Last updated on April 4, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in San Francisco

14 Best places to visit in San Francisco Bay Area [Unique, Outdoor, Couples, Families]

It’s always hard to narrow down a list of attractions in a destination, even more so in this region.

In this guide, I have listed the 14 best places to visit in San Francisco Bay Area that are unique, indoor or outdoor, more for couples or for families and kids.

These are destinations that can be visited on a day or half-day trip.

But let’s dig into them.

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Best places to visit in San Francisco Bay Area [Unique, Outdoor, Couples, Families]
Best places to visit in San Francisco Bay Area [Unique, Outdoor, Couples, Families]

Best places to visit in San Francisco Bay Area – In a nutshell

  • Unique places: In this section, I have listed a few unique places in the San Francisco Bay Area that are either so famous that can’t be missed (Golden Gate and Alcatraz) or they are little gems rarely visited. Keep reading below for these 6 destinations.
  • Outdoor: Let me say first that the bay area has such a great choice of outdoor places to explore on a day or half-day trip. I have here only mentioned two of them that should not be missed if staying in San Francisco. Muir Woods is famous for its centuries-old redwood forest (reachable by car). Angel Island is another lovely place to explore if you are into trekking and easily reachable by ferry boat from San Francisco. Read below about both places with more info about how to reach them.
  • For couples & adults: I have listed below 3 places that work great for couples and adults. Moreover, they can be done all together as a day trip, either by rented car or with an organised trip. Sausalito is a lovely boutique town, meanwhile Sonoma and Napa valleys are world famous for the landscape and wineries. In both Sonoma and Napa, you will be able to taste some amazing wine, ranked as best in the world on multiple occasions. Read below for all three places
  • For families and kids: All the attraction above can obviously be done with kids (maybe except the wine tasting in Sonoma and Napa Valley where the little ones would get a bit bored). The two following places are, however, fully dedicated to a family time. The Discovery Museum is a children museum, meanwhile the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is a theme park where adults can have lots of fun as well, a place popular for any age. Read below more about both of them.

Unique places to visit in the bay area

Golden Gate View Point

The Golden Gate is one of the most iconic bridges in the world with plenty of history.

The Golden Gate was built over 4 intense years and opened to the public in 1937.

It was the largest and longest suspension bridge at the time, and is still one of the modern wonders of the world.

To get to the Golden Gate View Point at Mill Valley, you will take a short hike that gets you to this scenic point.

Here, you can take memorable photos for a vacation, a wedding or any special occasion. Not only that, you can view Alcatraz and the scenic bay.

Another great way to enjoy the viewpoint is by riding there with a bike over the entire length of the bridge, unique

The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge from the viewpoint

Alcatraz Island

The term Alcatraz has been mentioned in countless movies as a place where only the most hardcore criminals are held.

Fun fact, Al Capone was one of those housed there back in the day.

Alcatraz Island is about 1.5 miles off the San Francisco Wharf and sits on about 22 acres of land.

It was the location of the first lighthouse in that part of the US and a federal prison.

It is now a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and you can take a boat tour there from San Francisco (one of the must do trips).

Check out the cells and prison block, which have remained intact long after prisoners were removed from there in 1963.

You can decide to take a bay tour that only circumnavigates the island or visit the prison itself, getting to see the inside as well.

Bay tour    Inside Alcatraz Tour

Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island

Temescal & Rockridge in Oakland

It would be a pity not to visit Oakland if you spend some time in San Francisco.

However, this is a good size city, almost half of San Francisco in population.

The trendy Temescal and the foody Rockridge are two great neighborhoods to have a feeling of the city.

They are also very well connected by train to San Francisco Downtown (MacArthur Station is just 20 minutes away on the BART).

You haven’t been to Temescal if you have not visited Telegraph Avenue.

This is between 48th and 52nd Street and is lined with pizzerias and restaurants.

If you want to keep exploring, there is an alleyway on 49th Street with boutiques and shops.

While in Temescal, you must visit Temescal Alley which is a historic street with more stores to check out. Every Sunday, the Temescal Farmers’ Market is hosted here.

Over at the neighboring Rockridge, you will find trendy restaurants, bakeries, shops and classic bookstores.

Lovers of historic neighborhoods will appreciate the architecture and gardens.

These are the stomping grounds of Cal Berkeley graduates that start their adult life here.

Downtown Oakland seen from across Lake Merritt
Downtown Oakland seen from across Lake Merritt

Pulgas Water Temple

Water is life, and the Pulgas Water Temple is the monument that perfectly coins this phrase.

This was a structure built to commemorate the completion of the Hetch-Hetchy Dam project.

This was a 24 year project in the making and the Pulgas Water Temple was the perfect cherry on top.

At the bottom of the monument is a pool that adds to the peace and tranquility.

You can take a walk around, chill or even have a picnic.

Pulgas Water Temple
Pulgas Water Temple and pool

Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts

The Cantor Centre for Visual Arts was opened in 1891.

It has been serving the Stanford campus, local and international visitors since then.

The Museum was renamed to honor its largest donors, Iris and B. Gerald Cantor.

It has 24 galleries and holds up to 15 exhibitions annually.

It is most known for Rodin bronze sculptures that are put up indoors and out in the garden.

Check out the museum website for tours, lectures and family activities which you do not want to miss.

Silicon Valley

Definitely the most famous valley in the world for technology

This is where you will get to see the headquarters of Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Paypal, Netflix and I could keep going (check out the full list on Wikipedia)

If you are a bit of a techie, or just curious, you should not miss a visit to this area of the bay.

It has to be said that only Apple offer access to an own technology park and shopping center. 

For all the other companies, you will be able only to take photos from outside the buildings.

In the same area, you also find the Stanford University where you will have more freedom to walk around.

You can either decide to take an organised tour to see the area, or even better, rent a car and stop at the Pulgas Water Temple and the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center on the way, so you can kill 3 birds with a stone.

Tour to Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley - Apple Park
Silicon Valley – Apple Park

Places to visit in bay area for couples & adults

Sausalito

After your tour of the Golden Gate, take some time to check out a lovely Mediterranean-style town just after Golden Gate, Sausalito.

If you appreciate war stories, you will be pleased to know that this is home to the Richardson Bay houseboat enclaves, which were built after World War II.

Aside from views of the Bay, you can check the hydraulic 3D model of the Bay Area hosted at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Bay Model Visitor Center.

View from the cliff of the boutique Sausalito
View from the cliff of the boutique Sausalito

Sonoma Valley

Wine connoisseurs will appreciate Sonoma Valley.

This is a spot about 45 minutes from San Francisco and is rich with history, tourism and wine.

Here you will definitely enjoy a variety of shops and restaurants, but most of us go there for the winery tours.

There are a few out of the 100+ wineries that you can try out to make your trip to Sonoma Valley memorable.

For example, La Prenda Winery is located at Sonoma Plaza and offers a 5-wine tasting experience.

There is also Bartholomew Estate, a fairly new winery hosted at Bartholomew Park.

Here, you will not only enjoy some wine tasting but also hiking or horse riding.

If you want to enjoy open spaces with your Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, then Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards is your go to spot.

You can enjoy a glass of wine while walking around the vineyard.

And finally, to truly appreciate small town living, you must visit Glen Ellena centre with little under 800 residents.

What was once the home of famed writer, Jack London, is also home to the Sonoma Botanical Gardens and the Jack London State Historic Park.

I suggest visiting Sonoma on a day trip with the Napa Valley too. 

Sonoma and Napa Valley Tour

 
Domaine Carneros Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma Valley
Domaine Carneros Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma Valley

Napa Valley

Napa Valley is yet another haven for winos worldwide.

It boasts over 400 wineries and is known for its award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon.

There are also many five-star restaurants to tickle your culinary fancy.

Napa is the largest and most famous of the centres found in the Valley.

You can visit up-and-coming towns like Yountville, which is known for high-end wines and restaurants. 

While in Napa, one of the wineries you can visit is the Trefethen Family Vineyards, where you can choose one of the tasting packages to enjoy inside the villa or in the courtyard.

If you are visiting Yountville, try out Cliff Lede Vineyards or Jessup Cellars.

Each of them offers a variety of wine tasting packages to suit your taste and budget.

Although you can rent a car to visit the area, I would suggest to join a tour considering the many stops for wine tasting.

This tour to both Sonoma and Napa is a great day-trip to visit both regions

Sonoma and Napa Valley Tour

Hot Air Balloon ride over Napa Valley
Hot Air Balloon ride over Napa Valley

Outdoor places to visit in bay area 

Muir Woods – Redwood Forest

Many assume that the word woods implies a large piece of land with tree cover.

Muir Woods is actually a small area but embodies the spirit of the largest woods in the world.

Muir Woods is home to the coast redwoods, hence the name Redwood Forest.

As you take a hike or trek at Muir, you will also appreciate the cool waters of Redwood Creek.

Kids can become junior rangers thanks to the activities held there.

If you have a special event like a wedding or family vacation, book a permit to visit Muir and experience true tranquility.

You can rent a car and make it yourself to the park or you can join an organised day trip 

You can also think of visiting the Muir Woods together with the wine country. It is going to be a long day, however, so interesting!

Muir Woods Trip    Muir + Wine Country

Walking in the Muir Woods National Monument
Walking in the Muir Woods National Monument

Angel Island State Park

Welcome to the largest natural island in the Bay Area, the Angel Island State Park.

Known for its trekking sites, you get the once in a lifetime chance to experience the historic hunting and gathering grounds for local natives.

Historically, it was also a haven and supply stop for explorers like Juan Manuel de Ayala who first mapped out the Bay Area.

Angel Island transitioned into a state park in 1954 and since then, visitors like you have come to appreciate the beauty of this island.

You can read more on the Angel Island website on how to get there.

Telescope looking towards San Francisco from Angel Island
Telescope looking towards San Francisco from Angel Island

Favourite attractions in the bay area for families and kids

Bay Area Discovery Museum

The Bay Area Discovery Museum, or BADM, is at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge.

It is a kids’ museum hosted on a 7.5 acre National Park area in the town of Sausalito.

There are plenty of indoor and outdoor activities that the whole family can enjoy.

During the winter season, BADM becomes a winter wonderland thanks to the iceless skating rink.

If you live in the Bay area, check out the pre-school at BADM, The Discovery School.

Other attractions include the Tot Spot, Gumnut Grove and Try It Studio.

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom Theme Park

The theme park experience is best had at the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom Theme Park.

Not only are there hundreds of rides for the whole family, but also animals to marvel at while visiting this 135-acre Vallejo paradise.

With kids areas like Looney Tunes to more mature rides like The Joker or Whitewater Safari, your day of fun in the sun is guaranteed.

On the animal side, there is the Dolphin Discovery swim program, Odin’s Temple of the Tiger and so much more.

Walking in the Muir Redwood Forest
Walking in the Muir Redwood Forest
Giant redwood forest in Muir Woods National Monument
Giant redwood forest in Muir Woods National Monument
View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Battery Spencer viewpoint
View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Battery Spencer viewpoint
Outdoor seating and umbrellas at the Clos du Val winery and vineyard in Napa Valley
Outdoor seating and umbrellas at the Clos du Val winery and vineyard in Napa Valley
Inside Alcatraz
Inside Alcatraz
Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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