From the tech titans in Silicon Valley to the rolling hills of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, San Francisco and the Bay Area are smack-bang in the middle of some of California’s most popular destinations. Whether you prefer being by the sea or climbing a mountain, you’ll find a day trip from San Francisco waiting to be discovered.
With the blend of historic towns, rolling hills, vibrant cityscapes, and natural beauty, there are exciting day trips in and around the Bay Area to keep you happy for weeks. Your only problem will be deciding where to go. So, start with these best day trips from San Francisco.
- 20 Day Trips From San Francisco
- Top Tours
- Day Trips From San Francisco – Under 1 Hour
- Day Trips From San Francisco – Under 2 Hours
- Day Trips From San Francisco – Under 3 Hours
20 Day Trips From San Francisco
- Day trip to Yosemite National Park – admire the stunning scenery and go hiking, swimming and exploring in one of California’s most amazing natural areas.
- Winelovers day trip – Taste the best of Californian wine in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys.
- Cruise the California coast – A relaxing day trip along Highway 1 to Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey is perfect for everyone.
Day Trips From San Francisco – Under 1 Hour
1- Santa Cruz
The idyllic seaside town of Santa Cruz and its famous Beach Boardwalk has been a go-to tourist destination on the Monterey coast for decades.
Dotted with scenic beaches and remote coves, Santa Cruz draws surfers with the promise of big swells and great year-round weather.
The Roaring Camp Railroads, a family-friendly railway journey through the magical redwood forests of the Santa Cruz mountains, is a popular attraction for families.
Downtown Santa Cruz’s Spanish Revival-style Mission, built in the 18th century, and the town’s varied mix of fantastic restaurants and cafes make exploring Santa Cruz a fun and entertaining experience, all within a short car journey from bustling San Francisco.
Santa Cruz is 70 miles (112 km) south of San Francisco and about a 1 hour and 15-minute drive.
2- San Jose
A thriving metropolis in its own right, San Jose is the financial, political and cultural heart of California’s Silicon Valley and the gateway to the world’s largest and most influential tech companies such as Cisco and Hewlett Packard.
The bay area’s largest city, San Jose’s harmonious blend of traditional and modern makes it a vibrant city to explore, jam-packed with cool new things to try out.
Some of the city’s best attractions include the famous Winchester House built in 1884 by Sarah Winchester, the San Jose Museum of art and the Japanese Friendship garden.
San Jose is 48 miles (77 km) and less than an hour’s drive from San Francisco.
3- Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay is a seaside destination and a charming countryside community dotted with pumpkin patches and ranches.
Stunning beaches stretching for miles and a lively culinary scene keep tourists flocking to Half Moon Bay all year round.
Half Moon Bay is quite the surfer’s paradise too and hosts pro surfing competitions at Mavericks Beach throughout the year when conditions are right.
With activities such as horseback riding, hiking and bird-watching, it’s the ideal seaside getaway from the urban centres of the Bay Area.
Half Moon Bay is 29 miles (46 km) and less than a 30-minute drive away from San Francisco.
Across San Francisco Bay, Oakland is the seat of power in California’s Alameda County and a cultural and outdoor hub.
Home to a happening arts scene, the city has a high concentration of artists per capita and celebrates a rich culture and vibrant entertainment scene that is exciting to explore.
Oakland offers nature and art to de-stress from the hustle and bustle of city life.
The Oakland Museum of California is the spot on Fridays and where you will find food trucks serving delicious meals, live music and an outdoor bar in the museum’s manicured gardens.
Oakland is 12 miles (19 km) and less than a 30-minute drive from San Francisco.
5- Portola Valley
This town in San Mateo country has lush hills clad in redwood trees and is an outdoor oasis not far from San Francisco.
There are excellent hiking opportunities near Shady Trail and Windy Hill Preserve.
The region also has farms, vineyards and restaurants.
Portola Valley is 40 miles (64 km) from downtown San Francisco.
Berkeley is a popular college town that is home to the University of California’s Berkeley campus.
Overlooking the San Francisco Bay to the west and surrounded by redwood forests to the east, Berkeley is set in picturesque surroundings and is an excellent destination for some leisurely strolling.
Berkeley became famous following the anti-Vietnam protests and free-speech movements during the 60s, and the town is packed with fantastic history to explore.
UC Berkeley is not only famed for its world-class education and esteemed alumni, but the college’s contemporary architecture, topped off with the 307 ft (94 m) Sather Tower, makes it a lovely campus to visit.
Downtown Berkeley is a top shopping spot, with a range of boutiques and a haven for foodies.
Berkeley is 14 miles (22 km) and around 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco.
7- Palo Alto
Palo Alto where Silicon Valley was born and home to Stanford University.
It draws thousands of curious visitors, jobseekers and tech corporations to its tree-lined streets annually.
Attractions in Palo Alto include exploring Stanford and visiting the Palo Alto Art Center and the Baylands Nature Preserve.
Whether it’s to cruise the streets trying to spot as many famous tech companies as you can or tour the grounds of the famous university, visiting Palo Alto is an exciting day trip from San Francisco.
Palo Alto is 32 miles (41 km) south of San Francisco and about a 20-minute drive from the city.
The charming historic downtown area of Sausalito is just across the Golden Gate Bridge.
You can get there either by driving across the Golden Gate Bridge or taking a ferry from San Francisco to the town’s harbour.
Sausalito’s al fresco dining options and colourful Victorian-era architecture will delight visitors of all ages.
Mostly sheltered from the Bay Area’s notoriously thick fog because of the hills of the surrounding Marin Headlands, Sausalito’s pedestrian-friendly streets, picturesque harbour and scenic vistas of the San Francisco skyline makes this little town a charming place to explore as a day trip from San Francisco.
Sausalito is 10 miles (16 km) north of San Francisco and about 25 minutes by car.
9- Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods National Monument is a must-see place as it’s home to one of the last remaining old-growth coastal redwood forests left in Northern California.
Known for its winding nature trails, the Muir Woods National Monument is a popular destination among hikers looking for the park’s mesmerising giant Redwood trees, fern-covered creeks and bay laurel groves.
For the best of both worlds, forest and ocean, take the three-mile (4.8 km) trail leading down to Muir Beach along the Pacific coast.
Muir Woods National Monument is 16 miles (25 km) north of San Francisco and 30 minutes away. This guided tour of Muir Woods also includes a bus tour of Sausalito.
10- Sonoma Valley
The Sonoma Valley might only have half the number of wineries found throughout the larger Napa Valley, but it has a rich history and oodles of charm.
Home to many small-scale boutique wineries, as well as the odd large-scale winery, Sonoma Valley has some of California’s best landscapes and the quality of wine rivals that of the Napa Valley.
Hosting weekly farmer’s markets, the Sonoma Valley combines fantastic wine, great food and charming towns and villages to create a sensational day trip from San Francisco for your itinerary.
Sonoma Valley is 45 miles (72 km) and about a one-hour drive from San Francisco. Let someone else do the driving and enjoy two wine regions and go wine tasting at three wineries on this tour.
For more California ideas, see:
- 40 Things To Do In Lake Tahoe
- 20 Things To Do In San Francisco At Night
- 21 Things To Do In Los Angeles At Night
- 23 Landmarks In Los Angeles
- 20 Landmarks In California
- 20 San Diego Landmarks
- 20 Songs About California
- Best Places To Visit in California
- 20 Things To Do In Santa Ana
- 20 Things To Do In Malibu
- Deserts In California Guide
- 20 Things To Do In Fremont
- 20 Things To Do In Berkeley
- 20 Things To Do In Monterey
- 20 Things To Do In Anaheim
- 20 Things To Do In Santa Rosa
- Best Time To Visit California
- Los Angeles To San Francisco Road Trip
- San Diego To San Francisco Road Trip
- 20 Things To Do In Ventura
- 20 Things To Do In San Luis Obispo
- 20 Things To Do In Palm Desert
- 20 Ghost Towns In California
- 20 Ways To Spend Christmas In California
- San Francisco Itinerary
- San Francisco Bike Tours
- San Francisco Go Cars
- Exploring Hearst Castle
- Yosemite National Park
- 9 California National Parks
- Lake Tahoe Snowshoe Adventure
- 20 Things To Do In Bakersfield
- 20 Things To Do In Redding California
- 20 Things To Do In Manhattan Beach
- 20 Things To Do In Fresno
- 20 Things To Do In Riverside
- 20 Things To Do In Long Beach
- 20 Places To Go Glamping In California
- 20 Things To Do In Eureka
- 20 Los Angeles Day Trips
- 20 San Francisco Day Trips
- 20 Things To Do In Santa Cruz
- 20 Things To Do In Beverly Hills
- 20 West Hollywood Bars
11- Mount Diablo State Park
With 360-degree views over the Bay Area and beyond from atop its 3,849 ft. (1,173 m) summit, Mount Diablo State Park is a nature lover’s paradise, with fantastic hiking and biking trails throughout the sprawling state park.
A fantastic destination to visit year-round, the park’s blooming wildflowers dazzle visitors with stunning arrays of colours depending on which time of the year they decide to visit.
With views stretching as far as the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day, Mount Diablo State Park is a wonderful day trip from San Francisco to fill your lungs with fresh air.
Mount Diablo State Park is 41 miles (65 km) and over an hour from San Francisco.
12- Point Reyes National Seashore
Home to a large collection of fauna and flora species, the sprawling Point Reyes National Seashore area is a protected stretch of unblemished Californian coastline, covering a staggering 71,028 acres 28,744 ha).
From rocky outcrops slammed by crashing waves to endless stretches of sandy beaches, the Point Reyes National Seashore is most famous for the San Andreas Fault, which runs through the park separating the North American and Pacific tectonic plates.
One of Point Reyes National Seashore’s most visited attractions is the 33,373-acre (13,506 ha) Phillip Burton Wilderness, a stretch of protected coastline.
Point Reyes Station is home to restaurants, oyster farms and the Tomales Bay Ecological Reserve, which heavily emphasises sustainable oyster farming.
Point Reyes National Seashore is 37 miles (59 km) and about an hour from San Francisco.
Day Trips From San Francisco – Under 2 Hours
13- Napa Valley
If you only have time for one wine region, make sure you go on a day trip from San Francisco to Napa Valley.
The Napa Valley is an award-winning wine region producing all sorts of wine varieties, from Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc.
With over 400 wineries dotted across the Napa Valley region, it’s a wine lover’s dream destination where wineries open their doors to teach visitors the entire wine-making process from vine to glass.
One of the best ways of discovering and traversing this fantastic region of California is by catching the Napa Valley Wine Train.
This 36-mile (58 km) roundtrip train journey from St Helena passes some of the most famous wineries.
St Helena is 66 miles (106 km) and around 1 hour and 15 minutes from downtown San Francisco and a wonderful place to visit if you enjoy wine.
Monterey has a fantastic culinary scene and is low-key and spectacularly beautiful with pristine beaches and staggering cliffs.
This seaside day trip from San Francisco is a world away from the urban sprawl and not far from Carmel, Pebble Beach and the Big Sur.
Golfing enthusiasts should look out for the professional golfing championships held at Pebble Beach annually, while motorsports fans will enjoy catching a race at the Laguna Seca Raceway near Monterey.
Monterey is the perfect destination to enjoy the best of California within 115 miles (185 km) of downtown San Francisco.
Right next to Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a romantic place to go on a day trip from San Francisco and is famous for its white sandy beach and proximity to Pebble Beach.
Its boutique shops are fabulous, and you could spend at least half a day browsing for clothes, trinkets, art and antiques.
Carmel offers many activities and things to see, with whimsical cottages and shops housing restaurants, boutiques and fantastic art galleries.
You can visit both Carmel and Monterey as a day trip from San Francisco but if you have more time, you won’t regret staying overnight.
Carmel is 122 miles (196 km) and under two hours from San Francisco.
California’s official seat of power, Sacramento, is steeped in history and culture dating back to the state’s Gold Rush.
The city is packed with way too many things to do in a single day, ranging from exploring historic buildings and the state’s capitol building to discovering museums and art galleries. A river cruise is a relaxing way to get your bearings.
California’s capitol building is a museum that portrays the state’s history like no other landmark can.
The building is also the working seat of the government, housing the California State Assembly and the California State Senate, along with the office of the Governor of California.
Another great destination is the Pony Express Terminal, a National Historic landmark dedicated to memorialising the end destination of America’s famous Pony express.
Sacramento is 88 miles (141 km) and a 1.5-hour drive northeast of San Francisco.
17- Laguna Seca Raceway
Named after the dry lakebed around which the raceway was built, the iconic Laguna Seca Raceway has played host to many sporting events since the track’s inception in 1957.
Annual motorsports events include the Pre Reunion, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, the Sea Otter Classic and the IndyCar Series Championship.
While Laguna Seca is famous for high-octane racing, the track also regularly hosts live music festivals and other outdoor events.
As you can camp in a tent or an RV next to the track, it’s a good spot for racing fans to stay for more than a day trip from San Francisco.
Laguna Seca is 118 miles (189 km) and around two hours from San Francisco.
Day Trips From San Francisco – Under 3 Hours
18- Yosemite National Park
The crown jewel in California’s National Park system, Yosemite National Park in the stunning Sierra Nevada Mountains, is a sprawling area filled with breathtaking Californian scenery.
Over 1,000 staggering waterfalls, near-vertical cliffs, and verdant gorges stretching as far as the eye can see are just some of the many wonderful attractions and in this UNESCO-listed National Park.
Just over a three-hour drive from downtown San Francisco, Yosemite National Park’s trails, scenic lakes, ancient sequoia forests, and wildlife create the perfect outdoor wonderland to become one with nature.
If you’re keen on more than a day trip, set up camp for the night in one of 15 campsites, each with its own unique features.
Yosemite National Park is a must-visit Californian attraction in Northern California and, of course, explore the park as a day trip from San Francisco if you’re short of time. This is an excellent itinerary you can do in a day but if you can spare a few days, you may like to combine a visit to the Sierra Nevadas. Check out this tour.
Yosemite National Park is 167 miles (269 km) from San Francisco.
19- Big Sur
One of the most photographed regions of the USA’s West Coast, the Big Sur and its Bixby Bridge stands over 260 feet (79 m) above a rocky, near-vertical canyon in California’s Big Sur region.
While the Bixby Bridge is often the first image that comes to mind when picturing Big Sur, the Big Sur actually encompasses a much larger area than just the bridge, stretching for over 90 miles (145 km) from Carmel to Hearst Castle.
Built in 1932 for $200,000, the Bixby Bridge is one of the world’s largest concrete span bridges.
Over 5.8 million visitors are drawn to the bridge’s sweeping views each year.
Driving over the bridge through Big Sur on your way to So-Cal’s famous beaches is an iconic Californian experience.
The Bixby Bridge is 130 miles (209 km) south of San Francisco. Here’s a popular tour itinerary.
20- Lake Tahoe
Straddling the Nevada-California border, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America.
Flanked by stunning snowcapped mountains, this bright-blue lake is renowned for its natural beauty and treasure trove of outdoor activities.
Welcoming over 2.7 million visitors annually, Lake Tahoe is a trendy getaway for Californians and a popular vacation spot for Americans across the country.
Lake Tahoe has excellent hiking trails and watersports activities in summer but transforms into a world-class winter wonderland with top-notch skiing and snowboarding in winter and spring.
With trendy boutique hotels, upscale resorts and family-friendly campsites, it’s a must-do day trip from San Francisco and a highly recommended destination for a longer stay.
Lake Tahoe is 194 miles (312 km), over 3 hours driving from downtown San Francisco.