Beauty on the far side of the Gate
Travel specialist Jane Walsh writes about the untamed landscapes of northern California beyond San Francisco’s sophisticated offerings
NTHE other side of San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge there’s a world of untamed Pacific coastline, quiet, isolated beaches, colourful small towns, welcoming inns and giant redwood trees, all with a laid-back Californian vibe.
Once you cross the bridge, take a big breath of Pacific air and look back across San Francisco Bay. The choppy waters are alive with sail boats, cruisers and windsurfers catching the wind and riding the crests.
Then head north to Sausalito, which is nestled in the Marin County foothills, where you will find a Mediterranean feel to the waterfront bars, cafés, restaurants and shops.
When San Francisco shivers in the Pacific fog, Sausalito is protected and sheltered by the steep headlands.
As it is quite isolated, there was an influx of rum runners during the prohibition era of the 1930s, who landed here to enjoy a colourful and lively nightlife. Now, the steep hillsides are home to million-dollar redwood mansions that balance precariously, looking down on several houseboat communities.
Staying in the heart of buzzing, downtown Sausalito you will be right next to the pier that launches one of the world’s great ferry rides. In 30 minutes you will be across the bay with beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island and the former prison island of Alcatraz.
This really is the perfect base to explore the delights of rural and coastal northern California.
If you head a few miles further north, this is the best vantage point to view and photograph the bridge with the San Francisco skyline in the background.
It is particularly photogenic in the early morning, with the fog rolling in, or during the late afternoon.
Heading further north again, towards Sonoma county, the scenery and beaches become wilder and more untamed, with spectacular views of the ocean crashing on these rugged and often deserted beaches.
You will then reach Bodega, the tiny town where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds.
The schoolhouse still looks the same and there is a fascinating Hitchcock museum next to the county store.
A few miles on, you reach Bodega Bay, where it will seem obvious why Hitchcock chose this town as it still retains a certain eerie atmosphere.
On another 20 miles to the quaint and charming seaside resort of Jenner. It is beautifully situated where the Russian river spills out into the Pacific ocean.
There is a fantastic restaurant that is perched on a high promontory, which provides the ideal lunch spot, serving fine food and wine and overlooking the river and ocean.
If you like nature, explore the Redwoods State Nature Reserve and the Austin Creek State Recreational area or head to the wine-producing hub of Sonoma.
There are more than 400 award-winning wineries in Sonoma County, a variety to suit every palate from small-family run wineries to international wine houses.
Here you can enjoy Californian cuisine all served alfresco with a superb glass of rather fine, chilled Chardonnay.
If you’d like to know more, contact Jane Walsh on jane@freespiritholiday. co.uk or call 01895 833 268.
The majestic Golden Gate Bridge rises out of the mist in the early morning. Below, Sonoma vineyards
Bodega Bay, made famous by Alfred Hitchcock, who filmed his classic horror film The Birds in this area