There’s plenty to see in San Francisco – enough to satisfy any culture, history, food, or adventure traveler. But beyond the city, you’ll begin to discover why Northern Californians flock to this area and never leave. These are some of our favorite day trips from San Francisco.
Why go: While the Napa Valley has a bigger global reputation for wine, locals know that neighboring Sonoma Valley is the go-to wine destination from the city. Pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are the big three wines that almost every winery will have on their tasting menu.
What to do: Wine tasting is the top experience to seek in Sonoma, but there are an increasing number of craft brewers and craft distillers offering other drink options you can sample on a day of drinking. If you’re teetotaling, the Sonoma Coast has some epic hikes and redwood groves to rival those further north on the coast.
Where to drink: The Sonoma Valley is home to some highly reputable wineries including St. Francis Winery and Hanzell Winery. Most tasting rooms will charge for a tasting, so be sure to consider this when browsing among the 250 wineries in the region. If you’re traveling on a budget, a handful of 22 wineries offer complimentary tastings. These include Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, and Blanchard Family Wines (open for to-go bottle sales).
How to get there: The easiest way to explore Sonoma is by car – but this doesn’t exactly work well if you also want to visit a few tasting rooms during your visit. You could opt to use a ridesharing app, but expect the total to be at least $250 for the day. A better choice is to opt for a wine-tasting tour from San Francisco, where they take care of all the transportation.
Travel time: One hour, possibly longer depending on traffic on the 101.
The East Bay (Oakland/Berkeley)
Why go: It’s called the San Francisco Bay Area for a reason – there’s so much more to explore in the Bay Area than just San Francisco. Many travelers (and even locals) never visit the East Bay, where destinations like hip Oakland and historic Berkeley beckon. Oh, and the weather is usually better in the East Bay.
What to do: In Oakland, you could explore downtown as it goes through a major transformation: alongside historic buildings, you’ll see skyscrapers going up and a dynamic mix of local restaurants with trendy bars and coworking spaces.
Head northeast on Telegraph Avenue to reach Temescal where hipster hideaways are in plain sight; explore around Lake Merritt, a surprising green space in the city or browse through Oakland’s own Chinatown area. Berkeley is another spot where you could easily spend a whole day.
The epicenter is the University of California, Berkeley, affectionately known as just “Cal.” Here you can follow in the footsteps of countless crusaders for social justice who have used common spaces on campus for their causes or climb to the top of Sather Tower for a view out over a vast portion of the North Bay.
How to get there: The best way to reach the East Bay is by BART, the local transit system. Fares start from $4.20 each way from San Francisco to Oakland or Berkeley and run at least every 15 minutes during the day. The primary BART stop in Oakland is “12th Street-Oakland” and in Berkeley, it’s “Downtown Berkeley.”
Travel time: 25 to 30 minutes by public transit, depending on which part of the East Bay you want to visit.
Why go: Northern California is full of natural wonders, and among the most breathtaking are the massive Coastal Redwoods that still exist in pockets of protected land. The closest spot to see the Redwoods near San Francisco is Muir Woods.
What to do: Once you arrive, it’s easy to explore the paths by foot, and several areas are fully accessible. Be sure to spend time in Cathedral Grove, the large cluster of trees that evokes a towering sense of wonder as big as the trees. Muir Woods is part of the larger Mt. Tamalpais State Park, so die-hard hikers can get good mileage in during a day in the area.
How to get there: Parking is often limited or restricted at Muir Woods, so the best way to get there is on the Muir Woods Shuttle. There are several park-and-ride stops on the Marin Peninsula where you can catch the shuttle. The easiest one if you have no car is in Sausalito: you can catch a ferry from the San Francisco Ferry Building to where the shuttle picks up near the Sausalito Ferry Building.
Travel time: 35-45 minutes depending on shuttle and ferry schedules.
* Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Muir Woods is currently closed. Check the National Park Service website as reopening dates change frequently.
Why go: It’s not California if you don’t try surfing, right? Be warned: this far up the Pacific coast, the water is chilly and you should definitely accept a wetsuit if your surf instructor offers one. Santa Cruz is a great spot for a surfing day trip because there’s plenty else to do after an hour or two catching waves in the morning.
What to do: After a surf lesson or session, you can stroll out on the Santa Cruz Wharf and look for sea lions resting on the support beams beneath the pier (there are viewing points to make this easier). If you want more thrills, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk is the Northern California answer to Coney Island, with rides and amusements and plenty of fried food.
There’s also the classic option of just laying out to soak up the sun on the beach if you’re wiped after wiping out a few times on the waves.
How to get there: Rent a car and drive down California Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway. It takes longer, but you’ll pass through picturesque Half Moon Bay and can stop to stretch your legs at Pigeon Point Lighthouse. (Due to COVID-19, the Pigeon Point Lighthouse is currently closed to vehicular access).
Travel time: 75 minutes by US 101 and California Highway 17, or 90 minutes the Pacific Coast Highway.
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This article was originally published in July 2019 and updated in June 2020.