Like many cities, San Francisco has its secrets, some of which have long been enjoyed by locals and tourists alike, and others that require a little more digging. From a park with incredible views to obscure swimming holes, here are five of the San Francisco Bay area’s lesser known attractions to satisfy the urban explorer within you.
For Views: Mount Tamalpais State Park
View of the Marin Hills and the San Francisco Bay as seen from Mount Tamalpais State Park. Photo via Leor Pantilat’s Adventures.
Mount Tam (as many San Franciscans call it) may not be in the city’s center, but this is exactly why the mountain’s stellar views and general whereabouts are somewhat more obscure to the average park goer. Just north of the Golden Gate in nearby Marin County, Mount Tamalpais State Park offers visitors an abundance of redwood groves and oak woodlands along with over 50 miles of hiking and bicycle trails.
The park even has its own Gravity Car Barn museum and The Mountain Theater which presents the Mountain Play each spring. Still, the highlight of the park is its 2,571-foot peak, granting visitors breathtaking views of the Bay area from the Farallon Islands to the East Bay and more. The best views can be found via the Fire Access Road.
For Beaches: Mile Rock Beach
View of the Golden Gate as seen from Mile Rock Beach. Photo via Gracepoint Adventures.
Nestled midpoint between Baker and Ocean beaches in the Outer Richmond neighborhood, Mile Rock Beach proves a novel alternative due to its position within Lands End. Journeying to the destination is one of the many joys of Mile Rock Beach, as one can enjoy the beautiful Coastal Trail winding throughout Lands End and its other attractions such as the nearby Sutro Baths and the charming Cliff House. Once you’ve progressed through the trail, you’ll find yourself facing the rocky labyrinth and surrounded by views of the Pacific Ocean and the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge in the backdrop.
For Wine Country: Russian River Valley
Vineyards in Russian River Valley. Photo via Four Sisters.
Though it may never upstage Napa Valley‘s fame, Russian River can prove a surprisingly pleasant option when considering wine countries near the Bay area. Resting in California’s Sonoma County, Russian River may be a bit farther away than Napa Valley, but its rewards are worthy.
Russian River is known for their delectable Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but the valley itself is a haven with over 10,000 acres of planted vineyards and mountain views galore. You’ll also find yourself in no shortage of recreational activity when looking at the tubing, fishing and day trip possibilities in the area. Even more enjoyable are the numerous lodging, dining and shopping options nearby.
For Hiking: Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve
Eucalyptus trees amidst the fog in Mount Sutro Forest. Photo via Save Mount Sutro Forest.
South of Golden Gate Park is where you can find one of San Francisco’s greatest hiking destinations, Mount Sutro Forest. Located in the Forest Knolls area, the 900-foot slopes of Mount Sutro immerse visitors in thousands of eucalyptus trees, some of which reach 100-200 feet in height. Lying on San Francisco’s fog belt, Mount Sutro is prone to daily blanketing of the fog creeping from the Golden Gate, which makes the park more ethereal in its appearance.
The forest is a perfect example of a natural oasis within a municipality, and feels like an otherworldly habitat outside of society. This is evident in the tranquil silence with the occasional bird chirp heard. The bounty of nature and the beautiful hiking trails make Mount Sutro a convenient and rewarding escape within the city center.
For Swimming: The Inkwells
Locals enjoying The Inkwells swimming holes. Photo via The Friday Cyclotouriste.
About 29 miles north of San Francisco, one can find the Inkwells. The small, deep pools lie beside Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Lagunitas, Marin. The Inkwells can be a trek from San Francisco, particularly for those who rely on public transportation, but the beautiful swimming holes make for a worthwhile trip.
Unlike the beaches in San Francisco, the Inkwells won’t leave you with hypothermia a mere half hour after submersing yourself in the water. These compact pool holes will appease those looking to splash away, and at the same time, bask in the sun without having to worry about incoming fog like that which sweeps through Baker Beach!
Get in touch with the author: @Brennan_NYC