5 Fantastic and Lesser-Known San Francisco Bay Area Destinations

Updated on June 4, 2018
Dana J Sartell profile image

Dana is a blogger, freelance author, and content creator extraordinaire blasting for over two decades. She lives in a suburb of Sacramento.

Having been raised in the Bay Area, visiting traditional tourist locations was the norm. We went everyplace from Alcatraz to Pier 39, and crossing the grand Golden Gate Bridge, shopping in Chinatown, and dining at Fishermen's Wharf happened regularly.

Don't get me wrong, those are all amazing sites worth experiencing, but vacationers should also enjoy other spots that are equally stunning, yet off the beaten path and much less crowded. Consider some of these destinations instead of the typical tourist traps when visiting the City by the Bay.

1. San Gregorio State Park and Beach

When beach lovers visit this popular coastal city, many surf seekers head to any of a number of different beaches in the Half Moon Bay park system just south of San Francisco. While tourists often hit this quaint little tourist town, instead they should continue down scenic, coastal Highway 1 another ten miles to San Gregorio State Park and Beach.

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This unique beach is almost always strewn with a vast array of driftwood and seashells. Although park rules vehemently frown upon collecting these as souvenirs, they're still a sight to behold. Easily accessible from the parking area, the seashore is protected by grassy bluffs and as an estuary, it's home to many forms of oceanic flora and fauna.

2. Pulgas Water Temple

If you find yourself in the vicinity of Half Moon Bay, take a trek up the winding and equally scenic Highway 92 heading toward San Mateo. Near the end of this half-hour journey, veer left onto Canada Road heading south. Take the time to pack a picnic lunch beforehand and visit the beautifully crafted Pulgas Water Temple.

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Hailed as an engineering marvel built on the West Coast, the designers constructed a Greco Roman monument over the exact spot where waters routed from the Sierra Nevada Mountains enter into the Crystal Springs Reservoir. This epic backdrop is so gorgeous it's often used as a picturesque wedding location. The grassy fields throughout the park are meticulously kept and a great place to cop a romantic spot or let the kids run off some steam.

3. Central Park

Not the famed location inside New York City limits, a much smaller yet still amazing destination can also be found in San Mateo about a half hour south of SF on Highway 101. Just off the El Camino Real, an interior thoroughfare that runs throughout much of the greater Bay Area, Central Park has all the traditional amenities and so much more to offer visitors.

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Tucked inside the gates, gorgeous oriental gardens were designed by noted landscape architect Nagao Sakuria of the Imperial Palace of Japan. A granite pagoda, beautiful bamboo grove, rose garden, tea house and Koi pond are beyond compare. Although this Asian extravaganza is gorgeous year round, visitors in the spring and autumn will witness the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

To watch the traditional feeding of the fish in the Koi pond, viewing this event is only available in the summer and spring months while kiddies can ride a miniature train year-round (weather permitting). Speaking of children, their playground and picnic areas are fantastic for playful youngsters and BBQ fans.

4. Great America

Formerly known as Marriott's Great America or as a Paramount property, this amusement park might not stand up to certain Disney expectations. But for those tiring of Micky Mouse and his animated pals, this spot is a welcome change to "the happiest place on earth." Much cheaper and less crowded, the attractions and rides are worth a playful pit stop at this park.

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Technically this is a touristy location, but in order to beat the crowds consider catching all the rides, attractions and fanfare during weekdays when the park is much less crowded. Check their website for special events like fireworks, musical venues, festivals and other presentations outside the park's normal daily occurrences.

5. The Exploratorium

Many famous museums are located in San Francisco and are well-worth visiting. The Exploratorium is different from these traditional attractions as it takes this bland adventure to a whole different level. Curious young minds and adults alike will revel in scientific, educational experiences that are both fun and fascinating for people of all ages with a hands-on approach.

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Active participation is at the very core of this conceptual and creative space luring attendees into exploring a plethora of topics. Everything from Astronomy to Wave Technology is meant for exploration and part of this fascinating experience when roaming through the many exhibits that are constantly updated and expanded.

Now that we're closing down this chapter on these epic Northern California attractions, feel free to check out all the famous sites before leaving your heart in San Francisco. But don't forget these other, less traditional and equally as intriguing destinations before departing.

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