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Bragging Rites: Best Scenic Drives near San Francisco

San Franciscans have much to brag about: cordial temperatures, diverse culture and fabulous views from so many vantage points around the city. This is the north, south, east and west of it, short on miles, but big on beauty.

Highway 101 to Marine Mammal Center

Marin Headlands/Marine Mammal Center
2000 Bunker Rd.
Fort Cronkhite  Sausalito, CA 94965
(415) 289-7325

Distance: 11 miles (one-way)
Price: free
Hours: daily – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This adventure starts just north of the Golden Gate Bridge with an ascending drive that pays off in spades. Make sure you bring enough memory in your camera because the views of San Francisco and its bridge from a series of lookout points redefine the word panoramic. Finished in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most beautiful, and certainly the most photographed, bridges in the world. Finish this short jaunt at the Marine Mammal Center for more beautiful shots and an educational, inspirational visit.

Drakes Estero
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Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to Drakes Bay Oyster Co.

Drakes Bay Oyster Co.

17171 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.
Inverness, CA 94937
(415) 669-1149

Distance: 49 miles (one-way)
Price: free
Hours: daily – 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 

You'll pass through some of the prettiest towns in Marin County enroute to the seashore along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Point Reyes National Seashore awaits you and with it some of the most breathtaking views of land and surf. Lucky drivers may catch a glimpse of neighboring tule elk.  Buy your oysters in the shell or in the jar at Drakes Bay Oyster Co., then grab a nearby bench, break out some vino, dunk your oysters in sauce and breathe in that fine briny air.

Related: Best Outdoor Activities in the San Francisco Bay Area

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Highway I80 to Eckley Fishing Pier (via Carquinez Strait Scenic Drive)
Eckley Fishing Pier
Bull Valley Staging Area, Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline Park
Port Costa, Ca.
(888) 327-2757, option 3, Ext. 45141

Distance:  30 miles (one-way)
Price: free
Hours: daily – 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Two of the East Bay's most hidden enclaves, the towns of Crockett and Port Costa await you as you roll down one of the most thrilling scenic drives in the region. The  Carquinez Strait offers serious challenges to boaters when the waves turn to white caps, making for beautiful wakes on windy days. Take it all in safely at 750 feet as you climb to the Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline Park. Park your car in the staging area, cross the Amtrak tracks and grab your place on the Pier. Sturgeon, bass and perch have a penchant for anchovies, bull heads and ghost shrimp, so bring a variety of bait and plan to stay a while.

Oakland Bay Bridge to Treasure Island Bar & Grill
Treasure Island Bar & Grill
60 Clipper Cove Way
Treasure Island, CA 94130
(415) 627-9060

Distance: 4 miles (one-way)
Hours: daily – 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Test out the new and improved Bay Bridge on this short trip to historic Treasure Island. Bring company with you and take turns driving to really see downtown San Francisco and Yerba Buena Island from the unique angles the bridge offers. Take in the sweeping views around the island -- sights visitors to the World's Fair also enjoyed back in 1939. Treasure Island Marina is a must-see for some of the best up-close views of sailboats. Wrap up the trip watching the sun set while enjoying great grub and a cold one at Treasure Island Bar & Grill.

San Gregorio State Beach
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Highway 1 to San Gregorio State Beach
San Gregorio State Beach
10.5 miles south of Half Moon Bay on Highway 1
(650) 879-2170

Distance:  41 miles (one-way)
Price: free
Hours: daily – 8 a.m. to sunset 

Highway 1's epic views present themselves at every turn with a constantly changing beach sandscape of driftwood, shells and seaweed on a wide, sandy beach. Grassy bluffs along the coast break up the sparkling shoreline. Dress in layers to keep the wind out, and hunker down for a spectacular sunset right on the sea. Although this area looks like it would be a blast for Fido, leave the pup at home as dogs are not allowed here.

Related: San Francisco's Most Romantic Parks

Patricia Kutza is a San Francisco Bay Area-based travel, business and lifestyle journalist who writes for a wide variety of regional, national and global titles. Her work can be found at

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