In San Francisco the view from Sutro's at the Cliff House is pure liquid drama: waves and shooting spray.
Rob D. Brodman
A Moss Landing harbor
The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Kelp Forest exhibit
NORTH OF SAN FRANCISCO
Bodega Bay Lodge & Spa Cozy wooden buildings on the bluffs that feel retreatlike and luxurious. INFO: 84 rooms from $235; in Bodega Bay; 888/875-3525.
Doran Beach Regional Park Ideal for beachcombing, kite flying, or fishing from jetties. Campsites are also available (112 sites from $19). INFO: $6 day-use fee; 201 Doran Beach Rd., Bodega Bay; 707/565-2041.
Tomales Bay Oyster Company Get an up-close look at an oyster farm and buy fresh oysters to take with you or eat on-site. INFO: 15479 State 1, Marshall; 415/663-1242.
Argonaut Hotel Ship-shape, nautical-themed hotel is housed in a renovated historic brick warehouse at the Cannery. INFO: 252 rooms and 13 suites from $179; 866/415-0704.
Fisherman's Wharf Yes, it's kitschy. But it's also a lot of fun to stroll around, taking in attractions like Pier 39 (415/705-5500), the aroma of bubbling crab pots, and the Aquarium of the Bay ($14, $7 ages 3-11; or 888/732-3483).
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Get immersed in Pacific Coast maritime history onboard five late-19th-century ships, each of them floating National Historic Landmarks. INFO: Closed Thanksgiving; $5, ages 15 and under free; 499 Jefferson St.; 415/447-5000.
USS Pampanito The World War II submarine is open while being restored to its 1945 appearance. INFO: $9, $4 ages 6-12; Pier 45; 415/775-1943.
NORTH OF MONTEREY
Año Nuevo State Reserve Thousands of northern elephant seals (and visitors) come to Año Nuevo every winter, but earlier in the season, free self-guided walks may yield glimpses of early arrivals. INFO: $6 per vehicle; on State 1, 12 miles south of Pescadero; 650/879-0227.
Bean Hollow State Beach Spread out a picnic, or walk around tidepools to look for crabs and anemones. INFO: On State 1, about 2 miles south of Pescadero; 650/879-2170.
Beauregard Vineyards Enjoy ocean and bay views as you sample wines made by a small family-run winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. INFO: 55B Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz; 831/425-7777.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park The coast side of the park ― Waddell Creek and Rancho del Oso ― offers lots of windsurfers to marvel at; or hike the first few miles of the Skyline to the Sea Trail to waterfalls, wildlife, and ancient coast redwoods. INFO: 17 miles north of Santa Cruz on State 1; 831/425-1218.
Costanoa Lodge Part summer camp, part spa, with tent cabins and more luxurious lodge rooms. INFO: 80 tent bungalows from $95, 12 cabins from $145, 39 lodge rooms from $165; on State 1, about 11 miles south of Pescadero; 877/262-7848.
Asilomar Conference Grounds Julia Morgan designed much of this peaceful, secluded retreat on the Monterey Peninsula. Rooms are TV- and telephone-free, which only enhances the appeal. INFO: 312 rooms from $133, including breakfast; in Pacific Grove; 866/654-2878.
Dennis the Menace Playground Hank Ketcham, creator of the Dennis the Menace comic strip, designed one of the town's best attractions for families. Fanciful play structures include a climbing wall, a hedge maze, dizzying slides, and an antique steam locomotive. INFO: Closed Tue; 777 Pearl St., Monterey; 831/646-3860.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Spectacular exhibits and an ocean-conservation message are hallmarks of the world-class destination. INFO: $25, $16 ages 3-12; 886 Cannery Row, Monterey; 831/648-4888.
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