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31 reasons San Francisco kicks LA’s ass
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The best things to do in the Bay Area

Explore the wonders beyond stunning San Francisco with our pick of the best things to do in the Bay Area

Written by
Garrick Ramirez
&
Clara Hogan
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While Southern California has traditionally received credit for influencing popular culture, today, the Bay Area is shaping the future. Silicon Valley changed the way we live, Pixar made movies fun again, and chances are that last bottle of wine you polished off came from Napa Valley wineries. The region is world-renowned for its natural beauty and outdoor recreation, from hiking ancient redwood groves (check out more great Bay Area hikes) to biking the Golden Gate Bridge.

Whether you're looking for high-end Michelin dining or cheap eats, ways to get out in nature, or interested in seeing San Francisco's main attractions, we've rounded up the best restaurants, destinations, and activities that will show you a hella good time in the Bay Area. 

We've compiled the best things to do in the Bay Area — from the East Bay to the South Bay to Wine Country — just for you. 

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in San Francisco 

Best things to do in the Bay Area

  • Things to do
  • Golden Gate Park

What is it? A lush, 1,017-acre greenbelt that teems with nature, recreation, and cutting-edge museums.

Why go? Golden Gate Park is San Francisco’s satisfying answer to NYC’s Central Park, but even bigger. Stretching more than 50 city blocks, the park encompasses picnic grounds, lakes, and cultural hubs such as the California Academy of Sciencesde Young art museum, and the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. Every August, the park serves as a venue for the mega music-and-food fest Outside Lands. Note that the most common accessory isn’t a picnic basket, but a fleece jacket, as this section of the city is often chilly.

What is it? Just one of many shops that can get you geared up to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, into the quaint coastal town of Sausalito, and return via a ferry ride across the San Francisco Bay.

Why go? The popular, paved bike route serves as a greatest hits of Bay Area landmarks. Along the way, you’ll pass famed destinations such as The Palace of Fine ArtsCrissy Field, and of course, the region’s celebrity bridge. Stop for a seaside lunch in Sausalito before enjoying a scenic ferry ride to San Francisco’s Ferry Building, passing Alcatraz Island as you do.

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  • Things to do
  • Camps

What is it? A 25,000-acre, nature-filled state park that offers exceptional trails, breathtaking vistas, and a few hidden surprises.

Why go? The 2,571-foot behemoth is the Bay Area’s favorite outdoor playground. To sample the diverse landscape, follow the Matt Davis trail down to Stinson Beach, and return via the forested Steep Ravine Trail. You can also marvel at a thundering waterfall along the namesake Cascade Falls trail and survey the entire Bay Area from the East Peak Visitors Center. On the second Sunday of each month, from May through October, in-the-know hikers are rewarded with a pancake breakfast and sweeping views of the region at the remote West Point Inn, which is only accessible via trails.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Yerba Buena

What is it? An ever-evolving museum that’s still the best place to enjoy modern and contemporary art in the Bay Area.

Why go? Founded in 1935, SFMOMA nearly doubled its footprint in 2016 with a striking new addition designed by starchitect firm Snøhetta. Highlights among the seven floors include an Insta-worthy living wall, a new media collection, and an observation deck overlooking downtown SF. No need to flee the building come mealtime; the third floor provides a welcome latte break via Sightglass Coffee.

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5. Go on a Fruitvale taco crawl

What is it? An epic, salsa-soaked taco crawl in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood.

Why go? Some of the Bay Area’s best street food is found along this taco-lined stretch of East Oakland. Start with carne asada and carnitas tacos at Mi Grullense, before heading to Aguachiles El Tamarindo for avocado-topped ceviche tostadas. Next, try the lengua tacos at Tacos Sinaloa and the flavorful barbacoa tacos at the Pipirin food stand. Just save room for a crispy, sugar, and cinnamon-dusted treat from Churros Mexicanos.

What is it? A postcard-perfect waterfront spot for oysters near the Point Reyes National Seashore.

Why go? You’ll feel transported to New England at this charming seafood shack dishing up local crustaceans and mollusks on the banks of Tomales Bay. A line forms early for a simple menu of local oysters—don’t miss the BBQ oysters with chorizo butter—with a side of buttery garlic bread. Grab a bottle of rosé from the cold case and head to the communal tables lining the oyster shell-dotted shoreline.

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What is it? A drivable series of small farms and producers where you can sample the bounty—and stunning beauty—of Sonoma County.

Why go? You’ll swap staid winery tasting rooms for an inspiring countryside of picturesque properties dishing up epicurean delights. Highlights include goat cheese at Redwood Hill Farm, pasture-raised meats and eggs at Tara Firma Farms, and organic craft cider in the garden at Horse & Plow. Visit during spring when Sonoma’s verdant hills rival Ireland or during fall when apple picking and pumpkin patches abound.

What is it? Expert outfitters will set you up for a serene paddle along the bucolic Russian River.

Why go? While the area surrounding the Russian River has blossomed into a renowned wine region, its namesake river shouldn’t be overlooked. Pack a cooler and paddle the gentle current through lush surroundings, pausing to dip into swimming holes and picnic along its banks. The staff at River’s Edge shuttles you to the put-in point, where you can lazily drift back to your starting point.

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What is it? Dedicated in 1908 to "the father of the national parks," John Muir, this redwood forest is located just north of San Francisco in Marin. 

Why go? Muir Woods' old-growth coastal redwoods make an easy day trip from the city and will make your feel tiny as you walk among the giants. The park attracts more than one million visitors a year and recently switched to a reservation system to limit overcrowding, so make sure to book your time slot in advance.

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What is it? An achingly quaint farm with adorable goats and delicious cheeses.

Why go? The undeveloped coastal land south of Half Moon Bay features some of the most breathtaking scenery in the state. Harley Farms immerses visitors in this pastoral paradise and offers samples of their just-made chèvre and an assortment of other dairy products. Bring a picnic basket, and linger on the farm’s scenic grounds.

12. Step back in time in Port Costa

What is it? An atmospheric, time-warp village with modern and retro delights along the shores of the Carquinez Strait

Why go? Brunch at the Bull Valley Roadhouse, shop vintage-inspired paper artwork at the Theatre of Dreams, and drink with a (stuffed) polar bear at the cavernous, bric-a-brac-adorned Warehouse Cafe. Make it a weekend with the creepy-cool Burlington Hotel, whose rooms are supposedly named after the former bordello’s mistresses.

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What is it? The Bay Area’s visually striking destination brims with lantern-strung streets, colorful buildings, and delicious snacks.

Why go? This vibrant neighborhood is a joy to wander. Stray from touristy Grant Street to seek out side streets and narrow alleyways where you can poke your head into a joss paper shop to marvel at paper replicas of material goods burned at funerals. For snacks, choose from an assortment of takeaway dim sum at Good Mong Kok Bakery. While daytime bustles with vivid colors, nighttime is aglow with vintage neon signs and lively nightlife. Experience it via a pub crawl that includes Cold DrinksMoongate Lounge, Li Po, and Buddha Lounge.

Discover more things to do in Chinatown 

 

14. Tour the Googleplex

What is it? A chance for you to learn a little about the firm that already knows everything about you.

Why go? Unlike other big-name Silicon Valley firms, the Google campus is open to the public. Offices are restricted to employees and guests, but you’ll find plenty of photo-worthy spots throughout its sprawling complex. Seek out the company’s unofficial mascot “Stan,” a life-size T-Rex sculpture adorned with pink flamingos, and wander a sculpture garden filled with colorful, oversized Android figures and sweet treats. If you’re feeling lucky, ask an employee to let you into the company’s museum.

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What is it? The best way to unplug in the Bay Area.

Why go? This modern daytime spa offers exceptional body treatments in a stunning indoor-outdoor facility in an exceedingly peaceful setting within the Marin Headlands. Spend a day soaking in the outdoor mediation pool, sipping tea around the fireplace, and lounging amidst natural surroundings. After your treatment, double down on the relaxation with a cocktail at the resort’s bar overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

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What is it? Likely the only cemetery scenic enough to attract wedding ceremonies.

Why go? This historic, park-like property offers sweeping views of the region and serves as the final resting spot for a litany of Bay Area luminaries. A brochure will lead you to the graves of famed architect Bernard Maybeck, civil war veterans, and even “Trader” Vic Bergeron, the inventor of the Mai Tai. Don’t miss Millionaire’s Row with apartment-sized mausoleums for former moguls like Southern Pacific Railroad founder Charles Crocker. For bonus points, wander the exquisite, indoor-outdoor Chapel of the Chimes designed by Julia Morgan, the famed architect of Hearst Castle who is also interned at Mountain View.

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