15 Best Day Trips from San Francisco, USA

San Francisco, one of the most versatile and coolest cities on the west coast, USA. Home to popular architectures like the Golden gate bridge, diverse culture, and cool vibes of Silicon Valley, San Francisco has a lot to explore. 

During my trip to the USA last year (I know it’s been almost a year and I should have written this blog earlier. But I was caught up and then the COVID scenario did no help to boost my motivation either. Well finally here it is!) I had an opportunity to spend a month in San Francisco. We did explore many beautiful places around.

In the current situation, when traveling long distances seems like too much of a trouble, I think road trips are the best bet. 

Friends living in San Francisco or if you are planning to visit the city, here is a list of 15 day-trip locations.  

Best day trip options around San Francisco 

1. Alcatraz Island 

Distance:1.25 miles (offshore)

One of the major tourist attractions, this small island was a military prison, fort, maximum-security federal prison until 1963. Today the Alcatraz Island is open to tourists. It takes 20 minutes to reach the island. The ferry departs from Pier 33. At Alcatraz you can explore the prison, ruins of the old warden house and officers club, the oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast, Rockpool and sea bird colonies, and recreation yard. Good place to get familiar with history. 

Alcatraz Island, San Francisco

2. Sausalito

Distance: 11 Miles

Right at the backyard of San Francisco, is a laidback seaside community popular among the tourists. A city in Marine county, Sausalito is known for its scenic views, houseboat enclaves, abundant shopping option, and dining options. Enjoy a laidback day exploring the area and food. Things to do in Sausalito include bicycle tour, ferry ride, stroll at the boardwalk, walking tour, Marine Mammal Centre, the Bay area discovery museum, and San Francisco Hydraulic model. 

Suasalito, San Francisco

3. Muir woods National Monument 

Distance: 16 Miles

Named after naturalist John Muir, the Muir woods National monument is a part of the Golden Gate National recreation area located on Mount Tamalpais, Southwestern Marin County. Known for its towering old-growth coast redwood forests, Muir woods is a popular spot amongst the locals and hence crowded also. If you want to escape from noisy city life and connect with nature, spend time in this primeval forest. Do reach early morning to avoid the crowd. Muir Woods has many trails to explore, some of them are the Sun trail (4.7 miles), The Ben Johnson trail (5.2 miles), The bohemian grove trail (2 miles), willow camp and steep ravine (8.2 miles), Dipsea and Steep Ravine (3.9 miles)

Muir Woods National monument

4. San Mateo 

Distance: 20 Miles

Not a typical tourist destination, but a beautiful place to enjoy a peaceful weekend away from busy city life. I stayed in San Mateo for a month and explored many interesting places around. So, if you are looking for a fun filled and relaxing getaway, head to San Mateo. Some of the places you must visit while in San Mateo are Coyote Point(perfect place to enjoy barbeque and picnic in the backdrop of beautiful ocean), San Mateo Japanese Garden, Sawyer camp trail, CuriOdyssey, and Laurelwood Park. 

Cayote Point, San Mateo
San Mateo

5. Half-moon Bay 

Distance: 22 Miles 

Half Moon Bay was the first destination, we visited after reaching San Francisco. It was a chilly evening. We were welcomed by the sparkling ocean, reflecting the colors of the sunset. The dramatic aura created by golden, blue, and pink hues and the soothing sound of the Ocean was breathtaking. Half-moon Bay is a coastal city in San Mateo county around 22 miles from San Francisco. Apart from scenic beaches, half-moon Bay is popular for its large Maverick waves surf spots, farmers’ markets, restaurants, etc. During our trip, we visited a few Pumpkin patches which was an amazing experience. 

Half Moon Bay, California
Half Moon Bay
Pumkin Patch, Half Moon Bay

6. Skyline Boulevard Woodside 

Distance: 36 miles

Looking for a peaceful and scenic drive away, head to Skyline boulevard. Just an hour away from downtown San Francisco, this popular drive on US 35 Highway offers scenic vista of mountains lined with tall redwood trees, idyllic lookout points, and much more. Skyline boulevard not only has many great biking routes, it has many hiking and cycling trails also. You can also enjoy a lazy afternoon or evening at one of the restaurants in the area. We visited Alice Restaurant for brunch, it was a lovely place to relax. 

Skyline Boulevard
Alice Restaurant, Skyline Boulevard
Alice Restaurant , California

7. Point Reyes National Seashore 

Distance: 36 miles 

Located in Marin County, west-northwest of San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore is a protected coastline in Northern California. Point Reyes offers breathtaking vistas along with several stunning lookouts and beaches. Point Reyes Lighthouse built-in 1870 in the Gulf of the Farallones, is an iconic location in Point Reyes National Seashore. Other must-visit places include Drakes Beach, Drakes Bay, Chimney Rock, Elephant seal overlook, and California coastal National monuments. 

Point Reyes Light house

8. Sonoma Valley  

Distance: 45 miles

Sonoma Valley is a historic city, known as the birthplace of the California wine industry. This scenic and laid-back valley is home to some of the oldest wineries and vineyards in the state. Sonoma Valley is a lively & fun place with many events happening around the year including the Sonoma International Film Festival. Must-visit places in Sonoma Valley include the Quarryhill botanical garden, Mission San Francisco Solano, Jack London State historic park, and Blue Wing Inn of 1840

Sonoma Valley

9. Santa Cruz 

Distance: 61.1 Miles

This picturesque city is home to a beautiful coastline, redwood forests, Shopping, and much more. Santa Cruz is known for its boardwalk and beaches. Owing to its warm and comfortable weather, it is considered as one of the best beach destinations in Northern California. Must-visit destinations in Santa Cruz include Natural Bridges state beach, West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz Warf, Roaring camp railroads, Surfing museum, and wilder ranch state park.  

Santa Cruz, Natural Bridges

10. Napa Valley

Distance: 66.9 Miles

A place that needs no introduction. The world’s famous wine region is known for Scenic vineyards, wine tasting, wine tours, high-end restaurants. The perfect recipe for a wonderful day. Dotted with 400 wineries, Napa Valley countryside offers a relaxing getaway. Some places to explore in Napa are oxbow public market, Yountville, Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley wine train, Napa’s riverfront, and off course visiting vineyards.  

Napa Valley , California
Napa Valley, California

11. Gilroy 

Distance: 79 Miles

A city in Santa Clara county of northern California. Gilroy is also known as the Garlic Capital of the world and is famous for its Garlic festival. A popular food festival that takes place on the last weekend of July and attracts visitors from all over the country. Gilroy is also popular for its wineries and cellars, premium outlets, farmers market, Parks (Gilroy gardens family theme park, and Christmas hill park). Gilroy is a great place to spend a relaxing and fulfilled weekend. 

Gilroy, California

12. Carmel by the Sea 

Distance: 89 Miles

The fairy tale city of Carmel is situated in the Monterey county. This charming beach city is known for its artistic past, historical buildings, Museums, fairytale cottages, and art galleries. Beautiful ambiance, old-world charm, and idyllic settings makes Carmel a perfect romantic destination. Must-visit spots in Carmel include Carmel beach & ocean Avenue, Carmel Mission, Point Lobos state natural reserve, tor house, and hawk tower. 

Carmel by the Sea
Carmel by the Sea, Monterey

13. Sacramento 

Distance: 90 Miles

Situated at the confluence of Sacramento and the American River, Sacramento is the capital of the state of California. The capital city is famous for its museums, historic buildings, shopping, and dining. The old Sacramento still retains the gold rush era charm with historic landmarks like Eagle theatre, B.F. Hastings building and the Big Four building. 

Some of the must-visit places include the California State railroad museum, Old- Sacramento, State Capitol, Crocker Museum of Art, Automobile museum, fairy tale park, Midtown, etc.

Sacramento, California

14. Big Sur 

Distance: 110 miles 

The winding road bordered by glistening blue Pacific Ocean on the west and lush green Santa Lucia mountain on the east makes Big Sur one of the most scenic drives in the world. Running between Carmel to San Simeon, the State Route 1, is known for its seaside vistas, hiking trails, camping grounds, beaches, and some amazing restaurants. You can also plan a relaxing weekend trip instead of a day drive. Do check out some of the must visit places in Big Sur in my previous blog. 

Big Sur, California
Big Sur, California
River Inn, Big Sur

15. Monterey Bay

Distance: 118 miles

We visited Monterey, for the Monterey Bay Aquarium but turned out that this coastal city had much more to offer, then just the aquarium (although the Aquarium has one of the largest marine exhibits including the giant sea kelp forest). Experience the old-world charm at Cannery row. Once a center for the sardine packing industry, now popular for its gift shops, restaurants, and bars. 

Apart from the Aquarium and Shopping, you can also enjoy activities like Whale watching tour, Sea Car tour, 17-mile drive, old Fisherman’s wharf, etc. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we couldn’t explore much of this charming area.  

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Kelp Forest at Monterey Bay
Cannary Row, Monterey

These were some of the best day trip locations in and around San Francisco. Hope you can take time out to explore these places. Do let me know which is your favorite? 

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14 thoughts on “15 Best Day Trips from San Francisco, USA

  1. These day trips look so incredible. I hope to visit the San Francisco area again in the near future!!!

  2. I seriously cannot wait to travel to this part of California. Every place you mention looks amazing! 🙂

  3. We went to San Francisco a year or two ago and we had SO much fun! I didn’t even realize all the awesome places that are close-by! Next time we’ll have to wander outside the city a bit.

  4. Love this! What a great list! I have only been to Alcatraz and Napa and would love to visit some of the other places on this great list.

  5. These are great ideas for day trips. There’s so much to see in SF, it would be hard to pull myself away. I love backpacking in Point Reyes. I’ve done sea kayaking in Monteray Bay and it was fabulous to see otters. There are still a lot of places on your list I need to visit.

  6. Very cool. Adding San Mateo and Sacramento to my list, went past them several times. Nice recommendations.

    I also found Alameda to be cool. Lots of wineries and breweries with a view of SF skyline from across the Bay.

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