A short drive out of San Francisco will take you to some of the most magnificent parks, with the largest trees in the world, deep canyons, Northern California beaches and mysterious caves.
You can swim or surf on spectacular beaches, visit the state capitol building or take a nostalgic train down memory lane. Take a ferry to Alcatraz Island, check out what lives under the ocean surface at one of the world's best aquariums in Monterey and stroll through incredibly charming and picturesque small towns like Carmel, Mendocino or Sausalito.
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1.Golden Gate National Recreation Area - 35 min
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The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a protected 80,002 acres of historically and ecologically important landscapes in the San Francisco Bay Area. As one of the biggest urban parks in the world,it consists of a collection of smaller areas from southern San Mateo County to northern Marin County, with several areas in San Francisco.
The park contains famous tourist attractions such as Alcatraz, Muir Woods National Monument, the Presidio of San Francisco and the Nike Missile Site. The park has 1,273 species of plants and animals, covers 59 miles of ocean and bay shoreline and includes a number of historic forts that witnessed centuries of California history, starting with the Spanish conquistadors.
California Hwy 1, San Francisco, California 94123, Phone: 415-561-4700
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2. Sausalito - 35 min
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Charming and relaxed, full of history and offering breathtaking views of the bay, Sausalito is located at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, at the edge of the Bay. The best way to get a feel for the city is by taking a ferry - with views of Sausalito's hills dotted with lovely homes and thriving marina on one side and the spectacular view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge on the other, ferries offer more fun than any tour boat you might take.
A rich shipbuilding center in World War II, the city is still closely connected to the sea as you can see by the number of boats in the marina, but its closeness to San Francisco made it a preferred home to many San Franciscans, especially the wealthy and artistic. Take a stroll along the water's edge to see some of the historic houses, walk to the north end of town to see more than 400 houseboats that congregate there, check out the famous Sausalito shops and stop by one of the many seafood restaurants where the fish just came off the boat. Take a stroll to the Marin Headlands, a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, where you will see some of the world's oldest coastal redwoods.
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3. Muir Woods National Monument - 45 min
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Only about 12 miles north of San Francisco, visitors can enter the ancient world of giant redwoods, with roots in the cool Redwood Creek and crowns pointing high up towards the sky. Dense and mysterious, redwood forests have been protected within Muir Woods National Monument since 1908. The park contains six miles of excellent hiking trails but no bikes or horseback riding are allowed.
Besides shorter loops, a few trails extend into nearby Mount Tamalpais State Park. Wherever you go, you will be left humbled by the majesty of thousands of densely growing coast redwoods. The trails are board-walked or asphalted, and those on the walls of the canyon are dirt. They are narrow, steep, and filled with thick tree roots. If you give yourself some time, you will realize that the silent, mysterious forest hides many elusive animals which call it home - from bobcats and deer to coyote and barn owls.
1 Muir Woods Rd, Mill Valley, California 94941, Phone: 415-388-2595
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4. Half Moon Bay - 50 min
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Less than an hour from San Francisco is an idyllic small coastal town, famous for growing flowers, pumpkins and Christmas trees, but also a lovely spot for a weekend break with its beautiful protected port. There are several wonderful beaches, some, like Mavericks off Pillar Point, popular among surfers.
Half Moon Bay has some world-class golf courses, the artist collective known as the "Colony of Coastside Artists," great art galleries and restaurants.The historic part of town has several spots worth checking out such as the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Robert Mills Dairy Barn. For some wonderful hiking, be sure to visit Montara Mountain just north of Half Moon Bay. History buffs will enjoy visiting Purissima Village, or what is left of it, the only ghost town in the area. Things to Do in Half Moon Bay
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5. Yosemite National Park - 4 hours 10 min
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Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada mountains is an American icon, and, when it was first protected in 1864, was the first national park created in the world. Visiting Yosemite is on everyone's ‘bucket list' and is a one of a kind trip that no one should miss when visiting California. This national park is famous for its giant sequoia trees,the spectacular view of Bridalveil Fall, the Tunnel View, and the granite cliffs Half Dome and El Capitan.
Additionally, it is well known for its raging rivers, ancient forests, towering mountains, wonderful hiking and biking trails and a chance to spend some time in this vast wilderness, alone with the nature where visitors can maybe even spot a bear, a deer or some other animal that makes the park its home. There is also Yosemite Village with restaurants, shops, hotels, museums and galleries.
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6.Point Reyes National Seashore - 1 hour 25 min
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Located on the Point Reyes Peninsula, Point Reyes National Seashore is a 71,028-acre park preserve that stretches from the rocky headlands, where mighty waves bring their relentless crashing, to miles of sandy beaches, scrub-covered hills, and wide open and forested ridges. This amazing park is home to more than 1,500 species of plants and animals and has been populated by several cultures for millennia.
Point Reyes National Seashore is also a place where the San Andreas Fault Zone separates the Pacific plate from the North American plate. The Pacific plate is slowly moving towards northwest, more or less two inches a year, occasionally making a more dramatic move such as the one that occurred in 1906. At that time, the Point Reyes Peninsula moved all of 20 feet northwestward. The best place in Point Reyes National Seashore to actually see the San Andreas Fault Zone is the Earthquake Trail, near the Bear Valley Visitor Center.
1 Bear Valley Rd, Point Reyes Station, California 94956, Phone: 415-464-5100
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7. Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens - 4 hours
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Located just outside of the city of Fort Bragg, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is a colorful jewel, spread out on 47 acres right on the edge of the ocean. Stroll through the shady forests, cool off by lively streams, get immersed in fern canyons and enjoy the spectacular views from the bluffs.
Plant diversity in the garden is astonishing. There are camellia, rhododendron, dahlia, roses, iris, ferns and many other specialized gardens and there is always something in bloom. The wonderful climate makes this garden a delight any time of the year. Stop by the Cliff House on the bluffs to watch for migrating whales and admire the majesty of ocean as it crashes on the rocks. Next read: 25 Best Things to Do on the Mendocino Coast.
18220 CA-1, Fort Bragg, California 95437, Phone: 707-964-4352
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Miles of fine white sand, warm water and plenty of good company make Stinson Beach a very popular place. You can walk the beach for miles, go for a swim - there is a lifeguard - or join one of the many beach volleyball games going on. Great picnic areas are popular for family barbecues and dogs are allowed provided they are on a leash.
The beach is also popular with windsurfers, especially when the northwesterly wind blows in the afternoon. Stroll to nearby town Stinson Beach for a nice meal or to check out the shops. Stinson Beach is a popular spot for water sports, and visitors can wind surf, hang glide or kayak. Many local surf shops will be happy to rent out equipment, and even offers lessons. There are some great hikes with trailheads that start at the beach taking you to Mount Tamalpais State Park.
1 Calle Del Resaca, Stinson Beach, California 94970, Phone: 415-868-1922
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Carmel-by-the-Sea is a quirky, charming, and romantic beach city. It offers visitors a little bit of everything, from its lovely European-style colorful streets and white sand beaches to great restaurants and interesting history. It has been inspiring artists for decades and many celebrities call it home.
Located on Monterey Peninsula, Carmel is home to the historic Carmel Mission, with its fascinating museums and library, and the whaling museum in the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. The Scenic Bluff Path will take you along the coast from Carmel Beach, popular among surfers,to the bird-watcher's paradise of Carmel River State Beach, which is also a scuba diving entry point. Things to Do in Carmel
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10.Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park - 5 hours
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Located next to each other east of the San Joaquin Valley, in the southern Sierra Nevada, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is the worldof giant trees, enormous mountains, deep canyons, and huge caves.
There are more than 800 miles of well-maintained trails through the 800,000 acres of wilderness where you can truly enjoy solitude, spend nights under starry skies listening to coyotes, dip your tired feet into icy cold alpine lakes and breathe the air scented with pines, wild flowers and a scent of freedom. You can take short hikes on paved trails to enjoy the trees and wildlife, spend a week in one of many camps, take advantage of ranger-led tours or visit the mysterious Crystal Cave.
47050 Generals Highway, Three Rivers , California 93271, Phone: 559-565-3341
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11.The Gardens of Alcatraz
The Gardens of Alcatraz are a beautiful landscaped garden facility on San Francisco Bay's famed Alcatraz Island, which was operated as a notorious military and federal prison throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries. For more than a century, the island's gardens served as an important aspect of everyday life for prisoners and officers, who cultivated hardy plants that continued to thrive throughout the island's four decades of abandonment during the late 20th century. Since 2003, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the Garden Conservancy have worked with the National Park Service to restore the garden to their original splendor as part of the Alcatraz Historic Gardens Project. Island visitors can explore the gardens daily for free as part of island tours, with prime growing season on display between spring and early autumn. Docent-led garden tours are offered twice weekly on Friday and Saturday mornings, exploring areas that are typically off-limits to island visitors.
Alcatraz Island, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, B201 Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA 94123, Phone: 415-561-3000
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12. New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum - 1 hour 30 min
© New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum
The New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum in San Jose showcases the history of mercury mining and the unique cultural history of the New Almaden mining communities. The exhibits includemining technology and equipment, a diorama of a mine shaft, a mine manager's office and various items that belonged to Mexican, Cornish and Chinese mining families.
The museum is located in La Casa Grande, an 1854 mansion designed in revival style and built by notable architect Francis Meyers.The mansion was the office and residence of the mine superintendents. It also served as a country retreat for rich mine investors.
21350 Almaden Rd, San Jose, California 95120, Phone: 408-323-1107
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13. California State Railroad Museum - 3 hours
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Located in Old Sacramento, California State Railroad Museum is a 225,000-square feet monument to the role of the "iron horse" in linking California to the rest of the country. The museum exhibits, as well as a number of meticulously restored locomotives and railroad cars,tell the fascinating story of the California railroad.Permanent exhibits, or rolling stock of the museum,are exhibits built between 1874 and 1950, from the caboose to the opulent private car, both freight and passenger.
This part of the collection tells the main points of railroad history - moving mail by rail, how refrigerator cars revolutionized the American diet, romantic long-distance train trips, and the pleasure of dining onboard. The Museum also has a fleet of 17 maintenance cars used between 1905 and 1974 such as cranes, flangers, snowplows and fire truck on rails. The museum also has excursion train rides by closed coach cars, a first-class observation car, andopen-air gondolas.
125 I St, Sacramento, California 95814, Phone: 916-445-7387
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14. Monterey Bay Aquarium - 2 hours 50 min
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Perched on the edge of the ocean, Monterey Bay Aquarium allows you to explore Monterey's bay and the creatures living in it without having to strap on scuba gear. Open in 1984 and dedicated to the conservation and research of marine ecosystems, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is world-famous for its fascinating, and ever-changing, interactive exhibits and magnificent scale on which the sea life is presented.
Located in the former sardine cannery on Monterey's Cannery Row, the aquarium is home to more than 35,000 plants and animals from 550 species. Some of the most fascinating exhibits are the Kelp Forest, the Splash Zone, and Open Sea Gallery. One of the newer exhibits features Monterey's mascot, the sea otter, who live and entertain visitors from their two-story home. The aquarium also offers a range of programs, tours and shows such as sleepovers, feedings and special events.
886 Cannery Row, Monterey, California 93940, Phone: 831-648-4800
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15. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park - 3 hours 30 min
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Located on the Santa Lucia Mountains' western slope the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park towers above the Big Sur River Gorge, where the Big Sur River flows into the park. You can take a walk along the river banks and enjoy the dense forest of majestic redwoods, oaks, sycamores, conifers, cottonwoods, alders, maples and willows.
There is a large campground in the park and many campsites along the River. As you hike through the park, watch for bobcats, gray squirrels, raccoons, black-tail deer, skunks, and many kinds of birds. The trails are well-maintained and all are very picturesque and scenic, and there is even a self-guided nature trail. If camping is not for you, check out Big Sur Lodge in the park, featuring 61 guest rooms and a conference center.
CA-1, Big Sur, California 93920, Phone: 831-667-2315
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16.Armstrong Redwood State Reserve - 2 hours 35 min
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Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve is located just north of Guerneville in Sonoma County. This 805-acre California state park was established in 1964 in order to preserve a tract of coast redwoods in the heavily exploited area. The temperate rainforest with amild and wet climate receives an average of 55 inches of rainfall every year, between September and June.
The oldest tree in the reserve is The Colonel Armstrong Tree, estimated to be more than 1,400 years old, named after Colonel Armstrong who preserved this portion of his property in the 1870s. There are many beautiful trails through the Reserve, the Discovery Trail being one of the most popular. You can notice interpretive panels along the trail and tree-hugging observation platforms. The reserve also has a visitor center, picnic areas and an outdoor amphitheater.
17000 Armstrong Woods Rd, Guerneville, California 95446, Phone: 707-869-2015
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17.San Francisco Day Trips: Marin Headlands - 40 min
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The Marin Headlands is a peninsula just north of San Francisco, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is rare to see such a huge, diverse and magnificent wilderness so close to a major city. A part of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the Marin Headlands is full of places of incredible beauty such as Rodeo Lagoon and Valley, Hawk Hill, Gerbode Valley, Tennessee Valley and significant historic sites such as Point Bonita Lighthouse, Nike Missile Site, Fort Cronkhite and Battery Townsley.
There is a rich network of multi-use trails, an excellent Marin Headlands Visitor Center and several great campgrounds. One of the most picturesque spots to take a picnic is Battery Wallace, near the trailhead to Point Bonita. You will see the most spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Kirby Cove.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California 94965,Phone: 415-331-1540
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18. Day Trips from San Francisco: Alcatraz - 20 min
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There is more to Alcatraz Island than meets the eye. Besides being the site of the infamous federal penitentiary that was off-limits to the public for so long, the island was also the site of the first American lighthouse, the first American fort on the West Coast, the place occupied by the "Indians of All Tribes" for 18 months in 1969, but also the place with wonderful tide pools, gardens, bird colonies, and a stunning view of the Bay you cannot have from anywhere else.The best way to explore the famous penitentiary is by taking The Alcatraz Cellhouse Audio Tour, which covers the interior of the cellhouse. girls weekend getaways
San Francisco, California 94133, Phone: 415-561-4900
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19. Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail
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Located near Pacific Grove, Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail is an 18 mile long trail that winds along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. It goes from Castroville to Pacific grove, and is well maintained and tarmacked. It is popular among hikers and bikers and it is usually not too crowded. It is surrounded by wild flowers and offers magnificent views of the ocean from almost any point.
There are many spots where you can walk to the beach or even walk on the sand for a while. You can often see seals and sea otters and explore tide pools. The trail offers a great way to explore Monterey as you will pass by many of its landmarks. Such landmarks include a fascinating mural painting about the history of the area, the busy Cannery Row, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Fisherman's Shoreline Park and San Carlos Beach.
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20.Nick’s Cove Restaurant and Oyster Bar
© Nick’s Cove Restaurant and Oyster Bar
Hidden in one of the serene coves of Tomales Bay near the small town of Marshall in California, Nick's Cove is a quaint roadside restaurant attached to the historical seaside cottages. Offering award-winning cuisine by Chef Joshua Seibert inspired by Marin County’s bounty from the sea and land, Nick’s Cove offers an outstanding menu and the freshest seafood on California’s northern coast. All ingredients are locally sourced, and the fish and seafood come from Tomales Bay and nearby. The charming dining room is designed as an upscale historical hunting lodge, with a gleaming mahogany bar, cozy wood-burning fireplace, tables made of reclaimed redwood, and game trophies hanging on the wall. The dishes are refined and beautifully presented – try the signature crab macaroni and cheese or some locally harvested oysters. The wine and beer lists include a number of great local favorites. Every table in the restaurant has a breathtaking view of the bay.
23240 CA-1, Marshall, CA 94940, Phone: 415-663-1033
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21.Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve - 1 hour
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Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve is part of the magnificent Pescadero State Beach, and is the only large wetland on the San Francisco peninsula. Spread across 243 acres, the preserve consists of several habitats— a freshwater marsh, a tidal estuary, a brackish water marsh, northern coastal scrub and dense riparian woods.
The preserve is an important Pacific flyway wintering ground for waterfowl. This birdwatchers' paradise is the intermittent home to over 200 species of birds. About 60 species nest here, such as the Great Blue Heron. Species on the Endangered Species list that live in the marsh are the San Francisco garter snake, tidewater goby, California red-legged frog, steelhead trout, and Coho salmon.There is a foot bridge that makes going to the back of the marsh easily accessible. The Preserve has a number of great hiking trails. The best time to come for birdwatching is winter, but during Spring and Summer the marsh is a riot of wildflowers.
New Year's Creek Rd, Pescadero, California 94060, Phone: 650-593-3281
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22.San Francisco Day Trips: Mt Tamalpais State Park - 1 hour
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In the heart of Marin County, not far from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, rises Mount Tamalpais State Park with mysterious deep canyons and hillsides covered with ancient redwood forests, dense oak woodlands, wide open grasslands, and hardy chaparral. The park is a popular hiking destination and is a favorite among mountain bikers and wildlife watchers.
Every trail offers unsurpassed views, but from its 2,571-foot peak you can see Farallon Islands far out to sea, San Francisco Bay, the Marin County hills, Mount Diablo, the East Bay, and, at times, even the snow-covered slopes of Sierra Nevada 150 miles away. The visitors center is a good starting point in exploring the park.
3801 Panoramic Hwy, Mill Valley, California 94941, Phone: 415-388-2070
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23.Wildcat Canyon Regional Park - 1 hour
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Wildcat Canyon Regional Park is a 2,427-acre park near Richmond, stretching from the Tilden Nature Area above the Berkeley Hills to Alvarado Park in Richmond. Wildcat Canyon is popular among hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers and anyone looking for a bit of peace and quiet to escape from the urban jungle.
The forested areas are dense with Coast Live Oak, Big Leaf Maple, California Bay Laurel, Madrone, Willow, Alder, Dogwood, and Eucalyptus. Coyotes, raccoons, foxes, skunks, deer, opossums, California ground Squirrel and many birds make the park their home. There are a number of excellent trails through the park, the most popular being the Wildcat Creek Trail and Nimitz Way.
5755 McBryde Ave, Richmond, California 94806, Phone: 888-327-2757
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24.Rancho Corral de Tierra - 30min
© NPS photo
Rancho Corral de Tierra was a Mexican land grant of 7,766-acresin what is today San Mateo County, California. It was given in 1839 to Francisco Guerrero y Palomares. Today, a large portion, about 4,000 acres, of the historic Rancho is owned and managed by the National Park Service and Rancho Corral de Tierra is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The Rancho is among the largest undeveloped tracts of land on the San Mateo Peninsula. The park is protected because it contains a sensitive habitat for a number of rare or endangered species, such as the Montara manzanita and the San Francisco garter snake. The biking, hiking and horseback riding trails are being developed, and may be a bit rough still, but provide magnificent scenic views.
San Pedro Mountain Road, Moss Beach, California 94038, Phone: 415-561-4700
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25.UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley - 50 min
© UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley
The University of California Botanical Garden is a magnificent urban garden famous for its collection of rare and endangered species. A 34-acre garden is located on the campus of University of California, Berkeley in Strawberry Canyon, in the Berkeley Hills, offering wonderful views of the San Francisco Bay. Established in 1890, the garden is known for having one of the most diverse collections of plants in the United States.
It contains about 12,000 species and subspecies of plants and almost all of them have been collected in the wild. The Garden's outdoor collections are arranged according to their geographic origins. The major collections are Cactus, Lily, Sunflower, Heath and Orchid. There are also 500 types of ferns and fern-allies; a collection of Chinese medicinal herbs; Old rose cultivars;plants of serious economic importance; and California natives.
200 Centennial Dr, Berkeley, California 94720, Phone: 510-643-2755
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25 Best Day Trips from San Francisco
- Golden Gate National Recreation Area - 35 min, Photo: Courtesy of trekandphoto - Fotolia.com
- Sausalito - 35 min, Photo: Courtesy of Ashok B. Mehta - Fotolia.com
- Muir Woods National Monument - 45 min, Photo: Courtesy of MNStudio - Fotolia.com
- Half Moon Bay - 50 min, Photo: Courtesy of belyay - Fotolia.com
- Yosemite National Park - 4 hours 10 min, Photo: Courtesy of huci - Fotolia.com
- Point Reyes National Seashore - 1 hour 25 min, Photo: Courtesy of Fotolia.com
- Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens - 4 hours, Photo: Courtesy of Melastmohican - Fotolia.com
- Stinson Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Jairo Rene Leiva - Fotolia.com
- Carmel-by-the-Sea, Photo: Courtesy of Melastmohican - Fotolia.com
- Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park - 5 hours, Photo: Courtesy of fotogestoeber - Fotolia.com
- The Gardens of Alcatraz, Photo: f8grapher/stock.adobe.com
- New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum - 1 hour 30 min, Photo: New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum
- California State Railroad Museum - 3 hours, Photo: Courtesy of stasenso - Fotolia.com
- Monterey Bay Aquarium - 2 hours 50 min, Photo: Courtesy of fannyes - Fotolia.com
- Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park - 3 hours 30 min, Photo: Courtesy of oscity - Fotolia.com
- Armstrong Redwood State Reserve - 2 hours 35 min, Photo: Courtesy of Gary Saxe - Fotolia.com
- San Francisco Day Trips: Marin Headlands - 40 min, Photo: Courtesy of Yuval Helfman - Fotolia.com
- Day Trips from San Francisco: Alcatraz - 20 min, Photo: Courtesy of f11photo - Fotolia.com
- Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail, Photo: Courtesy of wakr10 - Fotolia.com
- Nick’s Cove Restaurant and Oyster Bar, Photo: Nick’s Cove Restaurant and Oyster Bar
- Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve - 1 hour, Photo: Courtesy of Yuval Helfman - Fotolia.com
- San Francisco Day Trips: Mt Tamalpais State Park - 1 hour, Photo: Courtesy of MattBoylePhotos - Fotolia.com
- Wildcat Canyon Regional Park - 1 hour, Photo: Courtesy of Henryk Sadura - Fotolia.com
- Rancho Corral de Tierra - 30min, Photo: NPS photo
- UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley - 50 min, Photo: UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of lucky_photo - Fotolia.com
Angel Island State Park
The largest island in San Francisco Bay, Angel Island offers spectacular views of San Francisco, the Marin County Headlands and Mount Tamalpais. The entire island is part of the Angel Island State Park. Historically, the island played many different roles.The native Coast Miwok people used Angel Island for seasonal hunting and gathering, while Spanish explorers like Juan Manuel de Ayala used it as a safe refugee and supply station.
In 1837 it was given to author Antonio Maria Osio to use as a cattle ranch, and from 1910-1940 the island was used by the U.S. Immigration Station as a processing station for almost a million of immigrants, mostly Chinese. During WWII, Japanese and German POWs were detained here, and in the 1950s and 1960s the island was home to a Nike missile base. Since it became a park in 1954, the island has been a popular spot for hiking. Hop on board the Angel Island ferry and spend the day exploring this interesting island with its mix of history and magnificent nature.
Pier 41, San Francisco, California 94109, Phone: 415-435-1915