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San Francisco remains one of California’s most popular destinations, and it’s easy to see why travelers continue to journey to the City by the Bay. Not only do visitors have attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Chinatown to entertain them, they also have the wider Bay Area and beyond to explore on day trips. Because there are just so many things to see in California outside of San Francisco, we’ve put together this list of the best day trips from San Francisco to help you work out what to do when you next visit.
Because it is such a short trip from San Francisco, Sausalito is one of the best choices when you are looking for day trips. This pretty town sits across the Golden Gate Strait from San Francisco, and even just the ferry ride over is a treat as it provides awe-inspiring views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Area. Once you reach the harbor of Sausalito, you’ll be met with hundreds of houseboats and yachts that make for a fascinating waterfront stroll. Shopping is a popular activity in Sausalito and a great way to see the sights, with a variety of different shopping boutiques and galleries set inside pretty pastel-painted buildings along downtown’s leafy streets.
Getting there: To get from San Francisco to Sausalito, you can either take a 30-minute ferry or a 20-minute bus ride, or drive for 15 minutes. You can also visit Sausalito as one of several stops on a guided tour of the area.
2. Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island is famous around the world for being home to a remote prison meant for the worst of the worst. This naturally makes it one of the most popular day tours from San Francisco, with visitors from all over curious to learn the history of this unlikely tourist attraction. With a guided tour of The Rock, you’ll get to see right around the island and inside its notorious prison complex and hear tales of those who worked and were incarcerated here. Exploring Alcatraz Island, you’ll also have the chance to see its historic lighthouse and take in its splendid views of the San Francisco skyline.
Getting there: The ferry ride from San Francisco to Alcatraz takes 25 minutes. It’s also possible to incorporate a visit to Alcatraz in a guided tour of the city’s other sights.
3. Stinson Beach
Those searching for San Francisco day trips that offer up time at the beach where you can just take it easy should turn their attention to Stinson Beach. This laidback community on Bolinas Bay is an ideal setting for all manner of outdoor activities, both in the water and on land. Swimming and surfing are quite popular at Stinson Beach, and there are local shops that provide surf lessons if you want to give it a whirl. There are also plenty of opportunities for hiking at Stinson Beach, with trails like the Dipsea Trail leading up into the surrounding countryside and through to nearby Mount Tamalpais State Park and Muir Woods National Monument.
Getting there: Stinson Beach is a 40-minute drive from San Francisco on a scenic but winding highway.
4. Point Reyes National Seashore
The Point Reyes area is one of the most beloved weekend getaways from San Francisco thanks to its dramatic coastal scenery and excellent oysters. But while there’s plenty to see there, it’s really the Point Reyes National Seashore, a park preserve out on the cape’s headland, that should be the focus of your visit. There you can enjoy views of rugged windswept cliffs and empty beaches as you head for Chimney Rock or Point Reyes Lighthouse at opposite ends of the cape. And let’s not forget all the fantastic local wildlife that calls Point Reyes home, such as elephant seals and tule elk. Here you can also catch the annual Pacific gray whale migration just off the coast.
Getting there: Getting out to the Point Reyes National Seashore from San Francisco takes 1.5 hours by car.
5. Silicon Valley
It may seem like a strange choice for sightseeing, but if you have an interest in tech and innovation, then Silicon Valley may be the best side trip from San Francisco for you. Home to tech giants and start-ups alike, Silicon Valley has been at the center of the tech boom for decades, and there are plenty of places to visit that celebrate this legacy. For a dive into the history of computing and the Internet, head to the celebrated Computer History Museum. To see what modern tech businesses really look like, make your way to the Google Campus or the visitor centers at Apple and Facebook.
Getting there: To reach Silicon Valley from San Francisco, it’s either a 50-minute train journey or a 40-minute drive. Alternatively, allow a guided tour (originating in San Francisco) to show you around the area’s sights.
6. Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is one of the best places to visit from San Francisco to experience the cool coastal life of California. The city rests on beautiful Monterey Bay 75 miles south of San Francisco, and many of its most entertaining spots can be found close to the waterfront. The Santa Cruz Wharf is a hotspot for food, shopping, and nightlife, while nearby you have the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a vintage amusement park with all manner of games and rides. Those looking for something quieter should head out to Natural Bridges State Beach for its interesting coastal features. Close to the beach you also have the Monarch Grove Trail that takes visitors through a forest full of orange and black monarch butterflies.
Getting there: It is possible to get from San Francisco to Santa Cruz by bus, but the trip takes three hours with a connection in San Jose. The easier approach is to just drive, as by car it is only a 1.5 hour journey.
7. Napa Valley
California is known for its world-class wine country, and one of the closest wine-producing areas to San Francisco is the exceptional Napa Valley. Over 400 wineries vie for your attention here, giving you plenty of options for where to go as you sample the region’s celebrated cabernet sauvignon. Those who want to do more than just sip wine and stroll through pretty vineyards should consider doing a winery tour to learn more about the process winemakers’ use or head to a gourmet restaurant that pairs the wines with delicious local produce. As for seeing the landscape, the views from the Napa Valley Wine Train out of St. Helena are hard to beat.
Getting there: Napa Valley is a one-hour drive from San Francisco, but taking a guided tour of the region will take the stress out of getting around and allow you to enjoy the wine-tasting experience.
8. Sonoma Valley
Another fantastic wine region to consider while in San Francisco is the more down-to-earth and family-friendly Sonoma Valley. Centered on the historic city of Sonoma, this region is considered the birthplace of California’s wine industry and continues to be a major player in the industry to this day. Visiting the Sonoma Valley, you’ll find both boutique and industrial-scale wineries, allowing you to sample a plethora of different wines. However, the region is most recognized for its sauvignon blanc and zinfandel varieties. Beyond wine tasting, the valley boasts some gorgeous colonial architecture such as the Mission San Francisco Solano and serene nature in the form of the Sonoma Botanical Garden.
Getting there: Taking a guided tour of the Sonoma Valley allows you to enjoy the wineries you visit without worrying about watching what you drink. If you do want to drive from San Francisco to Sonoma yourself, it’s roughly one hour away.
9. Big Sur
Is there a more iconic road trip from San Francisco than the drive along the Big Sur coastline? This phenomenal stretch along the Pacific Coast Highway delights drivers with 90 miles of rugged mountain landscapes and picture-perfect beaches. The only real challenge is fitting it all in a day trip, as this is one of the longer trips on this list. But once you see views like those of Bixby Bridge and McWay Falls, you’ll have no regrets about the long day’s drive. If you need a break to stretch your legs, consider stopping at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and heading out onto one of the park’s shorter trails to see its impressive redwood forest.
Getting there: It takes around four hours to reach the far end of Big Sur from San Francisco, but the region’s most popular spots are about an hour closer.
10. Monterey & Carmel
A fun seaside double act, the city of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea make for a fun day away on the California coast. The two destinations south of San Francisco provide a wonderful combination of ocean vistas and history. Stopping at Monterey, you can visit historic sites like Cannery Row and Old Fisherman’s Wharf or see the marine life at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Things couldn’t be more different over in Carmel-by-the-Sea as this small village has a surprisingly European feel, thanks to its storybook buildings that house art galleries and boutique stores. Of course, the village also boasts a charming waterfront, centered on the pristine white sands of Carmel Beach.
Getting there: It takes roughly two hours to drive from San Francisco to these two destinations. If you’re worried about fitting both places in or missing something, it’s probably worth taking a guided tour instead.
11. Half Moon Bay
When it comes to easy weekend getaways in the Bay Area, it’s hard to ignore the beauty of Half Moon Bay. Situated just south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay is all about spending time outdoors and dining on delicious seafood. The town is spoiled with golden beaches, giving you plenty of choice about where to surf, swim, and sunbathe. If you’re not in the mood for seaside activities, spend your time here shopping at curiosity stores or returning to nature through hiking and horseback riding. You’ll also enjoy a bevy of dining options while in Half Moon Bay as the town serves up some mouthwatering seafood meals, from lobster roll sandwiches to fish and chips.
Getting there: The drive from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay takes just over half an hour.
12. Angel Island
Although it may not be as famous as Alcatraz Island, Angel Island is another great destination in the Bay of San Francisco. The island is the second largest in the Bay Area and is completely covered by Angel Island State Park. It provides a nice change of pace from San Francisco and offers up a little history, some hiking, and a whole lot of stunning Bay Area views. Remnants from the past include forts from the island’s time as a military post and government buildings from its time as an immigration facility. As for hiking, visitors have thirteen trails to choose from, although the one to the summit of Mount Livermore is a firm favorite thanks to its city views.
Getting there: Ferries from Fisherman’s Wharf to Angel Island leave every few hours and take less than half an hour.
13. Mount Diablo State Park
With a name like Mount Diablo, who could resist seeing this Californian state park for themselves? Mount Diablo State Park is located just to the east of San Francisco and covers 8,000 hectares of grassland, savannah, and woodland around the 3,849 feet peak of Mount Diablo. While hiking is an obvious choice for how to spend your visit, there are actually quite a few things to do here. Other physical activities to consider include cycling and mountain biking, while going in search of blooming wildflowers is a nice gentle alternative. As for attractions to visit around the park, the rock formations and fossils at Rock City are quite remarkable.
Getting there: Getting to Mount Diablo State Park from San Francisco takes a little under 1.5 hours by car.
14. Yosemite National Park
Given that it’s one of the best places to visit in California, it should come as no surprise that many choose to visit Yosemite National Park during their trip to San Francisco. The only real downside to visiting the famous national park as a day trip is the time it takes to get there, but anyone who’s been will tell you it’s worth it. With limited time on your hands, focus on seeing as many of the park highlights as possible. That means heading over to iconic spots like Half Dome and El Capitan, not to mention other gems like Tuolumne Grove and the Tunnel View viewpoint.
Getting there: Yosemite is around four hours by car from San Francisco, but consider a guided tour if you want to make the most of your time there and not miss out on anything essential.
Home to the University of California, the bayside city of Berkeley may seem like an odd choice for a day-trip destination. But you’ll see the city’s appeal once you visit its claim to fame – the UC Berkeley campus. There you can see classic architecture, the views from the Campanile (Sather Tower), and the tranquility of Strawberry Creek. But there’s much more to discover, starting with Berkeley’s eclectic mix of shops and restaurants along Telegraph Avenue. For a dose of culture, head to the excellent Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive downtown. If it’s bay views you’re after, head down to the waterfront to the Albany Bulb for its winning combo of graffiti art and skyline vistas.
Getting there: Berkeley is just a 20-minute drive from downtown San Francisco and a 30-minute ride on the train.
16. Muir Woods National Monument
To see the incredible redwood trees that this part of California is known for, one of the best day trips from San Francisco is the Muir Woods National Monument. This protected area is found just north of the city and is perfect if you want a quiet day in nature. There are over six miles of walking trails through Muir Woods, giving visitors loads of places to visit and explore. Popular places among the redwoods include Cathedral Grove and Bohemian Grove, while common trails to take include the Panoramic Trail for its views and the Dipsea Trail that takes you right out to the coast at Stinson Beach.
Getting there: It takes roughly half an hour to drive from San Francisco to Muir Woods. A useful alternative if you want to visit Sausalito as well is to take a guided tour that combines both destinations.
17. Filoli Historic House & Garden
Want to feel like you’ve been transported to a nobleman’s estate somewhere in Europe but remain a stone’s throw from San Francisco? Then venture south of the city to the elegant Filoli Historic House & Garden in Woodside. There you’ll have the pleasure of exploring a 654-acre estate that once belonged to mining magnate William Bowers Bourn II and is now managed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Visitors are able to stroll through its picturesque gardens full of manicured topiary and reflecting pools, plus see inside its lavish interior. You might recognize the Filoli Estate from its extensive use in film and TV, particularly the opening credits of the television series Dynasty.
Getting there: The Filoli Estate is just a 30-minute drive from San Francisco.
18. Mount Tamalpais State Park
Mount Tamalpais State Park is a fantastic choice of destination for travelers in search of gorgeous redwood trees and hiking trails. The park is located north of the Bay Area close to the coast, meaning visitors have the choice of forest or coastal trails to explore. There are said to be around 60 miles of trails through Mount Tamalpais State Park, meaning you won’t run out of places to visit in just one day. Of course, the ultimate challenge here is the hike to the summit of Mount Tamalpais where, at an elevation of 2,571 feet, you’ll be rewarded with awesome views of the coast out to the Farallon Islands. It should be said that the park’s trails are actually multiuse trails, meaning you can also explore them with mountain bikes if that’s more your speed.
Getting there: It takes only 30 minutes to drive from San Francisco to the edge of Mount Tamalpais State Park.
19. Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve
For a day out surrounded by nature with plenty of opportunities for birdwatching you might want to consider heading to the Pescadero Marsh Nature Reserve. This broad preserve covers a mix of freshwater marsh, tidal estuary, and woodland, with the one common fixture being its abundant birdlife. It’s possible to see over 200 different species of resident and migratory birds here, including the Great Blue Heron. To stretch your legs take to the Sequoia Audubon Trail, a splendid path that shows off the beauty of this diverse bird sanctuary. Once you’ve had enough of the marshland, consider popping over to Pescadero State Beach, a wild beach that boasts some rough surf and rugged outcrops.
Getting there: Getting from San Francisco to the Pescadero Marsh Nature Reserve takes roughly one hour by car.
20. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are by far the furthest destinations from San Francisco. While a day trip to these neighboring national parks is going to consume your entire day, you won’t regret seeing their immense sequoia trees and the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In Sequoia National Park, you have the General Sherman Tree, officially the largest living tree in the world, and the warped formations of the Crystal Cave. As for Kings Canyon, it has easy trails through serene sequoia forests at both Grant Grove and Cedar Grove.
Getting there: It takes roughly 4.5 hours to drive to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park from San Francisco, so allow for plenty of travel time.
With these ideas to guide you, it should be easy to work out how you want to spend your time while in San Francisco. Whatever your interests are, there is sure to be at least one day trip destination that appeals to you. As for accommodation, be sure to check out our San Francisco Airbnb guide to find all the best places to stay.