“Travel,” Marla told me one day when we were sitting down to eat lunch in the annex of Institute on Aging, “is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
“Excuse me?” I asked. She explained that it was a quote by Mark Twain and a darn good one. I asked why she had brought it up, and she explained that she had been thinking a lot about travel lately.
She had seen a lot when she was younger but felt her world had been circumscribed by the medical reality of aging. She couldn’t fly, and long road trips were increasingly difficult. She sighed, saying, “I guess I’ll have to find some other way to beat narrow-mindedness.”
That’s when we started talking about day trips. Like many people, Marla had gotten used to her home in San Francisco, and familiarity breeds, if not contempt, a certain blindness. You think “travel” and seeing new things involve long journeys, that they are de facto far away. But that’s not always the case.
Indeed, there are many wonderful day trips in the Bay Area that involve everything from a short jump on public transportation to a few hours drive. This area is so diverse, so magical, and so historical that a bit of time in the car can bring you to another world.
I didn’t think Marla ever had to actually worry about close-mindedness; she’d beat back prejudice and bigotry with her last breath. But these day trips could show her things she’d never seen, practically in her own backyard. We’ve already talked about some of San Francisco’s hidden gems before, but these are expanded to the whole region.
So whether traveling with a senior group, with family or a caregiver, or solo, here are the best day trips for seniors in the Bay Area.
Day Trips for Seniors and Senior Groups
The nice thing about the Bay Area is the sheer variety of manmade and natural beauty and, most often, the combination of the two. With such diversity of possibility, there’s something for everyone, regardless of physical abilities. So whether you are in a wheelchair, walking, or up for a brisk hike, there are plenty of options for staying active and seeing new things.
(all times are estimated drive times)
1hr, 22 minutes from San Francisco
Mt. Diablo isn’t terribly tall. It’s less than 4000 feet, but it is surrounded by low hills and valleys sunk within the earth. That is to say: it’s the highest thing around, and the views are breathtaking. On clear days you can see 200 miles, up to Mount Saint Helena or past the Golden Gate Bridge clear into the ocean.
The best part is that you don’t have to walk up it. It is perfectly drivable (and bikeable) if need be, and the Observation Deck is open to all. This is a jaw-dropping, world-expanding view that you’ll never forget.
54 minutes from San Francisco
You don’t have to go to LA or Santa Barbara for gorgeous, uninterrupted beaches along a shimmering ocean. You just have to go north on 101 across the bridge and wind up in Stinson. Wedged between the ocean and Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Stinson is lined with walking trails, wide-open beaches, and a view that is both contemplative and dramatic.
But, as you might expect, it is also home to some amazing restaurants and cool, quaint little shops. So if finding funky little treasures in the same spot where you can relax near some rolling waves sounds like a slice, check out Stinson. It’s close to the hum and roar of San Francisco, but so very far away.
(in San Francisco)
This one might sound like a cheat, but it really isn’t. So many locals who aren’t Chinese or of Chinese heritage might stop by and poke around once or twice as a tourist, but fail to see the living, thriving community and culture that is there.
We encourage you to get off the beaten path, and look at stores and restaurants you may not have seen. Poke down the alleys, which tell their own story, or take in the churches. Rooted in a sometimes rough, oftentimes oppressive history, Chinatown is a true entity unto itself, part of San Francisco, but still a place which is eye-opening, interesting, and a true way to beat back prejudice and bigotry. Twain—and Marla—would approve.
48 minutes from San Francisco
Odds are, you have never heard of this little postage stamp just a little north and inland of Stinson. Its official population is 96 people, as of 2010. At the center of Marin County, it is old and historic, has seen booms and busts, and has old churches tucked into Steinbeckian hills, with the dusty aura of somewhat-faded glory wrapped around it.
So why go there? Well, one, it is a place you’ve probably never seen, and has that pretty, inner-California vibe that gives you a thrilling almost unexplainable pit in your stomach. But two? It is a hidden foodie gem. There is a restaurant, Rancho Nicasio, which the Chronicle food critic called “the unlikely home of the best and most modern food in Marin County.”
40 minutes from San Francisco
I’ll be honest: I don’t think I can describe the experience of entering the towering and cathedral-like beauty of Muir Woods National Monument any better than the National Park Service: “Walk among old growth coast redwoods, cooling their roots in the fresh water of Redwood Creek and lifting their crowns to reach the sun and fog.”
The trees are over 250 feet. They average between 500 and 800 years old. The oldest is at least 1200 years old. There are some who think it makes our lives seem small and insignificant, but I don’t. When you are there, you realize you are part of something beautiful and majestic, a world that feeds itself and regrows. And at the very least, you’ll see what being really old actually is.
3 hrs 15 minutes from San Francisco
Now we’re getting into longer trips. A few hours past our other stops on 101 is the town of Mendocino, which in and of itself is beautiful, but also has one of the true gems of California. The Mendocino Botanical Gardens are some of the best in the country, with a stunning display of flora diversity that offers nearly endless things to see.
There are 160 species of bird in the park. There are miles of trails. There is a sculpture garden. There is always something new in bloom. You can go 100 times and never see the same thing, but you should certainly go at least once.
1 hr 56 minutes from San Francisco
We’ll end by going south, past San Jose and Salinas, to where Highway 1 becomes the oceanfront road it’s known as, where the sea and the mountains sandwich a narrow ribbon, and on which you can cruise up and down into California’s past, on America’s wild end.
Few towns capture this spirit more than Carmel-by-the-Sea. Historic missions. Truly breathtaking beaches. Unparalleled scenery. Great shops and restaurants. Quirky and talented artists and artisans. Golf—some really good golf. It is a town that truly has it all, and seems forever apart from the big cities to its north and south. It seems a part of the ocean, eternal.
The Thrill of Exploration
Carmel is probably the best example of what Marla and I were talking about. It is as far west as one could go before falling into the sea. It’s where Americans came to get away, to start over, to reinvent themselves. Maybe there was something about getting to land’s end, facing the impenetrable eternity of the oceans, that allowed one to make a change. Maybe it let people look inside themselves because there was nowhere else to go.
That’s what happens when you see something new. You discover not just different scenery, but something new within yourself. You have to. You take in new information, and that makes you, even ever so slightly, different.
That’s why we encourage seniors and their caregivers to take as many day trips in the bay area as possible, whether with a senior group or not. There is so much to see, and so much to learn. Most of what you learn, though, will be about yourself.
The greatest truth about aging is that you can always learn more about yourself. It’s like traveling in the Bay Area: no matter how well you think you know the terrain, there is always uncharted territory.
At Institute on Aging, our programs and services help older adults, their families, and caregivers explore aging together, through good times and bad, as an adventure and a journey. Connect with us today to learn more.