A staycationer’s guide to a memorable break

Mara Farese

After a stressful ending to the fall semester, two weeks of winter break can come as a relief. Though this lull in the school year is often a time where people travel abroad, many people stick around to enjoy the holiday season from home. For all the soon-to-be staycationers, the Bay Area is full of activities, and becoming a tourist in your own home is one of the best ways to spend your time. Here are a few very merry places to visit this winter.

The view from Twin Peaks encompasses a broad stretch of San Francisco.

Twin Peaks Sunset – 4/5

Twin Peaks is located in the center of San Francisco by Sutro Tower. After a day at Golden Gate Park, this nearby viewpoint is a great way to see San Francisco and its breathtaking sunsets from a new angle. Panoramic views reveal the busy traffic of the Financial District, Golden Gate Park and, on a clear day, the Marin Headlands. The 30 to 40-minute drive up Clarendon Heights neighborhood takes you through lush, green, natural slopes surrounded by the beauty of Forest Knolls encompassing you. The gentle curves and ascending views make this an enjoyable drive, and the view is well-worth the Golden Gate Bridge toll fare of about $8. The main downside is when the weather is better, the peaks become crowded with people waiting for the sunset, which can make parking difficult and your experience less peaceful. 

An abandoned fishing boat lies beached on the shores of Tomales Bay.

Tomales Bay Day Trip  – 5/5

Just east of the Point Reyes National Seashore, Tomales Bay State Park is a more natural landscape than that of crowded San Francisco. Only a 40-minute drive from Fairfax, Tomales Bay delivers an on-the-water experience while being less exposed than Marin’s sheer coastal cliffs. The temperature and weather patterns are often cold and gloomy, so it is important to check the weather and pack layers before your day starts. On the way there, I recommend eating at Lagunitas Grocery, an excellent deli that makes custom hot and delicious sandwiches. Tomales Bay’s calm waters are a great place to kayak, with small beaches, like Hearts Desire Beach, as stops along the way. Starting in the small town of Inverness, located along the waters of Tomales Bay, Blue Waters Kayaking is a worthy place to set out for a day on the water. While in Inverness, grab your camera for the popular landmark, the Tomales Bay Shipwreck, a Point Reyes fishing boat beached over 100 years ago. With their natural beauty and options for adventure, Tomales Bay and Inverness serve as a nice day trip and an escape from urban environments.

Stinson Beach’s distinct coastline is seen from Bolinas Fairfax Ridge on clear days.

Bolinas Fairfax Ridge Sunset – 5/5

Though not as unique, Bolinas Fairfax Ridge is an amazing sunset spot often visited by locals. Overlooking Stinson Beach and Bolinas while nestled in the golden California hills, the 360-degree view makes the ridge an unbelievable backdrop for photos. The fog along the coast has recently shifted due to wind changes in this season, revealing the clear view of the ocean on one side and the rolling hills of San Geronimo and Nicasio Valley on the other. Parking is almost always accessible, with around a dozen gravel pullouts serving as mini parking lots that fit from one to 10 cars. Once you park, you can make your way up one of the many small trails. While Bolinas Fairfax Ridge is a beautiful spot that attracts many people, its hills are fairly spread out, and you can often get one area completely to yourself. With the days ending earlier, you also have plenty of time to grab dinner on your way back from watching the sunset. Visiting this sunset spot also gives you a valid excuse to follow the ridge down through Fairfax and visit Marin’s locally famous Fairfax Scoop ice cream shop. 

The morning sun peeks over the San Francisco skyline.

Pantoll Sunrise – 4/5

On the same road to Bolinas Fairfax Ridge, small trailheads along the way serve as the perfect place to hike and see the sunrise. One place in particular starts from the Pantoll parking lot, stationed across from the intersection of Panoramic Highway and Pan Toll Road. A quick 15-minute hike takes you to a gorgeous hilltop gazing out over the Dipsea Trail. Around 7 a.m., you can also see the sun rising over the San Francisco skyline and the Bay. While watching the sunrise requires waking up before dawn, as the sun rises at around seven a.m. in the winter, a loss of sleep is outshined by a spectacular view and an earlier start to the day.