San Francisco is a world-renowned city with plenty of iconic attractions. From the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz Island, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant and eclectic city.
But if you’re looking to explore beyond the city limits, you can find plenty of great day trips from San Francisco worth checking out. Here are some of our favorites.
The Best Day Trips From San Francisco in 2023
If you’re ready to get out of San Francisco and explore other parts of California without making more than a day out of it, look no further than our list of the best day trips from the city.
1. Santa Cruz
- Travel Time: 1.5 hours
Santa Cruz, California, is the perfect day trip destination from San Francisco! With its miles of golden sandy beaches, sprawling redwood forests, and delicious seafood cuisine, Santa Cruz offers something for everyone.
Home to the famous Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster at the Boardwalk amusement park, surfing hotspot Steamer Lane, and several craft breweries, Santa Cruz has plenty to see and do. Plus, Santa Cruz has many lively bars, boutique shops, and historical landmarks.
If you’re looking for a day full of adventure, breathtaking scenery, and endless opportunities for fun, pack your bags and grab your closest friends; you won’t find another place in California like Santa Cruz.
2. Yosemite National Park
- Travel Time: 3 hours and 15 minutes
Yosemite National Park, located in the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, offers a day trip that could be the highlight of any San Francisco vacation.
Identifying Yosemite is easy: adorning its 675,000 acres are a thunderous waterfall, ancient sequoia trees, breathtaking cliffs, and awe-inspiring landscapes. If you’re looking for activities to do when visiting this majestic national park, you won’t be disappointed.
There are day hikes in the Valley, starting from easy going to strenuous, so keep those daypacks light if you can. You can also bike along Yosemite Falls or ride horses in Cook’s Meadow.
For an up-close view of some of the fall’s best attractions, visitors may take a river or lake cruise that monitors wild animals and explores tunnels throughout the park. Even if you don’t extend your stay exploring the park, trips to Yosemite National Park are full of adventure.
3. Gold Country
- Travel Time: 2 hours
Gold Country in California is an ideal day trip from San Francisco. If you’re looking for outdoor beauty, adventure, or a taste of history, Gold Country offers something for everyone.
The stunning rivers and lakes are great for swimming, kayaking, rafting, or fishing. Hiking through the towering redwoods offers an invigorating experience and beautiful scenery.
For a glimpse of what life used to be like in the late 1800s gold rush days, you can visit one of several nearby gold rush towns that are reminiscent of life during California’s booming gold days, such as Nevada City and Placerville.
Exploring Gold Country can make a single day of travel feel like a week of exploring foreign towns when you make a mini road trip out of your journey.
4. Lake Tahoe
- Travel Time: 4 hours
Whether you’re a skier longing for fresh powder or a nature enthusiast wanting to soak up the majestic beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe is an absolute paradise for those looking for day trips from San Francisco.
Glistening blue-green waters make up much of the landscape, with plenty of beaches to choose from, so relaxing in nature’s lap has never been easier. Nature lovers can take a day hike or bike ride on one of the many trails around the lake.
Adventurers can heartily get their adrenaline pumping on exciting activities like paragliding and rock climbing. History buffs will love discovering relics at the old mining sites while foodies relish the delicious cuisine found in the plentiful restaurants around town.
5. Big Basin Redwoods State Park
- Travel Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes
Big Basin Redwoods State Park makes for a perfect day trip from San Francisco to experience the beauty of California’s coastal redwood forests.
This park is the oldest state park in California and includes over 22,500 acres of protected forest that is home to tree-lined trails that stretch for miles, such as Redwood Loop Trail and Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail.
There are also plenty of opportunities to take part in wildlife spotting, like catching a glimpse of wild turkeys or deer.
Campgrounds are available for those who wish to stay a day or overnight, where visitors can enjoy spectacular sunsets or look up at the night sky shining above them. Make sure to plan your visit soon so you don’t miss out on all that Big Basin Redwoods State Park offers.
6. Tiburon and Angel Island
- Travel Time: 40 minutes
Spend a day outside of San Francisco and off the shore of northern California to explore Tiburon and Angel Island. Both just a day trip from the city, you’ll find plenty to keep yourself busy during an unforgettable day out in nature.
With crystal clear waters to explore in Tiburon, visitors will find incredible kayaking activities and fascinating wildlife-watching opportunities.
Meanwhile, on Angel Island, visitors can take advantage of some wonderful hiking trails which offer spectacular views of the area. In addition to that, bike rentals are available where you can take a stroll around the island.
Regardless of what you choose to do at either location, there is no doubt that Tiburon and Angel Island make for an excellent day away from San Francisco.
7. Half-Moon Bay
- Travel Time: 50 minutes
Half Moon Bay is located south of San Francisco along Highway 1, making it an easy drive from the city. This small coastal town offers spectacular views of the coastline.
However, it also offers great opportunities for outdoor activities, such as surfing, hiking, kayaking, and horseback riding. Plus, its rural setting gives you a nice day break from the hustling bustling city experience.
When you need to grab some fuel during your trip, Half Moon Bay has many high-quality restaurants where you can enjoy delicious seafood while taking in panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.
- Travel Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes
This is one of my favorite day trips from San Fran. Nestled in the heart of the bay, the waterfront town of Sausalito is an idyllic day trip destination from San Francisco.
Home to fine dining restaurants and unique boutiques, Sausalito’s picturesque charm plays host to visitors looking for a relaxing day in the sun. Although I can’t remember the name, there was a charming little Italian restaurant just across from the firehouse I loved.
My wife and I also liked walking the wooden docks and seeing the old-time candy shop.
From cozy gondola rides to outdoor art galleries, most visitors find plenty to do while exploring the beauty that encapsulates this quaint town. This was one of my favorite little towns I’ve seen.
Be sure to eat at the little Italian place by the fire station! Thrill-seekers have no shortage of adventures, either. You can take your pick of adventurous activities, from kayaking around McCovey Cove to windsurfing on Richardson Bay.
9. Muir Woods National Monument
- Travel Time: 40 minutes
Muir Woods National Monument, located just a day trip away from San Francisco in Marin County, California, offers an abundance of activities for the adventurous traveler.
Hiking through the lush redwood groves of this ancient forest is a must-do, and visitors can enjoy tranquility on many trails ranging from short and easy to longer and more challenging treks.
For those looking to learn more about the park’s abundant wildlife, guided tours provide guests with an in-depth look at Muir Woods’ diverse flora and fauna. In addition, picnic areas are available throughout the park to enjoy quality time with friends and family amid the serene beauty of nature.
Whether you choose to follow one of the trails or take some time to bask in nature’s peace and solitude, Muir Woods impresses visitors of all ages with its breathtaking landscape.
10. Point Reyes National Seashore
- Travel Time: 1 hour
Whether you’re looking to explore nature, take in breathtaking views, or embark on an exhilarating adventure, Point Reyes National Seashore has just the thing. Plus, you don’t have to drive too far from the city to experience it.
From hikes among ancient trees and winding footpaths to kayaking trips around lagoons and photo ops across sprawling landscapes, there’s something here for everyone.
What sets Point Reyes apart though, is its star-gazing opportunities. With zero light pollution and a host of untainted open spaces, you can enjoy some of the clearest skies imaginable at Point Reyes.
Come to pay tribute to age-old traditions, or kick back and relax. Whatever your vacation goals are at Point Reyes National Seashore, you won’t be left wanting for things to do.
11. Napa Valley
- Travel Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Napa Valley is one of California’s most famous wine-producing regions, and it’s only an hour away from San Francisco when you drive. With over 400 wineries scattered throughout the area, you can spend a day touring some renowned vineyards or tasting delicious wines at any number of tasting rooms.
You can either map out the wineries you want to visit before you go and make reservations, or you can sign up for a wine tour company that can bus you around to the wineries instead.
If you only plan on a day trip to the valley, you may want to rely on your vehicle rather than someone else’s. Don’t forget to make time for food too. Besides wine, you’ll find plenty of restaurants serving up local dishes with fresh ingredients straight from Napa’s farms and vineyards.
Frequently Asked Questions
Just in case you still have questions about planning your day trip from San Francisco, we’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions on the subject below. Take a look if you need some more help.
Are there any free things to do around San Francisco?
Absolutely. There are many free things to do around San Francisco that will keep you entertained without breaking the bank. Take a walking tour of Chinatown or explore Golden Gate Park: both are fun options that won’t cost you anything but time.
How far can I travel in one day?
The distance you can travel in one day is completely dependent on how much time you want to spend driving and what kind of activities you plan on doing once you arrive at your destination.
Generally speaking, if you leave early in the morning and don’t linger too long at each stop, you can make it to destinations that are up to 2-3 hours away. However, this means that your time spent exploring will be limited.
What are some tips for planning a day trip?
Planning a successful day trip requires some forethought and planning. First off, decide what kind of activities or sights you want to see during your trip — this will help determine where exactly you should go and how long it will take to get there (and back).
Next up is mapping out an itinerary that allows enough time for rest stops along the way and sightseeing opportunities when you arrive at your destination. Lastly, make reservations if necessary for restaurants or accommodations so that everything goes smoothly on your journey.
So, What Is the Best Day Trip From San Francisco?
San Francisco is full of amazing sights and attractions, but if you want to get out of town for a day, then these destinations are great options.
You can take a trip to see the almost otherworldly Redwoods, explore the coast at Point Reyes National Seashore, and sample wine at California’s renowned Napa Valley. Whatever destination you choose, you’re sure to have an amazing time. Happy travels!