Hidden Gems of the Bay Area – Part Two

The San Francisco Bay Area is an iconic place to live. Before we even relocate here most of us leave the airport knowing what we want to see first. However, amongst the top rated tourist attractions are many wonderful hidden gems – regular haunts for those of us who call this place home.

Whether you’re fresh off the plane, looking to try new things or need to compile a list of activities for visitors here is Life in the Bay’s line up of some of our favorite Bay Area Hidden Gems. We’d love to hear yours!

Don’t forget to check back out part one of our Bay Area hidden gems – here.

    1. An East Bay gem is the Oakland Museum of California where art, history and natural sciences come to life. You’ll find exhibitions; galleries and Friday community nights where there are Off the Grid food trucks, live music and discounted admission.
    2. If you want to test your calf muscles then hike Mission Peak in Freemont. You’ll climb around 2,000 feet over 3 miles if you follow the Stanford Trail. Be aware that there is no shade or water fountains here. If you are looking for even more adventurous hiking how about Death Valley or even Mout Shasta?

      Hidden Gems: A Steep Hike

      Get ready to work those calf muscles!

    3. If your idea of wandering is limited to your yoga mat then check out the zen at the annual Wanderlust Festival at Hellman’s Hollow at the Golden Gate Park. There are many things to visit in the park but be sure to start at the viewing tower at the De Young Museum – you don’t pay to go up there. Our favorite is the Japanese Tea Gardens but the California Academy of Sciences is excellent (great café) and at Stow Lake, you can hire rowing boats, which is fun on a sunny day. Further down the park is a field of bison and where the park meets the ocean is a lovely restaurant called the Beach Chalet. In the park the best playground is the Koret’s Children’s Corner.  There are some secret hidden fairy doors in the park you can hunt for. We’d tell you about them but then it wouldn’t be a secret.

      Hidden Gems: Fairy Doors

      Finding the Fairy Doors

    4. If you’re forced to take your visitors to see Facebook’s ‘like’ thumb entrance be sure to stop for lunch at Café Borrone in Menlo Park and check in at independent bookstore Kepler’s next door. The cultural epicenter of Silicon Valley, you’ll leave this rare and iconic store with a book even if you weren’t going in to buy one, and their events, signings and readings are world class so their newsletter is worth signing up for!
    5. In San Francisco you’ll find a number of parks to relax – our favorites are Washington Park where you can people watch whilst tucking into the best pizza in the city at Tony’s, and Dolores Park in the Mission where the views are amazing and the play park is the best in the city. Check out Tartine for the most perfect croissants/pastries in the Bay Area.
    6. We prefer the north shore of Lake Tahoe for skiing in the winter, hiking and cycling in the summer plus kayaking and boating. Tahoe City and Rosie’s Café are a must, and Truckee is our favorite town. If you are able to splash out then check out the Hyatt and its private beach area on the lake. Here is a great article – 30 things to do in Lake Tahoe.
    7. It’s pricey but worth it to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium where there are 45 interactive exhibits including an Open Sea Exhibit.  We’d recommend packing your pajamas and spending the night there as part of their sleepover program.  You can spend a half day exploring Cannery Row too and if you have kids burn off some sugar at the Dennis the Menace playground. If you’re looking for more Marine life, check out our favorite spots – here.
    8. If you love big trees then a hike through Armstrong Woods in the North Bay gives you a strolling opportunity through a beautiful redwood forest without the tourists. You can’t take your dog with you for this one, but there is free parking and a visitor center.  You’re close enough to Guerneville to check out organic, seasonal cuisine at Boon Eat & Drink where they only serve Russian River wine and offer some locally brewed beers.
    9. Whatever your age or interest catch the steam train in Sunol for a truly spectacular trip through Niles Canyon to the Fremont neighborhood of Niles. You can enjoy a tea train, a beer and live music train, a wine tasting train and a 1920 parlor train. You can climb into the engine before departure and check out the Niles Canyon Railway Museum or charter your own caboose!
  1. A two day long weekend in July sees the Berkley Kite Festival fly into town! Located at the Cesar E. Chavez Park at the north end of the Berkeley Marina, is free and for anyone who wants to fly a kite or watch those who do. There are food available and activities so bring a blanket! You’ll have to arrive early or pay to park and ride but this is a weekend you shouldn’t miss!
Hidden Gems: Fish Kites at Berkeley Kite Festival

Photo credit: _e.t on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA


Phew, that’s it for out hidden gems. We hope you have lots of free time to get out there and enjoy some of them.

Have we missed any of your favorite Bay Area hidden gems? Check out part one or let us know below!

About Louise Griffin

Originally from the UK Louise became a Bay Area native five years ago when a corporate move gave her the chance to see if she might enjoy a different kind of life. The sun, friendships, food, landscape and lifestyle make it a no brainer but she still misses the UK and loves contrasting the differences between the two countries because it gives her a yardstick to reflect on how she might be changing through this experience. Her new life is based on the essence of community – sharing, supporting and learning. As a professional fundraiser she is always keen to sniff out community need and use her skills to make a difference. She lives in San Mateo with her husband and two young children.

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