San Francisco is not just a vibrant city full of exciting and iconic attractions. It also serves as the gateway to many other incredible Californian destinations. From breathtaking coastal views to nature hikes and winery hopping, there are many nearby locations worth adding to your San Francisco itinerary.
Of course, if you’re only in San Francisco for a few days, you won’t be able to travel far, but if you have time to stay longer, you can turn a short California trip into an unforgettable vacation.
When looking for things to do in San Francisco plan to extend your stay and consider taking a road trip. Read on to discover weekend trips from San Francisco that will surely convince you to stay a little longer.
Best Weekend Trips from San Francisco
All of these road trips from San Francisco take between 1 to 4 hours to reach. Guaranteed, no matter your travel style and interests, you’ll find your ideal San Francisco weekend getaway on this list or an addition to your trip!
Planning a trip to California? You know there are more top California guides where this one came from!
Big Sur is known as one of the most scenic road trips in the USA, and luckily, the beginning of the drive is just 2 hours south of San Francisco. From Carmel, the start of Big Sur, you’ll follow a 90-mile coastal road down to San Simeon, taking 2 to 2.5 hours one way. Big Sur works much better as a weekend trip from San Francisco rather than a day trip, though it can be done as both, depending on how much you want to do.
On day one, leave the city early, embarking on the drive to San Simeon. Stop off at some of the leading Big Sur attractions on the way, such as Point Lobos, Bixby Creek Bridge, and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Stay in San Simeon overnight, and check out the remaining must-visit spots on day two. Don’t leave without seeing McWay Falls and Partington Cove.
Fun road trip tip: You can purchase an audio guide for a Big Sur road trip that will tell you where to stop and about each destination. Pretty cool, don’t you think? Or you know follow this free handy guide right here.
Being a 75-minute drive away, Napa Valley makes for one of the most popular short trips from San Francisco. This famous wine region has over 375 wineries that offer tastings and tours, so you’ll most likely want to stay overnight here.
Napa Valley is renowned for its Cabernet Sauvignon, but you’ll find a vast selection of wine varieties. Along with the world-class wine, Napa Valley boasts beautiful wine country scenery, making the drive to and from San Francisco incredibly scenic. Or, if you don’t want to drive, you can enjoy the views on the vintage Napa Valley Wine Train. Guided day trips are a worthy option too. Finally, be sure to try some of the regional gourmet food at Oxbow Public Market too.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is one of California’s most visited national parks, with its thundering waterfalls, huge sequoia trees, and magnificent boulders and peaks. Yosemite truly should be on every traveler’s bucket list. San Francisco to Yosemite National Park can be reached in 3 to 4 hours. So while it may be a little far for a day trip, it’s one of the best weekend trips from SF.
There is so much to see in Yosemite, so leave early from San Francisco on day one. Doing so will allow you to check off many of the top attractions to have a more relaxed second day in the park. Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Valley, Mirror Lake, Mariposa Grove, and Cathedral Beach are just a few must-see sights.
If you don’t have your own transportation and prefer not to hire a car, you’ll be pleased to hear that there are many weekend guided tours that drive you from San Francisco and back. For example, on the Yosemite Lodge 2-Day National Park Tour, you’ll see all the best spots, hike some famous trails, and stay overnight in the park at Yosemite Lodge.
Lake Tahoe is another of California’s most beautiful nature spots and is easy to get to from San Francisco. However, it takes between 3 and 3.5 hours to reach the lake from the city, so you should stay overnight to make the most of the blissful area.
There are several small towns all around the lake that offer accommodation including the most popular, South Lake Tahoe, which is close to Emerald Bay State Park and the famous Heavenly Ski Village.
If you’re visiting in the winter, you can enjoy some of the best alpine skiing in the country. Alternatively, if you’re on a summer vacation, relax on the beaches of Sand Harbor and refresh in Cascade Falls. Finally, for those visiting during the shoulder seasons when the weather is most pleasant, why not challenge yourself to hike the 10-mile Rubicon Trail?
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
Sequoia and Kings Canyon are two breathtaking national parks that sit side by side in California. You’ll surely enjoy Sequoia and Kings Canyon if you’ve already visited Yosemite and loved it. To see both national parks, you’ll need at least two days as it’s about a half-day drive each way. You can also add an extra day to enjoy a slower-paced nature break if you have the time.
Spend day one in Sequoia National Park admiring the colossal Sequoia trees like the General Sherman Tree and climbing the iconic Moro Rock. Then, on day two, tackle the Big Baldy trail in King Canyon, climbing up the 8209-foot (2502 meter) granite peak.
It’s recommended to stay in Grant Grove Village, conveniently located between the two national parks. There are campgrounds, cabins, and a lodge, but they fill up quickly, so book in advance.
Carmel-by-the-Sea & Monterey
For those looking for a weekend trip that involves minimal driving, visit Carmel and Monterey, the two towns at the start of Big Sur. Rather than continuing with the road trip down the San Simeon, you can enjoy a relaxing weekend here, making the most of the scenery and attractions nearby.
Monterey Bay is well known for its marine life and is one of the best places to see whales and sea lions. Going on a sunset whale watching cruise is highly recommended on day one to learn about the incredible wildlife as you watch the sun setting over the ocean.
Then, just south of Carmel, you’ll find Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Here, embark on a 6.7-mile (10.8 km) Point Lobos Loop hiking trail that hugs the coastline around the entire reserve. Along with beautiful scenery on land, you’ll see plenty of wildlife in the sky and the ocean.
Sonoma Valley is a less famous wine-making region in California but is located next to Napa Valley and is much quieter. It’s a great alternative for those who prefer to avoid crowds.
Sonoma has over 80 wineries, many of which are small, family-run operations. Most offer tastings and tours, including Buena Vista Winery, the oldest in the region. Check out Kunde Family Winery too, which carries out wine tasting on their mountaintop patio 1,400 feet above the valley.
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most popular grape varieties here, but Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and Merlot are also grown. The area is just as beautiful as Napa Valley and the town has some lovely art galleries and stunning colonial-era architecture in Sonoma Plaza, where you’ll find a farmer’s market during the summer.
Mendocino is a small coastal town, a 3-hour drive north of San Francisco. It boasts 90 miles of spectacular, untouched coastline with so much to explore, including secluded beaches and peaceful hiking trails.
Mendocino is also famed for its gourmet farm-to-table dining, and you’ll find many top-class eateries here. Trillium Cafe is recommended, specializing in modern California cuisine made from locally grown ingredients. What’s more, their outside dining deck has stunning views of Big River Bay.
You can also visit OZ Farm to learn about organic farming or check out the small, locally run shops on the main street. Or make the most of the fresh air and go hiking along the coast in Mendocino Headlands State Park.
Point Reyes National Seashore
If you’re looking for one of the shortest San Francisco getaways, check out Point Reyes and the surrounding nature areas, just an hour and a half north of the city. Tomales Bay is a serene 15-mile inlet with abundant wildlife and some fantastic hiking trails that is nestled beside Point Reyes.
The sleepy fishing village has a surprising amount to offer, such as traditional seafood restaurants and tiny hamlets. You’ll also find several picturesque farms and barns like Toby’s Feed Barn, where you can stock up on local organic produce and buy unique gifts.
Point Reyes National Seashore is a 71,000-acre park that features various hiking trails leading to untouched beaches. The Point Reyes Lighthouse is a notable attraction here and so is Cypress Tree Tunnel, a famous road lined with cypress trees that create a tunnel-like feel that leads to a historic radio station.
Santa Cruz Mountains
Santa Cruz Mountains is one of the less popular San Francisco trips. Still, a weekend here makes for the ultimate wine and hiking holiday. So if you like that combination as much as we do and want to get off the beaten path, we highly recommend this gorgeous recreation area.
Aside from hiking, the trails around this mountain range are suitable for mountain biking. Plus, there are several rock climbing sites for adrenaline seekers. But, if you want a more gentle outdoor activity, there are many easy walks through the towering redwood forests.
There are enough wineries here to spend a day wine-hopping. One of our favorites is the award-winning, family-run Mindego Ridge. Several farms are also open to the public, such as Harley Farms. If you come in spring, you can meet the baby goats and treat yourself to some homemade chocolate truffles in the farm shop.