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Travel to San Francisco: San Francisco Bay Area

San Francisco Bay Area: Marin County

Across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, the San Francisco Bay Area shelters Marin County - wealthy, laid back and right in tune with every trend that comes by. From hot tubs and cocaine to New Age spiritualism, mountain biking and designer pizzas, Marin was there first. It's a wonderfully varied peninsula with fiercely expensive Sausalito on the bay side and the wild Pacific coastline stretching north to popular Stinson Beach , hideaway Bolinas and fog-swept Point Reyes National Seashore , which is the best spot in the San Francisco Bay Area for whale watching.

Travel to San Francisco: San Francisco Bay Area Map

When you travel between bay and ocean, the central hills rise to the 2600ft (770m) peak of Mt Tamalpais , overlooking the redwood stand of Muir Woods . The view from Mt Tam is a breathtaking 360° panorama of ocean, bay, cities, bridges and hills. Over 200mi (320km) of hiking and biking trails wind around the mountain, and deer, fox, bobcat and even the occasional mountain lion dwell in the forests and dells.

Marin is just over the Golden Gate Bridge : Highway 101 cuts directly through the region; Highway 1 branches off at Mill Valley and heads to the coast. Plenty of buses run from San Francisco into the San Francisco Bay Area; there are also ferries from Fisherman's Wharf to Sausalito, Larkspur and Tiburon.

San Francisco Bay Area: Wine Country

Northern California's glorious Wine Country is a feasible day trip from San Francisco, but an overnight stay will give you a much better taste of the vineyards and circumvent any 'who's gonna drive' conversations.

The two valleys, Napa and Sonoma, lie in the San Francisco Bay Area between 60 and 90 minutes' drive north of San Francisco. Both offer the same rustic beauty of vineyards, wildflowers, and green and golden hills, but the characters of the valleys are quite different. Napa Valley , further inland, has 200 or more wineries, many of them with gorgeous gardens, knock-out views, interesting architecture and art collections. Of particular note for travel is Stag's Leap Winery , famous for its 1973 cabernet sauvignon that beat the French in a blind tasting in Paris. Calistoga , a spa town in northern Napa, is probably the most attractive option for overnight travel. Sonoma Valley is low key and less commercial, with only about 30 wineries. Happily, free tastings are still the norm in Sonoma Valley.

San Francisco Bay Area: Oakland

Travel across the Bay Bridge to Oakland, the largest city in the east San Francisco Bay Area. There's nothing dazzling about downtown Oakland, but amid the slightly decrepit buildings there are a few treasures, such as the mosaic-fronted 1931 Paramount Theater , home of Oakland 's ballet and symphony, and the abandoned 1928 Fox Oakland Theater , an Art Deco beauty. Oakland 's untouristy Chinatown is focused on Franklin and Webster Sts. Jack London Square is a converted industrial zone on the waterfront now stuffed with restaurants; in the neighboring Jack London Village, the Jack London Museum has exhibits about the native author. Downtown Oakland 's visual centerpiece is Lake Merritt , an artificial estuary that was the nation's first wildlife refuge. The nearby Oakland Museum 's terrific collection focuses on California art and history and the state's endangered ecosystems. Get there by train, on the Richmond or Pittsburg/Bay Point line, by AC Transit bus from San Francisco 's Transbay Terminal or drive over the Bay Bridge and take the I-880 to downtown Oakland.

San Francisco Bay Area: Berkeley

Erstwhile seat of radical student politics, Berkeley has mellowed since its 1960s heyday but is still considered a mecca of liberalism and the bizarre. Located just over the border north of Oakland and centered around the oldest of the University of California campuses, Berkeley sprawls from the bay all the way to the crest of the East Bay hills. Telegraph Ave is the center of Berkeley 's colorful student zone, where street vendors hawk their tie-dyed wares among mohawked urban urchins and streetcorner proselytizers. From Telegraph Ave, the beautiful campus is entered via Sproul Plaza , a center for people-watching and drum-circle jamming. Also of interest on campus is Sather Tower, the 300ft (100m) campanile modeled on St Mark's in Venice.

San Francisco hotels

The Argent Hotel San Francisco Argonaut Hotel Chancellor Hotel on Union Square Comfort Suites San Francisco Airport Commodore Hotel, a Joie de Vivre Boutique Hotel Hotel Cosmo, A Kimpton Boutique Hotel Courtyard by Marriott Fishermans Wharf Dakota Hotel Hotel Diva Embassy Hotel