5 Beautiful Day Trips From San Francisco Worth The Drive

Here are 5 beautiful day trips from San Francisco, California worth the drive.

Visitors who have time to spend exploring beyond the 7×7 mile parameters of San Francisco are in luck. Within just a few hours or less of the city are countless destinations that make for the perfect day trip from San Francisco. Our beautiful region of the world offers infinite miles of stunning coastline and beaches; top-notch hiking trails; a true farm-to-table dining scene; a robust wine country; upscale shopping; and so much more. Whether you’re the outdoorsy type or prefer to indulge in a lavish culinary scene, Northern California is the destination of your dreams.

From sipping wines on idyllic vineyards to hiking through ancient redwood forests, we’ve chosen five exceptional destinations for a day trip from San Francisco to choose from.

Napa Valley

Known for its rolling vineyards, world-class wine, unparalleled restaurants, and overall sumptuous vibes, Napa Valley is one of the most popular places for lovers of fine dining and imbibing. As far as a day trip from San Francisco goes, it’s one of the most popular. It’s home to over 400 wineries open for tastings. This is in addition to 90 urban tasting rooms. Be sure to save room in your suitcase for a few bottles to take home. 

Notable vineyards include Caymus Vineyards, Demeine Estates, Nickel & Nickel, Joseph Phelps, Far Niente, Peju Winery and countless others. Extraordinary dining abounds with popular spots that include Brix, Ad Hoc, Bistro Jeanty, Bottega and more. In fact, Napa Valley’s charming Yountville town has the highest Michelin star concentration in the world.

For boutique shopping and dining, stroll along the scenic river in Downtown Napa. Another option? Walk over to the nearby Oxbow Market, an upscale indoor food hall with fresh produce and food vendors. Popular activities include hot air ballooning; bike tours; live music events and festivals; and hiking the local state parks and trails. For a real treat, jump aboard the famous Napa Valley Wine Train.

If you’re looking to stay the night, check in to Stanly Ranch, Auberge Resorts Collection, Napa Valley’s newest luxury resort. This elite property is situated on a 712 acre ranch, surrounded by rolling hills, vineyards and tranquil ranch land. The property features two idyllic pools with a backdrop of the mountainous landscape of Napa Valley. Moreover, it offers a selection of gorgeous vineyard-facing suites and standalone cottages with amenities like outdoor showers and fire pits.

Tiburon

This storybook coastal town is located just across the Golden Gate Bridge, making it an ideal day trip from San Francisco. It’s a seaside gem that exudes charm and luxury, while still being a laid back destination. Tiburon offers great restaurants with views of the sparkling bay. These include the trendy Michael Mina’s Bungalow Kitchen, and the local’s favorite, Sam’s Anchor Café. The latter is a Bay Area institution since 1920 known for its fresh seafood.

Tiburon also offers scenic, rugged terrain for lovers of outdoor activity, ideal for everyone from bikers to hikers and runners. For water lovers, there’s no better place to enjoy paddle boarding, kayaking or sailing. Book a tour on the water on the Angel Island Tiburon Ferry with Captain Maggie McDonogh. This is guaranteed to be an adventurous afternoon out. Alternatively, head to one of the popular spots for picnics and views. These include Hippy Swing, Hilary’s Open Space Preserve and Shoreline Park. From the Golden Gate Bridge to Mt. Tamalpais, Tiburon is packed with iconic viewpoints.

Muir Woods

You can’t visit this part of Northern California without experiencing the grandeur of Muir Woods National Monument. Muir Woods is 12 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s home to an incredible ancient coast redwood forest. These iconic 1000+ year old giant redwoods tower up to 260 feet high. They create a truly tranquil atmosphere with which to reconnect with nature.

Federally protected as a National Monument since 1908, Muir Woods offers guests meditative hiking through the forest, surrounded by a diverse range of flora and fauna. Be sure to stop at The Muir Woods Café for one of their famous grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s made with locally made cheeses and fresh artisan bread alongside a hot bowl of tomato soup. Before heading over, make sure to reserve either a parking or shuttle reservation. These can be made online up to 90 days beforehand at GoMuirWoods.com

Other nearby attractions include Mount Tamalpais State Park and Tennessee Valley Trailhead, both of which offer spectacular views of the region and unparalleled hiking for all ages. Check the below video out for one of my favorite hikes in this area!

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Located on the Monterey Peninsula, is Carmel-by-the-Sea, a lovely seaside village that features European-style architecture; charming, old world vibes; and a range of things to do for anyone, whether you’re traveling as a couple or a family. Known for its fairytale cottages, art galleries, boutique shops, upscale restaurants and more, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a memorable destination along Highway 1. 

A great way to see the sights of Carmel? Hop on an electric bike! Stop by Mad Dogs & Englishmen and rent one of their top-of-the-line e-bikes for a tour of the coast. Landmarks include Carmel River State Beach, Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch, and hiking at Point Lobos. 

If you prefer to be behind the wheel, check out the famous 17 Mile Drive. Though it costs $10.25, it’s a magical ride that takes visitors through some of the coast’s most stunning scenery: cliffs, pristine beaches, rugged forests, iconic golf courses and unparalleled landscapes that can’t be seen elsewhere. Highlights include the famed Lone Cypress, the Pebble Beach Golf Course, Fanshell Beach and the Ghost Tree.

For a delightful overnight stay, consider Hotel Carmel, a charming boutique property situated mere steps away from an array of boutique shops, art galleries, enticing restaurants, and the picturesque Carmel Beach. Also nearby is the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, situated on the historic beachfront property of Cannery Row in Monterey Bay. Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of the area as you explore charming cafes, delightful restaurants, and stylish boutiques, all within walking distance.

As the only Forbes four-star rated hotel in Monterey, the Plaza boasts luxurious accommodations. Indulge in culinary delights at Schooners Coastal Kitchen and unwind at The Helmsman Lounge, the property’s newest addition, offering a tempting selection of artisan spirits and delectable small plates.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

For a classic California beach escape and super fun day trip from San Francisco, complete with an iconic boardwalk, head down the coast to the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Recognized as one of the best seaside parks in the world, it offers guests of all ages thrilling rides; beautiful beach views; fun shops; and ocean-view dining. 

The Boardwalk has been operating since 1907 and today continues to be a worthy destination. From the largest indoor arcades featuring everything from pinball machines, a vintage game collection, laser tag, and cutting edge video games to two National Historic Landmarks – the 1911 Looff Carousel and 1924 Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster, it’s endless entertainment. There’s even bowling and a pirate themed two-story, 18-hole mini golf course!

For those that love to eat, there’s countless fair-food options. These include all the best deep fried things, from artichoke and twinkies to chocolate covered bacon, funnel cakes and more!

For more San Francisco content, click here!

For a full San Francisco guide, check out this INSIDER Travel piece.

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Chelsea is a San Francisco-based journalist whose passion revolves around exploring the world, immersing herself in foreign cultures, and of course, eating and drinking everything delicious.

Her work can be found in TravelPulse, Forbes, INSIDER, SF Gate and more. She covers all things food, drink and travel and is always up for an adventure, whether that means an adrenaline-pumping excursion or trying a new cuisine.

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