The San Francisco Bay Area offers an almost unlimited variety of adventure. With the Pacific Ocean on its western coast, mountains to the East and both urban and rural in between, there is something for everyone. Whether you want to get out of town a budget or impress visitors with local knowledge, these spots will have you covered. Beyond the famous bridge and the clamor of the cable cars, there are lesser known and equally exciting attractions waiting to be seen.
If you missed the featured destinations throughout 2013, here is a recap of those places. Stay tuned for many new Bay Area travels in 2014.
Noriega St. in San Francisco's Sunset District
The mostly residential Noriega Street in the Outer Sunset comes to an end at Ocean Beach, and a few blocks before this is an outcropping of small businesses. Often overshadowed by neighboring Judah Street, this slice of the Sunset has a distinct beach vibe and a slow pace resides over the cafes, restaurants and shops. Why hurry when you can stroll, enjoy coastal cuisine, and watch the sunset from dunes above the ocean?
Little Russia in San Francisco’s Richmond District
Skip the freezing winter weather of Russia and instead head to Little Russia in San Francisco to get a feel for the country. Little Russia extends from 17th and Geary, near the Russian Renaissance Restaurant, to the golden domes of the Russian Orthodox Church at Geary and 27th. This stretch, as well as neighboring Clement and Balboa streets, is home to many Russian restaurants, shops and bakeries. To be further immersed in the culture, the Russian Festival takes place one weekend every February at the Russian Center. For 25 years the center has hosted this vodka infused weekend of music, dance, food and art.
Highway 1 slows to a leisurely pace as it passes through the town of Point Reyes Station, on the border of the Point Reyes National Seashore. The West Marin town was once a stop for the North Pacific Coast Railroad and dates back to the late 1800s. Storefronts line the main street offering at least one of everything: bakery, restaurant, saloon, feed store and produce market, horse supplies and local artisans. Follow the rolling hills to one of many nearby hikes or beaches.
The unique island of Alameda, tucked away in the middle of the Bay Area, has an undeniable charm. Victorian houses line quiet streets and downtown shopping districts add to the small town vibe. History and hip collide in a culture that appreciates making the old new through vintage clothes and antique stores. Views of the San Francisco skyline abound and island culture is appreciated through Hawaiian cuisine and tiki-themed bars.
With an upcoming racing season just around the bend, and one of the biggest days in horse racing fast approaching, Golden Gate Fields in Albany offers the perfect place to watch the races. Dollar Sundays feature $1 admission, beer, hot dogs and soda. For the Kentucky Derby, glamorous, horse themed or outrageous headwear is encouraged for the annual hat contest. A Berkeley hat store meets all of those derby hat desires and nearby Albany has restaurants for brunch or burgers and bars to wind down after the excitement.
Art in San Francisco's Downtown
With the temporary closure of the SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) due to expansion, many are left wondering where to go for modern and contemporary art. The museum will be back and bigger than ever in 2016 and SFMOMA work will be showing throughout the Bay Area at SFMOMA ‘On the Go’ exhibits. To fill the void downtown that it will leave, there are many galleries and museums to quench that modern art desire, and with Blue Bottle Coffee nearby it is almost like the SFMOMA never left.
With sea cliffs to the west and the heart of wine country to the east, the former California lumber town turned summer vacation destination of Guerneville provides an abundance of tourist opportunities. Follow the river and a rugged tree line to the Main Street lined with mom and pop stores, like the Guerneville 5 & 10, artist studios and lively gay bars. Cool off sipping champagne in a nearby champagne cellar, swimming in the Russian River, or strolling through the Redwoods. Culinary options vary from the more traditional pub eats at Stumptown, to locally grown and organic bistro fare at Boon Eat + Drink to Asian fusion at the new diner-turned-Korean-pop-up called Hi-Five. Guerneville’s endearing eccentricity and openly gay and hate-free atmosphere welcome visitors both gay and straight.
Niles District, Fremont
Niles evokes an era when railroad was the best in travel, silent films were in their heyday and cowboys roamed the streets. Once a junction of the Southern Pacific Railroad, the town garnered fame when the silent film industry descended upon Niles. The year 1912 brought Charlie Chaplin and Gilbert “Broncho Billy” Anderson to establish the West Coast studio for Chicago’s Essaney Film Manufacturing Co. These industries left their imprint and today the town embraces its roots, while inventing traditions of its own. Over 15 antique stores line Niles Boulevard, as well as a tea shop, restaurants and a biker bar. Passenger trains run through Niles Canyon on weekends, offering family friendly rides and wine tasting for the 21 and over crowd. The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum screens silent films, houses movie making equipment and hosts a weekend dedicated to Charlie Chaplin. Although the town is incorporated into Fremont, it retains a distinct feel of its own.
The city of Pacifica stretches along six miles of Highway 1 just south of San Francisco -- through valleys, ridges and rocky coastline. The sometimes sunny, more often foggy beaches break free from the fog during the Pacifica's September summer. But the area has embraced its foggy reputation and misty weather with the annual Fog Fest in late September. Weather aside, this sleepy beach town has much to offer, from southern style barbeque with a California twist, to a variety of outdoor activities like hiking, biking surfing and bowling.
Route 84 from Woodside to San Gregorio
State Route 84 from the town of Woodside to the Coast Highway at San Gregorio passes through redwood groves and mountain switchbacks, by motorcycle hangouts and an influential site of the psychedelic era. In the early 1960’s Ken Kesey and some of the Merry Band of Pranksters resided in La Honda, where the One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest author wrote new works and LSD flowed freely. This spirit remains in the area and these days the route is a two wheel paradise offering well maintained roads, hiking, horseback riding, camping, rodeos and good eats.
The Tenderloin in San Francisco
There’s no denying that the Tenderloin has a bad rap, but in a neighborhood filled with heartbreaking scenes of poverty and drug abuse there are inspiring stories, acts of goodwill and plenty of businesses too good to remain hidden. From cutting edge theatre, old school paperback bookstores, classic gay bars and Vietnamese cuisine, to modern day speakeasies, hip vintage clothing and artisan bakeries, the Tenderloin is a fantastic mix of cultures.
Despite the rapidly changing city surrounding its 40 square blocks, the Tenderloin won’t go the way of other blight ridden neighborhoods anytime soon. The 100’s of SRO’s, single-room-occupancy hotels, that line its streets are there to stay. City legislation enacted decades ago will insure low income housing for residents. However the non-profits, businesses, and many neighborhood inhabitants have hope of a brighter, cleaner future for the ‘Loin, without displacing those in need. Many organizations continually provide support, food and housing for the low income, homeless, mentally ill, and elderly. Their generous work could not go on without a continual flow of volunteers, not only during the holiday season but throughout the rest of the year.
Past the throngs of tourists, past the street performers and repetition of souvenir stands, past the ferries that go to Alcatraz – there are the working fishing boats and fisherman that give the wharf its name. There are also businesses both renowned and unrecognized, worthy of the trek to this stretch of waterfront. Although the tourist attractions aren’t fully avoidable, once in the midst of the activities you may just find yourself having a good time. It is easy to get caught up in the sea lions charm, the Barbary Coast history and the warmth of an Irish coffee on a foggy day.
Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.