When you’re in the Bay Area, it’s hard to ignore the bright red Golden Gate Bridge, and the view of this iconic landmark doesn’t get any better than from the trails of the Marin Headlands. This crown jewel of the Golden Gate National Parks is home to historic military sites, a 150-year-old lighthouse and an abundance of wildflowers. As you drive up the windy Conzelman Road, pull over at any point and you’ll not only find a breathtaking photo op, but you might also find an unmarked trailhead that’ll lead you down Hawk Hill for an even closer look at the famous bridge ... if you’re feeling adventuresome.
With its 200-foot-high sandy bluffs and reliable winds, Fort Funston is one of the premier hang-gliding spots in the country. Located on San Francisco’s southwest coast, it’s especially popular in March and October, when the weather is just right to take flight. Experience hang gliding for yourself by taking a tandem lesson at one of the many shops in the Fort Funston area, or simply head to the trails or viewing deck for remarkable views of this high-flying sport.
An iconic destination in the City by the Bay, the 45-acre waterfront complex of Pier 39 has welcomed millions of locals and tourists since it opened in 1978. It features more than 90 shops and attractions, 14 full-service restaurants, a 5-acre waterpark and a 300-berth marina, so spending an entire day here is easy. Not to miss are the sea lions at K-Dock, which began “hauling out” here in 1989, and the spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.
Move over, Mack, you’re on my flipper … Hey, buddy, you’re crowding my corner of the dock …” What do the hundreds of sea lions say to each other while lounging about the marina of Pier 39, the commercial area of Fisherman’s Wharf that has become San Francisco’s tourism and entertainment (and apparently sea lion) epicenter? With street performers, bungee trampolines, a carousel, 3-D theaters and other high-energy human diversion here, it is uncertain why, exactly, a multitude of sea lions would decide to call Pier 39 home. And where they go every winter is even more of a mystery, but they are disinterested in our musings -- they’re just sitting on the dock of the bay, wasting time.
They are prim and stately, just as you’d imagine upstanding Victorian ladies of their day. The San Francisco landmark homes known as the “Painted Ladies” have held up pretty well since the 1890s, still earning adoring gazes from admirers, passing the 700 block of Steiner Street. Even Hollywood has come calling, making them silent stars of the ’80s TV hit Full House. Join the paparazzi or just gaze from afar from your grassy perch in Alamo Square.
You’ll swear you’ve departed California for Kyoto upon stepping inside this 5-acre plot within Golden Gate Park, where stone paths, engulfed by native Japanese plants and cherry blossom trees, weave through serene koi ponds, crimson pagodas, a manicured Zen garden and a dramatically arched drum bridge. Once you’ve adequately explored the gorgeous grounds, consider taking in a tea ceremony, where kimono-clad women offer traditional drinks.
While the fresh air and hushed atmosphere of the Presidio Forest is remarkable, the real marvel is that 130 years ago, this area — now part of bustling San Francisco — was merely barren sand dunes. In 1883, soldiers transformed the land to provide their seaside fort with a windbreak. By 1907, thousands of Monterey cypress, Monterey pine and Tasmanian blue gum trees covered the area. Recently, British artist Andy Goldsworthy celebrated the ongoing regeneration of the forest with his art installation Wood Line.
Don’t just gaze at this engineering marvel from afar. To really experience the San Francisco Bridge’s unrivaled setting -- and unique place in the hearts of Bay Area residents -- you have to walk it. So lace up, bring a windbreaker and get ready for breathtaking views of San Francisco and the Marin Headlands beyond.
The Ocean Course at Half Moon Bay is not for those who are easily distracted. Set upon the startling terrain of Northern California bluffs and overlooking the dramatic Pacific Ocean, it is one of the most beautiful golf courses in the country. Tee off on the Arthur Hills-designed course, which includes tight fairways and knolls, and take in startling views of the sea from every hole. Afterward, head to the clubhouse for a light meal or back to the Ritz-Carlton for a truly deserved cocktail.
Explore the hills of San Francisco, one of the most popular destinations in the US. The "City by the Bay" is steeped in history and has an endless array of things to do.