So, you're relatively new to San Francisco, and last week (or earlier last month) when that sunny weather hit, you thought, "Ah, here it is! The California summer I've been dreaming of." Then the fog blew in on Thursday night. Then Friday came and the fog and chilly winds blew in again right around 5 p.m., and people started making comments about how San Francisco summer had arrived right on schedule.
May is usually just that sort of tease, and come June 1 it's a crapshoot each afternoon how warm it will be, what time the fog will burn off, how early the wind will pick up, what time the fog will roll in again, and how many layers you will need. We had our lovely, dry, balmy winter, and now it's time to pay the piper, and for all your East Coast and Midwest friends to gloat while they lounge in tank tops all June and you are pulling out your sweaters.
The beach is out unless you're going to trek as far south as Monterey or Santa Cruz. But here are a few good and easy options for warming up when that chill gets in your bones, because it will. And come mid-July, you're going to thank us.
Because of a quirk in our geography, Sausalito stays sunny and warm on many of our foggiest days because the Marin peninsula protects it, sort of. It's the nearest spot in the North Bay where you can generally rely on warming up, and thankfully there are some good things to eat and drink while you're there. Bar Bocce serves good pizzas and easy bites along with beer and wine on tap, and at low tide they have their own rocky beach of sorts, on the harbor, where you can lay out a blanket. Fast Food Francais makes some excellent small plates and cocktails, while you can get your upscale Mexican fix at Joanne Weir's Copita. And if the weather is looking especially fogged in in town, and you want to splurge on an overnight or weekend getaway, check out the newly renovated and beautiful Casa Madrona.
2. CULL CANYON
Photo: East Bay Parks
All you need to do to escape the cold in the height of summer is drive due east, north, or south. In this case, it's a super family-friendly swimming hole and fishing spot near Castro Valley (to the southeast) with a beach and some shallows to wade in, but when the kids tire out and the parents start packing it in late in the day, it's not half bad for an off-the-beaten path date destination either. You'll just need to keep whatever adult beverages you've brought well concealed. Directions here.
3. PALO ALTO / WOODSIDE
The new Epiphany Hotel in downtown Palo Alto. Photo: Peter Thoeny
Hop on the 280, make a pit stop for a hike on the Crystal Springs Reservoir Trail, and head for a late lunch or dinner in the wealthy enclave of Woodside (Village Pub is a good bet) or in the newly San Francisco-ized Palo Alto, where they now have their own Pizzeria Delfina, new cocktail and casual food spot Lure & Till, Umami Burger, and a new branch of Half Moon Bay's Sam's Chowder House.
4. HEALDSBURG / DRY CREEK VALLEY
Public Bikes for loan at the Hotel Healdsburg. Photo: Facebook
I've talked about it before, but maybe it bears repeating: There's a very quaint and foodie city to the north that surrounded by great vineyards, offers multiple great dining options, and serves as a playground and second home to a lot of wealthy people as a result. The food at Campo Fina, Spoonbar, Scopa, Mateo's Cucina Latina, Barndiva, Chalkboard, and Dry Creek Kitchen is all pretty great, and Spoonbar is the spot for excellent cocktails too. It's the kind of place that makes for a frustrating day trip only because there's so much you could do, wine-tasting-wise, and otherwise. So grab a room at H2 and make a weekend of it.
5. THE DELTA
A bunch of boats roped together on the Delta. Photo: Burners.me
It may be nicknamed the White Trash Riviera, but there's plenty to see and a whole lot of sweltering, summertime heat in the Sacramento River Delta. Without driving too far, you could get just a small taste at the lip of the delta in Port Costa, where you could easily wile away an afternoon on the "patio" at the Warehouse Cafe. But head to the deepest Delta, past Suisun City and into Rio Vista and Walnut Grove for the real deal. Stop into Giusti's for a sandwich or a bowl of minestrone, and maybe find your way onto somebody's boat party. There are lots of them. More ideas here.
Photo: Peter Kemmer
Because the local beaches are useless and windswept most of the summer, our summer resort towns cropped up inland. Guerneville doesn't have the flash or the cash of Healdburg, and as gay tourist destinations go it's not as glamorous as Fire Island or Palm Springs. But it's only 90 minutes away, there are a couple of cute places to eat (Boon Eat + Drink never disappoints), there's plenty of drunken tubing on the river, and all summer long there are drunken gay pool parties at the Russian River Resort, The Highlands, and at The Woods. Good times.
At Sam's. Photo: Gail M. Tang
Hasn't anybody taken you to Sam's? Oh, it's fun. It's a quick ferry ride away, if you don't want to drive, and the scene on the deck is pretty raucous all year long, in part because Tiburon is blessed and has perfect weather all the time somehow. No, seriously. Life is perfect in Tiburon. There's some shopping there too, if, like, your mom is in town and needs a sunhat or handblown perfume bottle. But mostly you just want to sit at Sam's and have a few margaritas and a burger and watch the ferries come in and out to Angel Island.
8. LAKE DEL VALLE
Lake Del Valle is a giant, rather remote reservoir that was made by filling in a canyon just south of Livermore, and it's one of the most easily accessible and predictably hot spots to sit by some water that you'll find anywhere around the Bay Area. (Sidebar: It's also a pretty good spot to do stargazing, and far enough away from light pollution.) There are pretty oak trees covering the hills surrounding it, and it's big enough that you're almost guaranteed to find a spot to throw down a blanket that won't be anywhere near anyone else. It's dog-friendly too, and if you get too hot in the sun, you can just hop back in the car and taste some wine in Livermore's small but up-and-coming wine region over the hill. Because of the drought and the possible water needs of the south bay, the water levels here could go down by late summer. Directions and details here.
9. BASS LAKE
Photo: Ray Krebs
Head north through Marin and up a short way on Route 1, to Bolinas, and you'll come to an easy-to-hike trail that will take you about 3 miles into the woods to Bass Lake. On even not-hot days you can expect not to be alone, but in addition to rope swings (!) into the water, there are plenty of picnic areas and it feels downright summery there. For swimming, you may want to wait until September or so for the lake to warm up. Details here.
10. THE MISSION / POTRERO / MISSION BAY
It's true that on the coldest, foggiest of summer Saturday afternoons, there's little hope of making it feel like real summer in the city. But assuming you have backup layers and a means of transport, you can throw on some shorts and dash around to a couple of the city's reliably warmer microclimates and see what you can find. The Ramp is still popular in part because it can sometimes be sunny over there when the rest of the city's engulfed (not because their food is good). Mission Rock Resort has that great big two-level deck, and plenty of oysters and beer to go around. And yes, you can even, occasionally, watch the fog roll right over downtown from the sunny and (somewhat) warm comfort of Dolores Park, which can be oddly protected from the fog (sometimes!) in the late afternoon hours. But don't count on that. And bring a jacket.
And if it's 4th of July, bring a helmet and some protective gear.