San Francisco Activities
Leaning into being a tourist (or playing tourist in your own city for a day) can be extremely entertaining. Such is the case with GoCar's cool take on the common city tour: a talking, GPS-guided go-cart vehicle that takes you around the big—as well as some lesser known—sights of SF. Following the suggested routes laid out for you is simple, as is making an unplanned pit stop for photos, or veering off to do more of your own thing. Each car fits two people (the driver must be at least twenty-one years old, but kids can ride shotgun); small groups and families can reserve a mini fleet of their own. Most departures are from Union Square or Fisherman's Wharf; for a little adventure, you can end by climbing Russian Hill and then screaming down Lombard Street (aka the oft-Instagrammed Crooked Street).
Pacifica State Beach
Linda Mar Beach, Pacifica
The great thing about Linda Mar is that it's the kind of place that's good for beginners and advanced surfers alike—the waves on the South end of the beach are mellow and beginner-friendly, and they increase in size as you move north. The town itself is a short drive south of the city (on the way to Silicon Valley), and the beach is famously home to a Taco Bell with a hilariously good location right on the sand. We like Norcal Surf Shop for rentals and lessons, but no judgment if you just want to relax on the beach with a Crunchwrap Supreme.
Bolinas Lagoon, Bolinas
About a 40-minute drive up Route 1, Bolinas is one of the best longboarding beaches in the area, with a long, relaxed wave that you can ride for ages. The town has a '60s-style hippie vibe—the beach has an old sign announcing naked surfers, though the waters here are way too cold to surf without a wetsuit, no matter what time of year it is. Speaking of, 2 Mile surf shop in town has great rentals and lessons for first-timers.
About an hour and a half north of San Francisco proper, Point Reyes is a popular day trip for great hiking and sea kayaking (there's also good camping here, though campsites can only be reached by foot so it's best to steer clear unless you have some backpacking experience). The park is famous for its historic lighthouse, which also happens to be an excellent place to whale watch and see elephant seals in the summer months. Point Reyes is home to some of the area's best hiking—we like to send first-timers to the Bear Valley Visitor Center, where you can find an education center and plenty of rangers to fill you in on interesting facts and help you get your bearings when it comes to the many hiking trails that leave from that point. History geeks might want to take a detour near the town of Inverness on the way up, where you can explore the beached remains of the SS Point Reyes, which shipwrecked in Tamale Bay more than 100 years ago. Remember to bring some cash to cover entrance fees.
Tennessee Valley Rd., Sausalito
The Tennessee Valley is in the same direction as Muir Beach (over the Golden Gate bridge and along Highway 101), and its' encyclopedic list of hiking trails is another excellent way to explore the Golden Gate Recreation area. Advanced hikers can explore the hills around the valley while beginners and families can take the almost two-mile trek to a little cove—locals know it's best to time a hike with the low tide when you can actually see the shipwrecked engine of the SS Tennessee, which sunk near the beach in 1853. In the spring, the valley is home to gorgeous wildflowers, including buttercups and poppies, and in the summer and through early fall you can find fruit on the blackberry bushes. Remember: No dogs allowed.
Highway 1, Marin
Just across Highway 101 and over the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Beach is an easy (but still totally idyllic) day trip from the city. The beach itself is a classic Northern California cove, with tall rocks and green hills on either side and boulders jutting up from the shallows—the surrounding area is home to plenty of wildlife, too. In the colder months, take the long pedestrian trail from the parking lot to the coastal trail and hike along the cliffs, which offer gorgeous views of the beachfront; be sure to pack layers, as winds can get cold. In the warmer months, it's perfect for sunbathing, and there's even a clothing-optional sunbathing and skinny dipping area past the line of rocks on the northernmost end of the beach. Afterwards, grab lunch at the Pelican Inn, a traditional English-style pub in the tiny nearby town.
San Francisco Botanical Garden
1199 9th Ave., Golden Gate Park
When you visit the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, it's also worth a stop at San Francisco's Botanical Gardens. They have a beautiful area featuring native California plants, but you can also find a significant Magnolia collection, an Andean cloud forest, and (to satisfy your inner landscape designer) a crazy-good succulent garden.
3321 16th St., Mission
Cultural history of San Francisco often focuses on the '60s, but Mission Dolores, the city's oldest standing building, is a gentle but firm reminder of San Francisco's long and fascinating history. Built in 1776, the mission has a simple exterior but a more opulent space for quiet prayer inside; a visit will feel like stepping into tiny old European churches, but with a distinctly California sensibility. While this is definitely a tourist destination, it's interesting to note that Mission Dolores is still an active parish of the Catholic church, with an elementary school and plenty of opportunities for worship if you're so inclined.
Coastal Trail Presidio Park
Baker Beach, Presidio
The California Coastal trail is actually one giant mega-trail connecting Mexico to Oregon. For this segment in the Presidio (the park and former army base that make up a protected area around the Southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge), you'll walk a 2-3 mile stretch from Baker Beach to the Golden Gate Bridge along the rocky coastline. With views of the bay throughout, it's a gorgeous way to approach the bridge; plus, it's much less touristy than the other walking approach, which starts in Fisherman's Wharf. This route is a great little hike for wearing out the kids, and the Presidio offers a lot of other side trails, too, if you're hoping to string together a longer morning run.
Precita Eyes Mural Tours
2981 24th St., The Mission
The Precita Eyes Muralists tours in San Francisco are a really fantastic way to see the city via local outdoor art. There are numerous worthy murals to be seen all around S.F. and the tour guides here know them all in and out.
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