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20 Brilliant Day Trips from San Francisco

20 Brilliant Day Trips from San Francisco

Looking for the best day trips from San Francisco? Make the most out of your vacation with these brilliant destinations that you can do in a day.

It’s no secret that San Francisco has plenty of attractions and treasures to offer. But, if you’re there for a longer holiday, you might fancy venturing further afield in search of California’s other impressive things to do.

You’ve come to the right place. I’m a hard core Cali-nerd and have been lucky enough to see a fair bit of the state after a couple of epic West Coast road trips in recent years.

From serene wildernesses to charming towns and architectural wonders, there’s plenty for anybody who thinks they’ve already done all the best things to do in San Francisco. Though, I guarantee there’s more to San Fran you’re yet to explore.

Anyway, enough of the preamble. Here are 20 brilliant day trips from San Francisco.

The Best Day Trips From San Francisco  

Napa Valley

Napa Valley

I say “Napa,” you say “wine!” Seriously though, California is a haven for wineries, and Napa Valley is home to more than 400 of the finest the state has to offer. Their cabernet sauvignon is particularly drinkable (from personal experience) and has become famous in the region. 

I don’t know about you, but sipping on wine and meandering through a bevvy of lush vineyards is a day well spent as far as I’m concerned. But if you want more out of the experience, take a wine cellar tour, or indulge in a delicious gourmet experience that pairs with the wines you’re imbibing. 

You could also head for Castello di Amorosa, a Tuscan castle-turned-winery, or Domaine Carneros, a winery set beside a French-inspired mansion. Both are incredible to see, even if you’re a teetotaller. 

How to Get There: Take the subway from the Civic Centre to UN Plaza, then the bus to Imola Park and Ride.  

Average journey duration: 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Hassle-free option: Book This Guided Wine Tour with Picnic Lunch

Sacramento 

SACRAMENTO, USA

Sweet Sacramento has a lot to offer – in fact, I think it might just be the best day trip from San Francisco, especially if you love history and museum-hopping. The California State Capitol Museum will keep you entertained – unless the California State Railway Museum beckons you instead. 

You can also laze the day away at the Old Sacramento Waterfront or visit the giraffes at the Sacramento Zoo. The city has plenty of old-world charm from the Gold Rush era, especially in the Old Sacramento district, where the sidewalks are wooden, and wagon rides abound. 

How to Get There: Take Flixbus from San Francisco to Sacramento. 

Average journey duration: 2 hours.

Sonoma 

Sonoma California

As far as bay area day trips go, you can’t beat Sonoma. It’s a sparkling historical city in the Sonoma Valley, known for its beautiful art galleries and colonial-era Sonoma Plaza. 

Grab a snack from the weekly farmer’s market and enjoy the view of the 19th-century adobe buildings surrounding the plaza. Trust me when I say you can’t miss the Mission San Francisco Solano or the Sonoma Barracks. 

Or you could take a wine tour of the picturesque vineyards and pop by Safari West, a 400-acre wildlife sanctuary, for jeep tours of the animal attractions.

How to Get There: Take the line 40 bus from McAllister St to Petaluma and then to Sonoma Plaza. 

Average journey duration: 3 hours and 15 minutes.

Hassle-free option: Book This Napa and Sonoma Full-Day Wine Tour 

Hearst Castle 

Hearst Castle

Okay, so technically, it’s a mansion, not a castle, but it’s certainly big enough to justify the title. Built by William Randolph Hearst, Hearst Castle sits on a hilltop in the small town of San Simeon and took 30 years to complete. 

It’s eclectic and magical simultaneously, with a private airfield, movie theatre, two greenhouses, two huge swimming pools, and the world’s largest private zoo. It was once only open to celebs, but now it’s a historical landmark anyone can visit and enjoy.

How to Get There: Take the bus from San Francisco to Paso Robles Amtrak Station, then a taxi to Hearst Castle. 

Average journey duration: 6 hours and 20 minutes.

Monterey 

Monterey 

Monterey is a cosy seaside town bursting with history and makes a wonderful choice for unique day trips from San Francisco. Though less touristy, its most famous attraction is Cannery Row, a historic fish-packing district on the waterfront. 

But the Monterey Bay Aquarium steals the show with its adorable penguins and otters in close proximity. You can also visit the Monterey State Historic Park with its 17 antiquated buildings holding wonderful past gems. The San Carlos Cathedral is particularly lovely, and the oldest stone building in California.

Monterey is very close to Carmel, so people often travel the short 17-mile drive that divides them to make the most out of their one-day trip from San Francisco. 

How to Get There: The line 20 bus will take you to Monterey with a change-over in Salinas.  

Average journey duration: 3 hours and 30 minutes.

Hassle-free option: Book This Monterey and Carmel Day Tour

Berkeley 

Berkeley 

The idyllic university town of Berkeley is simply beautiful — the proud campus is perched on a hilltop with scenic vistas of the bay below and a grove of redwoods backing it. 

The classical-style buildings lend an air of solemnity and stature. I recommend you climb the iconic Sather Tower, one of the tallest bell towers in the world, for unparalleled views of San Francisco Bay. 

For a bit of Bohemian counterculture, head to Telegraph Avenue, where the students hang out when they’re not grinding out their study hours. Bookshops, quirky stores, and casual dining spots offer a delightful array of cuisines to sink your teeth into. 

Sure, the foodie and theatre scenes are big here, but you can visit the Botanical Gardens and even the Lawrence Hall of Science if you’re not a budding thespian.  

How to Get There: Take the train from the Civic Centre to Downtown Berkeley.

Average journey duration: 30 minutes.

Carmel 

 Carmel California

Also known as Carmel-by-the-Sea, this hidden gem isn’t so hidden anymore. 

This whimsical beach town is small, but don’t let that fool you. It hides a gorgeous collection of fairytale-esque cottages in neighbourhoods that look like something straight out of a Disney movie.

You can also enjoy a stroll along Carmel River State Beach and stop for a tasty lunch at Mission Ranch Restaurant while you’re there. Of course, you can’t miss out on the highly Instagrammable Carmel Mission Basilica Museum, even if you just grab some snapshots from the outside.  

Stick around for wine tasting or take a hike through Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and enjoy iconic spots like the Devil’s Cauldron and China Cove. 

How to Get There: Take the line 20 bus to Salinas, then the line 5 bus to Carmel. 

Average journey duration: 4 hours and 20 minutes.

Hassle-free option: Book This Monterey and Carmel Day Tour 

Big Sur 

Big Sur

Redwood canyons and ocean cliffs with 300-foot drops, 80-foot waterfalls, and Keyhole Rock — have I got your attention yet? If you love the outdoors and wildlife, head here for your day trip.

The Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is where the redwood groves dominate, while Limekiln State Park has waterfalls and dramatic coastlines. Point Sur State Historic Park has the iconic Point Sur Lighthouse from 1889, and Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery has hundreds of loud elephant seals for a unique experience.  

You’ll also be able to drive over Bixby Bridge, one of the most iconic California highway experiences. Round of your day by watching the sunset from Pfeiffer Beach with Keyhole Rock as the starring attraction.   

How to Get There: Take the bus to Salinas, then a taxi to Big Sur. 

Average journey duration: 3 hours and 12 minutes.

Hassle-free option: Book This Full-Day Private Tour

Yosemite National Park

California Road Trip - Yosemite

If you’re in the area, there’s no way you can leave Yosemite National Park off your itinerary — it’s one of the ultimate San Francisco day trips. 

Oh, the majestic vistas you’ll see — El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point, Half Dome, Tuolumne Meadows… Seriously, someone stop me from gushing even further! The hikes are incredible, but you can also enjoy rafting and swimming in the summer, and winter offers cross-country skiing at Badger Pass and Glacier Point Road. 

Luckily, you can rent everything you need at the park, so your day trip won’t involve trying to board a bus toting your ski equipment. There’s Yosemite Village, full of restaurants, shops, museums, and galleries to keep you entertained.

How to Get There: Take the daily Greyhound bus to Merced Transpo, then another to Yosemite Valley Visitors Centre. This takes roughly 7 hours, so it’s more feasible to drive yourself or take a tour if you plan on visiting just for the day.   

Average journey duration: 4 hours to 7 hours and 30 minutes.

Hassle-free option: Book This Yosemite Park Guided Day Trip

San Jose

 San Jose, USA

San Jose is easily one of the most accessible day trips from San Francisco, just an hour along the highway. But that doesn’t mean you should overlook it in favour of somewhere a little further out. No no no.

Between the ultra quirky Winchester Mystery House, Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, and the Municipal Rose Garden, there’s plenty of things to keep you entertained for an entire day.

Oh, and you’ll want to make time to stop at Santana Row – a gorgeous shopping destination filled with an abundance of restaurants, cafes and bars. Meso is a particular fave, serving up contemporary Mediterranean dishes. 

And you have to stop at Bob’s Donuts after for a sweet treat, it’s practically the law.

How to Get There: It takes less than an hour by car, or 90 minutes on the B7 bus from San Fran.

Average journey duration: 1 hour.

Muir Woods National Monument 

Muir Woods National Monument 

Eager to soak in some lush forest greenery? Muir Woods National Monument is home to ancient groves of enormous redwood trees, most between 600 to 800 years old, and it’s a mere 12 miles north of San Francisco. 

Bring your hiking shoes and take on the six miles of trails through the densely-packed majestic redwoods. Then cool your toes in Redwood Creek while you have a snack. 

Most of the trails are boardwalks or paved, but the ones on the canyon wall are plain dirt. Keep your eyes peeled as you walk, though — the park is home to bobcats, deer, coyotes, and barn owls. 

How to Get There: The line 130 or line 61 bus will take you to Muir Woods, or you can catch a taxi for a faster ride. 

Average journey duration: 33 minutes to 3 hours.

Hassle-free option: Book This Muir Woods and Wine Country Tour

Santa Cruz 

Santa Cruz, California

Who doesn’t love a balmy beach vacay along the boardwalk, even if it is just for the day? 70 miles from San Francisco is the charming Santa Cruz and its historic Beach Boardwalk — complete with an amusement park.

If vintage rides and games aren’t your vibe, head to The Santa Cruz Wharf for some cosmopolitan shopping and dining. Or maybe take a walk through the shallow waters of Main Beach by the Boardwalk. 

If you want to experience something special, take a steam train through the redwoods or head to Natural Bridges State Beach. There’s a Monarch Grove trail that’ll take you through a forest of black and orange monarch butterflies. It’s pure magic!

How to Get There: Take the 16th St bus to San Jose Park and Ride, then the Tamien Caltrain to San Jose Diridon Caltrain. From there, take the bus from Diridon Station to Santa Cruz Metro Centre.  

Average journey duration: 3 hours and 10 minutes.

Filoli Estate 

Filoli Estate 

Situated 30 miles south of San Francisco is the 654-acre Filoli Estate. You’d think you were travelling through Tuscany, but this Georgian Revival manor house is American-born and registered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Its 16-acre gardens are in the formal style of the English Renaissance and feature decorative pools, pretty pathways, and flowers in bloom no matter the season.

There’s also a 10-acre orchard with more than 500 fruit trees and a nature preserve with redwoods and oak groves. 

How to Get There: Take the train from Caltrain to Belmont, then a taxi to the estate. 

Average journey duration: 1 hour.

Point Reyes National Seashore 

Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Expect 71,028 acres of pristine sandy beaches, rolling hills, and forested ridges characterise Point Reyes National Seashore park preserve. More than 1,500 species of flora and fauna spread out along its lands, making it a dream for wildlife lovers.

It’s also where the San Andreas Fault Zone lies, separating the North American Plate from the Pacific Plate. Geology nerds, take note – the best place to see the fault zone is to hike the Earthquake Trail, near Bear Valley Visitor Centre.

There are 150 miles of hiking trails to explore, so grab your hiking shoes and get cracking.

How to Get There: Take the bus from McAllister St to San Rafael and then to Olema. From there, take a taxi to your destination. 

Average journey duration: 3 hours and 30 minutes.

Pescadero Marsh Nature Preserve 

Pescadero Marsh Nature Preserve 

Birders, this’ll get your attention. 40 miles south of San Fran is a birder’s paradise at Pescadero Marsh Nature Preserve. It’s a 235-acre wetland complete with freshwater marsh and tidal estuary, where more than 200 species of birds call home.

You’ll see great blue herons and double-crested cormorants, but you’ll also catch sight of endangered species like the California red-legged frog and San Francisco garter snake if you’re lucky. 

You can take a picnic on Pescadero State Beach after enjoying a pleasant hike along the nature preserve trails. But the Sequoia Audubon Trail is best for bird-watching.

How to Get There: Take the bus from 10th St to El Camino Real & Hillsdale Blvd, then take a taxi the rest of the way. 

Average journey duration: 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Los Gatos 

 Los Gatos, California

Boutique shopping in quaint towns? Yes, please! Los Gatos has a historic Downtown and Old Town Plaza that are idyllic, but it maintains a secluded feel tucked away behind the Santa Cruz Mountains. 

Due to its location, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking are big activities here. Just 10 minutes away is Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, with six miles of trails to traverse and meandering creeks and giant redwoods to delight in.

How to Get There: Take the train from Civic Centre to Berryessa Station, then the bus to Los Gatos and Stacia. 

Average journey duration: 3 hours and 25 minutes.

Mount Tamalpais State Park 

Mount Tamalpais State Park 

Mount Tamalpais State Park is a favourite amongst nature lovers for its varied and sometimes dramatic landscape. It’s easily one of the best day trips in the bay area, with 60 miles of hiking paths that wind through redwood forests, oak woodlands, deep ravines, and sweeping grasslands to boot. 

Challenge yourself with a hike 2,571 feet up Mount Tamalpais for views that extend across the San Francisco Bay to Berkeley and Oakland on a clear day. Gurgling waterfalls dominate the scenery from October to March, before blooming wildflowers take over from February to May.

Take some lunch and have a picnic while you’re there (the East Peak summit area is the best with 360-degree views).  

How to Get There: Take the line 130 bus from McAllister St to Silva Island, then a taxi the rest of the way. 

Average journey duration: 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Half Moon Bay 

Half Moon Bay 

Half Moon Bay is a charming rural town south of San Francisco full of country ambience, from ranches to pumpkin patches. 

But the rugged beaches bring in the tourists for nature walks along the shore while surfers brave the frigid waves. A trip into town will reveal hidden gems in the historic downtown area, from casual eateries and cafés to local shops and restaurants proffering hearty meals. 

October is a favourite time to visit the seaside town during its Pumpkin Festival.

How to Get There: Take the line 294 bus to Hillsdale, then Main St & Miramontes St.  

Average journey duration: 3 hours and 12 minutes.

Stinson Beach 

Stinson Beach 

In the mood for an afternoon spent lazing on the beach? Thought so – Stinson Beach is a dreamy beach community and popular day trip destination, even though the ride there along Steep Ravine Canyon can be a little nail-biting.

Once you’re on the beach, there’s plenty to do. Windsurfing, beach volleyball, sunbathing, and picnicking are favourites. If you’re not the picnic type, head to one of the many oceanfront cafés and eateries for tasty meals and day-drinking delights. 

Swimming is only sometimes on the cards at this beach, thanks to the icy waters and rip currents. But the 10-mile Dipsea Trail is a noteworthy hike with exquisite coastline views that leads to Muir Woods if your calves are up to the challenge.

How to Get There: Take the line 30 bus from McAllister St to Manzanita, then the line 61 bus to 4813 Shoreline Hwy. 

Average journey duration: 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Sequoia National Forest in California

In the Sierra Nevada Mountains sits the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. If hiking in the wilderness is what you’re all about, you’ll adore this magical world of intimidating mountains, deep canyons, enormous trees, and huge caves. 

There are 800 miles of trails through the 800,000 acres, with alpine lakes and sweet-smelling wildflowers along the way. But the General Sherman Tree is the main attraction here, with the Tunnel Log, which was carved in the 1930’s, being a second. 

The Crystal Cave steals the show with its gorgeous formations, though. This is one you can’t miss. 

How to Get There: Take the bus from San Francisco to Visalia, then Foothills Visitor Centre. Driving will cut the journey time in half, though.

Average journey duration: 9 hours.

Practical Tips for Easy Day Trips From San Francisco 

  • Dress for where you’re going. If you’re planning on hiking, wear the right shoes and take water and snacks to keep up your energy and hydration. If you’re going to the beach, bring sunscreen and sunglasses. 
  • Public transport can sometimes be easier, but some destinations are much faster to reach by car. So you should consider renting one for the day, particularly if your destination is a little further out or you want to see multiple places. 

Map of Day Tours from San Francisco

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