Bay Area Attractions: Our Top Picks for your Guests

Chances are you won’t have been in the Bay Area long before you find yourself hosting a guest. We all feel pressure to make sure our visitors have an enjoyable and memorable time. Hopefully, this list of our top Bay Area Attractions (we haven’t included the obvious destination: San Francisco) to visit will be a helpful guide. I surveyed people, who have had guests, about the places they enjoyed the most. These five were overwhelmingly the most popular.

Top Bay Area Attractions


Bay Area Attractions: Carmel

Point Lobos State Reserve – Carmel

This place has everything. Wine tasting, beach, art, shopping and plenty of exploration to be had. The official web guide for the City offers great itinerary suggestions for everyone: Girlfriend getaways, best for kids, winos, romantics, etc. With or without guests, this is a must visit for everyone. In 2014, the magazine Conde Nast Traveler voted Carmel #2 Best Small City in the US, #7 Best Resturants for US Cities and #6 for Travel Destination in the US.


Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay, Ca, the oldest settlement in San Mateo County, was called Spanish Town in the 1840s. On the coast, Half Moon Bay is full of outdoor activities and the drive on hwy 1 is gorgeous in its self. Along the highway, you will find beaches to stop at and tide pools to explore. The town of Half Moon Bay has a host of events and is famous for the Pumpkin Festival which is always the weekend (Saturday & Sunday) following Columbus Day. My favorite part, often overlooked, are the nurseries.

When planning your visit please be aware that there will most likely be traffic (there is only one main route in and out of the town). If possible, get there early to avoid as much as possible coming over Hwy 92 and check the tide chart as some activities are only at low or high tide.

This site focuses on kid-friendly activities but I found it gives really good tips about practicalities to think such as – it’s easy to miss the sign for Fitzgerald Marine. It also includes a great list of things to do.

Bay Area Attractions: Half Moon Bay

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is an outdoor paradise. You can stroll on the boardwalk and participate in water sports. Wildlife adventures include whale watching, butterflies, and birds. I found this site the most helpful for planning.

Santa Cruz board walk.

Santa Cruz board walk.

If you have a few days be sure to take a drive to Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is one of our nation’s largest marine sanctuaries, larger than Yellowstone National Park. Monterey Bay Aquarium is an unforgettable experience and was mentioned frequently by people I surveyed for this list so head there too! There are just so many wonderful Bay Area attractions, you’ll never be lost for things to do!

Muir Woods

Open every day of the year Muir Woods is a magical place. No wonder part of Return of the Jedi and Vertigo were filmed here. Get there early or you will find yourself parking along the side of the road and having to walk back to the park. It’s not so bad, it’s a gorgeous walk and great intro to the park.

The magic of the giant trees.

The magic of the giant trees.

These are a BIG Bay Area attraction – the Coastal Redwoods. Most of the redwoods in the Monument are between 500 and 800 years old. The oldest is at least 1,200 years old!  I found this site to be the most helpful for planning. If you are a nature lover AND a fact lover you must take Tom Martell’s famous tour.

If you can, drive over to Sausalito for a waterfront dining experience and stay the night.  The next day you can visit Point Bonita Lighthouse and if you’re an art person, visit the galleries and if you’re not, drink the wine.

Alcatraz Island

As soon as you find out you will be having visitors get your tickets to visit Alcatraz. This is the one recommendation that you really need to plan in advance as tickets can be hard to come by. The first fort and lighthouse on the West Coast, Alcatraz has a lot of history and amazing views.

bay Area Attractions: Alcatraz Island

What did you think of these Bay Area attractions? Do you have any more recommendations?

About Jessica H

I have spent my life exploring my surroundings. I grew up in Michigan and made a career in marketing. I followed my husband to NY, NJ and now CA for his career. I have a passion for traveling and experiencing other cultures. I love being out of my comfort zone. I currently work as a contracted Marketing Product Manager at Google. I love the Bay Area. The sun, relaxed environment and access to outdoor activities is very different from the East Coast.

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