Top One-Day Trips from San Francisco

rocks near the ocean covered with purple flowers at one of the Carmel's beaches

San Francisco is full of incredibly scenic, historic, unique, and awe-inspiring attractions manmade and
natural. No wonder it was named by travelers’ choice as one of the world’s best vacation destinations.
The City by the Bay has been crowned by Time magazine as one of the “World’s 50 Greatest Places of
and New York Times Travel profiled San Francisco in its “What’s New in 2022” series. Both
awards note the city’s unique artistic and natural attractions along with wonders from nearby areas.
These include the granite monuments of Yosemite National Park; gargantuan redwood trees of Muir
Woods; a wine connoisseur’s paradise in Napa and Sonoma Valleys; and historic gold rush treasures in
the Sierra foothills.

Luckily, these awe-inspiring destinations are at most a few hours from the city can all be enjoyed on day
tours from San Francisco. Since most visitors will not have time to visit all of them, we’ve put together
this summary to help you choose the best day trips from San Francisco for you and your travel
companions. Just click on the link below to find out more.

Muir Woods Redwoods
Angel Island and Sausalito
Coastal Highway to Monterey and Carmel
Napa and Sonoma Wine Country
Golden Gate Park
Yosemite National Park
Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Cruz
North Coast to Point Reyes National Seashore
California Gold Rush Towns

Muir Woods Redwoods

Just a short hop from the north end of Golden Gate Bridge, the star attractions of the Muir Woods
National Monument
are the coastal redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) that qualify as the tallest
living things on the planet. Muir Woods is one of three places to see giant redwoods near to San
Francisco. These natural wonders of Muir Woods range in age from 400 to 800 years and contain
extraordinary evolutionary properties. The park’s gentle walking trails put some 1.5 million visitors a
year in close contact with these 250-foot-tall behemoths.
A proper tour of Muir Woods would be incomplete without visiting the placid Cathedral Grove (so
named because of its quasi-Church-like aura), or the Bohemian Grove which was the original meeting
place of the elite society of San Franciscans.
Lying slightly to the west of Muir Woods, Mount Tamalpais State Park offers 60 miles of moderately
strenuous hiking trails under the cover of pristine redwood and oak forests. From the 2,500-foot peak,
hikers can see San Francisco and the Marin County Hills on a clear day. The sight also boasts the Cushing
Memorial Theater: An open-air amphitheater which hosts a spring play that has been performed since

Those wishing to continue north up the Shoreline Highway from Muir Woods and Mount Tamalpais,
they will find Stinson Beach, a magically chill place that is well worth the trip. The beach boasts white
sand and picturesque views of the Pacific coastline. Nearby Bolinas features the 40-foot-high Alamare
Falls. The quirky Bolinas Museum is a bastion of carefully curated local art and photography.

Know Before You Go to Muir Woods:

How far is it from San Francisco?
Muir Woods is surprisingly close to San Francisco, just 40 miles from most downtown hotels.
The roads are a bit slow going when you get close to the park so plan on an hour of travel time.
What is the top thing to do?
Visitors really enjoy the well-marked trail along Redwood Creek to the Cathedral and Bohemian
groves of coastal sequoias.
What is the closest hiking or walking trail?
The best walking trails begin right as you enter the park. There are trail maps available at the
entry gate. Most visitors walk to bridge 3 or 4 and return to the visitor’s center near the park

Angel Island and Sausalito

Angel Island is not just a scenic spectacle lying in San Francisco Bay. It has also played a fascinating role
in San Francisco history. Angel Island has been a base for the Spanish expedition to chart the Bay Area; a
storehouse for Russians hunting sea otters; a sandstone quarry for the original Bank of California; a Civil
War military post; and an immigrant processing area for new arrivals to the United States.
Today, the immigration station and two buildings within the old military barracks are still accessible for
docent-led tours. Visitors would do well to head over to the Angel Island Café and order up the Way
Down South: A barbeque sandwich with all-natural Snake River pork and still secret sauce.

Charming Sausalito offers a rich assortment of dining, shopping, and beach strolling. The secluded cove
of Rodeo Beach is one of the best beaches on the entire bay. In just a few hours, visitors can enjoy the
Marine Mammal Center, Bay Area Discovery Museum, and San Francisco Bay Model which depicts the
hydraulic functioning the region’s tidal waters.

Up and down the main shopping thoroughfare, one can find a wide array of tasting rooms,
confectionaries, and prime restaurants. Above all, be sure to leave room for Lappert’s Ice Cream: a
family-owned cafe serving up flavors of ice cream that recall the tastes of the tropics

Know Before you Go to Angel Island and Sausalito:

How far is it from San Francisco?
Angel Island is only a mile or two from San Francisco Embarcadero waterfront but sits in the
middle of the bay. Visitor may access the island easily via Blue & Gold’s ferry service.
How long is the walk around Angel Island?
The paved Perimeter Road around Angel Island is 5.5 miles long so casual walkers can complete
it in about 3 hours. There are hiking trails leading to the summit of Mt. Livermore which adds 2-
3 miles to the hike and a couple of hours to the day.
How long is the ferry ride from San Francisco to Angel Island?
The ferry from San Francisco ferry from the Pier 1 terminal to Angel Island departs four times
per day and takes about 30 minutes. Riders should arrive

Coastal Highway to Monterey and Carmel

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the world’s most grandiose aquariums with over 35,000 sea
creatures from over 550 species. But it is one single species–the Great White Shark—that distinguishes
this aquarium’s permanent residents from other aquariums. Additionally, Monterey Bay Aquarium has
been home to an entrancing kelp forest: The first of its kind when it opened in 1984.

An area rich in sea life, Monterey once housed an industry dedicated to sardine fishing and canning. The
large warehouses, bars and bordellos that once made the districts known as Cannery Row, have been
replaced by high-end waterfront dining, shopping and entertainment venues.

While in Monterrey, be sure to visit the San Carlos Cathedral. The sandstone edifice church dates back
to San Junipero Serra’s original scouting mission to California in 1770. In comparison to other Spanish
colonial buildings, San Carlos is surprisingly modest and austere.

Stretching from Pacific Grove Gate to Del Monte Forest, the route from Monterey to Carmel is a drive
where the journey is the destination. Known as the 17-Mile Drive, the meandering coastal path is lined
with cypress trees and Monterey pines, but the most famous of them, the Lone Cypress. The 250-year-
old tree, now the logo of the Pebble Beach Company, sits on a rocky precipice facing down the often-
violent Pacific Ocean.

From Cypress Point, visitors can see harbor seals delivering their newborn during delivery season in the
Spring. Spanish Bay and Point Joe are lookouts where the history of California’s settlement comes alive
amidst the natural beauty of the islands. And most importantly, there is the close-up tour of the
luxurious houses lining and the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links.

Directly south of Monterey is Carmel-by-the-Sea which traces its origins to an art colony that gained
momentum after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. After the destruction, Carmel welcomed artists,
writers into residences, asking for whatever monthly payment could be made. Carrying on the tradition,
The Carmel Arts and Crafts Colony performs Shakespearean plays and organizes many public shows.

Know Before you Go to Monterey & Carmel:

● How far is it from San Francisco?
When taking the most scenic route along Highway 1, Central Monterey is 116 miles from Union
Square in San Francisco. With moderate traffic, the trip takes about two and a half hours.
● How do you pay for the 17 mile drive? How much is it?
Yes, there is a charge of $11.75 per vehicle to enter the 17-Mile Drive in Pacific Grove. The gate
fee is reimbursed with a purchase of at least $35 at most Pebble Beach Resorts restaurants. The
fee is generally included in the price of public tours and private charters.
● What are the most scenic sections of Highway 1 in California?
○ Pomponio Beach
○ Pigeon Point Lighthouse
○ Nature Bridges State Beach

Napa and Sonoma Wine Country

For oenophiles all over the world, Napa and Sonoma are synonymous with wine. On a good day, the trip
to Napa and Sonoma Counties of about 90 minutes makes for a great wine country day trip from San

Originally consisting of 12 ranches when it was under Mexican rule, Napa is one of the original counties
incorporated into California when it was granted statehood. The early settlers in the mid-19 th century
were mostly focused on farming grains and fruits when John Patchett established the first commercial
vineyard in 1858.

At present, the number of Napa wineries has swelled to over 400, and a world-class reputation that was
cemented when two Napa Valley vineyards took the top prizes in the red and white wine divisions at the
1976 Judgment of Paris wine competition against the favored French wines. The event was
memorialized in the 2008 film “Bottle Shock”.

On the other side of the Mayacamas Mountain Range, Sonoma Valley has an entirely different type of
soil influenced by the lava residue from past volcanic activity that’s more conducive to Pinot Noir, and
Zinfandel grapes. Whereas Napa is pristine and luxurious, Sonoma is more casual, rustic, and offers a
wine tasting day trips from San Francisco at a more affordable price.

Sonoma is also home to many charming small towns from Healdsburg to Sebastopol. Windsor has a
pedestrian green that hosts over 30 events a year including the Wings Over Wine Country Air Show
every Autumn..

Know Before you Go to Napa and Sonoma Wine Country:

● How far is the wine country from San Francisco?
The southern end of Napa Valley is 48 miles from downtown San Francisco when reached via the Bay Bridge. Sonoma is a similar distance but when taking the Golden Gate Bridge through Marin County.
● Can you do both Napa and Sonoma in a day?
Wine country visitors can easily see both Napa and Sonoma valleys on the same day. Since there are only a few roads connecting the two areas, visitors should plan their itinerary to include only one crossing during the trip.
● How far apart are Napa and Sonoma?
Napa and Sonoma are long north-south valleys atop San Pablo Bay near San Francisco. For most of their trajectories, 12-15 miles and the Mayacamas Mountains separate them. Visitors should plan on 30 minutes to cross from one to the other on weekdays, and a little extra time on weekends.

Golden Gate Park

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is not really a day trip from San Francisco since it’s located in the city,
but it certainly feels like a country day trip. The decidedly un-urban park is even marked by a population
of bison that has been roaming the park since 1891 when the species was at serious risk of extinction.
Over 500 bison have been born into the Golden Gate herd during the past 130 years.

There are so many hidden layers of history—both natural and human–over the 1,017 acres that a
walking tour is a must.

The de Young Museum is shaped like an inverted pyramid that recalls a modernist take on an Aztec
monolith. The de Young Museum is dedicated to American art and indigenous art of the Western
Hemisphere; to a lesser extent, space is made for art of the indigenous peoples of Africa and Oceania.

The three-acre Japanese Tea Garden was constructed by master gardener Makoto Hagiwara who got
permission to turn the Mid-Winter Exhibition of 1894 exhibit into a permanent feature. The garden’s
most impressive feature, a five-story pagoda, was added in later for the 1915 World Exposition. One of
the most tranquil corners of the bustling cityscape, the park is marked by waterfalls, sculptures, a drum
bridge which creates the illusion of a full circle. Fragrant flora and the sound of steadily flowing water
make this a multi-sensory experience.

Golden Gate Park’s “other” garden is the Conservatory of Flowers whose 17,000 different plant species
display four different types of biomes. It is also a main draw for nature lovers.

The California Academy of Sciences was founded in 1953 as one of the first institutions of its kind. The
resulting four-story museum is one of the world’s largest natural history museums: It boasts an
aquarium, planetarium, and a living rainforest. For good measure, it even boasts an arboretum on an
open roof deck.

Know Before you Go to Golden Gate Park:

● Where to picnic in Golden Gate Park?
Golden Gate Park has many lovely green spaces for a picnic. In the western region, the Chain of
Lakes Meadow offers plenty of open space for a gathering. On the eastern side of the park,
Mothers Meadow near Stow Lake is a favorite spot. For something historic, plant your picnic for
the Robin Williams Meadow at the foot of Hippie Hill.
● Where to park at Golden Gate Park?
Golden Gate Park is very popular with San Francisco visitors and locals, especially on weekends.
If you are taking your vehicle, go early to locate parking on the street in designated areas or use
the underground lot near 10th & Fulton. To avoid the parking headache, there are public
transportation options from downtown or book Extranomical Tours’ city tour that includes the
park in its itinerary.
● How much time is needed to see Golden Gate Park?
A lot. Golden Gate Park is larger than New York’s Central Park. For a casual walker, it would take
3 hours to do the loop around the park. Of course, you would want to take time to visit the de
Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, and the park’s five formal

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of the defining properties of our national park system. It’s the third oldest
(circa 1890), it attracts 3.3 million visitors a year, and has been beloved since Thomas Ayres’ drawings of
Yosemite Falls in magazines back east prompted Yosemite’s conservation

Though the park cuts a sizeable swath through three counties in central California, the most visited area
of the park, Yosemite Valley, is just nine square miles. It’s rather packed so it’s best to go with a guide or
time your departure carefully.

Bridalveil Falls is a half-mile trek that allows the hiker to traverse the bottom of the waterfall itself as it is
tamed by the rocks below. The 620-foot-high cascade is the result of the carvings of a glacial valley. The
waterfall has the appearance of flowing sideways during strong winds which earned it the Native
American nickname “Pohono” or Spirit of the Puffing Wind.

The park is home to many other spectacular waterfalls including five that are over 1,000 feet high.
Yosemite Falls is the highest in the park at nearly twice the height of the Empire State Building. Horsetail
Falls is famous for appearing ablaze when reflected against the orange glow of sunset. To read more
about its waterfalls and other fun things to do on a day trip to Yosemite, check out our other Yosemite

Elsewhere in Yosemite Valley, El Capitan’s 3,000-foot sheer face is the most storied mountain climbing
challenge in the country. It was immortalized most recently in the award-winning 2019 film “Free Solo”.
Far earlier, Ansel Adams’ acclaimed 1927 photo of the granite formation Half Dome helped to move
Yosemite on to the bucket list of travelers around the world. You can create your own unforgettable
view of Half Dome and the rest of Yosemite Valley at Inspiration Point.

For lodging in the valley, many prefer the camping site at the Curry Village at the foot of Half Dome. It
offers seasonal entertainment, an amphitheater and ranger presentations. At the east end of Yosemite
Valley, is the rustic Ahwahnee Hotel. A stay there would put you in the same company as presidents and
royalty, but the architecture, décor, and history are what make the visit worthwhile.

Outside of Yosemite Valley, there are three sequoia groves within Yosemite’s boundaries: Tuolumne,
Mariposa, and Merced Groves. Tuolumne Grove has an impressive stand of Giant Sequoias and is a
popular destination during the summer and fall seasons when that 2.4-mile scenic loop is clear of snow
and ice.

Know Before you Go to Yosemite:

● How far of a drive is Yosemite from San Francisco?
The most popular entry gates for Yosemite National Park are a four hour drive from San
Francisco. Plan on another 45-60 minutes to reach Yosemite Valley and the visitors center area
where there is a concentration of attractions.
● Do I need reservations to enter and drive in Yosemite?
We strongly encourage you to check with the National Park Service to see what the reservation
requirements are for the time you plan to visit. For the last several years, reservations have
been required during the summer months. If you take a public tour to Yosemite, reservations
are generally made by the operator.
● Can I drive to Yosemite from San Francisco in a day?
Visitors to San Francisco can make the 4 hour drive to Yosemite National Park, see the highlights
like Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and El Capitan, and then return all in one day. Since the day is
long and the driver cannot fully enjoy the scenery while attending to the road ahead, we
recommend taking a public or private tour that includes a driver and guide for your experience.
● Is a day long enough for Yosemite?
One day in Yosemite National Park is enough to take in the major attractions located in the
valley, like Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome, Mirror Lake and Curry Village. For visitors
traveling from San Francisco to Yosemite, an overnight stay is probably required to see Glacier
Peak, Tuolumne Meadows, Vernal Falls and other more remote attractions.
● When is the best time to visit?
Yosemite National Park is open 365 days a year and each season offers unique experiences.
Spring is a favorite for seeing the waterfalls at their gushiest, Summer offers pleasant weather
for sightseeing but tends to be crowded on weekends, Fall offers beautiful colors and usually
enjoyable weather, and Winters present snow covered monuments and outstanding photo
opportunities. For more information, check out our blog on this question.

Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Cruz

The Pacific Coast Highway, also known as California Route 1 or simply as the PCH, connects every major
city in California as it hugs the Pacific Coast. With its breathtaking views, it’s the journey and not the
destination that makes it famous.

The first stop heading south from San Francisco is the coastal town of Half Moon Bay. Its bluffs provide
vistas of the beautiful white beaches down below. Half Moon Bay is also legendary for its surfing. A little
to the south, Pescadero Marsh Preserve is the only extensive marsh preserve along the San Francisco
coast and visitors should bring binoculars for the unique wildlife that line the trails’ brackish ecosystem.

On its southward trek, the PCH also grazes some of the redwood forests closest to San Francisco
including Big Basin and Henry Cowell State Parks. Both are within a 75-mile day trip from San Francisco.

A great way to see these trees is on the Roaring Camp Railroad. The narrated train tours are as
authentic as they were in 1875 when the Santa Cruz and Felton railroads first carried tourists to the
beach and the first grove of redwood trees to be protected by logging. The trains originate from the
town of Roaring Camp which was founded in 1842 as the site of the first sawmill west of the Mississippi
River and acts as a living history museum today.

The Roaring Camp Railroad also serves the recreational mecca of Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz Beach
Boardwalk is an amusement park with forty rides and two that are listed as National Historic
Landmarks: The Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster and the Looff Carousel which date back to 1924 and
1911 respectively.

Another must-see at Santa Cruz is Natural Bridges Beach which is so named for the natural arch
carved into a giant stone on the beach. The state beach also boasts great tide pools, an assortment of
shore birds like pelicans and cormorants, and a monarch butterfly migration reserve.

Know Before you Go to Santa Cruz:

● How far is Santa Cruz from San Francisco?
Santa Cruz is surprisingly close to San Francisco, about 75 miles from most downtown hotels.
Traffic can be unpredictable, so plan on 1 ½ to 2 hours of travel time by car. Parking near the
boardwalk can be a challenge, so visitors should consider a public tour that will manage the
driving and vehicle.
● Should I go to Santa Cruz or Monterey?
Tours to Santa Cruz and Monterey offer similar experiences: stunning coastal scenery, beautiful
state parks, great restaurants, and lots of kid-friendly activities. Since the spots are only an hour
apart, we suggest planning for a full day and visiting both cities.
● How much are tickets to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk?
There is no charge to enter the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Individual rides are priced between
$3 and $5 per ticket. If you plan on spending the whole day, the $35 wristband for unlimited
rides is a great deal.

North Coast to Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is one of just ten federally protected tracts of coastline in the nation and
the only one in California. The cape’s 100 square miles were prioritized for conservation by President
Kennedy after the 1962 Sierra Club publication of author Harold Gilliam’s “Island in Time” brought a
poetic voice in the campaign to protect Point Reyes from sprawl. As a result, visitors today can enjoy the
untouched natural expanse of the Pacific Northwest in its purest form with over 1,500 biological species
to view.

From Sea Lion Overlook, it’s not uncommon to see spawning Coho salmon, elephant seals, or even
migrating gray whales. Another activity that shouldn’t be missed is descending the 300 wooden steps to
the base of the Point Reyes Lighthouse which offers surreal views in the blanket of fog that often
shrouds the area.

The coast’s commercial anchor is the small town of Point Reyes Station which offers one of the
region’s most charming main streets in the area with buildings still retaining the same names as they did
in the town’s early days: The Old Creamery Building, the Livery Stable, and the Hay Barn, for example.
The town also offers the region’s best lodging options.

The rocky peninsula creates a break wind for the thunderous Pacific currents which makes the waters of
Tomales Bay among the calmest in the state. This makes it an ideal spot for kayaking and paddle

Tomales Bay is also home to Hog Island Oyster Company’s farm. The 160-acre hatchery raises all five
edible oyster varieties in the Northern Hemisphere, and is responsible for some of the best dining
experiences in the Bay Area.

Further up Route 1, Bodega Bay is another blessing of geography as another rocky peninsula tames the
Pacific currents and makes for a prime boating spot. Sailing and hiking are especially popular here.

Know Before you Go to Point Reyes:

● How far is Point Reyes from San Francisco?
The Bear Valley Visitors Center at Point Reyes National Seashore is a 60-90 minute drive from
the downtown San Francisco. From the visitor center, it is another hour drive to the Point Reyes
Lighthouse and Sea Lion overlook. Before going, check with the park service because the road to
the seashore is often closed during wetland repairs or sea lion pupping season.
● What is the best time of year to see whales at Point Reyes?
Due to its position on California’s coast, Point Reyes is one of the best places to spot Gray
Whales. The best times to try are during their southward migration to the Baja peninsula from
September to October or when the whales return north from February to April.
● Where can I hike near Point Reyes?
There are many beautiful coastal trails and wetland hikes to enjoy in Point Reyes National
Seashore. Our favorite is the Laguna trail which runs all the way to Santa Maria Beach. On your
way to the lighthouse, be sure to take some photographs at the Tunnel of Trees. Before you go,
check for trail closures here.

California Gold Rush Towns

When James Marshall identified gold flakes during the construction of a sawmill, he intended to keep it
a secret. However, the California boom was destined to happen, and word got around. The subsequent
clamor led to the 1849 Gold Rush which would forever change Northern California.

A day trip from San Francisco to gold country should start with Marshall Gold Discovery State Park in
Coloma (located east of Sacramento). Visitors can pan for gold, visit a recreation of Sutter’s Mill, and
hike at the foot of the Sierra Nevada range.

Many boom towns caught up in the subsequent gold rush boast a historic authenticity, but two in
particular – Groveland and Columbia – make for great day trips to the gold country.

Groveland Goldrush Town

1905 when the Tuolumne River Hetch-Hetchy irrigation project made Groveland a boom town of a
different sort. Soon, the town was supporting seven hotels and over 10,000 residents. Today, Groveland
boasts a historical main street, straight out of a Wild West show.
Groveland is home to the oldest continuously operating saloon in California: The Iron Door (circa 1853).
Located just 25 miles west of the Yosemite Valley, Groveland acts as the gateway to Yosemite, with
Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum playing an integral part in preserving the region’s oral history
including local Native American lore.

Columbia Goldrush Town

Columbia was once known as the “Gem of the Southern Mines” for the $150 million of gold that was
mined here over a sixty-year period by a diverse corps of immigrants. Whereas other towns in the
region became deserted once the resources tapped out, Columbia was saved from the fate of many a
ghost town by the burgeoning historic preservation movement.

The Columbia Progressive Club’s efforts to revive the city’s old buildings in the 1920s coincided with the
efforts of legendary urban planner Frederick Law Olmstead Jr to identify additions to the California Park
system. With historically-attired actors, gold panning, and the chance to ride in a period stage coach,
this is considered one of the premiere living history museums.

As you can see, there are many fascinating day trips to be had from San Francisco. Others are limited
only by your imagination. If you would like some help planning your next trip, check out the Visitor
page on our website. Happy travels!

Published on: September 6th 2022
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