In search of new adventures in San Francisco? The city by the bay offers curious travelers two new twists. 

Want to exit the fast track and enjoy the perks of the great outdoors? Try doing it atop two bustling highway tunnels. 

How about immersing yourself in the underground exploration of ancient Egypt? You can, thanks to high-tech audio, video and remarkable motion chairs. 

Here’s how to make your next California trip over the top.

Visit ancient Egypt at the Ramses the Great exhibition

Adventures in San Francisco: Ancient Egyptian tomb art

Ancient Egyptian tomb art

Queen Nefertari, life-size and dressed in a flowing white gown, beckons me to follow her past the colossal statues of her husband, Ramses the Great, adorning Egypt’s renowned temple of Abu Simbel. Seeming to float effortlessly, she leads me through the thick stone walls of the temple entrance into a pillar-filled chamber lit by flames dancing on the tops of decorative stands.

In a matter of moments, I am transported from California to Egypt and find myself exploring one of the ancient world’s most awe-inspiring sights. There are no crowds, no hawkers, no oppressive heat. And I even have a personal guide who actually witnessed royal life more than 3,000 years ago. Could it get any better—or easier?

Exclusive show at the de Young

It’s all happening at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, host to the west coast’s sole showing of the exhibition “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs.”

The show features an outstanding collection (181 priceless objects, some newly discovered) of imperial jewelry, impressive statuary, mummies and tomb adornments. But the highlight is a mind-blowing virtual reality tour of some incredible temples and tombs commissioned by Ramses II.

Ramses II became King (a.k.a. pharaoh) in 1279 B.C. and reigned for 67 years. Nefertari was one of eight or more wives who bore the king 100 children. Such insights are an integral part of the exhibit, told not only through artifacts but also through intriguing multimedia presentations.

A virtual reality adventure at the de Young Museum transports museum goers to ancient Egypt

A virtual reality adventure at the de Young Museum transports museumgoers to ancient Egypt

A pivoting motion chair and the timely release of such scents as an acrid smell during a hair-raising desert sandstorm enhance the 10-minute virtual trip.

The experience felt so real, I found myself tucking in my arms and legs so as not to bump into temple walls or get my fingers singed by flickering flames. I even reached out to touch Queen Nefertari’s billowing garment as she escorted me into her stunningly beautiful tomb.

On the waterfront at Presidio Tunnel Tops

Adventures in San Francisco: The city view from Presidio Tunnel Tops

The city view from Presidio Tunnel Tops

In stark contrast to ancient construction is San Francisco’s recently opened take on beautifying the urban landscape.

Twenty years in the making, Presidio Tunnel Tops adds 14 acres to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. And it spans the top of six lanes of Highway 101 tunnel traffic. It’s a national park readily accessible to urbanites.

From newly created viewpoints, visitors take in sweeping vistas of the city, the Palace of Fine Arts, Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. The unobstructed views alone are worth a visit. On windy days, a glass pavilion offers an escape from the elements. And on cool evenings, rangers give talks around a campfire circle overlooking the bay.

The Outpost attracts children

In the Outpost, children climb on large wooden structures built from fallen trees. Designed to create a natural play area in the midst of the urban landscape, the Outpost incorporates natural elements of wood, stone and water rather than using metals and plastics.

Presidio Tunnel Tops Outpost playground

Presidio Tunnel Tops Outpost playground

The Tunnel Tops version of a swing

The Tunnel Tops version of a swing

Field Station woos nature lovers

All ages will delight in the Field Station, a mini-museum where displays highlight the area’s flora and fauna. Visitors can taste Presidio water infused with local plants and sniff the leaves used to make it. Kids can pet a coyote (preserved by taxidermy) that once roamed freely in the park. And would-be artists sketch their surroundings, thanks to complimentary paper, pencils and crayons.

Pathways and facilities designed for relaxing

The park’s pathways are designed for strolling; the grassy Presidio steps for sitting and relaxing. Visitors who plan ahead can reserve a BBQ grill for a picnic with friends and family. Everyone can purchase ethnic snacks ranging from curries to empanadas to borscht from a rotating lineup of food trucks.

Treat yourself after your adventures in San Francisco

Vegetarian tacos at Green's in San Francisco

Vegetarian tacos at Green’s in San Francisco

My friends and I chose to treat ourselves to bayfront dining at Greens Restaurant. A half-hour walk or short drive from Tunnel Tops, Greens (opened in 1979) is among the city’s longest-operating vegetarian hot spots. 

And like the park, wood plays a starring role in the décor. The massive entry doors are black walnut. Dining tables are crafted of maple, walnut and cherry.

Much of the cuisine is locally sourced. I suggest sharing an eggplant caponata with garlic-whipped ricotta, followed by maitake (mushroom) and nopales (cactus) tacos with fire-toasted tomato salsa.

And don’t pass up the yummy chocolate crinkle cookies.

What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?

  • Viewing ancient Egyptian sites via a virtual reality tour makes both a great introduction for future travelers to Egypt and an easy, realistic alternative for those staying closer to home.
  • The Presidio Tunnel Tops entertains all ages of a multi-generation group. Entrance and activities, from viewing educational exhibits to enjoying the outdoor playground, are free.

Take note

  • The Ramses the Great exhibition runs from August 20, 2022, to February 12, 2023, in San Francisco. It then moves to Paris and London.
  • Parking for the Presidio Tunnel Tops can be tight. Try to car pool or take public transportation, including the free Presidio Go shuttle.
  • For experiencing these adventures in San Francisco, bring a mask to protect against COVID as one may be recommended or required in the de Young museum or on public transportation.

Disclosure: The writer’s activities were hosted by the de Young museum, Presidio Tunnel Tops and Greens Restaurant.

All photo credits: Ginger Dingus

Previously on Getting On Travel:

Save to Pinterest!!​​

Adventures in San Francisco Pin