In the San Francisco Bay Area, there is no need to book a flight or organize a high-maintenance itinerary to enjoy a phenomenal travel experience.
In fact, one of the best perks to living in San Francisco, let alone anywhere in the Bay Area or Northern California, is the myriad of driving-accessible travel options. It’s easy to plan a day trip or road trip to a transcendent, world-class location without having to drag your passport along.
From coastal retreats, hiking excursions, or historic monuments, you have plenty to choose from to plan a last-minute, spontaneous day trip to somewhere that will make you feel like you’ve been transported to a different world away from home. If you choose to extend you trip to an overnight stay, most of these locations have lodging options to accommodate your particular needs.
Have you been telling yourself that you want to explore more of the landmarks that skirt the Bay? Are you longing to experience of all the beauty surrounding San Francisco? Check out the 49 Miles to last minute excursions within a few hour drive from San Francisco:
17 Mile Scenic Drive | Pacific Grove, CA
Approximately a 2 hour drive from San Francisco, the incomparable 17 Mile Drive is an absolute must-do for anyone who appreciates California beauty. You don’t even have to get out of the car to enjoy it, though the stunning vista points will certainly inspire you to step out and snap photos. This otherworldly drive begins a few minutes away from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and runs along the coast through Pebble Beach. You can extend your drive to go further southbound down Highway One for world-class coastal views, all the way down to Big Sur. If you choose to dine or stay in the area, check out Clint Eastwood’s renowned hotel and restaurant Mission Ranch in Carmel for upscale accommodations. For something more low-maintenance to refuel you for the drive back, check out Mundo’s Cafe in Monterey for seriously mouth-watering, quality sandwiches. For some fun shopping in Monterey near Cannery Row, check out The Cat’s Meow for hand-selected vintage finds.
Beach Boardwalk | Santa Cruz, CA
Approximately a 1.5 hour drive from San Francisco, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a right of passage for anyone who lives in Northern California. If you haven’t been yet, then it’s absolutely time you get moving to this iconic landmark. The area surrounding the Boardwalk is often jam-packed because it’s such an essential attraction. There are rides, carnival food, and of course the beach. You can make the most out of your trip by driving to and from Santa Cruz along Highway One from Half Moon Bay (or even from Ocean Beach or Pacific, if you so choose). When you’re ready to get away from the crowds, go to the Solaire Restaurant and Bar at Hotel Paradox for happy hour (their deep-fried calamari will keep you coming back, and it pairs well with their selection of cool white wines). The distance from San Fransisco makes the return home reasonable, but The Hotel Paradox’s striking decor will lure you into staying for the night. Other nearby attractions include the infamous Mystery Spot, downtown Santa Cruz, and the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Hearst Castle | San Simeon, CA
Approximately a 4 hour drive from San Francisco, the Hearst Castle is nearly equidistant between the Bay and LA. Located in the unincorporated town of San Simeon on the Central California Coast, this historic museum-in-a-castle features 165 rooms and 27 acres of gardens, pools, and a notable art collection. Flanked by endless outdoor beauty, this storied monument is the site of Lady Gaga’s music video for “G.U.Y”. Watch her video to get a sense of the castle’s majesty, and you’ll surely feel compelled to experience it in real life. Open daily at 9AM, tours are $25 adults and $12 for kids.
State Capitol | Sacramento, CA
About a 2 hour drive from San Francisco, the California State Capitol is an underrated hub brimming with engaging activities. Sacramento hosts the California State Capitol Building and Museum, and other government buildings suitable for your fellow politico’s interests. With landmarks like the Governor’s Mansion and the Railroad Museum, there are plenty of activities to occupy any history buff. To experience a full-on old-timey, historic fantasy, one must check out Old Sacramento. You’ll feel transported to the Gold Rush era, and you can get hot dogs and deep fried Oreos on the cheap. For a relaxing nature getaway, go to the American River to picnic, boat, or take a refreshing dip in the cool water under Sacramento’s hot sun. If your interests are a little more cosmopolitan, Sacramento has a vibrant commercial scene in its chic Midtown area, with great restaurants, bars, and shops. For a fun night at a bar, check out the unforgettable Mercantile Saloon. For authentic and unfailing French cuisine near Midtown, skip over to Café Rolle for gourmet mastery fit for a Francophile. Important to mention, everything in Sacramento is cheaper than San Francisco, so your wallet will be appreciative.
Bodega Bay | Sonoma County, CA
The drive to Bodega Bay is shorter than 2 hours; the drive itself will transport you to vacation mode. This picturesque getaway is where Alfred Hitchcock’s cinematic-yet-creepy masterpiece “The Birds” was filmed. Travelers come here for a serene, secluded retreat amid idyllic scenery. Head to The Bodega Head and Sandy Cove to surround yourself with photogenic coastal sights and whale watching. You may take a coastal walk along one of Bodega’s hiking trails. If you need a sugar-boost before your drive back home, head over to Patrick’s Salt Water Taffy.
Wine Country | Napa Valley, CA
Driving to Napa Valley from San Francisco takes around 1.5 hours, but you might want to confirm a designated driver for this trip if you don’t have lodging reservations. Known as Wine Country, Napa Valley is a worldwide symbol for California’s serene decadence, offering a dreamy vacation for its visitors. Be sure to visit the world-renowned vineyards, notably the Darioush Winery for it’s jaw-dropping opulence, and Artesa Vineyards for its architecturally-acclaimed facility. You may also explore Napa by rail, on the Napa Valley Wine Train, which is also a newsworthy restaurant.
Russian River | Guerneville, CA
Only a 1.5 hour drive from San Francisco, it’s no wonder that the Russian River in Guerneville is such a popular destination, even for The City’s most discerning gays. You’ll make no mistake by heading straight to Johnson’s Beach for riverside chilling and kayaking. After spending a day frolicking in the water, head to the hella popular Russian River Brewery—you’ll be in luck if there isn’t a line wrapping around the block. For a low-key yet surely delicious meal, head to Main Street Café for some pizza.
Lake Tahoe | Incline Village, NV
Around a 4 hour drive from The City, Tahoe is one of the most popular road trip destinations for San Franciscans. Vacationing in Lake Tahoe is just as popular during snow season as it is during the spring time, as it’s gorgeous year-round. Lake Tahoe goers all agree that the vastness of the lake feels like being at sea, and the blueness thereof is awe-inspiring. The lake is a large freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, straddling the border of California and Nevada, so can you head over to Reno to hit the casinos. On the lake’s southern end is Emerald Bay State Park, which boasts the the 1929 Nordic-style mansion Vikingsholm, known as Tahoe’s hidden castle. On the northeast side is Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, which features Sand Harbor Beach, Spooner Lake, and the rigorous Tahoe Rim Trail. While on the lake, be sure to respect the environment and “Keep Tahoe Blue” in light of the reduced clarity of the water on account of climate change.
Yosemite National Park | Yosemite, CA
Around a 4.5 hour road trip from San Francisco, Yosemite National Park is a California treasure, attracting travelers from all around the world for its unquestionable beauty. Whether or not you are fit enough to climb up the Half Dome, or if you simply want a luxurious getaway surrounded by nature at the Majestic Hotel, a trip to Yosemite deserves a spot on your bucket list.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park | Weott, CA
A 4 hour drive from San Francisco, Humboldt County embodies so much of what makes California so distinct. Known for its cheeses, and other smelly things, this gorgeous nature hotspot proffers something for anyone. Cruise down the Avenue of the Giants to experience the grandiose redwoods up close, which is next to the best outdoor activities in the area. This sublime location is perfect for nature nerds and active people, with it’s variety of options for hiking, swimming, biking, and fishing. There are even equestrian trails for horse lovers!
Vegas, Baby! | Las Vegas, NV
If all else fails, don’t forget that San Francisco is a mere 575 miles away from Las Vegas, Nevada. So find someone who has a working Prius, and bring a 9 hour mix tape for the drive. Just remember that whatever happens in Vegas, slays on Instagram.