Bay Area (California)
The Bay Area (more fully, the San Francisco Bay Area), ringing San Francisco Bay in northern California, is a geographically diverse and extensive metropolitan region that is home to nearly 8 million inhabitants in cities such as San Francisco, Oakland, 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 high-tech industry (Silicon Valley).
Although it doesn't have any firm boundaries, the Bay Area is composed of nine counties that include Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, and Contra Costa. The southern parts of Sonoma and Napa counties are considered part of the Bay Area for this guide, since their culture and economies face towards the Bay.
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 microclimates, 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.
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. In fact, the unique geography of the Bay Area makes it relatively easy to get a sense of where you are.
- San Francisco
- The East Bay lies across the bay from San Francisco, and includes Contra Costa and Alameda Counties, and the cities of Oakland, Berkeley, and towns including El Cerrito, Richmond, Albany, Emeryville, San Leandro, Alameda, Hayward, and Fremont.
- The Peninsula stretches down from SF across San Mateo County and into Santa Clara County, and includes Pacifica, Half Moon Bay, and Davenport along the coast, and South San Francisco, Daly City, Burlingame, Belmont, San Carlos, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos among its major towns along the Bay side.
- The South Bay includes most of Santa Clara County, and the city of San Jose.
- The North Bay is where you arrive when you cross the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco: Solano, Marin and Sonoma Counties
Here's a handy rule of thumb: the telephone area codes 415 and 707 means the City or the North Bay; 510 and 925 mean the East Bay; 650 is for the Peninsula, and 408 and 831 are for South Bay numbers.
- Contra Costa County
- Alameda County
- Marin County
- Napa County
- Solano County
- Santa Clara County
- San Mateo County
- San Francisco County
- Santa Cruz County
There are scores of cities that surround the Bay; these are some of the most famous.
There are three major airports in the San Francisco Bay Area: San Francisco (SFO, located about 10 miles south of the city), Oakland (OAK, in the East Bay), and San Jose (SJC, in the Silicon Valley, about 1 hour south of San Francisco). Both Oakland and San Jose are served by discount airlines such as Southwest. All three airports may be reached by inexpensive public transit.
From the east, the entrance to the Bay Area is superhighway Interstate 80, which wends its way all the way from New York several thousand miles to pass through Lake Tahoe and Sacramento and end up in San Francisco.
From the south, the lovely Highway 101 runs from Southern California through the Central Coast to Silicon Valley and up the Peninsula to San Francisco. Some people prefer Highway 5, which travels more directly through the San Joaquin Valley to highway 580 and then into the Bay Area through the East Bay.
From the North Coast or the Pacific Northwest, the story is similar. Coastal highway 101 is more scenic, while highway 5 is efficient but somewhat boring. Interstate 5 intersects interstate 80 in Sacramento, however, when coming from the north, Interstate 505 can be used to bypass Sacramento and get to the Bay Area quicker.
Parking rates in San Francisco can go up to $30. You can park at Bart parking lots: For example: Park in Colma parking garage $1 all day, free weekends and round trip BART from Colma to Moscone Center would cost $6.20.
The Bay Area is well served by a network of freeways. Highways 280 and 101 run up the Peninsula from the Silicon Valley to San Francisco, and 101 continues into Marin County across the Golden Gate Bridge. Highways 880 and 580 run the length of the East Bay, and Highway 24 runs out to Contra Costa County. 101 and 880, as well as most bridges, can be pretty heinous at commute times, however.
Beware that many Bay Area freeways tend to have dense traffic at any time of day or the evening. There is a proportion of "hurried" drivers that will zig-zag between cars at high speeds. In the North Bay, there are fast succession of freeway interchanges; a misunderstanding may land you on the wrong freeway, even on a bridge you do not intend to take. Interchanges are signposted with road numbers and compass directions, but these may be even confusing: the same stretch of road may carry several numbers and opposite compass directions between these numbers. Read a map carefully before driving or have a passenger watch for directions.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is a nice regional train system that connects San Francisco to the East Bay and Contra Costa County, as well as parts of the Peninsula, the eastern half of Silicon Valley, and the San Francisco and Oakland airports. BART is also useful for getting around within SF and Oakland. Ticket prices vary by distance travelled, but usually run about $2-5 one way. Trains run about every 10-20 minutes starting around 6AM and closing just after midnight.
Caltrain is a commuter train system running from San Francisco, down the Peninsula, all the way to Gilroy. Ticket prices vary by the distance between stations, but usually run around $3-$6 one way. Trains run about once every half hour, on average, once an hour late evenings and weekends, with several more trains running during commute hours. This train service is not particularly fast; however, in a move to improve speed, many trains during commute hours run express or semi-express service, so they do not stop at all stations.
A full list of Bay Area public transportation agencies, as well as a refreshingly useful trip planner, can be found at the Metropolitan Transportation Commissions's web site 511.org.
- The Golden Gate Bridge linking San Francisco and Marin County to the north is often called one of the modern wonders of the world. Cross the bridge by car and after taking the first Marin County exit make your way up to the Marin Headlands which overlook the bridge, the entrance to San Francisco Bay and the City itself.
- Muir Woods in Mill Valley is a beautiful forest with some of the few remaining old-growth redwood trees in California.
- Alcatraz, the former Army post, then federal prison on an island in the San Francisco Bay, today a National Park Service museum. Be sure to get Alcatraz ferry tickets at least a couple days in advance. There is also a night tour that is sort of spooky.
- Mt. Diablo State Park in the East Bay rises 3,849 feet above the area and provides some very dramatic views of the Bay Area and the Central Valley. A road travels to the observation tower and small museum at the top. Access to this road can be made from either Walnut Creek or Danville.
- Ride the glass-faced elevators on the outside of the Westin St. Francis at Union Square for a spectacular view of the city.
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, or Burlingame for Jewish. 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.
- Peet's Coffee and Tea, at the corner of Walnut and Vine in Berkeley, . Founded in 1966 as a pioneering effort to bring fresh-roasted "gourmet" coffee to the American palate, Peet's coffee shop started a revolution in American coffee tastes. When Starbuck's was founded in Seattle, they initially bought their coffee from Peet's. Peet's is now a small chain throughout the Bay Area. As part of the coffee revolution, you will also find many fine independent coffee shops throughout the Bay Area, as well as the ubiquitous Starbuck's which has more locations than McDonald's.
Certain parts of the Bay Area, most noticeably the Bayview-Hunter's Point, Sunnydale, Visitation Valley, SOMA(South of Market AVE), the Tenderloin, and the Western Addition in San Francisco are plagued by high crime rates. The Mission District of San Francisco has the highest amount of gang violence of any neighborhood in San Francisco. Men should be careful to avoid wearing red or blue shirts, as the Mission District has many Norteno and Sureno hispanic gang members. On a brighter note, this area does have some of the best Mexican food in the nation. The vast majority of neighborhoods in Oakland and Richmond also suffer from persistently high crime as well. Sadly, there are NO truly "safe" areas in the cities of East Palo Alto or Emeryville. There are also many "rough" areas in Vallejo, Fairfield, and Santa Rosa.
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.
- Central Coast - The rugged section of coast south of the Bay Area that includes Monterey Bay and Big Sur.
- San Joaquin Valley - California's bread basket in the Central Valley.
- Sacramento Valley - Home of the state capital.
- North Coast - Located to the north of the Bay Area and home to massive redwoods and remote coastline.
This page was last edited at 15:32, on 8 February 2009 by Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel. Based on work by Colin Jensen, Ryan Holliday and Patrick Rey, Wikitravel user(s) Texugo, Asterix, Allium and Submarine, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.