The Bay Area beyond San Francisco city limits is a driver's paradise. Vistas off Northern California's coast are breathtaking, and a two-hour car ride yields views of magnificent cliffs jutting into the timeless Pacific Ocean.
Sausalito can be reached either by car or Red & White Fleet ferries, which leave from Piers 41 and 43 1/2. With its high-priced gift and craft shops, the town's too touristy for some yet its charm is undeniable when strolling along the bay or browsing through the tiny shops.
Similar to Sausalito but smaller, Tiburon bustles with visitors and San Franciscans alike. Dine on an outdoor patio that overlooks the city, the Bay Area, and the Golden Gate Bridge.
For those with a thirst to explore wine country, head north to either Sonoma or Napa Valley, an hour's drive from San Francisco. The Napa Valley Wine Train weaves through scenic Napa Valley in about three hours' time. Limo-chauffeured tours of the area are available for oenophiles. And you can also explore Napa Valley and Sonoma by air, thanks to a number of hot-air-balloon companies.
Bay Area vineyard tastings of red and white wines are mostly free, but there's often a charge for a bit of the bubbly. Domaine Chandon produces methode champenoise sparkling wines, and the tour includes the vintner's restaurant and lush outdoor garden. Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves is a Spanish-style complex with a garden patio.
Recommended wineries for reds and whites include Clos Du Val Wine Co., Ltd. , where award-winning cabernet sauvignons, merlots, zinfandels, pinot noirs, and chardonnays are produced. Inglenook Napa Valley is a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds: Tastings are held in a classic stone chateau built a century ago. Simi Winery has been making wine from Alexander Valley grapes for more than 100 years; tours and tastings are available.
Beyond the wineries, there's Calistoga, approximately 10 miles north of Napa. The town's claim to fame is its revitalizing hot springs and mud baths. As a side attraction, Calistoga is the home of the Old Faithful, the geyser that spurts 60 feet into the air just about every hour.
A haven for nature lovers, Muir Woods National Monument, an hour north of the San Francisco Bay Area, comprises 560 acres of towering redwoods, some a thousand years old. One of the most spectacular coastal communities in northern California, Point Reyes National Seashore, less than two hours from San Francisco is a favorite destination for hikers. In season (December and January are prime months), whale-watching ships set off from Point Reyes for the deep Pacific.