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15 Best Places to Visit in the Bay Area (Updated for 2024)

15 Best Places to Visit in the Bay Area (Updated for 2024)

The Bay Area in northern California offers a diverse array of attractions, from iconic cities like San Francisco to pristine natural beauty. Explore landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park, or escape to Mount Tam for stunning vistas.

Don’t miss the vibrant city of Oakland, the wine country in Napa, and the historic charm of Berkeley. Whether you’re into redwood forests or coastal towns, the Bay Area has something for everyone.

The Bay Area of northern California is packed with amazing places to visit, from bustling cities to jaw-dropping nature. This sprawling metropolitan region includes the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.

The 15 Best Places to Visit in the Bay Area

These bustling cities have world-famous sights such as the Golden Gate Bridge. The Bay Area is so much more than its biggest cities. You can explore the radical college town feeling of Berkeley, check out the wine country in Napa, and explore the many small towns.

Plus, check out the beautiful nature, such as protected redwood forests, estuaries, and scenic coastal routes.

There’s so much to see in the Bay Area that the real challenge is figuring out the best places to visit. But don’t worry — we’re here to help; read on to see our favorite areas any why you should consider including each one in your itinerary!

1. Golden Gate Bridge and Park

Red Golden Gate Bridge spanning the bay with mist on the horizon

Rudy Balasko/Shutterstock

San Francisco has so many places worth visiting that it deserves a list all to itself. However, the best attraction is the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park.

The orange arc of the Golden Gate Bridge spans the bay and is a tourist attraction that you can’t skip. Golden Gate Park not only offers great views of the bridge and the bay but is an attraction in its own right.

Wander the over 1,000 acres, check out the themed gardens, and visit some of the iconic city museums located within the park, such as the California Academy of Sciences.

2. Mount Tam

Fog and clouds pouring over the hills on Mount Tam, one of the best places to visit in the Bay Area

DTM Media/Shutterstock

Mount Tam, as the locals call Mount Tamalpais, is where San Franciscans go to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The mountain is located within a state park that spans 25,000 acres and is a vast playground for nature lovers.

Hike to some of the peaks and viewpoints for excellent views of the entire Bay Area that is spread out in front of you. There are also many attractions along the way, such as the Cascade Falls and beautiful trails for hiking, horseback riding, and even hang gliding.

3. Oakland

Image of downtown Oakland pictured for a piece on the best places to visit in the Bay Area

July 25, 2017 – Uptown Neighborhood of Oakland, California. Uptown is the art and entertainment center of Oakland featuring many bars, cafes, restaurants and love music venues/

The Bay Area’s third major city is Oakland, which is an exciting city to visit. Check out the fascinating history, beautiful nature, and excellent food and wine scene, helped by the fact that Oakland is one of the most diverse cities in the nation.

Many visitors to Oakland make a beeline to Fruitvale, a neighborhood known for its large Hispanic population, for tacos and other delicacies. Other attractions in Oakland include Chinatown, Mountain View Cemetery, and downtown Oakland.

4. Sonoma Valley

Barn in Sonoma Valley's wine country, one of the best places to visit in the Bay Area, pictured with rolling grape vines running along the countryside

Michael Warwick/Shutterstock

The Bay Area is home to many wine regions. Sonoma Valley is one of the most famous ones. The best thing to do in Sonoma Valley is to tour through towns such as Petaluma, Santa Rosa, and Healdsburg.

Here, you can take in the historic 19th-century architecture and charming atmosphere, and go wine tasting at the many different wine cellars.

Besides wine, you can check out cultural landmarks such as the San Francisco Solano Mission, the Pacific Coast Air Museum, and sites dedicated to famous locals such as Jack London and Charles M. Schultz, the creator of Peanuts.

Gourmands will want to follow the Sonoma Farm Trails for excellent farm-to-table groceries and cuisine.

5. Berkeley

Two young college student lying on the cement walking path in Berkley for a piece on the best places to visit in the Bay Area

James Kirkikis/Shutterstock

The college town of Berkeley is a beautiful place to visit, even if you’re not a college student. Berkeley University is famous for its political activism, and Berkeley has plenty of history tying it to radical movements of the 20th century.

Visit institutions such as the University of California Berkeley, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, and boutiques along Telegraph Avenue. Stop by Tilden Regional Park for amazing views of the Bay.

6. Muir Woods

Photo from the POV of someone walking through the Muir Woods, a top pick for places to visit in the Bay Area

Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Besides its bustling cities and quaint small towns, the Bay Area is actually home to beautiful natural areas. The Muir Woods are some of the best places to go for a hike. This area is a National Monument dedicated to preserving coastal redwoods.

Walking through these majestic plant giants is an experience like no other. Since it attracts so many visitors, you might want to book your slot ahead of time online.

7. Sausalito

Neat wooden dock in Sausalito near San Francisco, one of our favorite things to do on a trip to the Bay Area

Ben Bryant/Shutterstock

Just across the Golden Gate Bridge from bustling San Francisco is the town of Sausalito, which can also feel like a world away. This quaint town feels more like a fisherman’s village and is the perfect place to get away from the crowds of San Francisco.

While you’re in Sausalito, make sure that you have a seafood lunch with a view of the bay. Besides fishermen, many artists called Sausalito home, and you can still explore their legacies in the many galleries and quirky boutiques downtown.

8. Marin County

Golden Gate Bridge pictured from Cavallo Pint and Fort Baker, one of the best places to visit in the Bay Area

Chris LaBasco/Shutterstock

Marin County is one of the most scenic counties not just in California but in the entire United States. There are many things to do here. You can check out Mill River, an elegant scenic town that was home to many famous artists and writers.

Check out the rich culture here, such as the annual Mill River Film Festival. Other things to do in Marin County include a visit to the spa at Cavallo Point or driving around to see the beautiful nature.

9. Russian River

People lying out on Johnson's Beach on the Russian River, one of the best places to visit in California

Gary Saxe/Shutterstock

If you’re looking to add some adventure to your vacation, make sure to budget time for exploring the Russian River. The Russian River flows through Sonoma and Mendocino counties in the Bay Area, making the fertile vineyards and farms possible.

The river itself is a perfect destination for some watersports and exploring. Rent a kayak or canoe to paddle along the gentle waters, hike from winery to winery, or just float on an inflatable tube in the summer.

10. Big Basin Redwoods State Park

For a piece on the best places to visit in the Bay Area, a photo of someone walking along the dirt path in the Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Felipe Sanchez/Shutterstock

Another scenic forest area in the Bay Area is Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This is the oldest state park in California and one of the largest collections of coastal redwoods.

Besides the redwoods, other draws in the park include different hiking trails that take you past waterfalls and other scenic natural vistas.

The redwood forest here is actually bigger than the one in the Muir Woods and usually less crowded as it is further away from San Francisco.

11. Napa Valley

Dirt road going up and down the hills in Napa Valley, a top pick for the best places to visit in the Bay Area


Napa Valley is another famous wine region that is in the Bay Area (or Bay Area-adjacent, depending on whom you ask). Obviously, the best thing to do in scenic Napa Valley is to enjoy the delicious wine and cuisine that the lush region hosts.

The best way to explore Napa Valley is to base yourself in one of the charming small towns in the area, such as Yountville, Calistoga, or the city of Napa itself. Be sure to leave time for slow, leisurely travel — this is not the place to rush.

Read Next: Where to Stay in Napa Valley & The Best & Worst Times to Visit Napa

12. Alcatraz Island

Photo of the prison on Alcatraz Island, pictured on a cloudy day with waves capping all around


Beneath the beautiful exterior of the Bay Area lies a past that was rough and wild, and there’s no better place to experience that than on Alcatraz Island.

This island in the bay was once one of the nation’s most notorious prisoners, home to criminals such as the infamous Al Capone. Today, Alcatraz Island is open to visitors who want to learn more about the prison. You can even visit after dark for a haunted night tour — if you dare.

13. San Jose

Idyllic and empty street in San Jose, California, one of the Bay Area's best places to visit


San Jose is often overshadowed by San Francisco and Oakland, but it is actually the biggest city in the Bay Area. San Jose is a great place to explore Silicon Valley, the world’s most important spot for tech companies.

You can even tour some companies’ workplaces, such as Googleplex. Beneath the high-tech exterior, San Jose has a quirky past.

Check that aspect of the city out at the Winchester Mystery House, an odd mansion full of quirks such as hidden rooms, and the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum.

14. Half Moon Bay

Pacific coastline of Half Moon Bay pictured with water crashing up against the rocky coast

Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Half Moon Bay is one of the best places in the Bay Area to visit if you want to see the beautiful nature that makes California so breathtaking.

The bay features dramatic cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean as the waves crash against the shore. Half Moon Bay is a popular destination for surfers worldwide thanks to the massive waves that form in the area.

Even if you’re not a surfer, watching the brave people catch these waves (and ensuring surfing’s famously laid-back, friendly culture) is a great reason to visit Half Moon Bay.

A short trip south of the bay takes you off the beaten path to spectacular landscapes and farmland, including the famous Harley Farms goat farm.

15. Farallon Islands

Giant rock formations of the Farallon Islands sticking up out of the water for a piece on the best places to visit in the Bay Area

Pete Niesen/Shutterstock

The Farallon Islands are part of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and one of the best places to spot the Bay Area’s famous wildlife.

Visit during the summer and fall to see some of the amazing species that call the Bay Area home, including seals, sea lions, and marine mammals such as dolphins and whales.

The Farallon Islands are also home to many bird species that are drawn to the rich marine ecosystem.

The best way to see the Farallon Islands is by boat, and there are many boat tour organizers that offer excursions with trained naturalists. The islands are a little out of the way, so they are off the radar for most tourists.

Frequently Asked Questions

Pier on the river in Napa, one of the best places to visit in the Bay Area

Randy Andy/Shutterstock

Here are some other common questions visitors to the Bay Area have asked in the past:

What is the nicest part of the Bay Area?

That depends on what you are looking for. If you want to spend time in a big city, San Francisco is the nicest, while Sonoma and Napa Valleys have some of the nicest small towns.

Is San Jose better than San Francisco?

If you’re thinking of moving to the Bay Area, then San Jose is better than San Francisco because the cost of living is lower. However, for a visit, San Francisco is better as it has more iconic landmarks. If you’re limited in time, prioritize visiting San Francisco.

What is the Bay Area famous for?

The Bay Area is famous for upscale cities and its tech boom, which you can explore in San Francisco. It’s also famous for beautiful nature and wineries in places such as Napa Valley and Sonoma County.

Is LA or the Bay Area better?

That depends on what you are looking for. LA is better if you want to experience the glitz and glamour of Hollywood life as well as hit up some beaches, but the Bay Area is better for a more laid-back vacation with a balance of city living and nature.

Where is the richest place in the Bay Area?

The Bay Area is full of expensive zip codes, but Atherton is the most expensive town of all. This place is even more expensive than San Francisco.

Plan Your Trip to the Bay Area Today!

The Bay Area has plenty of amazing places to visit, from the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose to beautiful natural areas such as Mount Tam. So, with so much to see and do, what are you waiting for — book your trip today!