San Francisco is a great city to visit. It is full of wonderful sights, interesting attractions and delicious food. Of course, you can spend your whole time in San Francisco but there are lots of other exciting things to do in the areas around San Francisco.
To help you make the most of your time in the San Francisco area I’ve put together a list of the best San Francisco day trips you should consider when coming to the city.
All of these locations can be travelled to and back in one day.
25 minutes from San Francisco
Just across the Golden Gate Bridge and on the edge of the bay sits Sausalito. While you can drive there the best way to visit is by ferry. Ride the boat from the Ferry Building (LINK) in San Francisco to get the best views of Sausalito.
Sausalito is a great viewpoint. On one side you have the hills and the marina of Sausalito and on the other side is the Golden Gate Bridge and the skyline of San Francisco.
During World War 2 Sausalito acted as a shipbuilding centre for boats heading into the battle in the Pacific theatre. Much of that history can still be seen as you wander around the water’s edge.
Sausalito is known for its range of boutiques and shopping options. Once you’ve finished shopping you can recharge with lunch at one of the many excellent restaurants. Seafood is the best option as it’s fresh off the boat.
The closeness to San Francisco makes Sausalito a popular area for those living and working in San Francisco.
45 minutes from San Francisco
Escape the city and retreat into nature with just a short drive from San Francisco. Muir Woods National Monument is a federally protected forest north of the city. It is one of the few remaining redwood forests in Northern California.
With trees reaching as high as 258 feet there is plenty of shade for the hikers who enjoy the many trails through the forest. One such route leads down to the Pacific Ocean and Muir Beach. The beach is a popular location and ideal for a picnic in the summer months.
Muir Woods is easy to get to by car. Head over the Golden Gate Bridge and navigate a few windy county roads. Muir Woods is a popular location and you have to reserve paid parking and access to the shuttle buses in advance. For tourists, it might be easier to travel within a tour group.
Point Reyes and Tomales Bay
1 hour 40 minutes from San Francisco
Point Reyes is a 71,000-acre nature preserve situated on the Pacific Coast. Elephant seals and Douglas fir forests populate the area as well as a famous 145-year-old lighthouse. Visitors can climb about 300 steps down to the lighthouse itself when the weather allows.
Bear Valley Visitor Center serves as the starting point where you can pick up the many trails. For one of the best views in Point Reyes head to Chimney Rock. The cliff edge view is just a short walk from the car park.
Gray Whales make an extra sight as they migrate north between January and April to the feeding grounds in Alaska. On one of the hikes or ranger lead tours at the Tule Elk Preserve in Point Reyes you can catch sight of the magnificent elks that call the area home.
If you need to cool off from a hard afternoons hike then head to Heart Desire Beach at the nearby Tomales Bay. You can swim in the ocean or there are also shallower waters.
Just on from the bay is the famous oyster spot, Hog Island. Enjoy some well-earned oysters and crab at the Hog Island Oyster Company by heading to Hog Island HQ in the tiny coastal town of Marshall.
University Town of Berkeley
20 minutes from San Francisco
The well known University town of Berkeley makes for an intriguing San Francisco day trip. The Campus is set on a hilltop that gives stunning views of the bay below.
In total, the Campus covers 178 acres and is set in the wooded hillside. It is beautifully shaded by the surrounding big redwood trees. The nearby Strawberry Creek completes the idyllic scene as the babbling water runs through the picturesque setting.
Sather Tower is situated on the campus and offers excellent views of the San Francisco Bay. Bancroft Library is open for visitors to enjoy and to experience a slice of student life head to Sproul Plaza.
Off-campus Telegraph Avenue is a popular spot with the students. Being a University town, Berkely has plenty of bookshop and places for affordable meals. It is also known for its culture and theatre scene. One last spot to visit is Tilden Park, home to a glorious lake, working farm, golf course and steam train ride.
Pescadero and Half Moon Bay
1 hour 5 minutes from San Francisco
Pescadero is a mix of sandy beaches and striking bluffs located next to a small country town. The Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve is a 243-acre wetland which is great for hikers and birdwatchers alike.
Situated on the Butano Trial is an iron bridge that stretches over the creek. The Audubon Trail is a more strenuous route which winds alongside coastal scrub and Great Blue Heron nesting sites.
Head into the downtown to browse the eclectic collection of shops and stores. Visit the nearby Pescadero State Beach to enjoy the long sandy beaches towards the north or the rocky outcrops to the south.
1 hour 5 minutes from San Francisco
California wine country. Napa Valley is now a well-renowned region for wine but it took a long time to earn that respect. In 1976 a blind tasting organised that put unlabeled French and California whites and reds in front of nine French experts. The two winning wines were both from California and a reputation was born.
Napa Valley is now home to over 400 wineries. The rolling hills are made up of the seemingly endless vineyards with fantastic gourmet restaurants. In many of the wineries, you can learn the winemaking process that is used to make California wines so well respected today.
The Napa Valley wine train is a delightful way to explore the area and pass through the range of different wineries.
Carmel by the Sea
2 hours from San Francisco
Carmel is often a stopping point on the drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles but you don’t have to be heading to LA to enjoy its charms. The town is famous in this part of the world for the European village vibe it creates.
Carmel has been home to some famous names. Doris Day lived there until her death in 2019. Clint Eastwood was elected Mayor of Carmel in the 1980s and still part-owns Mission Ranch hotel and restaurant.
Carmel is a town of culture, perhaps not surprisingly considering its famous residents. It is home to Art galleries such as the Weston Gallery. There are many gourmet restaurants and a shopping trip in the town is likely to dent your bank balance.
One notable elegant building is the Harrison Memorial Library designed by Bernard Maybeck the architect of San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts (LINK can I link to that spot in the article)
Carmel has a rich history. Carmel Mission (Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo to give it it’s full title) was the second founded in Alta California and has a shrine to Saint Junipero Serra, the Founding Father of California.
1 hour 35 minutes from San Francisco
Although Santa Cruz is known for surfing and boardwalk amusement parks you won’t want to miss the stunning scenery. Tall trees and mountain ranges are a backdrop to the city. Mount Hermon is the most visited. Known for its ecology tour and 2-hour zipline tour it’s an adventurers dream. You can even sneak in some Bigfoot hunting as well!
Monarch Grove at the Natural Bridges State Bridge is another popular outdoor location. Butterflies are a big attraction here as they call the eucalyptus trees home.
Santa Cruz also has a developing food scene with Cremer House a popular spot. The restaurant is in the nineteenth-century Grand Central Hotel. However, it is the surf and the beach attractions that draw many here. The nearby Santa Cruz Beach is famous for its vintage rides including the 1911 Looff Carousel and the Giant Dipper roller coaster.
2 hours 30 minutes from San Francisco
Big Sur is the jewel in the Pacific Coast Highway crown. It’s just about in range for a day trip but you will need an early start to give you the most amount of time to enjoy the views. And boy does Big Sur deliver for views. The winding mountain roads run parallel to the might Pacific with long sanding beaches the only thing keeping you from the water.
In total Big Sur stretches out for 90 miles so of course, there is plenty you can do along the way. Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the more famous landmarks and is a great photo spot.
Pfeiffer is a run of shoreline where you can see the arched rock that forms a stunning light tunnel at sunrise or sunset. There are a load of great spots to stop off and enjoy some delicious food, a good drink or just relax in front of some of the most stunning scenery you could ever wish for.
1 hour 15 minutes from San Francisco
Once known as the Gravenstein Apple Capital of the World Sebastopol is an authentic, laid back Sonoma outpost. In 1890 the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad connected Sebastopol to the national rail network. The apple industry brought a steady rural prosperity to the town.
Sadly that presence has now diminished but the past is still an attraction in Sebastopol. Like the Aubergine Vintage Emporium where you can find all sorts of nostalgic items. Hidden away in the back is a live music venue and bar with outside seating.
Across the street, browse Scandinavian-inspired ceramics at the Passdoor. Sebastopol has plenty of great dining choices. In particular, Peter Lowell’s farm-to-table menu of seasonal, rustic Italian fare is sure to delight.
Gold Country (Sierra Nevada Foothills)
4 hours 20 minutes from San Francisco
In the mid-nineteenth century, the California Gold Rush helped put San Francisco on the map. The news of gold brought approximately 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad. So a visit to Gold country is a must.
Most of the Gold country is out of reach for a day trip from San Francisco so head to Columbia, a historic town in the Sierra Nevada Foothills. In Columbia, the shops and restaurants are inspired by the 1850s gold rush. The town manages to maintain the authenticity of that historic period.
As you head back to San Francisco check out Parrotts Ferry Bridge, a transport hub between mining tills with a spectacular view over New Melones Lake.
California State Railroad Museum
1 hour 25 minutes from San Francisco
The museum is found in the Old Sacramento waterfront district of the State capital. The museum has 225,000 square feet of exhibits and beautifully restored railroad cars and locomotives which illustrate railroad history in California and the West.
The collection of restored locomotives contains 19 stream engines dating from 1862 to 1944. Across the whole of the United States, only 45 full-size locomotives built before 1880 still exist. You will find eight of those at the California State Railroad Museum including Central Pacific Railroad locomotive No. 1, “Gov. Stanford.”
The California State Railroad Museum complex is located within Old Sacramento State Historic Park. This area has been designated National Landmark. The history of the area goes all the way back to the initial years of the California Gold Rush.
30 minutes from San Francisco
The Marin Headlands is a peninsula just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Huge and diverse wilderness is not commonly found so close to a city the size of San Francisco.
Areas of beauty within the Marin Headlands include the Rodeo Lagoon, Hawk Hill, and Tennessee Valley. There are also some important historic sites, such as Point Bonita Lighthouse, Nike Missile Site and Battery Townsley.
There are plenty of trails within the Marin Headlands, most are suitable for cyclist as well as hikers. Visit the Marin Headlands Visitor Center to find information on the different trials. For the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge head to Kirby Cove.
10 minutes from San Francisco
Okay, this one is considered part of San Francisco but Alcatraz Island is so interesting you can easily spend a whole day there. The history of the infamous federal penitentiary is fascinating and gripping.
The audio tour of the prison is informative and contains great stories of some of the legendary characters of Alcatraz as well as significant moments in its history. However, Alcatraz Island is now much more than just the prison.
The views of the bay are stunning. You can take in the whole San Francisco Skyline as well as the Golden Gate Bridge. The island also has beautiful gardens and a bird colony.
Mt Tamalpais State Park
55 minutes from San Francisco
Mt Tamalpais State Park is to the north of San Francisco and just next to Muir Woods. The scenery mixes deep canyons with hillsides coated with giant redwood forests and then sudden wide-open grasslands. All topped off by Mt Tamalpais itself.
Reaching its peak at 2,571-feet Mt Tamalpais offers 360-degree views of the area. You can see Farallon Islands out towards the seas, San Francisco Bay and Mount Diablo. On clear days you can even see the Sierra Nevada mountains 150 miles away.
The park is a popular spot for hikers and mountain climbers. There are plenty of trails through the whole of the state park. The most popular is the climb to the top of Mt Tamalpais.
Angel Island State Park
25 minutes from San Francisco
Angel Island is the largest island in the Bay of San Francisco but it still goes under the tourist radar. Which is surprising because the views from the island are spectacular. The Marin Headland lies to the west, with Mount Tamalpais beyond that. To the south is San Francisco and Alcatraz.
Angel Island has a reputation for being a bit of a relaxed trip away from the hectic city. There are some lovely hiking areas on the island also suitable for cycling.
The island has an interesting history. In 1837 it was gifted to the author Antonio Maria Osio for use as a cattle ranch. In 1910 Angel Island was used as a US immigration Station, much like Ellis Island in New York.
40 minutes from San Francisco
This trip isn’t just for the tech fans. Silicon Valley is worth the trip just to marvel at the amazing offices of tech giants like Google and Apple. Silicon Valley has had arguably more influence on the human race than any other spot in the last 30 years.
Beyond the big technology giants, there is the Computer History Museum which contains information on the evolution of technology over the last 100 years.
When making the trip down to Silicon Valley you should visit a couple of gift shops. The one at Google Campus is fantastic and the shop on the Apple Campus is the only place to sell Apple-branded merchandise like T-shirts and mugs
This list is by no means every possible day trip you can take from San Francisco. I’ve picked the day trips that offer the most interesting areas and beauty spots in the San Francisco area. All of these locations can be travelled to and back in one day.