A Local’s Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area

by Jennifer Chan


Visit Yoda in San Francisco’s historic Presidio. Photo: American Ratings Corporation: 2015

Welcome to the Bay!

Since most of our readers are Bay Area residents, we spend a lot of time on this blog writing about domestic concerns like landscape design, plumbing and the Giants. But today, I get to write for a different audience. Have you recently bought a sweatshirt at Pier 39? Did you get stuck driving up Divisadero yesterday? Did last week’s earthquake wake you up? If so, then today I’m writing for you: our beloved Bay Area visitors.

American Ratings Corporation (ARC) is a local company that serves local consumers, and 80 percent of our staff members are Bay Area natives. Below, we share our favorite off-the-beaten-path places to visit and things to do. First, however, some advice from the locals: let me introduce you to the Diamond Certified Resource, created by ARC.

Diamond Certified Resource is the best and simplest way to find high-quality local service companies. We award Diamond Certified to companies that have passed our rigorous survey of real customers. You may not need the services of a local roofer or kitchen designer, but you may need a 24-hour locksmith, an emergency dentist or an auto repair shop. Finding a company that offers the services you need is simple: just enter the type of service and your county at the top of this page. We also have a handy mobile interface because we know you’re on the go.

Now on to our top Bay Area picks:

San Francisco

Hands down, Bi-Rite Creamery makes the best ice cream on the planet. Skip the line at their original location in the Mission (3692 18th Street) and head to their second store at 550 Divisadero Street.

Despite being one of the densest cities in the United States, San Francisco has some great places to commune with nature. For quick hikes with spectacular ocean views, head out to Lands End or Fort Funston.


Lands End, at the tip of the San Francisco peninsula, offers spectacular ocean views. Photo: American Ratings Corporation, 2015

When asked to choose an off-the-radar restaurant, ARC’s resident foodie, David Pak, suggests Frascati in the Russian Hill neighborhood—great food, great atmosphere and reasonable prices.

Don’t forget to visit Yoda in the Presidio. Tucked amidst historic military buildings, the Letterman Digital Arts Center is the headquarters of Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). The interior of the center is closed to the public, but you can explore the 23-acre campus.


North Bay

If you have kids under nine years old, you’re probably already planning to go to the Bay Area Discovery Museum, as its Bay-themed exhibits and play structures offer perennial fun. While you’re in Sausalito, don’t forget to check out a real hidden gem: the Bay Model. An exact topographical replica of the San Francisco Bay, the model features a pumping system that allows water to ebb and flow, mimicking real tidal patterns.

Going out to Point Reyes? The newest member of the ARC team, Alex Maxwell, suggests hiking to Alamere Falls, a year-round, 40-foot waterfall that drops to the beach. Be sure to pack snacks and a swimsuit for this 13-mile round trip hike.


Wildflowers surround Old St. Hilary’s Church in Tiburon. Photo: American Ratings Corporation, 2015

When the crowds in Sausalito get too constricting, Ian Leary suggests going a few miles north to historic downtown Tiburon. The town’s narrow main street is lined with boutiques, restaurants and a ferry terminal. Take the ferry to Angel Island, visit Old St. Hilary’s Church and have lunch on a dock above the sea lions at Sam’s Anchor Café.

If you’re heading up to Wine Country, consider taking a detour to beer country instead. Lagunitas Brewing Company’s Petaluma brewery offers daily tours and tastings. And if you time it right, you might catch the Lagunitas Beer Circus (don’t ask, just go).

Are you a Northern California first-timer? Mari Keshishyan-Patrick says you have to visit old-growth redwoods at least once in your life. Muir Woods in the summer is busier than San Francisco’s Financial District, so take the day and head up to Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. Pack an overnight bag and you can stay in quaint Guerneville, which is perched on the edge of the Russian River.

East Bay

Love trains? The Golden State Model Railroad Museum is the oldest model train museum in the United States, and it devotes 10,000 square feet to running model trains. It’s located in picturesque Point Richmond, so you can come for the trains and stay for the views and historic architecture.


Spend the night on your own private island off the coast of Point Richmond. Photo: East Brother Light Station, 2015

For a one-of-a-kind overnight, plan a stay at the East Brother Light Station Victorian Bed & Breakfast, a Victorian-era structure on its own tiny bay island off the coast of Point Richmond. You can really get away with board games in the parlor, no Internet and the boom of a fog horn.

If you have kids, Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley beckons. With a petting zoo; a carousel; beautiful, easy hikes; and a working steam train, it’s a favorite for local families.

Older kids (and adults) may be interested in doing some mining, or at least learning about it. At the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch, you can take a tour of a once-working silica sand mine.

During the day, Chabot Space & Science Center is fun and educational, but videographer David Vandergriff says the real action happens at night. During free evening viewings, visitors can use the observatories’ giant telescopes to visit the stars.

South Bay


Despite the clouds, Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica is a great place to learn to surf. Photo: American Ratings Corporation, 2015

Not quite ready for Mavericks? That’s OK; our intrepid Ashley Hudson suggests heading a few miles north on Highway 1 for surfing lessons. Just 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco, Linda Mar Beach offers gentle waves that are just right for beginners. A few different surf shops and outfits offer rentals and lessons.