Exploring the region by land, sea and sky

With its movie star looks and iconic sights, San Francisco is one of the world’s most popular cities. But turn away from the bright lights and there’s another altogether wilder side to the region. From the dusty trails of Marin County to the lakes and vineyards of Napa valley, this corner of North California is what the ‘Great’ outdoors is all about. So, whether you’re looking to escape the city or have based yourself in a Bay area beauty spot such as Sausalito, here are some alternative ways to explore this fascinating region.

Few places in the world can match the region for geographic diversity. To one side there’s the Bay itself with its beaches and backwaters, surfers and seals. Head inland and you’ll find acres of mountains and forests, dotted with miles of enticing hiking and biking trails. And if you ever tire of the outdoors, there’s always San Francisco itself with some of the world’s best culture and cuisine – not to mention must-see sights like Alcatraz.

Saddle up

From Sausalito you’re just a short cycle from the birthplace of modern Mountain Biking: Marin County. Back in the 1970s, a gang of teenagers started riding their paperboy bikes up and down the region’s fire protection roads. They began modifying their bikes with thumb-shift gears, handbrakes and chunky tyres. A movement quickly took shape – and the rest is history.

Whether you’re a complete novice or a serious single-tracker, there are lots of guides who will hire bikes and give you a taste of Marin’s famous off-road trails. Some of our favourites include China Camp with its fast, fun track and great views of San Pablo Bay.

For something a bit more advanced, head for Tamarancho. Owned by the boy scouts of Marin, and volunteer built and maintained, it’s one of the best single track loops in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Splash down

Of course, San Francisco will always be synonymous with the bay itself. And while most visitors prefer to keep their feet dry, it’s much more fun to slide into a kayak or perch on a paddleboard and venture onto the waters. Float along the famous Sausalito waterfront with its independent houseboat communities. Visit the harbour’s seals and sea lions. And keep your eyes open for an array of birdlife including pelicans and cormorants.

If all that paddling (or peddling) sounds a little too strenuous, charter a yacht or join an organised cruise and let the crew do the hard work. There are plenty of tours to choose from offering everything from laid back sunset views of the Golden Gate Bridge to serious deep sea fishing.

Lift off

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you step into a whirring helicopter and take to the skies. Below you lies Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and, of course, the San Francisco skyline. Then fly north to the Marin headlands and the craggy Pacific coastline where you may spot dolphins or – if you’re really lucky – whales. You could even incorporate a trip to world-famous Napa Valley for a spot of wine tasting. Or see the majestic Lake Tahoe from above.

However you’ve spent your day, Casa Madrona Hotel and Spa in Sausalito is the perfect antidote to all the thrills and spills. Sit back, settle in and watch the world float by. You’re in prime position to plan your next adventure… or perfect the art of doing nothing.