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•  The Bay by the City
•  High Culture Trifecta for Cheapskates!
•  No Cover, No Minimum
•  Joshua Abraham Norton: Emperor of the USA
•  Mission San Francisco de Asis: The Center of the City
•  Free & Cheap for Kids in the Bay Area
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The Bay by the City
Sarah Date

photo: Sarah Date
Thanks to a few popular songs and hundreds of thousands of images produced by smitten photographers and filmmakers, people the world over associate San Francisco with its lovely bay. For the locals busy being caught up in making a living in the fast paced Bay Area, having a backdrop of stunning natural beauty?sparkling ocean waters, rolling headlands, the folds of land San Francisco itself is built upon, and of course, that Golden Gate, a sweeping feature even before the rather fetching bridge was built?makes it easier to get up in the morning. But it can also have an adverse effect. You know it’s there, so you take it for granted.
Instead, imagine taking the time to pursue an enjoyable activity that allows you to be swept under the bridge instead of driving over it for a change. Here are some suggestions for taking in the views of the city from the water instead of just gazing upon it from the shore.


If you can master attaching yourself to a small, floating fiberglass boat and remain relatively waterproof while launching out to sea, consider paddling about the Bay for a few hours with Sea Trek Kayak in Sausalito. The peaceful nature of this fun and low tech activity instantly kindles appreciation for the Bay’s energy and vitality as well as a sense of accomplishment of your own efforts. Another advantage to kayaking is being able to spot wildlife up close that you might not otherwise see from a larger, noisier method.

Local Technical Director and new kayaking aficionado, Doug M, was recently encouraged to go for a spin off the Sausalito shores by a friend. “It was such a great experience to be cutting through the waves, taking in the enormity of the bridge from below for a change instead of driving over it and barely noticing it. We did a wide loop on to Angel Island and on the return, the sun set in front of me. Fantastic.” Sea Trek offers half and full day excursions and also some evening trips (which are best taken during a full moon) to a variety of destinations around the Bay all year long. No experience is necessary to have an exhilarating adventure. Check out the website for schedules and costs. Sea Trek also offers instruction and equipment rental.

photo: Sarah Date

If you prefer your on-the-water wildlife sightseeing experiences to involve a sturdier vessel than a kayak and far less athletically taxing, sign up for a whale watching trip with SF Whale Watching. Based out of Fort Mason, the company provides trips throughout the year. This environmentally responsible organization aims to take guests out to the open water to try their luck spotting some of the abundant marine wildlife that calls the coast of California a permanent or temporary home. Generally, the destination is the Farallon Islands, 27 miles from the city. If the weather is blustery and the sea choppy, the captain might decide to head up the coast to Point Reyes instead of out to the islands, an option that is still scenic and interesting but at that point, you won’t care because it probably means you are being sprayed by salt water and are cold and soggy. Choose the time when you take the trip carefully—August and September are the best times to take the trip–and remember that you can never have enough layers to keep you warm.

photo: Sarah Date
Because of their location on the west coast, the Farallons are surrounded by an ocean full of nutrients, making them a rich spot for marine wildlife. This is also the reason why they are sometimes referred to as a mini Galapagos. Common sightings (though don’t assume this applies for every trip!) include California grey whales, humpback whales, harbor porpoises, California sea lions, harbor seals, white sharks, jellyfish, and a wide variety of sea and coastal birds such as common murres, tufted puffins, shearwaters, and cormorants. Occasionally stunningly enormous blue whales are spotted which is an unforgettable experience. Of course there are no guarantees with Mother Nature, and you may not even see anything at all except the Golden Gate bridge. Make sure to take a positive attitude with you and a good time will be had by all.

On a recent trip the naturalist noted, “In San Francisco, we are surrounded by a very special ecology that many of us never spend time actually enjoying.” Unfortunately, this is very true. However, as this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Farallon Islands, many events and educational events have been scheduled throughout the year that will hopefully increase awareness and a desire to explore the Bay from a different perspective. Check the website for various activities and seminars.

photo: Sarah Date
Windsurfing and Kiteboarding

The stretch of water and coastline that runs from Crissy Field to the Marina Green at the north end of San Francisco is said to be the windiest spot on the Bay. This is especially easy to believe in the afternoons when the hot air from inland causes the chilly fog to begin its encroachment through the Golden Gate. So it is no wonder that on a fine gusty day, the water is dotted with windsurfers and kiteboarders?little scraps of color zipping back and forth across the Bay. The wetsuit-clad figure at the base of a triangular sail resembles a leafcutter ant on steroids, rushing around carrying its hard-won prize. More flamboyant are the arced parachutes on the kiteboards that catch the wind and propel the boarder along. Watching either type of boarder elegantly sweep across the surface of the water, you can’t help but understand the exhilaration as well as the athleticism of the two sports. Instead of just being an observer, build up some courage and take a few lessons in windsurfing or kitesurfing at one of the schools located around the Bay Area. California Windsurfing
offers beginner courses in the morning and intermediate lessons in the afternoon when the wind picks up in the protected lagoon of Foster City. Boardsports School on Crowne Beach in Alameda offers both windsurfing and kiteboarding instruction with lessons from March through September at a perfect learning spot in the East Bay. They also offer full gear rental so you can try it out before getting hooked and spending lots of cash on eBay. The trick is not only to get up on your board and start moving, but crucially, to know how to swing around and head back the opposite direction before you end up shooting out of the Golden Gate never to be seen again. That, and knowing how to swim. After completing a few classes, head for Crissy Field and try your newfound skills out with the big boys.

Sunset Cruises

Fortunately, not all the pursuits on the Bay demand physical stamina and early wake up calls. As long as you have a seaworthy stomach, book a romantic sunset cruise for yourself and a close friend. A variety of charter boat companies such as the Red and White Fleet conduct early evening cruises that leisurely take their guests under the Golden Gate bridge while plying them with cocktails and dinner. However, for a slightly more special experience, consider hiring the replica Gas Light schooner from Bay Adventures for your next event. The boat is a newly built, 72 foot replica of a historic 1890s style hay scow. With her tall masts and cloth sails, the boat provides a unique and striking setting for your celebration. Cruises generally last about two hours. Ideally a sunset cruise should be taken in the autumn for clear skies, stunning sunsets, and perhaps a glimmering path of moonlight on the water at the end of the evening. Anyone you are trying to impress will surely succumb at that point.

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Golden Gate Bridge

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