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Santa Cruz can be easily accessed from San Jose
Santa Cruz can be easily accessed from San Jose

Explore the Bay Area beyond San Francisco

There’s more to northern California than the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz

Chris Leadbeater
Friday 03 June 2016 10:45
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If you hear the words “San Francisco Bay Area”, you might assume that they refer to the waterfront zone which makes the city in question so striking – the Golden Gate Bridge soaring high, Alcatraz on its rock.

In fact, this is a vast region, home to over 7.5 million people, which encompasses three cities and nine counties. And now it is better connected to the UK than ever, thanks to the launch of two direct flights from London.

Find your way to San Jose

The Bay Area’s biggest city by population (over one million), San Jose has – as of 4 May – a daily direct British Airways flight from Heathrow. An easy gateway to the beaches of Santa Cruz (30 miles south), this intriguing urban enclave also offers reasons to stay. It is the hub of Silicon Valley – meaning that you can shop for the latest Apple products on the technology giant’s campus in Cupertino (apple.com/retail/infiniteloop), or play with gadgets at The Tech Museum (thetech.org; $24/£16.50). A week-long room-only break at the four-star Four Points by Sheraton Cupertino, flying in time for the heat of the summer on 9 July, costs from £1,747pp through British Airways Holidays (ba.com/holidays).

A Portuguese church in San Jose

Engage with overlooked Oakland

The littlest member of the region’s metropolitan trio sits six miles east of San Francisco, and is often overshadowed by it. But its profile has been boosted by the launch (on 12 May) of a direct three-times-weekly Norwegian link from Gatwick. There are excellent restaurants on the waterfront at Jack London Square, the Oakland Museum of California (museumca.org; $16/£11) peers at the history and art of the state in detail – and baseball icons the Oakland As are up and running for the season in search of a tenth World Series (oakland.athletics.mlb.com; tickets from $5/£3). A seven-night room-only stay at the Inn at Jack London Square, flying on 3 July, is £1,215pp with Norwegian Holidays (norwegianholidays.com).

Oakland's glass cathedral

Knock back a little wine in Napa...

Just 50 miles north of San Francisco, Napa County is, of course, an American viticultural dream, host to more than 400 wineries – including Inglenook (inglenook.com) in Rutherford, which is owned by movie director Francis Ford Coppola. The valley is a fine context for a road trip. Bon Voyage (bon-voyage.co.uk) offers Coastal California & The Wine Country, a 10-night fly-drive that makes a stop in Napa. From £1,595pp, including flights, car and accommodation.

A Napa Valley winery

...or sip a glass in Sonoma

West of Napa, Sonoma County is another wine oasis, home to over 250 producers – including organic gurus Da Vero (davero.com), near Healdsburg. It can trump Napa in boasting 76 miles of coast. America As You Like It (americaasyoulikeit.com) sells a 12-day City, Landscapes and Vineyards tour which spends three nights in Sonoma, from £1,068pp with flights, car hire and hotels.

Stick to the staples in San Francisco

If the idea of visiting the Bay Area, but not its key city, seems illogical, San Francisco (sanfrancisco.travel) will be at its alluring best this summer. Its Museum of Modern Art (sfmoma.org; $25/£17) is staging California and the West – a photo exhibition detailing the state’s changing landscape since the 1840s (until 5 September). A seven-night room-only stay at the Fairmont San Francisco, with car hire, costs £2,820pp for a 24 June departure with Virgin Holidays (virginholidays.co.uk).

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