The San Francisco Bay Area reaches from the southernmost cities of the South Bay and all the way up into the far reaches of Sonoma and Napa Counties. This puts San Francisco at the epicenter of some of the most beautiful, entertaining and tourist-friendly communities in the country.
Whether you’re traveling for just a few minutes or for a couple of hours, you’ll find countless towns, cities, beaches and open spaces to explore right in our backyard. We rounded up our top ten so you can start your day trips right away. All you have to do now is pack the car and choose a destination!
Distance from San Francisco: 10 miles
Sausalito‘s vibrant and diverse culture attracts young professionals, retirees and empty-nesters alike. With a charming, small-town atmosphere alongside modern amenities and businesses, there’s something for everyone in this slow-paced, beachside city.
While exploring either in town or just steps away in the Marin Headlands, you’ll get to take in views of the waterfront, see the famous houseboat enclaves, and catch the Golden Gate Bridge at its most stunning angles. On your way across the bridge, make a stop in Kirby Cove for one of the best views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate. And don’t forget to make a stop at Point Bonita Lighthouse!
Then, continue into Sausalito to visit local hotspots like The Spinnaker and Scoma’s for seafood above the water, Bay Area Discovery Museum and The United States Immigration Station at Angel Island State Park for educational opportunities, and Bar Bocce for lawn games and cocktails.
Redwood Regional Park
Distance from San Francisco: 20 miles
In the hills above Oakland, Redwood Regional Park is a stately forest of 150-foot coastal redwoods. Though it was once the scene of extensive logging, the woods have recovered beautifully and now offer a historic setting for exploration. The East Bay park boasts 1,830 acres and 40 miles of trails for an ideal day of hiking, horseback riding and picnicking.
To the north and south of Redwood Regional Park, you’ll also find Anthony Chabot Regional Park, a 3,314-acre park, and Joaquin Miller Park, a dog-friendly, woodland park on 500 acres.
When you need to refuel, the attractions and restaurants of Downtown Oakland are just minutes away!
Distance from San Francisco: 15 miles
On the coast of the Pacific Ocean between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay, you’ll find Pacifica, the Bay Area’s best-kept secret. The beach town’s dramatic coastline boasts some of the Bay Area’s best surfing and paragliding and a close-up view of the gray whales’ northerly migration route. Its rugged, inland terrain hosts more than 3,000 acres of parks and open space for walking, biking, picnicking, bird watching and wildlife viewing.
No matter the time of day, we think your first stop should be the beach. There’s a reason Pacifica is known as the most panoramic coastal town in the Bay Area. And it’s home to Sweeney Ridge, the very spot where the San Francisco Bay was discovered in 1769 by Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola! Pacifica State Beach, Pedro Point Headlands and Mori Point all provide access to the waterfront.
From there, you can explore other local landmarks like the only Taco Bell located right on the beach, Gorilla Barbeque for fast casual grub, Nick’s for a taste of local, and Moonraker for fine dining and brunch!
Half Moon Bay
Distance from San Francisco: 30 miles
Half Moon Bay is one of the county’s oldest communities and boasts sandy beaches, lagoons, redwood forests, beautiful state parks, fields of wildflowers, and hiking along coastal bluffs. Sounds like a great day trip already, right?
If you’re looking to spend time on the waterfront (we definitely recommend it), then head to Wavecrest Open Space, Poplar Beach, or Half Moon Bay State Beach where you can also hike and fish. Another favorite, Maverick’s Beach offers some of the best big wave surfing in the world! Further inland, you can explore the Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve and Rancho Corral de Tierra, a 4,000-acre open space.
To refuel in town, we suggest Sacrilege Brewery + Kitchen, Via Uno, and Dad’s Luncheonette, a historic train caboose turned coastal eatery!
Point Reyes National Seashore
Distance from San Francisco: 30 miles
Located in northern Marin County near Olema, San Rafael and Novato, Point Reyes National Seashore deserves a full day visit of its own. This vast expanse of protected coastline encompasses 71,000 acres of hiking, beach exploration and panoramic Pacific Ocean views. Offering beach environments, open grasslands, brushy hillsides and forested ridges, Point Reyes is home to over 1500 species of plants and animals.
Beaches include Wildcat Beach which is home to the picturesque Alamere Falls, Limantour Beach, Drake’s Beach and Heart’s Desire Beach which has its own warm water cove. On a rocky headland, the 1870 Point Reyes Lighthouse is a viewpoint for migrating gray whales and The Phillip Burton Wilderness features extensive trails through grassland, pine forest, and up to the peak of Mount Wittenberg.
Distance from San Francisco: 70 miles
Photo courtesy of SHED
Home to just over 11,000 residents and nestled along the Russian River, Healdsburg is a small tourist-oriented town in northern Sonoma County. The city is the county’s wine and culinary epicenter as it sits at the juncture of three prime winegrowing regions: the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley.
This means your day trip should definitely include a few winery and vineyard visits! A few of our favorites include Francis Ford Coppola Winery and Ferrari-Carano Winery and Gardens. Or, swing by Banshee Wines and Thumbprint Cellars, two outstanding tasting rooms in downtown Healdsburg.
To get a taste of the Healdsburg culinary experience stop by Costeaux French Bakery, a full-service bakery that opened in 1923, Barndiva for farm-fresh fare, Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar for shareable plates, Journeyman Meat Co. for handcrafted bites, SingleThread Farms for an impressive eleven-course tasting menu and SHED, a market and cafe housed in a stunning farm-inspired building.
Distance from San Francisco: 75 miles
Photo courtesy of Castello di Amorosa
A small town on the north end of Napa Valley, Calistoga is famous for its hot springs, mud baths, world-class restaurants and wineries, including Castello di Amorosa, a 13th-century, Tuscan castle.
Other landmark wineries include Tamber Bey Vineyards, Fairwinds Estate Winery, Sterling Vineyards, Dutch Henry Winery and Chateau Montelena Winery which is housed in a jaw-dropping, ivy-covered castle with landscaped gardens.
Must-visit restaurants include Evangeline for locally-owned French and Creole fare, Sam’s Social Club at the foot of Mt. Lincoln, Solbar for upscale, local, organic eats, and Lovina for brunch and a garden patio.
Don’t forget to swing up to the Old Faithful Geyser of California to snap a photo in front of this small geyser set against a backdrop of palm trees and mountains!
Distance from San Francisco: 88 miles
Just about two hours northeast of San Francisco, the capital of California beckons with Gold Rush-era charm, historic museums, adorable boutiques and outstanding eats. Though this city is further from the beach, it’s located right at the confluence of the Sacramento River and the American River so you can still enjoy waterfront patios, entertainment and views!
For historians and families, we recommend visiting Sutter’s Fort, the Capitol building and the California State Railroad Museum. Then, follow it up with lunch at Fox & Goose Public House which has been around since the 70s, or Magpie, one of the city’s best farm-to-fork eateries. Track 7 and Oak Park Brewing are the go-tos for beer-lovers; Red Rabbit and Hook & Ladder are perfect for cocktail connoisseurs.
Then, finish your day in Old Sacramento. With wooden sidewalks and wagon rides, it’s the headquarters of Gold Rush history, architecture, local character!
Distance from San Francisco: 115 miles
Photo courtesy of Pennyroyal Farm
Located at the beginning of the Anderson Valley appellation, Boonville is a no-frills wine country town that has been welcoming new shops, restaurants, breweries and attractions in recent years. Overall, the Anderson Valley is home to more than 20 wineries and many of them are reachable from the starting point of Boonville, including Pennyroyal Farm in town and Navarro Vineyards just 10 minutes up the road.
The largest attraction in Boonville is the famed Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Their huge digs just east of town include picnic groves, horse pastures, the famous 18-hole disc golf course and, of course, the taproom!
For other local drinks, you can visit Bite Hard Apple Cider. Then, refuel on candy, organic ice cream, and fresh coffee at Paysanne; shop at Farmhouse Mercantile; and enjoy pub grub at The Buckhorn.
Distance from San Francisco: 120 miles
Nestled in the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small beach city known for its museums, fairytale cottages, ocean views and art galleries.
A full day itinerary in this charming town has to include a walk along Carmel Beach — ranked as one of the nation’s cleanest and most beautiful — shopping along Ocean Avenue and in the luxurious Carmel Plaza, and a tour of the restored Carmel Mission Basilica, a historic landmark since 1771.
For local eats, we recommend La Bicyclette, Casanova, Carmel’s Bistro Giovanni, Hog’s Breath Inn and Mission Ranch, one of the most beautiful spots to dine in the region.
And if you have time to opt outside for a little recreation adventure, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is just south of town and offers coastal lands home to sea animals, wildlife, hiking, diving and a whaling museum.
If you’ve been to one of these day trip destinations, share your must-visit spots in the comments below!