They Made Me Love California: 19 Day Trips From San Francisco

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Jake Cain is an entrepreneur and writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. He spends his free time driving around the country in his late 90’s conversion van, affectionately known as the “Monster Van” with his wife and 3 boys.

San Francisco is a gorgeous city with a fascinating history, good food, and amazing art. It’s a tech hub and a dream city for so many people. Whether you’re here for a visit or you’ve moved and need some inspiration, you may find yourself looking for exciting places outside the city. 

We’ve got some fantastic day trips to take from San Francisco. Our top 19 picks offer a little something for everyone, so let’s get going!

Sausalito – Seaside Walks and Marinas

California Sausalito
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The preferred home base for many artistic San Franciscans, Sausalito remains heavily tied to the sea. As a shipbuilding center in WWII, the area is home to quite a few water-based activities.

  • Spend some time walking around the city for renowned shopping.
  • Take a stroll along the coastline and up to the north end for historic houses and more than 400 houseboats.
  • Don’t miss some of the world’s oldest coastal redwoods at Marin Headlands.

Sausalito is a vibrant cultural area with beautiful sights and lots of art. The easy-going vibe is reminiscent of early San Francisco.

Muir Woods National Monument – Mysterious Redwoods

California Muir Woods National Monument
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You can’t visit California without going to see the redwoods. Muir Woods offers breathtaking views and the ultimate in forest bathing.

  • Take part in the six miles of walking trails (no bikes or horseback riding).
  • Look up to spot local wildlife, including Barn Owls.
  • Choose short hikes or more challenging loops, but give yourself plenty of time.

Muir Woods has been a protected area since 1908, offering visitors glimpses of some of the oldest trees in the world.

Monterey – Literature and Sea Life

California Monterey
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Monterey offers some of the dreamiest views of the famous California coastline. Head here for history, art, and breathtaking walking trails.

  • Visit the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium to learn about the local sea life and conservation efforts.
  • Check out Steinbeck’s inspiration for Cannery Row and stop by the statue of Doc.
  • Eat at local shops and participate in shopping along with the now-defunct sardine factories.

Monterey is a magical part of the area. Literature lovers will enjoy catching glimpses of Steinbeck along the way.

Napa Valley – The Ultimate Wine Experience

California Napa Valley
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Napa Valley is still the benchmark for US winery tours and no wonder. It’s nestled right in some of California’s most beautiful scenery. 

  • Take the Napa Valley Wine Train to take in those gorgeous hills.
  • Learn how wine is made from start to finish with a tour at one of the nearly 400 wineries.
  • Finish out your day with a wine tasting watching the sun dip below the hills.

This is a wine lover’s dream, and the train makes it easy to venture out from San Francisco for the day. Make sure you bring your wine notes notebook.

Yosemite National Park – UNESCO Site

Yosemite National Park
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The UNESCO-listed park is a must-see national park. It features views so spectacular that they’ve been immortalized by painters, writers, photographers, and musicians for generations. 

  • Wander through one of the many hiking trails, both beginner-friendly and challenging, to find the perfect view.
  • Participate in one of the park’s full-day trips, designed to give you the perfect introduction to a vast natural system.
  • Challenge yourself at one of Yosemite’s legendary rock climbing locations, including El Capitan and Half Dome.

Yosemite is about 200 miles from San Francisco, so it’s quite the haul. However, making the trip is well worth it for the ultimate natural views.

Point Reyes and Tomales Bay – Animal Spotting

Point Reyes Lighthouse, California
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Point Reyes and Tomales Bay are both beautiful. They also offer almost year-round options for spotting wildlife at many of the natural sites.

  • Between January and April, head to the coast to spot whales during their annual migration.
  • Make a trip to Tule Elk Preserve from July to September when you’re most likely to spot the elk herds.
  • Head to the historic Heart’s Desire beach for shallower, warmer water than is typically found in the area.

If you’re an animal lover, this area has the views and the chance to spot some of your favorite local wildlife all in one adorable space.

Santa Cruz – California’s Laid Back Vibes

Santa Cruz
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Santa Cruz still features that decidedly laid back California attitude with beautiful beaches, outdoor sports, and fishing.

  • Walk down the historic Beach Boardwalk and catch the old-fashioned amusement park in the summertime.
  • Learn to surf at Cowell Beach or experience Manresa if you’re a surfing expert.
  • Ride the Roaring Camp Railroad for excellent views of Redwoods in a family-friendly atmosphere.

Santa Cruz gives families and singles the chance to spot wildlife, sample old-fashioned California fun, and catch some rays.

University Town of Berkeley – For Education Enthusiasts

California University Town of Berkeley
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The University of Berkeley is one of California’s premier institutions of higher learning. The campus and surrounding area are a testament to California’s gorgeous views and exciting culture.

  • Tour the 178-acre campus and see the classical style buildings that house students and classrooms.
  • Take in university culture off-campus at Telegraph avenue where you can see shows, eat food, and see local art.
  • Visit Sather Tower for a bird’s eye view of San Francisco Bay.

Berkeley offers visitors the chance to see the culture and history of this legendary research institution. Spend the day soaking in the culture of higher learning.

Bodega Bay – Cinema History

California Bodega Bay
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Two of the most beloved films of all time, Goonies and The Birds, were filmed at Bodega Bay’s location. Take this chance to see it while getting some of the best views of the bay.

  • Feast on wild-caught oysters and other seafood at any one of the area’s local restaurants.
  • Rent Kayaks and explore the area’s natural waterways.
  • Try your hand at fishing and see if you can catch something legendary.

Spotting locations for your favorite Hollywood Blockbusters is a wonderful way to spend the day. Get your seafood fix and explore the area hiking or kayaking.

Sonoma County – Wine Tasting on a Budget

California Sonoma County
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Locals tend to give Napa Valley a wide berth, heading instead for the low key vineyards of Sonoma County.

  • Experience wine tastings at any one of the world-renowned wineries in the area.
  • Take picnic fare with you to those that permit outdoor eating – Buena Vista Winery or Portalupi is a good choice.
  • Sample the unique cuisine of the area at local restaurants.

Sonoma County was affected by the devastating wildfires of 2019, but that’s no reason to steer clear. The area depends on sensitive tourism, so it’s a good place to spend those visitor dollars.

Skyline Boulevard and Woodside – Highway Living with a Side of Wine Country

California Skyline Boulevard and Woodside
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Skyline Boulevard winds along the coast, offering vistas where you can pull over and local cuisine.

Sequoia and Kings National Park – Flora, Fauna, and Geology

California Sequoia and Kings National Park
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The sequoias are a state treasure, and visitors get more than 800,000 acres of natural beauty. Take a stroll or challenge yourself with a strenuous hike.

  • Find one of the paved trails for a lighthearted walk through the woods.
  • Enjoy a guided tour for more information about the local flora and fauna.
  • Explore the Crystal Caves for icicle-like stalactites and mounds of stalagmites in one of the more than 240 cave systems.

Whether you’re coming for the seasonal wildflowers, the old trees, or the underground cave systems, there’s something for everyone in this nature reserve.

Pescadero Marsh Nature Reserve – For Budding Birdwatchers

California Pescadero Marsh Nature Reserve
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Pescadero Marsh is home to more than 60 species of bird and 200 more migratory species. It’s beautiful and offers seasonal bird sightings.

  • Go in the summer for wildflower blooming.
  • See if you can spot the Great Blue Heron or find endangered species of other animals like the Red-Legged Frog.
  • Check migration calendars to go during times of heavy bird movements.

This area is woodland, freshwater marsh, and tidal estuary, offering sights of different wildlife even if you aren’t into birds. Plus, with views different than the local beaches or mountains, it’s a pleasant change of pace.

Silicon Valley – A Tech Lover’s Paradise

California Silicon Valley
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San Francisco has a bit of a love/hate relationship with Silicon Valley, but this tech hotspot does have a lot of interest. 

  • Check out the Computer History Museum for an engaging look at the history of the tech that made Silicon Valley famous and everything that came before.
  • Head to the Google Campus to see where the tech giant makes our lives easier every day.
  • Walk the city, and don’t miss your chance to take fun selfies with the Android lawn sculptures.

You can wander yourself or take a fully guided coach tour to see the history and ensure that you don’t miss a thing.

Alcatraz Island – Notorious History

California Alcatraz Island
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Alcatraz is the legendary prison situated on an island just off the coast of San Francisco. It’s an enlightening day trip.

  • Take a tour of the facility and hear about some of Alcatraz’s most famous inmates, including The Birdman and Al Capone. 
  • Walk the grounds and see views of San Francisco from across the bay.
  • Listen to the stories of prisoner life and mysteries that happened on the island.

The prison itself is embedded deep in the folklore of the United States. Seeing it up close is a fascinating, quick day trip that will have you there and back in no time.

Gilroy – For Garlic Lovers

California Gilroy
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This small city is famed for its shopping, farmer’s markets, and, of course, Gilroy Garlic. Take the day off and experience this fun, small city.

  • Stop by Garlic World for all things garlic souvenirs.
  • Make the trip over the last weekend of July and see the annual Garlic Festival.
  • Have a shopping day at the outlet stores and farmers market.

Gilroy is a quirky stop outside of San Francisco and an unusual route for a day trip. However, you’ll have some good stories and excellent souvenirs.

Filoli Estate

California Filoli Estate
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The Filoli Estate is a Gregorian style manor house registered with the historic trust. It’s been used as a movie set in quite a few movies.

  • Walkthrough the 16-acre renaissance formal garden and see perfectly manicured hedges and rose garden.
  • Catch art exhibits, tea, and concerts. Check the calendar before you head over there.
  • Find special events throughout the year, such as the annual flower show and holiday festivities.

The Filoli Estate is your chance to see how the other half lives with gorgeous architecture and the backdrop of the Santa Cruz mountains to wow you.

San Jose

California San Jose
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Another family-friendly city just two hours south of San Francisco, this one is perfect for entertaining kids and the young at heart. 

San Jose is an easy day trip and offers plenty of family-friendly activities. If you’re not into the great outdoors, or you’re looking for something a little different, this is a good option.

Stinson Beach – All-Inclusive Beach Day

California Stinson Beach
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Taking the iconic California One Highway winds you along the coast until you get to Stinson beach, a picturesque bit of shoreline with everything you need.

  • Stop at vista points along the way for the perfect photo op.
  • Eat shrimp tacos right on the beach without having to put real clothes on.
  • Head up to Mount Tam for hikes and views of this famous bit of sand.

Stinson is an excellent way to end your trip to San Francisco with an easy-going vibe and relaxing on the sand.

The city of San Francisco offers so many iconic things to see, but the surrounding area is also full of surprises. Whether you’re an outdoor buff taking in the gorgeous natural views or you love a bit of culture and history, there’s something for everyone during these day trips.

9 Day Trips From Virginia Beach Full of Rich History

Luray Caverns
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Discover the top day trips from Virginia Beach that offer a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. From exploring the historical sites of Colonial Williamsburg to witnessing the wild ponies on Chincoteague and Assateague Islands, this article has something for everyone. So, plan your mini-vacation now and explore the best of Virginia’s gems!

16 Aesthetic Beach View Day Trips From Santa Barbara

Malibu CA
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If you’re planning a trip to Santa Barbara, don’t miss out on exploring the nearby destinations that offer something for everyone. From hiking in the Los Padres National Forest to relaxing on the beaches of Avila Beach, you’ll enjoy this list of the best day trips from Santa Barbara. Whether you’re a wine enthusiast or a film buff, there’s something for everyone on this list of exciting day trips.

10 Day Trips From Gainesville

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If you’re planning a trip to Gainesville, Florida, don’t miss out on exploring the nearby destinations that offer something for everyone. From the historic city of St. Augustine to the beautiful beaches of Daytona and Cedar Key, we’ve compiled a list of the best day trips from Gainesville. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or a history buff, there’s something for everyone on this list of exciting day trips. So, plan your mini-vacation now and explore the best of Florida’s gems!

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Murrells Inlet
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