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Top Things To Do in the San Francisco Bay Area

Top Things To Do
in the San Francisco
Bay Area

So much to do, so little time. 

This quick reference is designed to help you navigate through the plethora of Things to Do in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond by listing what we think are the top activities in the most popular vacation destinations in California and Nevada. (I actually made this list so my 9 year old could never again say "I'm bored".)   

To search for a specific destination's top activities, e.g., Santa Cruz or Lake Tahoe, please select the desired location from the Destination Explorer and search away!
       

Big Sur

Monterey Bay Aquarium  –  Monterey, California

The aquarium features habitats of Monterey Bay in its permanent galleries, and global marine life and marine conservation issues in its special exhibitions.

Point Lobos State Reserve  –  Carmel, California

Point Lobos State Reserve has outstanding passive recreation values, such as sightseeing, photography, painting, nature study, picnicking, SCUBA diving, and jogging. In addition to the spectacular beauty, nearly every aspect of its resources is of scientific interest. There are rare plant communities, endangered archeological sites, unique geological formations, and incredibly rich flora an fauna of both land and sea.

Ventana Wilderness –  Big Sur, California

Ventana Wilderness Alliance – founded to protect public lands within California's northern Santa Lucia Mountains and Big Sur coast. Forum board, quarterly journal, online trail condition reports, visitor information, and more.

Whale Watching –  Central Coast Santa Cruz, Monterey, Half Moon Bay

Gray Whales – 20,000 Gray Whales pass by the Central Coast two times every year. During December through mid February, the whales migrate south from the arctic waters off the coast of Alaska to their winter birthing grounds off of the Baja Peninsula. Then from mid February through April, they return to the arctic waters to feed.  Peak viewing times are usually mid January and mid March.   More background on the Gray Whale >>

Humpback Whales – Spending the winter months off of the Mexican Coast to breed and give birth, the Humpback Whales migrate north to polar waters to feed during the summer months.  Humpback Whales are most common off the Central Coast from April through November.  More background on the Humpback >>

Carmel

Monterey Bay Aquarium  –  Monterey, California

The aquarium features habitats of Monterey Bay in its permanent galleries, and global marine life and marine conservation issues in its special exhibitions.

Point Lobos State Reserve  –  Carmel, California

Point Lobos State Reserve has outstanding passive recreation values, such as sightseeing, photography, painting, nature study, picnicking, SCUBA diving, and jogging. In addition to the spectacular beauty, nearly every aspect of its resources is of scientific interest. There are rare plant communities, endangered archeological sites, unique geological formations, and incredibly rich flora an fauna of both land and sea. 

Ventana Wilderness –  Big Sur, California

Ventana Wilderness Alliance – founded to protect public lands within California's northern Santa Lucia Mountains and Big Sur coast. Forum board, quarterly journal, online trail condition reports, visitor information, and more. 

Whale Watching –  Central Coast Santa Cruz, Monterey, Half Moon Bay

Gray Whales – 20,000 Gray Whales pass by the Central Coast two times every year. During December through mid February, the whales migrate south from the arctic waters off the coast of Alaska to their winter birthing grounds off of the Baja Peninsula. Then from mid February through April, they return to the arctic waters to feed.  Peak viewing times are usually mid January and mid March.   More background on the Gray Whale >>

Humpback Whales – Spending the winter months off of the Mexican Coast to breed and give birth, the Humpback Whales migrate north to polar waters to feed during the summer months.  Humpback Whales are most common off the Central Coast from April through November.  More background on the Humpback >>
  
  

Fort Bragg

We're sorry for the inconvenience, but this list is currently being updated for 2016…

Half Moon Bay

Año Nuevo State Reserve –  Located between Santa Cruz & Half Moon Bay on Hwy. 1

New Year's Creek Road, off Hwy 1, Pescadero, CA   (650) 879-0227

This 4,000 acre Reserve is a major gathering area for northern elephant seals, which may be seen year-around.

During the breeding season, December through March, the males battle for mates on the beaches. The females give birth to their young on the dunes.  By early March most of the adult seals are gone, leaving behind the weaned pups who remain through April. The elephant seals return to Año Nuevo's beaches during the spring and summer months to molt and can be observed during this time through a permit system.

During the breeding season, December 15 through March 31, daily access to the Reserve is available only via guided walks. Advance reservations are recommended for walks.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park – Rancho Del Oso, Hwy 1   831-338-8860

Located 25 miles south of Half Moon Bay on Hwy. 1, the park has miles of trails, which serves hikers and equestrians, links Big Basin to Castle Rock State Park and the eastern reaches of the Santa Cruz range. Maps 

Bird Watching – Half Moon Bay and Pescadero

The surrounding areas are ideal for attracting birds and those who watch them.  The best bird watching times are late fall and early spring.

Coastside Trail — Half Moon Bay – Half Moon Bay State Beach

95 Kelly Avenue, Half Moon Bay, CA  (650) 726-8819

The Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail runs along the eastern boundary of the four Half Moon Bay area beaches providing close to three miles of multi-use trails to walk, jog or ride bikes. The trail continues north to Pillar Point Harbor.

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach – Moss Beach, CA  (650) 728-3584

The Reserve is set aside to protect this complex but fragile community for us and future generations. Within the reserve, most marine life is protected. The Reserve is popular with school and community groups for its educational value.

Directions: Take California Ave. off of Hwy 1 in Moss Beach.

Purissima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve – Half Moon Bay (650) 949-5500

The 3,120-acre preserve is located on the western slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking Half Moon Bay. The preserve was established with a gift of $2 million from the Save-the-Redwoods League.

The centerpiece of the Preserve is Purisima Creek Canyon, with its towering redwoods, creek, ferns, berries, and wildflowers. Coastal scrub, tanoak, madrone, and Douglas fir border the canyon. The coast and Half Moon Bay are visible from the northern part of the preserve.

Whale Watching –  Central Coast Santa Cruz, Monterey, Half Moon Bay

Gray Whales – 20,000 Gray Whales pass by the Central Coast two times every year. During December through mid February, the whales migrate south from the arctic waters off the coast of Alaska to their winter birthing grounds off of the Baja Peninsula. Then from mid February through April, they return to the arctic waters to feed.  Peak viewing times are usually mid January and mid March.   More background on the Gray Whale >>

Humpback Whales – Spending the winter months off of the Mexican Coast to breed and give birth, the Humpback Whales migrate north to polar waters to feed during the summer months.  Humpback Whales are most common off the Central Coast from April through November.  More background on the Humpback >>
  
  

Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada

Desolation Wilderness

The Desolation Wilderness is made up of 63,960 acres of sub-alpine and alpine forest, granite peaks, and glacially-formed valleys and lakes. Located west of Lake Tahoe and north of Highway 50 in El Dorado County, the  Desolation Wilderness is jointly administered by both the Eldorado National Forest and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. 

Beaches

Lake Tahoe has 72 miles of shoreline.  The various beaches vary in greatly depending on the overall environment and how it has been preserved or developed.  Check out the link to find the right beach for you!

Tahoe National Forest –  (530) 478-6118

The Tahoe National Forest straddles the crest of the Sierra Nevada mountains in northern California, and encompasses a vast territory, from the golden foothills on the western slope to the high peaks of the Sierra crest.

Eldorado National Forest –  (916) 622-5061

The Eldorado National Forest is located between the historic Mother Lode region of California and the peaks of the Sierra Nevada crest overlooking Lake Tahoe basin. More >>

Taylor Creek Stream Profile Chamber  –  West Lake Tahoe

Located north of South Lake Tahoe on Hwy 89.  You can watch the annual run of the Kokanee Salmon in October. Nature talks by rangers are given throughout the summer. (530) 573-2674. More >>
  
  

Mendocino

We're sorry for the inconvenience, but this list is currently being updated for 2016…

Monterey

Monterey Bay Aquarium  –  Monterey, California

The aquarium features habitats of Monterey Bay in its permanent galleries, and global marine life and marine conservation issues in its special exhibitions.

Point Lobos State Reserve  –  Carmel, California

Point Lobos State Reserve has outstanding passive recreation values, such as sightseeing, photography, painting, nature study, picnicking, SCUBA diving, and jogging. In addition to the spectacular beauty, nearly every aspect of its resources is of scientific interest. There are rare plant communities, endangered archeological sites, unique geological formations, and incredibly rich flora an fauna of both land and sea.

Ventana Wilderness –  Big Sur, California

Ventana Wilderness Alliance – founded to protect public lands within California's northern Santa Lucia Mountains and Big Sur coast. Forum board, quarterly journal, online trail condition reports, visitor information, and more. 

Whale Watching –  Central Coast Santa Cruz, Monterey, Half Moon Bay

Gray Whales – 20,000 Gray Whales pass by the Central Coast two times every year. During December through mid February, the whales migrate south from the arctic waters off the coast of Alaska to their winter birthing grounds off of the Baja Peninsula. Then from mid February through April, they return to the arctic waters to feed.  Peak viewing times are usually mid January and mid March.   More background on the Gray Whale >>

Humpback Whales – Spending the winter months off of the Mexican Coast to breed and give birth, the Humpback Whales migrate north to polar waters to feed during the summer months.  Humpback Whales are most common off the Central Coast from April through November.  More background on the Humpback >>
  
  

Mount Shasta

We're sorry for the inconvenience, but this list is currently being updated for 2016…

Napa Valley

We're sorry for the inconvenience, but this list is currently being updated for 2016…


  
  

San Francisco

California Academy of Science  –  San Francisco, CA

A four-story rainforest, an aquarium, a planetarium, and a natural history museum all under one living roof! Take a closer look at the venues and exhibits.

Alcatraz Island  –  San Francisco, CA

Alcatraz Island offers a close-up look at the site of the first lighthouse and US fort on the West Coast, the infamous federal penitentiary long off-limits to the public, and the 18 month occupation by Indians of All Tribes which saved the tribes. Rich in history, there is also a natural side to the Rock – gardens, tide pools, bird colonies, and bay views beyond compare.
  
  

Santa Cruz

Año Nuevo State Reserve –  Located between Santa Cruz & Half Moon Bay on Hwy. 1

New Year's Creek Road, off Hwy 1, Pescadero, CA   (650) 879-0227

This 4,000 acre Reserve is a major gathering area for northern elephant seals, which may be seen year-around.

During the breeding season, December through March, the males battle for mates on the beaches. The females give birth to their young on the dunes.  By early March most of the adult seals are gone, leaving behind the weaned pups who remain through April. The elephant seals return to Año Nuevo's beaches during the spring and summer months to molt and can be observed during this time through a permit system.

During the breeding season, December 15 through March 31, daily access to the Reserve is available only via guided walks. Advance reservations are recommended for walks.

Wilder Ranch State Park  –  Santa Cruz, CA

1 mile north of  Western Drive, Santa Cruz  (831) 423-9703

The Park has 4,505 acres, with 34 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian rails winding through coastal terraces and valleys.

The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park  –  Santa Cruz

Aptos Creek Rd. & Soquel Drive, Aptos, CA  (831) 763-7062

The park has 10,000 acres of rugged semi-wilderness, rising from sea level to steep coastal mountains of more than 2,600 feet.

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park  –  Felton (Santa Cruz Mountains)

101 North Big Trees Park Rd., Felton, CA   (831) 438-2396

The park features 15 miles of hiking and riding trails through a forest that looks much the same as it did 200 years ago. The park is the home of the Redwood grove, with a self-guided nature path, and Douglas fir, madrone, oak and the most unusual feature of the park, a stand of Ponderosa pine.

Moss Landing State Beach  –  Moss Landing

It features offshore fishing and horseback riding trails. The beach is also popular with surfers and windsurfers. Offering coastal views and dune protection from afternoon winds, the beach is a favorite place for picnics.

Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve  –  Moss Landing

This Web site is dedicated to the Elkhorn Slough Reserve.  The area is great for kayaking.  Lots of wildlife to view.

Whale Watching –  Central Coast Santa Cruz, Monterey, Half Moon Bay

Gray Whales – 20,000 Gray Whales pass by the Central Coast two times every year. During December through mid February, the whales migrate south from the arctic waters off the coast of Alaska to their winter birthing grounds off of the Baja Peninsula. Then from mid February through April, they return to the arctic waters to feed.  Peak viewing times are usually mid January and mid March.   More background on the Gray Whale >>

Humpback Whales – Spending the winter months off of the Mexican Coast to breed and give birth, the Humpback Whales migrate north to polar waters to feed during the summer months.  Humpback Whales are most common off the Central Coast from April through November.  More background on the Humpback
 
  

Shasta Lake

We're sorry for the inconvenience, but this list is currently being updated for 2016…
  
 

Sonoma

We're sorry for the inconvenience, but this list is currently being updated for 2016…
 
 

Yosemite Valley

We're sorry for the inconvenience, but this list is currently being updated for 2016…
 
 

Reno, NV

We're sorry for the inconvenience, but this list is currently being updated for 2016…
 
 

Las Vegas, NV

We're sorry for the inconvenience, but this list is currently being updated for 2016…
 
 


          
          
               

    Do you know something that we should include on one of our lists? Please let us know! We just may add it! Send in a name/description by clicking here.

 

What's on Tap

Events

Winter Festivals & Events:

Mavericks Surf Competition – Friday, Feb 12, 2016

TITANS OF MAVERICKS is the world’s premiere, high adrenaline, big wave surfing event. 

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am – Feb. 8-14, 2016

Carmel, CA – One of the most exciting events on the PGA TOUR  

Zinfandel Experience February 25 – 27, 2016 

San Francisco, CA – A three-day wine and culinary extravaganza attracting wine lovers from around the world.

Kayak Surf Festival – March 18-20, 2016

Steamer Lane at Lighthouse Point, Santa Cruz (831) 458-3648

This is the largest kayak surfing competition.

For more "top" events, click on our Festivals & Events page or select a specific travel destination from our Destination Explorer.

Attractions

Top Winter Attractions:

Snow Skiing in the Sierras

Lake Tahoe is home to 15 snow ski resorts and some of the best alpine and cross county snow skiing in the world. You're sure to find a ski resort and hotel that will meet your expectations.

Whale Watching – Dec. through May  

Elephant Seal Watching – December is breeding season. Año Nuevo State Reserve has a large colony of northern elephant seals that assemble there each winter.

 

Advisories

The Region's Fall Advisories:
Yes, it's still water, water, water! California is undergoing an extreme drought. If you are planning a lake vacation be sure to check about water levels. That rafting trip, fishing, or skiing can be impacted.

EXTREME fire danger. The drought has created a very dangerous combination of dry vegetation and no moisture in the air to help contain any fire. Please use extreme caution during your trip.  
  
Traffic Conditions. Traffic through major cities and extremely popular travel destinations can be challenging. Plan ahead to drive before and after commute hours. Go to www.caltrans.com to learn about road conditions. As a special note, Highway 92 in to and out of Half Moon Bay can be very difficult during the pumpkin season. Plan ahead and arrive early and leave late!