15 Best Day Trips from San Francisco

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Home to one of the world’s most iconic architectural structures, the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is a city just waiting to be explored.

Rich in history and diverse in culture there is no end to the adventures that could be had in San Francisco for the budding explorer.

Located in Northern California with balmy weather all year round there are countless opportunities to venture further afield from San Francisco should a change of scenery be in order.

Here are 15 day trips from San Francisco offering you the full Californian experience.

1. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National ParkSource: Sarah Fields Photography / shutterstock
Yosemite National Park

High on the list of every rambler’s bucket list is majestic Yosemite National Park.

Famous the world over for its dense forest of giant sequoia trees framed by the magnificent Sierra Nevada mountains Yosemite National Park is a must-visit American wilderness.

Spanning an impressive 3,027 km² Yosemite National Park’s most stunning vistas of El Capitan and Half Dome can be visited in a single day trip from San Francisco and certainly provide a picture perfect backdrop for those all important holiday snaps! With countless waterfalls, granite cliffs and incredible wildlife Yosemite National Park is the perfect day trip from San Francisco.

2. Muir Woods National Monument

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

Should the buzzing metropolis that is San Francisco become too much perhaps consider a day trip to the Muir Woods, the perfect place to reconnect with nature and leave the city smoke behind.

Home to the awe-inspiring Redwood trees Muir Wood is a nature lover’s paradise.

With trails crisscrossing throughout the woodland area during your meanderings you’ll pass Cathedral Grove, along the gorgeous Redwood Creek and onto Bohemian Grove.

If it is coastal vistas you seek be sure to march up the steady incline of the Ben Johnson and Dipsea trails.

At the pinnacle you’ll be greeted by views of the Pacific Ocean and towering Mount Tamalpais.

3. Alcatraz Island

AlcatrazSource: Jeff Whyte / shutterstock

Quite possibly the world’s most infamous prison, Alcatraz Island is not to be missed when visiting San Francisco.

Having operated as the federal penitentiary for notorious criminals such as the Birdman, Robert Stroud and even Al Capone from 1934 to 1963 there is an eeriness about a day trip to Alcatraz Island.

Guided tours of the island compound, the inner prison complex and the prison grounds are enlightening to say the least and bring to life the tales, trials and tribulations of both prisoners and prison staff who existed there.

Lying just 2 km from the mainland a trip to Alcatraz Island also offers incredible views of San Francisco’s cityscape.

4. Napa Valley

Napa ValleySource: Andreas Koeberl / shutterstock
Napa Valley

Calling all wine lovers, Napa Valley is a must-visit, no question about it.

World-renowned for its hundreds of vineyards, picturesque rolling hills and gourmet restaurants Napa Valley is home to over 400 wineries.

During a day trip to Napa Valley’s wineries you’ll learn how the full wine making process from vine to glass.

By no means a sommelier’s secret, the wineries of Napa Valley open their doors to visitors from all walks of life and the passion for the craft is palpable.

The Napa Valley Wine Train is a wonderful way to explore the landscape and pass through a versatile range of wineries.

5. Sonoma Valley

Sonoma Valley, CaliforniaSource: Michael Warwick / shutterstock
Sonoma Valley

With a just under half the number of vineyards, a day trip to Sonoma Valley offer the opportunity to explore wineries and a quaint, historic city.

Home to boutique wineries and the mass production outlets too, Sonoma Valley has a superb selection of wines to sample and a beautiful landscape to match.

Mission San Francisco Solano and the Sonoma Barracks can be found near the city plaza and have been created in colonial style.

In this same plaza you’ll find the weekly farmer’s market filled with local produce, crafts and more.

6. Carmel-By-Sea

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

Carmel-By-Sea is much loved California beach town abundant in rustic charm that can be found on the Monterey Peninsula.

Endearing and fairytale like, Carmel By Sea is the perfect day trip from San Francisco if a saunter is in order.

Within the space of a day you can wander past Mission San Carlos Borroméo del río Carmelo and through to Point Lobos.

At Point Lobos you can look out over the Pacific Ocean and watch the waves crash on the rocks below.

Keep a beady eye out for whales breaching on the horizon.

Be sure to visit the Carmel Heritage Society Museum during your day in Carmel-By-Sea.

7. Big Sur

Big SurSource: Jon Bilous / shutterstock
Big Sur

Lying between Carmel-By-Sea and Hearst Castle, Big Sur is incredibly rugged 90-mile stretch of Pacific coastline that makes for an ideal day trip from San Francisco.

Quintessentially Californian, wildlife lovers, hikers and photographers will immediately fall for the wonder of Big Sur.

Should a mix of coastline and redwood forest sound appealing then taking a hike on one of the shorter trails of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park should be included in you day’s plans.

Having been the muse of Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac there is something inherently inspirational about Big Sur.

8. Silicon Valley

Google, Silicon ValleySource: Benny Marty / shutterstock
Google, Silicon Valley

If you’re an avid lover of tech and innovation then a day trip to Silicon Valley is a must if you’re visiting San Francisco.

Silicon Valley is home to technological mavericks like Google and Apple.

Chances are you’re reading this from a device created by the incredible minds of the Silicon Valley workforce.

The Computer History Museum is informative and engaging, you’ll certainly come away with a better knowledge of the evolution of technology over the last 100 years.

A Google Campus should too feature on your day trip from San Francisco, if only for their brilliant gift shop.

9. Sausalito

SausalitoSource: Jon Chica / shutterstock

Nestled on the northern edge of the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito is an easily accessible day trip from central San Francisco.

Relaxing, charming and providing impressive views of the yacht -dotted bay Sausalito is the perfect low-key day trip.

Having been a buzzing shipbuilding hub during World War II there is a lot of history to explore, especially in the Richardson Bay area.

Home to over 400 boat houses by merely taking a stroll along the waterfront avenue you can see many of the historic houses inhabited by lifelong San Franciscans.

Sausalito is a lovely little spot for shopping too.

10. North Beach and Little Italy

North BeachSource: James Kirkikis / shutterstock
North Beach

San Francisco is famed for its pioneering food culture.

Proudly housing some of the most innovative restaurants in the world in the North Beach and Little Italy suburbs you can experience homely, authentic and incredibly flavourful European cuisines.

Whether you spend the day strolling from one cafe to another or nip into the family run bakeries that line the streets of North Beach these suburbs of San Francisco highlight the rich diversity of cultures that congregate in northern California.

Should you take the time to chat to a local throughout the day you may pick up an artisan secret or two.

11. Pescadero Marsh Nature Reserve

Pescadero Marsh Nature ReserveSource: Allie_Caulfield / Flickr
Pescadero Marsh Nature Reserve

For budding ornithologists the Pescadero Marsh Nature Reserve is an ideal day trip from San Francisco.

Home to over 60 resident species of birdlife and over 200 migratory, remember to pack your binoculars and your notebook when setting out from central San Francisco.

The Great Blue Heron is sighted regularly along with endangered species like the California red-legged frog and Tidewater Goby.

Featuring thick riparian woodland, a freshwater marsh and a tidal estuary area the Pescadero Marsh Nature Reserve is an exciting and active day trip.

In the spring and summer months the marshlands are awash with blooming wildflowers.

12. Monterey

Monterey, CaliforniaSource: mark smith nsb / shutterstock

The California coastline is simply sublime and it seldom gets better than the seaside views offered from Monterey.

An accessible and easily achievable day trip from San Francisco if you are keen to experience California’s most impressive coastal vistas then Monterey day trip for you.

Driving along the 17 Mile Drive is the highlight of any coastal California adventure.

This picturesque drive curves along the coast with ease winding between stately mansions and golf courses too.

Look amongst the sparse patches of forest to catch a glimpse of the, sadly, increasingly rare Monterey Cypress.

13. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Sequoia National ParkSource: Kusska / shutterstock
Sequoia National Park

Should a real adventure be the order of the day then Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is the natural first choice.

Avid explorers could spend weeks on end hiking through the 800,000 acres of natural wilderness.

Within a day trip to the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park you gain more than a just a taste of the forest.

With paved trails for the shorter hiking routes visitors can enjoy guided walks or set out solo.

Featuring wildflowers aplenty, wildlife in abundance and even the Crystal Cave freedom awaits you at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.

14. Angel Island State Park

Angel Island State ParkSource: cdrin / shutterstock
Angel Island State Park

Although the largest island in the Bay of San Francisco, Angel Island is something of a hidden gem.

Offering day visitors brilliant views of the Marin Headland, Mount Tamalpais and of course San Francisco city itself, Angel Island is a relaxed, even romantic, day trip from the bustling city.

Rich in history, Angel Island was gifted to author Antonio Maria Osio in 1837 to be used as a cattle ranch.

In 1910 Angel Island was subsequently used as a US Immigration Station.

In the present day it is a wonderful hiking area with plenty of shady spots for a picnic.

15. Armstrong Redwood State Reserve

Armstrong Redwood State ReserveSource: weriset / shutterstock
Armstrong Redwood State Reserve

California is famous the world over for being home to some of the tallest and oldest redwood trees in the world.

During a day trip to the Armstrong Redwood State Reserve it is humbling to stand beneath the gran Colonel Armstrong Tree that is believed to be over 1,400 years old.

The reserve is named after Colonel Armstrong who vowed to preserve this area of is property way back in 1870. At regular intervals throughout the marked walking trails you’ll find information panels sharing important insights into the biology and conservation of the area.

True eco-warriors should make a B-line to the tree-hugging platforms.

15 Best Day Trips from San Francisco:

  • Yosemite National Park
  • Muir Woods National Monument
  • Alcatraz Island
  • Napa Valley
  • Sonoma Valley
  • Carmel-By-Sea
  • Big Sur
  • Silicon Valley
  • Sausalito
  • North Beach and Little Italy
  • Pescadero Marsh Nature Reserve
  • Monterey
  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
  • Angel Island State Park
  • Armstrong Redwood State Reserve