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One of the most iconic cities not only in the USA but the entire world, San Francisco really sets the heart racing. The city is packed with world-class places to eat and drink, beautiful beaches, and some great art and culture attractions.
However, it would be a disservice to miss out some of the fantastic places just within a hop, skip, and a jump of San Fran. There are scores of wonderful wineries in the rolling hills, national parks home to the tallest trees in the world, and some scenic drives that will take your breath away.
But how do you decide the best day trip from San Francisco for you? That’s where we can help. Our team of expert travel writers have put together this list to help you make the most of your vacation in California.
So, without further ado, let’s dive straight in and find out more about the best day trips from San Fran!
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In a huge city like San Francisco, it can be difficult deciding on a place to stay. As with the day trips that we’ll get into very soon, there’s simply so much choice! Whether you want to bed down for the night for as little cash as possible, or you want an opulent slice of luxury befitting royalty, there’s a place for you in town. So, let’s check out three of the best places to stay in San Francisco.
Located between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge, the Coventry Inn offers modest accommodation at a reasonable price. In each room, you’ll be treated to air conditioning which is great for the SF heat. There’s also a 42 inch TV, a work desk, and a coffee machine – so it’s great for both business and pleasure!
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Not only is this a hotel, it’s also a museum. And, if you stay at Marine’s Memorial Club, you’ll have free access to that too. Although it’s mid-range, you’ll be welcome to use the rooftop pool, a library, and a theatre with more than 500 seats! All rooms come with aircon, a TV, and a bath, so you’ll be clean, comfy, and entertained.
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Staying in one of the luxury apartments at the five star Fairmont Heritage Hotel will feel like you’re at home. Or perhaps even nicer than that! What, with views of San Francisco Bay, entertainment systems, and a warming fireplace, it’s really special! It’s right in one fo the coolest spots of San Fran – Ghirardelli Square.
Best Day Trip from San Fran – Yosemite National Park
Best Day Trip from San Fran by Train – Sacramento
Best Romantic Day Trip from San Fran for Couples – Napa Valley
Best Day Trip from San Fran with Kids – Walt Disney Family Museum
One of the most famous national parks in the United States, Yosemite Park, is an unforgettable place to spend some time. That’s why we’ve listed it as our best day trip from San Fran! It’s a long trek – just over 4 hours, but it’s worth every minute you spend getting there.
You’ll find the Sierra Nevada National Park, one of the most iconic mountain ranges in the country here, and it will be on the bucket list of climbers and hikers the world over. The trails lead through ancient forests, along rivers, and past world-renowned cliffs like El Capitan.
Eagle-eyed viewers may be lucky enough to spot deer, eagles, and bears in the park.
There’s a lot to do in San Francisco! We didn’t list all of them, but we’ve catered a selection of the top things to do in San Francisco!
Sacramento may not be as glamorous as San Francisco or LA, but that shouldn’t put you off. The California State Capital is around 2 hours by rail, so it’s easily one of the best day trips from San Fran by train. It’s one of the most historic cities in California, and it offers more than enough to see if you can spare a day to spend here.
There are several museums, and one of the highlights has to be the California State Railway Museum. This one is a monument to what was once known as the “Iron Horse” – connecting California to the rest of the country.
Fort State historic park is well worth checking out too – you may even catch a battle re-enactment!
One of the most infamous prisons in the world is a hot contender for the best day trip from San Fran. Certainly, if you’re interested in history (and the grislier and more gruesome the better), you’ll love this place. The Birdman and Al Capone were both incarcerated here, and there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about their lives, as well as those of other prisoners.
The best way to learn about the history of this prison is by taking a guided tour. Not only will you be regaled with stories of former convicts but see the buildings that still stand.
You’ll get fantastic views of the San Fran cityscape from Alcatraz since it’s only 2 miles from the mainland. However, you’ll see why it was said to be impossible to escape from Alcatraz!
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Just over on the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll find the charming town of Sausalito. It’s super easy to get to, and one of the easiest day trips from San Fran by bus. If you get up early enough, you’ll see endurance athletes training for their races here!
It’s not just running in Sausalito though. You can also stumble across kayaking, rowing, and sailing. It’s the perfect place for an active getaway super close to Downtown San Fran. After you’ve worked up an appetite, you’ll be pleased to know Sausalito has some great restaurants too!
Because it’s so close to the next entry on our list, it’s a good idea to combine a trip to both of them together.
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If you want to escape from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco, then Muir Woods National Monument should be right near the top of your itinerary. The undisputed highlight of this great day trip is being under the shadow of the giant redwoods.
These incredible trees are the tallest in the world and seeing them will be something that will leave a lasting imprint on your mind. As well as the trees, you might see native Californian wildlife if you’re lucky. Bobcats, barn owls, deer, and coyote all haunt Muir Woods. But they’re not always forthcoming!
There are 6 miles of hiking trails of Muir Woods but do be aware that you’re not able to bring bikes or horses into the area. As it’s so close to Sausalito, consider combining the two in a day trip!
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This is a popular day trip from San Fran, but it’ll need a bit of planning. Around 3 hours away by car, you’ll find Carmel by the Sea on the Monterey peninsula. However, it’s well worth the journey – especially if you’re a bit of a beach bum!
The white sand beaches of Carmel and Carmel River State are a lovely place to relax, or you can take a hike between the two on the Scenic Bluff Path. The latter beach has so much to keep visitors entertained. It’s a birdwatcher’s paradise, but if you’d rather see marine life, it’s also got some great scuba diving.
This town is a popular spot for artists to settle, and the charming European style streets are just part of that reason. Another is the pretty and historic Carmel Mission!
As with many cities of its size, there are some areas to avoid in San Fran. However, taking everything into account, the crime rates are lower than most other cities of its size in the country. Using common sense and big city awareness will go a long way towards minimising risks such as pickpocketing and petty theft. Also, San Fran is in an earthquake zone. If you’re unsure about the best ways to stay safe, your accommodation should be able to help you!
If you love wine, then you won’t want to miss this day trip to the Napa Valley. There are quite a few aspects that make this the best romantic day trip from San Fran for couples!
With over 400 wineries, there are plenty of opportunities to sample the area’s fine wines, and there’s even a wine train which will take you past some of the finest of them all.
It’s not just the wineries that make this a great day for couples, oh no. Some of the best gourmet restaurants in California can be found in this part of the state! The piece de resistance though is taking a hot air balloon ride above the picturesque rolling hills that the vineyards stand in!
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Around 30 minutes from San Francisco, you’ll find the town of Oakland. There’s always something going on here, whether it’s a market, a concert, or a festival.
Oakland is especially popular on weekends. If you’re in town on the first Friday of the month, head to the First Friday Festival (imaginatively named, we know), which is brimming with art, music, and food. If you can’t make it then, don’t worry. There are several farmers’ markets on pretty much every weekend here!
If you want to properly check out the foodie side of Oakland, we have a recommendation for you! Check out this tour below, where you’ll be able to sample food and drinks at 6 secret locations!
Here’s for something a little different to the natural attractions and quaint towns we’ve recommended so far. Silicon Valley is the place to go if you’ve got any sort of interest in technology. After all, the device you’re reading this on was probably conceived there!
Google and Apple both have substantial offices here, and if you get the chance you should definitely visit. Google’s Campus is unlike anywhere else, and you can pick up some awesome souvenirs for loved ones at their gift shop!
To get a broader overview of the history of computing, then it’s wise to head to the Computer History Museum. This informative and educational institution will tell you all you need to know and more about the development of the computer over the last 100 years!
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Big Sur has influenced authors like Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller. In more recent times, it’s been mentioned in music by the Thrills. But what is it that attracts musicians and authors to such a place?
Well, perhaps it’s that this 90 mile stretch of Californian coastline offers dramatic views, more opportunities to get among giant redwoods, and some of the best hiking in the whole state!
Stop off from one of the best day trips from San Francisco by car at the gorgeous Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. It’s here that you’ll find some awesome hiking trails and perhaps even the opportunity to see native wildlife!
The best day trip from San Fran with kids ticks a lot of boxes that will have parents sighing with relief. First of all, this is one of the easiest and closest trips to make from Downtown San Fran. You don’t even have to cross the Golden Gate Bridge!
You will, however, be rewarded with awesome views of the iconic structure, along with Alcatraz Island. That’s only after you’ve taken a look around the museum where many of the exhibits are narrated in the voice of Walt Disney himself.
Don’t miss watching a classic Disney movie at the Fantasia Theatre. When everyone gets hungry, the café offers a range of Disney inspired snacks that delight you and fill you in equal measure!
You’ve heard about how great the Napa Valley is, but that’s not the only wine-producing region near San Francisco that makes for a great day trip. No, the second is this: Sonoma Valley!
It may not have as many wineries as Napa, but there’s a good mix of boutique and industrial options to visit. And of course, you’ll be able to enjoy a tasting whichever one you pick!
If you want some food to go with your mine, we’d recommend checking out the Sonoma Valley Farmers’ Market. Pick up some amazing artisanal products here, which will be a great compliment to a nice bottle of red or white.
The colonial Mission San Francisco Solano and Sonoma Barracks are a couple of historical places worth investigating that aren’t food or wine-related!
If you enjoy sea views of the rugged Californian coastline, then here’s another option. As if Big Sur and Carmel by the Sea weren’t already enough! You don’t just have to enjoy sea views from the road in Monterey though.
In fact, one of the best options for a day trip here is taking a whale watching cruise. California is one of the best spots for watching whales throughout the year, including minke, fin, and the one that everyone wants to see – the blue whale. Yes, the biggest animal in the entire world!
Back on land, keep your eyes peeled for another stunning natural attraction. The Monterey Cypress is a rare tree that you’ll not find anywhere else in the States. Or the world, for that matter!
If you’re looking for the best day trips from San Fran for birdwatching, look no further than Pescadero Marsh Nature Reserve. You’ll want to bring your camera, as throughout the year you can spot more than 200 bird species.
Birds aren’t the only wildlife you can spot here either – there are a number of endangered species that call the nature reserve home. These include the Californian red-legged frog and the tidewater goby.
Among all the rugged coastlines, wide open valleys, and cityscapes in California, Pescadero offers something that little bit different. It’s where a freshwater marsh, woodlands, and a tidal estuary all meet to create an interesting day out!
So, that concludes our list of the best day trips from San Fran. We hope you’ve seen that there’s more than just the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s woods, and Chinatown! Not that these are bad places to spend your time…
Whichever way you head from San Francisco, you’re bound to find the perfect day trip for you. Even if you head out towards the sea – you’ll stumble upon Alcatraz!
There are several cool places for outdoor enthusiasts to hike, bike, and just admire the wonderful scenery. Add in cool and charming towns, sweeping views of the California coast, and tech centres like Silicon Valley, and you’ll see just how much variation there is when it comes to day trips from San Fran!
If you feel we’ve missed off any great day trips, do let us know in the comments below!
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Gin lover. Coffee addict. Nicola has traveled the world for 7 years and is a staff writer for Hotel Jules. Born in London, Nicola first got the taste of travel studying abroad in Barcelona. Since then she's been hooked - traveling the world non-stop. Passionate about green travel and vegan lifestyle, Nicola spends more of her free time staring at maps wondering where she will head to next!