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11 Ideas for San Francisco Day Trips

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Why take a San Francisco Day trip? Well If you have more than 3 days in San Francisco, then it’s a good idea to add one of these day trips to your itinerary. The city is surrounded by so much beautiful natural beauty it would be a shame not to see at least a little of it.

We asked a bunch of locals and ex-pats to help us out with these suggestions to make sure we could bring you the best insider info. If you have any questions, pop over to our FB page, and we would be happy to help.

The best way to enjoy these day tours is to either rent a car or join one of the many guided tours that leave San Francisco every day. Where there are great tour options we have added them for your

Big Sur

Travel blogger Jenny Kotlyar with Campsite Vibes, a site that wants to help you embrace hiking has shared her love of Big Sur.

Big Sur is a beautiful day trip from San Francisco. Take a drive along the iconic Highway 1 through coastal redwood trees that overlook the turquoise ocean crashing along the coastline.

Stop by McWay Falls and look at the waterfall flowing to the beach and gaze over the ocean at Bixby Bridge. Explore Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, or Limekiln State Park.

If you want to turn your day trip into a weekend getaway, you can either camp at one of the state parks, or go off-roading and find some dispersed camping spots. There are also so many turnouts along the way where you can sightsee and enjoy the fresh air and the views on short stops.

Carmel by the Sea

Ivan is an independent traveller, history junkie, and a techno-geek. He frequently travelled to Vietnam and knows the country inside out. After having travelled the world for a year-and-a-half non-stop, he is now based in Thailand.

Located some 120 miles south of San Francisco, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a  quirky, charming, and romantic seaside town in Northern California.

Carmel by the Sea San Fransisco Day Trip
Carmel Beach California

Home to the historic Carmel Mission, with its incredible museums, and the whaling museum in the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Carmel can claim to have the best of both worlds. Here you’ll find old-world European style coupled with Northern California’s rugged coastal beauty.

This quaint village has some of the most beautiful scenery you will come across along the coast. You will want to arrive here early and take a stroll down Carmel Beach, go shopping along the tree-lined streets and visit the Basilica Church, a registered National Historic Landmark that dates back to 1771.

Even if you only have a few hours to spend in Carmel-by-the-Sea, you definitely won’t want to miss out on taking the Scenic Bluff Path. A  well-maintained gravel pathway that parallels Scenic Road will take you along the jagged coastline from Carmel Beach, popular among surfers, to the bird watcher’s mecca of Carmel River State Beach.

Pick your favourite food and drink at local restaurants. To indulge your taste buds take a closer look at La Bicyclette, Casanova, Carmel’s Bistro Giovanni, Hog’s Breath Inn, and Mission Ranch, just to name a few.

You can either rent a car and drive the coast or join a day tour from San Francisco to Carmel and Monterey

If you’re staying for longer or you’re stopping over here on a Pacific Coast Highway itinerary, why not treat yourselves with a massage at one of our many spas in Monterey County? A highlight of any early evening stroll along the Carmel Beach is undoubtedly watching the sunset.

Half Moon Bay

Kay of PCH1 Road Trip, a website dedicated to exploring the Pacific Coast Highway recommends a stop at Half Moon Bay just south of San Francisco.

Half Moon Bay is the perfect day trip from the hectic city life of San Francisco. This coastal community is located just 30 miles south of San Francisco and makes a great short trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. While driving down along the coast, you will see sandy beaches and coastal bluffs, making it a memorable drive. 

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

The city of Half Moon Bay is charming to explore. It’s Main Street has excellent dining, shopping, and historic buildings. Try the famous Lobster Rolls at Sam’s Chowder House, take a photograph of the New England style houses, and enjoy a drink at the Half Moon Bay Distillery. Shop for one of a kind treasures at the boutique stores. 

While the city has many things to do in its downtown, visitors come here mostly for outdoor activities. Half Moon Bay has some of the most beautiful beaches near San Francisco. Popular beaches where you can camp, picnic, or go beachcombing include the Half Moon Bay State Beach, Venice Beach, and Dunes Beach. 

Hike along the California Coastal Trail or see the tidepool creatures at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. See the beautiful Pigeon Point Lighthouse or go on a whale-watching cruise. See the masses of wildflowers growing along the coast in spring. You can also see the massive coastal redwood trees at the Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve. All in all, Half Moon Bay is the perfect Bay area day trip with lots of unique attractions.

Related: Check out our 5-day mix and match itinerary for LA

Livermore Valley

Lori Sorrentino is the founder of the website Travlinmad.com a site that focuses on eating local and travelling slow. Today she shares a lesser-known wine region of San Francisco, the Livermore Valley.

Just 35 miles from the San Francisco Bay Area is a small triangular region made up of three connected valleys — the San Ramon Valley, Amador Valley, and Livermore Valley collectively known as Tri-Valley.

Livermore Valley day trip from san fransisco
The Livermore Valley is a foodie paradise

Undoubtedly the most visited of the three and well worth a day trip is the Livermore Valley with its outstanding restaurants, outdoor activities like cycling, hiking Mt. Diablo, horseback riding, and tasting the famous Livermore Valley wines. There’s even a shop to rent electric motor-assisted bikes, perfect for biking to your wine tastings on a warm day.

The Livermore Valley has over 50 wineries, 23 craft breweries, a small craft distillery, and over 150 restaurants. Most of the wineries are small and family-owned and allow visitors the opportunity to chat with the winemakers. But what’s truly unique about the Livermore Valley when it comes to wine tasting is how close the wineries are in proximity — close enough that biking or walking will easily bring you to up to 8 local wineries. If you’d rather not bike or drive, take the Livermore Wine Trolley to get around.

History lovers will enjoy exploring one of the area’s historical landmarks and earliest vineyards — Ravenswood Historic Site, which offers free public tours. Also worth a visit is the Duarte Garage & Lincoln Highway Museum built in 1915, which feature unique antique automobiles and vintage firetrucks.

Plan a trip around the Livermore Valley Harvest Wine Celebration held on Labor Day Sunday or the Livermore Downtown Street Fest, the area’s premier festival.

Marin

Food lovers are in for a treat with our next spot suggested by Laura from the Travelling Stomach, (gosh that’s a great name for a blog). Laura shares the secrets of Marin County with us.

Marin California
Farm and Food tours in Marin is a great way to discover the local produce.

Just over the Golden Gate Bridge, overlooking the bay of San Francisco, lies the county of Marin, a foodie wonderland, that feels a million miles from the city, waiting to be discovered. Alongside some incredible artisan producers, there’s breathtaking landscapes and striking coastlines to be found in this lesser-known region.

You can choose a short one hour drive across the Golden Gate Bridge itself (although be warned that Karl the Fog may obstruct your views) or take a ferry across to Marin to explore this amazing place.

I highly recommend you take a tour with the fantastic Food & Farm Tours, exploring Brickmaiden Bread, to try fresh out of the oven sourdough bread (with decades-old yeast!), Cowgirl Creamery, to sample a vast array of cheeses and head to Heidrun Meadery to try their unique sparkling honey wine for a champagne-style tasting delight.

Whether you visit during your Food & Farm Tour, or on your own, there’s one famous spot in Marin you can’t miss out on – Hog Island Oyster Company. Grab a picnic table on the shoreline and tuck into a platter of fresh and barbecued oysters – the perfect slice of Marin heaven!

Monterey

Next up is Monterrey bought to us by Constance. Constance is one half of The Adventures of Panda Bear where she along with her partner, Jimmy, blog about destination itineraries, foodie guides, and architectural sights. 

Monterey is the perfect weekend destination from San Francisco. The beautiful coastal city is located only 120 miles away, making the drive approximately 2 hours long and a great day trip to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

Monterey California Day Trip
Cannery Row Monterey is a popular shopping destination for visitors

Cannery Row is one of the most popular places to visit in Monterey. Once a street lined with sardine canneries, this is now a tourist destination with cannery buildings repurposed into shops and even the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is the most renowned aquariums in California and is specifically known for their work in ocean conservation. Be sure to check out the sea otter exhibit at the aquarium, they do daily feedings a few times throughout the day, and they are the cutest!

Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf is also a great place to visit and take a stroll. You can check out the shops and restaurants along the boardwalk, take in ocean views, and even go whale watching! The whale watching boats usually head out early in the morning however they are offered throughout the day.

The Monterey Bay is one of the best places to see whales along the California coast because of the large canyon just off of shore called the Monterey Canyon. Whales enjoy spending time there due to the water depth; the canyon measures a mile from top to bottom and is home to a variety of sea life. There is nothing quite like a day trip to Monterey!  

Muir Woods

Paula from Truly Expat is an Australian born, dual passport owning expatriate; who has lived through 7 postings over 14 years. One of those was in California.

You can not visit Northern California without viewing Redwood trees.

Why? Because these trees are the tallest living things on our planet!! Growing up to 350 feet or 107 metres tall with the tallest named Hyperion reaches 379.7 feet or 115.7 metres.  The Redwoods are only found in Northern California so you would be crazy to miss viewing them.

Muir Woods San Fransisco Day trip
You will never forget a stroll through the Muir Woods

Muir Woods National Monument is only a few miles north of San Francisco, about a forty-minute drive from downtown San Francisco. In this National park, you will find the beautiful 1000-year-old Coastal redwoods (sequoia sempervirens)

There is a small entrance fee of $3 per adult but well worth the money with many different paths to take, you are spoilt for choice. You can check the difficulty ranking of each track before you go, don’t worry, there is something for everyone.

If you are lucky, you may spot a deer or chipmunk while you wander quietly through the Muir Woods.

Don’t have a car don’t worry, you can join a half-day tour to Muir Woods

If you have some extra time in California Paula suggested you make your way to San Diego

Napa

Francesca Makana is a content creator for Homeroomtravel.com, a website to help teachers who love to travel learn how to use their breaks wisely. 

There are so many options for day trips from San Francisco. One of my favourite day trips to take is to Napa.

Napa Valley California
Only one hour from downtown San Francisco Napa is a great day trip

Napa is in the heart of Napa Valley, California’s main wine country. It is about an hour away by car from Downtown San Francisco Although you can get there by public transportation, I recommend renting a car as it will be challenging to get to the various wineries without a car, unless you would like to hire a driver. 

Napa is the perfect place for any wine lover. The Napa area was founded in 1861 when the first winery, Charles Krug opened. Many other wineries began to follow suit and began to plant vineyards.

Present-day, this area contains over 400 wineries, as well as lots of gorgeous places to hike. Many of the wineries offer light bites to eat or an area for you to bring your own picnic lunch. One of my favourite wineries to visit is Beringer, which was established in 1876 and is considered one of the oldest continuously operated wineries in the area.

As well as wine tasting, Napa is known for its famous wine train, hot air balloon rides, and bike tours. I recommend making reservations for anything you would like to do ahead of time, especially if you are visiting on the weekend or during the summer season. Many of the wineries get quite popular and the wine train often sells out. Napa is such a great area to visit as a day trip from San Francisco and also is a great stop on the way to Fairfield, California to visit the Jelly Belly Factory. 

Santa Cruz

Teresa from Brogan Abroad grew up in Northern Spain but she is a big fan of the California Coast. Today she shares Santa Cruz, an hour south of San Francisco.

Santa Cruz California day trip
Santa Cruz California

If you are looking for a day in a quintessential California beach town, Santa Cruz is just over an hour’s drive from San Francisco. Located at the north end of Monterey Bay, this charming town is the birthplace of mainland surfing in the US, and the chilled vibe and atmosphere is one of the things that attracts visitors to its shores

For surfing fans, there is plenty to do here. Beginners or those wanting to improve their technique, there are a few surfing schools where you can take some lessons. For those experienced enough, why not try and ride some waves yourself. But if you are more of an observer, head to Pleasure Point, a legendary spot and filming location of Chasing Mavericks, where you can watch the local surfers catch some waves in style.

You can also visit the Surfing Museum in Lighthouse Point, which overlooks Steamer Lane, another famous surfing spot. The museum displays photographs, surfboards and other interesting items that cover over 100 years of surfing history in Santa Cruz.

But there’s more to do on a day trip to Santa Cruz than surfing. If you are visiting with your family, make sure you don’t miss the iconic Beach Boardwalk, a classic seaside amusement park with rides that have been declared National Historic Landmarks. And don’t forget to take a walk on Santa Cruz Wharf and see the resident sea lions!

See more of the USA: Finding Street Art in New York

Yosemite

I met American blogger Kimmie from Adventure and Sunsets when she was living in Melbourne and was the guide on a great bar tour I did. I loved her work so asked her to submit her favourite day trip in San Fransico to our list.

Yosemite National Park

One of the most incredible day trips from San Francisco is Yosemite National Park, of course! Although I absolutely recommend spending more than just a day in stunning Yosemite, it’s still 100% worth seeing even if you only have one day.

Yosemite is one of the most famous National Parks in California (if not the USA… if not the whole world)! It’s well-known for its dramatic granite cliffs that tower over waterfalls, rivers, and forests, and is perhaps one of the greatest places for hiking in the world.

If you only have one day, there are a few must-sees. Firstly, Yosemite Valley is a looped one-way trail you can drive; stopping off at famous spots such as Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Falls, Cathedral Beach, Half Dome Village, Yosemite Visitor’s Center, and many other viewpoints along the way.

Don’t leave without spending some time at Tunnel View Viewpoint, either – it’s one of the best in the park! If you are there in summer, Glacier point is a MUST!

You can do a day trip to Yosemite by renting a car or signing up for a bus tour – whatever is easiest for you. If you drive yourself, you might even be able to finish the famous hike to Half Dome as well. There are some places to stop for food within the park, but it’s also a lovely place to pack a picnic to eat with a panoramic view. 

Don’t have a car or just want to enjoy the day without all the driving? Check out these three highly rated day tours.

Point Reyes

Kelsey Frey from Sights Better Seen grew up and spent most of her life in California but is currently living a digital nomad lifestyle in Europe.

Point Reyes day trip california
Alamere Falls in Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is a gorgeous place to go if you want to get out of the city and into nature. It was once inhabited by the Coast Miwok Indians, about 5,000 years ago, and is said that Sir Frances Drake was the first European to land in the area.

The whole area is full of breathtaking ocean and woodlands views as well as wildlife like tule elk, harbour seals, and otters. You can even time your visit to the grey whale migration which peaks in January and March or the arrival of the elephant seals in December.

One of the most popular activities involves a hike to Alamere Falls, a waterfall cascading over a cliff, onto the beach, and into the ocean. Camping is another fun thing to do at Point Reyes – Wildcat Campground is gorgeous and overlooks the beach, but I’ve also spent the night at Glen Campground which was just as gorgeous but nestled in the woods.

If being on the water is of interest you can go kayaking in Tomales Bay. If you’re there in the late summer or fall I’d recommend heading out in the evening on a guided tour for a chance to see bioluminescent plankton! Check out the Point Reyes Lighthouse or the famous Monterey Cypress tree tunnel.

Point Reyes is only an hour’s drive away from San Francisco, so it’s quite easy to get to, too. Enjoy your visit to this amazing park – I’m sure it won’t be your only one!

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