North of the Golden Gate Bridge, in the hilly country across the chilly waters from San Francisco, lies the North Bay region of the Bay Area. Perhaps best known as the home of Napa Valley, America's largest wine producing region, here you'll find lovely natural scenery and some very pleasant small towns in the hills and valleys of the area.
|Marin County |
Visitors to Marin County can see migrating gray whales while strolling the wind-swept beaches of Point Reyes National Seashore, take in the views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands, or soak in the majesty of the redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument. The county's tiny towns are full of character, and include the artistic enclave of Sausalito, as well as Bolinas, whose reclusive residents are notorious for removing any road sign that points the way into their town.
|Sonoma County |
Home to rugged scenery and wine country, as well as Santa Rosa, the North Bay's largest city. Historic towns like Petaluma and Sonoma make good bases for wine-tasting.
|Napa Valley |
America's preeminent wine-producing region attracts more than five million annual visitors to over two hundred wineries, often overcrowding the roadways on summer weekends. Travelers will find world-famous restaurants to complement the wines, and lodging that includes luxury spas, B&Bs, and upscale hotels. Those uninterested in viticulture may choose to enjoy the hot springs of Calistoga or hike/bike the many parks and trails in the area's beautiful rolling hills.
|Solano County |
Solano County is far more rural than the other Bay Area counties, and includes significant portions of the California Delta, as well as parts of San Pablo Bay. Two of the county's cities served as early state capitals: Vallejo was the capital in 1852 and again in 1853, while Benicia served as the capital from February 1853 until February 1854; today Benicia Capitol State Historic Park provides the opportunity for visitors to explore the Capitol building from that era.
- 1 Healdsburg - A charming wine country town with excellent restaurants, shopping and wine tasting.
- 2 Mill Valley - Home to the scenic old-growth redwood grove of Muir Woods and other beautiful nature reserves for hiking.
- 3 Petaluma - A historically agricultural community in Sonoma County.
- 4 San Rafael - The county seat and largest city of Marin County, home to a historic Spanish mission.
- 5 Santa Rosa - The largest city of the North Bay, home to a museum devoted to Charles Schulz and a good jumping-off point for exploring the region.
- 6 Sausalito - A charming community perched on a hillside by the bay that's an easy ferry ride from San Francisco.
- 7 Tiburon - A historic small town that's a popular ferry port and is the closest community to scenic Angel Island.
- 8 Vallejo - A prominent town at the northeasternmost edge of the bay, accessible by ferry and home to a few notable attractions.
- 9 Windsor - A large town in Sonoma County.
- 1 Marin Headlands - Offers beaches, hiking, history, and spectacular views of the California coast.
- 2 Point Reyes National Seashore - From its thunderous ocean breakers crashing against rocky headlands and expansive sand beaches through its open grasslands to its brushy hillsides and forested ridges, visitors can discover over 1000 species of plants and animals. Home to several cultures over thousands of years, Point Reyes preserves a tapestry of stories and interactions of people.
The nearest international airports are San Francisco International Airport (SFO IATA) in San Francisco, Oakland International Airport (OAK IATA) in Oakland, and Sacramento International Airport (SMF IATA) in Sacramento. Bus service is provided by the Marin Airporter from San Francisco International Airport (every 30 minutes) and by Groome Transportation from both San Francisco and Oakland. The other major Bay Area airport, in San Jose, is really too far away to be convenient.
Sonoma County Airport (STS IATA) also has a limited number of domestic flights. Bus service from STS is provided by Groome Transportation as well as by Sonoma County Transit. Light rail service is provided by SMART.
Major bus routes into this region include:
- Golden Gate Transit route 101, which runs roughly once an hour from San Francisco to Santa Rosa via San Rafael, Novato, Petaluma, Cotati, and Rohnert Park. Other routes in the 100s also serve Marin and Sonoma Counties from San Francisco.
- Golden Gate Transit route 580, which runs once or twice an hour to the San Rafael transit center from El Cerrito del Norte BART station, with BART connections to the rest of the East Bay.
- Greyhound buses to San Rafael, Santa Rosa, Vallejo, and Suisun City (near Fairfield).
- SolTrans routes from the East Bay to points in Solano County (Benicia, Vallejo, Fairfield, Suisun City, Vacaville, Dixon).
- See also: Bay Area public transit
SMART (Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit) connects the main towns along the major north-south axis in Marin and Sonoma Counties by train, including Larkspur (with ferry connections to San Francisco), San Rafael, Novato, Petaluma, and Santa Rosa.
Local bus agencies include Golden Gate Transit, Marin Transit in Marin County, The Vine in and around the Napa Valley, Sonoma County Transit in Sonoma County, and SolTrans in and around Solano County.
Although overshadowed by the world famous wine industry in the region (more detail on that can be found in the Napa Valley guide), there is a high concentration of microbreweries in the area, following the well known saying among beer aficionados, "It takes great beer to make great wine." The dominant style in the region is the West Coast IPA, popular for the aggressive hops brewed into the beer, but a vast array of styles are available. Popular breweries include Bear Republic Brewing Company in Healdsburg, Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, Marin Brewing Company in Larkspur, Moylan Brewery in Novato, Napa Smith Brewing Company in Napa, and Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa.