Whether you live in San Francisco or are just visiting, there’s tons to see outside the city limits. You could have a whole mini-vacation on any weekend, just a couple of hours from the city. Take a drive, rent an RV, or hop on a bus to reach a bevy of cool, fun, intoxicating, or relaxing getaways. Weekend getaways from San Francisco give you plenty of time to enjoy yourself and unwind before getting back to work by Monday. No matter what you are looking for, this region of the USA has it. Mountains, beaches, national parks, culture, and rich history are just a few of the topics we plan on listing out in this article. California definitely has it going on. Take a peek at these ten cities that are just a drive away from the City by the Bay.
Berkeley is most famous for its university UC Berkeley, so it’s no surprise that this thriving college town has lots to see and do. Check out the campus and then take a walk down Telegraph Avenue. Take a break in the Berkeley Rose Garden or the UC Botanical Garden to enjoy some greenery. Make sure to check if your favorite band is in town to catch a show at the stunning Greek Theatre. Sunset shows at this venue are absolutely beautiful and many epic national touring acts frequent this iconic venue and its sister venue in Los Angeles.
Our Top Pick: While this city is loaded with higher education and scholarly findings, we love recommending one of the best restaurants on the west coast: Iyasare. This Japanese, comfort food fusion place is sure to blow you away. Make sure to order the Dragon Roll, Pyramid Roll, and Bacon Mochi, you’ll thank us later.
Drive Time From The Bay: Berkeley is a quick 20-minute drive from the Bay. Since it’s so close, we love recommending SF locals play ‘tourist’ in the neighboring town.
Sausalito is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from San Francisco, right on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. This location is a great option if you’re short on time and want to get away from the city for the weekend. Check out the city’s famous houseboats, and then head out for some outdoor fun at the Sausalito Boardwalk. This coastal city will not disappoint, make sure to check out the many events, local shops, and great restaurants during your next visit to this beautiful NorCal area.
Our Top Pick: Driving across the Gold Gate is amazing, but we think you’ll get a better view of everything from below. Look into taking a ferry from the Bay to Sausalito here.
Drive Time From The Bay: A brisk 25-minute car ride is all you need to get to the heart of Sausalito from the Bay.
Half Moon Bay
Sometimes, city sightseeing can be exhausting and a well needed day of sun and surf is likely due. Half Moon Bay is a great option for you and your fellow travelers. Pack some sunglasses and a good book to relax between hitting the waves. Spend an afternoon in luxury with lunch at the Ritz Carlton, or opt for good ol’ seafood by the beach at Sam’s Chowder House. If you’re hesitant to make the drive to Half Moon Bay from San Francisco due to the weather, try checking out Sam’s Chowder House’s live camera to see if the sun is out on that side of the Bay Area.
Our Top Pick: If you don’t surf, we’d recommend talking in the waves from the shore on the California Coastal Trail. Take a lovely walk, or come with boots and make it a full-on hike!
Drive Time From The Bay: You’ll be able to get here in about 40 minutes or less.
If you love wine, a getaway to Napa Valley is a must-do during your trip. Downtown Napa is just an hour away from San Francisco, and the drive there is scenic. Once you’re in town, walk around the downtown core and then set off on a wine country tour. Two notable wineries to visit are Castello di Amorosa and Francis Ford Coppola’s very own winery. You’ll find the best fried chicken in town at Ad Hoc, or for an over-the-top, five-star dining experience, make a reservation at French Laundry. Both restaurants have been proudly established by the Thomas Keller Food Group. Food and wine are the main attractions in Napa, but the natural beauty of this California locations compliments quite nicely.
Our Top Pick: di Rosa, a center for contemporary art is a must see. The site boasts more than 2000 pieces, making it one of the most impressive art collections in the Bay Area. You can’t miss this one!
Drive Time From The Bay: Napa is about an hour north of the Bay. You’ll also be heading straight through Berkley, so we’d suggest stopping for lunch there on the way.
Santa Cruz is one of the most popular places to visit near San Francisco. With its historic boardwalk and colorful buildings along the water, it looks like something right out of a postcard. This location is a suitable option for a family weekend away; Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is packed with rides, games, and tasty snacks, offering hours of fun for everyone. When you need a bit of a break from the excitement, head over to the beach and take a dip or just relax in the sun.
Our Top Pick: The boardwalk is sensational, but also consider taking the steam train through the Red Woods. Yes, it is positively as magical as it sounds.
Drive Time From The Bay: You can get to Santa Cruz from the Bay in under an hour and a half. You might also think about hitting San José on your way down.
Lake Tahoe is a destination in itself, but you can also visit this stunning attraction as a weekend trip from San Francisco. In the summer, kayaking, canoeing, or paddleboarding around the lake’s turquoise surface is a very popular activity, as is checking out one of the area’s many hiking trails. In the winter, hit the slopes at either Northstar, Heavenly, or Homewood, then end your day with a warm hot chocolate or a tasty Bloody Mary. There are a ton of things to do around this beautiful lake. Plan to spend a good amount of time here, as the natural beauty is ceaseless.
Our Top Pick: Nature is the name of the game here, and it follows that our top pick for Lake Tahoe is Emerald Bay State Park. Make sure you’ve got your camera with you for this excursion. You’ll want to capture these memories for sure.
Drive Time From The Bay: This getaway might be a bit more time in the car than some of the other options. At just over three hours, you’ll be ready for a little pit stop on the way. Since you’ll pass through Sacramento, why not stop there for a bite?
If you want to enjoy the charm of wine country but don’t find the busy atmosphere in Napa Valley appealing, Sonoma is a fantastic alternative. Sonoma County is another popular wine-producing region in the state, but it doesn’t enjoy quite as much hype as its sister in the east. This area is also full of historic charm and there are several redwood forests in the area, so even if you’re not a wine person, you can still find lots to see and do. Sonoma is also packed with a ton of great little towns and communities. Healdsburg is a local favorite.
Our Top Pick: Come to Sonoma hungry, as there are a ton of great restaurants there. With so many options it’s hard to choose, but we’d suggest hitting Chalk Board in Healdsburg. They’ve got a great menu with classics ranging from different house-made pasta to amazing sandwiches. There’s something for everyone at Chalk Board.
Drive Time From The Bay: Sonoma is only about an hour north of the Bay. If you’re a wine lover, you’ll have to also make the trip East to hit Napa Valley, too.
With its quaint buildings and picturesque marina, Petaluma evokes a simpler time. Its downtown main street dates back to the 19th century, and it still maintains the look and feel of a classic western town. Try cooling off on a hot day near the river around the Waterfront neighborhood, which offers paddleboarding, parks, and wildlife watching. Make sure to sample Sonoma wines or one of the area’s many craft breweries, there are lots of options to choose from. Aside from wine, Petaluma also has a wide selection of craft beer! Score a flight of beer at Brewsters or Lagunitas Brewing Company.
Our Top Pick: You probably need a little cheese to go with all that wine and beer. That’s why our top pick in Petaluma is the Martin French Cheese Co. This great spot has been producing delicious, beautiful cheeses since 1865.
The spectacular coastline of Big Sur has served as inspiration for the likes of Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder, but you don’t have to be a famous writer to appreciate the views. Drive along the coast on Highway 1, cross the majestic Bixby Bridge, or take a hike through impressive redwood forests. Keep your eyes peeled for elephant seals, whales, and condors. If you fall in love with this outdoor haven while planning your trip, you can even find somewhere to camp between the trees of Big Sur, with magnificent sunset views.
Our Top Pick: For the outdoorsman, Big Sur has a ton of great spots to check out. If you’re looking to do a bit of camping, however, the conversation is a fairly brief one. Look no further than the Julia Pfeifer Burns Campground.
Drive Time From The Bay: Getting here is one of the longer travel times on the list. The Bay to Big Sur is a two-and-a-half-hour car ride south and will take you straight through San José. Grab a bite to eat on your way through.
Grass Valley is an early 19th-century gold rush town with a stunning backdrop and small community of tourism-centered shops and accommodations. Check into a historic hotel or a cozy little bed & breakfast, and then check out an array of dining experiences. Shop for edible goodies at the bakeries and cafés, take a look at the shoe and clothing stores, relax at a salon, drop by a wine bar and do it all again the next day. Take a tour of Empire Mine, one of the oldest gold mines in California.
Our Top Pick: Have an underground adventure at the Empire Mine State Historic Park. Venture down into the caverns and explore nature in a way you never have before.
Drive Time From The Bay: This trip will take about two and a half hours from the Bay. You’ll also pass through Sacramento, so why not plan to make a stop on your way up.
Plan Your Getaway Today!
Get some fresh air, a bit of perspective, and shake the urban dust out of your brain. Recharge those batteries with a couple of days and nights spent away from the city.
With so many great weekend getaway options so close to the city, you’ll probably need a couple of vacations to check out all that the Bay Area has to offer. Are you ready to plan that Northern California escape? Find the perfect rental with VacationRenter.