11 Exciting Day Trips from San Francisco to Explore Beyond the Bay

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If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of San Francisco, then you’re in luck, as the regions surrounding the Bay Area make for outstanding day trip destinations.

Here, you can find quaint towns, picturesque wineries, wild stretches of coastline, and towering redwood forests perfect for escaping into for an afternoon.

From the rugged Point Reyes National Seashore to the charming seaside town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, there is a destination for anyone.

So, let’s close the laptop, pack a picnic, and head out on a day trip to take your mind off of city life.


Colorful house boats floating on water in Sausalito, March 2016: San Francisco , USA
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
  • Distance: ~10 miles
  • Highlights: Ferry ride across the bay, charming waterfront

Just a quick drive across the Golden Gate Bridge or a ferry ride across the Bay, Sausalito is one of the most convenient escapes from the city and can be done in just a couple of hours.

Once you arrive in this charming waterfront town, you can walk the waterfront to gaze at the multicolored houseboats, take in the skyline views of downtown San Francisco, or grab a bite to eat at one of the many seafood restaurants in town.

Muir Woods National Monument

A wood beam and sign welcomes visitors to the Muir Woods National Monument, home of giant redwood trees, in Mill Valley, California
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
  • Distance: ~16 miles
  • Highlights: Old-growth coastal redwoods

Muir Woods National Monument is just a short drive from San Francisco, but once you arrive, it feels like you have stepped into another world. With its towering redwoods and location within the great Golden Gate National Recreation area this is an incredible getaway for being so close to the city.

Don’t miss the Canopy, Lost, and Fern Creek loop, which winds 3.5 miles through creeks, past lush ferns, and past the mighty redwoods that dominate this park.

Note that reservations are required for all visitors to the park, so plan accordingly!

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore in California.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
  • Distance: ~40 miles
  • Highlights: Dramatic coastline, historic lighthouse, wildlife viewing

Located just up the coast from San Francisco, this remote stretch of beach is the perfect place to stretch your legs and relax while taking in the stunning ocean views.

Here, you’ll find miles of trails that take you through lush forests and along the stunning coastline, miles of sandy beaches, and one of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in the area. While along the beach, watch for elephant seals, which haul themselves up on the sand to rest during the day.

Napa Valley

Field of grape vines and sign for wine of Napa Valley California
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
  • Distance: ~50 miles
  • Highlights: Outstanding wineries and picturesque vineyards

Napa Valley is one of the premier wine destinations in the world, and residents of San Francisco are blessed to have it right in their backyard. While wine tasting in Napa certainly isn’t as affordable as it once was, it is still a fun experience to visit the wineries and get a feel for where the local wine comes from.

Most wineries in this area require advance reservations to do wine tastings, so be sure to plan ahead.


a road for visitors surrounded by huge sequoia trees in the redwoods forest of Russian River near the Pacific coast
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
  • Distance: ~75 miles
  • Highlights: River access, towering redwood forests

Located just down the road from Santa Rosa, Guerneville is a forested getaway that has been drawing San Francisco residents for decades. With its location right along the Russian River, there are plenty of opportunities for kayaking, paddleboarding, or just relaxing along the beach.

The city has managed to retain its small-town charm, which you’ll experience when walking through downtown and exploring the shops and restaurants that dot Main Street.

Don’t miss a visit to the nearby Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve for mellow hikes through these gigantic trees.

Half Moon Bay

California. Half Moon Bay. Pacific coast.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
  • Distance: ~30 miles
  • Highlights: Scenic coastal town, beautiful beaches

Located just south of San Francisco, this stretch of high bluffs and sandy beaches makes for a perfect getaway…when the weather is cooperating, that is!

The small town of Half Moon Bay offers fun eateries, coffee shops, and touristy spots to explore.

Don’t miss the Painted Wall near the south end of the bay, where water seeping out of the bluffs has turned the cliffs into a collage of color.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Boardwalk Aerial View with Colorful Sunset, California
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
  • Distance: ~75 miles
  • Highlights: Beach boardwalk, mountain biking

Santa Cruz is home to a culture all unto its own that is a stark relief from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco. In this coastal town you’ll find the residents are more interested in spending their time out mountain biking or surfing than clocking into the 9-to-5.

A day trip to Santa Cruz could include time out on the trails or down by the beach boardwalk, where you can ride the roller coasters and try your hand at amusement park games.


View of Franklin Street in Historic downtown on a sunny morning. Downtown Monterey features a variety of dining options, retail stores, and entertainment.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
  • Distance: ~120 miles
  • Highlights: Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row

Monterey Bay is a great day trip from San Francisco for families. The town is big enough to have plenty of amenities to keep even the pickiest of kids happy, with the highlights being the Monterey Bay Aquarium and miles of perfect sandy beaches.

Don’t forget to check out the old fishermen’s wharf to grab a bite to eat at one of the many outstanding seafood restaurants.


Quaint ivy covered shops in Carmel by the sea, city on the Pacific coast known for its enchanting architecture.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
  • Distance: ~125 miles
  • Highlights: Quaint village atmosphere, scenic coastline

This picturesque seaside village was made popular by the hit show Big Little Lies. While fans of the show still pass through to try and find their favorite filming locations, it has by no means overrun this small town.

This is the perfect place for art lovers to walk through the numerous galleries and take in the pieces produced by the area’s talented artists.

Big Sur

Scenic panoramic view of historic Bixby Creek Bridge along world famous Highway 1 in beautiful golden evening light at sunset with dramatic cloudscape in summer
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
  • Distance: ~150 miles
  • Highlights: Dramatic coastal cliffs and stunning trails

Big Sur offers one of the most dramatic stretches of coastline you’ll find anywhere on the west coast. Here, you can spend the day at secluded beaches, hiking jaw-droppingly beautiful trails along the coast, or driving the stunning highway.

The road through Big Sur often gets shut down due to landslides, so check the conditions ahead of time.

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park Rock Formations Reflected in Bear Gulch Reservoir During Golden Hour
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
  • Distance: ~120 miles
  • Highlights: Stunning rock formations and hiking trails

One of America’s newest national parks, Pinnacles, encompasses a large swath of unique rock formations, caves, and incredible backcountry hiking opportunities.

The park has separate entrances on its east and west sides that are not connected. If you’re planning on spending the night at the campground, you must enter through the east side.

About the author
Derek Carlson
Pacific Northwest native, cross-country skier, hiker, mountain biker, wannabe fly fisherman, writer and owner of Roam the Northwest