Top 5 Scenic Drives to Take Around the San Francisco Bay Area

January 19, 2022

There are countless ways to experience the natural beauty of the San Francisco Bay Area. My preferred pick is to take long, scenic drives. Winding aimlessly along beautiful San Francisco Bay Area routes.

Join me and follow along with this handy guide on the most scenic drives in the San Francisco area. Some are along the coast, and some wind through lush, vibrant forests. Meanwhile, their peaks and troughs show you views you'd never experience while on foot.

All routes below are filled with natural beauty, charming picnic spots, and quaint shops.  

Scenic San Francisco Bay Area Drives

17 Mile Drive 

As the name suggests, this drive is 17 miles long and stretches along a beautiful length of coastline. Enjoy sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, lush golf courses, and luxurious resorts. There is a small admission fee of $10.75. This can be reimbursed for purchases made over $35 at the Pebble Beach resorts.

Navigate slowly through the winding roads littered with storybook houses. Meanwhile, make your way to The Lone Cypress. This mighty Cypress is 250 years old and stands alone on its rocky shoreline perch. Then, move on to exploring the Bird Rock. A rugged shoreline of rocky granite sure to be occupied by sea lions and birds galore.

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Bird Rock once was covered in bird droppings. This wasn't all bad, as local agriculture establishments used it as fertilizer. However, sea lions, harbor seals, and marine birds moved in once Bird Rock was cleared. Now, you can bring a picnic and snack while surrounded by natural beauty.

Enjoy beautiful views of the ocean from Point Joe and Spanish Bay. The best time to visit 17 mile drive is at sunset, and you will see why Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired to write Treasure Island when he frequented this stretch of land. 

Wide shot of Pebble Beach on 17 Mile Drive on a sunny day with bright blue water in San Francisco, California, USA

photo credit: อัจจิมา สต็อดดาร์ด via Facebook

Pacifica State Beach to Gray Whale Cove State Beach 

While you've probably been advised to take a trip to each of these beaches, you may not know is that the drive between them is more than magical.

Start your journey by heading down to Pacifica State Beach. We recommend taking ample time to wander and take in the otherworldly sights around you. Calling all Taco Bell lovers! If you're feeling peckish, pop into the nearby Taco Bell. It is the only T-Bell located on a beach and licensed to serve alcohol! 

Assuming you didn't have too good a time drinking, head towards Gray Whale Cove Beach. Gaze in awe as you cruise through a tunnel that appears to transport one to other realms. Once you have parked, head to the cliff. Take in this otherworldly piece of barren land.

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Keep your eyes peeled, as it is abundant in wild hares. Peep the free-growing fennel and gaze at a staircase that leads down to the beach. The stairs are no longer safe to use, but the lack of human tramping has become abundant in wildflowers. You'll never forget this experience. 

Pro Tip: Check out the Gray Whale Cove Trail. At 2.2 miles, this hike is great for all skill levels and showcases the most beautiful wildflowers. 

Wide shot of Pacifica State Beach at sunset with two surfers walking near the water in San Francisco, California, USA

photo credit: Ellis Coombs via Facebook

Saratoga Hills 

Saratoga is more than its boutiques, gorgeous downtown, and excellent restaurants. As one of the most charming towns in the Bay Area, it makes for an exceptional drive in the hills. Start by navigating towards Garrod Farms and enjoy being taken through the most delightful parts of Saratoga's hills.

Do you know that feeling when Julie Andrews sings "The Hills are Alive with the sound of music………" in The Sound of Music? That is how you will feel when driving through these hills. Perhaps I'm partial to sunsets, or maybe the sunsets here genuinely are exceptional. However, I think this drive is most stunning at sunset.

You have a couple of options to wind down your adventurous day. Head into the Garrod Farm's winery and enjoy a cheeky treat. Or make your way towards Saratoga's downtown. I highly recommend the cozy outdoor patio at The Hero Ranch Kitchen

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Scenic San Francisco Drive to Point Reyes

View of a walking trail in the forrest on the Muir Woods and Sonoma Wine Country Tour in San Francisco, California, USA

photo credit: John Mose via Facebook

Point Reyes has plenty of delights to offer on its own. But, if you combine your visit with a drive, you can enthrall your senses in unimaginable ways.

Begin by navigating to Muir Woods. Gaze in wonder as you drive through some enchanting woodlands. While driving through Muir Woods is impossible, we highly recommend parking and hiking through the redwoods. Experiencing the woody smell and ethereal sights as you go.

After your hike, continue your drive towards Point Reyes. You may notice the landscape begins to look like the Scottish highlands (Any Outlander fans out there?!) Indeed the names of the little towns you drive by are Scottish!

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As you marvel at the American Inverness, keep a keen eye out for Elk. The Tomales Point Tule Elk Reserve borders the road you are traversing.

Pro Tip: Try one of the hiking trails along the Point Reyes coast.

If all you crave is more wildlife, head down to Drakes Beach to catch sight of the elephant seals. While you're at it, meander to the viewing point at Point Reyes.

Pro Tip: Anything with a "Point" in its name is a great viewing point for spotting whales.

There is so much to see that you may be inclined to ignore those tummy grumbles. Instead, be sure to pack a picnic. Food to go is rare in these parts, and you don't want to lose time with a sit-down meal. 

A road with cars on it going through very tall trees and curving on the drive to Point Reyes in San Francisco, California, USAStage Road To Pescadero

A favorite amongst cyclists, Stage Road, is one of the shortest picturesque routes you can enjoy. This stretch is a little shy of a mile, a short scenic drive from San Francisco. The drive up to it along Highway 1 is equally delightful. Keep in mind that you may find yourself competing with cyclists for space when you get to Stage Road.

Find a wide shoulder along Stage Road and take the opportunity to park. The views are breathtaking! If you are a keen cyclist, you are welcome to bring your bike along and hop on for this short ride before getting back on the Stage Road.

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The luxury of going slow along this stretch allows for some time travel through your imagination. Think back to the first settlers who traveled these parts and spread the word about the beauty they saw, far and wide.

If you want to pretend you are one of them, eat your lunch along the side of the road. However, if modern conveniences are more to your taste, a British Pub beckons you down the road. 

The truth is, dear reader, whether you do one of these routes or all of them, the tranquility along these scenic drives makes them special. As a result, people like me gravitate to them time and time again.

Pro Tip: If you indulge anything of your artistic temperament, make sure to take your supplies along, so you need not waste any inspiration as it arises. Beautiful muses live along these roads, and visiting them can never go amiss. 


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Written By Sarina

Sarina Byron is a California-based writer whose work has been featured in leading publications such as  Authors Publish, Introvert, Dear, Thrive Global, Boo ...

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