1. Big Sur
If you appreciate nature, Big Sur's dramatic coastline and breathtaking views offer an appealing vacation from San Francisco. You will feel genuinely away-from-it-all on this stretch of spectacular untouched coastline, whether you just want to drive and enjoy the panoramas or you want to hike.
Big Sur has a diverse range of hiking tracks, including six state parks and a historic light station park. Hike the short moderate hike to Limekiln Creek Falls at Limekiln State Park or walk the magnificent nature paths in Point Lobos State Reserve. Or take a hike to Pfeiffer Falls at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which is surrounded by redwoods.
Another enjoyable and less strenuous way to spend one day of your visit is to drive the Big Sur Coast. Photograph McWay Falls, marvel at the Bixby Creek Bridge, wander the beach in Garrapata and eat lunch with a view at Nepenthe.
Best Time to Visit: Big Sur is beautiful at any time of year, but visit in the fall and spring. Storms in the winter might result in road closures. Coastal fog may sometimes obstruct sight in the summer.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 146.4 miles, and it takes around 2 hours and 23 minutes to get there.
2. Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park is a hiker's heaven, with its harsh volcanic spires and over 30 miles of trails. However, there are amazing caves to explore, a reservoir to snap, and fauna and birds to view in the park. Pinnacles National Park, one of California's lesser-known national parks, is a great place to spend a day outdoors.
Explore one of the park's talus caves. Bear Gulch Cave may be reached from the east, while Balconies Cave can be reached from the west, both through family-friendly routes. Talus caves are produced by boulders caving together, and they're a lot of fun to explore. Bring a flashlight with you.
Consider taking on some of the park's more difficult paths to reach the highest reaches of the park's iconic pinnacles. You may even put together a path that takes you up into the High Peaks from one entrance and returns you to your car from the other. There are easier pathways to try if you don't want to go as far but still want to see the pinnacle formation.
Keep an eye out for a California Condor! The California Condor has a massive wingspan of 9.5 feet and is classified as severely endangered. Pinnacles National Park is an excellent site to see condors that have been bred in captivity. You could spot them soaring overhead, or you could discover one roosting on a rocky ledge and eager to pose for photos. The park is home to a variety of different birds and species.
Best Time to Visit: Wildflowers blossom everywhere in the spring, even close to the pathways, especially after a rainy winter. Pinnacles is best visited between the seasons of fall and spring, as the summers are very hot.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 123 miles, and it takes around 2 hours to get there from San Francisco.
With its many restaurants, wine tasting rooms, and art galleries, Carmel-by-the-Sea is unquestionably one of the most popular day trips from San Francisco. Residents attempt to keep the village's quaintness and old-world charm, which has a European flavor to it.
Carmel Beach and Carmel River Beach are two of the most beautiful sandy beaches in the world. Bring your binoculars to the Carmel River Bird Sanctuary to enjoy the different birds. Above the beach, take a stroll along the lovely walk that runs along the coastline.
Stroll through the area, stopping in at the numerous one-of-a-kind boutique shops and world-class art galleries. Wine, cheese, and olive oil, and balsamic vinegar samples are available. Visit one of the many fantastic eateries for brunch. Carmel's fantasy villas are a must-see.
Visit the Carmel Mission, which is regarded as one of California's most beautiful missions. Explore magnificent Point Lobos State Reserve, three miles south of the village, with its numerous gorgeous hiking routes and opportunities to see birds, animals, and marine life.
Best time to visit: Carmel is stunning at any time of the year. Even in the summer, it might be chilly.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 122 miles, and it takes around 2 hours to get there from San Francisco.
4. Napa Valley
Whether you like wine or not, a journey to California's top wine region is one of the most enjoyable short trips from San Francisco. You'll be delighted in Napa Valley on your weekend trip, with world-class dining, lovely little villages, spas, art, and shopping.
Many Napa Valley wineries feature stunning structures, attractive landscapes, and outstanding interior or outdoor art displays. Downtown Napa is a delight to discover, while downtown Yountville is a joy to walk around.
Bring your appetite, because Napa Valley is home to some of the country's top eateries. There are numerous Michelin-starred restaurants here, as well as a host of different highly regarded eateries.
Do you enjoy outdoor activities? On the Napa River, do stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking, or hike at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park.
Do you enjoy shopping? Explore the stores at Yountville's posh V Marketplace or downtown Napa's attractive boutiques. Ballooning over the valley is a favorite pastime for adrenaline seekers!
Best time to visit: A trip to Napa Valley is great at any time of year! Visit Napa Valley in November for stunning foliage, late winter for mustard blooms, the harvest season for an epic grape stomping experience, or summer for longer days and more excitement packed into a weekend.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 49.3 miles, and it takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to Napa Valley.
5. Lake Berryessa
With 165 miles of coastline and a network of bays and beaches, Lake Berryessa is the biggest lake in Napa County. It's a freshwater reservoir and a fantastic inland destination for water sports in, on, and around water. It also has a nature park close to it, making for a lovely environment.
On the lake, you may hire boats, kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, or jet skis from one of three marinas. Fishing from a boat is also popular.
There are some hiking trails near the shore. While strolling along the gorgeous coast of the North End Trail, you can glimpse birds. The 5-mile Stebbins Cold Canyon Loop is a tough hike that gives stunning views of the lake from above. Cedar Roughs Trail is a moderate 3.7-mile out-and-back trek with a watercourse and plenty of wildflowers in season.
Biking is permitted on the roads surrounding the lake. If you visit during the summer, you may swim at Lake Berryessa, so bring your swimwear.
The Monticello Dam, which created Lake Berryessa, has a “Morning Glory Spillway” to manage excess water. From a safe distance, you can view the spillway, which resembles a massive drainage hole.
Best time to visit: Lake Berryessa can be visited at any time of year.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 77 miles, and it takes around 1 hour and 36 minutes to get to Lake Berryessa.
With its rolling hills and vineyards, the countryside of Sonoma is stunning, and the region offers fantastic restaurants and a variety of activities. One of the most romantic retreats near San Francisco is Sonoma!
Drive around to view some of the finest wineries in the region and to take in the magnificent scenery. Both Chateau Saint Jean and Ledson Winery & Vineyards in Kenwood, a few miles north, are beautiful. Visit in late April to see the lavender blooms in many of the area's vineyards.
Admire the colonial architecture as you stroll around picturesque Sonoma Plaza. Mission San Francisco Solano, the Presidio of Sonoma, and City Hall are all located here. Make a point of stopping by Basque Boulangerie for some delicious desserts.
Sonoma Coast State Park, with its cliff walks and sandy beaches, is also worth a visit. If you prefer the outdoors, visit Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, which is also about an hour from Sonoma town and offers shaded walks amid the giants.
Best time to visit: Sonoma may well be visited at any time of year. But, late spring and late fall are the best times to visit because of the wildflowers and lavender blooms, as well as the changing colors of the leaves.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 44.6 miles, and it takes around 1 hour to get there from San Francisco.
7. Lake Tahoe
Every season, Lake Tahoe is a popular day trip from the Bay Area! Surrounded by pristine pine forests and snow-capped mountain peaks, the lake's brilliant topaz color is attributed to its depth of nearly 1,640 feet, and its crystalline quality comes from the purest source of melted snow.
Emerald Bay State Park is one of California's most beautiful state parks, located on the western coast of Lake Tahoe. Emerald Bay State Park has two campsites: the Boat-In Camp, only accessible by boat or foot, and the Eagle Point Campground, which is steps away from the lake and has a secluded beach.
Visit Vikingsholm, a surprising castle and a marvelous example of Scandinavian architecture.
Inspiration Point is a must-see sight in the area, with its 600-foot-high bird's-eye views over Emerald Bay that are ideal for photoshoots.
Lake Tahoe's picturesque hiking routes are popular among nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Near South Lake Tahoe, the greatest walks are the waterfront and lake-view routes, which provide an opportunity to take in the refreshing alpine beauty while having a proper workout.
Lake Tahoe is a popular alpine skiing destination in the winter and early spring, because of its broad terrain, sunlight, and powdery slopes.
The boat journey is both peaceful and a fantastic chance to take in the scenery of lush pine trees and snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain peaks.
Kings Beach State Recreation Area has plenty of parking, public restrooms, picnic tables in a shaded area, barbecue pits, a playground, and places that rent out kayaks and paddle-boards.
Best time to visit: Lake Tahoe is a year-round playground, and when you go depends on your interests: winter sports vs. hiking or fall foliage.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 188.2 miles, and it takes around 3 hours and 15 minutes to get to South Lake Tahoe from San Francisco.
Monterey is a tiny city with several historic landmarks and modern attractions that served as the capital of Spanish California from 1770 until 1882.
Monterey was formerly a major player in the fish canning industry, but it all came to an end when the sardine became extinct. Cannery Row, formerly a bustling fish packing district, has been beautifully renovated and now features stores and restaurants.
Monterey is home to some of the top whale-watching tours in the world. Tours are available all year, and you may view dolphins, porpoises, and a variety of birds.
Fisherman's Wharf and the Monterey Bay Aquarium are also located along the waterfront. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Carmel and 17-Mile Drive are also close by and offer some beautiful coastline views.
Best time to go: The Monterey peninsula is a great destination any time of year.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 113 miles, and it takes around 2 hours to get to Monterey from San Francisco.
9. Mendocino Coast
Many of Mendocino's early settlers were from Maine, thus the town's architecture is reminiscent of a New England village, complete with beautiful Saltbox cottages, unusual wedding sites, and grand Victorian houses.
Mendocino is the first town on the California coast to be recognized as a Historic Preservation District, with the whole town recognized as a historical landmark.
Visitors may take tours of the Point Arena Lighthouse, which is 115 feet tall and has a spiral stairway that leads to 360-degree views of the surrounding region.
The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, which are among California's most magnificent botanical gardens, are a must-see. The Mendocino coast's year-round temperate environment permits the development of fragile plants that would die in extremes of heat and cold.
Two beautiful California state parks are also nearby. Mendocino Headlands State Park is a stunningly gorgeous blend of rocky coastline, romantic hidden beaches, and so much history that surrounds the lovely Mendocino settlement on three sides.
On a picturesque promontory that juts out into the Pacific Ocean, the Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park is located. The Light Station was established to aid navigation for lumber-carrying ships towards the close of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.
Don't forget to take a ride on the Skunk Train! Starting in Fort Bragg, a short distance up the coast from Mendocino, the train takes you on a 90-minute journey through redwood trees down the Pudding Creek.
Stop visit Glass Beach in Fort Bragg to appreciate the colorful bits of glass sharpened by the sea.
Best time to visit: The Mendocino coast is especially beautiful in the spring and fall. Summer temperatures are pleasant, although you may encounter fog.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 155 miles, and it takes around 3 hours to get to Mendocino from San Francisco.
10. Santa Cruz
The sun, sand, and summer fun are associated with this classic California beach town. The majority of visitors make directly towards the boardwalk, stopping only to visit the neighboring sandy beaches and fishing pier. Santa Cruz, on the other hand, has a lot more to offer.
Visitors that go farther out are rewarded with spectacular beachfront views, a historic mission church, and a beautiful downtown. The magnificent Highway One road around Monterey Bay, with wonderful ocean views, is just a short drive from Santa Cruz. Seals frolic in the deep blue seas and surfers ride the pounding waves of the Pacific in this beautiful marine habitat.
Santa Cruz is known for its tranquil beaches and pristine scenery, which appeal to outdoor enthusiasts and environment lovers alike. The rough Wilder Ranch State Park offers breathtaking coastline hiking paths, while the U.C. Santa Cruz Arboretum & Botanic Garden is home to rich Mediterranean vegetation and pink-throated hummingbirds.
Tourists may watch a Shakespeare play in a magnificent redwood glen on a starry night for an unforgettable experience. A Surfing Museum provides tourists with a taste of California's surfing culture.
Best Time to visit: Santa Cruz is a wonderful place to visit at any time of year.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 73 miles, and it takes around 1 hour 15 minutes to get there from San Francisco.
11. Muir Woods National Monument
The Muir Woods National Monument, just a short drive from San Francisco, permits you to wander amid old-growth coastal redwoods. The tranquil environment is created by the lovely ancient trees and the equally wonderful understory of ferns and rhododendrons. The monument's oldest tree is more than 1,200 years old. Redwood Creek in the park features native salmon, which is becoming increasingly rare these days.
The park's major activity is hiking, which has roughly 6 miles of trails. Short loops travel through the redwoods, and some longer paths connect the monument to Mount Tamalpais State Park, which surrounds it.
The whole distance from the Main Trail to Bridge 4 and back on the Hillside Trail is roughly 2 miles and is quite straight. It provides up-close views of the monument's redwoods as well as access to the forest through the unpaved Hillside Trail.
Visit while the Pacific rhododendrons are in bloom for spectacular photoshoots. The soft pink blossoms contrast well with the red tree bark and green foliage. There are over a dozen types of ferns in Muir Woods, and their delicate fronds make for beautiful photographs. You'll also notice a lot of wildflowers while they're in bloom.
From Muir Woods, it’s just a short hike down to Muir Beach and a completely different marine ecosystem.
Although you can't picnic in the woods, Muir Woods Cafe is a fantastic spot to have lunch. Muir Woods also requires reservations, so make your parking and shuttle arrangements ahead of time.
Best time to visit: From May through October, Muir Woods National Monument receives the most visitors. If your journey occurs during one of the busiest months, avoid weekends and arrive by 8 a.m. when the park opens.
Driving time: About 30 minutes.
12. Point Reyes National Seashore
The Point Reyes National Seashore is a fantastic place to visit for a day trip from San Francisco. Not only can you enjoy the natural beauty of the area, but there is also history to learn about and an incredible range of flora and animals to see.
Drive to the Tule Elk Reserve to witness the elk ranging freely. The rutting season runs from late summer to early fall, and it's a particularly good time to explore the reserve. The interpretive walk at Pierce Point Ranch teaches visitors about the history of dairy ranching.
There are numerous wonderful beaches to choose from in Point Reyes. Drakes Beach, Limantour Beach, and the Great Beach are all accessible by car (there are two parking lots, one at each end). Drakes Beach is a sandy beach with impressive cliffs as a background. Point Reyes Beach (also known as Great Beach) is an 11-mile-long beach spit with crashing waves.
Walk the 1.5-mile trek to Abbotts Lagoon Beach if you like birding. Many species of shorebirds can be seen in the fall and winter. Peregrine falcons drop down for a meal on occasion, and the endangered western snowy plover builds its nest in the sand.
Hiking is another fun thing to do at Point Reyes, with trails of varying lengths and difficulties. The Woodpecker Trail, a 0.7-mile circle through woodland and meadows, provides animal watching possibilities. Beaches, woodland and meadows, and coastal bluffs are all accessible by other routes.
Best time to visit: In April–May, the most spectacular views are provided by the clear sky and blooming meadows. Overall, the ideal time to visit the Point Reyes National Seashore is from January through May.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 47.6 miles, and it takes around 1 hour 10 minutes to get there from San Francisco.
13. Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay, a popular day trip from San Francisco with fascinating shops, restaurants, and quaint bed-and-breakfasts, is a must-see on any Northern California coastal itinerary. Despite being so close to San Francisco, the town feels much farther away because it's only accessible by a winding two-lane country road.
Hiking, fishing, horseback riding, birdwatching, golfing, and sunbathing are all popular outdoor activities set against a stunning backdrop of beautiful beaches, dramatic natural areas, and awe-inspiring ocean vistas.
Roosevelt Beach, Dunes Beach, Venice Beach, and Francis Beach form the Half Moon Bay State Beach, a state park with picnic tables and grilling stations. But there are more beautiful beaches just to the north and south.
In the region, there are several excellent coastal treks. For ocean views and birdlife, the coastal bluff route between Half Moon Bay and Miramar is a fantastic alternative. The trail is flat, and there are several locations where you may access the shore. The breathtaking hike up Montara Mountain, just north of Half Moon Bay, provides 360-degree views of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Mavericks Beach is a world-famous surfing destination located north of Half Moon Bay. If you're a novice, you can take a class here, or if you're an experienced surfer, you can ride the waves. You can try kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding at Pillar Point Harbor.
Best time to visit: For general outdoor tourist activities, the ideal time to visit Half Moon Bay is from early July to late September.
Driving time: It takes around 40 minutes to get there.
14. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Discover unique hydrothermal features and stunning landscape in Lassen Volcanic National Park without any crowds. Lassen Peak is the world's biggest plug dome volcano, and the park also includes the other three types of volcanoes. If you prefer the outdoors, you will enjoy your weekend in the Golden State's northeastern region.
See the fumaroles, mud pots, and boiling springs in one or more of the park's hydrothermal zones. The most popular spots are Bumpass Hell and Sulphur Works, both of which have a boardwalk or sidewalk from which to safely observe the activity.
Lassen Volcanic National Park has a variety of trails of varying lengths and difficulty levels. Many of them provide views of breathtaking nature, including mountains, alpine lakes, and meadows, which you may appreciate while walking. In the park, you may also backpack.
Bike or drive the Lassen Volcanic Park Highway. If you prefer water sports, Lassen offers boating on one of its many gorgeous lakes. Manzanita Lake, a short walk from the tourist center, rents watercraft. Fishing is another favorite pastime.
Best time to visit: The park is open all year, however, the summer is the busiest season. During the winter, some roads may be blocked. Winter is a great time to visit if you love snowshoeing or skiing.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 236 miles, and it takes around 3 hours and 45 minutes to get there from San Francisco.
With its charming boutiques, upmarket art galleries, picturesque waterfront promenade, and yacht-filled marinas, Sausalito, just a few miles from San Francisco, has the feel of a European holiday destination, especially during the summer.
Getting to Sausalito is more than half the fun, and the most spectacular way to get in Sausalito is on a 25-minute ferry boat journey. It's also the most picturesque route. The ferry leaves from the San Francisco Ferry Building, which is a worthy excursion in and of itself, particularly for foodies, since there are many unique gourmet stores and artisanal bakeries.
The journey passes by the iconic Alcatraz Island and provides a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge to the west. In the calm Richardson Bay to the east, travelers may glimpse Angel Island and Tiburon just before the voyage concludes.
Bridgeway is located near the ferry terminal and features a variety of waterfront eateries, cafés, confectionery stores, ice cream parlors, art galleries, and tourist boutiques.
The Southern Boardwalk is located near Sausalito's Old Town and was featured in a 1947 film starring Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, among other films. The Northern Boardwalk runs parallel to the yacht docks downtown and is home to a variety of distinctive boutiques.
Best time to visit: Sausalito is a great place to visit at any time of year.
Driving time: It takes around 30 minutes to get there.
16. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is a fantastic holiday location for outdoor enthusiasts, thanks to its spectacular beauty and world-famous waterfalls. While Yosemite Valley is home to some of the most famous sights, it may be congested during peak season.
Drive to Tunnel View and Glacier Point, two famous Yosemite vista spots, for panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridalveil Fall. To get a closer look at Bridalveil Falls, take the short trek there.
Consider the 2-mile out and back trail to Mirror Lake for a relatively easy hike. By walking the entire 5-mile loop, you may make it a lengthier hike. Hikers looking for a more difficult trek can find lots of options in Yosemite, including the Half-Dome hike.
You may see Yosemite Falls from the valley floor or hike to the summit. The popular Mist Trail offers up-close looks at Vernal and Nevada Falls.
During the warmer months, you may drive Tioga Road into Yosemite National Park's high country to see Tioga and Tenaya Lakes or trek in the Tuolumne Meadows region. Alternatively, go to Mariposa Grove and have a stroll amid the giant sequoias.
Best time to visit: Yosemite may be visited at any time of year, depending on what activities you want to do. Yosemite is a winter wonderland where you may snowshoe or cross-country ski. Spring is a great time to see wildflowers and waterfalls.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 211 miles to Yosemite Valley, and it takes around 4 hours to get there from San Francisco.
17. Mount Tamalpais State Park
Mount Tamalpais State Park is a popular day-trip destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts in the Bay Area. The park is conveniently located near the city and provides a picturesque drive, spectacular landscapes, scenic hikes, and animal viewing opportunities.
Drive up to the East Peak parking lot. The peak is reached after a short 0.2-mile uphill trek from the parking area. From San Francisco Bay and the city in the south to Mt. Diablo in the east and spectacular ocean vistas in the west, the 360-degree views from the top are absolutely breathtaking.
From the Rock Springs parking lot, take the Trojan Point Trail for a short hike with spectacular views of the golden hills, the city, and the Instagram-worthy Pan Toll Road winding up the mountain. The Verna Dunshee Loop Trail is a short trek around the top of the hill that offers views of the city and the ocean.
If you're ready for a challenge, trek from the bottom to the peak of Mount Tamalpais! The Matt Davis, Steep Ravine, and Dipsea Loop trail combined, with outstanding scenery, is another magnificent trek for experienced hikers. Other popular ways to explore the Mount Tamalpais trails include trail running and mountain biking.
Best time to visit: Mount Tamalpais State Park is a great place to visit at any time of year.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 14.5 miles, and it takes around 30 minutes.
Cambria, a charming beach town on the Central California coast, is a popular day trip from the bay area.
The Moonstone Beach Boardwalk Trail and the Bluff Trail at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve are two of Cambria's most beautiful walking trails with views of the ocean. They are both relatively easy and ideal for the majority of tourists.
The Main Street of Cambria is attractive. Admire the lovely cottage gardens on both sides while browsing the art galleries and gift shops. The Cambria Historical Society building is located on the block, and its grounds are lovely in the spring.
Hearst Castle, the former residence of publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst, lies just over 10 miles to the north. Cayucos State Beach, a sandy beach where you may go surfing, swimming, or tide-pooling, lies a few miles south.
Best time to go: You can visit Cambria any time of year.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 232 miles, and it takes around 3 hours and 30 minutes to get there from San Francisco.
19. Sonoma Coast State Park
The Sonoma Coast State Park, which encompasses a wonderfully magnificent length of Northern California coast, provides a string of magnificent sandy beaches divided by rugged headlands, making it ideal for a day in the outdoors.
With magnificent rock formations in the ocean and a sandy beach, Goat Rock is one of the most popular sites in the park. Here you may see a colony of harbor seals, which is a lot of fun to see, but stay your distance. Swimming is not permitted anywhere along this stretch of coastline.
At low tide, go beachcombing and tide-pooling. Shell Beach is a great place to go tide-pooling and beachcombing, and Salmon Creek Beach is also a good place to do beachcombing.
Throughout the park, there are various trails of varying difficulty and duration. At Goat Rock Beach, the simple Harbor Seal Nursery Trail leads you past the seals and through wildflowers in bloom. The Bodega Head Trail, with its stunning ocean views from the cliffs, is another simple and spectacular climb.
Aside from harbor seals, you might be able to see migratory whales from the coastline. On the beaches of this area, the endangered western snowy plover breeds. Other birds to look for are sanderlings, sandpipers, curlews, gulls, plovers, and loons.
Best time to visit: Autumn is a special and much-anticipated time to be outdoors in Sonoma County.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 68 miles, and it takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes.
20. Elkhorn Slough Reserve
Elkhorn Slough, a lesser-known beauty in terms of day trips from San Francisco, is a spot you'll want to visit again and again once you've discovered it. It is one of the most outstanding birding spots on the California coast and also provides a peaceful setting in which to wander and enjoy nature's beauty while seeing wildlife.
Three longer loops are available. All of the paths are beautiful and tranquil, and it's worth exploring as many as you can. On weekends, naturalist-led guided hikes may be available.
The Reserve is home to a large population of sea otters, as well as harbor seals and sea lions. Rabbits, deer, and bobcats may be seen on land. Hundreds of bird species have also been spotted here. So bring your binoculars and zoom lens, and have a great day watching and photographing animals.
Take a safari boat tour of Elkhorn Slough. The 2-hour trip, which takes place on an open pontoon boat, includes animal observation from the water as well as up-close picture opportunities. Tours are available all year. Reservations are necessary in advance.
There are multiple beaches as well as the Moss Landing State Wildlife Area, so if you have the time, there is enough to see and do.
Best time to visit: As the birds move in the spring and fall, there will be more of them. Green hills, wildflowers, and newborn animals such as sea otters, harbor seals, and nesting birds will all accompany the arrival of spring.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 98 miles, and it takes around 1 hour and 35 minutes.
21. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is located in the Santa Cruz mountains and is known for its stunning old-growth redwoods.
There are nearly 30 miles of trails throughout the park, ranging from simple to difficult. With about 6 miles of hiking and a little over 400 feet of elevation gain, the Cowell Highlights Loop is an epic excursion through the park's top sights: from redwoods to stunning views from the park's highest point to the river, where you can cool down with a plunge. On specified roads, bicycling is permitted.
Garden Of Eden is a famous swimming place on the San Lorenzo River if you visit during the summer. So, don't forget to bring your swimwear and water shoes! Frisbee Beach and Cable Car Beach are two more areas in the park where you may enjoy the water.
Keep an eye out for birds and other animals. Many species of woodpeckers, warblers, and flycatchers may be seen. Deer, coyotes, and bobcats are among the animals that may be seen.
If you prefer steam engine trains, Roaring Camp in nearby Santa Cruz offers two trips: one to the top of Bear Mountain and back, and another to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and back.
Best time to visit: Any time of the year.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 70 miles, and it takes around 1 hour and 10 minutes.
22. Mount Diablo State Park
For wildlife enthusiasts, this massive state park in the East Bay is a must-see. While the peak of Mt. Diablo is the park's most prominent attraction, there are countless other geologically intriguing and flora and fauna-rich places.
Take a drive to the top for panoramic views of the surrounding area. The Diablo mountain range is surrounded by undulating hills and valleys that provide stunning views. On clear days, Mt. Diablo's top affords views up to 200 miles despite its height of fewer than 4,000 feet.
Visit the Rock City region, which includes Elephant Rock and Sentinel Rock, among other notable sandstone formations. There are a number of interesting places to visit, including tiny caves. From the park's south gate, you may drive to Rock City Park and then explore the various trails.
Mitchell Canyon is a delightful region of the park to explore, especially in the springtime, since it contains stunning wildflower displays. There is also a trail from Mitchell Canyon to the peak of Mount Diablo: at 13.2 miles round-trip, it is a strenuous trek that will take 5-7 hours.
Best time to visit: On Mount Diablo, the best viewing season is from mid-fall until the end of winter.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 40 miles, and it takes around 1 hour and 10 minutes.
23. Garrapata State Park
Garrapata State Park is a wild and beautiful park located along California Highway 1 in the northern area of spectacular Big Sur. The trails here used to be rather vacant, but Garrapata State Park is no longer a hidden gem, and popular paths may get rather busy during the summer. However, it is still a great spot to visit on a day trip from the San Francisco Bay Area.
At Garrapata State Beach, take a stroll along the sand. The beach is gorgeous and bordered by steep cliffs, but you can't swim here since the waves are too dangerous. At the halfway point, Dowd Creek empties into the ocean, while Garrapata Creek empties into the ocean at the southern end.
There are a number of coastal trails to choose from. The Soberanes Canyon Walk, located on the east side of Highway 1, is a lovely trail that passes through a variety of landscapes, including redwoods, a creek with several crossings, and prickly pear cactus. It links to Rocky Ridge Trail, a steep ascent that gives spectacular views.
Best time to visit: You can visit Garrapata State Park any time of the year.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 129 miles, and it takes around 2 hours.
Sonora offers stunning scenery and a variety of activities, making it ideal for a relaxing weekend getaway. This lesser-known treasure is an excellent base for exploring the Stanislaus National Forest.
Drive the Sonora Pass Road in the fall for stunning landscapes and bright yellows and oranges. The Emigrant Wilderness, which can be reached by this road, is home to incredible granite formations and stunning alpine lakes.
Beardsley Reservoir or Pinecrest Lake are great places to visit if you enjoy water activities. Whitewater rafting on the Stanislaus River is only a short drive away.
If you like history, travel to Columbia State Historic Park, which is only 4 miles from Sonora, to observe a community that has kept its gold mining legacy alive.
Alternatively, wander amid gigantic sequoias at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, about 30 miles away. Or, 38 miles away, the California Cavern State Historic Landmark, with its multicolored cave walls and stunning stalactites and stalagmites.
Best time to visit: Depending on your interests and tastes, you may go at any time of year.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 132 miles, and it takes around 2 hours.
Healdsburg is a culinary and wine hotspot in Northern Sonoma County, with a variety of farm-to-table restaurants showcasing local and seasonal foods. A lovely walkable downtown, spas, and a wide range of activities in and around town make for a fantastic day trip from San Francisco.
The Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve, just outside of town, has hiking trails. The Russian River, Fitch Mountain, and the Mayacama Mountains are all visible from the walks.
The Costeaux French Bakery is a wonderful spot for breakfast, and its sweets are delicious. Barndiva is a must-visit for brunch. Spoonbar is the place to go if you're looking for a good cocktail. Single Thread, with its three Michelin stars, is the place to go for that special meal.
Visit some of the area's gorgeous vineyards, such as the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in neighboring Geyserville, which has a French castle with some of the director's memorabilia. The Ferrari-Carano Vineyards have beautiful gardens. Jordan Winery boasts a beautiful ivy-covered French castle that is ideal for photography.
Best time to visit: You can visit Healdsburg any time of the year.
Driving distance and time: The driving distance is 70 miles, and it takes around 1 hour and 25 minutes.
We hope this list will help you uncover and experience the best Bay Area day trips with detailed suggestions on where to stop and what to do. Be sure to check out GAFFL to find a travel buddy in case you need someone to travel with.
Looking to learn more about other popular day trips in the United States? Check out these guides: