Since moving to California this summer, I’ve had less and less time to travel with craziness at work, pursuing my MBA and still getting settled (after six months, we still don’t have a table and I have yet to switch over my driver’s license… oops!). Luckily, living in the East Bay I’m perfectly situated to take advantage of all the amazing day trips from San Francisco – there are so many options! Here are four places I’ve been able to check out so far.
Pacifica & Half Moon Bay
Drive Time from Downtown San Francisco: 20 Minutes
If you don’t want to spend much time traveling, Pacifica is one of the quickest day trips from San Francisco. Just a short drive from the city, you’ll find yourself speeding through tall trees and along ocean cliffs before reaching the laid back surf town and then traveling on to Half Moon Bay.
Things to do in Pacifica and Half Moon Bay:
- Viewpoints: Along California’s famous Highway 1, Pacifica and Half Moon Bay offer a ton of gorgeous viewpoints where you should pull over for photos. When I visited in August, we even had the chance to see multiple whales at Devil’s Slide. No need to have a complicated game plan here: just drive, and when you see a parking spot, pull over!
- Taco Bell: No, this is not a joke. Taco Bell is my fast food guilty pleasure, and I’m not ashamed to say that our first trip to Pacifica was inspired by a Thrillist article about how it has the best Taco Bell in the world. This place doesn’t even look like a fast food restaurant: it has a modern look and walk-up window so you can order and eat your chalupas right on the beach as you watch local surfers catch some waves.
- Eat from a Caboose: If you’re still hungry after Taco Bell, this area has several novelty eateries that make for a fun afternoon. You can get coffee, lunch or BBQ from THREE separate caboose-themed eateries!
- Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve: Drive up through the mountains to see California’s famous redwoods and hike for a bit for some exercise.
Napa is another easy favorite from my list of day trips from San Francisco if someone in your group is willing to pony up and be the designated driver. If not, there are plenty of hotels where you can spend the night and winery hop via Lyft or Uber.
Drive Time from Downtown San Francisco: 1 hour
If you’re planning to visit wine country more than once, I’d suggest purchasing a Priority Wine Pass and then mapping out your route based on wineries offering 2-for-1 tastings. With tastings in Napa ranging from $20 to $50, it will save you a boatload! I snagged one via Groupon (sign up via my link to earn $10 in Groupon Bucks) for 65% off.
For a day trip, depending on what time you hit the road, 2-3 wineries are probably doable. Here are those I visited on my recent day trip to Napa:
- Benessere Vineyards – This was my favorite stop of the day, as the family-owned, Italian-inspired winery was not crowded and we were able to nab a private tour. It’s appointment-only, but we only called about ten minutes before our arrival time and they fit us in. After a quick tour, we sat in comfy lounge chairs outside and enjoyed our tasting of Benessere’s small batch wines – so much better than standing at a counter!
- Castello di Amorosa – Who knew that there was a 13th century-inspired Tuscan castle in Northern California? While swarming with tourists, this winery is still fun to visit, even if just for the experience of coming up its magnificent driveway. After a tasting, climb to the top of the towers for pretty views of the vineyards.
- V. Sattui – I wasn’t too impressed by the wine at this one, but after a couple tastings, it was a great place to stop, grab some cheese and crackers, and enjoy a snack on one of their picnic tables.
Russian River Valley in Sonoma County
If pricey Napa isn’t your scene, you can also head to Sonoma County, where there are some more affordable wineries. If you’re visiting during the summer months, you’ll want to combine a winery visit with a day trip to Guerneville, where you can spend a lazy day floating down the Russian River. Several tour companies will even pick you up at the end and bring you back to your car.
Drive Time from Downtown San Francisco: 1.5 hours
We didn’t actually float down the river because by the time we made it to Guerneville, everything was sold out. So lesson learned: book ahead!
Things to do in Sonoma County:
- Russian River: Book a float, canoe or kayak adventure.
- Wineries: There are many wineries in Sonoma County. My favorite spot is Harvest Moon Winery in Santa Rosa for reasonably priced yet high quality tasting and wines.
- Fogbelt Brewery: A brewery in wine country? Yes, it’s a thing! While crowds flock to the popular Russian River Brewing, the team at Harvest Moon tipped us off to this more low key restaurant and brewery that had no wait time and amazing food.
There’s not a lot of love for Sacramento, California’s capital, in San Francisco. When you mention you’re going there, people kind of grimace as if they feel sorry for you that you have to visit such an inferior city. But feel free to ignore that sentiment – San Franciscans are notoriously snobby – and plan a day or weekend in Sacramento because it’s actually quite fun!
Drive Time from Downtown San Francisco: 1.5 hours
Things to do in Sacramento:
- Visit Old Sacramento: This historic part of town will make you feel like you’re in the Old West. Explore the railroad museum, grab a bite to eat, and check out some of the fun kitschy shops (there’s a pretty intense costume shop, as well as several old-school candy stores).
- TopGolf: I am not a golfer, but TopGolf, located just outside Sacramento, is seriously fun. The best way I can describe it is as a form of outdoor bowling. If you go during the day (at night there are long lines), you can snag a heated bay where your group can hit golf balls while ordering drinks and food. The food was surprisingly good, and even for a non-golfer, the target games were entertaining.
- Go for a Bike Ride: The American River Bike Trail is a great way to get some exercise, see the river and get in touch with nature while you’re in Sacramento! The trail runs from Old Sacramento to Folsom Lake – 32 miles in total – but you don’t have to do the whole thing.
The best part? These are just a few of the day trips available from San Francisco – I still have so much to explore, right in my own backyard.