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With its big-city vibes, sweeping coastal vistas, and endless number of activities, it’s no wonder San Francisco is typically the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the Bay Area. But the truth is that there are dozens of other cities that are praiseworthy in their own ways. From the East Bay’s more affordable housing options, to Sausalito’s floating homes, to Oakland’s incredible coffee scene, there is something noteworthy about every section of the Bay Area. So, as you may have guessed, there are plenty of things to do in the South Bay Area, too.
Given how much there is to explore in San Francisco’s South Bay, it can be difficult to figure out exactly where to go. So, we found the best route through the South Bay’s tourist attractions, outdoor recreation areas, and quirky local spots to help you get the most out of your adventures.
Things To Do South of San Francisco
Thanks to its location in Silicon Valley and its highly esteemed private college, Stanford University, Palo Alto is no stranger to visitors. This relaxed destination starts the day’s adventures on the right foot and gives you a glimpse into the lifestyle south of the S.F. Bay.
Take some time to meander around downtown, head into the unique boutiques and eateries lining the streets, and admire the host of start-ups that call this quaint town home. When in the area, make sure to check out Hoover Tower, a 285-foot-high structure that’s home to the Hoover Institution Library & Archives. Architect Arthur Brown, Jr. designed the tower after being inspired by the one at the New Cathedral of Salamanca.
The Baylands Nature Preserve is another Palo Alto stand-out—it's the largest tract of marshland not just in the South Bay Area, but also in all of the San Francisco Bay Area. Visitors have access to 15 miles of trails that guide them to an eclectic combination of tidal and freshwater terrains. Whether you’re looking for adventures or a quiet escape from the city, visiting the nature preserve is one of the best things to do south of San Francisco.
While Los Altos hardly receives any recognition, the city’s Redwood Grove Nature Preserve is an unexpected treasure nestled in the suburbs. This forest is only six acres, but it’s still one of the most fun things to do in the South Bay. The 14.2-mile-long Adobe Creek flows through the Redwood Grove Nature Preserve; see if you can spot it while exploring the trails.
Although Los Altos usually flies under the radar, the agricultural paradise was once known as the “Valley of Heart's Delight.” Visitors can learn about its transformation into a high-tech city at the Los Altos History Museum, which is located in one of the few remaining apricot orchards in the Bay Area.
Next up is the entertaining city of Mountain View, one of the coolest towns south of San Francisco. If you happen to stop by on a Sunday, the farmers market should definitely be on the agenda. With loads of local produce, flowers, and handmade goods, it’ll make you feel like you’re part of the community. Aside from the Google campus, the Shoreline Amphitheatre also makes this town a popular destination, so make sure you don’t nix these two quick stops.
Tech fanatics should definitely pay a visit to the Computer History Museum, which showcases exhibits and stories of the information age and its impact on the world. Established in 1996, the museum has the most significant collection of computing artifacts in the world—the Cray-1 supercomputer, the Utah teapot, and an Apple I are a few of the many rare artifacts on display.
When driving through the South Bay, Santa Clara isn’t optional. Whether you are hitting up California’s Great America to channel your inner child for a couple of hours or are lucky enough to catch a San Francisco 49ers game at Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara is among the top South Bay tourist attractions.
Visiting Mission Santa Clara is one of the best things to do in the South Bay Area. The Spanish mission was named after Saint Clare of Assisi and was the eighth to be established in the Golden State. Mission Santa Clara is also the resting place of the first elected governor of California, Peter Hardeman Burnett.
Things To Do In San Jose
By population, San Jose is the third-largest city in California and the 10th largest city across the country, so it’s a necessary stop on your South Bay adventure. Visit Alum Rock Park—one of the oldest municipal parks in the state and one of the best places to visit in San Jose—for a nice walk through the foothills of the Diablo Range. While you’re there, check out the active mineral spring, take a jog, and pack a picnic to enjoy the 740 acres of natural beauty.
Then, it’s time to hike the Los Gatos Creek Trail. This 1.9-mile pathway offers unparalleled serenity in San Jose, making it a great place to visit on the weekend. You can turn around after the first two miles, or you can continue down this same trail for another 9.3 miles and travel through Campbell as well.
Later, head over to the 4,163-acre Almaden Quicksilver County Park, where more adventures await. Home to the grounds of former mercury mines, the county park encompasses most of Capitancillos Ridge. If you’re visiting during springtime, the most spectacular wildflower displays in the South Bay Area add richness and vibrancy to the historic site.
After seeing what the region has to offer for outdoor recreation, head to the Municipal Rose Garden and then to Santana Row for some retail therapy. But don’t miss out on the mysterious Winchester Mystery House, which is a San Jose staple.
Fun Things To Do In The South Bay Area
Full of fun creations, Psycho Donuts is the perfect pick-me-up spot to energize the rest of your adventures. Grab the Strawberry Fields and It’s a Rocky Road donuts, and you’re sure to feel unstoppable.
With plenty of energy to burn, head over to John D. Morgan Park to let your inner child come out and play. If you’re looking for fun things to do near San Jose, the 32-acre park is the perfect spot to have an afternoon picnic and engage in a variety of activities.
If you haven’t had enough of the great outdoors, check out Jack Fischer Park to resume your adventures. The park consists of a variety of children’s playgrounds, an interactive water feature, a “beehive” hill with a walking path, and large open fields to make the most of your time here.
Now that you’re ready to take on the world again, it’s time to storm the castle—Castle Rock State Park, that is. With 34 miles of hiking trails; oceanic vistas; and plenty of opportunities for rock climbing, horseback riding, and camping, the possibilities are endless. Set up camp for the night before heading home, and you’re likely to extend your South Bay vacation.
But don’t leave the area without making one last stop at St. Joseph’s Hill Preserve, a 270-acre nature preserve with miles of challenging trails to hike. Providing scenic backdrops of the city, this preserve is the perfect escape from urban life before heading back to the hustle and bustle.
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