Uninterrupted views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands can be discovered at Baker Beach, the western Presidio’s answer to overpopulated Crissy Field. Jagged rocks and coastal trails frame the dog-friendly sands. In winter, you can spot groups of gray whales along their migration route down to Baja. But be careful where you cast your gaze on the shore, as the northernmost portion of the beach is reserved for a clothing-optional crowd. 1504 Pershing Dr.
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After touring the meticulously manicured lawns and Spanish architecture of prestigious Stanford University (located in Palo Alto, an easy day trip from San Francisco), the next stop should be to the tripartite Anderson Collection. The contemporary museum, built in 2014 as part of the vision for an expanding campus-wide arts district, has over 30,000 square feet of post-World War II American art on display and docent-led tours on Wednesdays and weekends. Free; 314 Lomita Dr.; anderson.stanford.edu.
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At the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains in Los Gatos (another doable day trip from San Francisco), the Kennedy-Limelkin Area of sprawling Sierra Azul Preserve is nearly 3,000 acres of snaking trails and inspiring bucolic views. For an adrenaline-pumping excursion, the eponymous trail is 2,000 feet of elevation gain along a challenging 14-mile loop. Appreciate the mountain vistas of bordering Mount Umunhum, an historic part of the radar network built during the Cold War and recipient of a nearly $13 million restoration project. Lexington Reservoir entrance off Highway 17; openspace.org.
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Courtesy California State Parks, 2015
Natural Bridges State Beach
This Santa Cruz beach is a gorgeous San Francisco day trip idea year-round, but especially alluring to nature lovers in winter, when monarch butterflies flap their way through. The state designated butterfly preserve is the best place to catch them in all their delicate splendor. Docent-led butterfly tours are available on weekends through January, but wintering butterflies can be appreciated through mid-February on self-guided hikes along the unpaved Monarch Trail. Cars: $6; 2531 W. Cliff Dr.; parks.ca.gov.
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California’s Highway 1 might be the most glamorized highway, but there’s another drive that is just as beautiful and not as much of a commitment. The winding 17-Mile Drive stretches from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach with jaw-dropping vistas of rocky coastline, gnarled forests, and famous landmarks like Cypress Point Lookout (pictured). You can cruise the scenic road from any of the five entrance locations, for a fee, or rent a bike and pedal for free. If you’re really looking for a challenge, ditch the wheels and hike past crashing waves and multi-million dollar mansions. $10; pebblebeach.com.
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Hakone Estate & Gardens
Thirteen miles south of San Jose in Santa Clara County another world is unearthed at the serene Hakone Estate & Gardens. The 15 acres of authentic Japanese gardens laced with weeping wisteria trees and cherry blossoms are idyllic for a quiet stroll. Find your Zen on a docent-led tour past woody bamboo plants and tranquil pond with giant koi fish, or reserve a spot in the tatami room for a traditional tea ceremony demonstration. $10; 21000 Big Basin Way; hakone.com.
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Cave Art Gallery / Getty Images
San Jose Municipal Rose Garden
Roses are red…and orange, and white, and even two-toned at the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden. The one-time prune orchard in has nearly 190 varieties growing in its 5.5 acres, with show-stopping grandifloras, adorable miniatures, spanning bunches of crawlers, and everything in between. Though the prime-growing season is spring, there are still plenty of blooming buds to feast your eyes on during the cold months. Visitors are given a map to tour the thousands of plants, circling out from the historic tiered fountain. Free; Naglee Ave. and Dana Ave.;sanjoseca.gov.
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Sebastian Kennerknecht / Getty Images
Alum Rock Park
Technology might have its grip firmly on Silicon Valley, but at Alum Rock Park, the only connection offered is to nature. Over 13 miles of multi-use trails weave throughout the 720 acres of rural playground. The low impact Eagle Rock Trail leads to popular Eagle Rock Overlook for 180-degree views of the valley. If you look northeast, you can see a sliver of the bay’s shining blue waters, and catch a glimpse of equally shiny Levi Stadium. Cars: $6; 15350 Penitencia Creek Rd.; sanjoseca.gov.