22 Best Day Trips From San Francisco
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With so many things to do in the Golden City, it’d be easy to stay within its limits. However, not too many miles outside, adventure awaits. You can head north over the Golden Gate Bridge, east across the Bay Bridge, or south along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. There are hiking trails through redwood forests and national parks; picturesque coastal towns with dog-friendly beaches, wildlife, and famous surf breaks; historic sites around the state capital; tasting rooms in wine country; and theme parks kids won’t want to leave. Whether traveling as part of a multi-generational family, coupled up, in a friend group, or solo, these are some of the best day trips from San Francisco.
Do you need to rent a car in San Francisco?
With parking spaces at a premium—both in terms of price and availability, although the Parking Whizz app can help with the latter—there’s no need for a car in San Francisco. It has a top-tier public transport system, which makes exploring the city, Oakland, Sacramento, and Marin County (where BART and local ferries connect to regional trains and buses) a breeze.
However, a car will be essential for traveling farther afield, like to Half Moon Bay and Monterey on the coast, rural hiking areas like Mount Tamalpais and Mount Diablo, and Sonoma and Napa wine country. Drive times are estimates, but each trip listed below takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half tops (except for Yosemite, which is a 3.5-hour drive from downtown). Most of the major car rental companies (Hertz, Sixt, and Enterprise, for instance) have locations in the city—no need to schlep back out to SFO for pick-ups and drop-offs. However, big-name supplier Discover Cars is known to have some of the best rental prices. Peer-to-peer car-sharing platform Turo is also worth checking out, which currently lists rates from $45 a day for a two-door Fiat 500.
Oakland: 15 minutes by BART or 30 minutes by car
A drive over the Bay Bridge brings you to Oakland, where diverse and cool-to-check-out neighborhoods include Uptown Oakland for shopping (visit homegrown concept store McMullen), hip West Oakland for the Black Liberation Walking Tour, and Old Oakland, whose cobbled streets are lined with Victorian homes, indie shops, informal eateries, and cocktail bars. Take a dive into the city’s trending cannabis scene with a self-guided tour of its dispensaries, look out for street art murals, stroll around the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt, or take the kids to the Chabot Space & Science Center. Foodies will appreciate dining at trendy new spot ACRE Kitchen and Bar in the Rockridge neighborhood.
How to get to Oakland from San Francisco
Without traffic, it takes just under 20 minutes to get from San Francisco to Oakland by car via I-80, but you rarely luck out with no traffic, especially during morning and evening commuter hours. Instead, you can bet on a travel time of around 30-40 minutes. You’ll also need to pay a $7 one-way Bay Bridge toll fee online via FasTrak after returning to San Francisco. Riding BART should take about 40 minutes from Montgomery Station (Yellow and Red lines) to 12th St/Oakland.
Angel Island: 30 minutes by ferry
For a one-stop-shop day trip destination, look no further than Angel Island. It combines stunning views of the Bay Area, easy-going hiking trails, and history, as it’s been a cattle ranch, military base, quarantine station, and prisoner-of-war detention center over the years. Busy with day-trippers during tourist season, many travelers make the visitor’s center and Immigration Station their first port of call. Often referred to as “Ellis Island of the West,” over half a million Asian immigrants seeking US citizenship passed through here between 1910 and 1940. Guided and self-guided tours of the landmark site are available ($3–$5 per person depending on age).
As the island is covered by live oak woods and hilly grasslands, some of the best ways to explore its 740 acres is on foot or by mountain bike, which are available to rent for the day or by the hour a short walk from the ferry landing in Ayala Cove. There are two main hiking trails: a five-mile loop around the island or a combination of the Northridge and Sunset trails, with a short ascent of Mount Livermore, which rewards with views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the San Francisco skyline.
With both the Angel Island Cafe and Angel Island Cantina closed due to winter storm damage (no reopening dates are listed), you’ll want to plan ahead if you spend an entire day here. Boxed lunches from Angel Island Cafe can be pre-ordered online, or you can always pick up provisions from one of the many gourmet food merchants inside the Ferry Building before setting off from the city.
How to get to Angel Island from San Francisco
Hop on a Golden Gate Ferry from San Francisco; the ride takes about 30 minutes and costs $14 per person each way.
Sausalito: 30 minutes by car or ferry
The seaside community and artsy enclave of Sausalito is an easy day-trip destination from San Francisco, reached by a short drive or ferry ride across the bay. A perceptibly slower pace here than the hustle of the city lends itself perfectly to a stroll along the waterside promenade, also known as Bridgeway.
Start with pastries and coffee at local go-to Sausalito Bakery & Cafe, then pay a visit to the 100-strong artist collective ICB. The town is perhaps most famous for its vibrant community of floating homes, which recently turned 65 years old and are best viewed on a walking tour (admiring the houseboats from a respectable distance is appreciated). Head to Hanson Gallery and Tasting Room to sample small-batch, locally made vodka, or make it a late lunch at Copita Tequileria y Comida. Come dinnertime, for sustainable seafood and stellar views, go to Fish, or for fancy French bistro classics try Le Garage. For exquisite Japanese dishes and melt-in-your-mouth sushi, try to snag a table at Sushi Ran, whose stellar menu offerings and Zen-like atmosphere earned it a Michelin Bib Gourmand Award.
How to get to Sausalito from San Francisco
Sausalito is located 10 miles by car or a short ferry ride from San Francisco. The Golden Gate Sausalito Ferry and Blue & Gold Fleet operate multiple daily crossings, which take 30 minutes and cost around $14 per person each way. You can also bring bikes on the ferry, but during the summer, you’ll need to reserve spots online ahead of time.
Larkspur and Mill Valley: 35-45 minutes by car or ferry
You can get to Mill Valley by car, but the Larkspur Ferry offers views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco skyline, Angel Island, and Mount Tamalpais during its bay crossing. The ferry delivers you to the heart of Marin County, within walking distance of the SMART train (for onward connections to Petaluma and Santa Rosa) and Marin Country Mart, where you’ll find boutiques and organic eateries. Mill Valley has a charming and walkable downtown tucked below Mount Tamalpais; it’s also surrounded by nature trails—a great family-friendly hike is the Cascade Fall Trail, a moderately challenging 0.5-mile out-and-back route along Cascade Creek to a waterfall surrounded by towering redwoods. If you’re arriving by ferry, you can take the Number 17 bus to the Lumber Yard for some retail therapy at Makers Market (think handcrafted everything) and a glass of wine at Watershed.
While seasoned cyclists might have the 40-mile hilltop ride to the Mount Tam summit on their bucket lists, it’s possible to rent bikes from Mad Dogs & Englishmen to ride the much flatter eight-mile Larkspur Loop to explore downtown Larkspur. More adventurous types can book one of Mad Dog’s two-hour guided e-bike Mount Tam adventure tours. Another bike-friendly stretch is the Mill Valley/Sausalito Multiuse Pathway, which connects the two towns.
How to get to Larkspur and Mill Valley from San Francisco
Mill Valley is about 14 miles from San Francisco by car (30-35 minutes depending on traffic), but it’s also accessible by ferry via Larkspur, which takes about 45 minutes and costs $13.50 per person each way. From the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, it’s a 15-minute walk to the Lucky Drive Bus Pad where you can catch the 17 bus to the Lumberyard in Downtown Mill Valley ($2 one way for adults, $5 for a day pass), with the entire trip taking about 55 minutes.
Berkeley: 40 minutes by BART
Widely regarded as one of the best college towns in the US, Berkeley is home to the prestigious UC Berkeley—a hot spot for arts, culture, and politics. With acclaimed restaurants, cool coffee shops, museums, and green spaces too, it’s easy to see why spending a day here is so attractive. While the city undoubtedly skews toward a younger college-aged crowd, its cozy size and extremely walkable (or bike-friendly) downtown make it great for families as well.
Admire the colorful street art murals along Telegraph Avenue (where ‘60s counterculture landed in Berkeley), visit the Botanic Garden inside Tilden Park, catch a show at the historic Greek Theater, go sake tasting at the Takara Sake Museum, or head to Cesar Chavez Park at the Berkeley Marina for fantastic bay views. Berkeley is considered the birthplace of California farm-to-table cuisine, and a standout way to experience the city is through an edible excursion. Led by award-winning local food writers and chefs, a series of weekly food and drink walking tours take a fun and informative dive into the city’s foodways, food culture, and history.
How to get to Berkeley from San Francisco
Berkeley is a short, 20-minute BART ride from San Francisco’s Embarcadero ($4.50 one-way).
Filoli Historic House & Garden: 40 minutes by car
The historic former home of gold mine heir William Bowers Bourn has stood in Woodside (about 25 miles south of San Francisco) for over a century. Designed by architect Willis Polk, the home—formerly known as Filoli Historic House & Garden—was completed in 1917 and spans 16 acres, consisting of walled, Georgian-style terraced gardens, hiking trails, and a historic house museum. There’s also a retail shop and a handful of places to eat, including the Quail’s Nest Cafe (open 10am–4:30 pm) that serves lunch fare, sweet treats, and refreshments. A fun option, though, is the Filoli Blooming Tea for Two ($49.95), which includes a selection of mini sandwiches, teas, and mini desserts. Open on weekends from 12–4pm, the onsite Hummingbird Bar serves canned cocktails, local beers, select wines, and mocktails.
How to get to Filoli Historic House & Garden from San Francisco
You can get to Filoli Historic House & Garden from San Francisco via the 101 and 280 freeways in about 35–40 minutes. Admission costs $24 for children and $34 for adults.
Muir Woods National Monument and Mount Tamalpais: 45-60 minutes by car
Drive 45 minutes north from San Francisco, and you’ll arrive at Muir Woods National Monument after navigating the steep and hilly Muir Woods Road. Surrounded by Mount Tamalpais State Park, Muir Woods is home to the only old-growth coastal redwood forest in the Bay Area and one of the last on the planet. (The average age of coastal redwoods here—the tallest tree species in the world—is between 600 to 800 years old, with the oldest believed to be around 1,200 years old, although this is still considered “young” when they can live to 2,200 years.) Get your bearings, trail maps, and other supplies at the visitor's center before making a loop around Cathedral Grove to see the oldest and tallest trees. Then follow a 3-mile section of the Redwood Creek Trail to Muir Beach with a lunch stop at seaside pub The Pelican Inn. For T-shirts and souvenirs, visit Muir Woods Cafe and Trading Company before heading back to the city or making the 9.5-mile drive along the Panoramic Highway for superb views and photo ops from the top of Mount Tamalpais. At 2,571 feet high, the mountain features over 100 miles of trails, including the 10.5-mile Muir Woods to Mount Tamalpais Trail, which takes around 5 hours and 40 minutes to complete and is one of the highest points in the Bay Area.
How to get to Muir Woods and Mount Tamalpais from San Francisco
Muir Woods is about 45 minutes from San Francisco by car, but to get there without one, use the Muir Woods Shuttle from the Larkspur Ferry Terminal; reservations for the shuttle and parking are both advised. Admission to the national monument is $15 for adults. It’s a 29-minute drive to the Mount Tamalpais summit along the Panoramic Highway from Muir Woods.
Petaluma: 50 minutes by car
Located 40 miles north of San Francisco in Sonoma County, Petaluma is one of California’s oldest cities. While it initially boomed during the Gold Rush, the town has since reinvented itself as a low-key destination for wine, wellness, and outdoor recreation with a dash of culture. Get out on the water along the Petaluma River by renting a stand-up paddleboard, kayak, or hydrobike from The Floathouse, catch a concert at Mystic Theatre, or shop the specialty stores, galleries, and antique shops in Petaluma’s walkable downtown.
There are several tasting rooms around town, but two standouts are Brooks Note, whose focus is on elegant Sonoma County Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with flights paired with local cheeses and charcuterie ($30–$75), and Barber Cellars inside the Hotel Petaluma that specializes in small-production, Sonoma County single-vineyard Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc (flights $20).
Every June, the Sonoma Marin Fair takes place at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds, which draws crowds from San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento to experience the headlining concert, carnival rides, Petaluma Junior Riding Club drill team demonstration, wine garden, and the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest.
How to get to Petaluma from San Francisco
Petaluma is located about 50 minutes (40 miles) from San Francisco by car via Hwy 101.
Point Reyes National Seashore: 60 minutes by car
Located one hour north of San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore features epic protected shorelines, whale watching, and hiking trails. Locals love hiking the eight-mile Arch Rock via Bear Valley Loop, but the scenic nine-mile coastal blufftop Tomales Point Trail rewards with elk sightings and wildflowers from May through August. Noteworthy places to eat in Port Reyes Station include Station House Cafe, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company (sign up for a tasting class or farm brunch), and Osteria Stellina (pizza and pasta). The Cypress Tree Tunnel and Port Reyes Lighthouse are both classic photo ops around the peninsula. Oyster-lovers should plan a visit to Hog Island Oyster Farm on Tomales Bay, a 20-minute drive north of Port Reyes Station along Hwy 1.
How to get to Point Reyes National Seashore from San Francisco
With no city buses running this route, you will need a car to reach Point Reyes National Seashore from San Francisco. Located 38 miles from the city via Hwys 101 and 1, it should take just under an hour and a half to get there from downtown, depending on the time of day.
Sacramento: 60–90 minutes by car or train
Take the Amtrak from San Francisco to California’s state capital, Sacramento; you’ll disembark at Sacramento Valley Station, within walking distance of downtown and the trendy entertainment and lifestyle district Doco Commons. With a stellar food scene—the city earned a reputation as America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital—there is no shortage of great places to eat and drink in “Sactown.” Options run the gamut of price points and cuisine styles: There’s California-inspired modern comfort food at Q1227 Restaurant (famous former patrons include Bill Clinton and Cedric the Entertainer); Jewish deli favorites; globally-inspired dishes like a “Sapporo” fried chicken sandwich at Solomon’s; and a Michelin-star multi-course tasting menu at The Kitchen Restaurant. On the cultural side, you’ll be spoiled for choice with fine arts, ballet, and musical theater performances, as well as historical sites and museums like the State Capitol. You can also cycle 32 miles of paved bike trails along the American River Parkway.
How to get to Sacramento from San Francisco
You can reach Sacramento by car in about two hours via Interstate 80, but Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor is another option. Traveling from San Francisco takes around 2.5 hours and costs $32.20 one way. From Montgomery Station near downtown San Francisco, take the Red Line to Richmond in the East Bay (11 stops, 36 minutes) and transfer to Richmond-BART operated by Capitol Corridor (5 stops, 1 hour 39 minutes).
Mount Diablo State Park: 75 minutes by car
Mount Diablo State Park, located in the Tri-Valley area, has some major draws, including geological landmarks like Shell Ridge (named for the marine fossils left behind when ocean waters that once covered it receded), Eocene-era rock deposits dating back 33–55 million years, and rare plants, including year-round blooming wildflowers. You can see the entire Bay Area from the observation deck on a clear day. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and good shoes if you plan to hike or horseback ride.
The park is also popular with cyclists and experienced climbers who come independently in private groups. There is a mix of traditional, top rope, and sport routes. Almost all areas have a simple way to set up a top rope, though you should plan to bring long slings (20-feet-plus) for many of the anchors. One of the most sought-after routes in the area is Amazing Face (5.9+), a 90-foot sport climb with a slab face where lines can often form on weekends.
How to get to Mount Diablo State Park from San Francisco
Mount Diablo State Park is located 40 miles east of San Francisco, about an hour and 15 minute drive from downtown without traffic. There is a $10 entrance fee per vehicle in the park; maps and other information are available at the visitor’s center, which is located at the summit and opens at 9:30am.
Yosemite National Park: 3.5 hours by car
Reaching the upper limits of a day-trip destination, Yosemite National Park is a good 3.5-hour drive from Downtown San Francisco but doable in a day if you’re prepared to leave early and return to the city after dark. Summer activities include hiking, mountain biking, rafting, climbing, and horseback riding, but another way to explore the park is on the two-hour Valley Floor guided bus and tram tour that includes stops at key sights: Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, El Capitan, Tunnel View, and Bridalveil Fall. (Summer tours depart on the hour from 10–2 pm, so there would be enough time to drive from San Francisco and join one if you leave early enough.)
Ranger and nature programs provide an informative dive into the park’s history and wildlife; you can also stargaze with the Yosemite After Dark Program—if you don’t mind getting back to the city super late. From sit-down lunches to grab-and-go items, options for food in the valley are plentiful, but the Ahwahnee Dining Room inside the Ahwahnee Hotel is a must for special occasions. Finely-appointed guest rooms at the National Historic Landmark are often booked out a year in advance, but the Ahwahnee Bar takes walk-ins, is a lovely spot for a late lunch or happy hour, and provides a chance to marvel at the magnificent log-beamed ceilings and massive stone hearths inside the public spaces of this historic hotel.
How to get to Yosemite National Park from San Francisco
Yosemite National Park is reachable from San Francisco by car in about 3.5 hours. Coming from San Francisco, you’ll likely arrive at the west entrance via Hwy 120. There is a $35 entrance fee per car.
Best wine trips from San Francisco
The land of legendary Pinot Noirs is an easy one-hour drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, although another option is to take the Larkspur Ferry ($13.50 for an adult one-way ticket) from the San Francisco Ferry Building and ride the SMART train (starting at $4.50) to Sonoma County. In addition to a food, wine, and history walking tour, you could also take a dedicated cannabis tour, as the plant is having a moment of its own in the valley. You could easily spend an afternoon strolling the shops, galleries, and tasting rooms in downtown Sonoma. Additionally, Jack London Park—with its museum and 26 miles of hiking trails—is equally as popular with literature fans as it is with lovers of the outdoors.
California’s most famous wine-growing region is just over an hour north of the city—exploring some of the tasting rooms, shops, and restaurants in downtown Napa makes for a wonderful day trip. If you’re driving, the most scenic route to Napa is from the east through Carneros Valley; there are also several options for organized tours. The full-day Napa Valley Wine Train Legacy Experience (starting at $550 per person) is a fun way to soak in the sites with lunch and tastings at two wineries. However, wine doesn’t have to be the main event here. Other can’t-miss activities include a hot air balloon ride, bike ride, the RAD Napa Art Walk, and dining at a Michelin-rated restaurant, one of which is Kenzo Napa, a traditional upscale kaiseki spot.
Another easy one-hour drive from downtown San Francisco, St. Helena has a walkable main street dotted with tasting rooms, galleries, and boutiques selling just about everything, including locally made chocolate and olive oil. Landmark wineries include Charles Krug and Clif Family Winery, while HALL Wines has an impressive modern art collection (look for the steel bunny sculpture at the entrance). Stop by Model Bakery for one of its legendary English muffins and The Charter Oak for a late lunch. Literary fans will appreciate the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, which offers a unique chance to view an extensive collection of the author’s personal belongings, including a cheese box that inspired a plot point in Treasure Island.
Located an hour and a half drive from San Francisco at the “top of the valley,” laid-back Calistoga’s focus isn’t just on wine—it’s on wellness too, thanks to its hot springs and mineral pools. A mud bath and spa soak at Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs, in operation since 1952, is a therapeutic “when-in-wine-country” experience (services start at $189), but another fun and offbeat tourist attraction where mineral waters are the star is the Old Faithful Geyser of California. One of only three designated as “faithful” on account of its regular eruptions, the natural wonder in Calistoga has a handful of additional attractions, including gardens, a geology museum, an animal farm, and bocce courts (entry costs $15 for adults, $9 for kids).
The shops and tasting rooms along Calistoga’s petite yet picturesque main street are worth a wander, too. Try LOLA for its popular Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Just outside of town, Bennett Lane, which bills itself as the “friendliest tasting room in Napa,” is home to some of the best Cabernets and red blends.
Best day trips from San Francisco with kids
Well known for its rugged scenery and wild marine life, the coastal city of Monterey is perhaps most famous for its aquarium, which is home to African penguins, sharks, and native sea otters. Located 120 miles south of San Francisco, a day trip to Monterey is doable, but expect to spend around three hours in the car each way. The whole family can explore Cannery Row on a segway tour or get on the water with a paddleboard or kayak (this is also a good way to spot sea otters in the wild). For more wildlife encounters, there is the Monterey Zoo, as well as giant elephant seals along the famous 17-Mile Drive from Pebble Beach, which costs $11.25 per vehicle.
About a two-hour drive from San Francisco, you can reach this horticultural-themed amusement park in San Jose, California. Geared toward families with young children, there are multiple rides at varying thrill levels, with giant-swing Banana Split being one of the most adrenaline-pumping and the Rainbow Garden float and duck paddle boats the mellowest. There are also educational programs, including one dedicated to monarch butterflies. Single-day tickets cost $50 per person, plus $20 for parking. At the Water Oasis play area, private cabanas seat up to eight people and cost $200 for the day.
Book a private safari or behind-the-scenes tour to get an up-close view of flamingos, fennec foxes, giraffes, and zebras among other animals at this 400-acre wildlife preserve in Sonoma County. Located 12 miles north of Santa Rosa and a 1.5-hour drive from downtown San Francisco, Safari West promotes conservation and environmental education. Advanced tour bookings are recommended and can be made online, with prices ranging from $45–$105 depending on age. Reservations are also required to dine at the on-site Savannah Cafe.
Dog-friendly day trips from San Francisco
Rated the most dog-friendly town in America, Carmel-by-the-Sea rolls out the red carpet for canine visitors at many of its beaches, trails, restaurants, and tourist attractions. A two-hour drive from San Francisco, the artists' enclave has a walkable downtown where Cottage of Sweets provides doggy treats among its candies, and there’s a dedicated “Fountain of Woof” water station in Carmel Plaza. Dogs can be off-leash but under voice control at Mission Trails Park and Carmel Beach (where biodegradable bags and thoughtful “mud mitts,” which keep paws clean, are available) and on-leash along the Scenic Path walkway that runs along the bluff from 8th Avenue to Martin Way.
Half Moon Bay
With its small-town charm and coastal views, Half Moon Bay (located a 40-minute drive south of downtown San Francisco) is a wonderful place to spend time in the great outdoors. Take your pick from an impressive 14 dog-friendly beaches, with Poplar Beach and Blufftop Coastal Park firm favorites among local dog owners. If sandy paws don’t appeal, the Blufftop Trail, which connects to the Half Moon Coastal Trail, is an alternative. Afterward, stop by Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, which has been consistently named Best Dog Friendly Restaurant in the SF Bay Area by Bay Woof's Beast of the Bay Awards. Art galleries, local farms, whale-watching tours, and live music entice travelers, while the fabled surf break Mavericks draw surfers from around the world to ride giant waves each winter.
Drive 73 scenic miles south along Hwy 1 to Santa Cruz, where furry four-legged visitors are welcomed with open paws. While famous for its “Coney Island of the West” boardwalk and surf connections—wetsuit inventor Jack O’Neill opened his first shop here, and there’s a museum dedicated to the sport—there are plenty of places to explore with the pups, including nine dog-friendly beaches, such as Lighthouse Field State Beach where surfers flock to local break Steamer Lane. Area hiking trails are a draw, too; the six-mile, out-and-back at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is a must. Well-behaved dogs are also welcome aboard the Redwood Forest Steam Train, which winds its way up the narrow-gauge grade from the Roaring Camp Railroads to the summit of Bear Mountain on an authentic 1890s-era steam engine, while a conductor narrates the history of Roaring Camp—the first saw mill west of the Mississippi.
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Published November 29, 2023
Last updated December 21, 2023
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