Whether you live in San Francisco or are just visiting, there’s more 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. 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. You can also 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.
Sausalito is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from San Francisco, right on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge — so it’s a good option if you’re short on time, but want to get away from the city for a while. Check out the city’s famous houseboats, and then head out for some outdoor fun at the Sausalito Boardwalk.
- Half Moon Bay
Sometimes, city sightseeing can be exhausting. If you’re in need of a relaxing day of sun and surf, Half Moon Bay is just 40 minutes away from the city center. Pack some sunglasses and a good book to enjoy between hitting the waves. Spend an afternoon in luxury having 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, all you have to do is check Sam’s Chowder House’s live camera to see if the sun is out on that side of the Bay Area.
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.
- Santa Cruz
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 city is a suitable option for a family day out; 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.
- Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a destination in itself, but you can also visit this stunning attraction as a day trip from San Francisco. In the summer, you can kayak, canoe, or paddle board across the lake’s turquoise surface — or check 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.
- Sonoma County
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. Sonoma 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.
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. Cool off on a hot day near the river around the Waterfront neighborhood, which offers paddle boarding, parks, and wildlife watching. If you want 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.
- Big Sur
This spectacular coastline 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.
- Grass Valley
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.
You can reach any of these places in just two or three hours of driving out of San Francisco. 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.
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