8 easy must-do weekend trips from San Francisco

Published by: BouncePosted
Best weekend trips from San Francisco

You don't get to be one of America's most visited cities by accident. San Francisco has so much to see and do that you could spend a lifetime in the City by the Bay and never run out of activities.

With that said, everybody knows that part of the appeal of San Francisco is all the many great locations there are for weekend trips in the Bay area and beyond. There aren't too many places in the world where you can explore isolated mountain hiking trails in the morning and go scuba diving or whale watching in the afternoon, but San Francisco is one of them. That's what makes the city so special.

If you've seen enough of Union Square and Pier 39, don't worry. San Francisco and its region have plenty more to offer you, with some truly incredible weekend getaways right on your doorstep. But you'll find getting around a lot easier if you travel light. So drop off your unneeded bags at a luggage storage location in San Francisco and get ready for a memorable San Francisco weekend trip. Whether you like amazing scenery, pristine nature, excellent restaurants, great nightlife, or the culinary delights of wine country, these weekend getaways from San Francisco will give you everything you need for a great time.

Weekend trip from San Francisco to Monterey

Monterey and Carmel

Located on California's central coast, the towns of Monterey and Carmel offer not only scenic splendor but also some lively cultural activities to enjoy. Plus, these quaint seaside towns have some excellent activities for kids, including the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Distance from San Francisco:

At a distance of around 112 miles, Monterey can be reached from San Francisco by car in around two hours. You can also take the CalTrain, which is a more leisurely way to travel, but it will take around five hours or more to make the same journey.

Our activity recommendations:

Monterey Bay Aquarium: One of the largest aquariums in the world, with over 35,000 creatures in over 200 exhibits, showcasing the diverse marine life of Monterey Bay.

17-Mile Drive: This scenic drive along the Pacific coast offers stunning views of the rugged coastline, and you can take in these incredible vistas and stop at any of the quaint little towns you'll find along the way to enjoy fresh seafood, wine tasting, and everything else you need for a great weekend trip.

Cannery Row: A historic street that was once the center of the sardine canning industry is now a popular tourist destination with fantastic shops, restaurants, and bars. It's also something of a cultural hub, so this is one of the best trips from San Francisco for art lovers.

Best season to visit:

San Francisco's Northern California climate makes it a true year-round destination. The warm days of summer are a great time to enjoy everything Monterey has to offer, but even in winter, the town is worth a visit.

Napa Valley weekend trips from San Francisco

Napa Valley

The heart of San Francisco's wine country, Napa Valley is hands down the best spot for wine country getaways from San Francisco. But despite being one of the world's best wine regions, there's more to Napa than just wine country. It's also an excellent place to enjoy a more natural environment not far from the built-up Bay area.

Distance from San Francisco:

The town of Napa itself is only around 50 miles from San Francisco, so you can get there in around an hour by car without traffic, making this a good destination for a day trip as well as a weekend trip. However, further exploration of the entire Napa Valley is recommended, and for that, you'll need a car and at least a couple of days to get the most out of this destination.

Our activity recommendations:

Wine Tasting: No prizes for guessing we were going to say this. Napa Valley is one of the world's most famous wine regions, with hundreds of wineries to choose from, so you'll have your pick of wine tastings.

Culinary Scene: The valley is also home to some of the best restaurants in the country, serving up fresh, local cuisine and world-class dining experiences.

Scenic Drives: The beautiful hills and vineyards of the valley offer countless scenic drives to admire the views and soak up the peaceful atmosphere. And there's always somewhere else to stop for an incredible meal and a glass of wine.

Best season to visit:

Napa is perhaps at its best during the fall, when the annual grape harvest comes in, allowing you to try some excellent new vintages along with old favorites.

Santa Cruz

Famous for its boardwalk and beach, Santa Cruz is one of the best destinations for family trips from San Francisco.

Distance from San Francisco:

At a little over 70 miles from San Francisco, Santa Cruz can be reached with not much more than an hour of driving, so it's one of the easier weekend getaways from San Francisco you can take.

Our activity recommendations:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: Enjoy a classic seaside amusement park with a nostalgic atmosphere, offering rides, games, and food stands. Don't miss the Giant Dipper, a roller coaster that goes back to 1924.

Natural Bridges State Beach: A state park featuring a beautiful beach, a large natural bridge, and a monarch butterfly reserve.

Mystery Spot: Supernatural wonder or optical illusion? Decide for yourself at this quirky and somewhat kitschy attraction that will challenge your perceptions as you explore.

Best season to visit:

Summer is an extraordinarily busy time in Santa Cruz, but there's a good reason for that. Strolling the boardwalk and enjoying ice cream or a leisurely drink in the height of summer is about as quintessentially Californian an activity as you can imagine. April through to November is also the peak time for spotting humpback whales on their annual migration, so if you plan to go whale watching, this is the perfect time and place to do it.

Weekend trip to Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Destinations for weekend trips from San Francisco don't come much more famous than Lake Tahoe. This stunning alpine lake is surrounded by mountain peaks and seemingly endless wilderness, and the almost otherworldly beauty of the crystal-clear waters will make you feel like you're much further from the city than you really are. No wonder it's been the destination of weekend trips from the city for generations.

Distance from San Francisco:

Two hundred miles away from San Francisco, Lake Tahoe and the neighboring community of South Lake Tahoe will take about four hours to reach by car.

Our activity recommendations:

Skiing and Snowboarding: Lake Tahoe is a popular winter sports destination, with several ski resorts offering great skiing and snowboarding opportunities.

Scenic Drives: The lake is surrounded by beautiful mountains, offering lots of lovely drives to take in the views and explore the area. You'll also find tons of hiking trails in the area, so don't forget your hiking boots when you leave your bags behind in the city.

Water Sports: During the summer months, Lake Tahoe has just about every type of watersport you can think of, including boating, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding.

Best season to visit:

Every season in Lake Tahoe brings something different. If you want to enjoy the hiking trails and water sports, you'll want to visit in summer. Winter, on the other hand, is prime skiing and snowboarding season. And in this busy destination, spring and fall shoulder seasons can also be great options for weekend trips without the crowds.

Weekend getaways from San Francisco to Yosemite

Yosemite National Park

Lake Tahoe is a justifiably famous wilderness retreat from the city. But perhaps even more grand is the world-renowned Yosemite National Park. Famous for its iconic mountains like the Half Dome, Yosemite offers just about every outdoor activity there is.

Distance from San Francisco:

At 160 miles due east of San Francisco, expect to spend at least three hours driving to get to this world-famous national park. But as one of the most popular getaways from San Francisco, it's well worth the journey.

Our activity recommendations:

Yosemite Valley: The heart of Yosemite National Park, offering breathtaking views of impressive landmarks like Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls.

Hiking: With over 750 miles of trails, Yosemite will have trouble keeping avid hikers busy. There is everything from easy walks to challenging backcountry adventures.

Wildlife Watching: Yosemite is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including black bears, deer, coyotes, and many species of birds.

Best season to visit:

There's really no bad time to visit Yosemite. Summer temperatures here are cooler than they are at less elevated locations, so summer is a great time to explore the hiking trails. However, for wildlife watching, autumn is a great option. And in winter, if you don't mind the cold, you'll have the hiking trails and scenic lookouts of this incredible park all to yourself.

Sonoma

Another renowned wine-making region, Sonoma itself and the greater Sonoma County draw tourists in droves. But this spot isn't just about wine. For some history to go with your glass of red, check out the adobe buildings from the 19th century that surround the picturesque Sonoma Plaza.

Distance from San Francisco:

Less than 50 miles from San Francisco, Sonoma can be reached by car in less than an hour, making it a good choice for day trips as well as weekend trips from San Francisco.

Our activity recommendations:

Wine Tasting: California's wine scene isn't solely in Napa. Sonoma is another famous wine region, with over 425 wineries to choose from.

Sonoma Plaza: The central plaza of Sonoma, surrounded by historic buildings, shops, restaurants, and tasting rooms, is a great place to soak up the vibrant atmosphere of the city.

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve: If you've ever wanted to see some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world, this state park offers hiking trails among towering redwoods that are an integral part of the northern California ecosystem.

Best season to visit:

Although Sonoma is worth a visit at any time of year, the fall is an excellent choice, with the great harvest and the cooler temperatures making this an ideal place for an autumnal weekend trip.

Point Reyes National Seashore weekend trips

Point Reyes National Seashore

If you're looking for peace and quiet combined with dramatic scenery, Point Reyes is simply unbeatable. This gorgeous peninsula just north of San Francisco is famous as the home of the Point Reyes lighthouse and is the perfect weekend getaway for anyone wishing to explore the California coast.

Distance from San Francisco:

Around 60 miles from San Francisco, you can reach Point Reyes National Seashore in about an hour and a half. The short distance from San Francisco makes it a great weekend trip if you don't want to spend too long in the car.

Our activity recommendations:

Scenic Drives: Point Reyes is extraordinarily beautiful, with a number of scenic drives along the coast and through the hills.

Hiking: The park boasts over 150 miles of trails, with a wide range of hiking opportunities, from easy walks to strenuous backcountry excursions.

Wildlife Watching: Point Reyes is a wildlife lover's paradise, teeming with wildlife, including elephant seals, harbor seals, and many species of birds.

Best season to visit:

Point Reyes is all about the great outdoors, so summer is probably the peak time to take a weekend trip here. However, the weather is usually good in spring and fall too, and you'll find fewer crowds in the area during the shoulder seasons.

Weekend trips from San Francisco to Big Sur

Big Sur

Travel the legendary Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur, and you'll be following in the footsteps of rebels, artists, hippies, dropouts, and every possible segment of California society. From the busy urban jungle of San Francisco to the crashing waves of the legendary beach here, you'll be experiencing the best northern California has to offer.

Distance from San Francisco:

At 150 miles, Big Sur's distance from San Francisco makes it a two-and-a-half-hour drive that's a little far for a day trip but perfect for weekend getaways.

Our activity recommendations:

Scenic Drives: Big Sur is a stretch of coastline known for its rugged beauty, with plenty of scenic drives to admire the views and explore the area.

Hiking: Big Sur has many hiking opportunities, including the famous Pacific Crest Trail, a long-distance hiking trail that runs from Mexico to Canada.

Bixby Bridge: A beautiful and iconic bridge that spans a deep canyon. You can expect breathtaking views of the coast and the surrounding hills.

Best season to visit:

This is another of those weekend getaways from San Francisco that's all about the outdoors, so you want to give yourself the best chance of having good weather. Summer is the obvious choice, but spring and fall can also be excellent times to visit.

Conclusion

As long as this list is, it barely scratches the surface of everything you can do on a weekend getaway in Northern California. The best day trips from San Francisco and these longer weekend getaways will show you just what makes the area around San Francisco so special. If you only have three days in San Francisco, you'll want to stick to the city and experience as much as you can. But with a little longer to spend, you can afford to travel at least a short distance from San Francisco and try some of these unforgettable weekend trips.

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