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Here are some links to interesting places in and around San Francisco that we have visited and would heartily recommend. They are mostly outdoor, and there is a strong emphasis on wildlife, parks, ornithology and railways.  

Where applicable, I will mention these places in the photo albums....and try and attach a few pictures.

Places to Visit, San Francisco Bay Area (including Day Trips)

bulletNiles Canyon Railway (East Bay, 35 miles SE of SF, Weekends ONLY)
The Niles Canyon railway is a preserved line, operating steam and diesel locomotives on most Sundays. See the website for details of trains, times and specials. This is one of our favourite haunts when we want to take the children for a bit of fun in the afternoon - the train ride lasts about 1 hour 15 minutes through the canyon and costs about $10 per adult.
bulletRedwood Railway at Tilden Park (Berkeley Hills, 15 miles E of San Francisco)
See the website for details and operating times. In Tilden Park, also great for walks and picnics in the East Bay hills. The train ride lasts about 12 minutes and is a 15" gauge line (for those from England, the same as the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch railway - in fact, they have exchanged engines once or twice!). A lot of fun and a beautiful setting. Make sure you visit the roundhouse (right by the gate) where they have some photos and store the engines not in use on that day - one of the most interesting photos being of the railway running in the snow! A rare site!
bulletMonterrey Bay Aquarium (about 100 miles S of San Francisco)
Rather self-explanatory this one - most people know of the reputation. The location on Monterrey Bay is fantastic though, and make sure that you drive round the peninsula. We have seen whales breeching just off the coast, as well as sea otters, seals and many other mammals. There are always lots of deer on the golf courses as you drive round the peninsula as well as ocean views and lots of birds. Since this is the California Pacific Coast, ALWAYS bring a sweater and expect it to be windy.
bulletSan Francisco Cable Cars and Museum, Barn & Winding House
No introduction needed for the world famous cable cars, but make sure that you visit the winding house (FREE!). You can see the cables and motors and get a much better understanding of how it all works.
Whilst riding the cable cars, don't forget that the San Francisco Municipal Railway ("Muni") F Line on Market Street is a moving museum of historic street cars. It can be pretty crowded but it is worth a ride if you can. Visit the F-Line website for more details. 

Walks and Parks

bulletMount Diablo State Bark (East Bay - 30 miles from SF)
The best open area in the Bay Area, and a nearly 4000 foot high mountain with fabulous views. It does get windy at the top! It can even be closed with snow in the winter. Lots of walks, wildlife and places to see. There are a number of entrances and different parts to the park, as well as adjacent areas such as Morgan Territory and Black Hills. 
bulletPinnacles National Monument (about 100 miles S of San Francisco)
Its a bit of a drive from the SF Bay, and you need to make a decision before you start as to which part of Pinnacles you want to visit! The monument is East of 101, West of Highway 25 but you cannot get from one side to the other without a 50 mile drive! Look at the website and decide what you want - if it helps, Highway 25 is a very pretty drive through the hills.
This is one of our favourite areas to visit - we have made it a camping trip before now staying at the (private, not park service) campground just outside the East (Highway 25) entrance to the Monument. The walking trails are fantastic and varied, and the "pinnacles" are old volcanic plugs that are most spectacular. You always see plenty of wildlife - I have seen Garter Snakes, many lizards and reptiles, many different hawks, lots of other birds, Coyote's etc. Of note currently is the fact that 6 California Condor's have been released in the area and can be seen - hopefully will get a photo of them on the next trip.
bulletDon Edwards/San Francisco Bay Wildlife Refuge (SF Bay)
The SF Bay is still pretty good for bird life, despite all of the development. There are two or three different parts of the Don Edwards refuge and they are all worth visiting for a walk even if you aren't interested in the wildlife. Entrance is free, and most of the areas have a visitor center with maps and exhibits.
bulletSacramento Wildlife Refuge (north of Sacramento)
Another one of those longer drives, but fabulous bird viewing in the marshes and refuges that make up part of the Pacific Flyway. November through March are best for the bird life, but it is always worth a visit. Bring a camera....
bulletSan Luis Wildlife Refuge (near Los Banos)
Similar to the Sacramento refuges above, and about a 120 mile drive from the Bay Area. One thing that you will see here is a Tule Elk reserve - these animals used to roam all over CA but are now restricted to a few federally protected reserves (see also Point Reyes). Good auto tour route to drive through the reserve on gravel roads which is fun for the kids.
bulletPoint Reyes National Seashore (N of SF)
A huge area with lots to see and do. Plenty of walking and some good visitor centers. Our favourite spots are the Earthquake Walk (view of the epicenter of the 1906 quake), the Tule Elk reserve and the trip all the way out to the Lighthouse. You couldn't do all of that in one day, so pick and choose. Start at the main visitors center at Point Reyes station so that you will know what is and isn't viewable on any given day - and certainly check if you want to visit the lighthouse because it isn't open every day.
bulletMarin Headlands - fabulous views of the Golden Gate
Most people travel over the Golden Gate once, and then park at the Vista Point on the North End of the bridge. For much better views, head up into the Marin Headlands and get some fantastic views of the bridge with the city in the background. Sunsets are particularly good as you are on the west (Pacific Ocean) side of the bridge. Drive up the road for a variety of different stops and views all the way to the top at Hawk Hill (worth getting out and walking up to the old gun battery on top for views in all directions). But don't stop there...keep driving out onto the headlands on a great single lane road (Conzelman Road) all the way out to the Lighthouse and Rodeo Lagoon (and you can also visit the marine mammal wildlife rescue center) and then head back to the bridge through the old (single track) army tunnel along the aptly named Bunker Road. If you don't want to go back to the city, turn left after the tunnel and head down into Sausalito. Either way, it is a wonderful place to visit but, as said before, remember your sweater (this is the Pacific Coast!) and your camera.
bulletThe East Bay parks and the East Bay park district covers some great walks. I would certainly recommend Pleasanton Ridge, Las Trampas Wilderness, Ohlone Wilderness, Sunol Regional Wilderness, Black Diamond Mines Preserve, Morgan Territory and Martinez Regional Shoreline. I For details, visit East Bay Parks website.

For Children

bulletSan Jose Childrens Museum
Lots of fun for the children - they will make new friends and have a really good time. Worthwhile entertainment and good for a rainy day! Check the website for current events and special activities.
bulletOakland Zoo
Quite a good zoo - family friendly (but we can't really recommend the food!). Lots of animals and the cages are big enough and the facilities good enough that you don't feel guilty!
bulletArdenwood Farm
Part of the East Bay parks district - in fact, you can use the link to go and see other similarly run facilities in the East Bay. Very enjoyable.

Further Afield

These sites describe places further afield - some of them can be done in day trips, but probably better taking a couple of days or a long weekend.

bulletYosemite National Park (approximately 200 miles South East). See my photo albums for some shots in and around Yosemite at various times of the year. The valley is superb, but try to visit midweek and out of season. You really don't want to miss Tioga Pass (open usually from about Memorial Day until Labor Day) or Glacier Point but you can't possibly visit all three in one day.
bulletMt Lassen National Park (approximately 250 miles North East). The most recently erupted volcano in California (1915) and plenty of active volcanic signs. Great fun for camping, but brutally cold in Winter.
bulletCarizzo Plain National Monument (approximately 250 miles South). Another interesting website about Carrizo is from the USGS (US Geological Survey) since this is one of the best places to look at the San Andreas fault. Other features include the largest salt lake in California, and wild pronghorn antelope roaming the park.
bulletLake Tahoe (approximately 190 miles North East). All sorts of places to see, but no real central website. Rather too commercial for some...
bulletKings Canyon/Sequoia National Park (approximately 220 miles South East). Quieter than Yosemite, but still pretty crowded in summer. Parts of the park (particularly Kings Canyon) closed in winter. The sequoias are as spectacular as you would imagine.
bulletKlamath Falls Wildlife Refuges, consisting of Upper Klamath Wildlife Refuge, Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge and Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge. This definitely isn't a day trip - we choose to stay in Klamath Falls for 3 nights. Best visited in winter (November-March) for the selection of wildlife and the largest collection of Bald Eagles in the lower 48. Fabulous for bird watching and ornithology. Nearby places of interest include Lava Beds National Monument and Crater Lake (Oregon). Well worth a visit...

 

 

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Last modified: July 05, 2007