As much as we love the San Francisco Bay Area, sometimes you need a mini-getaway. Whether you’re a local looking for a day trip or a visitor with an extra day to spare, there’s so much to explore within just a couple of hours’ drive. From beach trails and rugged coastline to old-growth forests to California desert…talk about getting a change of scenery! After all is said and done, as much as we love the Golden Gate and Karl the Fog, one of the things we love most about SF is the seemingly endless Bay Area day trips at our fingertips.
So, if you’re like us and looking for short escape, here are our 15 favorite Bay Area day trips within 3 hours of San Francisco. (Any more than 3 hours, and we’d be stuck in a car all day. No thanks.) We’ve also organized the list from north to south as best we could to help you organize your trips (it’s a little imperfect, but it’ll do!). Ok, now onto the good stuff:
1. Muir Woods National Monument
Distance from San Francisco: 17 miles, 40 minutes
Things you can’t miss: Coastal redwoods, hiking trails
This is the shortest day trip from San Francisco, but that shouldn’t count it out. A visit to Muir Woods couldn’t be further away from the city.
With 6 miles of hiking trails that criss-cross into neighboring Mount Tamalpais State Park, Muir Woods presents the perfect nature getaway from the city. Hike under the auspices of giant redwoods on the Redwood Creek and Canopy View Trails, or seek out coastal views on the Ben Johnson trail. Just be sure to arrive early since parking can fill up quickly given how close this getaway is from San Francisco! (We’ve definitely had to circle the parking lot an annoying amount of times at 8 AM on a Saturday.)
COVID-19 Note: While the park as reopened, it is operating on a reservation basis. You can make reservations online at GoMuirWoods.com.
2. Point Reyes
Distance from San Francisco: 60 miles, 1 hour 40 minutes
Things you can’t miss: Beaches, coastal views, Point Reyes Lighthouse, local eateries
Just north of San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore offers rugged coastline, windswept beaches, and dramatic sandstone cliffs. It’s a great destination for hiking, biking, kayaking, and fishing. Within the town of Point Reyes itself, there’s also plenty of local eateries to try. Some of our favorites include Cowgirl Creamery (AMAZING cheese!), Tomales Bay Oyster Co., and Hog Island Bay Oyster Co. You can also book a private food and farm tour for the ultimate foodie experience.
3. Tomales Bay and Marshall
Distance from San Francisco: 47 miles, 1 hour 15 minutes
Things you can’t miss: Oysters (so worth it)
Stretch your Point Reyes trip just a bit further, and you’ll find yourself heading towards Tomales Bay and Marshall, conveniently the best place for oysters, ever. A really fun day trip is picnicking at Tomales Bay Oyster Company and heading over to Tomales Bay State Park for swimming and grilling. If you aren’t oyster-ed out at that point, drive further north to the Marshall Store for literally the best oysters we’ve ever, ever had. Have we emphasized enough how much we love the oysters here already?
COVID-19 Note: Tomales Bay Oyster Company is not allowing picnicking due to COVID-19. Check their website for the latest restrictions.
4. Napa Valley
Distance from San Francisco: 53 miles, 1 hour 20 minutes
Things you can’t miss: Vineyards, Michelin restaurants, Downtown Napa
Perhaps one of the most world-famous destinations near the Bay Area, Napa Valley is one of our all-time favorite Bay Area day trips. Because what better way to spend a day than to wake up, make your way over to picturesque vineyards to sip world-class wines and dine in Michelin-starred restaurants, then come home and sleep in your own bed? Yeah, we thought so too. Our favorite wineries include Cakebread for a great winery tour, Frog’s Leap for its low-key farmhouse feel, and V Sattui for the full cheese + wine picnic vibe.
If you’re traveling from SF (especially without a car or you simply don’t want to worry about wine tasting and driving), we recommend booking a wine tour like this 4.5+ star rated one. It’s stress-free, and you can focus on enjoying the best part of visiting Napa — the wine!
5. Sonoma Valley
Distance from San Francisco: 45 miles, 1 hour 10 minutes
Things you can’t miss: Vineyards, local shops
We can’t mention how much we love a trip to Napa Valley without mentioning Sonoma Valley, another top-notch wine-tasting destination that’s conveniently right next door. Although you can technically visit Napa and Sonoma in the same trip (we’ve done it), it’s aggressive. There’s so much to see — and more importantly, taste — that it is truly worth its own day trip.
That said, if you are short on time in the Bay Area, you can do it all. We recommend this wine tour since it combines Muir Woods, Sonoma Valley, and Napa Valley in one packed schedule (all destinations that make an appearance on this list!). Similar to Napa, booking a tour is a stress-free way to visit a ton of wineries and not worry about transportation. (Please don’t drink and drive. Not only is it not safe, you WILL get ticketed. We see people get pulled over all the time.)
6. Bodega Bay
Distance from San Francisco: 67 miles, 1 hour 30 minutes
Things you can’t miss: “The Birds” house, whale watching, kite-flying
Any Hitchcock fans in the house?! Bodega Bay is an incredibly fun day trip from the Bay Area that we LOVE, both because I am a huge Alfred Hitchcock fan AND because it is a hub of outdoor activity. (Ah, my heart!) In both Bodega Bay and the small town of Bodega, you can see a number of sights from the famous Hitchcock film, “The Birds,” like the house where it was filmed. Beyond that, Bodega Bay is the perfect spot for hiking, whale watching, kite-flying, and dining on locally caught seafood.
7. Yosemite National Park
Distance from San Francisco: 167 miles, 3 hours 30 minutes
Things you can’t miss: Tunnel View, El Capitan, Half Dome, ancient sequoias, waterfalls
This is the furthest and most aggressive day trip from San Francisco, although it can be a little closer if you are based elsewhere in the Bay. Despite the distance, we couldn’t create a list of best Bay Area day trips without name-dropping Yosemite National Park, easily one of the most spellbinding national parks in the US. With magnificent waterfalls and grandiose ancient sequoias, Yosemite is nothing short of a magical experience. We’ve done it many times as a day trip, so it’s quite possible even if it makes for a long day. We will say it’s worth it every time. Must-see vistas include Tunnel View, Bridal Veil Falls, Half Dome and El Capitan.
8. Half Moon Bay
Distance from San Francisco: 30 miles, 40 minutes
Things you can’t miss: Historic Main Street, beaches, surfers
Moving south of San Francisco now, Half Moon Bay is a romantic getaway if you’re looking for a coastal trip. It’s a small town with some of the best surfing, plus a cute and historic main street. Just 25 miles south of Half Moon Bay is also Año Nuevo State Park, where you can look for elephant seals!
9. Pescadero Marsh Nature Reserve
Distance from San Francisco: 45 miles, 1 hour
Things you can’t miss: Bird-watching, hiking trails, wetlands
Within just an hour of San Francisco is Pescadero Marsh Nature Reserve, an extensive, 235-acre wetland along the SF peninsula. See all kinds of natural habitats, from a freshwater marsh to a tidal estuary to riparian woods. It’s also a fantastic place to go bird-watching.
10. Castle Rock State Park
Distance from San Francisco: 58 miles, 1 hour 5 minutes
Things you can’t miss: Hiking trails, rock climbing
This is a hidden gem in the Santa Cruz mountains! It’s both a rock climber’s paradise and a hiking hotspot. One of the most popular trails in the area is a hike along one of the highest ridges in the Santa Cruz mountains.
11. Santa Cruz
Distance from San Francisco: 73 miles, 1 hour 15 minutes
Things you can’t miss: Santa Cruz boardwalk, UC Santa Cruz, beaches
Santa Cruz makes for a fun day trip because you get both the mountains and the beach, all in one place. Stroll along the Santa Cruz Boardwalk for kitschy carnival rides and the best beach vibe you can get in Northern California (let’s be real, it’s no SoCal). Surf’s up!
12. Pinnacles National Park
Distance from San Francisco: 123 miles, 2 hours 10 minutes
Things you can’t miss: Desert fauna, caves, hiking trails, rock climbing
This US national park doesn’t get all the glory that its more popular counterparts get (see: Yosemite, Sequoia, Redwood), but it is mighty in its own right! To be honest, we were stunned that something like this existed so close to the Bay and we had been completely unaware for so long. Pinnacles National Park is truly unique with opportunities for hikers to explore talus caves and everything from easy topropes to multi-pitch climbs for rock climbers.
13. Big Sur
Distance from San Francisco: 146 miles, 2 hour 30 minutes
Things you can’t miss: Coastal views, camping
Be still, my heart! Big Sur is one of our favorite destinations in the entire world. I’m perfectly convinced there are few landscapes more beautiful than the waves crashing up against the rugged coast of Big Sur. Between scenic coastal drives with the windows down (you’re in California, after all!) to top-notch hiking to picnics on the beach, Big Sur has something for everyone.
P.S. If you do want to extend your trip to a weekend getaway, the camping here is phenomenal. For a more luxurious stay, you can’t miss the well-regarded Ventana Big Sur resort with its Japanese-style spas, free yoga classes, on-site art gallery, and terrace bar.
Distance from San Francisco: 122 miles, 1 hour 50 minutes
Things you can’t miss: Boutiques, local restaurants, beaches, golfing
Call it a couple’s retreat. This quaint beach town on the Monterey peninsula offers a nice getaway to slow the pace down. In addition to locally owned boutiques (Sylvia Unique Boutique, Carmel-by-the-Sea), antique car shows, and some of the best Italian restaurants in NorCal (see Little Napoli), Carmel-by-the-Sea is also close to stunning nature landscapes. Walk along the tide at Point Lobos or enjoy the beach at Carmel River State Beach or Garrapata State Park. Or, extend your trip to Monterey with an all-day tour that combines the two.
Distance from San Francisco: 67 miles, 1 hour 30 minutes
Things you can’t miss: Monterey Bay Aquarium, wharf, golfing
Monterey is one of the most well-known destinations along the Central Coast, with the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, and Old Fisherman’s Wharf. Enjoy fabulous clam chowder here, go golfing at the legendary Pebble Beach, or take a whale watching tour. We love going here to spot the otters in the Bay!
Summary: Best Bay Area day trips
There, you have it! To recap, here’s our list of 15 best Bay Area day trips when you’re looking for an escape (moving from North to South-ish… we tried our best!):
- Muir Woods National Monument
- Point Reyes
- Tomales Bay and Marshall
- Napa Valley
- Sonoma Valley
- Bodega Bay
- Yosemite National Park
- Half Moon Bay
- Pescadero Marsh Nature Reserve
- Castle Rock State Park
- Santa Cruz
- Pinnacles National Park
- Big Sur
Whether you’re visiting San Francisco or based in the greater Bay Area, these make fun mini-getaways that allow you to really change up the scenery. We still find it amazing that we can be at a stunning California beach one day and caving in a desert the next.
Have you been to one of these quintessential California destinations? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments!