San Francisco, golden gate bridge,

Six Awesome Day Trips From San Francisco

“Everyone’s Favorite City’ is a title that San Francisco has earned because of its world-class cuisine, scenic beauty, diverse communities and it’s cultural attractions. Measuring 49 square miles, San Francisco is dotted with world-famous landmarks such as Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.  Even though there are plenty of things to do in San Francisco to keep you busy during a vacation, getting outside the city and exploring the nearby areas is an absolute must-do.  Here are 6 of the most popular day trips from San Francisco you will enjoy!

1.  Visit Napa Valley

A favorite of locals and tourists, this land of grape covered hills, wineries and sunshine is the perfect day trip destination. The heart of California wine country attracts wine lovers from across the globe.

A trip to Napa Valley does need a little planning, here are a few tips to make your adventure more memorable.

Napa Valley, day drive from San Francisco

  • The Napa Valley Wine Tours finish in the mid-afternoon, so plan your tour to start with the wineries you want to visit first and leave the ones you are happy to look around until last, so as not to be disappointed.
  • If you are planning an authentic wine tour, you will be sampling as you go long. Make sure that you either have a DD on hand, so you can explore the wine country safely. 
  • Uber and Lyft are easy to pick up in the valley if all members of your group would prefer to sample the wine as you travel around. The valley is only 30 miles from top to bottom so splitting the cost of rideshare should remain a reasonable price.
  • One of the most popular options is to take a Private Car Wine Tour, take a driver service from destination to destination.

We loved our visit to Napa Valley so much that we actually spent a few days staying in the area. However, if you just have a day to spend then that’s ok. It’s definitely possible to just go on a day trip to Napa Valley from San Francisco.

2.  Check out Santa Cruz

California has always been synonymous with surf culture. Not only is Santa Cruz a popular destination for San Francisco area surfers, but it’s a classic beachside town in California with good vibes, views, food…and some boardwalk entertainment fun!  Here are a few other things to do on your day trip to Santa Cruz. 

Santa Cruz, day drive from San Francisco

  • Check out the sea lions resting beneath the pier a the Santa Cruz Wharf; there are many safe viewing points in the area
  • Stroll the Santa Cruz boardwalk, and this is Northern California’s answer to Coney Island, offer rides to suit the whole family and plenty fried food so you won’t go hungry in the process
  • Lying on the beach is also an option if you want to catch a few rays after your surf.
  • To get there you need to take the Pacific Coast Highway, it takes a little longer, but it is worth it, for the views alone
  • Stop to stretch your legs at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse along the way

3.  Visit the Muir Woods

Northern California has no shortage of natural wonders to explore, but the enormous coastal redwoods are indeed a sight to behold. They exist primarily in protected areas between Big Sur and the border with Oregon. Too many of these trees were felled down through the centuries, but the ones that remain are among the oldest living things on our planet. 

Muir Woods, Day drive from San Francisco

If you are planning a day trip from San Francisco the closest spot to see the redwoods is in the Muir Woods. Because of its proximity to the city, it is quite popular and tours should be planned. The area is easy to explore by foot, and much of the woods are fully accessible. Here are a few tips to make your day trip easier.

  • Take the Muir Woods Shuttle as parking is challenging to find closer to the woods
  • Choose one of the many parks and ride spots along the way
  • If you are looking for a real adventure, you can catch a ferry from San Francisco to Sausalito and take a shuttle from there.

4.  Half Moon Bay

This crescent-shaped bay has a beautiful little town smack bang in the middle. It is another classic California beach town, quieter and more laid back than Santa Cruz. Because of this, it is a popular day trip from San Francisco for families, especially those who enjoy the great outdoors.  Half Moon Bay also has a lot to offer for food and wine lovers.  Here are some tips and things to do in the Half Moon Bay area:

half moon bay, near San Francisco, california beaches

  • Start your trip early as the roads into the bay get very busy
  • Be sure to check out Pigeon Point Lighthouse, and the views are spectacular.
  • Pack some snacks and prepare some games as regardless of your best-laid plans you might still get caught in traffic (so make sure you have a full tank of gas)
  • Don’t let this put you off, because even sitting in transit you will be treated to stunning views.
  • Take the I-280 and CA Hwy 92 West, 30 miles north of the city, and it is difficult to miss.

5.  Sausalito

A short trip across the Golden Gate Bridge and you find yourself on the Sausalito waterfront, and this offers some of the best views of the city skyline, the bay bridge, Alcatraz and the waterfront. Some local describes the town as having a Mediterranean feel or vibe. This little party town is famous for so many reasons. Here are a few to think about.

near San Francisco, california sunset

  • Escape the fog, the hustle, and bustle of the city. Its is sunnier and warmer over there
  • It only across the bridge it couldn’t be more convenient to visit
  • If you want to relax and enjoy the day out, take the ferry across the bay.
  • Taking the Golden Gate Ferry is a much cheaper option than paying for a San Francisco Ferry at a much higher price. You will have the same views for a fraction of the cost
  • If you are traveling by car skipping rush hour will mean you can get these in under an hour
  • Take Highway 101 and take the first exit past north vista point, it’s all downhill from there to Sausalito
  • The best place to park is in the lots near Bridgeway, or on the northside of the town.
  • Many people choose to take a bus tour because then you do not have to worry about your car and everything else that goes with driving.

6.  Angel Island State Park

Also known as San Francisco’s other islands, day-trippers flock to Angel Island State Park to visit the immigration station, go hiking, visit its old military outpost and soak in some of the best views available of the bay and the city. The park is open every day, you can rent a bike or grab a tram daily, but only from April through to September. The tour schedules are subject to change the rest of the year. Here are some tips to make your day trip more enjoyable

  • You do not need a reservation, but you should book your ferry tickets in advance in the summer or on weekends
  • If you hold an annual state park pass, it is not valid here, and your ferry ticket covers the cost of entry
  • Pick a clear day. Otherwise, you will see virtually nothing from the Island
  • Spring is the best season to visit as the tours are operating and the cafe is still open.
  • If you want you can hire a boat and sail to the Island, motorboats can also moor here.

Start Planning Your Day Trips from San Francisco in Advance

As with many vacations, it’s important to plan your visit to San Francisco in advance to be sure you get to see and do everything that you want. That’s also true when it comes to planning any day trips outside of San Francisco. Some of these places you will want to visit may require some planning, buying tickets in advance, or even renting a car. However, it’s more than worth the extra effort to get outside and explore the magnificent natural scenery and vibes of northern California!

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