Monday, December 03, 2018

Below is the October edition of "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron's free newsletter of fun things to do in San Francisco and the Bay Area.  If you would like to subscribe, email me at
Beautiful West Marin County - Part I
One of my favorite parts of the Bay Area is West Marin County. From San Francisco, visitors quickly get to wide open spaces and can see rugged coastline, explore quaint towns, drive through rolling hills of dairy farms, and eat some pretty good food. When Blue Heron opened in 2003, I hoped to share my love of this area with many visitors from out of town by offering two West Marin tours on the Blue Heron website. Unfortunately, not many visitors pick these tours. I hope it's because they prefer to explore West Marin on their own rather than to not take the time to visit this less-traveled region. In an effort to encourage more guests to visit this beautiful part of the Bay Area, I am republishing, with updates, two "Rick's Tips" that originally covered this area in 2005. Below is Part I. Part II will be in the January 2019 issue of "Rick's Tips." 

The area called West Marin stretches along the Pacific Ocean from Muir Beach in the south to Dillon Beach in the north. It is a world apart from the suburban life found in the rest of Marin County. Much of the land is protected. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Point Reyes National Seashore, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, and Tomales Bay State Park are part of West Marin. Much land is watershed and still more is reserved for agricultural uses. Dairy farming has a rich history in West Marin. Today this area is home to organic dairies and artisan cheese-makers. 

Each of the small communities that straddle California Route 1 - the main north/south artery through the area - has a unique character. We'll take a tour of West Marin in this issue from Muir Beach to Bolinas. In January, we'll explore the area from Point Reyes National Seashore to Dillon Beach.  

Muir Beach 

If you visit Muir Woods, turn right when you leave the parking lot. You will follow Redwood Creek on its journey to the ocean. When you arrive at Route 1, you will be in the small community of Muir Beach. In good years, which have been rare recently, our winter rains start in late October or early November. By December or early January, Redwood Creek gains enough force to break through the sandbar at Muir Beach. Then steelhead trout and salmon are able to swim up the creek and spawn in Muir Woods. Unfortunately, drought and other factors have greatly reduced the number of spawning fish. 

Muir Beach is home to a lovely bed and breakfast, The Pelican Inn. The inn has nine charming guest rooms as well as a restaurant that features country English fare. The bar has a great selection of ale, lager, and stout on tap. One of my favorite day hikes is to walk from Tennessee Valley in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area along the Coastal Trail to Muir Beach. I then stop for lunch or a brew (just one) at The Pelican Inn and head back. The round-trip walk is about nine miles. There's a fair amount of up and down, but the spectacular coastal views make it worth the effort. 

Just north of town is the Muir Beach Overlook, an old base-end station where soldiers searched for enemy ships during World War II. Today this beautiful bluff affords views of the rugged California coast from Point Reyes to the Golden Gate. Standing here, it is hard to imagine that one is in the midst of a metropolitan area of over seven million people. If you are lucky, you might see whales off shore.  

Stinson Beach 

The next town north on Route 1 is Stinson Beach. This is where San Franciscans go when the sun is shining and we just want to lie on the beach. (Yes, there are a few days in the Bay Area when the temperature hits 90, and you can walk on the beach in a bathing suit rather than a down jacket.) Stinson has that funky beach feel that is scarce in Northern California. No gourmet restaurants with extensive wine lists here, but there are three good places to grab a casual lunch. Parkside Cafe, Sand Dollar Restaurant, and Stinson Beach Breakers Cafe all have sandwiches, salads, and other dishes. You may also want to stroll through the shops that line the two blocks of Route 1 in town. 

Stinson Beach is all about escaping San Francisco's fog for a sunny day at the beach. Be warned: if one of these rare 90 degree days falls on a weekend, traffic will be heavy and parking scarce in town. 


Bolinas has a reputation for being quirky and a refuge for former hippies and other free thinkers. For many years the highway department tried to place signs on Route 1 to indicate the turn-off to Bolinas. Within days the signs would disappear. Today, the main road into Bolinas is unmarked. It is the first left turn off Route 1 after you pass Bolinas Lagoon if you are driving from Stinson Beach. When you arrive, you may no longer find many hippies, but you will find a unique village to wander around for a short while. 

South of the Bolinas turn-off on Route 1 (3.5 miles north of Stinson Beach) is the Audubon Canyon Ranch's Martin Griffin Preserve. During the spectacular heron and egret nesting season, you can walk up on a hillside and use telescopes to view chicks in their nests. Hours vary depending on the season, so check the Preserve's website before visiting.  

Agate Beach County Park, just west of Bolinas, is a nice place to enjoy the beach on a warm, sunny day. At low tide, you can walk to the park along the shore from the town of Bolinas. Check a tide table before taking this pleasant, hour-long walk to make sure you can complete your journey before the tide comes in.  

Coast Cafe in Bolinas is a friendly spot for breakfast or lunch. A new hotel and restaurant, Eleven, recently opened for dinner. While I have not yet dined there, early reviews of the restaurant look promising. That's it for our journey in West Marin for this issue. For more information on visiting West Marin, visit the Chamber of Commerce's website. We'll head to Point Reyes in January.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Blue Heron Custom Tours Awarded TripAdvisor's 2018 Certificate of Excellence

For the seventh year in a row, Blue Heron Custom Tours has been awarded TripAdvisor's prestigious Certificate of Excellence. Thanks to our many guests who took the time to post a review this past year.

If you took a tour with us during the past 12 months and have yet to post a review on TripAdvisor, you may do so by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Rick's Tips - Summer in the City

Here's the latest edition of "Rick's Tips,"  Blue Heron's free newsletter:

Welcome to "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's newsletter of fun and interesting things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California. Whether you are visiting San Francisco or hosting visitors, Blue Heron can provide an unforgettable experience. Visit our website,, to learn more about our private, custom tours.

Summer in the City
Summer in San Francisco is often cold, foggy, crowded, and a lot of fun. Here are some tips for enjoying your summer in the city.

Be Prepared for the Weather
There's an old quote attributed to Mark Twain but probably never spoken by the great author, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer's day in San Francisco." While Twain never may have spoken these words, the sentiment is oh-so-true. A typical summer day in San Francisco starts with a low of about 54F/12C with fog covering the city. The fog gradually burns off with the neighborhoods closest to the bay clearing first and those along the ocean often staying shrouded in fog throughout the day. Come mid-afternoon, a peak temperature of 67F/19C is reached, the winds pick up, and the fog comes pouring back through the Golden Gate. You can tell the locals; we are in down jackets and ski caps. The tourists are wearing tee-shirts and shorts. San Franciscans dress in layers as our weather is so unpredictable. Bring your shorts as it's hot outside of the City, but also bring long pants, a sweater or hoody, and/or a fall jacket.

Avoid the Crowds
San Francisco welcomes many visitors during the summer. Families prefer to travel when their children are on school breaks. If you can visit in late May or early June before all schools break for the summer or in late August or early September when many schools have reopened, the city will be slightly less crowded.

Last year, issue number 56 of "Rick's Tips" provided much information for avoiding crowds at many of our popular attractions. You can see that issue by clicking here. All of the information is still current with the exception of the information on visiting Muir Woods. Advance reservations now are required for all visitors arriving by personal vehicle or on the shuttle. You can get a reservation by visiting Reservations become available 90 days prior to the date of your visit. Tour operators, like Blue Heron, also need reservations to bring their guests to the park but get them through a different system.

Take in a Game
The Bay Area is home to two major league baseball teams - San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics, better known as the A's. The Giants play at AT&T Park, which is an easy, mile-long walk from Union Square. If you are staying downtown, you also can get to the stadium on the N and K/T streetcars. If your hotel is close to Fisherman's Wharf, the E Line street car runs between the Wharf and the stadium. The A's play at the Oakland Coliseum, which is next to a BART (subway) station. To get to the stadium from Union Square, SOMA, or the Financial District, board BART at the Powell, Montgomery, or Embarcadero stations. If you are staying close to the Wharf, take the E or F line streetcar and board BART at the Embarcadero station. Trains heading to Dublin/Pleasanton and Fremont/Warm Springs stop at the Coliseum station. Night games at AT&T park can be chilly, so bring warm clothes. The Giants often sell out their games, while the A's seldom do.

A unique sporting event this summer is the Rugby World Cup Sevens, which will be held at AT&T Park from July 20 to 22. This is the first time this world championship will be held in the U.S.

Be Festive
Nearly every week a neighborhood in San Francisco has a street festival. Each has a unique theme, but you can count on listening to good music, tasting yummy food, and exploring crafts for sale. You can see a good list of festivals by clicking here or here.

One of the biggest events of the summer is the Pride Parade and Celebration on June 23 and 24. The celebration is held in Civic Center Plaza on both afternoons. The parade is on the morning of the 24th. Participants march from Market and Beale Streets to Civic Center. Please note that nudity is allowed in the parade and at the celebration. Also, If you are not going to the parade and need to drive across Market Street on Sunday morning, you will need to drive around the parade route.

Two big music festivals will take place in the next few months. Outside Lands runs from August 20 through 22 in Golden Gate Park. This year's headliners include The Weekend, Florence & the Machine, and Janet Jackson. Dozens of other acts also will appear. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is a free festival featuring bluegrass and related musical genres. This year's festival runs from October 5 to 8 in Golden Park. The lineup of performers has yet to be announced.

Dine al Fresco
On warm, sunny days eating outside is great fun. Fortunately, San Francisco has a good number of outdoor dining opportunities. If you like grabbing meals from food trucks, Off the Grid organizes markets of food trucks where you can enjoy tasty food at reasonable prices in the great outdoors. Their biggest event is the Presidio Picnic held every Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. through October 21 on the Main Post of the Presidio. Hundreds of people gather to picnic on the lawn, enjoy good food and drinks, and listen to music. Off the Grid sponsors daily food truck markets around San Francisco from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Evening markets are held from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. on Thursdays at the end of Waller Street in the Upper Haight (aka Haight-Ashbury) and on Fridays at Fort Mason Center (lower Fort Mason).

Spark Social has a food truck park at the corner of 4th Street and Mission Bay North in the new Mission Bay neighborhood, just south of AT&T Park. Some trucks are regularly at the park while others come and go. Trucks are open for lunch from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and dinner from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. on weekdays. On Saturdays, the trucks open at 11:00 a.m. and close at 9:00 p.m. Trucks serve from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.

Many restaurants have nice spaces for dining outdoors. Some of my favorites include Hog Island Oyster Co. in the Ferry Building, The Ramp and Mission Rock Resort in Mission Bay, Park Chalet in Golden Gate Park across from Ocean Beach, and La Mar Cebicheria at Pier 1 1/2 on The Embarcadero.

Enjoy the Fireworks
San Francisco celebrates Independence Day with fireworks at around 9:00 p.m. on July 4. The challenge in viewing the display is that the fog often obscures the fireworks, so viewers see only illuminated clouds. If the fog is high or the sky is clear, find yourselves a good vantage point and enjoy the pyrotechnics. Hilltops and upper floors of hotels with clear lines of sight to the bay are some of the best places to watch the fireworks. You also get good views from along the waterfront at Fisherman's Wharf. Expect large crowds in the area and don't even think of driving as street parking is prohibited around much of the Wharf during the late afternoon and evening of July 4. Many people enjoy the view from the Marin Headlands on the north side of the Golden Gate. You will need a car to get there. Go early as parking is very limited.

Of course, there is much more to see and do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California during the summer; like take a tour with Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel. Check out back issues of "Rick's Tips" for more ideas.

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See you on the road, 
Rick Spear  
Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel 
275 Staples Avenue San Francisco, CA 94112 
(866) 326-4237 (toll free) 
(415) 337-1874 (local) 
(415) 587-7433 (fax)  
TCP 16309-S  

"Go Where You Want To Go!"