Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 18, 2017
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Leave Your Heart In San Francisco

A conference-goer's guide to easy day trips from the Bay Area

Whether you're in San Francisco for a weekend or a week, the rugged beauty of northern California's towns and coastal wilderness is just a step away. From Marin County to Big Sur, day trips out of San Francisco are an exhilarating outdoors break from the city and a chance to see California's rustic side.

Marin County
Take a short ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County, the nearest excursion from San Francisco.

If you don't have a car, catch the ferry (www.transitinfo.org) from the San Francisco Ferry Building to Sausalito, a resort town only a few kilometres north of the city. Sausalito is the place to go for shopping: galleries, boutiques, antiques and more. It's also the only place that affords a full view of San Francisco's skyline from across the bay. You can also catch glimpses of Belvedere, Angel Island and the infamous Alcatraz.

But the main reason to visit Marin County is for its natural attractions. A large percentage of the land is public, so there's lots to do in the great outdoors.

The Marin Headlands are a good place to start. Hike the Coastal Trail on a sunny day for views of the bay, downtown San Francisco and the East Bay.

Further on up the coast, Muir Woods (via US 101 and Highway 1) is a beautiful grove of redwood trees, some over 75-metres tall and more than 1000 years old. Parking may be difficult and the woods are often crowded because of their proximity to the city. Take a hike to get away from the crowds, who don't venture far up the trails. Stop off at the Muir Woods Visitor Centre for a trail map (tel: 415-388-2595; www.nps.gov/ muwo/). Trails head up from the valley and connect with 100 kilometres of more trails in Mount Tam State Park.

Mount Tamalpais was home to the Miwok for thousands of years before European explorers arrived. Check in with the Pantoll Ranger Station, off Highway 1 (tel: 415-388-2070), to pick up a good map and find out about trail conditions. Hike the five kilometres to the top via the Bootjack Trail or drive up to the 785-metre summit. Near the summit, during the summer, the open-air Mountain Theatre (tel: 415-383-1100; www.mountainplay.org) may be performing a musical or play. Contact the Mountain Play Association and purchase tickets in advance.

Further up Highway 1, Point Reyes National Seashore (tel: 415-464-5100; www.nps.gov/pore/) is spectacular, with marshes, daunting cliffs and undisturbed beaches. Point Reyes is on a different tectonic plate than the rest of the continent, so the geography varies greatly. The 90-minute drive each way is really worthwhile.

Mid-February to July, hike the area to feast on wildflowers in bloom. You may also spot grey whales on their coastal migratory path from mid-December to April, but especially in the months of January and March.

Wine Country: Napa and Sonoma
In 1976, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars (5766 Silverado Trail; tel: 707-265-2441; www.cask23. com) beat the French in a blind taste test in Paris. Since then, American wines have been taken a little more seriously. Visiting wine country is an easy day trip within an hour or an hour and a half's drive from San Francisco. While you could spend more than a day exploring this scenic area, lodging is expensive so heading back to the city isn't a bad idea.

There are more than 300 wineries concentrated in the Napa Valley. Inland Napa boasts beautiful vistas, gardens, architecture and art collections. But less pretentious family-run wineries can be found in the Sonoma Valley (tel: 707-996-1090; www.sonomavalley.com), where free wine tastings are still the norm. The best time to visit is during autumn while the grapes are still on the vines, although it's nice to go when the mustard plants and wildflowers are in bloom too.

Try to visit the area by car. The drive on country roads is more than pleasant and stimulates the senses with the countryside's sights, sounds and smells. Or get a different view from a hot air balloon. For most trips, advance reservations are required by the numerous ballooning companies.

Calistoga is worth a side trip if you want to soak in the hot springs. Most of the Napa Valley's mud and mineral baths are found in this little town and the drive up from Napa on the Silverado Trail is a pleasure in itself. Drop by the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce (1458 Lincoln Avenue; tel: 707-942-6333; www.calistogafun.com) for information on the different spas as well as discount coupons.

Wine country abounds in festivals, as does almost every other region of northern California. The Mustard Festival (tel: 707-933-1133; www.mustardfestival.com) in Napa is worth a detour if you're in San Francisco in February and March. There's also the Napa County Fair in Calistoga (tel: 707-942-5111) over the July 4th weekend, with main events including sheepdog trials and livestock exhibits.

In Sonoma, don't miss the Sonoma Valley Shakespeare Festival (tel: 707-996-1090; www.sonomavalley.com) and the other Shakespearean theatre events that the valley is known for. The Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival (tel: 707-996-2109; www.sonomavinfest. com), the state's oldest wine festival, celebrates the harvest in late September.

East Bay: Oakland and Berkeley
Oakland is the largest city in the East Bay area. Even if it lacks dazzle, it's still a great place to visit with kids. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (tel: 415-989-2278; www.bart.gov) -- BART for short -- allows car-free access from San Francisco by air-conditioned subway. Alternatively, you can take the ferry (www. transitinfo.org).

 

The Oakland Museum of California (1000 Oak Street; tel: 510-238-2200; www.museumca.org) is a good place to start and learn a lesson in California history. Take a break for lunch at Jack London Square (Broadway and Embarcadero; tel: 510-814-6000) then visit the author's classic log cabin, where he lived in 1897 during the Klondike gold rush. Lake Merritt (Grand and Bellevue Avenues; tel: 510-465-6400) is pretty and worth visiting if only to see the world's largest city saltwater tidal lake!

The downtown area has some beautiful examples of Art Deco and Victorian architecture, but the Paramount Theater (2025 Broadway; tel: 510-465-6400; www.paramounttheater.com) is perhaps the most striking building in the Bay Area. Now home to the Oakland Symphony and the Oakland Ballet, you can take a two-hour tour of the building on Saturdays.

When Oakland's charms start to wear thin, head to young, hip and vibrant Berkeley next door -- the student community that made its mark in the 1960s.

The University of California (tel: 510-642-5215; www.berkeley.edu) campus there is beautiful. Founded in 1868, it covers 486 hectares of the city with walking paths, a creek and groves of redwood and eucalyptus. Stop off at the Student Union for a map and take a stroll.

The University Art Museum (2626 Bancroft Way; tel: 510-642-0808; www. bampfa.berkeley.edu) holds interesting and bold exhibitions and houses the Pacific Film Archive (tel: 510-642-1124) on the ground floor. The Lawrence Hall of Science (tel: 510-642-5132; www.lhs.berkeley.edu) usually has a lot of hands-on exhibits geared towards kids. Catch planetarium shows and lab demos on weekends and daily during the summer.

For fabulous views and to experience a 92-metre clock tower modelled after the one in Venice's Piazza San Marco, take the elevator up the Sather Tower, more commonly known as the Campanile (closed for repairs until the fall). The 48-bell carillon plays daily except during exams.

Running south from the campus, Telegraph Avenue is the spiritual heart of Berkeley and offers up an eclectic mix of cafés, bookstores, used clothing shops and inexpensive restaurants. Don't miss the farmers' market on Sundays around Haste Street. Telegraph Avenue also hosts a jazz festival in October and a book festival from late July to early August. Contact the Telegraph Area Association (tel: 510-649-9500) for information on upcoming events.

Food fanatics will head straight for Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto for lunch or dinner (a section of Shattuck Avenue bordered by Rose Street and Hearst). That's where you'll find the renowned Chez Panisse restaurant (1517 Shattuck Ave; tel: 510-548-5525; www.chezpanisse.com), considered the originator of the distinctly Californian cuisine.

Monterey Bay
With its crags and twisted, wind-gnarled cypress trees, the Monterey Peninsula juts out into the Pacific Ocean 200 kilometres south of San Francisco, via Highway 101 (Monterey Peninsula Convention and Visitors' Bureau, 462 Webster St, Monterey; tel: 831-649-1770; www.monterey.com).

Start your tour in town at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (886 Cannery Row; tel: 831-648-4888; www.mbayaq.org), a mile-deep submarine canyon boasting more than 350,000 creatures of the sea. Don't miss the largest collection of jellyfish and related artwork by painter David Hockney and others. Mysteries of the Deep -- also not to be missed -- gives more than a glimpse of life in the canyon. If you're with the kids, head to the touching pools first for some hands-on experience with the aquatic.

From the aquarium, head down Cannery Row to Fisherman's Wharf. Though touristy now, both places are important parts of Monterey's history and were immortalized in John Steinbeck's novel Cannery Row.

The Monterey Bay Area also touts the 17-Mile Drive through Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach. But it will cost you a toll. A free 10-kilometre alternative better suited to a day trip heads west out of Monterey on Ocean View Drive and bends southward, passing the Point Pinos Lighthouse.

If you're in the area at the right time, you'll catch one of the agricultural festivals in the surrounding towns. Gilroy's Garlic Festival in late July is perhaps the most famous (tel: 408-842-1625; www. gilroygarlicfestival.com). Nearby Carmel also hosts a tomato festival in mid-September (www.tomatofest.com). And Castroville touts itself as the Artichoke Capital of the World, with an annual festival celebrating that billing in May (tel: 831-633-2465; www.artichoke-festival.org).

Monterey also hosts a blues festival in June (tel: 831-394-2652; www.montereyblues.com) and the longest running jazz festival in the country, this year from September 20 to 22 (tel: 925-275-9255; www.montereyjazzfestival.org). Also of interest is close by Moss Landing's annual antique street fair (tel: 831-633-4501; www.monterey-bay.net/ml/) on the last Sunday in July, which draws hundred of antique dealers and thousands of antique lovers.

Big Sur
Big Sur is a long drive south on Highway 101, but it's worth it if you're desperate for rugged granite and sandstone coastlines, wide valleys, redwood forests, waterfalls, wildlife and author Henry Miller.

Hiking is the area's main activity, but biking is popular too. Make the town your first stop to pick up trail maps and visitor information at Big Sur Station (tel: 831-667-2315; www.bigsurcalifornia.org). Head inland here -- the coast is treacherous and most trails are found in the astounding number of state parks and beaches.

From Garrapata State Park and Point Sur, scan the ocean for whales during the migration season. Or take a ranger-guided tour of the Point Sur lighthouse, which stands over the site once known as the "Graveyard of the Pacific." Andrew Molera State Park (off Highway 1; tel: 408-667-2315) is a hiker's paradise with over five kilometres of beaches and 26 kilometres of hiking trails abounding in local wildlife, including mule deer, bobcat, harbour seals and grey whales.

At Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (east side of Highway 1; tel: 408-667-2315), hike to Pfeiffer Falls through a lush ferny canyon or if you have the time and the energy, use the park as a trailhead to the almost 70,000 hectares of dramatic gorges and canyons of the Ventana Wilderness. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (19 kilometres south of Big Sur Station; tel: 408-667-2315) is yet another area to explore with a noteworthy and breathtaking view of the McWay Waterfall plunging into the Pacific.

If you have the chance to stay a night, don't miss a romantic overnight hike to Sykes Hot Springs, where you can reward yourself with a soak in the thermal pools then sleep out under the stars.

If you're not into hiking, there's plenty to see even if there's little else to do. Snake down the coast on Highway 1, California's first scenic highway. Or make your way to the famous Bixby Creek Bridge (Highway 1, south of Palo Colorado Road) -- the highest single-arch bridge in the world when it was built in 1932. Just before the bridge, take a ride down the Old Coast Road that curves inland and meets up again with Highway 1.

Finally, for lovers of sex-obsessed literature, Henry Miller lived here in a shack from 1947 to 1964. The Henry Miller Library (Highway 1, just south of Nepenthe; tel: 831-667-2574; www.henrymiller.org) -- one room filled with the author's artifacts -- is an essential destination for his fans.

 

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