San Francisco is one of the best cities to live in the world, being culturally diverse, having a high standard of living, and who can resist the beautiful Pacific?
It is such a vibrant city, and there are so many excellent things to do and so many beautiful sights to see. From the majestic Golden Gate Bridge to the sweeping views of the ocean, it should be on every travelers’ bucket list.
That said, if you have an extended time here in San Francisco, and wish to explore outside of the city boundaries, then you are in for a treat as road trips are plentiful from here.
This post will highlight 10 of the best day trips from San Francisco.
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The state of California is blessed with lots of amazing parks, and none more impressive than Yosemite. Right from the moment you enter the park from the Western end, you will be greeted by the Tunnel View, which most people would rate as one of the best in all of America.
As you enter the park, the scenery does not stop to amaze you, with giant sequoia trees framing the High Sierra Mountains in the distance. While you are here, make sure not to miss out on the iconic Half Dome as well as El Capitan, where the climber Alex Honnold climbed up the sheer 3000 ft wall ropeless and made history.
Before visiting, though, always check out the road conditions, as it is not uncommon for certain roads to be closed. You might also want to get in as early as you can to beat the ever-present crowds. Yosemite National Park is definitely one of the best day trips from San Francisco.
Getting there: 3 hours drive east of SF
Address: Yosemite National Park, CA 95389
Also Read: The 10 Best Things to Do in Yosemite National Park
Staying on the theme of mountains, take a day trip out to Woodside via the Skyline Boulevard, or also known as Highway 35. This is a place where you can experience nature in its full glory and chill out for the weekend since it is so closely situated from San Francisco.
The drive to Woodside is a great start to any road trip, offering up spectacular views of the ocean and the blue mountains that run alongside. Once you get to Woodside, make your way to the grand Filoli, a huge mansion and estate that shows off its beautiful gardens and its impressive collection of art pieces.
You certainly do not want to miss out on going to Chaparral too, where you can learn how to ride a horse and get privy information about equestrian. After all, Woodside is probably best known for having a large horse population.
Getting there: 40 minutes drive south of SF
Address: CA-35, California
As the largest alpine lake in the United States, Lake Tahoe is one of the favorite day trips from San Francisco for lots of travelers, who come from far and wide to see the cobalt lake and enjoy the laid back and easygoing atmosphere.
It is safe to say that whichever type of traveler you are, there is something in store for you. Choose from mountain hiking, stand up paddling on the lake, or simply tasting the delectable cuisine spread across many small towns, it is easy to say no when it comes time to leave. Ideally, you will want to spend a few days here.
There are plenty of activities, be it during summer or winter, so there really is no excuse to miss Lake Tahoe. Most visitors will spend their time either in North or South Lake Tahoe, and we highly recommend you to stay at the Zephyr Cove Resort, a rustic and charming budget accommodation situated right at the shores of the lake.
Getting there: 3.5 hours drive Northeast of SF
Address: Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
Unfortunately, Oakland has gained a bad rep over the years for having a high crime rate compared to the rest of the California cities. This does not mean it is not worth visiting, though, as Oakland is filled with surprises at every turn.
To avoid any potential problems, go during the day and stay mostly on the hills and around the lake area to be on the safe side. Once you are here, be sure to spend some time exploring Lake Merritt and its hiking trails. It is so beautiful and peaceful, plus it is only 3 miles round trip, which makes hiking the loop a breeze.
You can also go on the water by renting a kayak, or if you are with your other half, consider booking a romantic gondola ride instead.
After burning some calories, you have to try out some of the cool restaurants here in Oakland. Even though SF is nearby, the food scene in Oakland is so different and distinctive. The best way to do that is to go on an Uptown Oakland Food Tour. Oakland is undoubtedly one of the best day trips from San Francisco.
Getting there: 20 minutes drive East of SF; Take the BART train
Address: Oakland, CA
Besides having a cool name, Santa Cruz is one of the best San Francisco day trips for laid back travelers who love the sand and the sea. With a vantage point over Monterey Bay and the majestic Redwoods in its backyard, Santa Cruz is such a great day trip option from SF you simply cannot miss.
Blessed with terrific weather year-round, pack your surf gear and come in flip flops to experience some of the best waves for surfing. Even if you are not hitting the water, you can always time your visit to witness one of the exciting surf competitions.
The Beach Boardwalk is likely where you will spend a bulk of your time, as it is the main thoroughfare here, and is perfect for those who want to get on the amusement park rides or just stroll on the beach. Before you leave, grab a cone of ice cream at Marianne's. Thank us later.
Getting there: 1 hour drive South of SF: Take the Greyhound Bus
Address: Santa Cruz, CA
As the capital of California, Sacramento is the ideal day trip from San Francisco for travelers interested in history.
That said, no trip would be complete without visiting the Capitol Building, home to the government as well as the California State Capitol Museum. And don’t forget to explore the park surrounding the building, where there are several memorials to the fallen heroes of the past.
As you head towards the Sacramento River, pop by the Old Sacramento State Historic Park, which was made a National Historic Landmark back in 1965. The aged buildings are a wonderful contrast from the nearby skyscrapers of the business district and make for excellent photo opportunities.
Make your last stop at the State Indian Museum, which provides a great learning experience about the native Indians and their way of life. There are lots of precious photographs on display and capture the progression of the Indians of California State really well.
Getting there: 1.5 hours drive Northeast of SF; Take the Greyhound Bus; Take the Amtrak Train
Address: Sacramento, CA
Also Read: Top 25 Tourist Attractions in Sacramento
Escape to the woods as you drive towards the Mount Tamalpais State Park. Expect winding roads and cyclists to slow you down, but for a good reason, as you get to take your time to enjoy the scenery on this drive. Many residents in the Bay Area flock here, especially on the weekends, as it is filled with numerous activities to spend the day.
Take your pick from hiking the dozens of trails, or simply pack a picnic and relax at the peak of Mount Tam, where you can enjoy the best views of the entire Bay Area.
For the adventurous, try out paragliding from the top of Mount Tamalpais. It is very safe and is such a unique way to take in the sights afforded from the top of the mountain. If you can’t get enough of Mount Tam, book yourself a spot at one of the campsites to spend the night.
If you’re looking for day trips from San Francisco where you can also try some of the best adventurous activities, then you must visit the Mount Tamalpais State Park.
Getting there: 30 minutes drive North of SF
Address: 801 Panoramic Hwy, Mill Valley, CA 94941
Driving along Big Sur is among the best day trips from San Francisco. Along this stretch of road, you get to drive along the magnificent Pacific Coast, with lots of interesting stops along the way. Highly recommended would be Limekiln State Park, which is where you can find 4 lime kilns made from 1887!
The park is nestled in amongst the giant redwoods and is perfect for a short hike. Be sure to check out Partington Cove, too, probably one of the best-kept secrets among insiders who know Big Sur well. This remote beach is accessed through an old 60 ft tunnel and opens up to amazing views of the Pacific.
Choosing a spot along Big Sur to enjoy a meal can be tricky; you must consider Nepenthe Restaurant. It has some of the best views for sunset and the food is top-notch.
Getting there: 2.5 hours drive South of SF
Address: Big Sur, CA
Also Read: 10 Best Weekend Getaways in California
Previously thought to be extinct, Mount Lassen blew its top in 1915 after lying dormant for over 27000 years. It has now evolved into a recreation area and is one of the popular San Francisco day trips with hikers and backpackers who want to explore its various trails.
Although there have not been any eruptions since, Mount Lassen is still regarded as an active volcano and is rated “Very High” risk of eruption again, though no one knows when. However, not to worry, as the area is now fitted with seismic detectors to warn people of potential volcanic activities.
One of the best spots to occupy is at Lake Helen, mostly in its lovely turquoise blue hue. It is perfect for photography and nature lovers alike. Our advice is to set off as early in the morning as possible since the round trip does take a while.
Getting there: 3.5 hours North of SF
Address: Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA 96088
Sausalito is a quaint small town in California less than half an hour’s drive from downtown San Francisco.
Although it is located very close to SF, it has a different sort of vibe. If you were not paying attention, you could easily think that you were in some fishing village in the islands of Greece, and that’s what makes Sausalito unique (and one of our favorite best day trips from San Francisco).
It has that the Mediterranean feel, almost like a seaside resort. Most visitors would come here during summer, and experience the rich art culture, and wine and dine by the beautiful marina, watching the yachts go by.
The city also offers amazing views out to the clear blue sea, especially if you take a walk down Bridgeway. While you are here, keep an eye out for the houseboats that dot the waterfront, some 500 of them. This is where the community of artists lives and is one of the most representative sceneries of Sausalito.
Getting there: 30 minutes drive north of SF; Golden Gate Ferry from Pier 39.
Address: Sausalito, CA