The San Francisco Bay area is a treasure trove of educational experiences waiting to be explored by student groups. The West Coast is so different from the East Coast because the history of its settlement started in the Nineteenth Century, instead of the Seventeenth Century. The landscape and coastal regions of California are a contrast to East Coast geography. Opportunities for learning about California history include: the Gold Rush, Indian removal, urban activism, marine life in the Pacific Ocean, the transcontinental railroad and more.
I have developed a list of destinations for this tour of San Francisco Bay with commentary on the educational benefits for each place.
Alcatraz Boat Tour
Student tours will visit Alcatraz Island, the famous prison island off the shores of San Francisco. Alcatraz housed some of America’s most dangerous criminals. The National Park Service now maintains Alcatraz Island as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Alcatraz Island is only a ferry ride away from San Francisco, and includes a historical tour. Alcatraz was once a military installation, then a federal penitentiary. Nicknamed, ‘the rock,’ the National Park Service collection illustrates its vivid history, even as it relates to Native American culture. Student groups will visit and tour Alcatraz Island and the education center to gain a greater understanding of this notorious prison.
Guided Tour of San Francisco
This bus tour will include a local guide narrating the history of San Francisco. Groups will visit sites such as Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, Fort Mason, Nob Hill and more on this historic tour of San Francisco. Students and chaperones are given a general overview of the City of San Francisco and its rich and diverse history.
This contemporary shopping and dining destination offers one of the most scenic views of the San Francisco Bay and plenty for student groups to do. Once the flagship factory and headquarters of the Ghiradelli Chocolate empire, today this area of San Francisco is a national historic site that was revived in the 1960s by the Roth family. Some of the buildings which were saved and renovated include: The Chocolate Building, Mustard Building, Cocoa Building, Apartment Building, Power Plant and the Clock Tower.
A short bus ride from San Francisco is Monterey Bay. This scenic and famous stretch of rocky coastline is a stunning example of the natural beauty California has to offer. The Monterey Bay Aquarium offers student groups a deeper look at aquatic life found in the waters of the Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay. The Open Sea Exhibit is now open again to visitors after a short period of renovation. Students can see Green Sea Turtles, Hammerhead Sharks and other species native to the California coastal waters. Sea otters are plentiful in this climate and captivate students with their adorable faces and interesting personalities. Groups should plan to spend time in the Aviary, where they can see birds that either use the California coast as a flyway, or make their homes there year round.
Big Sur State Park is a rich a varied forest (with Redwood Trees) that leads to rocky cliffs overlooking a wild Pacific Ocean. In 1884 John Pfeiffer homesteaded a piece of the Big Sur River canyon then later donated it to the state in the 1930s. Just off Route 1, Big Sur offers breathtaking views of the rough California coast. Student groups can see the 50-foot waterfall that drops into the Pacific Ocean. If there is time, tour groups can take short hikes on 1800 acres of ridges and uplands. Majestic Redwood trees thrive in areas of the Big Sur forest. In addition, a 1,680 acre underwater reserve allows for exploration of marine life by snorkeling or diving. The park offers Junior Ranger Programs and Nature Walks for school groups.
Great America Theme Park
To add some entertainment to the mix, a trip to California’s Great America Theme Park in Santa Clara, California is sure to please students. Students can take thrill rides, such as Invertigo, Vortex, or Flight Deck to get their adrenaline pumping. Loggers Run, Rip Roaring Rapids and White Water Falls are also popular with student groups. The Great America Theme Park also provides special concerts and themed events. Trip leaders can secure specific days with enough advance notice.
This tour of the San Francisco Bay area in California encourages students to explore the great outdoors, urban life and marine life of the Pacific Ocean and Bay. For some students, this may be their only visit to the West Coast. They will have a chance to see Redwood trees, and visit San Francisco, one of the largest port cities in the United States, while they explore a history of settlement that helped define this country’s vastness and ability to expand.