Looking for quick getaways from San Francisco? The Bay Area is full of hidden gems that can be easily reached and enjoyed as a short day trip.
With miles of breathtaking coastline, pristine beaches, scenic drives and charming wineries, you’ll never run short of beautiful places to explore in Northern California.
On this post, I selected 8 day trip destinations that I’ve come to love during our time in the Bay Area.
8 Off-Beat Day Trip Ideas from San Francisco, California
1 – Healdsburg
Healdsburg is probably one of the coolest towns in Northern California. With a relaxed feel, lots of hip farm-to-table restaurants and stylish wine tasting rooms, it makes the perfect getaway for foodies and wine lovers.
Healdsburg is not as famous as Napa Valley or Sonoma Valley, but I believe it will continue to grow in popularity.
Top Things to Do in Healdsburg
– Enjoy a scrumptious brunch at Barndiva, a farm-to-table restaurant with a spacious garden patio.
– Take a stroll around the historic Healdsburg Plaza and browse the quaint cafes, boutiques and artisan bakeries surrounding it.
– Try the bittersweet mocha at Flying Goat Coffee, Healdsburg’s most beloved cafe.
– Rent a bike and ride through the picturesque vineyards.
– Buy some artisan bites from the legendary Costeaux French Bakery to take back home.
– Visit some of the vineyards near Healdsburg by car:
Dry Creek Vineyard | Affordable and delicious wine that can be enjoyed in a beautiful garden overlooking the vineyards. It is definitely my favorite in Healdsburg! No advance booking required if you want to pop by for a glass of wine.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery | Curiosity took us to this place and while it’s a gorgeous establishment with a bar, restaurant and a swimming pool, the hefty price tag meant we limited ourselves to looking around and taking pictures. It felt like a great place to spend a full day with friends though!
Reeve Wines | We couldn’t make it to this winery, but I heard wonderful things about the property and the hosts. Advanced booking is required for wine tastings.
How to get to Healdsburg from San Francisco
Healdsburg is located in Sonoma County, just a 90 minute drive from San Francisco – simply go north on the US Highway 101 the entire trip.
2 – Mendocino & Fort Bragg
If there’s one place that is hidden & underrated in California, I’d say it’s Mendocino. If you haven’t been yet, you definitely need to move it up your list of things to see north of San Francisco.
Among other things, Mendocino is known for its spectacular scenery, seaside Victorian-style architecture and rustic wineries. To top it all off, on your way to Mendocino from San Francisco on CA128, you’ll come across a deep redwood forest that will take your breath away.
If you have extra time, a short drive to Fort Bragg will complete a perfect outdoor day trip.
Top Things to Do in Mendocino & Fort Bragg
– Stop by Mosswood Market in Boonville for coffee and empanadas on your way to Mendocino. (While at it, browse the stylish decor goodies at The Farmhouse Mercantile next door)
– Take a million pictures amongst the giant redwoods near Navarro on CA 128.
– Visit one of the vineyards for wine & cheese along highway 128 aka The Wine Road.
– Explore Mendocino village’s eateries and specialty shops. Many visitors rave about Circa 62 and Wild Fish.
– Go on a hike in Mendocino Headlands Estate Park overlooking stunning coastal views.
– Visit Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach
How to get to Mendocino from San Francisco
The most popular way to get to Mendocino from SF is from Highway 101, then cutting over towards the coast on Highway 128. The journey will take around 3 hours.
3 – Point Reyes
For a real escape into the nature, head to Point Reyes National Seashore. In Point Reyes, you will find endless beaches, rugged coastlines and deep green hills with grazing cows. It’s the ultimate place to relax and disconnect.
This area is one of the most amazing places for landscape photography in California, so don’t forget to bring your camera.
Top Things to Do in Point Reyes
– On the way to Point Reyes on Highway 1, make a stop at Muir Beach Overlook for breathtaking views of the Pacific Coast and the Point Reyes Peninsula.
– Walk down 300 steps to the Point Reyes Lighthouse.
– Watch out for whales and elephant seals if you happen to visit between late December – January.
– Make a detour to Cypress Tunnel for the perfect Instagram shot among the beautiful cypress trees.
How to get to Point Reyes from San Francisco
The drive from San Francisco to Point Reyes National Seashore takes approximately 1 hour 15 min via Highway 101.
4 – Monterey & Carmel-by-the-Sea
Monterey is a charming seaside city and a fishing port. If you’re after romantic coastal views with your significant other, a drive to Monterey will definitely fit the bill. Add a stop at neighboring town Carmel-by-the-Sea and you’ll enjoy a lovely getaway.
Actually, if you have a full weekend to visit, consider an overnight trip – it’ll be worth it!
Top Things to Do in Monterey & Carmel-by-the-Sea
– Walk on the Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.
– Indulge in a seafood lunch overlooking the coast of Monterey.
– Take a stroll down to Carmel Beach and simply soak in the views. Don’t miss the sunset here, it’s one of the best Bay Area scenic spots.
– Explore Carmel Village’s art galleries and quaint boutiques.
– If you fancy some shopping, head to Carmel Plaza where you can find some of the most loved American brands like Anthropologie, Kate Spade, and Sur la Table.
How to get to Monterey from San Francisco
Monterey is located 2.5 hours south of San Francisco via US 101.
5 – Sonoma Valley
When it comes to self-guided wine tours in California, Sonoma Valley wins the first place for me (sorry Napa!). I love the laid-back atmosphere of the vineyards and the incredible landscapes it has to offer. Besides wineries, there’s many other things to be enjoyed: beaches, coastline, organic farms, hiking and more!
A day trip to Sonoma Valley is always a great getaway to include on a Northern California trip.
- Read more: Planning a perfect day in Sonoma Valley
Top Things to Do in Sonoma Valley
– Go for a stroll at historic Sonoma Plaza, the birthplace of the iconic California State Bear Flag.
– Enjoy a French-style lunch at the incredibly charming bistro The Girl and The Fig. Advanced booking is recommended.
How to get to Sonoma Valley from San Francisco
Sonoma Valley is the closest wine region to San Francisco. The journey is about 2 hours north of the city via US 101.
6 – Berkeley
Just a 20-min ride away from San Francisco lies the city of Berkeley, home to the oldest campus in the University of California system: UC Berkeley or simply Cal.
We lived in Berkeley Hills for 6 months while my husband studied at Cal and while it was not love at first sight, I came to enjoy this city for the variety of things it offers: great outdoors, vibrant gourmet scene, hipster cafes and architectural heritage.
For a good mix of culture & nature, Berkeley is definitely a fun and affordable day trip option from San Francisco.
Top Things to Do in Berkeley
– Take a self-guided tour of the UC Berkeley Campus. Don’t forget to take a picture with the Father Tower (Le Campanille) as a backdrop!
– Go on a hike at Tilden Park. My favorite spot is the beautiful Lake Anza.
– Catch a golden sunset and magnificent views of the Bay from the observation deck at Lawrence Hall of Science or Grizzly Peak.
– Enjoy a scrumptious oven-baked veggie pizza at The Cheeseboard Pizza in Gourmet Ghetto. They serve a different type of pizza each day. Closed on Sundays and Mondays.
How to get to Berkeley from San Francisco
The fastest way to reach Berkeley is to drive on your own or use Uber/Lyft. It is just a 20-30min ride. Alternatively, you can catch the BART to Downtown Berkeley Station (approximately 40 min).
7 – Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is the definition of California cool. Even though it is quite small, it has a lot to offer: shopping, hiking, surfing, biking, and more.
Even if you visit on a quick day trip, its relaxed and unconcerned vibe makes you forget all your problems. Perfect place to visit with a group of friends!
Top Things to Do in Santa Cruz
– Explore the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
– Ride the Giant Dipper roller coaster at the amusement park.
– Browse the thrift store and sportswear shops in downtown Santa Cruz.
– Grab a carefully-crafted coffee at Verve Coffee Roasters, one of the best cafes in town.
How to get to Santa Cruz from San Francisco
If you want to take the scenic route via the Pacific Coast Highway, the car journey can take 3 hours. If you’d rather take a faster route, opt for the US 101 and CA17.
For mass transit options the best bet is Caltrain to the San Jose Diridon station followed by the VTA Highway 17 Express. The journey takes at least 2.5 hours.
8 – Sausalito
Sausalito is probably one of the easiest and cheap day trip ideas in the Bay Area. It’s a small seaside town with an European flair, just one hour away from San Francisco.
I love that on the way to Sausalito by car you can enjoy the Golden Gate Bridge View and the gorgeous Marin Headlands as well – no wonder it’s one of the top Bay Area attractions among tourists.
Top Things to Do in Sausalito
– Rent a bike and cycle around Sausalito and the Golden Gate Bridge.
– Grab lunch at one of the quaint eateries on the waterfront. I heard great things about Le Garage.
– Visit the art galleries and souvenir shops along the Bridgeway Promenade.
– Consider taking the 30 minute ride on the Sausalito Ferry back to to San Francisco. Take note that the last ferry is before 5pm.
How to get there to Sausalito from San Francisco
Sausalito is just over the Golden Gate Bridge (US 101) from San Francisco. Just take the first exit (Alexander Avenue) after crossing the bridge and follow it into town. Alternatively, you can take the Sausalito Ferry from Pier 41 in San Francisco.
Have you been to any of these places in Northern California? What’s your favorite day trip from San Francisco? I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with me via the comment section below or Instagram!
Heading to California? Check out these travel guides to help you plan your trip.
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- How to Spend a Day in Sonoma Valley
- 5 Fun Things to do in South Lake Tahoe
- A Guide to San Francisco’s Mission District
- San Francisco’s Famous Mosaic Steps
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