15 Best Day Trips from San Jose (CA)

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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One of the most significant technological and cultural hubs in the country, San Jose, California, is a hotbed of urban prowess, entertainment and of course, has its stunning Mediterranean-like climate and topography, delivering warm, dry and sunny weather all year round.

One of the best things about San Jose is its convenient location, within arm’s reach of a number of beautiful places that are ideal for day trips.

Thanks to Northern California’s diverse landscape, you can go from surfing the waves under the hot sun to standing on a mountain peak above the clouds within the same day.

Check out this handy guide outlining some of the best day trip destinations from Silicon Valley’s San Jose.

1. Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, CaliforniaSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Santa Cruz, California

The epitome of a Californian beach town and still one of the nation’s favourite destinations because of the perpetual summer vibe that can be found here, Santa Cruz is best known for its sun, beach and famous Boardwalk.

The majority of visitors will spend most of their time on the buzzing promenade enjoying the rides and games, however, Santa Cruz also has a wealth of cultural and natural attractions to offer.

The historic mission church is a fascinating and spectacular sight to behold, while destinations like Wilder Ranch State Park offer enchanting and unspoiled hiking spots, perfect for soaking up some truly unmissable views.

2. Alameda

Alameda, CaliforniaSource: BondRocketImages / shutterstock

The town of Alameda can be found close to downtown San Jose and has strong historical and cultural roots that are apparent when wandering its charming streets full of mid-century architecture and signage.

There’s also a huge antiquing culture here, which gives the streets and shops a vintage feel that is enchanting to be immersed in, the hub of this being Park Avenue.

Here you’ll find everything from vintage clothing and apparel to fascinating trinkets from all over the world.

For a real treat, head down to the old naval base on the first Sunday of each month to visit the Alameda Antiques Faire in search of something truly unique to take home.

3. Napa

Napa ValleySource: Andreas Koeberl / shutterstock
Napa Valley

The true epitome of wine country and a nationwide favourite destination, Napa can be reached in less than two hours from San Jose.

It is home to some of the finest wining and dining in California.

With a vast number of tours operating in the area, it has never been easier to learn about Napa’s rich history in winemaking and sample some of the delicious end products.

Napa also offers some truly breath-taking hiking destinations due to its gently rolling foothills and orchards, and offers endless great spots for a stroll and a picnic.

4. Half Moon Bay

Half Moon BaySource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Half Moon Bay

Another immediately recognisable and iconic Californian coastal destination is the town of Half Moon Bay; charming and quaint in equal measure, and a popular alternative to raucous Santa Cruz.

Only an hour northwest of San Jose, you’ll find this water sport haven, where kayaking in the bay and surfing in the Pacific are two of the most popular pastimes.

With many surf schools offering lessons, it’s a great place to learn during the summer, though beginners may want to take a back seat in winter as the waves grow to monstrous sizes exceeding 50-feet in height.

5. San Francisco

San Francisco - View From Twin PeaksSource: ESB Professional / shutterstock
San Francisco – View From Twin Peaks

The iconic and classic “Golden Gate City” should be on the bucket-list of anyone visiting the states, let alone California.

Easily reachable from San Jose even without a car, thanks to the world-class public transport connecting the two, San Francisco can be the perfect day trip if you know what you want to do when you arrive.

Popular favourites are the Golden Gate Bridge, Mission Dolores and Lombard Street, but if you want to head off the beaten track, head over to Haight-Ashbury and wander the colourful streets covered in murals and exuding a heavy dose of flower-power.

6. Gilroy

Gilroy, CaliforniaSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Gilroy, California

A world-class destination when it comes to indulgence, Gilroy is a self-proclaimed foodie and retail haven, only half an hour to the south of San Jose.

The aptly named garlic capital of the world plays host to the Annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, where you can enjoy every garlic-based dish and snack imaginable, including their world-famous garlic fries and even garlic ice cream.

You’ll also find one of the country’s premium shopping malls in Gilroy, housing over 140 stores and boasting the accolade of having the largest collection of designer stores in Northern California.

7. Livermore

Livermore, CaliforniaSource: Hank Shiffman / shutterstock

Perfect for wine lovers who are looking for an alternative to the popular Napa Valley, Livermore is a thriving community of wineries that comprise an up-and-coming wine industry.

Many have been producing critically acclaimed wines since the time of the San Francisco Mission.

A mere 30 minutes from San Jose in Alameda, the town has a long history of ranching and agriculture as well as the grape farming, and is a wonderful place to explore on foot.

8. Sausalito

SausalitoSource: Jon Chica / shutterstock

At the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge you’ll find the enchanting beachside community known as Sausalito that has visitors falling in love with it within minutes of arriving.

The small town is a former shipbuilding hub that has transformed into a wealthy and picturesque artist’s hideaway with a wealth of hidden gems to discover.

Home to a great number of pop-up restaurants serving progressive seasonal menus, garnished with gorgeous views across the bay, Sausalito is an ideal day trip to grab a bite to eat and explore one of San Francisco’s numerous attractive suburbs.

9. Silicon Valley

San Jose, Silicon ValleySource: stellamc / shutterstock
San Jose, Silicon Valley

An eye-opening and insightful day trip that can actually be within the city limits, depending on where you go, a day out in Silicon Valley will leave you curious and hungry for more.

Of the many technological landmarks found here, some of the most popular are the Apple Headquarters in Cupertino or the famed HP garage in Palo Alto.

Visitors can experience the pioneering force behind many of the world’s social media and online powerhouses like Google and Facebook, and marvel at the quirky and sometimes bizarre office spaces they operate from.

10. Carmel by the Sea

Carmel-by-the-SeaSource: Lowe Llaguno / shutterstock

A great number of San Joseans regularly make the trip to this romantic coastal resort with its spectacularly sandy beach and irresistible small-town ambience.

You’ll find the gorgeous beach in the long cove curling around Carmel Bay, where secluded spots and picturesque sunsets are plentiful.

Heading further into town, you’ll quickly become accustomed to the lack of numbered street addresses and find that meandering around is the norm here, and discovering hidden gems around every corner is commonplace.

Expect to stumble across art galleries, charming artisan boutiques and some truly world-class dining options.

11. Muir Woods

Muir Woods National MonumentSource: Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz / shutterstock
Muir Woods National Monument

One of the last remaining redwood forests in the San Francisco Bay area, the Muir Woods are only a couple of hours from San Jose and will transport you to another world.

The trip itself by car is wonderfully picturesque, taking you across the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headland, but once you arrive at the Muir Woods, the scenery will take your breath away.

Monumentally large trees tower above visitors on all sides and you can hike towards the ocean or up into the mountains.

Be sure to pack plenty of water and a lunch, as shops are few and far between in the forest.

12. West Cliff Drive

West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, CASource: stellamc / shutterstock
West Cliff Drive

A six-mile path that hugs the coast, West Cliff Drive is a favourite amongst walkers and cyclists who want to leisurely explore this beautiful stretch of rocky coastline and headlands.

Part of Monterey Bay, the route is also popular with surfers chasing the perfect Pacific breaks.

You can even find the world’s first surf museum here, commemorating one of the nation’s most celebrated sports and resulting cultures.

Appropriately located in the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, you can learn about the surfers braving the crashing waves while enjoying excellent views of them doing just that.

13. Monterey

Monterey, CaliforniaSource: mark smith nsb / shutterstock

The perfect day trip for those looking to learn about California’s colonial past whilst enjoying spectacular coastal and mountain views, Monterey has a little something for everyone.

The gorgeous “Monterey’s 17-Mile Drive” is a scenic route featuring beaches, cliffs, headlands, and the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Course.

Seal Rock Picnic Area is also a popular stop-off on the coast where you can see wild birds, seals and sea lions in their natural habitat.

For a dose of culture, head over to the Monterey Museum of Art, and for a foodie experience, try one of the many mouthwatering downtown eateries.

14. Berkeley

Berkeley, CaliforniaSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock

This famous university town north of San Francisco is as rich in history and culture as it is in academic knowledge.

Art lovers, foodies and shoppers all regularly take a trip here to make the most of the diverse range of activities and entertainment on offer.

A visit to the famed university itself is worthwhile, if only to see the beautiful grounds.

Downtown is a great place to try new things, whether it’s window shopping at quirky stores or browsing through the fresh produce at the absolutely enormous market, the Berkeley Bowl.

15. Pescadero

Piegon Point Lighthouse in Pescadero, CaliforniaSource: Jon Bilous / shutterstock
Piegon Point Lighthouse In Pescadero, California

Another charmingly quaint seaside town that offers both entertainment and exceptionally beautiful natural reserves is the area known as Pescadero.

About an hour away from San Jose, it is home to sandy beaches and blustery, rocky headlands where wild birds seasonally come and nest.

Home to endless hiking trails around the coast and further inland past coastal scrub and eucalyptus groves, Pescadero is exceedingly popular with hikers.

End your day at one of the many cafes or restaurants in town while you watch the sun set over the ocean.

15 Best Day Trips from San Jose (CA):

  • Santa Cruz
  • Alameda
  • Napa
  • Half Moon Bay
  • San Francisco
  • Gilroy
  • Livermore
  • Sausalito
  • Silicon Valley
  • Carmel by the Sea
  • Muir Woods
  • West Cliff Drive
  • Monterey
  • Berkeley
  • Pescadero