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Best of the Bay 2014: Rec
Staff | Photo: Maren Caruso | June 24, 2014
Bikes, hikes, snow kites, and other reasons to recreate.
Climbing Site (Best Scrambling)
Trade that stuffy indoor climbing gym for the real thing—conquering the moonscape of Pinnacles National Park, where the line between athlete and astronaut feels blurred. The otherworldly monoliths and crags of America’s newest national park makes for the best open-face rock climbing this side of Yosemite—but instead of Sierra granite, here you climb on remnants of a prehistoric volcano and medieval looking spires. Ascents are knee-shaking as you gaze down at the labyrinth canyons while condors swoosh by your head, but veteran outfitter Adventure Out can calm your nerves. From $135.
Jill K. Robinson
Wine Country Ride (Best Hot Wheels)
Sure, you could ride that laughably large bus through wine country and be tourist-shamed. Or you could rent a vintage convertible from db db Autosportif and savor the glory of cruising in style. (You might even be mistaken for a Mondavi.) Pick from options like a Bond-ish 1960 Corvette Roadster or an Austin Powers–worthy ’74 Jaguar, with names, like Hans, that reflect their character. Several recommended routes lead you through the best of Sonoma’s back roads. Go easy on the tastings (app-enabled Breathometers are stashed in every glove box), though with wheels this sweet, you may not even be tempted to stop for wine. From $200 for 4 hours.
New Bike Breed (Best Bay Cycle)
This summer, bike lanes are about to become obsolete with the advent of Schiller Sports, which combines our dual obsessions—cycling and water sports—in a carbon fiber bike set upon inflatable pontoons. Designed to conquer choppy bay waters, the 40-pound aquatic bike can reach speeds of up to 10 knots (the equivalent of 12 miles per hour). The frame is coated with a salt-resistant finish, the back platform is designed for camping gear and storage, and the entire contraption takes under 15 minutes to assemble and fits in your trunk or on your bike rack. Tour de Alcatraz, anyone? $6,795.
Stargazing Perch (Best Meteors)
It’s pitch-black at Bootjack Campground, just 25 miles from the Golden Gate—except, that is, for the shooting stars lighting up the sky. Thanks to the camp’s lofty elevation on the western slope of Mount Tamalpais, light pollution is minimal. Last fall, the campground reopened after 40 years of day use only, and now the 15 new sites are the best spot within a 20-minute drive of the city for a last-minute car camping trip. Consider leaving your tent behind—come nightfall, especially during a new moon, you’ll want to stretch out en plein air to spot meteor showers like the Delta Aquarids, set to put on a show between July 12 and August 23. In the morning, you’ll still have time for a short hike on the Matt Davis Trail before making it back to the city in time for work.
Highway Turned Hike (Best Panorama)
Remember the whiteknuckle drive along the cliffs at Devil’s Slide? Now you can catch aweinspiring views without rear-ending rubberneckers. The new Devil’s Slide Coastal Trail kept the ominous name, but the 1.3-mile stretch of bike- and pedestrian-friendly track is anything but. Start at the south end for your first eyeful of Pacific panorama. After a narrow passage between cliffs, the coast opens up like an ocean amphitheater. Benches invite lingering, interpretive panels provide insight on seabirds, and a coin telescope allows for views of the lower cliffs, blanketed in coastal succulents. As the trail winds uphill, you hit one last vantage point before arriving at the northern parking lot. Good news: You get to see it all again on the way back to your car.
Fitness Hub (Best Monkey Bars)
The Proxy center has been a favorite Hayes Valley spot for indulging in Smitten Ice Cream, but now fitness fiends have transformed it into a place to work off those extra cals. First, Streets of San Francisco launched its not-just-for-tourists city bike rides. In May came the Juice Box, the first permanent digs for the liver-cleansing nectars from the Juice Shop truck. Now Basic Training has converted the parking lot into a fitness playground, with Pac-Man-inspired stencils that map out interactive workouts on the ground. Plus, there’s a new pop-up movie screen, offering a way to decompress after all that adrenaline.
432 Octavia St. (at Hayes)
Jenna A. Scatena
Aerial Activity (Best Snowkite)
Next winter, forget crowded slopes. For snowboarders longing to catch big air without the masses, snowkiting, the fastest-growing winter sport in the world, has finally made its way to California, by way of Truckee-based Sierra Snowkite Center. Adding a kite to your shredding routine is similar to kiteboarding on the bay, except that you’re harnessing the wind to plow through powdery meadows at up to 60 miles per hour, go up slopes, or lift into the sky. You should be an experienced snowboarder to start, but once you’ve mastered the art, you can explore miles of backcountry terrain—no lift ticket needed. From $75.
Hotel on Wheels (Best Silver Convoy)
Smart cars might be great for finding parking, but for a road trip? No, thanks. Enter Living Airstream, a fleet of the silver bullets that arrived in the Bay Area this spring, drawn by a demand for Burning Man caravans, wine tours, coastal road trips, and retro-inspired weddings. Each of the 22 new and vintage trailers is unique, sleeps three to eight adults, and is equipped with a kitchen, a sink, a bathroom, and heating. Your own hotel in a tube can be picked up at the company’s Treasure Island facility. From $195 per night.
Tech Shop For Surfers (Best Surfboards)
What’s a surfer to do when the waves at Ocean Beach aren’t going off? Craft a new ride for the next epic set of rollers. At Sunset Shapers, a boutique surf store turned workshop, owner and expert shaper James Mitchell now offers a full concept-to-completion surfboard class. Start with an idea of size, style, and the type of waves you plan to tackle, and Mitchell will take you through the main steps: carving, sanding, polishing, and optional wood detailing—walnut fins, anyone? Trick it out with artwork, then glass it and take it for a ride. The bragging rights will be endless. From $670.
Digi-Race (Best Athlete App)
Love marathons but despise the ungodly wake-up time on race day? Enter Strava Races—a virtually timed competition that pits racers against each other anywhere in the world at any time of day. The SoMa company’s latest addictive app works like this: After Strava sets a time window and a distance, users choose their own course route and decide when to crush it. Once the race is over, participants are ranked on the site’s leader board. A recent 10K yielded 24,500 participants from across the globe. Think of it as a virtual Olympics for normcore athletes.
Shortcut to Nirvana (Best Shamans)
When you first disrobe in the Healing Arts Center & Spa at Cavallo Point, you might take it for a typical shallow spa, but skin-deep pampering this is not. Treatments follow a strict integrative health philosophy. Think of it as a smaller, closer Esalen. Want to reclaim relaxation? Try the two-hour Ultimate Detox, featuring a salt scrub, a body wrap, a sea kelp soak, and a massage. Searching for stress relief? Follow any treatment with a cup of lavender-lemon tea at the heated outdoor meditation pool or a purifying elixir or tonic at the tea bar. For an academic interlude, take in the new lecture series on holistic practices. Those looking for enlightenment might find it down the New Age rabbit hole with the spa’s in-house shaman.
Birding Mecca (Best Willets)
How’s this for irony? Bodega Bay, which starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror flick The Birds, is now home to the Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail in one of the most popular bird-watching areas in Northern California. The gravel path winds 1.2 miles past two seasonal manmade ponds and a saltwater marsh, all popular resting spots for snowy egrets, northern pintails, willets, and western grebes. Birders love the area for the diversity of species that it attracts, but the trail also offers a good bit of history: Part of it follows a levee, a vestige from when the area was used as a disposal site by boats hired to dredge the harbor. At the southeast end, the path links up with a bridge trail that crosses Cheney Creek and connects to Doran Regional Park. Though feathered friends frequent the area year-round, the best times to visit are in late fall and early spring, after rainfall fills the ponds and floods the marsh.
Airport Turned Lounge (Best Layover)
While the best that you can hope for at most airports is a short security line, SFO has been steadily raising the bar since opening Terminal 2 three years ago. This January it unveiled its newest branch, the $138 million Terminal 3 East—an airy, artsy oasis of local purveyors, earth-friendly features, and San Francisco–inspired coolness. Harness some Zen tranquillity in the yoga room before a long haul to Asia, sip a glass of Napa cab on tap in the cozy wine bar, SF Uncork’d, or recharge in an iconic Fritz Hansen egg chair amid spectacular art and circadian lighting that wards off jet lag. Boosted by such allure, SFO is on track to pass last year’s record of 45 million passengers. But execs might want to keep an eye on another telling stat: the number of missed flights in T3E.
Dog Lover’s Bible (Best For Canines)
Every S.F. dog owner knows that finding Fido-friendly vacations is no easy task. If you ever wanted to take your shih tzu to Yosemite or your Frenchie to Del Mar, but feared being barred by restaurants and hotels, National Geographic has a solution for you: The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel. In it, local author and canine virtuoso Kelly E. Carter writes a mix between a travel bible and Emily Post advice for canines. You’ll learn about checking Rover onto a plane, doggy hotel etiquette, and the most dog-friendly destinations, like Carmel-by-the-Sea (which has 30 dog-friendly restaurants) and Las Vegas—who knew that Trump International Hotel has an in-house dog walker? $23.
Kate Van Brocklin
Family Glamping (Best Giraffes)
So you didn’t make that African safari this year? Safari West, in the Mayacamas Mountains east of Santa Rosa, is a worthy substitute— without vaccinations or a 14-hour flight. The 400-acre preserve is home to 100 species of animals, including zebras, ring-tailed lemurs, and southern white rhinoceroses. For overnight stays, there are 30 tent cabins, most overlooking the giraffe enclosure—from your deck, the animals are just a few neck-lengths away. Spend the morning watching monkeys and cheetahs. At night, doze off to the cackles of flamingos—nature’s white noise. The cabin decor could be described as bush chic: Overhead lights made with tree branches provide a rustic counterpoint to modern private bathrooms equipped with hot water. No, it’s not luxury living on the Serengeti. But it comes close enough. From $225 per Night.
Excuse to Ditch Work (Best Vertigo)
Mendocino is under the radar no more: Point Arena–Stornetta Public Lands was just crowned California’s newest national monument. The 1,665-acre area includes a rugged 12-mile coastal trail, with more inland trails in the works, and is rich with diverse flora and fauna, making it a prime location for tide-pooling along the Point Arena coastline. Up the coast is one of Mendocino’s best-kept secrets: the Brewery Gulch Inn, a tucked-away lodge where views from the patio are rivaled only by the cozy indoor fireplace and the home-cooked meals. And nearby is the brand-new 22-acre winery with a 10,000 square foot events space Lula Cellars, which will be hosting events in the months to come. From $325 per night.
Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco