A Traveler’s Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area

Are you considering visiting California for your next contract? The San Francisco Bay Area is beautiful, magical and has a  magnitude of things to awaken your spirits! This region is Northern California and includes the area of San Francisco, but also surrounding counties and cities, such as Oakland and San Jose. San Francisco is on a hilly peninsula and is known for its cable cars, Victorian houses and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, which reminds me of the childhood show – Full House. North of San Fran is the Sonoma and Napa valleys, which are known for their wine-producing and hillside vineyards. As stated above, San Fran, Oakland and San Jose are the three most prominent regions, if you will, in the western part of the state. Even though the borders of the San Francisco Bay Area are not officially delineated, thus leading to the considerable disagreement between local and federal definitions of the area, the San Fran Bay Area still provides home to approximately 7.75 million people.

The Culture

The culture of the San Francisco Bay Area is major and diverse in terms of arts, music, cuisine, festivals, museums, and architecture but also is influenced heavily by Mexican culture due to its large Hispanic population, and its history as part of Spanish America and Mexico. Some may say that the culture of the Bay Area is a good mix of old and new money, poor and rich living together. However the actual cultural scene is very rich as San Francisco hosts a world-class opera, symphony, theater, arts, dining, and sports scene. San Franciscans themselves tend to exhibit the typical laid-back Western attitude as far as manners and dress go. For the most part traffic in the Bay Area is moderate, just like any major business areas you will have rush hour and then around the popular city areas there is a chance traffic may be heavier, but for the most part traffic is not terrible. From the Golden Gate Bridge to Silicon Valley, the Napa vineyards, and UC Berkeley, the Bay Area has no shortage of world-renowned locales.

The Scenery

The San Francisco Bay Area is just that – a BAY area. The estuary contains salt water for more than 30 miles inland to the Carquinez Strait. From the other direction, fresh water from the Central Valley flows through the Delta to the sea, meeting salt water at a shifting point just past Carquinez. The bay area covers somewhere between 400 to 1600 miles and the basin is a large linear valley with small hills, and as the great ice sheets began to melt, around 11,000 years ago, the sea level started to rise. By 5000 BC the sea level rose 300 feet, filling the valley with water from the Pacific.The valley became a bay, and the small hills became islands thus creating the bay area that we know now. Ficus trees are plentiful and line the bay area along with abundant wildflowers. Since the Bay Area is more of a city and bay town you are more likely to see marine wildlife and the occasional little land mammals such as rabbits and squirrels.

The Weather

The Bay Area is unusual in the wide variety of climates that exist just within a few miles of each other. Even San Francisco, only 7 miles square, has microclimates within its city limits. This area is considered to have a Mediterranean climate: hot, dry summers and cool, rainy winters. Whereas in Oakland, the summers are long, comfortable, arid, and mostly clear and the winters are short, cold, wet, and partly cloudy. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 44°F to 75°F and is rarely below 37°F or above 85°F. Lastly you have San Jose who mimics the Bay Area with their Mediterranean type climate. However there are contrasting wet and dry seasons with the wet season running from November through March.

Attractions

With there being three major cities in the San Fran Bay Area there is never a dull moment when it comes to entertainment and attractions. From the Golden Gate Bridge and wine tours to museums and art galleries, there is always a slew of options to fill up your time off. Here are some must have attractions:

San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge – This is an obvious choice. Simply take a walk over the 1.7 mile iconic bridge that has approximately 120, 000 automobiles drive across it daily. A pedestrian walkway allows crossing on foot, and bikes are allowed on the western side. The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most photographed things on Earth, so get your camera ready!

Ride a Cable Car – the cars have been transporting people around San Francisco since the late 19th century. The cars run on tracks and are moved by an underground cable along three routes. Their familiar bells can be heard ringing from blocks away. Tickets ($8) may be purchased at the cable car turnarounds at the ends of each route. Each one-way ride will provide spectacular views of the city’s celebrated hills, as well as an exhilarating ride.

Marvel at San Francisco’s Scenic Beauty – Discover San Francisco’s beauty on the 49-mile scenic drive, which begins at City Hall and guides you to a number of popular historic and iconic landmarks. If you’re up for a hike, the Presidio has a number of art trails that are worth the stunning views. Urban Hiker SF offers itineraries for group hikes through popular urban destinations like the Castro, Twin Peaks, Coit Tower, and many others.

Get out on the Water – Kayak in the bay to get amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline, have a romantic dinner on a Hornblower cruise, or take a ferry to visit Alcatraz.

Celebrate In San Francisco’s Nightlife – Nightlife in San Francisco is a constantly changing scene. From cocktails in Union Square to the ultimate club scene in SoMa, there are neighborhoods for all types of nightlife. For a different spin on nightlife, a number of museums host 21-and-up events that invite visitors to sip and see special exhibits.

Oakland

Lake Merritt –  Lake Merritt is an idyllic parkland with expansive lawns, groves of luxuriant trees, and pleasant picnic areas. This beautiful green space offers an oasis of tranquility in the heart of the city. Locals flock here to relax and socialize.

Oakland Museum of California – The Oakland Museum unveils the rich heritage and culture of California through its engaging exhibits and extensive permanent collection. The museum’s galleries include areas dedicated to the natural sciences, California arts, and history of the state.

Redwood Regional Park – This pristine redwood forest is just a few miles outside of downtown Oakland, and it’s worth taking the drive out here to meditate in the redwood groves. Many of the stately coastal redwood trees (sequoia sempervirens) soar to 150 feet.

Oakland Zoo – Inside the 490-acre Knowland Park, the Oakland Zoo is home to more than 660 native and exotic species residing in natural habitats, including an African savanna, tropical rainforest, and the Australian outback.

Dining & Shopping in Rockridge & Temescal – Oakland’s two trendy neighborhoods cater to a diverse crowd of foodies, hipsters, techies, and young families. This area has a top-notch dining scene that rivals the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley.

San Jose

Los Gatos Creek Trail – Enjoy a day of hiking and walking along this 9.7 mile creek trail that leads through a reservoir and up to Meridian Avenue in San Jose.

Santana Row – is home to little boutiques, yummy foodie spots, and larger named shopping outlets where you can splash that cash.

San Jose Flea Market –  Over 120 acres of farmland was transformed into what is now called the San Jose Flea Market and it’s totally amazing. Open from dusk to dawn, this flea market is the largest of its kind in California.

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum – Occupying an entire block, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum is a totally interesting spot that transforms you back to a time of pharaohs and pyramids. Inside the complex is the iconic Rosicrucian Labyrinth, the temple for the Rosicrucian order, an alchemy exhibit and garden, and a research library that are all incredible to see.

Japantown – Founded by the first Japanese immigrants more than 120 years ago, make sure to visit the Japanese American Museum of San Jose and the San Jose Buddhist Church while you are there along with the nearby Japanese Friendship Garden. Afterwards, head over to San Pedro Square Market for a much needed lunch.

Getting Around

Public transportation in the San Francisco Bay Area is quite extensive, including one rapid transit system, three commuter rail lines, two light rail systems, two ferry systems, Amtrak intercity rail services, and four major overlapping bus agencies, in addition to dozens of smaller ones. Do you need a personal car in the San Francisco Bay Area? No, but it’s a good idea to have for the day to day way of life, such as grocery shopping and getting to work on time. If you are unable to bring a personal car then Uber/Lyft is also a contender. There are many grocery stores, including Safeway and Farmer Joe’s.

Whether you are looking to escape a harsh northern winter like I am currently experiencing in NY, or you just generally love a mediterranean climate with water views,then the San Fran Bay Area is a great place for you! Pamela’s List is a great place to book that current high paying travel contract so that you can cross a few things off your travel bucket list.

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