The great city of San Francisco has plenty of stuff to do to keep you busy for weeks, but sometimes the city vibe can feel a bit overwhelming, and we need a break from it. Luckily, San Francisco’s Bay Area and surroundings have no shortage of day trip options that offer a different experience than what you get in the city.
From hikes to surfing, to relaxing while sipping wine, here are five of the best day trips you can do from San Francisco, California.
Mount Diablo State Park
About forty-five minutes by car.
Outdoor enthusiasts can spend the day hiking or biking several trails in the Mount Diablo State Park. The state park is home to around 20,000 acres and 59 trails with all kinds of difficulty. One of the iconic features of the park is Mount Diablo, or Devil’s Mountain, itself. Even though it looks like a volcano, it’s not, but its conical shape with two peaks makes a perfect summit to get 360-degree views of the Bay Area. On a clear day you can see beyond the Golden Gate Bridge and the Farallon Islands to the west; southeast to the James Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton; south to Mount Loma Prieta in the Santa Cruz Mountains; north to Mount Saint Helena in the Coast Range, and still farther north to Mount Lassen in the Cascades.
Stinson Beach and Bolinas Bay
About one hour by car.
Here you’ll find the perfect, quiet beach town vibe. While Bolinas Bay offers a beautiful, rugged coastline, Stinson Beach contrasts it with over three miles of white sand shores.
Stinson is full of watersports enthusiasts practicing windsurfing, body-boarding, and surfing, among other activities. Walk along the beach’s eastern end, where you’ll find several restaurants and cafes serving to the relaxed clientele of the area. Or, walk toward Bolinas to the west, where an equally relaxed vibe but in a more artsy environment is the norm.
If swimming by the sea and catching waves is not for you, you can drive for just 15 minutes to Point Reyes National Seashore, where you’ll find Bass Lake – considered to be one of the best swimming spots in the area.
About one hour and fifteen minutes by car.
World famous for its wine production, Napa Valley is one of the most popular day trips from San Francisco. This region is home to hundreds of wineries and beautiful vineyards extending as far as the eye can see. You can visit several wineries to taste their current or past-years wine production. These range from the luxurious Opus One Winery to the more casual V. Sattui Winery. Some of these wineries have a picnic area, where you can relax and snack while you enjoy the best wines from the region.
Before heading back to the city, stop at Gott’s Roadside for their delicious burger and fries; a great way to end the day.
About two hours and thirty minutes by car.
If you like hiking, photography, or scuba diving, you should dedicate at least a day to visit Point Lobos. This fishing town is famous for its rich marine habitat of giant kelp forests with hundreds of sea lions swimming through them, or playfully resting on the rocks by the shores. Head to the Whaler’s Cabin Museum to learn about the former whaling station and the Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese whalers who once lived there. You’ll see parts of grey and humpback whale skeletons, as wells as harpoons and personal items of the whalers.
At Whaler’s Cove you’ll have the opportunity to kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or even scuba dive in these sea lion filled waters. Otherwise, you can head to Sea Lion Cove, where you’ll spot hundreds of sea lions and their babies during pupping season. If you take the Sea Lion Point Trail, you’ll get to see some of the best views of the reserve, especially its rocky outcrops and crashing waves.
Yosemite National Park, California
About four hours and fifteen minutes by car.
This will be a long day trip (preferably an overnight trip), but it is worth it. As one of the oldest national parks in the country, Yosemite features dramatic waterfalls, towering granite cliffs, and forests with Sequoia trees that seem to defy gravity with their incredible height. Some of the most famous icons in the park are located in the picturesque Yosemite Valley. These are the Half Dome and El Capitan rock formations, and the impressive Yosemite Falls – North America's tallest waterfall.
Adventurous travelers can hike the Upper Yosemite Falls trail. This 7-mile strenuous hike takes you all the way from the Yosemite Valley floor, right to the top of the tallest waterfall in North America. From up there you’ll see as the Yosemite Creek falls 2,425 feet into the valley floor. If you have the time (more than just a day trip), you can hike the more challenging Half Dome Hike. The 17.5 miles long trail takes you up to the famous Half Dome – passing by Vernal and Nevada Falls along the way.
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