San Francisco is a beautiful city that offers plenty to do and see for residents and travelers alike.
It’s also ideally located, with a number of excellent day trip destinations just a short drive away, from charming seaside towns to spectacular parks and nature reserves.
Here are the 15 best day trips from San Francisco.
Located just across the Golden Gate Strait from San Francisco, Sausalito is one of the easiest and best day trips from San Francisco.
You can drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, or take a scenic ferry to this charming seaside town in Marin County.
Outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate the many excellent hiking, running and biking trails here. Kayaking, rowing and sailing are also popular.
Be sure to stroll around the historic downtown area, full of quaint shops, boutiques and galleries, as well as the banks of the Bridgeway Promenade.
For the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, head to Cavallo Point.
There are also plenty of waterfront dining options where you can grab a bite to eat while enjoying stellar views of the bay and the San Francisco skyline.
2. Muir Woods
Located just 15 miles north of San Francisco, Muir Woods National Monument is the perfect day trip destination for those looking to escape the big city and connect with nature.
Stretching for more than 550 acres, Muir Woods is home to one of California’s last remaining redwood forests.
Gaze up in wonder as you walk under magnificent old-growth redwood trees, some of which are over 1,000 years old.
There are multiple hiking trails to choose from, suitable to all ability levels. To see the largest trees, head to Cathedral Grove and Bohemian Grove.
To learn more, look for the educational exhibits throughout, or join a ranger-led tour.
It’s also possible to access the Pacific Ocean at Muir Beach. Just be sure to make a reservation in advance.
It’s also possible to combine Sausalito and Muir Woods into one day trip. For a hassle-free experience, opt for a guided tour that includes round-trip transportation.
Located across San Francisco Bay to the east, Berkeley offers an easy day trip from San Francisco.
The bohemian university town is an easy drive or BART ride away. Explore the Berkeley campus, or attend a sporting event in season.
Stroll along Telegraph Avenue and browse among the many interesting shops and boutiques here.
Spend some time at TIlden Park, which includes hiking and biking trails, a lake, a working farm, a steam train ride and a golf course.
Don’t miss the Botanical Garden, which showcases more than 10 acres of plants native to California.
Families with kids can make it an educational day at the Lawrence Hall of Science or the Habitot Children’s Discovery Museum.
And don’t leave without grabbing a bite or two to eat here – Berkeley is also known for a wide range of excellent restaurants. Opt for a food tour to sample a range of local favorites.
Also located in the East Bay is the city of Oakland, easily accessible by car or BART from San Francisco. A must-visit is Lake Merritt, the jewel of downtown Oakland.
Enjoy a gondola ride around the lake or grab a bite to eat at a waterfront restaurant.
Browse for unique items and souvenirs at the hidden Temescal Alley shops or along Victorian Row in Old Oakland.
Art lovers should head to Uptown Oakland, home to many interesting art galleries.
For a bit of history, explore the USS Potomac. Known as the “Floating White House,” FDR’s presidential yacht is open for tours.
To learn about California history and culture, spend some time at the Oakland Museum of California.
For something different, stop in at the nearby Fortune Cookie Factory to see these tasty snacks being made..
5. Angel Island
Located just north of San Francisco, Angel Island is the second largest island in San Francisco Bay.
The island offers more than 13 miles of hiking trails and more than 9 miles of biking trails. Bikes can be brought over on the ferry or rented on the island.
Tram, electric bike, electric scooter and Segway tours are also available for those looking for a less strenuous way to explore the island.
Climb up to the top of the highest point on the island, Mount Caroline Livermore, for sweeping , Mount Tamalpais and San Francisco.
There are several picnic areas on the island. Bring some food with you, or pick some up at the waterfront Angel Island Cafe right by the ferry pier.
There are also several historical sites of note, including Immigration Station, Camp McDowell and Fort McDowell.
Access Angel by ferry from Pier 41 in San Francisco, or from Tiburon.
6. Wine Country
San Francisco is close to two world-class wine growing regions, making wine country one of the best day trips from San Francisco.
Both Sonoma County and Napa Valley are located around 50 to 60 miles north of San Francisco. Home to more than 400 wineries each, visitors can easily spend the entire day just sampling wine.
The Napa Valley Wine Train makes it easy to spend the day touring area wineries.
Plenty of tours are also available for those that don’t want to drink and drive.
Sonoma and Napa are also home to some truly incredible restaurants, including The French Laundry, Bouchon and Harbor House.
For something other than wine, visitors can enjoy art galleries and boutique shopping, hot springs in Napa, and a safari and several great parks in Sonoma, including Sugarloaf Ridge State Park and Sonoma Coast State Park.
7. Half Moon Bay
Located around 30 miles south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay is a charming little beach town featuring rolling farmland and great surfing.
Numerous beautiful sandy beaches stretch for miles along the coastline, including Surfers Beach, Dunes Beach and Venice Beach.
Enjoy nature walks along the coast or hike and bike further inland amid redwood forests.
Nearby Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve offers more than 240 acres of wetland habitat great for birdwatching.
Families with kids will enjoy a visit to Lemos Farm, which offers hay rides, train rides and a petting zoo.
There are also two world-class championship golf courses in town, both with stunning ocean views.
Stroll along the historic downtown of Half Moon Bay and browse for unique gifts at locally owned artisan and boutique shops.
Before leaving town, be sure to try some delicious, fresh seafood.
8. Point Reyes
Located north of San Francisco in West Marin, Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the best day trips from San Francisco for nature lovers.
There are more than 80 miles of shoreline and more than 150 miles of trails for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders.
There are several popular beaches here, including Limantour Beach and Drakes Beach.
Stop by the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse, which also offers wonderful sea views.
Wildlife spotting is also a popular activity here, including the tule elk range on Tomales Point, the Elephant Seal Overlook
near Chimney Rock, whales (in season) from Point Reyes Headlands and the Phillip Burton Wilderness.
Visitors can enjoy kayaking in Tomales Bay. And after working up an appetite, be sure to stop at Hog Island Oyster Co. or Tomales Bay Oyster Company and get fresh oysters to go or to enjoy on-site.
Guided tours make this an easy day trip.
9. Big Sur
Located around 145 miles south of San Francisco, Big Sur is one of the most spectacular destinations on the California coast.
Stretching for around 90 miles, Big Sur is known for its dramatic coastal views and incredible nature.
Top scenic sights include the iconic Bixby Bridge and pretty McWay Falls.
Big Sur is also home to several state parks that allow visitors to hike among redwoods and enjoy views of the coast, including
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Limekiln State Park, Garrapata State Park and Andrew Molera State Park.
For beach lovers, options include Sand Dollar Beach and Pfeiffer Beach, with its iconic Keyhole Arch Rock.
There are also several great dining options in Big Sur, including Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant, Deetjen’s Inn, Big Sur Deli and Nepenthe.
10. Santa Cruz
Head to Santa Cruz to enjoy its laid-back beach town vibes.
Located around 75 miles south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz is a surfer’s paradise, with more than a dozen great surfing spots along the coast.
Non-surfers can still enjoy the miles of beautiful beaches and other water sports like kayaking or scuba diving.
Hike among the redwoods at Big Basin State Park. Don’t miss the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, one of the oldest seaside amusement parks in the country.
Enjoy fun rides, an indoor arcade, laser tag, miniature golf, bowling and more.
Hit the downtown area to go shopping or to grab a bite to eat.
And for something unusual, stop by Santa Cruz Mystery Spot, where the laws of gravity don’t seem to apply.
Located around 120 miles south of San Francisco, Monterey is an ideal destination for those looking for natural beauty, wildlife and history.
A must-visit is the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the top aquariums in the country, where you can watch frolicking sea otters, penguins, turtles and other marine creatures.
Then stroll along historic Old Fisherman’s Wharf or Cannery Row. Once a fishpacking district, it’s now home to shops, restaurants and fun attractions.
Join a food tour to sample some of the best local dishes around.
For incredible coastal views, take a drive along 17-Mile Drive between Monterey and Carmel. Along the way, stop at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, the iconic Lone Cypress Tree and Bird Rock Vista Point.
And if you like golf, plan ahead to play a round at Pebble Beach Golf Links, considered one of the most beautiful courses in the world
12. San Jose
Located around 50 miles southeast of San Francisco, San Jose is a great day trip destination, particularly for families with kids
and those with an interest in technology.
Check out the Children’s Discovery Museum for some educational fun.
For a more thrilling time, spend some time at California’s Great America theme park. Take a tour of the quirky and
architecturally bizarre Winchester Mystery House.
Learn all about computer history and all things technology related at the Tech Museum of Innovation and the Computer
History Museum. Or better yet, get a tour at one of the many technology companies that call San Jose and Silicon Valley home.
Other museums of note include the San Jose Museum of Art, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum and the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles.
Finally, indulge in some retail therapy at Santana Row, full of upscale and trendy shops and restaurants.
Sacramento may not be a common tourist destination, but there’s plenty to see and do in California’s state capital, making it
an ideal day trip destination from San Francisco.
Located around 90 miles east of San Francisco, Sacramento can also be accessed by Amtrak train. See the state capitol and
numerous monuments at Capitol Park.
History buffs should also check out Sutter’s Fort, the California State Railroad Museum and the Sacramento History Museum.
Families with kids should include a stop at the Sacramento Zoo or Fairytale Town. And no visit to Sacramento would be
complete without spending some time in Old Sacramento, the riverside district along the east banks of the Sacramento River.
It’s full of museums, historic buildings as well as plenty of shops and restaurants. For a different perspective, enjoy a cruise
along the Sacramento River.
14. Lake Tahoe
Located around 190 miles east of San Francisco, Lake Tahoe is a wonderful day trip destination from San Francisco.
The largest alpine lake in the country, Lake Tahoe is a paradise for outdoor recreation. In the winter, enjoy skiing and snowboarding at more than 10 resorts around the lake.
In the summer, enjoy boating, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, jet skiing and fishing in and on the lake.
Pretty beaches dot the lake, including favorites such as Sand Harbor on the north shore and Nevada Beach on the south
shore. There are also miles of stunning hiking and mountain biking trails all around the lake. For the most spectacular views,
head to Emerald Bay State Park.
If the outdoors are not really your things, indulge in retail therapy in South Lake Tahoe, or try your luck in the casinos at Stateline.
Located around 170 miles east of San Francisco, Yosemite is one of the most stunning national parks in the region.
The park is massive and there is plenty to do, but you can experience some of the top attractions in the park during a day trip.
Enjoy incredible panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and El Capitan and several waterfalls from both Glacier Point and Tunnel View.
Then head down to Yosemite Valley and walk around or join a ranger-led tour.
Other highlights include walking among the sequoias at Mariposa Grove, getting up close to Yosemite Falls and enjoying the pristine beauty of Mirror Lake.
Yosemite is also a world class rock climbing destination.
For an easy day trip, book a guided tour that includes round-trip transportation to and from San Francisco.
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Featured Image Photo Credit – Image by David Mark from Pixabay