Since the mid-19th century, the greater Bay Area has been seen as the crown jewel of California, a rich and diverse landscape that now combines some of the state’s biggest tourist draws into one tidy package. Cross the big orange bridge over the Golden Gate and turn onto rural Marin County roads to shuck oysters; keep heading north to find quiet Sonoma wineries; retreat to the East Bay for striking public art installations or hidden beaches.
Like many culinary delicacies, oysters are best consumed close to their source, which makes Hog Island’s small bayside location in Marshall, along Tomales Bay, a full sensory experience. Friendly groups snag picnic tables to sip wine and slurp Pacific oysters and bay mussels under the sun. The place can be a scene during peak summer season, but it’s worth the wait.
What’s it like to shuffle past a Costco parking lot and (at low tide, at least) crunch around on a semisecret beach littered with old ceramic plateware? It’s amazing fun, at least for an afternoon. This small patch of waterfront in Richmond is a remnant of a time when TEPCO (that’s Technical Porcelain and Chinaware Company) used the unfortunate watershed as a dumping ground. Though the plant closed in 1968, much of its discarded product lingers on what may be the world’s only porcelain beach.
Wait for it: San Francisco’s Wave Organ sculpture comes to life only when the waves are right. The low tubes jut out over a section of rocky shoreline in the Marina district, creating different tones as the water fills them and then recedes. Artist Peter Richards is behind the 35-year-old piece of public art, which consists of more than 20 PVC pipes braced with cement for maximum echo and low, woeful melody.
Just east across the bay from downtown San Francisco, pushing out into the salty water, is a former landfill that has been reimagined and rehabbed by locals into one of the loveliest places to wander in the East Bay. Beyond the public fields and walking trails, the bulbous knob (hence the name) at the westernmost end doubles as a public art site, filled with rough metal sculptures, graffiti work, and more.
At the far western end of San Francisco, below the Lands End Lookout recreation area, adventurous day hikers can find the ruins of Sutro Baths (or just gaze at them from the parking lot above). The concrete shells of multiple shoreline-touching saltwater baths are all that’s left of a once-thriving establishment opened in 1894 by millionaire Adolph Sutro, who at one time operated a massive hospitality empire on this shoreline. The pools were enclosed in a tall glass structure to draw in and hold sunlight, and they were filled directly from the ocean to accommodate up to 10,000 swimmers a day.
Fisherman’s Wharf is far from overlooked by tourists, but still, many never bother to venture inside this purposefully odd wonderland, an interactive museum filled with all manner of loud, mechanized fun. There are rows of fortune-teller machines and penny arcade games, player pianos, and even a steam-powered motorcycle built in 1912, all waiting to be played with (or at least looked at). The large, warehouse-like museum continues to add pieces to its priceless and fascinating collection. Load up on quarters and explore it for yourself. •