31 mi / 50 km
San Francisco (SFO)
The San Francisco Coast route follows the salt-washed sides of north California's coolest city. You'll cruise from Ocean Beach, where brave surfers do battle with the pounding waves, right up to the live oak forests of Marin County. Along the way, you'll be beguiled by the charming houseboats of Sausalito town and shorten the bucket list as you drive over the most famous bridge in America.
The Pacific keeps you company from the get go. It will spray its mists into the air behind the dunes on the Upper Great Highway as you watch the handsome coastal mansions of San Francisco's Outer Sunset district roll on by.
You'll want to stop at Lands End, which marks the southern entrance to the Bay Area with a series of gorgeous walking paths through Douglass fir and stone pine forests. Keep your eyes peeled there for the Sutro Baths, a ruined spa complex from the late 19th century, and for your first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge to the east.
Talking of the bridge, that's up next. Navigate between the $30-million homes of Sea Cliff, one of the bedroom neighborhoods for San Fran's tech billionaires, and connect with the famous 101 Highway.
Before you know it, you'll be breezing right across the Golden Gate itself, red-painted Art Deco towers looming overhead, Alcatraz Island hazed in sea fog the east, the open Pacific rolling away to the west. Don't worry, it's secure – a whopping 1.2 million steel rivets hold the legendary structure together!
The bridge's distinctive orange-red color, called "International Orange," was originally chosen as a primer for the steel to protect against corrosion. However, the color was so well-received by the public that it was retained as the bridge's final color.
On the north side of the bay, the drive loops through some of the most dramatic parts of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Hike to the Point Bonita Lighthouse to see stratified cliff faces that descend almost vertically into the Pacific. Conquer Hawk Hill to gain a lookout over downtown San Francisco in the company of raptors and rare blue butterflies.
A sojourn in lovely Sausalito is the perfect thing to wipe away the sweat of the hiking trails. The town spills into San Francisco Bay from the eastern edge of the Marin Peninsula. Protected from thick fogs, its unique houseboats glow bold hues of daffodil yellow and agate green above the mirror-like waters. Caledonia Street here is a souvenir buyer's dream. The quaysides are better for relaxed coffees in arty cafes.
In the mid-20th century, Sausalito transformed into an artistic haven as a community of artists and free spirits flocked to its picturesque waterfront. They converted old houseboats into vibrant floating homes, creating the renowned Sausalito houseboat community. The town became a hub for artistic expression, with art galleries, studios, and artisan shops lining its streets. Today, Sausalito maintains its creative spirit, attracting visitors drawn to its unique atmosphere and stunning views of the San Francisco Bay.
Later, skirt the edges of Richardson Bay to reach Tiburon. The former terminus of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, it's now a laid-back commuter district with secluded coast walks aplenty. Just be sure to make time to see China Cabin, a grand Victorian ballroom that was once the social mess hall of an elegant 1800s steamer that crossed the Pacific from the US to East Asia.
The undeniable beauty of the San Francisco Bay unfurls, showcasing nature's splendor alongside the creative endeavors of the communities that call this region home. From the urban energy of San Francisco to the artistic soul of Sausalito and the tranquil charm of Tiburon, each destination offers a unique and captivating experience in this remarkable region.
Sausalito and Tiburon both offer stunning waterfront views, so take some time to walk along the shoreline and enjoy the scenery.
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