Day Trip From San Francisco: 10 Drives You Don’t Want to Miss

When you've had your fill of San Francisco's vibrant city scene, why not escape the urban hustle and explore the diverse wonders that lie just beyond the Bay Area?

Though San Francisco entices visitors with its postcard-worthy scenery, eclectic neighborhoods and renowned food and entertainment scenes. Those who explore just beyond the city limits will discover Northern California treasures equally deserving of a spot on their itinerary.

Follow along as we guide you on the best day trips from San Francisco.

With incredible outdoor escapades, rich cultural experiences, and top-notch wine tasting within a short drive, NorCal offers an abundance of fantastic options for unforgettable day trips from San Francisco.

Whether you’re marveling at the towering redwoods in Muir Woods, enjoying the thrilling rides at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Or strolling through the vine-covered landscapes of Napa’s renowned wine country, some of California’s finest attractions are just over the bridge or down the coast.

From ancient redwoods to seaside cliffs and vineyard-covered hills, these drives promise a perfect blend of adventure, relaxation, and natural beauty. So fuel up the car, cue up your playlist and consider adding any of these San Francisco day trips to your vacation.

You’ll be planning your next Golden Gate Bridge crossing before you can say “road trip!”

Wide shot of a bay with boats bloating with flowers and greenery in the foreground under a cloudy blue skySausalito, California

Distance from San Francisco: 30 minutes, 10.6 miles.

Just a quick drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll discover the lovely town of Sausalito in Marin County. It’s a perfect getaway from the busy streets of downtown San Francisco. Sausalito is like a postcard come to life, offering stunning views and a laid-back vibe.

Take a stroll along Bridgeway, where you’ll find cool galleries, cute shops, and cozy cafes. Grab a seat by the water and enjoy watching sailboats peacefully pass by with the San Francisco skyline in the background.

Sausalito’s charm is everywhere, from the houseboats lining the docks to the old-fashioned buildings you’ll see as you wander around. Those floating houseboats in the harbor? They’re a cool reminder of Sausalito’s artsy and free-spirited history.

Prefer soaking in the best Bay Area sights without dealing with traffic? Experience the scenic ride across the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito with the Golden Gate Bridge Guided Bike Tour, where a professional guide will share its fascinating history.

Alternatively, explore the charming Richardson Bay houseboat community and catch breathtaking views of San Francisco’s skyline with a hassle-free ferry Sausalito Ferry to/from San Francisco, CA. It adds a touch of adventure to your day!

Aerial shot of green hills with rolling thick clouds at sunsetMount Tamalpais State Park

Distance from San Francisco: 35 minutes, 13.7 miles

Indulge in the splendor of the Pacific and immerse yourself in exhilarating hikes at Mount Tamalpais State Park. This natural haven is adorned with a tapestry of cool redwood forests, oak woodlands, open grasslands, and robust chaparral.

Marvel at the amazing landscape of deep canyons and expansive hillsides. For awe-inspiring panoramic views, venture to the East Peak Lookout, where the vistas will leave you breathless.

However, be prepared to lace up your hiking boots for challenging trails ascending over 2,500 feet. These paths wind through redwood groves and along ridges, offering bird’s-eye perspectives of the iconic San Francisco Bay.

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For those seeking a more leisurely experience, opt for a scenic drive up the winding roads of Mt. Tam. This journey leads to the Mountain Theater, an outdoor amphitheater that provides front-row seats to nature’s grand finale—the spectacular sunsets over the vast sea. It’s a sight you won’t want to miss!

Pro Tip: The park is open daily from 7:00 a.m. to sunset, year-round, and admission is free. For a more serene experience, plan your visit early in the morning or on weekdays to avoid the crowds and fully savor the tranquility of the park’s breathtaking landscapes.

trail through muir woods national monument
Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument

Distance from San Francisco 40 minutes, 16.4 miles.

Trade towering skyscrapers for even taller trees with a trip to the magnificent Muir Woods! This special place safeguards breathtaking groves of ancient coast redwoods and boasts six miles of fascinating hiking trails.

Look up and let your gaze follow the canopy as you stroll along the raised boardwalks and twisting dirt trails, taking in deep breaths of the fresh, pine-scented air. The towering redwoods create a natural cathedral that envelops you, providing a serene and immersive experience in Muir Woods National Monument.

Plus, catch stunning panoramic views of San Francisco Bay, the Pacific Ocean, and Mount Tamalpais along the way! The expansive vistas serve as a picturesque backdrop, offering a visual feast that complements the tranquility of the ancient redwood groves.

Spending a big chunk of your day exploring the park’s trails, nature spots, and soaking in its history is a breeze. To make the most of your time there, book top day trips from San Francisco tours at Muir Woods such as:

Pro Tip: Streamline your visit to the popular park by booking parking in advance and having your entrance fee prepared. Be proactive for a hassle-free and enjoyable experience from the moment you arrive.

Shot of old buildings and a clock tower in downtown Santa Cruz at duskSanta Cruz, California

Distance from San Francisco: 1 hour and 20 minutes, 75.8 miles.

Ready for a sun-soaked adventure south of San Francisco? Dive into the lively scene at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, where seaside charm, thrilling rides, and a nostalgic atmosphere collide.

Stroll along the vibrant wharf and soak up the bohemian vibes that make Santa Cruz a true gem. Feel the rush of excitement as you scream your way down the wooden Giant Dipper Roller Coaster.

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Refuel with classic amusement park bites, try your luck at carnival games, and maybe even join a game of beach volleyball. When you’ve had your fill of fun, explore downtown Santa Cruz, where surf shops, taco joints, and quirky breweries await.

In addition, venture into the Santa Cruz mountains, where scenic beauty and outdoor adventures abound. Whether you’re hiking through redwood groves or discovering hidden gems along mountain trails, the Santa Cruz mountains offer a refreshing escape.

And don’t forget to make a quick jaunt to Capitola-by-the-Sea, where colorful beach cottages and laid-back SoCal vibes create a perfect coastal retreat. Trust us, you’ll be glad you did!

two sets of couples enjoying the scenery and wine aboard the napa valley wine train as they move past green patures and green rolling hills
Photo Credit: Napa Valley Wine Train via Facebook

Napa Valley

Distance from San Francisco: 1 hour and 14 minutes, 58.8 miles.

Wine enthusiasts, rejoice! Just an hour north of San Francisco lies the world-renowned Napa Valley, where some of the planet’s finest wines await your taste buds. Embark on a journey through hundreds of vineyards offering tours and tastings or join:

These tours bring you to some of Napa’s best wineries and vineyards and provide an up-close and personal look at the industry, winemaking process, and beverages themselves. But, it’s not just about the wine!

Quaint small towns connect the valleys, adorned with farm-to-table bistros, indie boutiques, and artisan galleries. For those not keen on wine, fear not! Fabulous alternatives await, such as a hot air balloon ride, bike tours, and olive oil tastings.

As you explore, witness the picturesque Napa Valley, with its grapevine-striped hills rolling out like rumpled green carpets under the vast azure skies. Indulge in the richness of the region, where every sip and every view is a celebration of the artistry of Napa Valley wines.

Pssst… break free from the San Francisco hustle with a 3-in-1: Muir Woods, Sausalito & Half Day Wine Country Tour! Immerse yourself in the tranquility of coastal redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument. Then venture to Napa Valley for wine tastings at two top wineries, an exclusive estate tour, and a scenic lunch break in Sausalito.

Rocky coastline with ocean waves rolling inMonterey, California

Distance from San Francisco: 2 hours, 116 miles.

Embark on a captivating drive south on Hwy 1 to Monterey, where stunning scenery unfolds at every turn. This coastal haven is home to must-see attractions, including the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, the charming village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, and the prestigious Pebble Beach Golf Club.

Explore the iconic Cannery Row in Monterey, a waterfront district filled with quaint boutique hotels, restaurants, and shops. It’s a scene that may feel familiar if you’ve read John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name.

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Beyond the touristy areas, many travelers opt for a more immersive experience by exploring Monterey Bay via kayak. As you paddle, keep a keen eye out for playful seals and adorable sea otters too!

Discover the charm of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea alongside friends, family, and a knowledgeable local guide on the Monterey and Carmel 1-Day Explorer Tour. Immerse yourself in the rich history of these two cities while enjoying breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

Monterey, California is an essential destination for those seeking to immerse themselves in the natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture of the San Francisco Bay area. This coastal gem is a must-visit that encapsulates the region’s allure.

Wide shot of a large bridge between two green hills with the ocean in the backgroundBig Sur, California

Distance from San Francisco: 2 hours and 53 minutes, 146 miles.

For enthusiasts of the great outdoors, a journey to Big Sur stands as an absolute must. Cradled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Lucia Mountains, it immerses you in the untamed beauty of a stretch of the California Coast.

To reach this haven of natural wonders, you’ll traverse the iconic State Route 1, a meandering path that unfolds along cliffs, treating you to mesmerizing coastal vistas. The journey to Big Sur is not just a drive.

It’s a 90-mile odyssey, a tapestry of sheer cliffs, secluded beaches, waterfalls cascading over rugged rock faces, and ancient redwoods tightly embracing steep canyon walls.While the drive may be leisurely, the rewards are nothing short of thrilling—ideal for those with a penchant for whale watching.

As you navigate the winding roads, the expansive views become a canvas of excitement. Providing the perfect backdrop for spotting these majestic creatures at play in the Pacific waters below.

Take hikes through oak groves, and be sure to have your camera ready for iconic stops like Bixby Creek Bridge. And amidst the rugged beauty, don’t let the opportunity pass to explore the enchanting Point Lobos Natural Reserve. Capture awe-inspiring moments along the way!

A valley with towering rocks and cliffs with a stream flowing through it and pine trees surroundingYosemite National Park

Distance from San Francisco: 3 hours and 4 minutes, 167 miles.

For a full day immersed in nature, make the 3-hour trek east to the iconic Yosemite National Park— a must on nearly everyone’s travel bucket list, and rightly so! As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Yosemite captivates with its legendary granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and diverse ecosystems.

Here, the options for outdoor activities are endless – from hiking and biking to horseback riding and rock climbing. The postcard-perfect scenery includes waterfalls, granite cliffs, alpine lakes, and towering Sequoia trees.

But nothing quite compares to the sight of El Capitan’s towering vertical face or meadows framed by the icy peaks of the Sierra mountains. A day trip to Yosemite from San Francisco
promises an unforgettable adventure in the heart of nature’s grandeur!

Eager to embark on an exciting Yosemite day trip from San Francisco? Say less! Make the most of your Yosemite experience with the Yosemite in a Day – Full Day Yosemite Tour, offering a visit to one of the country’s oldest National Parks.

Alternatively, opt for the Yosemite and Giant Sequoias Day Tour, where you can hike to the Tuolumne Grove of giant sequoias alongside an expert guide. Regardless of your choice, Yosemite National Park will leave an indelible mark on your memory that will last for a lifetime.

Rocky cliffs with a white lighthouse on top next to the oceanMendocino, California

Distance from San Francisco: 3 hours and 11 minutes, 155 miles.

Mendocino is famous for its beautiful mix of beaches and cliffs at Mendocino Headlands State Park. The town has Victorian-style buildings, and you can enjoy oceanfront dining, stroll through art galleries, and breathe in the fresh sea air along the scenic headlands.

Nature lovers will find lots to explore. There are places like Russian Gulch State Park, Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, and Van Damme State Park. You can also visit historic spots like Point Cabrillo Light Station and the rugged beauty of Salt Point State Park, offering different landscapes to discover.

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Go inland to find Montgomery Woods State Reserve, a hidden gem with impressive redwood groves and world champion trees. Mendocino Headlands State Park keeps windswept bluffs for panoramic views that stretch to the Navado Point Lighthouse.

The town itself is charming with its New England-style buildings in weathered grey colors. As you wander through farms and fishing villages, you’ll experience a unique blend of coastal charm and natural wonders, making your California coastal adventure truly special.

Whether exploring nature reserves, historic sites, or enjoying the quaint town’s unique architecture. Mendocino offers a picturesque escape and a delightful blend of coastal allure and natural wonders.

Pro Tip: Make the most of your San Francisco visit with the convenient pass Go San Francisco Explorer Pass and unlock a multitude of experiences without breaking the bank. Enjoy savings of up to 55% when you choose 3, 4, or 5 popular attractions in the city!

man standing in front of a giant redwood tree in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park near San Francisco, California, USASequoia & Kings Canyon National Park

Distance from San Francisco to Sequoia National Park: 4 hours and 7 minutes, 262 miles.

With a bit of advanced planning, an early morning, and a giant mug of coffee, you can conquer one of the most breathtaking day trips from Sequoia National Park to San Francisco. As you head east, you’ll enter the realm of the world’s largest trees.

In the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, these colossal giants stretch skyward, boasting trunks up to 30 feet wide and harboring over 2,000 years of life. The rugged granite domes and peaks of Kings Canyon add to the awe, creating a landscape of unparalleled natural beauty.

While the General Grant Tree captivates crowds, exploring the more secluded groves reveals an even more magical experience. Embark on a day trip to Sequoia National Park from San Francisco and you’ll find yourself craning your neck to study their lichen-draped boughs.

The nearby Kings River carves a scenic path, offering refreshing swimming holes through the early summer month. As its chilled snowmelt rushes towards the distant farmland of Central Valley.

Within the expansive parks, a plethora of attractions awaits, from gorgeous campgrounds and mysterious caves to hiking trails that unveil breathtaking vistas. In fact, the abundance of activities and sights may entice you to extend your visit from a day trip to an entire weekend!

Pro Tip: If you choose to do so, ensure a worry-free stay by securing your campsite or lodging well in advance. Reservations for popular spots tend to fill up months ahead, so hurry! Make your arrangements promptly to guarantee your spot.

exterior of The Marker Hotel during sunset with view of street in San Francisco, California, USA
photo credit: The Marker San Francisco

San Francisco Hotels

Planning an awesome Bay Area road trip but don’t want to compromise on comfort? Opting for one of the fantastic San Francisco hotels as your home base is the ideal way to enjoy luxury after a day of exploration.

Picture yourself in fluffy bathrobes, indulging in room service dining, keeping up with your fitness routine in well-equipped centers, all while enjoying some of the best city views around.
These hotels serve as the perfect starting point for reaching stunning sites like Muir Woods, Sausalito, and more:

Wake up downtown close to attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Ferry Building. Before venturing out to explore charming coastal towns, majestic redwood forests, and picturesque vineyards.

Treat yourself to the comfort and excitement that this world-class destination offers as the perfect starting point for checking off another must-see site from your NorCal bucket list each day. It’s the ultimate way to make your road trip a luxurious and memorable experience!

San Francisco Vacation Packages

Visiting San Francisco can be overwhelming with numerous attractions and tours to choose from. Deciding what to do and managing individual bookings can lead to a complicated and time-consuming process.

Imagine spending valuable time researching and booking each attraction separately, only to find yourself juggling multiple tickets and reservations. The potential stress of coordinating various activities might take away from the enjoyment of your trip.

Related Post: Things to Do in San Francisco for Couples: 24 Unforgettable Experiences

Now, you’re probably wondering if there’s a simpler way to make the most out of your time and money in the City by the Bay. Fear not! Streamline your San Francisco adventure by bundling attraction passes and tours into Tripster’s convenient Vacation Packages.

Instead of navigating the complexities of individual bookings, you can enjoy the ease of having a well-rounded itinerary with multiple attractions and tours bundled together. It’s the perfect solution to ensure a stress-free and memorable experience in San Francisco.

Book Your Exciting Day Trip from San Francisco with Tripster Today

In the heart of San Francisco, where vibrant culture, iconic landmarks, and breathtaking natural beauty converge along the Bay, visitors are dazzled by the myriad wonders of the city. But sometimes, it’s good to escape your initial destination for a bit.

When you feel like exploring outside San Francisco, check out these nearby places! Stepping beyond the city limits unveils a trove of Northern California treasures and must-see attractions, all within easy reach on delightful day trips.

From towering forests inhabited by ancient coastal redwoods to the rhythmic crash of Pacific waves against seaside bluffs and cliffside roads. Whatever your preference, a day beyond San Francisco’s surrounding spots promises to be a refreshing and enriching experience.

First, embrace your inner wanderer. Then, toss some hiking boots, a swimsuit, and a corkscrew in your trunk. Finally, book your San Francisco Attractions, Hotels, and Vacation Packages through Tripster today!

Set off for your Northern California adventure—one perfect day trip at a time!

Tell Us, Which of the Top Day Trips from San Francisco Trips Will You Take?

Let us know in the comments below!

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Written by Archie Villaflores

Over the years, he has won numerous national contests for news and editorial writing, but he has recently discovered that his true passion...

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