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Day Trips Worth Taking To Some Small Towns Around San Francisco

Apr 18, 2018
by Shannon Meyer

There are tons of things to do, as it is when you’re in San Francisco. The busiest waterfront in the region, Fisherman's Wharf, a notorious and former-home to Al Capone, Alcatraz Island, the definitive and iconic landmark that is Golden Gate and the vibrant neighborhood of Union Square and Chinatown - days can be spent either languidly sunbathing along one of its serene beaches or trekking through the rough terrains of the Santa Cruz mountains. San Francisco is also blessed with spectacular scenery, a vast number of vineyards and wineries, and boast of small towns and big cities within a short charter bus ride away.

Located on the fringes of San Francisco’s bustling city center are mysterious caverns, challenging state parks, deep canyons, rocky climb sites, redwood groves, campsites, ranches, beaches and the adventure-filled wild. After all, if you’ve been to Golden Gate, Alcatraz Island, the world’s classiest aquariums, watched the finest shows at Palace of Fine Arts Theater, or have hiked your way up for the breathtaking views at Twin Peaks, you might be game for something different.

visit san francisco quaint, charming small towns with charter bus

1. Tiburon and Angel Island

Distance : 45 minutes drive away from San Francisco via I-580 E and I-80 W
Tiburon Peninsula and Angel Island, both collectively and individually, has been making a splash in the San Francisco travel scene. With fewer tourists compared to other towns and cities, you can easily enjoy a walking tour while exploring quaint shops and dropping by charming bakeries or rent a bike for an on-the-road tour of the town and island. You can personalize your own tours to take you around beaches, ferry terminals and magnificent mansions, visit the Angel Island Immigration Station which houses countless documents left behind by many immigrants who were traveling across the vast Pacific Ocean to reach San Francisco through Angel Island (it used to serve as a detention center).

When you feel like knocking back a few glasses of beer or cups of coffee, take your pick from the countless picnic areas scattered throughout the island. Just look around and you’ll see that the streets are lined with quaint diners, fast-food eateries, and world-class restaurants for date nights and corporate dinners alike. The shoreline along Tiburon, in the meantime, is postcard-ready; ready to show off the sunset of San Francisco across the bay. Thanks to the fact that Tiburon is now considered one of the fastest-growing tourist and commuter towns in San Francisco, it enjoys fast ferry services and has a very high concentration of chic retail outlets, shops, cafes, and bars.

Places to visit in Tiburon - Angel Island
  • Angel Island - Tiburon Ferry
    21 Main St, Tiburon, CA 94920-2533

    (415) 435-2131
  • Sausalito Visitors Center
    780 Bridgeway, Foot of El Portal Street at the Ferry Pier, Sausalito, CA 94965-2159
    (415) 331-1093
    www.sausalito.gov/our-city/visiting-sausalito
  • Blackie's Pasture
    Tiburon Peninsula Foundation, Tiburon, CA 94920
    A monument dedicated to a horse that used to roam the expanse of the park for its entire life
  • San Francisco Bay Model
    2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito, CA 94965-1753
    (415) 332-3870
  • Tennessee Valley Trailhead
    591 Tennessee Valley Rd, Mill Valley, CA 94941-3627
    (415) 331-1540
    www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/tennessee_valley.htm
  • Vista Point
    Us-101, Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, CA 94965
    (415) 921-5858
  • Bay Area Discovery Museum
    557 McReynolds Rd, Sausalito, CA 94965-2614
    (415) 339-3900
    www.bayareadiscoverymuseum.org

2. Skyline Boulevard, Woodside

Location : 35 minutes drive from San Francisco via I-280 N
Escape into the woodlands and cool mountainsides of Woodside and you'll be enjoying spectacular, panoramic ocean views of the Pacific ocean and its bay area. Pop by quaint restaurants like Alice's Restaurant for BBQ and burger, sample gluten-free beer, and then head over to Thomas Fogarty Winery to sample delicious signature wines out on the romantic wood-paneled gazebo. If you're looking for some self-reflection or inner calm, bring the charter bus to Jikoji Zen Center. The center was founded by Steve Job's mentor, Kobun Chino Otogawa. It's entirely up to you whether you want to get comfortable meditating in its tranquil zendos or go for a walk around its laid-back grounds to get your mental ducks in a row.

Woodside is an intentionally small, upscale neighborhood, boasting of a small but distinct number of stores, restaurants, and pubs. While its Michelin-star pub-restaurant is a good reason to visit Woodside, many cyclists are also magnetically drawn to the city. The Tour of California bicycle race previously made its rounds along CA-84 and Skyline Boulevard. If you have a love for the quiet side of California, Woodside is the place for it.

Places to Visit in Woodside, Skyline Boulevard
  • Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve
    Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, USA
    (650) 691-1200
  • Midpeninsula Regional Open Space
    For horseback riding, cycling, mountain biking
  • Alice's Restaurant
    17288 Skyline Boulevard, Woodside, CA 94062
    (650) 851-0303
    www.alicesrestaurant.com
  • Thomas Fogarty's Winery
    19501 Skyline Boulevard, Woodside, CA
    (650) 851 6777
    www.fogartywinery.com
  • Jikoji Zen Center
    12100 Skyline Blvd, Los Gatos, CA 95033
    (408) 741-9562
    www.jikoji.org
  • Filoli
    86 Canada Road, Woodside, CA 94062-4144
    (650) 364-8300
    www.filoli.org
  • The Stanford Shopping Center
    680 Stanford Shopping Ctr, Palo Alto, CA 94304-1400
    (650) 617-8200
  • Rodin Sculpture Garden
    Stanford University, Stanford, CA
    (650) 723-4177
    www.museum.stanford.edu/exhibitions/rodin-shock-modern-body 

3. Los Gatos

Location : 50 minutes drive from San Francisco via CA-85 and US-101 N
The right word to prescribe to a place like Los Gatos is ‘affluent’ but many would also say that it is a charming, eclectic town located at the foot of the Santa Cruz mountains where the well-heeled groups and individuals of Californian society congregate to have their brunches and teas. What with the number of Michelin-starred restaurants, quaint diners, the spattering of popular bistros and old-school candy shops lining the streets, walking the streets of Los Gastos would feel a lot like stepping in and out of a time machine. It brims with nostalgia without caving into the rapid modernization of California.

With Los Gatos being ranked as one of the wealthiest cities in the United States, it is also the chosen HQ site for renowned companies, more notably, Netflix. And unsurprisingly so. During the city’s expansion and development, it also garnered a reputation as an arts colony. It regularly brought in musicians, painters, actors, writers and producers which includes Joan Fontaine, Olivia de Havilland, and Yehudi Menuhin. It slowly developed over time as a laid-back suburban community of the bustling San Jose. There’s a lot of green space to enjoy, an emulated Ponte des Artes bridge of Paris along Main Street Bridge, mountain bike trails, scenic mountainous terrains, space preserves and a significant mining museum that documented the inflow of immigrants during the Gold Rush and the city’s mining era to visit when in town.

Places to Visit in Los Gatos, CA
  • El Sereno Open Space Preserve
    Los Gatos, CA 95030, USA
    (650) 691-1200
  • Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve
    16800-17162 Alma Bridge Rd, Los Gatos, CA 94022
    (650) 691-1200
    www.openspace.org/preserves/sierra-azul
  • New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum
    21350 Almaden Rd, San Jose, CA 95120
    (408) 323-1107
  • English Camp Loop
    Panoramic views of surrounding townships, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding along rivers flanked by wildflowers when in bloom
    www.alltrails.com/trail/us/california/english-camp-loop
  • Vasona Park
    333 Blossom Hill Rd, Los Gatos, CA 95032
    (408) 356-2729
    www.sccgov.org/sites/parks/parkfinder/Pages/Vasona.aspx
  • Mount Umunhum
    A mountain peak in California, sometimes referred to as Mount Um, ‘The Cube’ or ‘The Box’ by locals. The new mountain biking and hiking trails, as a part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, were newly opened in 2017, comes with pavement, restrooms and interpretive displays.
  • New Museum Los Gatos
    106 E Main St, Los Gatos, CA 95030
    (408) 354-2646
    www.numulosgatos.org
  • Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad
    233 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos, CA 95032
    (408) 395-7433
    www.bjwrr.org 

4. Point Reyes

Location : 1 hour 45 minutes from San Francisco via US-101 S
Just know that when you need to get away from traffic, the buzz of city life and the constant whirl of social hum, there’s 71,000 acres of nature preserve along the Pacific Coast, dramatic drops and habitats for local wildlife to see and experience a short distance from San Francisco in Point Reyes. Apart from its lofty lighthouses, the over-excited colony of elephant seals, cheerful school of migrating Pacific Gray Whales and old-growth Douglas fir forest, it boasts of vista points where you can catch the best sunrise and sunset as well as beaches like Heart’s Desire Beach in Tomales Bay where sunbathing is the staple.

You can also take on the Point Reyes Safaris and West Marin Food and Farm Tours to see the finer things in life, watch as elk, coyotes, and seabirds make their way around the mildly challenging terrain in Tule Elk Preserve, and enjoy delicious local food and drinks at Heidrun Meadery and award-winning artisanal cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery which operates out of a restored hay barn. Visitors can also enjoy an unconventional 2-hour horseback riding trail ride on lovely, well-trained horses with Point Reyes Arabian Adventures, or soak in the sights while sunning on the private boat with Tomales Bay Sailing which kicks off at Point Reyes Station. Offering a nice mix of awesome adventures and slow-paced activities that allows you to let loose a little, Point Reyes is the perfect destination for a day trip or a quick weekend escapade.

Places to Visit in Point Reyes, CA
  • Tomales Bay Sailing
    Point Reyes Station, CA 94956-1027
    (415) 787-4886
    www.tomalesbaysailing.com
  • Point Reyes Arabian Adventures
    11925 Hwy 1, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
    (707) 477-7181
    www.pointreyesarabianadventures.us
  • Bear Valley Visitor Center
    1 Bear Valley Visitor Center Access Road, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA 94956
    (415) 464-5100
    www.nps.gov/pore/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm
  • Chimney Rock - Point Reyes National Seashore
  • Cowgirl Creamery
    80 4th St, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
    (415) 663-9335
    www.cowgirlcreamery.com
  • Point Reyes Books
    11315 CA-1, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
    (415) 663-1542
    www.ptreyesbooks.com
  • Earthquake Trail
    Bear Valley Rd, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA 94956
  • Heart's Desire Beach
    Point Reyes Station, CA
  • Marconi State Historic Park
    18500 Ca-1, Point Reyes Station, CA 94940
    (415) 663-9020
  • Toby's Feed Barn
    11250 Ca-1, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
    (415) 663-1223
    www.tobysfeedbarn.com 
While the encapsulating coastline and access to the boundlessness of the Pacific Ocean are reasons enough to bring you to the many ‘wild escapades’ around San Francisco, they provide you with enough mental room for reflections, wide open space for explorations, and activities that will transport you into a whole new world. Watching the seals, trekking the trails, meditating and wine tasting events are all wonderful activities to help you refocus and rebalance from the business of city life.

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