It is rather easy to come to San Francisco for vacation and never go outside its city limits. After all, as one to the great tourist cities, it consistently gets voted at or near the top of traveler's favorite destinations. But there's a lot more to the Bay Area than just San Francisco. There are over 100 cities and 9 counties around San Francisco Bay. To get a richer, broader, more diverse set of visitor experiences, consider visiting some of these communities:

1. Berkeley --The famed university town is about a 30 minute BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) ride under the bay to the heart of the Berkeley scene. You can shop on one of the world's great bookstore districts --Telegraph Avenue. You can eat where California Cuisine was born, at Chez Panisse 8 blocks from BART on North Shattuck (make a reservation). You can see a play at the renowned Berkeley Repertory Theatre (one block from BART) in historic Downtown Berkeley or see a concert at Zellerbach Hall on the University of California campus. Walking around Berkeley, especially Downtown, North Shattuck, and Telegraph (though you may be panhandled there) is a stimulating and enjoyable experience. See www.berkeleycvb.com

2. Oakland --Right next to Berkeley is Oakland, an even shorter BART (www.bart.gov) ride or an enjoyable ferry ride.(www.eastbayferry.com) Oakland is one of the areas under appreciated gems. There's fine dining and boutique shopping along College Ave in Rockridge (BART to Rockridge). How about taking the Eastbay ferry to Yoshi's at Jack London Sq. for sushi and world renowned jazz or fine dining along the Oakland yacht harbor. You can return on BART if it's not too late. Pay a visit to the Oakland Museum (11th & Oak St., near Lake Merritt BART) a unique museum of California history, ecology, and art. Downtown Oakland--especially Broadway from 7th St. to Grand Ave. presents an unparalleled display of early 20th Century urban architecture. Note in particular the Tribune Tower at 13th & Franklin St. (known as the "tower of power") and Oakland City Hall, on 14th west of Broadway, reportedly the first highrise City Hall west of the Misssisippi. Good dining can also be found in Old Oakland, along Washington from 8th to 10th, and in the relaxed, non-touristy Oakland Chinatown (roughly bordered by 7th, 10th, Broadway and Harrison). All these areas are accessible from BART. For more information go to  www.oaklandcvb.com

3. San Jose --San Jose is actually the biggest city in the Bay Area, with a population of over 900,000, but it still seems something of a secret to visitors. In good traffic conditions (they do happen sometimes!) you can drive from San Francisco to San Jose in an about an hour. Or you can take Caltrain--60 minutes when Baby Bullet trains are running (peak hours), about 90 minutes other times. When you get to Downtown San Jose you'll find two fabulous museums--The Tech Museum of Innovation and the San Jose Museum of Art, which focuses on contemporary art. You'll find leading performing arts groups like the San Jose Repertory Theatre and Opera San Jose. There is lots of good food to be had--especially Vietnamese, Japanese and Mexican foods--though much of it is in neighborhoods away from downtown and most easily accessed by driving. If you want to stay in San Jose, Downtown has a cluster of historic and luxury hotels, with other hotels scattered across the city's west side. See www.sanjose.org.  Also, do not miss nearby Santana Row and the Winchester Mystery House. 

 4. Palo Alto -- A gracious and affluent university town, Palo Alto encompasses next to Stanford University and all its Silicon Valley spinoffs. It's about 2/3 of the way from San Francisco to San Jose, accessible by freeway, express bus or Caltrain. Palo Alto is a mecca for upscale shopping on and around University Avenue, the main street of Palo Alto's cute downtown. On the other side of the Caltrain station there's the sprawling Stanford Shopping Center, home of Bloomingdales and other such stores. Downtown is a good, if somewhat expensive, place to eat. You can visit the enormous Stanford campus, take in the free Cantor Center art museum--complete with an exhibit about the history of the Stanford family (and other changing exhibits). Or go up the Hoover Tower and take in the view--just try not to lean too far to the right! See the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce website for more information.   For night life head over to Blue Chalk Cafe or the British Bankers Club.

 5. Marin County & Petaluma --We have gone east, we have gone south, let us go north.

Head north, over the Golden Gate Bridge and past the tourist-ridden town of Sausalito, and stop off first in Mill Valley.  This lovely little town is tucked away in the foothills of Mount Tamalpais, and has an adorable downtown filled with great boutique shopping and eclectic coffee shops. Stop for lunch at The Depot, a combination bookstore and cafe, and eat on the outdoor patio. Next, head further northon the 101 to San Anselmo for great antiquing, and if you're lucky you might be able to catch a movie in the tiny park in downtown during a balmy summer evening. That is right -- spread out a blanket and bring a picnic, and best of all, it's free! If it's a Thursday evening from May to October, head from there to downtown San Rafael to take in one of the liveliest Farmers Markets you've ever seen. It's more like a block party once a week, complete with entertainment, food, crafts, even massages. San Rafael has one of the best downtown shopping districts around, so take your time to browse all of 4th street before leaving. The main bus depot for San Rafael is on 4th as well, and of all the towns in Marin, San Rafael is by far the biggest and easiest to get to by bus.

Head north on the 101, and you'll arrive in Petaluma, a lovely, low key city of about 60,000 roughly an hour's drive north of San Francisco (you can take a Golden Gate Transit bus that runs once an hour). Once a port shipping farm products to San Francisco, the town still celebrates a "Butter and Eggs" days festival. Petaluma has worked hard to restore its historic cast iron buildings downtown, to regain access to its "riverfront" (actually a tidal strait) and to maintain a pleasant small town atmosphere. Much of the movie American Graffiti was filmed in various Petaluma locations. (Trivia: George Lucas, who grew up in San Rafael, chose Petaluma as the place to recreate his vision of his teen years in San Rafael.)

6. Wine Country  - San Francisco and beyond is your perfect place to experience Wine Country.  An hour's drive over the Golden Gate and up Highway 101 will take you to Sonoma and one of California's great wine regions. There you can spend the day visiting wineries in Sonoma, Healdsburg, Alexander Valley and the evening in a great restaurant and B&B.  Taking the same route over the Golden Gate to Highway 37 east will take you to the quaint town of Sonoma or the Napa Valley and its many fine wineries and some of the best restaurants in the country.  Though Napa is increasingly a commercial hub for wine tasting taking the Napa Valley Wine Train  is a great way to taste some amazing local wines and enjoy the scenery of this beautiful region of Northern California.   Consider taking a cooking class to learn more about the food and wine of the region at Cooking With Julie at Churchill Manor.

If you drive southeast and go to Livermore, you will find boutique style wineries. They offer some pretty good wines with more free tasting.then their Sonoma and Napa counterparts. Wente Vineyards is home of The Course at Wente Vineyards, Greg Norman's first U.S. golf course, a fine dining restaurant, excellent wines and a summer concert series to boot. Murietta's Well is another favorite in this area along with Concannon, renowned for their Petite Syrah and Steven Kent. Visit www.livermorewine.com for information.

If you travel south through the Santa Cruz Mountains you will find more wineries; for an interesting one, Bonny Doon winery is quite good.  You will find wineries most everywhere, with excellent wine and a broad selection served at many restaurants.  So if you enjoy wine,  beyond San Francisco will bring you one of the best experiences in the world.  Many of the wineries have events from concerts to parties to auctions to fairs to great tours (Benzinger, Jarvis, Del Dotto, Mondavi are some of the great ones, but there are many more).   Of course, also try to time your visit in sync with some of the great festivals such as the Sonoma Harvest Festival (usually end September) or Winter Wineland (a great food/wine event at over 100 Healdsburg/Alexander Valley/Russian River winery).  Lodging is everything from inexpensive (several great Best Westerns in many of the areas) to great Bed and Breakfasts (Candlelight Inn - Napa; Madrona Manor - in Healdsburg; Gaige House in Sonoma) to wonderful resorts such as Silverado in Napa and Fairmont in Sonoma.