What should we explore around the SF Bay area on short notice?
October 18, 2012 1:51 PM   Subscribe

A few months ago, I booked an incredible deal on a flight to spend 4 days next week in or around San Francisco. Life got busy, and I still haven't made any actual plans for what we're going to do, or where we're going to stay. We've been to SF a few times before, and want to rent a car and explore the area surrounding the city this time around -- particularly to the North. Any budget-friendly suggestions?

I'll have one other person with me, and we'll be in the area from the 26th to 29th. We're from DC, if that matters at all...

We've both been to SF a few times, and were looking to spend a low-key long weekend in the area; preferably outside of the city itself (although we're not opposed to spending a night or two in SF proper if there's something exciting happening next weekend).

We've done most of the "usual" stuff in SF proper, and I've spent a bit of time in the South Bay. It was alright, but my gut is that we'll have a better time up North (or East?). You're free to talk me out of this though.

Both of us enjoy hiking, biking, scenery, art, good coffeehouses, indie rock, geeky/tech stuff, etc. Generally speaking, MetaFilter's recommendations are usually pretty spot-on for us. If it's any indication, we loved the Mission District, and visiting Twin Peaks and Lands End were the highlights of our last SF trip.

What's good outside of San Francisco, and more importantly, where should we stay? We're not opposed to hopping around from place to place.
posted by schmod to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (23 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
The national seashore at Point Reyes is gorgeous. Day hike or single overnight?
posted by ftm at 2:21 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used airbnb to book an entire floor of one of the painted ladies and the experience was great, I think we paid $120/night. Memail me if you want details.
posted by Cosine at 2:23 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Roy's Redwoods is a nice little grove near Woodacre where you can get closer to the trees than you can in Muir Woods. There's tons of amazing hiking in Marin, if you have trouble coming up with stuff holler, I've tossed a few good starters here. Arch Rock is very cool if you can either split the trip up with a mountain bike to get out there, or take the long way over Mt Wittenberg or similar (even come in from Sky Camp or along the coast from Limantour to get some up and down).

Biking-wise, I assume you're at the whims of rental gear, and the "ride from Pier 39 over the Golden Gate to Sausalito or Tiburon and take the ferry back" experience isn't bad, but if you're more of a drop-bars and skinny tires person then western Sonoma and Marin have spectacular road cycling. If your idea of fun is knocking out 80 or a hundred (or more) miles of beautiful widely varying scenery, this is your venue. Climbing and descending Mt Tam, kickin' it in a paceline down Highway 1 along Tomales Bay, winding through the Redwoods of Samuel P. Taylor State Park, and small towns with fantastic bakeries to get the calories in ya. These are old, but a couple of rides I like.

The 26th through the 29th don't have any particularly low tides, so one of my favorite (extreme, really, don't do this, but OMG it's amazing) hikes, McClure beach to Kehoe beach via the coast (1, 2), is out. And there's probably not much to be found exploring tide pools, but that doesn't mean the coast is bad. The Hill 88 hike I linked to above is close to the city, has good elevation, some coast and beach at Fort Cronkhite, old WWII and Cold War military ruins, all that good stuff.

And, of course, every one of us North Bay residents is gonna brag on our little town of choice. I reside in Petaluma. Since you mentioned budget-friendly, a local secret: If you come up here on Sunday from 10 to 2 (really 1, they like to have the boats back by 2) the Friends of the Petaluma River will loan you a boat at the Ghirardelli Barn David Yearsley River Heritage Center and let you paddle around the Petaluma River (tidal slough, whatever). Working industrial operations (gravel, oyster shell and other materials come in by barge) interspersed with fantastic wildlife, and depending on what the yacht traffic is like some gorgeous boats, up-close.

Also on that Sunday is the Sunday Cruise In at 4th and Sea (a fish-and-chips joint at 4th and C streets), if you're into small town hotrods here where American Graffiti was filmed. And I'm sure there'll be Dia de los Muertos stuff happening over at the Petaluma Art Center and who knows what else. And I'm sure the folks at Tara Firma Farm will be giving their usual Sunday "pet the little bacons", wander amongst the flocks of laying chickens, and get the spiel on sustainable agriculture tours. As I said, could be a little small-town, but that's why we live here.

The North Bay isn't just Petaluma, if you're more wine and foodie than Petaluma, there's Healdsburg and Dry Creek Valley a little up the road and, of course, the town of Sonoma and Valley of the Moon, or Napa valley (which also has some cool albeit flatter cycling).

Any of those sound interesting? I'm happy to provide further details on biking or hiking options in the area...
posted by straw at 2:35 PM on October 18, 2012 [11 favorites]

I lived in Richmond, CA for a while.

My favorite thing there was Point Pinole regional park. It is gorgeous around sunset and a perfect place to have a walk/picnic. It is an incredible place that used to be a munitions factory - produced much of the TNT for WWII - but is now a bucolic, gorgeous waterfront park.

Muir Woods monument is also an exceptional place to visit and a great athletic walk. Best to get there very early in the AM if you can. Very inspiring to be among the redwoods.

In some ways, these places were by far the best things I discovered in my 6 mos in the Bay Area. Definitely the most peaceful and fulfilling.

In SF, for sheer and utter interestingness, nothing, nothing beats the Prelinger library. Contact them to see if you can get an appointment. Rick P is a hero of mine and the library he (and his) run is exceptional.
posted by fake at 2:47 PM on October 18, 2012

Focusing here on the area north of the city, primarily around outdoor activities. There isn't a lot of urban living outside of San Francisco and Berkeley/Rockridge in Oakland in the East Bay. I'm focusing more on multiple spots and include some driving for variety. You could easily spend all four days at Mount Tamalpais alone. I like to get a lot of bang for my buck, so that's where this is focused.

Drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and then immediately up the hill into the Marin Headlands on the west (ocean) side of the bridge. Get out and enjoy postcard views of the bridge. (This is best late in the day for great bridge photos).

If you haven't been to Muir Woods, I would strongly recommend it. It's a short (45 minute) drive from the city. Not far up the road is Mount Tamalpais, which generally looks like the forest in Return of the Jedi. (Lucasfilm is nearby). The drive into Mount Tam is wonderful. Continue your drive up to the top of Mount Tamalpais for the view and consider hiking the Matt Davis - Steep Ravine loop (half day).

Eat at Avatar's in Sausalito or at Sol Food in San Rafael (have the chicken) and try both styles of plaintains. I would not steer you wrong here. Both these places are outstanding and pretty inexpensive. Sausalito has a cute and small (if a bit touristy) downtown with great views.

Take the ferry over to Angel Island for a relatively short and easy hike to the top, with breathtaking views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge once you get to that side of the island.

Point Reyes is also a nice stop further up the coast. Drive out to the end of the peninsula and see the lighthouse. Maybe stop on the (probably very cold) west side beaches. Not sure if this is the right time of year for elephant seals, but there's a spot near the end of the peninsula where you can see them at a distance. There are also extensive opportunities for hiking on Point Reyes.

Napa and Sonoma (north of the city) have the obvious wine tasting and tours (which tend to be interesting and worthwhile). There are a couple of wineries with art galleries as well. The di Rosa has some amazing modern art pieces - You won't forget the flying angel. The Hess Collection also has some of the best modern art pieces I've seen anywhere. The thorn sculpture is amazing. Hess does tasting as well, but di Rosa doesn't. Castello di Amarosa does fun (if expensive) tours of their authentically built castle and the tours include a tasting. The Mondavi tour is supposed to be one of the better ones. Napa and Sonoma both have a plethora of wonderful restaurants.
posted by cnc at 2:58 PM on October 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

Glass beach in Fort Bragg is pretty unique. It's a beach that used to be a landfill, and is now covered with colored pieces of frosted glass -- a little like glitter.

I also think Fort Bragg is interesting because that's where the US military built a replica of Osama Bin Laden's compound to use to train for his assassination. (According to Vanity Fair.) But that's not something you can actually see, just interesting to think about.
posted by tinymegalo at 3:07 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Okay, it's dueling awesome time: Seconding Sol Food for cheap eats in San Rafael, but other towns including, yes, Petaluma also have Avatar's (I believe there's enough local management control that they're all slightly different, but we loves us our Petaluma ethnic confusions, and the first time I went to the Sausalito place with a regular, ordered, and the waiter (who may have been one of the owners) said "no, you don't want that, I'll order for you" and it was awesome, I fell in love).

And I'd toss in a reinforcement of cnc's recommendation of Angel Island, not just for the walk or bike and the views, but also because the historical bits are fascinating: It was the "Ellis Island" of this coast, except that the goal was to pack in the potential Asian immigrants 'til you got some sickness spreading through them, and then send 'em back on medial grounds.

And inbound MeMail re road biking equipment...
posted by straw at 3:16 PM on October 18, 2012

I also think Fort Bragg is interesting because that's where the US military built a replica of Osama Bin Laden's compound to use to train for his assassination. (According to Vanity Fair.)

That's another Ft. Bragg in NC, which has lots of space and where numerous JSOC units are headquartered.
posted by Jahaza at 3:25 PM on October 18, 2012

Backing up @straw here. Petaluma is probably the best downtown in the North Bay area and worth your visit. It's not bustling by any means, but it is charming and relaxing and has a good number of shops, galleries and restaurants. You could definitely do worse than using Petaluma as a base for the North Bay. Bonus geekdom - you said you're into tech and geeky stuff - you can watch a This Week in Tech production in person if you e-mail ahead of time. They're right in downtown Petaluma.
posted by cnc at 3:33 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Windows users? You could photo-bomb the win XP desktop.
(It's fall rather than spring though, so the colors won't be a match)

posted by anonymisc at 3:47 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

(Oops, my bad about the Fort Bragg and Osama thing -- I take it back!)
posted by tinymegalo at 3:51 PM on October 18, 2012

If you go to Petaluma (and you should, it's great) I recommend brunch at the marvelous Della Fattoria. I ponder moving to Petaluma every time I go there.
posted by purpleclover at 4:38 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Aha! Okay, y'all given me a chance to look at my little burgh as a tourist destination on a relatively off weekend (we've got lots of stuff going on in the summer). It's easy to get jaded about where I live, so why not dig in to some suggestions:

Noting the pictures of sprockets on your profile page, I'm gonna take a guess at road cycling. Mike's Bikes rents road bikes at their Petaluma store, Petaluma Wheelmen has "B" & "C" rides on the 28th and 29th. You could tag on to one of those rides, or do any of a number of others. Here's a suggested ride: 62 miles, out over the Marshall Wall, down on to Highway 1 along Tomales Bay, a stop at Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station for calories, wander through Tomales Bay Foods and take a tour of the Cowgirl Creamery Point Reyes production facility, through Samuel P. Taylor State Park (be sure to drop over on to the Multi-Use Path at Platform Bridge and ride through the trees along the creek, rather than on the road there), a stop at Roy's Redwoods (walk around 'til you find the hollow tree, or ask someone how you can climb down inside a redwood, spend some time lying on your back inside the cathedral grove), back up by the Marin French Cheese Company to refill your bottles and sample local cheese, up Red Hill, down past the McEvoy Ranch olive groves and back into town. Depending on the weather (we're starting to go from "it'll be sunny" to "it might rain") it might look something like this (though that ride went out the river north of the Marshall Wall).

Once you're back in town, maybe head over to Foundry Wharf. Cowgirl Creamery's Petaluma Facility isn't giving tours in the off season, but many's the day I've walked by Stillwater Spirits and been handed a glass of something to sample, or go next door to Sonoma Portworks, even if you're not a drinker you have to try their Sonomic Vinegar. Maybe catch a beer and see who's playing that evening at Aqus Cafe ("Tonewoods", acoustic Americana on Friday, GreenHouse Celtic Fusion on Saturday), or wander back into town for whatever's going on there. Catch a band at the Mystic Theater (Mother Hips Friday, Wonderbread 5 Saturday, Groundation roots/funk on Sunday) or The Phoenix (Halloween bash with The Pulsators on Saturday), or see if Petaluma Pete is playing ragtime or there's someone busking out in front of Copperfield's (Looks like Megan McDonald is doing an author talk at 3PM on Saturday there), which is across from the previously mentioned Avatar's.

Oh, and this music listing isn't complete, I haven't run into him in a few but Peter Welker's band usually plays at the Riverside Bistro on Fridays. There are probably others.

Love purpleclover's suggestion of Della Fattoria (their rosemary and Meyer lemon bread is a staple). I haven't yet been to Jacqueline's High Tea but I think it'd be fun to dress up for that at some point. I often just end up at Hallie's Diner or the Tea Room Cafe for breakfast with people.

Metro Hotel is just a little towards my house from from downtown, was fully booked the last time I wanted to use it for guests from out of town, but looked cool and funky and all that.

Alas, there's no "display day" at the airport this month, often the airport will have enthusiasts with particular interests in aircraft fly their birds in to show off and chat with people, if we see interesting airplanes overhead we'll head over there and find a conversation.

Okay, really, I can stop pimping my neighborhood any time now...
posted by straw at 5:06 PM on October 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

The Marine Mammal Center!
posted by nicwolff at 6:11 PM on October 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you are going to hike out in the headlands, rather than Hill 88, you can do the TVA trailhead to Muir Beach, hit up Pelican Inn for lunch & a beer, then take the Coastal Trail back to th trailhead. It's good hills and a great variety of views, plus Beer! Also, whether on this trip or another I wouldn't discount heading south along the coast. That side of the hills is *very* different from the South Bay and I'd say the Redwoods at Big Basin State Park are better then Muir Woods and less crowded.
posted by dame at 7:50 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

A great place to stay is the marin headlands hostel. The setting is unbeatable, it's dirt cheap and incredibly close to the city, though it feels a world away. I would also recommend going up to Hawk Hill, also in the Marin Headlands, where you can see tons of raptors in october/november. While I am thinking of wildlife related excursions (I know that wasn't the question, but too bad), another great one is to drive out Pierce Point Rd. at Point Reyes. The end of the point is a reserve for native Tule elk and incredibly scenic besides.
posted by silvergoat at 8:24 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hike to Alamere Falls, near Bolinas. It's one of two waterfalls directly on the beach in California, and it's gorgeous. If you're there during the week this time of year, you may have the beach to yourself. It's a long-ish hike, but easy, and you'll have views of the Pacific most of the way.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:33 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love the hike to Alamere Falls, either over the ridge from 5 Brooks down to Wildcat Camp and south along the beach, or up from Bolinas (and on this route, when it's warm enough, there's a kick-ass rope swing into one of the lakes along the way), but it isn't likely to be running very hard that time of year unless we get a couple of good rains this week. If we do get those rains, consider also a hike up Cataract Creek, and you could continue from there up to the top of Mt Tam.

Other random: If you're of a certain age and happen to be in Santa Rosa there's the Charles M. Schulz Museum.

(Oh, and for the south bay suggestions: If you're at all mechanical, the running Shay and Heisler steam locomotives at Roaring Camp Railroad are awesome!)

(Sorry for monopolizing this thread; can you tell I love where I live?)
posted by straw at 8:41 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions so far! It's gonna take me a while to go through all of them!

Unbeknownst to me, my other half booked us a hotel in Napa (City) just after I posted this (so our "affordable" constraint kind of flew out the window there), if that's any indication of where we'll be constrained to. We'll have a car, and aren't afraid of driving around though!
posted by schmod at 9:24 AM on October 19, 2012

I've enjoyed a stop at the Bale Grist Mill over in the Napa valley.

(Sorry, really, I can stop clicking reload on this thread...)
posted by straw at 10:04 AM on October 19, 2012

Everything listed here is easily reachable from Napa. Napa to Petaluma is about 45 minutes. Napa to Sausalito/Golden Gate Bridge is an hour. Napa to Point Reyes is 90 minutes.
posted by cnc at 10:25 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Straw gets a gold star.
posted by schmod at 11:59 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older It's one of those things that you're always...   |   Furminator for people? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.