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California’s Bay Area is easily one of the most unique places on America’s West Coast. Its cities are on the cutting edge of just about everything and are blessedly situated near some of the most breathtaking nature. A convergence of forests and ocean, of techies and hippies, and of international cultures and peoples, we’ve rounded up the best places to visit in the Bay Area.

By Jeremiah Higgins

Cities

San Francisco

We could easily dedicate multiple articles to all of the landmarks and things to do in the City by the Bay. Perhaps the most culturally rich, physically beautiful, and progressive city on the entire West Coast (maybe in the country), San Francisco is a city that should be seen by everyone in the US. Some locals encourage a visit sooner rather than later though. With the cost of living continuing to skyrocket and big tech companies transforming neighborhoods, San Francisco could be in danger of losing some of the grit and character that makes it unbelievably charming.

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Oakland

San Francisco’s loss is Oakland’s gain. Because of the modernization and expenses of San Francisco, Oakland has seen an influx of new residents. Many of these are chefs, artists, and other creative types that have added a coolness factor to Oakland that many didn’t know was there before. While a couple of other cities may disagree, Oakland is the most fiercely proud area in the Bay. From its history in the Civil Rights movement to an ongoing rivalry with the rest of the Bay Area to even its unique brand of rap music (The Town gets hyphy), natives of Oakland think there aren’t many other cities that have it better than them.

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By Sergey Novikov | Shutterstock

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San Jose

The next sentence is going to surprise some people. San Jose is the largest city in the Bay Area. Often overshadowed by the many more popular cities in California, San Jose has quietly become one of the most moved-to places in the world. This is, of course, thanks to it being the capital of Silicon Valley. This influx of techies from various corners of the planet only adds to San Jose’s already stunning diversity. Food is one of the main beneficiaries. From Japantown to restaurants selling Vietnamese delicacies to mouthwateringly good taco trucks, the cuisine here is awesome and odds are it is made by someone who knows what they’re doing.

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By Brannon_Naito | Shutterstock

Santa Cruz

When it comes to stereotypical “beach towns”, Santa Cruz is one of the last ones standing. Most beach towns in Southern California feel like they even cost money just to look at, but Northern California’s Santa Cruz still flies their freak flag high. Don’t be surprised to see old VW vans emitting a strong herbal odor or longhaired dudes bumming around waiting for the next set of waves. For those not looking to hit the waters, Santa Cruz’s laid-back vibe is incredibly inviting. Check out activities at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, explore the forested mountains serving as the city’s other border, or grab a few beers at one of their great local breweries.

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By Kathy Mendes | Shutterstock

Sonoma and Napa

We understand that Sonoma and Napa are completely different places. However, they both make this list for the same reason: wine. California’s wines are legendary around the world, and both of these towns offer visitors the opportunity to tour and taste their way around some of the best wineries.

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Berkeley

Long a progressive bastion for liberals, hippies, and intellectuals, Berkeley (aka Bezerkeley) does its best to remain all these things despite its university’s near impossible admission requirements. And sure, students’ high school GPAs might be a bit higher now, but the town and UC Berkeley still play host to numerous protests and to a few wandering vagabonds hoping for a taste of the 60s and 70s.

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By Chao Kusollerschariya | Shutterstock

Palo Alto

The part of the Bay Area known as the Peninsula (between San Jose and SF more or less) is home to a number of cool, smaller towns that have a delightful mix of suburban comfort and entertaining downtown areas. Palo Alto is the most well-known and upscale of these. Home to the prestigious Stanford University, downtown Palo Alto is packed with bars and restaurants made to entertain a mix of students, young professionals, and families.

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By Andrey Bayda | Shutterstock

Sausalito

A lot of people forget that there is another side to the Golden Gate Bridge. At that northern end of the iconic suspension bridge is Marin County. Marin has supreme natural beauty and some cool towns as well. Sausalito is a seaside city that has awesome views of San Francisco across the bay. Stopping for a bite to eat or a drink here at one of the waterfront restaurants is a must.

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Nature

Point Reyes National Seashore

Home to a number of often-photographed shipwrecks, green cliffs, tree tunnels, and a lighthouse; Point Reyes is a rare glimpse at unspoiled California coastline. It is also an awesome place to view wildlife, as elephant seals park themselves on popular beaches and migratory whales can be seen offshore.

By Nick Fox | Shutterstock

Big Basin State Park

One of the most beloved places in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Big Basin is a paradise for hikers and lovers of the outdoors. Many of the trails here are lined with massive redwood trees, waterfalls, and some viewpoints that stretch all the way down to the Pacific Ocean. While hiking, be sure to look down for any spots of yellow — it might just be the famous Santa Cruz Banana Slug.

By Matt Tilghman | Shutterstock

Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Muir Woods National Monument

Located in Mill Valley in Marin County, Muir Woods is one of the most accessible spots to see a grove of redwood trees. The towering behemoths have reached as tall as 260 feet, though many are still growing. Muir Woods is a piece of the larger Golden Gate National Recreation Area. GGNRA protects some 82,000 acres of land as well as classic monuments like Alcatraz Island and the Presidio of San Francisco.

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Best Places to Visit in the Bay Area
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