Valley Opera House, the Oxbow Public Market, and the Di Rose arts district, which showcases a wide variety of galleries and sculpture gardens. Winery excursion tours aboard historic Pullman cars are offered by the Napa Valley Wine Train, visiting winery tasting rooms such as Back Room Wines and Carpe Diem. A number of gourmet restaurants are also located within the city, including the acclaimed Morimoto restaurant by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. Things to Do in Napa
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Oakland is Alameda County’s largest city and is the largest port city in San Francisco’s East Bay, home to a population of more than 412,000. The city grew rapidly in the early 20th century following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and has become a major liberal, cultural, and tourist destination throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries, known nationally for its political activism, sustainability initiatives, and professional sports teams. It is recognized as one of the United States’ top artist cities, claiming the nation’s highest artist concentration per capita and home to a wide variety of galleries, museums, and hip independent businesses in its downtown, Old Oakland, Chinatown, and Jack London Square neighborhoods. Major attractions include its Paramount and Fox Oakland Theaters, which host major concert tours, and its Mountain View Cemetery, designed by legendary landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted, which serves as the resting place for many famous Californians. Things to Do in Oakland
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Pacifica is a coastal San Mateo County city near Half Moon Bay, located approximately 15 minutes from downtown San Francisco. The city is known for its unique cultural heritage and bohemian spirit and is a popular surfing destination, offering outdoor attractions such as Linda Mar and Rockaway Beaches and the Pacific Skateboard Park. Striped bass and salmon may be caught at the Pacific Pier, and a number of hiking trails meander through Mori Point, the Sanchez Adobe, and San Pedro Valley County Park. Cultural organizations in the city include the Pacific Spindrift Players and Pacific Performances, which present regular musical and theatrical performances. Other area attractions include the Shelldance Orchid Gardens and the Alister MacKenzie-designed Sharp Park Golf Course.
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Petaluma is located less than half an hour from San Francisco in Sonoma County and serves as a popular tourist destination with the region’s Wine County, offering a nationally-known historic downtown region showcasing some of the United States’ most notable iron-front architecture. The city has been featured in a number of major films and television series, including the feature films American Graffiti, Pleasantville, and Scream. Downtown attractions include the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum, the Mystic Theatre, and the Military Antiques and Museum, the nation’s largest retail military store and museum. Wineries include Barber Cellars and Sonoma Portworks, the region’s only after-dinner winemakers. A number of world-class restaurants, galleries, and music venues are also located within the city’s West Bank region.
18.Point Reyes National Seashore
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Point Reyes National Seashore spans more than 71,000 acres along Point Reyes Peninsula within Marin County. The National Park Service-maintained seashore and nature preserve attracts more than 2.5 million visitors each year and is home to important wild coastal beach, headlands, and estuary habitats. Attractions within the seashore include the 1870 Point Reyes Lighthouse, which serves as a popular whale-watching observation spot, and the Point Reyes Lifeboat Station, the last rail-launched lifeboat station on the Pacific coast. Important early European settler sites are preserved as part of the Drakes Bay Historic and Archaeological District, while indigenous Coast Miwok culture is recreated at the Kule Loklo village. 30,000 acres of the seashore are also preserved as the Phillip Burton Wilderness, which features grassland and fir and pine forest regions. An extensive hiking trail system offers day-hike and backpacking opportunities, and four hike-in campgrounds are available with reservations.
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San Francisco is the United States’ 13th most-populous city, home to a city-county region that is only outranked in population density by four of New York City’s five boroughs. The hilltop peninsula city is surrounded by the San Francisco Bay and serves as Northern California’s major cultural, economic, and financial center, home to major international technological corporations such as Twitter, Airbnb, Craigslist, and Uber. Notable landmarks include the city’s historic cable car system, iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and infamous Alcatraz Island former prison. The socially liberal city is consistently ranked as America’s most livable city and is home to attractions such as the DeYoung Museum, the War Memorial Opera House, the Fillmore Theater music venue, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. World-class professional sporting teams, outdoor parks, and historic neighborhoods make the city an international tourist destination. Things to Do in San Francisco
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San Jose is is the United States’ 10th most-populous city, anchoring the Silicon Valley technological region within the San Francisco Bay Area. The city is one of the world’s most affluent regions and is known as a global center for innovation and economics, home to international headquarters for corporations such as PayPal, Adobe Systems, and Samsung. A wide variety of Italianate and Spanish Colonial Revival structures are preserved within the city’s historic downtown district, including the 1883 Oddfellows building. Museums include the Tech Museum of Innovation, while cultural organizations include the Opera San Jose, Symphony Silicon Valley, sjDANCEco, and the San Jose Repertory Company. The San Jose Museum of Art serves as one of the country’s premiere modern art museums, while its annual Cinequest Film Festival has become one of the nation’s top independent film festivals. The SAP Center at San Jose is also one of the most active event venues in the world, hosting a wide variety of concerts and sporting events, including San Jose Sharks hockey games. Things to Do in San Jose
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Santa Clara is located approximately 45 miles from downtown San Francisco and is a major Silicon Valley metropolis, home to international corporations such as Intel. The city is the home of Calfornia’s oldest higher-learning institution, Santa Clara University, and Levi’s Stadium, the home stadium of the San Francisco 49ers football team. California’s Great America amusement park, operated by Cedar Fair, offers a wide variety of high and mild thrill rides, while Westfield Valley Fair, the state’s largest shopping mall, features more than 250 retailers. Other family-friendly attractions include the Intel Museum, the Triton Museum of Art, the Mission City Center for the Performing Arts, and the San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail, which offers hiking and road biking routes.
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Silicon Valley is a region in San Francisco Bay’s southern area, also known as the Santa Clara Valley. The region has become synonymous with American technology innovation and business, earning its nickname in the 1970s due to the silicon chips used in the semiconductor industry. Today, it is home to major technology and innovation corporations such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Google, and Tesla, along with high-profile internet-based companies such as Twitter, Facebook, PayPal, and Uber. Major cities in the region include San Jose, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale. A wide variety of museums are offered for visitors, including the tech-focused Computer History Museum and Tech Museum of Innovation. Annual events hosted in the valley include the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, Facebook F8, and cultural festivals such as the Palo Alto Festival of the Arts and the San Jose Jazz Festival.
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St. Helena is a city within Napa County that has been nicknamed “Napa Valley’s Main Street,” offering a quintessential small-town wine-country experience for regional visitors. The city’s designated American Viticultural Area is home to more than 400 vineyards spanning a total area of more than 6,800 acres, including Merryvale Vineyards, the first winery to open within the region following the repeal of Prohibition. Its quaint downtown district forbids chain restaurants, allowing fine dining establishments such as the Harvest Table and the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant to thrive. The city is also home to the renowned Culinary Institute of America and the sprawling 57-acre Cairdean Estate, which is filled with unique shops, galleries, tasting rooms, and wine caves.
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Tiburon is located within Marin County along the Tiburon Peninsula, which is also home to the city of Belvedere. The charming bayside city’s name is derived from the Spanish word for shark and was formerly a terminus for the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad. Today, it is a popular tourist destination, connected to San Francisco via ferry service and showcasing a wide variety of eclectic boutiques and shops. Historic restaurants include Sam Anchor’s Cafe, which was established in 1920 and offers a public pleasure boat dock. During the spring and summer months, the city’s Main Street closes to vehicles for transformation into an alfresco dining area, with a number of local restaurants and bars providing service and live music performances.
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Vallejo is located in Solano County within the northern Bay Region and is the 10th most-populous city within the San Francisco Bay Area. It is known as a vibrant liberal and cultural city, home to notable artist and LGBT populations. Its Six Flags Discovery Kingdom amusement park offers a variety of high and mild thrill rides, while its 1911 Empress Theatre presents regular music performances and film showings. Tourist attractions include the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum, which explores the city’s connection to the United States Navy base at Mare Island. The San Francisco Bay Ferry and the SolTrans bus system connect the city to San Francisco.
25 Best Places to Visit in the Bay Area
- Sonoma County, Photo: Courtesy of Timothy - Fotolia.com
- Berkeley, Photo: Courtesy of Uladzik Kryhin - Fotolia.com
- Santa Rosa, Photo: Courtesy of trekandphoto - Fotolia.com
- Sausalito, Photo: Courtesy of jon_chica - Fotolia.com
- Yountville, Photo: Courtesy of LilahPhoto - Fotolia.com
- Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Photo: Courtesy of lucky-photo - Fotolia.com
- Walnut Creek, Photo: Walnut Creek/Facebook
- Calistoga, Photo: Courtesy of PhotoElite - Fotolia.com
- Golden Gate National Recreational Area, Photo: Courtesy of Alexander - Fotolia.com
- Half Moon Bay, Photo: Courtesy of belyay - Fotolia.com
- Healdsburg, Photo: Courtesy of Bjorn Bakstad - Fotolia.com
- Mill Valley, Photo: City of Mill Valley
- Mountain View, Photo: Courtesy of Lynn Yeh - Fotolia.com
- Napa, Photo: Courtesy of wollertz - Fotolia.com
- Oakland, Photo: Courtesy of lynn k watson - Fotolia.com
- Pacifica, Photo: Courtesy of Oxana - Fotolia.com
- Petaluma, Photo: Courtesy of dschreiber29 - Fotolia.com
- Point Reyes National Seashore, Photo: Courtesy of pikappa51 - Fotolia.com
- San Francisco, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- San Jose, Photo: Courtesy of mtaira - Fotolia.com
- Santa Clara, Photo: Courtesy of dragan1956 - Fotolia.com
- Silicon Valley, Photo: Courtesy of staclu - Fotolia.com
- St. Helena, Photo: St. Helena, CA
- Tiburon, Photo: Courtesy of Crin - Fotolia.com
- Vallejo, Photo: Courtesy of steheap - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of wolterke - Fotolia.com
Bodega Bay is a Sonoma County town on Bodega Harbor’s eastern side that houses the historic Port Rumyantsev, the first Russian buildings constructed in California. Today, it is best known as the filming location for the classic Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds, with Hitchcock theming incorporated into its regional visitor center. The relaxed remote town is a prime site for outdoor water activities, including kayaking and paddleboarding, and offers a wide variety of unique fine dining and casual restaurants, including many local favorite seafood establishments, such as the Bodega Bay Oyster Company. It provides convenient access to the Russian River wine region, which is home to top wineries such as Korbel Winery and Russian River Vineyards. Doran Regional Park is home to local hiking opportunities, and Bodega Dunes Campground offers overnight campsite accommodations.