While San Francisco is a beautiful city to explore, it is also an excellent home base while discovering Northern California through a series of day trips. From beautiful Pacific Ocean vistas to national park trails, there is something for every traveler wanting to experience the beauty of California.
North: Napa Valley
Just across the Golden Gate Bridge sit the world famous wine regions of Napa and Somona Valley, each offering something for everyone. Visit the Castello di Amorosa winery, where you can participate in a barrel tasting or tour the vineyards surrounding the authentically designed 13th century style Tuscan castle. Or visit the bustling Sonoma Plaza, with its weekly farmers market and more than 25 tasting rooms where you can sample top wines from the region.
If you want to
explore more of wine country, the Healdsburg Shed is a unique, casual dining
experience and market. Sit on the sunny patio and sip a shrub, a refreshing
fruity fermented drink made with vinegar and sparkling water. Browse the unmatched
selection of high-end gardening tools and housewares, in case you want to start
your own fancy garden at home.
East: Yosemite National Park
Driving into Yosemite Valley for the first time is not an
experience you forget. From a pullout on Big Oak Flat road, everyone stops to
snap photos of the trees spread out below like a lush green carpet, with the
towering granite figures of Half Dome and El Capitan in the distance. While the higher elevation areas of the park
are inaccessible to car travel in winter, lodging and activities in Yosemite
Valley are open year-round. The luxurious Cedar Lodge is a great place to curl
up with a drink or a book beside the fireplace.
To experience the natural grandeur of Yosemite and learn about the park’s history without leaving the city, the California Historical Society in downtown San Francisco is currently running an exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant, which established the park as protected wilderness. Yosemite: A Storied Landscape will be on display through January 2015.
Pack up a picnic
and take an easy, 2 mile hike (one way) to Mirror
Lake. You’ll be rewarded with an impressive, close-up view of Half Dome and a
bit of insight into Yosemite past, as the lake was formerly a popular
destination for summer travelers and the path is lined with unique
South: Half Moon Bay
Every October, Half Moon Bay hosts its annual pumpkin festival,
the highlight of which is the pumpkin weigh-off competition. Last year, the
winning gourd clocked in at 1,985 pounds. The rest of the year, HMB is a
charming sleepy beach town filled with small shops and art galleries. Local
beaches include Gray Whale Cove, Cowell Ranch, Pomponio and Half Moon Bay State Beach, but California’s
northern coast can be chilly year round, so don’t forget to take a jacket. For
an overnight stay, the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay property is situated on
bluffs overlooking the ocean, with outdoor fire pits for cozy relaxation.
The line of
parked cars stretching down the side of Highway 1 is usually the first sign
that you’re approaching Sam’s Chowder House, a popular waterfront restaurant in
Half Moon Bay. The wait can be long, but the chowder and the views keep
visitors coming back, and you can stroll along the nearby beach while you wait
to be seated.
West: Point Reyes
An hour outside San Francisco, the Point Reyes National
Seashore coastline juts out west into the Pacific Ocean and offers travelers
historic lighthouses, rolling farmland and jaw-dropping vistas. From the Bear
Valley Visitors Center, it is a 4 mile walk on a wide
dirt trail to Arch Rock, an overhanging arch formation that frames the ocean
waves. If you go at low tide, you can scramble down to walk through the arch
and onto the beach. A short interpretive Earthquake trail that explains the
area’s geology and local fault lines runs near the visitor center. The historic
Point Reyes lighthouse is about a 45-minute drive from the visitors
center and hours are limited so check before you go.
small town of Point Reyes Station, the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. opened
The Fork venue earlier this year, offering a true farm-to-table experience via
tastings and farm tours. Don’t leave without trying the “Original Blue” cheese!