The Bay Area (short for “San Francisco Bay Area“) is a geographically diverse and extensive metropolitan region that is home to many millions of inhabitants in cities such as San Francisco, Berkeley, and San Jose.

Once a focus of Spanish missions and Gold Rush prospectors, the Bay Area is best known now for its lifestyle, liberal politics and the high-tech industry of Silicon Valley.

Things To Do In Bay Area

A small region of its own, the Bay Area still has distinct areas with their own attractions and cultures. The sub-regions of the Bay Area are described several ways, which may give the first time visitor the impression that the Bay Area is bigger than it really is.

Although it doesn’t have any firm boundaries, the Bay Area includes portions of nine counties: Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Solano, San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Alameda, and Santa Clara.

In fact, the unique geography of the Bay Area makes it relatively easy to get a sense of where you are.

Bay Area Travel Regions

San Francisco

The de facto center and the iconic city of the region, home to such landmarks as the Golden Gate Bridge, the hilly streets with their famous cable cars and Victorian houses, the infamous island prison of Alcatraz, and enough museums and intriguing neighborhoods to keep a traveler exploring for days.

Sonoma and Napa Valley

This is the north bay region which starts across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and includes some incredible natural scenery. Some of the popular places to explore in this region are:

  • Napa Valley – the famed wine-growing region
  • Southern Sonoma
  • Muir Woods – old-growth redwood forest
  • Point Reyes – scenic coastline


The suburbs of San Mateo County along the peninsula to the south of San Francisco.

There are few major attractions here, although this is a major entry point owing to the presence of SFO airport, and home to the prestigious Stanford University.

The southernmost reaches of the Peninsula are home to some of the tech companies of Silicon Valley.

Santa Clara County

Also known as the South Bay, Santa Clara is home to many of the tech giants of Silicon Valley and anchored by the most populous city in the Bay Area, San Jose.

East Bay

Across the bay from San Francisco, this area includes Contra Costa and Alameda Counties and is an intensely developed area wedged between the bay and a ridge of mountains to the east.

Oakland is the most populous city in this region, with the college town of Berkeley being another major destination.

Top 5 Cities in Bay Area

There are scores of cities that surround the Bay Area; these are the most famous ones:

  • San Francisco — the heart of the Bay Area, famous for its scenic beauty and unique culture
  • San Jose — the center of Silicon Valley and largest city in the Bay Area
  • Palo Alto — a small but active city, home to lots of tech startups and right by Stanford University
  • Berkeley — known for its liberal activism, world-class public university, and extensive cultural and culinary attractions
  • Oakland — diverse and underrated with the important history, including entertainment and radical culture

Top Destinations in Bay Area

  • Silicon Valley – a shorthand for the computer industry as much as a meta-region within the Bay Area, comprising parts of the South Bay and southern Peninsula
  • San Francisco — the heart of the Bay Area, famous for its scenic beauty and unique culture
  • Alcatraz – the notorious island prison that once held Al Capone
  • Muir Woods – a forest of old-growth redwoods, the tallest trees on the planet
  • Napa Valley – renowned for its fine wineries
  • Point Reyes – one of the Bay Area’s hidden treasures, a national seashore full of hiking trails, scenic hills, and diverse wildlife including marine mammals
  • Mount Diablo State Park – provides great hiking opportunities on a mountain that dominates the landscape and offers an incredible viewshed, with views on clear days stretching 181 miles to Mount Lassen.


Temperate in summer and mild in the winter, the Bay Area is an excellent place to visit year-round.

The weather in the Bay Area is affected by micro-climates, so certain parts of East Bay can be up to 15 degrees warmer than downtown San Francisco, and as much as 20 degrees warmer than the area around the Golden Gate bridge.

Generally, the closer to the ocean one goes the cooler it is, it is suggested that one keep that in mind when traveling around the area.

There are many transit agencies in the Bay Area. Most places can be reached by local bus. Longer distances should be traveled by regional rails like Caltrain or BART to decrease travel time.


The San Francisco Bay Area has a broad array of cuisines from various countries of Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe.

While San Francisco probably has the widest variety of any of the Bay Area cities, locals will often tell you to go outside of San Francisco for the best of some cuisines, such as Fremont for Afghan or Indian or Pakistani, Burlingame for Jewish, or Redwood City for Mexican.

The area has also developed its own array of localized Chinese cuisines; this started in San Francisco and has expanded throughout the Bay Area in recent years.

Stay safe

With a few notable exceptions, parts of the Bay Area of interest to tourists are as safe as any other major North American city. However, care should be taken in a few areas, when going “off the beaten path” or when traveling through unfamiliar residential areas.

While locals (and those from elsewhere in California) will generally be able to recognize poorer or high crime areas even when unfamiliar with the specific area, the signs of dangerous areas and slums are not always the same as in other American cities, let alone those abroad.

Certain parts of the Bay Area are plagued by high crime rates. The very worst areas are primarily residential/industrial and not much interest to tourists or travelers. These include the Southeastern section of San Francisco (Bayview-Hunter’s Point, Sunnydale, Visitation Valley), East Palo Alto, West Oakland and much of East Oakland, some parts of Hayward and San Leandro, Bay Point, San Pablo, Central Richmond, the East parts of Redwood City and San Jose, and Vallejo.

However, other high-crime parts of the Bay Area are either in tourist areas or directly adjacent to them. These are generally safe if you stick to high-traffic commercial/through streets even at night, but care should be taken if you park on or detour through side streets, especially at night. These areas include

San Francisco’s Mission District, SOMA (South of Market), the Tenderloin/Civic Center, and the Western Addition in San Francisco.

Oakland downtown and around Jack London Square.

San Jose downtown

Even outside of “dangerous” areas, within the major cities (San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and other developed parts of the East Bay) keep aware of your surroundings and utilize the same common sense as in any major urban area.

Certain heavily-Latino neighborhoods, including the Mission District in San Francisco and many poorer parts of San Jose (such as Alum Rock) and the East Bay have a high degree of gang violence.

While this will not be such an issue in major shopping centers or on busy commercial streets, especially if venturing outside these areas especially into residential or industrial areas, men should be careful to avoid wearing red or blue shirts as these are associated with Norteno and Sureno gang members.

There are also rough neighborhoods in many of the suburbs throughout the Bay Area: these include but are not limited to the cities of El Cerrito, Pittsburg, Antioch, El Sobrante, South San Francisco, Daly City, Union City, San Rafael, Fairfield, Napa, and Santa Rosa. If in doubt, ask a local if the area is safe.

Be careful to check for ticks after hiking in fields in the Bay Area. There is a high rate of Lyme disease transmission in the Bay Area. If a bulls’ eye rash develops at the tick bite site, immediately seek medical help and treatment with antibiotics.

October 23, 2018 2:09 pm Published by

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