Alyssa has been writing about exciting travel topics for Trips to Discover since 2013. After living the big city life in Chicago, Washington, DC, and Atlanta, Alyssa sold the bulk of her possessions and became a digital nomad, living full-time in her camper and working from wherever she could find an outlet and an internet connection for her laptop.
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Many people visit the city of San Francisco as a stand-alone destination because there is so much to see and do here throughout the year. But it’s also fun to take short trips from this part of the Bay Area to see other parts of the region and experience different sides of Northern California. So, if you’re looking for a short excursion that doesn’t break the bank, here is a collection of day trips from San Francisco to consider.
Big Sur is a popular California destination that you can get to on a day trip from San Francisco and is well worth it for nature lovers. Come here to take epic photos and hike some great trails along a rugged stretch of coastline by the Pacific Ocean. Big Sur is also an ideal place to soak up a beautiful sunset and go for casual walks along the beach. Better yet, you can get here from San Francisco in under three hours.
It’s easy to get to Sausalito from San Francisco on a day trip because it’s just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. However, you might feel like you’re a world away from the city when you experience the laid-back, charming, and historic vibe of Sausalito. This part of California is home to hundreds of boathouses along the waterfront, lots of local shops to explore, and even World War II history to learn about. The whole town is charming and relaxed, and you can take a ferry ride to get an overview of the area and see all the beautiful homes along the coast.
One of California’s best coastal towns, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a wonderful beach town that you can visit from San Francisco in just a day, although you might want to stay longer once you experience its charm and picturesque views. This town is on the Monterey Peninsula and home to the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, as well as Point Lobos overlooking the ocean. The town itself has a European vibe, with other top tourist spots being the Harrison Memorial Library and the Weston Gallery.
You can also head to the Napa region for the day from the San Francisco Bay Area to have your pick of hundreds of incredible wineries. Here you’ll also find lovely rolling hills, plenty of gourmet restaurants, and a growing craft brewery scene too. If you’re looking for a unique treat, book a tour on the Napa Valley Wine Train, which offers scenic rides that include meals and even a live murder mystery performance.
Half Moon Bay is less than an hour from San Francisco, making it a perfect day trip destination to an idyllic small town. Depending on when you visit, you may be able to see pumpkins, Christmas trees, or flowers growing here. Surfing is also popular in Half Moon Bay. Mavericks of Pillar Point is a great beach area in Half Moon Bay, and this is also a popular place among artists and golfers because of the artist collective and world-class golf courses in the area.
Some people are surprised to learn that Santa Cruz is a great day trip from San Francisco, but it’s only about an hour and a half away by car. This California city is famous for its fun boardwalk with amusement park rides, but Santa Cruz is also a hot spot for mountain biking, listening to live indie band performances, and seeing the butterflies in Monarch Grove.
When you become immersed in the exciting city life of San Francisco, it can be hard to remember that nature is right around the corner. Take a day trip to Muir Woods to leave the city’s sights and sounds behind and trade those in for big trees and endless foliage for the day. This is an ideal place to see the iconic redwood trees and stop by famous landmarks like Cathedral Grove, Bohemian Grove, and Redwood Creek. Muir Woods is only about 12 miles north of the city, and you can get here in under an hour, making it a great day trip if you’re pressed for time.
Another excellent day trip from San Francisco if you’re looking for outdoor adventure is the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. This is where you’ll find the enormous redwood and sequoia trees and maybe even have the opportunity to drive your car through one. There are paved trails for light hiking and also long backcountry trails to really get in touch with the wilderness out here on a hike.
Mendocino is a perfectly picturesque Northern California destination that you can get to within about four hours of San Francisco. Make it a day trip or a weekend trip to see the rugged coastlines, small-town shops, and theaters, and to check out the lovely Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden. The garden is large, filled with so many beautiful coastal plants, and is even dog-friendly. Top sights to visit here on your day in Mendocino include the Mendocino Headlands State Park, Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park, the Mendocino Theatre Company, and the other local parks and museums to learn about the area.
Within about an hour from San Francisco, you can reach Stinson Beach and also Bolinas, which is known for its rugged coastline and white sandy beaches. There are at least three miles of beaches here and plenty of opportunities for water sports. Stinson Beach is a hot spot for surfing lessons, and there is also Bass Lake nearby for swimming and hiking nearby. There are also some nice local cafes and restaurants here to hang out in while listening to live music and living like the locals do.
In a little over an hour, you can get from San Francisco to Sebastopol, which is an awesome place to check out bookstores, live music, breweries, and restaurants. A few favorite spots here include the ice cream parlor of Guerneville Bank Club and Woodfour Brewing Company with its outdoor patio.