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
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)
|Niles 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.
|Redwood 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!
|Monterrey 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.
|San Francisco Cable Cars and
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
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.
|Pinnacles 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.
|Don 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.
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
|San 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.
|Point Reyes National Seashore (N of
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.
|Marin 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.
|The 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.|
|San 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.
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!
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.
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.
|Yosemite 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.|
|Mt 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.|
|Carizzo 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.|
|Lake Tahoe (approximately 190 miles North East).
All sorts of places to see, but no real central website. Rather too
commercial for some...|
|Kings 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.|
|Klamath 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...|