San Francisco is a dynamic city with well-known landmarks, busy streets, and a wide variety of cultures. But occasionally, even the most ardent city inhabitants need a break from the commotion. Fortunately, San Francisco is encircled by some of the most picturesque scenery and quaint communities in the nation, making it the ideal starting point for day trips. Within a short drive of the city, there is something for everyone, from charming vineyards to stunning beaches.
There are countless day trip choices from San Francisco, whether you’re searching for a breathtaking drive, a peaceful trek, or a gourmet excursion. So with our guide to San Francisco day trips, get ready to see the best of Northern California.
#1. Yosemite National Park
A 1,200 square mile area in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park, is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Black bears, coyotes, chipmunks, and endangered bighorn sheep live there, along with 250 different species of birds. The seven-mile-long Yosemite Valley is surrounded by granite monoliths with steep rock walls that were sculpted out by retreating glaciers during the last Ice Age.
The breathtaking scenery is full of wonderful surprises, such as old-growth sequoia trees, sparkling lakes, 1,000-foot waterfalls, and flower-covered meadows. The park also provides chances for outdoor activities like bird-watching, horseback riding, lake fishing, river fishing, and skiing thanks to its 750 miles of nature trails in six distinct regions.
Rock climbers can test themselves with their spectacular 3,000- to nearly 5,000-foot ascents on the fabled El Capitan and Half Dome rock faces, while campers can select from 15 campgrounds. Yosemite is far away from San Francisco—nearly 200 miles away—and requires a long journey. (about four hours each way). The Yosemite National Park full-day trip, which includes transportation to and from San Francisco and a guided tour of Yosemite’s best attractions, is a wonderful choice if you just have one day to explore.
#2. Big Sur
Popular day trips from San Francisco include the Big Sur region, which is known for its winding mountainous roads, expansive beaches, and spectacular sunsets. Drive in on Highway 1, take in the breathtaking vistas, then head straight toward the beach. Sierra Mar offers a three-course prix fixe meal with a view of the Pacific, while McWay Falls offers a breathtaking light tunnel at sunrise and sunset. Then unwind at the wooden-lodge-inspired Ventana Inn before visiting the Henry Miller Memorial Library for performances like Philip Glass’s Days and Nights Festival.
The Monterey Peninsula is a distinctive region of California that combines NorCal sophistication with SoCal laziness. It is the location of the tourist-friendly towns of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea. The small community feel is maintained in part by the exorbitant real estate prices, and the golf courses are among the most sought-after in the world. It is the ideal location for a road trip or romantic weekend getaway because it is home to natural beauties, five-star resorts, and seafood restaurants.
#4. Santa Crux and the Beach Boardwalk
In the summer, many tourists flock to Santa Cruz, a coastal town located on Monterey Bay, for its storied coastal Boardwalk amusement park. Swimming, bodyboarding, and paddleboarding are popular activities on Main Beach, but more secluded beaches like Sunset State Beach and Natural Bridges Beach offer peace and quiet. The Santa Cruz Mission, the city center, and Santa Cruz Wharf are some additional popular tourist destinations. Additionally, train rides on the Roaring Camp Railroad in the Santa Cruz Mountains provide an exhilarating journey through redwood woods.
#5. Point Reyes and Tomales Bay
This is also one of the popular day trips in San Francisco. On the Pacific Coast, there is a 71,000-acre wildlife reserve called Point Reyes. Elephant seals, old-growth Douglas-fir woods, a 145-year-old lighthouse, Chimney Rock, the Tule Elk Preserve, Pierce Point Ranch, Heart’s Desire Beach, Cowgirl Creamery, Cowgirl Cantina, Point Reyes Books, the farm of the Hog Island Oyster Company, and the Marshall Store can all be found there.
Moreover, keep a lookout for the Pacific gray whale migration if you’re traveling between January and April; hike or go on a ranger-led tour to see these magnificent creatures; or go to the historic Pierce Point Ranch at the trailhead. Point Reyes Station, a little rural village at the mouth of the bay, is close by and has a wide selection of restaurants.
#6. Napa Valley
Given that California wineries have surpassed the caliber of their European forebears, Robert Louis Stevenson’s saying from the 1880s, “Wine is bottled poetry,” is still true today. Due to its growth in the wine industry, Napa Valley is now a popular tourist destination and one of the best places to visit in California. The wine caves, tiering hillsides, and illustrious estates provide a spectacular landscape, and upscale hotels are taking notice. Visits to the best Napa Valley vineyards might be facilitated by a guided tour. Both the life-changing cabernet and the alluring natural surroundings make a trip to California wine country unforgettable.
One of the most thrilling ferry journeys in the world takes place between Sausalito in Marin County and San Francisco’s ferry terminal. Before docking in Sausalito’s serene bay, it offers breathtaking views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Angel Island. Sausalito is a charming seaside town with great weather and beautiful surroundings. Similarly, visitors can take pleasure in wandering through the historic center and along the Bridgeway walking trail, which offers views of the marinas’ yachts and the San Francisco cityscape.
#8. Stinson Beach and Bolinas
Go north to Stinson Beach and Bolinas for welcoming, relaxed beach vibes. These two points, which frame Bolinas Bay, are home to water sports, a rocky coastline, and long lengths of white sand. While enthusiastic swimmers should keep an eye out for Bass Lake, a body of freshwater located a short drive up Mesa Road followed by a nearly three-mile climb (believe us, it’s worth it), beginning surfers can schedule lessons at the 2 Mile Surf Shop.
Fresh seafood is a great way to revive yourself. You can also stop by the nearby Coast Cafe for a hearty sandwich for lunch or something more substantial from the dinner menu. Additionally, Smiley’s Schooner Saloon, a favorite among locals and offering games and live music with your drink, is a good choice if you want to have a quick drink before going home.
With its amazing views, Sonoma is one of the best-liked day trips in San Francisco. It’s possible to think of Sonoma, a county in Northern California, as the laidback, unpretentious sister of Napa because of its rustic attractions and variety of wineries. There are several tiny cities worth visiting in its undulating hills, which rise into the Sonoma Mountains and descend to the Pacific coast: If you’re looking for an urban getaway with museums and popular restaurants, consider Santa Rosa. However, stop by Glen Ellen for a taste of small-town America.
Sonoma, not Napa, should be your California wine region trip if you’re looking for a relaxed introduction to world-class vintages and stunning properties. Consider scheduling a guided tour if you’re only visiting for a single day. The best California tours include a few full-day excursions to Sonoma.
#10. University Town of Berkeley
Berkeley University’s campus is situated behind a grove of redwood trees on a mountaintop with views of the bay. The university’s classrooms, libraries, and research facilities are housed in impressive classical-style structures. The iconic Sather Tower, one of the tallest bell towers in the world, offers breathtaking views of San Francisco Bay from its observation deck. At Bancroft Library and Sproul Plaza, visitors can get a feel for college life, and Telegraph Avenue showcases Berkeley’s bohemian counterculture heritage. In addition, Berkeley is renowned for its arts, theater, and culinary scenes.
Furthermore, visitors can eat at the Gourmet Ghetto, which is home to the renowned Chez Panisse café, and watch a Pulitzer Prize-winning performance. The Lawrence Hall of Science and the Botanical Garden are two other popular tourist destinations. Tilden Park, which features a small working farm, a steam train ride, and an antique merry-go-round, is a favorite destination for families with children.
#11. Skyline Boulevard and Woodside
This is also one of the famous day trips in San Francisco where you can have a nice time. In Woodside, Skyline Boulevard provides wine tasting without the traffic, breathtaking views of the valley and ocean, and nature walks. Texas-style BBQ, motorbike-themed burgers, and breakfast until 2:00 p.m. are all available at Alice’s Restaurant. The Jikoji Zen Center welcomes guests to its quiet grounds to stroll and meditate in its zendos, while Thomas Fogarty Winery offers five specialty wines. To let them know you are here for the first time, ring the rusty bronze bell at the door.
California’s capital city, Sacramento, has a long history. During the Gold Rush, it was a haven for prospectors, and it is currently regarded as the most budget-friendly California vacation spot. It is the self-declared “Farm-to-Fork Capital of America” and has a significant agricultural production of grapes, pears, corn, and animals. It also has 200 parks, two rivers, and a wealth of outdoor recreation opportunities.
Many tourists start their journey at the Capitol building, while the Midtown district is home to thriving theatrical and nightlife scenes. Sacramento will keep you entertained, no matter what your interests are.
#13. Muir Woods Hiking Trails and Muir Beach
One of Northern California’s few old-growth coastal redwood forests, Muir Woods National Monument, is just a short drive north of San Francisco. Hikers appreciate the tranquil and coolingly shaded pathways that meander through groves of fragrant bay laurels, canopies of enormous redwood trees, and fern-fringed creek banks. Besides, camping and picnic areas are located along a three-mile walk that leads from Muir Woods to Muir Beach and the Pacific Ocean.
Before beginning the journey back to Muir Woods, the Pelican Inn serves a filling dinner of traditional English country fare. Visitors must reserve either paid parking or a shuttle bus ride in advance due to the crowds and restricted space. The Muir Woods and Sausalito Half-Day Tour, which leaves from San Francisco, is one suggestion.
Sebastapol is a real, unpretentious Sonoma outpost with a wide range of shopping choices. A worn-in aviator jacket or a canvas belt from the Soviet Army can be purchased at Aubergine Vintage Emporium, which resembles a hanger. A pleasant bookshop with figurines and New Age and philosophical books is called Many Rivers Books & Tea.
The Barlow is a collection of renovated warehouses that previously housed an orchard processing facility. Meanwhile, the Hopmonk Tavern is a large room with a red banquette bar, a performance stage, and a Tuscan-inspired courtyard draped with lights. Woodfour Brewing Company makes Belgian farmhouse-style sours.
Additionally, the INIZI wine-tasting facility, a corner store that specializes in handmade products, and Nimble & Finn’s ice cream parlor are now located in the former bank building known as the Guerneville Bank Club. View the Russian River Historical Society’s exhibit, which details Guerneville’s early years as a logging town, near the back of the structure.
#15. Half Moon Bay’s Countryside and Beaches
A little rural community encircled by farms and forests, Half Moon Bay is located 30 miles south of San Francisco. It features a charming downtown with many independently owned stores, fantastic restaurants, and unpretentious cafés and eateries. Numerous kilometers of sandy beaches line the area, and Mavericks Beach hosts surfing competitions. Hiking, fishing, riding horses, and bird-watching are other outdoor pursuits. October is a popular time to travel because of pumpkin picking and the Pumpkin Festival.
#16. Gold Country – Sierra Nevada Foothills
Columbia is a historic hamlet located in the Sierra Nevada foothills that played a significant role in the California Gold Rush. It has establishments such as Parrott’s Blacksmith Shop, Columbia Kate’s Teahouse, and Nelson’s Columbia Candy Kitchen that are reminiscent of the 1850s Gold Rush. Visit Parrott’s Ferry Bridge on your way back home for breathtaking views of New Melones Lake and the surrounding hills. In the past, boats crossed this bridge to transport people between mining communities.
#17. Filoli Estate
The Santa Cruz Mountains, which are heavily forested, are in the background of the bucolic setting where the Filoli Estate lies concealed, 30 miles south of San Francisco. It is listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. With its elegant architecture, opulent interiors, and beautiful gardens, it is a popular choice for movie settings. William Bowers Bourn II, proprietor of the Empire Gold Mine in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, had the opulent manor residence constructed between 1915 and 1917.
It is also famous for its 16-acre formal gardens, which were designed in the English Renaissance style and feature neatly groomed hedges, terraces, ornate pools, fountains, flower beds, and a rose garden. Along with 22 hiking trails, a one-mile Circle Estate Trail, a 528-acre nature preserve, and a 10-acre orchard, The Filoli Estate also has 22 hiking paths.
Another one of the top day trips in San Francisco is the Carmel. The area around Ocean Avenue in Carmel is a terrific place to experience the ambiance of a European village. Bernard Maybeck’s design for the Harrison Memorial Library perfectly reflects the appeal of the classic small-town library. The Weston Gallery features a collection of old photographs and frequently hosts exhibitions of modern art.
Carmel Beach is a beautiful place to relax with locals on the fine white sand, and Casanova is a quaint French restaurant with a trellised patio. History aficionados will enjoy visiting the shrine to Junipero Serra, a member of the Portolà expedition, and the second mission established in Alta California, the Carmel Mission.
Is San Francisco Worth Visiting?
San Francisco is a superb vacation destination because of its stunning skyline, lovely neighborhoods, and neighboring natural beauty. One might not consider safety when traveling to a place with a moniker like “Golden Gate City.” But you should always familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of safety before visiting any major city.
What Is the Best Time to Visit San Francisco?
San Francisco is most enjoyable between September and November. Despite popular belief, October has some of the city’s hottest temperatures all year and is less crowded than summer. Considering the pleasant weather and lack of rain, spring is another excellent time to go.
How Many Days in San Francisco is Enough?
Most tourists agree that three days in San Francisco are sufficient to gain a decent overview of the city. Take a few day trips to San Francisco, though, if you have a week to spare.