If you’re in Silicon Valley for business, there’s probably plenty to keep you busy. But if you find yourself with a free afternoon or have the chance to add on an extra day or two, you should take it—there are almost endless attractions in the immediate vicinity. Here are eight experiences worth checking out:
Taste Fresh Goat Milk Cheese in Pescadero
Every day at 5:30 a.m., the milking staff at Harley Farms in Pescadero shows up to start the process of turning goat’s milk into award-winning cheese. The farm boasts more than 30 national ribbons from the American Cheese Society and offers four styles for your tasting pleasure: chevre, fromage blanc, feta, and ricotta. Stop by to try a bite and visit with the mischievous American Alpine goats, who just might unzip your jacket or steal something out of your pocket. Check the calendar at harleyfarms.com to schedule a tour.
Chow Down on Chowder in Half Moon Bay
Although you can find Sam’s Chowder House in Palo Alto and in roving trucks, there’s nothing like the original location in adorable Half Moon Bay. Located right on the water, people come for the views and stay for the lobster rolls and clam chowder, offering a little bite of New England here on the Left Coast. Don’t miss the organic soft serve with sea salt and olive oil for dessert—it may seem like a strange combination, but it’s oddly satisfying.
March with the Penguins in Monterey
Considered one of the top aquariums in the country, Monterey Bay Aquarium has enough exhibits for hours of perusing. Get an underwater view of the spirited sea otters, watch birds forage for insects, follow along as leopard sharks weave through fronds of kelp, marvel at the highly intelligent giant Pacific octopus, and see if you can spot a humpback whale out in the bay. And, of course, the African penguins are a fan favorite. If you see them throw their heads back and wings out, it means they’re happy.
Pedal Across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito
Grab a set of wheels at San Francisco Bicycle Rentals in Fisherman’s Wharf and head toward Golden Gate Park. The views both approaching the bridge and from among its orange-hued towers are spectacular on a clear day, and the experience is memorable (although a bit windy!) no matter the weather. Have lunch at one of the many good restaurants in Sausalito, then bike back or catch a ferry for a more-relaxed return.
Ride a Historic Roller Coaster in Santa Cruz
When the Giant Dipper opened on May 17, 1924, it cost 15 cents to ride the red-and-white seaside coaster that reached speeds of up to 46 mph. Today, it’s a little more ($6), but the wooden landmark is still a major attraction, with more than 60 million people having experienced its ups and downs over the years. Its home, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, also features the Looff Carousel, a National Historic Landmark dating back to 1911; classic amusement park rides and games; and family-friendly attractions like laser tag, bowling, and mini golf.
Ride the Rails in Napa Valley
Take a step back in time aboard restored vintage rail cars from the early 20th century on the Napa Valley Wine Train. Inside the steel cars, you’ll immediately feel an old-school luxurious vibe, thanks to the Honduran mahogany paneling, brass accents, etched glass partitions, and velveteen fabric armchairs just waiting to be sunk into. On the three-hour, 36-mile journey, you’ll get beautiful glimpses of this world-famous wine country, along with a lovely meal prepared from scratch onboard and, as you might expect, a glass of wine to welcome you.
Get Spooked in San Jose
The Winchester Mystery House isn’t your standard house to tour—unless you’re accustomed to doors that lead nowhere, staircases that go down a few steps before ascending, and windows that face walls. After Sarah Winchester’s infant daughter and husband tragically died, some say the wealthy woman believed her family was being haunted by spirits and that the only way to prevent further harm was to have a home constantly under construction. The result is a sprawling 160-room Victorian mansion that’s as fascinating as it is supersized. With secret passageways, tales of séances, and upside-down posts, the Mansion Tour will keep you spellbound.
Cruise the Monterey Peninsula on the 17-Mile Drive
This famous $10 toll road passes by Pebble Beach Golf Links, a storied spot for golf fans. There’s plenty more to see along the way, including Spanish Bay, a pretty beach with plenty of picnic tables; Point Joe, where you can learn about a couple of ships that met their fate here; Bird Rock, usually covered in a blanket of pelicans, Brandt’s cormorants, and California sea lions; and the Lone Cypress, thought to be one of the most photographed trees in North America. At the end of the drive, you’ll end up in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a town as charming as its name implies.