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Places to Go When Visiting the North Bay Area

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Jennifer loves learning new things and reads like her survival depends on it. She encourages others to read and write often.

Mill Valley

Mill Valley

You know those certain places in the world where you can't seem to escape or that leave a special mark in your memory? Certain qualities in every place attract a certain person. For me, one of these places is the Bay Area in Northern California. I grew up in the North Bay, 20 minutes north of San Francisco and although college (as well as traveling) brought me elsewhere, I continue to return to this versatile landscape that truly has something to offer for everyone. Although I am usually attracted to the beach, the Bay Area offers that accommodation as well. For those who are not personally aware of the Bay Area, here are a list of places that may be less well-known, capture the attitude of the area, and would be better not to forego.

Scenic Landscapes Both in and Beyond the City

I have come to discover that a majority of people who are not from California can only list the big cities. When I mention I am from California, it either means I'm from Los Angeles or San Francisco. Of course, both cities are unique and great places to visit. Yet, it is important to know if you plan to visit Northern California: San Francisco is not the only place on the map. Yes, San Francisco is a one-of-a-kind city that has earned its numerous nicknames for a reason (however, don't call it "San Fran") so don't hold yourself back, but don't overlook what resides beyond.

Don't Call it "San Fran"!

Many tourists make this mistake, and it is perfectly okay. However, you may want to reserve the nicknames "San Fran" or "Frisco" for personal use (or for never) because most of the time you will get shunned. "San Francisco" or what we call it: "The City" is the preferred usage.

Wine and Cheese in Wine Country, aka Napa

With its Mediterranean climate and hilly topography, Napa is home to a myriad of vineyards. Day in and day out, vineyards throughout Napa host wine tastings and winery tours to the public throughout the seasons. The drive itself is spell-bounding and some locals admit Fall is the best time to visit when the leaves turn different colors. Only a 45-minute drive from San Francisco, Napa Valley is an excellent place to unwind and relax with some wine and cheese pairings while observing palatial views.

Here is a list of the 10 best wineries to visit.

Walk to the Lighthouse in Point Reyes

If lighthouses, farms, beaches, and hiking are your thing, you can fit it all in one adventure to Point Reyes. One enjoyable aspect of Point Reyes is that many of the farms and factories, as well as park guides offer insightful tours. There are many different tours to choose from and it can all fit into a few hours of your time. Depending on what you like, Point Reyes offers guided tours for cheese factories, nature and wildlife, wineries and more. If you like extreme, don't miss out on visiting the historical lighthouse. In order to reach the lighthouse, you are required to walk along a narrow path along the edge of a cliff and down a very long and narrow staircase (and back up on the return trip). Plus, it is often very windy. Brace yourselves!

Take a Stroll and/or Dine Along the Sausalito Boardwalk

Although Sausalito is a tourist destination, it is also a convenient pit-stop between Napa and San Francisco (and visa versa). The boardwalk offers a pleasant view of the city during the Spring and Summer months when the sky is clear and fog-less. You can either walk along the boardwalk, sit along the pier with an ice cream cone from Lappert's, or choose to dine at one of the many restaurants on Bridgeway, the main thoroughfare. The Bay Model is worth a visit, and you can always find more to do at the Sausalito Visitor Center. On any given day, you will find artists painting on easels along the sidewalk. Occasionally, you will find some Bill Dan balancing rocks.

Sausalito is a great spot to hit if you are on your way to or from the city, and I recommend going early or late at night, when there is less traffic. Traffic usually starts getting heavy on the 101 around 3-5PM when people are commuting home from work.

View from a friends' balcony of one side Sausalito

View from a friends' balcony of one side Sausalito

Stinson Beach and Bolinas: Get Beachy

Don't forget towels and sunscreen! Though it is notoriously known for its numerous shark sightings, Stinson Beach is probably the best you're going to get in terms of NorCal beaches. The weather is always something to keep in mind. Muir beach is also close by if distance is an issue. However, Stinson Beach is worth the drive. Be aware that it's a winding road to get there, which may require you and fellow travelers to stop and rest for a bit -- an excellent reason to include the following destinations to your trip (hint: they are on the way to the beach).

Stinson Beach

Stinson Beach

En Route to Stinson Beach: Get your Ranch on

Slide Ranch is a very fun, historical, and lesser known community farm that aims to bring children closer to nature. I am providing this top secret intel thanks to the multiple field trips to Slide Ranch I participated in while growing up in Marin County. Not only is Slide Ranch a fun activity for kids to enjoy, but adults as well. With lots of animals to observe and fun gardens to walk through, Slide Ranch accomplishes its task to bring people closer to nature through its conservancy efforts and hands-on work by the peaceful staff who live on site. Definitely a calming break from the winding roads of Shoreline Highway.

Last, but Definitely not Least: Muir Woods

Redwood trees. And lots of them. If you're like me and love forests, Muir Woods is a place not to miss. These abundant, massive trees aren't going to come to you, so you have to see them in person. Due to its location by the Pacific Ocean, the trees are most often doused in fog, so their growth is ever-present. Muir Woods has an awesome history of dendrology and is home to some of the only standing Redwoods in the world. The grandeur of the forest, named after the nature conservationist, John Muir, may send shivers down your spine. Simply driving past reminds us of the raw beauty and powerful force of nature. Take a break from the driving and stretch your legs on a hike through these woods.

So, why ain't it Cheap?

It may seem obvious. The location, right? Yes, location is always a factor. Of course, looking for housing in big cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles is very difficult to find because of the affordability in these types of cities. A major factor driving up costs, in the Bay Area in particular, is the limited land available for development. Due to regulation efforts, two thirds of Mill Valley are reserved for conservation efforts (estuaries, coastal wetlands) to preserve the natural ecosystem. There is a huge demand for housing because people want to live in this wonderful place full of beauty and excitement, some of which I have already told you about. And that, my friends, is why it ain't cheap!

Don't let the price deter you from visiting. There is a lot to learn and see in the Bay Area. Although living in the Bay Area may put a dent in your wallet, it is worth the experience.

© 2018 Jennifer