Most Popular Day Trips from San Francisco, California

Got extra time in the Golden City? Explore Northern California by embarking on some of the many amazing day trips from San Francisco. A short drive will get you to popular California travel destinations like Yosemite National Park, Muir Woods, and Napa Valley. Not far from the city, you can also spend the day lazing on tranquil beaches like Stinson Beach or explore laid-back seaside cities like Santa Cruz. Start planning your ultimate San Francisco road-tripping adventures with this comprehensive guide!

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Santa Cruz

Recommended for surfers & classic Cali beach town vibes

1 hour and 20 minutes

Gorgeous weather, miles of sun-drenched coastline, and breathtaking natural beauty: What’s not to love about Santa Cruz? Nestled on the northern shores of Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz is a laid-back beach community with loads of activities to enjoy. Just an hour’s drive from San Francisco, this famed California surf town makes for a quick & easy day trip out of the city.

Santa Cruz

Your first stop for sightseeing in Santa Cruz is the beach, where you can spend the day surfing, stand-up paddling, or kayaking. Stroll along the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and enjoy vintage rides at the seaside amusement park. Head downtown to Pacific Avenue to shop in the vintage clothing stores and explore one of the many art galleries.

Venture along West Cliff Drive to Natural Bridges State Beach, one of Santa Cruz’s most famous beaches, to see its famous bridge-shaped rock formation. Check out the city’s calendar of events and join the locals at one of the many events or festivals that attract visitors from all over the country.

Muir Woods National Monument

Recommended for hiking in the redwoods

40 minutes

If you’re heading to California, seeing giant redwoods is a must—and the Muir Woods National Monument is one of the best places to visit in San Francisco to do just that! Just north of the city in Marin County, Muir Woods is famous for its coastal redwood forest. Home to towering old-growth redwood trees, the reserve is part of California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Muir Woods National Monument

Pack your hiking boots and spend a few hours wandering among giants at Muir Woods. You can explore the pedestrian-only park on your own or join ranger-led excursions that focus on bird and wildlife watching. Marvel at the 1,000-year-old trees that tower over 100 meters as you enjoy a picnic lunch in Bohemian Grove.

While you’re there, pay a visit to the site where a special memorial plaque was laid by United Nations delegates in 1945 to honor the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Stinson Beach

Recommended for relaxing on the beach

60 minutes

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and head north along the beautiful Marin Peninsula to Stinson Beach. Stretching for miles with spectacular coastal views, Stinson Beach is the perfect spot for relaxing.

Stinson Beach

As Stinson Beach is hailed as one of the best beaches around San Francisco for swimming, you can take long swims or surf the popular breaks on boards or kayaks. Afternoon winds make it perfect for windsurfing. The brightly colored sails make for a lovely scene.

Spacious picnic areas with barbeques abound. The nearby town also has a small grocery store if you need supplies. If you prefer eating indoors, several restaurants serve casual fare here, too.

Stinson Beach is just a 35-minute trip from the Golden Gate Bridge, making it an easy and hassle-free day trip from San Francisco.

Napa Valley

Recommended for wine lovers

1 hour

Even if you’re not a wine-lover, a trip to Napa Valley should be on your list. Stretching north for 35 miles from Vallejo, this world-renowned wine country is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in California. Dotted with beautiful estates, European-style castles, and famous wineries, it’s well worth the short trip from the city.

Napa Valley

Some of the best winemakers in the world call Napa Valley home, so there’s plenty of wine tasting to be done here. Explore the hundreds of hillside vineyards in the car or hop on the Napa Valley Wine Train and travel through the valley in style. The vintage locomotive has an excellent restaurant, too; wine and dine as the vineyards fly past.

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Gourmands will also delight in the world-class culinary offerings in Napa Valley. Treat yourself to a one-of-a-kind food and wine experience at one of the Michelin-star restaurants dotting the region.

Sausalito

Recommended for relaxed seaside vibes

30 minutes

Another sunny seaside town worth visiting in the area is Sausalito. Situated across the Golden Gate Strait from San Francisco, Sausalito has a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere and loads of eateries, bars, galleries, and museums.

Sausalito

As you stroll along the historic Sausalito waterfront, you could be fooled into thinking you’re somewhere in the Mediterranean. Take a walking tour of the Richardson Bay houseboat community to learn about the history of the floating homes that date back to the Second World War.

If you have the kids in tow, take them to the Bay Area Discovery Museum to get their hands dirty in a variety of interactive exhibits. Visit the Marine Mammal Center to see some real sea lions.

Be sure to make a stop at the Bay Model Visitor Center to see a 1.5-acre working model of San Francisco Bay. Take a picnic up to the Marin Headlands and take in sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Angel Island State Park

Recommended for historic sightseeing

50 minutes

Jump on the ferry from San Francisco or Tiburon and head out to Angel Island State Park. The largest natural island in the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island has beautiful landscapes and breathtaking views. Once a fishing and hunting site for the Miwok Native Americans, the island is now protected and home to myriad fauna and flora.

Angel Island

A short 15-minute ferry ride gets you to Angel Island, where you can explore on an open-air tram or a Segway tour. Learn about the island’s fascinating history and the Civil War buildings. Visit an old immigration station and explore a Cold War missile site.

Walk or bike the five-mile Paved Perimeter Road, discovering key historic sites along the way. Or hike the Historical Route or the Ridge Trail for a peaceful forest reverie.

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Have lunch at the charming Angel Island Café, where you can tuck into delicious specialty sandwiches against a backdrop of awe-inspiring views of the bay.

Silicon Valley

Recommended for high-tech fun & shopping

55 minutes

While Silicon Valley may not sound all that interesting, there are plenty of attractions and interesting sites. Spanning over 20 miles in the southern San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley is renowned for being the home of global technology companies like Apple, Google, and Meta. It also boasts plenty of parks, museums, and technology-focused institutions to explore.

Silicon Valley

Make the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve your first stop. Spend a few hours hiking or kayaking around the park and soaking up the beautiful views. Watch out for local birds and wildlife, as they’re abundant. Then head to the Tech Museum of Innovation, one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Jose, CA, to fiddle with robots, step into virtual reality, and watch an IMAX show.

Feel like shopping? Hit Santana Row and unleash your credit card at the boutique stores and high-end shops lining the pretty tree-lined avenues. When you’ve built up an appetite, you’ll find everything from casual cafés to gourmet eateries to grab some grub.

Sonoma County

Recommended for wine tastings & history

1 hour and 10 minutes

Synonymous with being one of the world’s most famous wine regions, Sonoma Valley is simply breathtaking. Spread over 17 miles in California’s Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley boasts rambling wine estates, postage stamp towns, and historic homes.

Sonoma County

Begin with tasting some wine at two of California’s oldest and most distinguished wineries in the town of Sonoma. Stroll around the charming town plaza and admire the historic adobes and beautifully preserved buildings. Do some shopping in the town’s boutique stores, charming antique shops, and art galleries.

Head to the Sonoma Coast State Park for some outdoor fun where you can hike, bike, or horseback ride bike through ancient redwood forests and oak-studded hills. Take to the waters of the Russian River and enjoy some canoeing, kayaking, or fishing.

Monterey

Recommended for scenic drives & historic attractions

2 hours and 10 minutes

Legendary scenic drives, stunning, uncrowded beaches, and fabulous seafood restaurants: Monterey has something for everyone. If you love the outdoors and want to get up close to nature, then a day trip to Monterey is a must!

Monterey

Explore the charming town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Nestled on the Monterey Peninsula, this tiny one-square-mile seaside village boasts fairytale cottages, charming art galleries, museums, and a library of the historic Carmel Mission. One of the coolest things to do in Carmel is to wander along the Scenic Bluff Path from Carmel Beach to Carmel River State Beach and try to spot whales.

The historic district of Cannery Row is another top Monterey attraction. Once home to a busy sardine canning industry, Cannery Row’s abandoned cannery buildings now house restaurants, hotels, shops, and historic attractions.

Wander around the bustling district and explore the historic sites. Shop for souvenirs and dine on fresh seafood at one of the many eateries.

Castle Rock State Park

Recommended for hiking & horseback riding

1 hour and 15 minutes

The spectacular sculpted sandstone landscapes of Castle Rock State Park shouldn’t be missed. You’re your hiking boots and backpack and head high into the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Castle Rock State Park

Running along a rugged crest, Castle Rock State Park has some incredible hiking and horseback riding trails. Whether you take a short stroll or a challenging hike, you’ll see some breathtaking views of Silicon Valley.

You’ll also find plenty of caverns and rocks for climbing, including the eponymous Castle Rock. And if you’re a flora-fundi, the park is home to dense forests of redwoods, knob cone pines, and black oaks.

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There are flushing toilets and a water bottle refill station in the Castle Rock parking lot. Your electric car can also be charged while you’re exploring the park at a charging station.

Yosemite National Park

Recommended for hiking & climbing

4 hours

You’ve seen the giant redwoods; now it’s time for the mammoth sequoias. Yosemite National Park is another one of California’s top attractions and shouldn’t be missed! Spanning over 1,200 square miles, Yosemite National Park has some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the country. Dramatic waterfalls, awe-inspiring cliffs, huge trees, and abundant wildlife – you’ll find it all here.

PRO TIP: Keep in mind that this destination is by far the furthest away on our list. With a 4-hour drive awaiting, only the most hardcore of travelers should attempt this; for most, it’s far better to tackle Yosemite as a weekend getaway from San Francisco than a day trip. (Don’t say you weren’t warned!)

Yosemite National Park

Take a hike to the impressive Yosemite Falls and feel the mists wash over you as you marvel at its tumbling cascade. If you love climbing, head to Half Dome or El Capitan, two of the park’s most famous sites, and hit the rock. Prefer something less life-threatening? Take a peaceful drive up to Glacier Point for some incredible views.

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There are also many amazing hiking trails to explore in the park, as well as tranquil picnic spots with beautiful views. Yosemite National Park is the perfect place to get close to nature and enjoy the silence.

Treksplorer

Ryan O'Rourke is a seasoned traveler and the founder & editor of Treksplorer, a fiercely independent guide to mid-range luxury travel for busy people. With over 20 years of extensive travel experience, Ryan has journeyed through over 50 countries, uncovering hidden gems and sharing firsthand, unsponsored insights on what to see & do and where to eat, drink & stay. Backed by his travel experience and in-depth research, Ryan’s travel advice and writing has been featured in publications like the Huffington Post and Matador Network. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter/X at @rtorourke.

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