Ready for a break from the city? Whether you’re looking for weekend getaways from the Bay Area or longer road trips from San Francisco, this is my list of favorite trips for couples, girlfriends, solo travelers, families, and nature lovers.
I’ve compiled it after more than 30 years of living and vacationing in the Golden State!
San Francisco Road Trips
1. Point Reyes
Distance from San Francisco: 37.4 miles, 1 hours 12 minutes
Why I Love It
Point Reyes National Seashore is a beautiful cape in Marin County, California and one of my favorite Bay Area road trips due to its wide variety of landscapes and activities. It also makes a great romantic getaway in the U.S.
It’s also very accessible, only an hour north of San Francisco, yet much less crowded than the more popular Marin County beaches, Stinson Beach, and Muir Beach.
With over 150 miles of hiking trails, beaches, camping, and wildlife, it’s easy to fill an entire weekend itinerary at Point Reyes.
Things to do in Point Reyes
Alamere Falls, accessed by an 8.4 mile out and back trail from Palomarin Trailhead in Point Reyes, is a rare “tidefall —a waterfall that flows directly into the ocean.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse, at the tip of the cape, is another beautiful destination to hike to as a more moderate 1.3 mile out and back walk.
Stop at the Tomales Bay Oyster Company for fresh oysters and cold drinks after a weekend at Point Reyes before heading back to San Francisco.
Rachel & Clark | Seeking Our Someday
Where to stay in Point Reyes
Point Reyes also offers some of the most unique overnight camping in California with a number of “boat-in only” campsites along Tomales Bay.
Otherwise, how about a light-filled cabin in the woods that is surrounded by the national park? It’s truly a world of its own!
Guest review: “This was our second visit to the cabin. We adore this little get away. Whale watching at the lighthouse was amazing and on the way back to the cabin we witnessed a cow giving birth. Great sushi at Inverness Park Market too!” — Amy C., Mar 2021
2. Santa Cruz
Distance from San Francisco: 73.1 miles, 1 hour 13 minutes
Why I love It
If you’re loooking for short trips from San Francisco or San Francisco day trips, Santa Cruz is your spot!
One of my favorite memories of living here in high school was walking a trail to the beach and stumbling into thousands of Monarch butterflies taking a breather there in the Eucalyptus grove.
It was a spectacular sight! Unlike much of the Bay Area, Santa Cruz is a walkable, driveable nature-filled paradise.
Things to do in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is an outdoor lovers’ dream! Check out the unparalleled beauty of Natural Bridges State Park after you drive scenic West Coast Drive. Head to the many scenic beaches here.
Or, take an open air train ride from Roaring Camp in nearby Felton through the majestic Santa Cruz redwoods directly. (There are lots of great places to see redwoods near San Francisco.)
This breathtaking experience is not just for kids! In fact, the train will drop you directly at the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the city’s unique and retro amusement park. (I had my senior prom there.) Visit the seals on the wharf.
If it’s a sunny day, soak up the sun at nearby Capitola Beach and admire the brightly colored row houses that frame the beach.
Then stop by Mr. Toots Coffeehouse. This iconic little shop has been serving up drinks for decades!
Where to stay in Santa Cruz
Stay in a charming and romantic cottage owned by an interior designer near Santa Cruz harbor. The south facing light and luxury bedding make this the perfect stay.
Guest review: “Very cozy and romantic. Everything you need is there to make your stay comfortable and enjoyable!” —Nancy H., Nov 2020
Do you love staying in Airbnbs?|
I did too…and then I discovered the world of VRBO (vacation rental by owner).
All those Airbnb service and cleaning fees can really add up. Often, the very same properties are available at VRBO for far less. Plus, they feature many beautiful properties with character…and they don’t all seem vaguely the same as they sometimes do on Airbnb!
Keep reading for my curated VRBO selections here.
3. Big Sur
Distance from San Francisco: 146 miles, 2 hours 27 minutes
Why I love it
Big Sur is one of the biggest reasons that driving California Highway 1 is a bucket list experience. It makes for a great weekend getaway from San Francisco (or a longer road trip from So Cal).
With turquoise waves lapping onto sandy beaches at the base of dramatic cliffs, this is truly California at its most spectacular.
Things to do in Big Sur
There are so many amazing things to do in Big Sur! And most of them involve hiking, cycling, and scenic drives.
Your biggest challenge will be choosing between the phenomenal state parks here.
Be sure to see McWay Falls at Julia Pfieffer State Park and meander through Point Lobos Natural Reserve, “the crown jewel” of California’s state parks.
If you’re feeling fancy, plan a meal at one of the beautiful resorts here. Post Ranch Inn and Ventana Inn both make good choices.
Don’t forget to drive or cycle nearby 17-mile drive in Carmel to see The Lone Cyprus and famous Pebble Beach golf course.
Whatever you do…be sure to stop at Nepenthe for a drink or a meal.
With its outdoor seating and long wooden counter, it’s an epic spot to relax on the Pacific Coast Highway for a tremendous view of the coast here.
Where to stay in Big Sur
Stay in a cottage in a gated private estate with grand views of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range. It’s just a ½ mile drive to Folktale Winery and 3 miles to the award-winning Refuge Spa.
Guest review: “Wish I was there now! Beautiful quaint little cottage…. in the midst of gorgeous rolling hills. I will definitely come back.” —Trisha M., Dec 2020
Want 9 quick and easy shortcuts to creating a WOW itinerary every time? Click here to get my best tips.
4. Lake Tahoe
Distance from San Francisco: 195 miles, 3 hours 27 minutes
Why I love it
I’ve been visiting Tahoe for decades. With its sparkling emerald lake and pine forest setting, Lake Tahoe makes the perfect San Francisco getaway for families, hikers, boaters, and couples.
In fact, this is one of the most beautiful lakes in California. It’s beautiful in summer and a skiers’ nirvana in winter!
Things to do in Lake Tahoe
In summer, spend time on one of the lake’s sandy beaches. Consider renting a kayak or boat. Then head out for a hike. Rubicon Trail or Mt. Tallac Trail make good choices.
In winter, it’s all about the downhill and cross country skiing in Northstar, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, and Heavenly Mountain.
If you’re looking for romantic getaways from San Francisco, be sure to ride the gondola at Heavenly Valley—get out at the observation deck for phenomenal views—or enjoy a sunset boat cruise. Then hit the casinos in nearby Reno.
Reserve ahead! Last minute getaways can be challenging during peak summer or ski season, but try Airbnb.
Also, if you’re a nature lover, stay on the north shore. Conversely, if you love night life and hope to do some casino hopping, you’ll want to base on the south shore.
Where to stay in Lake Tahoe
Heading to Tahoe with a group? How about panoramic lake views to sleep 12? This classic Tahoe chalet on the North Shore in Tahoe Vista has been updated for 2021 with all the ammenities…including a new deck and hot tub.
Guest review: “Awesome view! Nice hot tub.” —David H., Dec 2020
Distance from San Francisco: 154 miles, 3 hours
Why I love it
Mendocino is the perfect quiet getaway from the busy city of San Francisco. Much less traveled than Big Sur in the south, Mendocino is still full of coastal views and beaches.
And if you have a pooch in tow, check out this dog-friendly guide to Mendocino.
It’s one of the most beautiful places in California! I love the relaxed, salty-air vibe that the area has, and you can be sure to have lots of room to spread out a picnic blanket on a local beach or at one of the many coastal overlooks.
Things to do in Mendocino
Mendocino is known for its views from famous Highway 1, but the ocean is not all that makes Mendocino the beautiful place it is.
There are amazing food options: Fiddleheads Cafe has wonderful meals, especially their signature Fiddlefingers (chicken tenders!) There are also beautiful forested areas here.
Remember on a visit to Mendocino to drive through the areas surrounding the town.
Just north in Fort Bragg is world-famous Glass Beach, and just South there are high overlooks that rival those of Big Sur. Mendocino is the perfect getaway for a quiet, relaxing weekend!
Samantha | A Truthful Traveler
Where to stay in Mendocino
If you’re into glamping, Mendocino Grove offers yurts located in a wooded setting. For beautiful ocean views, treat yourself to a stay in a cliffside cottage.
Find your happy place where ocean serenity meets enchanted redwoods. The rustic elegance of this romantic ridgetop escape makes this splurge worth every penny.
Guest review: “Me and my wife stayed here for our honeymoon. The view from the cabin is beautiful. The wrap-around deck, the windows and the high ceiling make the cabin feel open while still being small and intimate.” —Noah M., Jan 2021
Distance from San Francisco: 118 miles, 1 hour 53 minutes
Why I love it
Wedged between hippie Santa Cruz to the north and swank Carmel to the south, Monterey came to life through John Steinbeck’s novels.
It’s one of the most convenient getaways in Northern California and also makes a great San Francisco day trip or Bay Area staycation.
It’s got a vibrant, earthy, working-class feel and seals and otters galore!
Things to do in Monterey
Fisherman’s Wharf with its fresh seafood restaurants is always a draw, but can also be clogged with tourists and overly expensive.
Head instead to Cannery Row, which came to life through a cast of characters in John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name. Today it’s a vibrant mix of boutiques and hotels.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the incredible Monterey Aquarium here (even if you’re not with kids!). It’s right next to Cannery Row.
This incredible aquarium offers truly spectacular exhibits. Don’t miss the open sea exhibit. Then top at beachy Lover’s Point for sunset.
Rent a bike! There’s flat, scenic rides galore here. Ride Fisherman’s Wharf to Lovers Point or head to Ford Ord if you’re on a mountain bike.
Where to stay in Monterey
Stay in a 1920’s restored bungalow just steps from charming Lovers Point. It’s got all the old world charm with today’s comforts. Sea otters and tidepools are at your doorstep.
Guest review: “My husband and I had a great weekend. The house is in a great location. We walked all over Pacific Grove-fantastic ocean views.”
7. Mammoth Lakes
Distance from San Francisco: 262 miles, 5 hours 11 minutes
Why I love it
Unlike the crowds that flock to nearby Yosemite from around the world, Mammoth is filled mostly with Californians in search of adventure.
Off-the-beaten-path outdoor activities reign here.
Things to do in Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth Lakes is a paradise any season of the year. In summer, it’s hiking, fishing, and cycling galore.
There’s nothing like backpacking or camping in these mountains. Hikers should head to Devil’s Postpile and Rainbow Falls (a great waterfall hike in Reds Meadow).
In fall, Mammoth offers California leaf-peeping at its best. And in winter, there are plenty of trails for both downhill and crosscountry skiiers as well as snowboarders.
There’s abundant wildlife in Mammoth Lake—including bears—so be smart and keep your distance. Be sure to store your food safely in a food storage locker if you’re camping.
Where to stay in Mammoth Lakes
If you’re headed to Mammoth for hiking or skiing with a group, there’ s no better place to stay than this luxe four bed, 2.4 bath condo with mountain views.
Guest review: “It’s hard to beat the location. The condo itself is in good condition and the views are spectacular.” —Tulani B., Apr 2019
Distance from San Francisco: 167 miles, 3 hours, 6 minutes
Why I love it
With mammoth granite faces that tower over a lush valley surrounded by giant sequoias, Yosemite National park has been the object of America’s affection for more than 100 years. It’s easy to see why.
Things to do in Yosemite
A visit to Yosemite is a great idea any time of year, although you’ll find crowds here in summer.
Fishing, swimming, and rafting the Merced River are always crowd pleasers. Stargazing here is wonderful.
Head out on day hikes with your camera to catch famous Half Dome at sunset or the majesty of Yosemite Falls.
Feeling more adventurous? Hike the El Capitan trail—15 miles out and back if you climb to the top of the rock face—for jaw-dropping views of the valley.
Visit off season. In mid-summer, it’s easy to be stuck in a traffic jam through the valley. Spring, fall, and winter are glorious though and you’ll have it mostly to yourself!
Where to stay in Yosemite
For history buffs with no budget constraints, book a room immediately at the 4-star Ahwahnee Hotel in the park. Rooms are tiny but the lodge is swoon-worthy.
Otherwise, head to a private cabin in the park. It’s hard to believe such a beautiful and peaceful place is available inside the park, just 15 minutes from busy Yosemite Valley. This is everybody’s very favorite cabin.
Guest review: “Beautiful retreat in Yosemite! This is my second time staying at the Lupin cabin. I absolutely love it! Great location inside the park.” — March 2021
9. Lassen Volcanic Park
Distance from San Francisco: 236 miles, 3 hours, 37 minutes
Why I love it
Lassen Volcanic National Park makes a great weekend trip from San Francisco.
It offers incredible geological wonders, including bubbling pools, boiling mudpots, and volcanic vents, plus all four types of volcanoes, some of which are accessible via hiking.
Otherwise, nearby Redding is a larger city located 50 minutes from Lassen where Airbnbs are even cheaper. Check out Redding vacation rentals here.
Things to do in Lassen
There are so many things to do in Lassen and nearby Redding. My favorite activities in Lassen Volcanic National Park are to explore Bumpass Hell, a hydrothermal area with many geothermal features, relax at Manzanita Lake, and hike Cinder Cone, a strenuous hike gaining 700 feet of elevation in half a mile, yet very rewarding with amazing views.
My number one tip is be weary of the elements at the park. Fires are known to be prevalent so consult the National Park Service website for updated information.
Also, snow is common in winter, so some things will be closed. Seeing a volcano covered in snow is pretty incredible though!
Alanna | Periodic Adventures
Where to stay in Lassen
You have a couple of choices for a base. Staying in Shingletown, only 17 miles away from Lassen, lets you maximize your time in the park with less drive time.
(Bring your groceries though as there isn’t a major chain grocery story here.)
One option: Stay in a charming and cozy cottage in a peaceful, private setting located just a few miles from the town of Mt. Shasta. Tucked into the forest, the cottage is a magical secluded retreat perfect for romantic getaways and outdoor adventures.
Guest review: “Jessie’s place is a perfect spot to stay in Mt. Shasta. Very Clean, and thoughtfully crafted. Superb views. Lovely backyard. Good location. It is the perfect spot for a Mt. Shasta holiday.”
Distance from San Francisco: 11 miles, 32 minutes
Why I love it
It’s one of the best places near San Francisco! A mere four miles away, you don’t even need a car to drop over to the other side of the bay.
Just take a ferry from Pier 41 in the city. In just 30 minutes, you can drop into fantastic art, music, and foodie scene in this cute little ocean view town.
Things to do in Sausalito
If you’re looking for things to do outside of San Francisco, head here. In my opinion, the number one must-do in Sausalito is a visit to beautiful Muir Woods here.
However, it’s a 20-minute drive from Sausalito so you may want to grab a day tour if you’ve ferried over. This is an incredible place for a day hike in the redwoods.
Then head to Vista Point for a selfie in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco skyline, and Alcatraz in the background.
Battery Spencer also makes a great viewpoint on a fog-free day. Check out the cute cafes and boutiques along Main Street on the Sausalito Boardwalk.
Top tip: Join a crabbing party! Relax and take awesome photos while you learn how to pick, cook, and taste blue crabs! You can get more details on this Airbnb experience here.
Where to stay in Sausalito
Stay in a 30-sided shingled cottage on more than an acre of oak trees with San Francisco views. With a slate roof, copper gutters, and a deck with a glass railing, this secluded bay view cottage is a memorable stay.
Guest review: “This is a beautiful and unique cabin in Marin Co. It’s on a hill among oak trees above San Pablo Bay. Its a perfect place for a vacation for two. We had a wonderful stay here.” —Bob and Linda R., Mar 2021
11. San Luis Obispo
Distance from San Francisco: 231 miles, 3 hours 24 minutes
Why I love it
Home to Cal Poly Technic University on California’s central coast, San Luis Obispo (affectionally known as “SLO”) is the best kind of small university town. It’s got a laid back rural vibe that celebrates all things local and organic.
Things to do in San Luis Obispo
Start your day at one of the trendy coffee shops or delicious cafes on Higuera Street, the main drag, with lots of 19th century brick ambiance and shady trees. Then hike Bishop Peak.
Thursday night at SLO’s famous market offers a veritable feast for visitors. In addition to fruit and veg, expect to make a meal of grilled meats or other freshly prepared feasts while being serenaded by local musicians.
Head to a winery for a tasting. Or visit famous Hearst Castle just up the road!
Grab a sandwich to go at the unpretentious High Street Market & Deli for a bucket list sandwich.
Try the Dutch Crunch bread and order your sandwich ahead if possible to avoid a wait during prime time!
Where to stay in San Luis Obispo
Stay at The Downtown House, a cozy uptown Victorian bungalow. It’s got all the character and charm of a historic home with upscale modern appliances. Plus, it’s just 100 steps to The Black Horse, the hippest coffee shop in SLO.
Guest review: “Lovely place. We felt so comfortable in the house. We loved the location! Thanks for sharing your beautiful house.” —Suzanne T., Dec 2020
Distance from San Francisco: 122 miles, 3 hours 55 minutes
Why I love it
A road trip to Carmel is my favorite way to enjoy a romantic weekend getaway from San Francisco. Its tiny coastal cottages and beautiful garden window boxes invite a cozy stay at the ocean’s edge.
Otherwise, if you’re looking for minimalist luxury, stay at The Getaway, located conveniently in the best part of cute Carmel. Check prices and availability here.
Things to do in Carmel
Drive the world-famous 17 mile drive between Carmel and Pebble Beach. It’s absolutely stunning either by car or on an e-bike (which you can rent in Carmel.)
Visit the Carmel Mission, one of 21 built by Franciscan missionaires along the length of California.
Walk the quaint little village. Watch the waves on Carmel Beach or head to nearby Carmel Valley for wine tasting at one of the many local wineries that call it home there.
Love Greek food? Don’t miss Damaetra Cafe right in the village. Everything is fresh and delicious.
Where to stay in Carmel
Stay in one of Carmel’s original beach houses right in the village. It’s completely renovated, nestled into a quiet grove of old oak trees and steps from all the best restaurants, galleries, and tasting rooms.
Guest review: “We absolutely loved staying in this charming cottage in Carmel. It was a short walk to Ocean Ave. The yard is lovely. The kitchen is perfect. We will come back every year.” — Annette H., Jan 2021
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