Beyond the City: The San Francisco Bay Experience

The sun setting over the San Francisco Bay paints an idyllic scene; the light reflects softly on the water, and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge stands stately and stoic in the foreground. A trip to one of California’s greatest destination cities would be incomplete without considering the dizzying array of activities that take you over, around, and into the San Francisco Bay itself. Book a hotel close by and head down to the waterline for a day of un-watered fun, adventure, or relaxation.

Over the Bay

Walking the Golden Gate Bridge

If you just want to whet your appetite for San Francisco Bay without getting your feet wet, you can do one of the classic attractions, such as walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. The East Sidewalk (the one facing San Francisco) of the Golden Gate Bridge is open for pedestrians; hours vary seasonally.

Watching an Air Show

The San Francisco Bay provides the perfect backdrop for planes to roar across the sky in precise formation. If you’re in the city at the right time of year, you can get a seat on the waterfront and experience the show for yourself. There’s nothing quite like seeing (and feeling!) the Blue Angels soar overhead.

Soaring in a Seaplane

If you’d rather ride in a plane than watch them, take a seaplane ride over the bay to get breathtaking aerial views and experience thrilling water landings.

In the Bay

If you’re ready to dive in and have an in-the-bay adventure, there are a myriad of water sports you can try out during your stay in the Bay Area.


Have wildlife encounters, get your upper-body workout in, and see a different side of San Francisco from the gently bobbing seat of a kayak. Choose from a variety of adventures at any time of day—there are even moonlit tours available.

Stand-up Paddle Boarding

Here’s one you may not have tried before; stand-up paddle boarding is an up-and-coming sport that has rapidly gained popularity in the past few years. In case you were wondering, paddle boarders are the people standing up on long boards, pushing themselves seemingly effortlessly along the surface of the water with tall paddles. It’s harder than it looks; it is recommended that you participate in a clinic the first time you go to learn proper technique. Once you get the hang of it, though, it provides hours of active fun.


A Bay Area classic. If you’re certified, you can rent and skipper your own sailboat, or you can reserve a spot on a passenger sailboat for a relaxing cruise around the bay. For sailing and other boating needs, the site boatingsf.com gives extensive listings of boating businesses all around the Bay Area.

Around the Bay

If getting in the water isn’t necessarily your style, you can stay safely on the shore and still take in some of the richness that the San Francisco Bay has to offer.
Stroll along Fisherman’s Wharf: This is another classic San Francisco/Bay Area destination spot. Say hello to the seals at Pier 39 before stopping for a bite to eat at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company and finishing the day off with a stop at Ghiradelli Square for dessert.

See a Houseboat

Go see them or stay in one; there’s a neighborhood of floating homes at Mission Creek near AT&T Park. In earlier days, land residents used to consider houseboaters squatters, but with a lease that lasts until 2055, these floating homes have been given a new lease on life. The sidewalks and parking closest to the houseboats are private, but you can catch a glimpse from a little further out or, if you’re lucky enough to be in town at the right time, you can take an exclusive tour.

Going Wild

If you’re more of a nature nut, make friends with some of the local wildlife with a Bay Area animal experience.

Whale Watching

For a whale of a tale to tell later, cruise through the bay and out toward the open sea on a whale watching tour, which gives you a chance to get up close and personal with some of the most majestic animals on earth. Tours boast sightings of seals, marine birds, humpback whales, porpoises, dolphins, and even the occasional rare blue whale.

Visit the Marine Mammal Center

Take a (free!) visit to the Marine Mammal Center, a nonprofit rescue and rehabilitation hospital for marine mammals located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Wander around by yourself or take a guided tour, and feed a meal to a seal for a $10 donation. Find them online for directions and hours.

So, after all, it’s like Journey says:
When the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on the bay…
[You’ll] want to be back in the city by the bay
once you have discovered for yourself all the San Francisco Bay has to offer.

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