Silicon Valley is most well known at the moment as the home of tech giants like Google of Facebook. It’s also the home of The Rusted Key HQ. In addition to the environment of innovation and technology, the Bay Area is also a paradise of nature and culture. There’s a lot to be explored if you’re looking an adventure outside of the traditional Bay experience. For any resident or visitor, “unplugging” only requires a short drive in almost any direction and a thirst for adventure.
1. Tomales Bay
This trip is an excellent excuse to drive up north highway 1. It takes a little more than an hour coming from San Francisco, but the drive alone is worth it. Tomales Bay is just west of Point Reyes park, and is beautiful mix of rolling grassy fields and ocean. The town of Tomales is small–only 200 residents–and charming, and the main street retains the facades of its Frontier Victorian origins. A necessary stop is the Tomales Bay Oyster Company. They sell fresh-farmed oysters, clams and mussels straight out of the waters of Tomales Bay. They also provide picnic benches and BBQs to shuck and grill the oysters.
Skyline Boulevard–Highway 35– is a snakey mountain road that runs along the Santa Cruz Mountains in between the ocean and 280. The road is surrounded by dense forest, broken by vista points that look out over both the cities to the East and the ocean to the West. Nestled in the scenic route, Alice’s Restaurant sits at the intersection of Skyline and Woodside Road. The restaurant is a historical popular stop for bikers, cyclists, and hikers, but the friendly and crowded atmosphere is inviting to anyone from any walk of life. Though it is always bustling, Alice’s never uses a waitlist, instead encouraging their customers to take any open seat they find. The food is delicious and the service is cheery.
3. Sausilito Houseboats
The quiet town of Sausalito is only 15 minutes away from the Golden Gate Bridge, but it feels far away from the bustle of San Francisco life. The town is famous for its houseboats, quirky abodes that bob in the bay to form a floating colorful village accessible by a series of connecting docks. The homes range from small, converted fishing boats to multi-story floating houses. In the daytime, you can explore the charming small town or the surrounding forests and mountains. At night, it makes a beautiful scene, with hundreds of lights reflecting in the dark seawater and the waves gently lapping against the land.
Filoli’s website boasts the 654-acre property is one of the “finest remaining country estates of the early 20th century.” I’m not in a position to debate that assertion, but I can say it is one of the most beautiful houses I’ve ever seen. The country house itself is 36,000 square feet and is surrounded by a huge garden. Horticulture enthusiasts can dig deep into the center’s ever expanding plant collection, but any layman can simply bask in the serenity of the landscape.
5. Panther Beach
The beaches of Santa Cruz are often crowded, but to escape the crowd you only need to venture a little farther north. This beach can be tricky to find even if you know where it is. These are the directions given to me by a fruit stand vendor from Santa Cruz: “Go about 8 miles north up Highway 1 and look for a long dirt parking lot. If you see Fambrini’s fruit stand, you’ve gone too far.”
To get there you need to do a short hike down to the beach, following a thin dirt path past an old railroad track and down and up some tricky rocky slopes (wear closed toes shoes).
Panther Beach is famous for this naturally formed stone archway:
Note: Although technically against the rules, many consider Panther a clothing optional beach. Do what you with that information.
6. Sign Hill Park
If you live in the bay, you’ve seen these letters on the side of the South San Francisco hills, proclaiming “SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, THE INDUSTRIAL CITY” .
But did you know that you can hike up there? You should bring shoes with traction and a water bottle for a short but steep hike. While the view of the South Bay is undeniably awesome, the best part of making the trek is pointing to those letters while heading into the city and casually saying, “Oh yeah, I’ve been up there.”
The nutrient rich waters of the San Mateo coast are teeming with life, and one of the best places to see this is the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Visit the 3-mile shoreline for beach, inter-reef tidepools, and marshlands. If you’re tide-pooling, the best time to come is during low-tide (check tides here). There are anemones, star fish, and urchins in the tide pools and sharp eyes might even spot a fossil or the elusive octopi in the outer zones. Harbor seals often sun themselves on the beach, and orange cones mark where they can be viewed from a respectful distance.
Stanford has the second lowest acceptence rate in the nation (trailing Harvard) with only 6.6% all applicants admitted to the college every year. Luckily, much of what the beautiful campus has to offer does not require admission.
I suppose you couldn’t call one of the best-known colleges in the country “hidden”, but the huge campus boasts so much to see that even students who live there for haven’t explored much of what it has to offer. The architecture is beautiful, like the above-pictured Stanford Memorial Church
Art lovers can visit the Cantor Arts Museum, which is free to the public and features tours, lectures, and classes, or the Rodin Sculpture Garden just outside the museum. While French artist Auguste Rodin is most famous for “The Thinker” (which you can see in the museum) , the garden is home to 20 of his other works, including the impressive and frightening “Gates of Hell” (pictured below).
9. Henry Coe State Park
Henry Coe State Park is the largest in Northern California with 85,000 acres of lofty ridges, rivers, and steep canyons. You can explore the park’s trails for years and still not see everything. There’s hiking, mountain climbing, fishing, camping, and biking for visitors to enjoy. It’s also home to a great deal of wild life, include Tule Elk, wild pigs, and bobcats.
The wilderness was preserved by Sandra Coe Robinson, who dedicated what was once private land in memory of her father and said, “May these quiet hills bring peace to the souls of those who are seeking.”
As you may have guessed from our store, at The Rusted Key we love old stuff. If the thrill of the antique hunt lives in you as well, you’ll want to be at Alameda Point the 1st Sunday of every month. There’s 800 vendors to visit and over a million antique pieces to browse through. Any vintage or antique enthusiast can lose many hours (and dollars!) in the seemingly endless stalls.
Their website calls it “The Most Scenic Antiques Fair in the World”, and they may be right. The event takes place on the runways of the former Alameda Naval Air Station. The flat expanse offers a panoramic view of San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, and Marin County.