Top 12 Day Trips From San Francisco
We still can't get over how quickly we can be in a forest after leaving our little San Francisco apartment. There are tons of different places to visit on day trips from San Francisco. Here's our top 12 favorite ways to escape when we just need to get away, in partnership with Expedia.com.
Technically, Highway 1 runs through San Francisco, but if you want the beautiful coastal vistas you'll need to drive south about 30 minutes to Pacifica where Highway 1 is reunited with the coast. The stretch between Pacifica and Santa Cruz offers some amazing views without the hairpin turns that you'll find along the route if you head further south or north of San Francisco on the Highway, and offers up some lesser known beaches for those sunny days where you can just pull over and hike down to the sand for the afternoon.
Sausalito is just a 30 minute drive north of San Francisco, but you'll find it just as easy to reach without a car by renting a bike to cross the Golden Gate or hop on a ferry from the City. You could even grab your walking shoes and just stroll over to spend the day. Being so close to San Francisco, it's incredible how this little artsy waterfront town kept all of its charm.
You can spend the day tasting wines all around Sonoma, or just spend the afternoon in downtown Sonoma which is just a 30 minute drive north from San Francisco. The town has a good mix of artisan shops and a historic Mission to explore. The area is famous for their Cabernets, but all the wineries will offer up a good variety to sip, and most are accessible without reservations. Don't miss Healdsburg nearby, it's a wine and foodie heaven.
Napa is all about food and fine wines, just a bit further east than Sonoma, it's still just a short 45 minute drive from San Francisco, and easy to do both Napa and Sonoma in a day. You won't come up short if you're looking for a fancy meal and nearly everything comes back to the famous wines in some way or another. There are plenty of wineries that you can visit on a walk-in basis, but a good number will ask for reservations in advance, so plan accordingly if there are any must-do wineries on your list. The towns of Yountville and St. Helena offer up picturesque blocks to stroll after you've enjoyed your tastings.
One of our favorite things about San Francisco is that even though it's a dense, bustling city, we can hop in the car and head just 45 minutes north and be in the old-growth coast redwood forest. It's a great trip for those unusually hot San Francisco days to spend under the shade of the canopy. There's plenty of marked and maintained trails to walk and gaze up at the towering trees.
What was once a bustling Naval Yard is now home to several blocks of colorful, industrial buildings and wetlands to explore. There's plenty of history to soak in at the island which is an hours drive from San Francisco, but plenty of nature to appreciate at the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge as well.
The jewel of Point Reyes is the lighthouse from 1870 that sits atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific. It's still a long hike down a narrow staircase to make it down to the lighthouse itself, but the view is just as spectacular from up above without braving the hundreds of steps down (and yes, back up). There's plenty of elk that hang around the area as well, and you're almost certain to find some just a few feet away from the road. The area is just over an hours drive north from San Francisco, but has plenty to do for the entire day. After checking out the lighthouse, you'll find plenty of places to enjoy the local oysters from Tomales Bay - our favorite spot being Hog Island Oyster just a bit further north on the western side of the bay.
A great beach-day destination from San Francisco is a 1:45 minute drive southward if you're taking the fastest route, but a leisurely drive along Highway 1 will get you there from San Francisco too. The city is famous for its boardwalk amusement park, but the downtown area is home to a number of shops and boasts the city's more artistic side.
The California state capital finds itself a two-hour drive eastward from San Francisco. You can spend the day exploring old Sacramento which has the look and feel of the city from the 19th century wild west days right near the city's Tower Bridge. The local food scene is building up, so you'll need to make sure to stick around for dinner and enjoy some of the city's fare.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must do if you're spending more than a few days in the San Francisco Area, but the area gives enough to occupy you for the full day, making the 2:30 drive south worth the trip. The city's Cannery Row has turned into a thriving tourist area full of shops and restaurants to explore. Just a bit further south, there's the posh city of Carmel-By-The-Sea for some higher-end shopping, and you can cruise the 17-mile drive in Pacific Grove or hit the links at Pebble Beach.
The most quaint seaside town we've come across in our travels is a 3:30 drive north of San Francisco. Mendocino is perched atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific and is full of local artisan shops to spend the day. Come during the humpback migration season to spot some swimming offshore from the Mendocino Headlands State Park.
Well worth the 3:30 drive east from San Francisco, you can easily do the park highlights in Yosemite Valley in a day if you start your trip early. The Tunnel View gives you a spectacular view of the valley, and you'll be in awe when you're standing below the El Capitan granite cliff.
Have you checked off any of our favorite sites yet?