The city of San Francisco has so much to offer: bike the Bridge, visit Golden Gate park, watch the baseball, etc. But within 30 mins of the center of the city there is also some stunning scenery which you would probably never discover on your own.
#1: Drive the steepest road in the city.
Everybody drives down the windy road in San Francisco — Lombard. But far cooler is driving down the steepest road — Filbert Street between Hyde and Leavenworth — with the car full of screaming adults. It feels steeper than Lombard as it straight down — 30.1% gradient. [Timing: 2 mins down the hill, 30 mins for your heart to calm down].
#2: Walk to the Kirby Cove Beach.
This is a lovely beach at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge on north side. Everybody does the classic lookout on the north of the bridge, but from that same parking lot, take the fire road that goes downhill and away from the bridge. It winds its way through woods down until you are rewarded with amazing views of the city from underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. It is fantastic and magical in the early morning as the mist clears. [Timing: 2 hours, including time messing around on the beach]
#3: Take the ferry to Angel Island.
This is the huge island you can see from the city beyond Alcatraz. Take the ferry from the city or drive to Tiburon, which is a pretty little town with nice restaurants and shops. There are ferries from the city to the island. The undulating road hugs the coast, or slightly higher up is the fire road, and both treat you to a 360-degree view of the bay, the cities and the bridges. You can even hike to the very top of the island rather than walk around the island. Bikes can be rented on the island. There is also a little open-air bus for those feeling less energetic, or those who want to learn about the fascinating military and immigrant history. You can stop for lunch or coffee at the café where the ferry docks, and often there is live music. [Timing: Allow a morning or afternoon including ferries. Longer if you are walking rather than biking.]
#4: Drive or bike up to the Point Bonita lighthouse.
Drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and turn left up to the lookouts. But keep going. Get the top and turn left at the traffic circle. Keep going. Then drive down the other side on the single-track road. You will have stunning views of the Pacific and even may spot whales. Eventually you will get to a parking lot. Walk back down towards the lighthouse and you can see the sea lions basking in the sunshine in the secluded coves. Then go through the tunnel to the lighthouse, if the tunnel is open (check the times the tunnel is open). It is worth it, even if the tunnel isn’t open. Walk slightly north along the cliffs for amazing views up the Pacific coastline. [Timing: 1-hour drive after you get across the bridge. By the way, this is a serious bike ride and will take several hours.]
#5: Hike down into Muir Woods.
You can drive to Muir Woods which has huge redwoods and is calm and quiet. There is a short path around the woods. But I prefer the hike down from Mountain Home Inn and then back up, finishing off with dinner or lunch at the Inn. It is better on older knees to do the loop clockwise down Ocean View Trail, so you are on the less-steep trail going down. Here’s the trail map. [Timing: 3 hours round-trip, including time down in Muir Woods soaking up the peace.]