San Francisco Weekend Trips

From the nearly perfect weather that beckons you to explore the outdoors to the myriad food (hello, Mission burrito, you delicious thing, you) and cultural options, there’s no question that San Francisco is a visitor’s paradise. But the City by the Bay is only part of what the area has to offer. Here are some of our favorite San Francisco day trips for the perfect weekend getaway. 

1. Sea Ranch

Just over 100 miles south of San Francisco, Sea Ranch is ideal for a taste of the outdoors. With more than 50 miles of trails, this popular vacation spot offers visitors the chance to take a hike through the redwoods or hit the 10-mile stretch of bluff trails with the Pacific Ocean crashing below. See if you can spot some sea lions or whales, or venture into the water on a fishing or kayaking expedition. The strict rules surrounding the architecture of the town, in Sonoma County, only add to the landscape: Details such as unpainted wood and a lack of overhanging eaves allow the buildings to blend into the landscape. There are no street lights in the town to avoid “light pollution” and the view of the night sky is dazzling. Stop by Bodega Bay, a little over 1 hour’s drive away, for more beauty and some great wine tasting.

2. Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Asilomar

For an action-packed weekend, start in Monterey and visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, followed by a stroll down Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf. No literary fan’s trip would be complete without a visit to the National Steinbeck Center. Next, head to Carmel-by-the-Sea, a lovely beachside town and explore 17-Mile Drive, the famous coastal landmark that runs from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach, for some awe-inspiring ocean views. Point Lobos State Reserve and Borromeo de Carmelo Mission are also interesting stops, as are the 9 wine-tasting venues nearby. Carmel also boasts multiple festivals such as the Carmel Bach Festival, celebrating the classical composer, and the Carmel Art & Film Festival, which showcases the best in independent film. End your weekend at Asilomar State Beach for its miles of coastline and rocky coves.

3. Muir Woods and Sausalito

Spend a Weekend in Sausalito
By Frank Schulenburg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Just 12 miles from San Francisco, the Muir Woods comprises 560 acres of redwoods, some as tall as 250 feet and 1,000 years old! The park is also home to 50 species of birds, black-tailed deer and hundreds of other wild inhabitants, and was the setting of scenes from the movies Return of the Jedi and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Next, venture to the beachside town of Sausalito. Visit the Point Bonita Lighthouse (the last manned lighthouse on the California Coast), catch a stunning overlook of the Golden Gate Bridge, enjoy the outrageous houseboats dotting the shore and grab a bite at French bistro La Garage. For the diehard historian, peruse the Nike Missile Site to learn all about the Cold War.

4. Santa Cruz

Head to Santa Cruz, California for Surf and Shopping
By Angelo DeSantis from Berkeley, US [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

For great surfing, head 70 miles from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. Visit Pacific Avenue for quality vintage shopping. Wander down Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for old carnival rides (don’t miss the Big Dipper), before hitting Seabright State Beach. And before you go home, stop at the infamous Mystery Spot -- the woodsy enclave is quite the magical retreat of optical illusions … and bold claims by its operators that the laws of physics and gravity do not apply here! You decide.

5. Half Moon Bay

Thirty-five minutes from San Francisco is the quaint coastal town of Half Moon Bay. The town has great resorts and day spas and for the outdoor enthusiast, horseback riding opportunities at Sea Horse Ranch. You can also go bird-watching, play golf overlooking the Pacific Ocean, or browse through the numerous shops and art galleries in the town’s historic section. If you’re lucky and the waves are big enough, you may catch the annual world-class Mavericks Surf Contest, where surfers have just 24-hours’ notice to get there and compete.

6. Sacramento

Take an Afternoon Trip to Sacramento
By BenFranske (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Take an hour-and-a-half train ride to Sacramento, which leaves you in the historic part of town with restaurants and shops, as well as an idea of what life was once like in the region. For the kids, head to the California State Railroad Museum. Next, there’s ice cream -- be it Gunther’s Quality Ice Cream, with flavors like Swiss orange chip and green tea; Vic’s Ice Cream, with favorites like cappuccino chip; and The Original Hagen’s Orange Freeze, which makes its tasty treats in options such as mango, mint chocolate chip and coconut cream. For the adults, El Dorado and Amador counties and the Lodi region grow award-winning wines and have wine-tasting opportunities. Sacramento also hosts several interesting festivals celebrating its cultural diversity like the Festival de la Familia and the Pacific Rim Festival.

7. San Jose, Los Gatos and Livermore

Santa Cruz, California's Wine Country
By Brian Sterling (Flickr: Vineyard on Montebello Ridge) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

With the Santa Cruz Mountains as a backdrop, visit the town of Los Gatos armed with a designated driver. After a drive through the redwood forest, visit some of the area wineries such as the Santa Cruz Mountain Winery, Testarossa Vineyard (California’s fourth-oldest, continuously operating winery) and the Fleming Jenkins Vineyard. Nearby Livermore has 40 additional wineries, as well as the Isabel Trail for a post-wine walk. And for the local oddity, stop by Livermore’s Fire Station No. 6 to see the Centennial Light Bulb, a light that has been burning nonstop since 1901. Next, head to San Jose, the third largest city in California. Visit Santana Row for upscale shopping, the Tech Museum of Innovation for a hands-on adventure for all ages, and end the day at California’s Great America amusement park in nearby Santa Clara, CA.

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