Are you looking for new unique destinations for weekend trips from San Francisco?
San Francisco is the gateway to reach several amazing destinations in Northern and Central California. Within a few hours of scenic driving you can reach several beach towns, coastal cities, National and State Parks, mountain towns, lake towns and so much more!
Driving up or down the Pacific Coast Highway will lead you to amazing beach towns like Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur in the South or Bodega Bay, Mendocino, Fort Bragg in the North.
Several world renowned National Parks like Yosemite, Redwoods, Sequoias, Lassen can be reached in a few hours to explore nature and hiking.
If wineries and charming bed and breakfasts are your thing than Napa Valley, Sonoma, Paso Robles are just a few hours away.
In this article my travel blogger friends share their favorite weekend getaway vacations from San Francisco with you. Being a San Francisco Bay Area local for the past 20 years, I have been fortunate to visit all of these amazing getaways from San Francisco.
Whether you are a local to San Francisco Bay area like me, or are visiting San Francisco, I am sure you will find a hidden gem in this list for your next weekend trip or to add to your San Francisco itinerary!
Weekend Getaways from San Francisco to coastal towns and cities
San Francisco being a coastal city enjoys close proximity to several amazing coastal cities like Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel, and beach towns like Pismo Beach, Avila Beach, Bodega Bay, Fort Bragg, Mendocino, and many more.
Going North or south on the scenic Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) will bring you to these incredible coastal destinations. The drive on PCH itself is one of the most scenic driving routes in the world!
1. Bodega Bay
Bodega Bay is a charming and small coastal village North of San Francisco with amazing beaches, hiking trails and scenic bluffs along the coastline with panoramic ocean views.
- Distance from San Francisco to Bodega Bay: around 70 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Bodega Bay: around 1.5 hours by car
Bodega Bay being only 1.5 hours away from San Francisco, makes it an amazing weekend getaway destination. For an amazing road trip to get there, stop at Point Reyes to explore the lighthouse on your way to Bodega Bay.
What to do in Bodega Bay
- Beach fun at Doran Beach Park
- Hike cliffside trails at Bodega Head
- Hike among the redwoods at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
One of the top things to do in Bodega Bay is to visit the Doran Beach Park. This crescent shaped beach has miles of sandy stretch for a walk. This beach has a campground and is popular for camping as well.
Hike the Bodega Head Trail for stunning panoramic views of Doran beach like the one in the photo above. Kortum Trail is another great trail with coastal views and a well maintained boardwalk path.
Bodega Dunes beach and camping at Bodega dunes campground is another popular thing to do at Bodega Bay.
The Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve is only 40 minutes drive from Bodega Bay for some great hiking in the redwood forest.
Where to stay in Bodega Bay
The Lodge at Bodega Bay is a great place to stay right on Doran beach for some panoramic views of the beach and ocean. You can walk to the beach without worrying about parking at the beach.
2. Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is a small California beach town located between the San Francisco Bay area and Monterey Bay. The city is known for its stunning sandy beaches, charming downtown area, and many green spaces. And with Santa Cruz’s year-round decent weather, it is a great destination for anyone looking for a break from the busy city life in San Francisco.
- Distance from San Francisco to Santa Cruz: 76 miles
- Travel Time from San Francisco to Santa Cruz: around 1 hour 15 minutes by car
Santa Cruz is located about 76 miles from San Francisco, which takes approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes by car when there’s no traffic.
What to do in Santa Cruz
- Relax at Santa Cruz beach
- Enjoy rides and arcades at Santa Cruz Boardwalk
- Visit Mystery Spot
Santa Cruz offers a wide array of activities for visitors! For example, if you’re looking to spend the day in the heart of the city and at one of its most iconic spots, head to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.
You’ll find a variety of rides and attractions, restaurants, arcades, and shops around the boardwalk. This makes it the ideal spot for families traveling with little ones who have an abundance of energy to expend!
Mystery Spot is a very popular tourist attraction in Santa Cruz where the gravitational laws go haywire and you will be amazed at how you can appear diagonal while standing straight!
Alternatively, if you want to see the incredible nature spaces that Santa Cruz is home to make your way to Westlake Park! This park is perfect for a picnic and allows you to admire the tall redwood trees!
Lastly, if you’re up for an adventure, head to one of the nearby state parks! You can go hiking or biking along the winding trails and admire the scenic views of the beaches from above!
Where to stay in Santa Cruz
Consider staying at the Dream Inn, which offers guests unbeatable views of the Pacific Ocean. Plus, the hotel is just a few blocks away from the Wharf!
Recommended by Kristin of Global Travel Escapades
If you are looking for weekend trip from the City by the Bay, Monterey is a wonderful idea. The Central California city is known for its beautiful coastline and vibrant downtown area, and you will find many fun things to do in Monterey on your weekend trip.
- Distance from San Francisco to Monterey: 116 miles
- Travel Time from San Francisco to Monterey: around 2 hours by car
Monterey is about 116 miles from San Francisco, and it will take you about 2 hours to drive here in normal traffic.
What to do in Monterey
- Visit Monterey Bay aquarium
- Stroll and explore Cannery Row
- Enjoy 17 mile drive views and stops
Among the best things to do in Monterey is visiting the Monterey Bay aquarium, which has a plethora of stunning exhibits that showcase the flora and fauna of the bay. The aquarium is a popular destination, so plan on visiting early or late in the day.
Take a boat trip or go kayaking the the calm waters of Monterey Bay. You will find boat cruises at Old Fisherman’s Wharf, and kayak rentals as well. The views from the water are beautiful, and you may see otters, sea lions, and sea birds.
Cannery Row is the heart of downtown Monterey, with lots of shops and restaurants. It is a fun place to walk.
Another popular thing to do is to enjoy the famous 17-Mile Drive through the town of pebble Beach. The drive features 17 stops, many of which offer beautiful ocean views. There are beaches where you can relax, and several restaurants for lunch or drinks.
Monterey is a year-round destination with its temperate weather. So you can enjoy a weekend trip here in any season!
Where to stay in Monterey
Stay at the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa, located along Cannery Row in the heart of all the action.
Recommended by Dhara of Roadtripping California
Carmel-by-the-sea is located in Monterey county and is a surreal and charming town to explore especially during the holiday season and during Summer. At Carmel, you can enjoy the beaches in summer and live it up in the Christmas season with cool décor throughout the town.
- Distance from San Francisco to Carmel: 120 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Carmel: around 2 hours by car
What to do in Carmel
- Walk along the historic downtown
- Rent a bike to ride along the coast
- Visit Carmel Beach
- Visit Asilomar Beach
- 17-Mile Drive and Lone Cypress tree
Carmel is a gem along the Pacific Coast highway and is also a starting point for the popular and scenic 17-Mile Drive to Pebble Beach.
The whole town is like a fairy-tale village and its main street is lined up with cute boutique shops, antique galleries, art galleries, and bakeries. Do not forget to stop at Carmel Bakery for their delicious Café Mocha and melt-in-the-mouth croissants.
After walking through the main street, make a stop at Carmel beach for a relaxing time. It is a long beach with trails along the shore that you can enjoy if you have the time.
Parking can be difficult to get here, and you cannot park along the streets leading to the beach. Be mindful of the traffic signs to avoid fines.
Another popular beach at Carmel to watch the sunset is Asilomar Beach. It is also known for its tide pools that you can explore if you happen to time your trip for a low tide period.
Where to stay in Carmel
Carmel Valley Ranch by Hyatt is an excellent hotel to relax at the end of your sightseeing trip.
Recommended by Priyadarshini Rajendran of Glorious Sunrise
5. Big Sur
Big Sur is one of California’s most beloved destinations. Whether you are looking for stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, peaceful hikes along the coastline, or simply a chance to disconnect from your daily routine and reconnect with nature, Big Sur has it all.
- Distance from San Francisco to Big Sur: 150 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Big Sur: around 2.5 hours by car
Located just 2.5 hours by car, and 150 miles from San Francisco, Big Sur is the perfect place for a weekend trip.
What to do in Big Sur
No visit to Big Sur would be complete without exploring the stunning coastline by foot or bike. Numerous trails lead up into the mountains as well as onto beaches scattered throughout Big Sur’s rugged shoreline.
For birdwatchers, Pfeiffer Beach is an excellent spot for viewing migratory birds. For adventure seekers, you can paddle board along the coast, but this does take some planning and appropriate precautions. There are so many fun things to do in Big Sur.
For those looking for something more leisurely, there are plenty of charming cafes and restaurants located near the coast that offer panoramic views of the ocean while you dine on delicious local cuisines such as fresh seafood dishes or artisanal ice cream made with locally-sourced ingredients.
Wineries in nearby Carmel Valley offer tastings and guided tours, so be sure to include them in your itinerary if possible.
Big Sur’s stunning landscapes and abundant outdoor activities offer a great way to escape city life on a weekend getaway. From majestic redwood forests to secluded beaches, this coastal paradise has something for everyone.
Where to stay in Big Sur
If you’re planning on spending a few days in Big Sur, consider staying at Ventana Inn & Spa. This luxurious resort is nestled into the mountains overlooking the ocean with its own private beach access and breathtaking views of both land and sea.
The resort offers a variety of accommodation options ranging from cozy rooms with wood-burning fireplaces to multi-bedroom villas equipped with private terraces.
Recommended by Candice of CS Ginger
6. San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo (abbreviated as SLO), located along the Central Coast, is an ideal weekend destination from San Francisco. It’s a small city to see historical and cultural buildings, spend time outdoors, and hang out at the beach. SLO is known as a college town as California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) has over 20,000 students attending.
- Distance from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo: 230 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo: around 3.5 hours by car
San Luis Obispo is 230 miles from San Francisco and will take over 3.5 hours one way by car.
What to do in San Luis Obispo
- Explore SLO downtown – Bubblegum Alley and SLO Creek Trail
- Stay at Unique and quirky Madonna Inn
- Hiking and horseback riding on Mount Madonna
There are a variety of things to do here. If you’re into historical buildings, then visiting Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa will be a highlight. Founded in 1772 by Junipero Serra, this place has a museum and daily tours.
Madonna Inn is a cultural spot to check out (or even stay overnight in). This place has eclectic pink décor in the restaurant area.
Bubblegum Alley in the Downtown area is worth the visit to see a wall of chewed gum. It’s grossly unique! The small trail along the SLO Creek is a fun place to stroll and maybe dine at one of the restaurants along the creek. The SLO downtown is small and charming with boutiques, art galleries and restaurants.
For outdoor adventurers, SLO has many hiking trails to explore. Bishop Peak and Mount Madonna (also called Cerro San Luis Trail) are recommended trails for awesome city views.
Mountain bikers can enjoy the trails with separate routes for bikes. It’s recommended to hike early as the weather gets hot by mid-morning. Horse back riding is also a popular activity to enjoy in the mountains here.
There are several beaches nearby SLO within 15 minutes drive. Avila Beach and Pismo Beach are popular spots for some beach fun.
Where to stay in San Luis Obispo
Madonna Inn is the place to stay in SLO, if you are able to snag a reservation. The rooms are decorated in unique themes and are super fun to stay in! Paris themed room anyone?
La Quinta Inn is a clean hotel with a swimming pool and complimentary breakfast included. This place is dog-friendly, so your furry friends can spend the weekend with you. This hotel is conveniently located only 15 minutes away from the Downtown area by walking.
Recommended by Jackie and Justin, Life Of Doing
7. Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach is a beautiful coastal town on California’s central coast, just south of San Luis Obispo. It’s most prominently known for surfing, but the small tourist town is also popular among families who love shopping, coastal walks, cliffside resorts, and delicious seafood!
- Distance from San Francisco to Pismo Beach: 240 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Pismo Beach: around 4.5 hours by car
The journey by car is about 240 miles, which takes 4 to 5 hours by car. Travelers can also take the Amtrak train to Grover Beach, which takes about 7.5 hours, but is much cheaper than driving.
What to do in Pismo Beach
The best thing to do in Pismo Beach is to stroll along the boardwalk, which is full of restaurants and cafes right on the beach. A few scenic trails in the area, from the Pismo Reserve to Avila Ridge, offer easy day hikes for those who love the outdoors.
Dinosaur Caves Park is the best place to watch the sunset on the cliffs. Riding ATVs at the famous Oceano Sand Dunes is a very popular thing to do in Pismo Beach.
It will take some effort to decide between all the fantastic places to eat in Pismo. For award-winning Tri-tip, go to Mo’s Smokehouse BBQ. For a nice dinner out, we recommend Giuseppe’s or Ventana Grill. And be sure to stop by Old West’s Cinnamon Rolls for breakfast or dessert!
Where to stay in Pismo Beach
Cottage Inn by the Sea is a fantastic place to stay near Pismo Beach. Massive cliffs along the ocean characterize Pismo Beach, and this hotel is one of the few affordable places to stay right on the cliffs. There is a heated pool, hot tub, fires on the ridges, and great rooms with a view.
Recommended by The Pazook Travel Journal
8. Avila Beach
Avila Beach is an ocean town located in a sheltered bay south of San Francisco. Located just off Highway 1, Avila Beach makes for the perfect weekend trip destination from San Francisco, especially for those looking for a beach getaway. With a variety of hotels, restaurants and things to do this quaint beach town is a must-see.
- Distance from San Francisco to Avila Beach: 240 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Avila Beach: around 4.5 hours by car
Avila Beach is located around 240 miles south of San Francisco and it takes around 4.5 hours to drive there from the city depending on the traffic.
What to do in Avila Beach
The best activity in Avila Beach is of course spending the day at the beach. Go swimming, surfing, paddle boarding or simply relax on a sunny day. You can also see whales in Avila Beach occasionally although you have to be very lucky to spot them.
Avila Beach Pier is good for a stroll, and the main Front Street along the beach is bustling with cafes, ice cream shops and restaurants.
You’ll also love the nearby hiking trails such as Bob Jones Trail or the hike to the nearby Avila Hot Springs where you can relax and rejuvenate after a busy day of activities.
Where to stay in Avila Beach
The Inn at Avila Beach is the best place to stay in town if you’re looking for a beachfront location. They’ve got beautiful and spacious rooms with various amenities such as a hot tub or ocean views. Their rooftop looks directly onto the ocean and is a perfect spot for sunset drinks.
Recommended by Victoria of Guide your Travel
9. Point Reyes
Point Reyes National Seashore is located in Marin County, northwest of the golden city of San Francisco and is a popular landmark on the Pacific coast. Point Reyes literally means the point of kings and exudes grandeur with its natural beauty.
- Distance from San Francisco to Point Reyes: 55 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Point Reyes: around 1 hour 25 minutes by car
What to do in Point Reyes
- Point Reyes Lighthouse
- Tomales Bay State Park
- Drakes Beach
- Cypress Tunnel
The most popular thing to do here is to visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse. You can hike down to the lighthouse (keep in mind there are around 300 steps to climb back up!) or stay at the observation deck to soak in incredible views of the ocean and the surrounding area.
Tomales Bay at the top of the cape, is a pretty hiking trail, which leads you into the ocean and rewards you with incredible views of the ocean. In summer, you can enjoy watching seals and whales at this tip. Apart from Tomales Bay hiking at Point Reyes, Chimney Rock is another cool trail to check out here.
Other popular stops are the Point Reyes Shipwreck and Cypress tunnel which is a stunning tunnel made by trees on both sides of the road. Drakes beach is a popular beach in Point Reyes known for its maternal seal breeding colony.
Sculptured beach next to the gorgeous Limantour beach, has numerous naturally carved stone cliffs along the shore. Walk till the end of this beach at low tide and check out the awesome crater and secret beach. Be mindful of tide timings so as to return before the tide creeps back in blocking the way.
Keep in mind that it gets chilly at Point Reyes with high winds and it is advisable to dress in layers. Some days can be foggy and the views would be obstructed, but it is still a magical location to explore.
Where to stay for Point Reyes
Hampton Inn at Petaluma is a great place to stay as it is located in the historic area of Petaluma and very close to Point Reyes
Recommended by Priyadarshini Rajendran of Glorious Sunrise
Mendocino is a charming small coastal village north of San Francisco and is popular for its cliffside hiking trails and stunning beaches.
- Distance from San Francisco to Mendocino: 155 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Mendocino: around 3 hours by car
The drive from San Francisco to Mendocino over the scenic Pacific Coast Highway is one of the best road trips on the West Coast. There are several interesting places along the way like Point Reyes and Bodega Bay.
What to do in Mendocino
- Walk the cliffside trails at Mendocino Headlands State Park
- Explore the Mendocino village
- Visit Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
- Point Cabrillo Light Station
Mendocino Headlands State Park surrounds the little village of Mendocino on three sides with dramatic ocean cliffs and hiking trails. Hike the Point Mendocino trail which is more like a stroll on ocean bluffs with dramatic views.
Explore the charming Victorian town of Mendocino with its art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. The laid back vibe of this town will surely seem like a getaway!
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is a must visit if you love flowers and plants. The clifftop garden with ocean views is very popular and has acres of garden paths filled with flowering plant varieties to admire.
Explore the various hiking trails in Russian Gulch State park like Fern Canyon and Falls loop trail which is one of the best hikes here.
Point Cabrillo Light Station is a historic State Park and Museum and is stunning against the ocean backdrop. A must see and only few minutes drive from Mendocino village.
Where to stay in Mendocino
Headlands Inn Bed and Breakfast is a Victorian era saltbox style B&B that is right in the middle of Mendocino village. You can walk to the nearby restaurants and shops and walk to the Mendocino Headlands State Park for some panoramic coastal views.
11. Fort Bragg
Fort Bragg is a charming town located on the stunning coast of northern California in Mendocino county. It is a favorite weekend destination among many Bay Area locals. The city of Fort Bragg offers the best of the California coast with its majestic redwood forests and beautiful long sandy beaches.
- Distance from San Francisco to Fort Bragg: 171 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Fort Bragg: around 3.5 hours by car
A scenic coastal road trip from San Francisco to Fort Bragg is 171 miles and approximately a 3.5-hour drive. You can stop at several interesting places along the way like Point Reyes and Bodega Bay.
What to do in Fort Bragg
- Glass Beach
- MacKerricher State Park
- Skunk Train
There are many fun and adventurous things to do and see in Fort Bragg, CA. A must is to visit the famous Glass Beach. Glass Beach is one of the most unique beaches in northern California because of its layers of colorful and vibrant sea glass that you can find across the beach.
Other popular things to do in Fort Bragg are to hike and explore MacKerricher State Park, visit the beautiful Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, or take a ride along the Skunk Train, a historic train that travels through redwood groves and Noyo River Canyon.
The Fort Bragg town is great for a stroll to explore the art galleries, gift shops and to dine at the several restaurants.
Where to stay in Fort Bragg
A wonderful place to stay while you are in Fort Bragg is the cozy and luxurious Little River Inn. The Victorian inn has everything you need for a comfortable and incredible weekend getaway. However, what really stands out at the Little River Inn is its unbelievable views of the Pacific Coast.
A visit to Fort Bragg is the perfect location for a weekend trip, where you can unplug and explore all of California’s natural beauty.
Recommended by Alisha of Travel Today Work Tomorrow
Weekend Trips from San Francisco to National Parks
San Francisco Bay area is close to several popular and incredible National Parks. Yosemite National Park is world famous for its scenic views and granite cliffs.
California is home to some of the oldest and giant Redwoods and Sequoia trees which can be found in Redwoods and Sequoia National Parks.
Lassen National Park is California’s own volcano park hidden in plain sight with excellent geothermal activity and waterfall hikes. Pinnacles is the youngest National Park with excellent hiking trails.
12. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is among the most popular weekend or long weekend trips from San Francisco. And for good reasons. Yosemite is one of the most beautiful and most visited national parks in the US.
- Distance from San Francisco to Yosemite: 170 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Yosemite: around 4 hours by car
Yosemite is a 4-hour drive from San Francisco. However, Yosemite is also reachable by public bus, train, and an organized guided tour from San Francisco.
What to do in Yosemite
- Bike around Yosemite Valley
- Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls
- Glacier Point
Marvelous Yosemite NP covers about 748,000 acres of unique land, rich with majestic cliffs, granite monoliths, vast valleys, awe-inspiring waterfalls, gorgeous lakes, stunning hiking trails, ancient sequoias, and fabulous wildlife.
If you are visiting Yosemite from San Francisco for the first time, head to Yosemite Visitor Center and Museum to pick up valuable information on the park.
After visiting the center, put Yosemite Valley and Yosemite Falls on your itinerary. Lower Yosemite Falls is an easy trail to enjoy the falls in Spring.
You can rent bikes at Yosemite Valley Lodge and bike around the Yosemite Valley for some gorgeous valley views.
For some more amazing views, head to the iconic El Capitan monolith and majestic granite Half Dome and check out Glacier Point.
Glacier Point is the best viewpoint in Yosemite NP. Visitors of Glacier Point are regularly in awe of the splendor and beauty of Yosemite NP. But if you enjoy hiking, you need to check out Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, Bridalveil Fall Trail, and Half Dome Trail. However, if you decide to hike Half Dome Trail, you’ll need a permit.
Where to stay for Yosemite
To get the best out of your weekend in Yosemite, consider booking a room in Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite. The lodge is only 45 min drive from Yosemite Visitors Center, and it is on the route from San Francisco to Yosemite!
Yosemite is a must-visit in a lifetime. So, head to Yosemite if you are after a perfect weekend gateway from San Francisco. And don’t be surprised if you start coming back to Yosemite after your first visit!
Recommended by Milijana of World Travel Connector
13. Redwoods National and State Parks
Stretching along the coast of northern California is the Redwood State and National Parks, home to dramatic coastlines, tiny towns, and, of course, groves of the tallest living creatures on the planet. In fact, over 95% of the world’s remaining redwoods are housed in this footprint, just waiting to be explored.
Because there’s a total of four parks in the Redwoods State and National Parks system that are relatively spread out (Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek State Park, Jedediah Smith State Park and Del Norte State Park), drive time and distance to the parks can vary, depending on which park you’re headed to.
- Distance from San Francisco to Redwoods: 300 to 350 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Redwoods: around 5-6 hours by car
Travel time from San Francisco to the various Redwoods Parks can range from about 5 hours and 15 minutes from San Francisco (310 miles) to 6 hours and 15 minutes (354 miles).
What to do in Redwoods National and State Parks
- Karl Knapp Trail
- Fern Canyon Trail
- Stout Memorial Grove Trail
One of the best things to do is explore any of the incredible hikes in the redwoods.
For example, Prairie Creek State Park is home to the Karl Knapp Trail, where you’ll wander under a canopy of ancient redwoods and actually get to hike through two tunnels cut out of enormous fallen trees.
Another unmissable trail in this park is Fern Canyon Trail, which will take you through a lush forest and eventually to a canyon whose walls are covered with impossibly green ferns and other plantlife. It looks so primeval here that it was used for a shooting location of Jurassic Park: A Lost World.
Jedediah Smith Redwood Park is also incredible- the low-hanging fog here makes the towering trees look somehow even more mystical. Don’t miss Stout Memorial Grove, a 0.7 mile loop through some of the oldest redwoods in California.
If you need a break from hiking, the Redwoods State and National Parks is a great place for spotting wildlife, like elk. Elk Prairie, along the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, is an excellent place to try to spot them!
Where to stay for Redwoods Parks
Given the parks’ wide footprint, it’s best to pick a home base in the middle of the action, like in Trinidad. The View Crest Lodge is an excellent choice here, with a hot tub to relax in after your day’s adventure and free breakfast to fuel you up for the day ahead.
Recommended by Jess of Uprooted Traveler
14. Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are perfect for a weekend trip if you only have a day or two to explore. You’ll surely see the highlights of both parks and probably wish to return for a longer stay.
- Distance from San Francisco to Sequoia and Kings Canyon: 240 to 260 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Sequoia and Kings Canyon: around 4 to 4.5 hours by car
For travel by car, Sequoia and Kings Canyon are approximately 4 to 4 and half hours from San Francisco.
What to do in Sequoia and Kings Canyon
- Drive the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway to Roads End
- General Grant Grove
- Panoramic Point
- General Sherman Tree
Marvel at the mountain vistas, deep canyons, and some of the biggest trees in the world!
Drive the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway to Roads End. It is a road to nowhere that follows a winding road that drops 6000 feet in elevation to the valley floor. Be sure to pull over at some of the many viewpoints. You might even spy a bear or two along the way.
From Kings Canyon, continue on to Sequoia National Park to visit the main attraction: the General Sherman tree. This famous tree will likely be thronged with people.
Hike along the path through the Sequoia National Forest to see the President’s Tree, The Chief, the Senate Trees, and the House Trees.
Where to stay for Kings and Sequoia Parks
If you’re looking for an immersive experience, plan to stay at the John Muir Lodge in Kings Canyon National Park.
Below the lodge, cabins and a campground area are also available with a centralized bathroom as well as a gift shop, post office, market, visitor center, and a small but busy restaurant.
You’ll definitely have to plan to “unplug” during your stay as WiFi is spotty and available only in the lobby of the hotel.
If you stay at the lodge, be sure to drive to General Grant Grove and then to Panoramic Point. The sunset from the ridgeline of the mountain is spectacular.
Recommended by Jolayne of simplyjolayne
15. Lassen National Park
One of the most unique National Parks, Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the few places in the world where you can witness all the various types of Volcanoes. These include cinder cones, stratovolcanoes, shield, and lava domes.
- Distance from San Francisco to Lassen National Park: 250 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Lassen National Park: around 4 hours by car
The park is located 250 miles (4 hours) from San Francisco. It’s long for a day trip but perfect for a weekend as two days is enough to see quite a lot of the park.
What to do in Lassen National Park
- Hiking Bumpass Hell Trail to see geothermal activity
- Lake Manzanita
- Hiking Lassen Peak
The park was established as a National Monument in 1907 and later as a National park in 1916. There’s quite a lot to see and do across its over 100,000 acres, making it a surprisingly large National Park. Quite a bit of the park is designated as national wilderness, which prohibits any man-made construction.
There are things to do year round, and the park even allows snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter.
For those with limited time, there’s a 30 mile scenic auto route you can take through the park and stop at various scenic vistas and overlooks. There are several great geothermal areas such as Sulphur works, Devil’s Kitchen, and Bumpass Hell.
Bumpass Hell (named for an early settler) is one of the most popular and interesting features in the park. The mud pots that can be visited along a boardwalk make it one of the best places to see such features in the wild.
Hiking the Lassen Peak is a strenuous but popular activity. Lassen National Park also has some great waterfall hikes like the Kings Creek Falls Trail.
Beyond this visitors can hike various volcanic mountains. Brokeoff Mountain, a dormant stratovolcano, can be climbed for those looking for a longer hike. A great easy hike is Cinder cone, which is aptly a cinder cone volcano is an easy hike and a great spot to view sunrise and sunset.
Lake Manzanita is a gorgeous lake with swimming, kayaking and camping activities.
The park is open year round although some areas are only accessible in the summer and fall. Lassen Volcanic NP is a US Fee area, requiring a fee of $30 in the summer and $10 in the winter.
Where to stay for Lassen National Park
For those staying the weekend, the Highlands Ranch Resort in Mill Creek makes a perfect jumping off point to the park. It is one of the closest lodges to the park, and the beautiful lodge and comfortable cottages are a perfect getaway. There’s even a good restaurant onsite as well.
Recommended by Anwar of Beyond my Door
16. Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park is one of the best weekend trips from San Francisco. As a lesser-known California National Park, it is usually less crowded then other parks.
- Distance from San Francisco to Pinnacles: 124 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Pinnacles: around 2 hours by car
This park is 124 miles which takes just over 2 hours from San Francisco. You can visit Pinnacles as a day trip from San Francisco, but to full experience the park, spend the weekend in the area.
What to do in Pinnacles National Park
- Hiking Moses Spring Trail to the Bear Gulch Trail
- Hiking Balconies Cave Trail
- Bear Gulch Reservoir
Pinnacles is divided into two parts: the East Entrance and the West Entrance, with the eastern side being more popular. The unique thing about Pinnacles National Park is that the eastern and the western sides of the park are not connected by road, only by hiking trails. It costs $30 to get into the park or free if you have a National Parks pass.
There are many awesome hiking trails to check out during your visit. From the east entrance, visitors will want to check out the Moses Spring Trail to the Bear Gulch Trail to the Rim Trail. This 2.2 mile loop takes you past many main sites in the park such as the reservoir and many pinnacles.
During non summer months, visitors can opt to take the path through the bat cave! Other popular hikes include the Condor Gulch Trail and the High Peaks Trail.
If you want to spend another day at Pinnacles, you can visit the western side of the park. Here, popular hikes include the Balconies Cliff Trail and the Prewett Point Trail. Make sure to pack lots of water for these hikes as Pinnacles can get very hot, especially in the summertime.
Where to stay for Pinnacles National Park
Camping in the east campground is a popular option in the cooler Spring and Fall months. Reservations can be hard to get like most lodging within National Parks.
For Pinnacles, you can stay in Salinas town as there are a ton of hotel options like the Hampton Inn Salinas. Salinas is also a cute town to explore and grab food in after exploring Pinnacles National Park.
Recommended by Francesca of Homeroom Travel
Weekend Getaways from San Francisco to wine country destinations
California has several world famous wine regions and San Francisco makes an ideal base to explore them all as they can be reached in a few hours drive. Napa and Sonoma Valleys are famous wine country getaways from San Francisco.
Paso Robles and Healdsburg are known for their small town charms, vineyards and amazing bed and breakfasts and Inns.
17. Paso Robles
Paso Robles is a charming small town wine country destination in Central California that is known for its vineyards and wineries and the home of Sensorio Field of Lights which is a stunning outdoor light and art experience.
- Distance from San Francisco to Sonoma: around 210 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Sonoma: around 4 hours by car
Paso Robles is around 4 hours drive from San Francisco. A long weekend getaway to Paso Robles is perfect to enjoy some world class wine and small town charm.
What to do in Paso Robles
- Sensorio Field of Lights
- Take a wine tour
- Stroll and explore the Paso Robles town square
There are several amazing things to do in Paso Robles. The top thing to do in Paso Robles is to enjoy the many wineries and vineyards on your own or by taking a winery tour. Tooth and Nail Winery, Niner Wine Estates are some popular ones.
The Paso Robles has a charming town square with the City Park right in the center of it. There are several wine tasting rooms in the small downtown area.
There are also art galleries, Olive Oil tasting room and many great farm to table restaurants like The Brunch and Thomas Hill Organics.
Paso Robles is well known for the Sensorio Field of Lights outdoor exhibit by internationally acclaimed artist Bruce Munro. Thousands of colorful light spheres light up Paso Robles landscape creating an unbelievable light, art and technology masterpiece.
Rejuvenate by taking a soak in the River Oaks Hot Springs Spa. Tin City is a unique makers market to try craft beverages like beer, spirits and cider.
Where to stay in Paso Robles
Paso Robles Inn is a historic hotel in Paso Robles downtown at a great convenient location. You can walk to the several wine tasting rooms and restaurants while staying here. You can request a room which has a mineral hot tub on a private balcony!
18. Napa Valley
There’s no better place to spend your weekend away from San Francisco than neighboring Napa Valley, California. It’s close and easy to get to, only an hour drive, while making you feel like you have escaped to an entirely different world. The other great thing about Napa, is how you can really enjoy this area in just a few days. One day in Napa is great, but two or three is even better!
- Distance from San Francisco to Napa: around 50 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Napa: around 1 hour by car
What to do in Napa Valley
- Explore Vineyards – Castillo di Amorosa, Domaine Carneros, Frog’s Leap
- Napa Wine Train
- Experience a Hot Air Balloon Ride
- Stroll in downtown Napa
While in Napa, you’ll probably want to explore as many vineyards as possible. Consider making a reservation at Castillo di Amorosa for a unique castle experience and large variety of wines. They also allow you to wander and explore the castle and property, and say hello to the farm animals living there!
Domaine Carneros is known for their sparkling wines and gourmet food pairings. Or, for a small and authentic option, check out Frog’s Leap.
When you need a break from wine tastings, book a ride on a hot air balloon or go for a ride on the Napa Wine Train. Both activities are lots of fun and offer unique views of the beautiful valley.
Venture into downtown Napa for shopping and delicious restaurants. There’s casual spots like The Dutch Door. Or venture outside of town to Michelin Star restaurant, The French Laundry. But no matter where you dine in the valley, you’re sure to have a delicious meal.
Where to stay in Napa Valley
You’ll want to stay a few nights at the luxurious Calistoga Spa Hot Springs. Where you can get a room and book a spa appointment. You’ll also have access to their natural hot springs pool, perfect for melting the stresses of the week away.
Recommended by Tori of Tori Pines Travels
19. Sonoma Valley
Sonoma Valley is the perfect weekend getaway from San Francisco for visitors craving a quieter escape for wine tasting, beautiful landscapes, delicious restaurants, and outdoor adventure. The valley spans down Highway 12 from the town of Kenwood to the city of Sonoma. Vineyards, redwood trees, shopping, restaurants, and hiking trails fill the area offering many things to do.
- Distance from San Francisco to Sonoma: around 45 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Sonoma: around 1 hour by car
Located about 45 miles from San Francisco, the drive to Sonoma takes about an hour or so depending on traffic.
What to do in Sonoma Valley
- Take a wine tasting tour
- Stroll Sonoma Plaza town square
- Stay in a charming bed and breakfast
- Jack London State Historic Park
- Annadel State Park
When it comes to the best things to do in Sonoma Valley, wine tasting is a given. This relatively small area has dozens of vineyards and tasting rooms.
With gorgeous landscapes, picnic areas, cellar tours, and hillsides for watching the sunset, visitors could fill a full day checking out wineries via self-guided tour or booking a wine tour.
Benziger Family Winery is perfect for those who would love a vineyard tour included in their tasting, and Ledson Winery & Vineyards is a magnificent castle-like structure that can’t be missed.
The city of Sonoma has a beautiful town square called Sonoma Plaza dotted with shops and restaurants for lunch or dinner. The girl & the fig is highly recommended for their duck confit and quiche. Wine Country Chocolates makes for a perfect dessert.
The Mission San Francisco Solano is located right off the square. General Vallejo’s home is also available for touring for history buffs.
Active travelers will want to stop by Annadel State Park for miles and miles of hiking and biking trails. The hike to Lake Ilsanjo is easy to moderate and just a few miles roundtrip.
Jack London State Park is also a great stop for its history, culture, and easy walking trails through the redwoods.
Where to stay in Sonoma Valley
Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is a fantastic choice for lodging due to its upscale rooms and mineral baths fed from the nearby hot springs.
The Gaige House is in Kenwood and is a modern and lovely bed and breakfast option.
Recommended by Sierra of Island + Alpine
If you’re a wine lover, Healdsburg is the perfect place to spend a weekend. This small town is located in the heart of Sonoma wine country, surrounded by some of the best wineries in the country. Named by CNN as one of the nation’s most romantic small towns, it’s also a great place for a couple’s escape.
- Distance from San Francisco to Healdsburg: around 70 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Healdsburg: around 1.5 hours by car
Healdsburg is just 70 miles north of San Francisco, less than a 1.5-hour drive. So, you can be sipping on wine among the vines before you know it.
What to do in Healdsburg
- Explore Healdsburg Town Square
- Embark on a wine and cycling adventure
- Go on a wine tour in Dry Creek Valley
Start your trip by exploring Healdsburg’s charming town square. Here you’ll find plenty of tasting rooms to choose from. Or browse through the many shops and galleries for books, antiques, and artwork.
And there’s no shortage of excellent restaurants. From tapas to Italian to seafood, there are options to please any palate.
Venturing out of town, many of the best wineries are just a short drive. You can book a tour or DIY it by making reservations in advance.
For a bit of history, check out Dry Creek Vineyard, the first new winery established in Dry Creek Valley after prohibition.
If you’re a foodie, don’t miss the food and wine experience at Jordan Vineyard & Winery. And Seghesio Family Vineyards is another great option close to town where you can taste top-quality Zinfandel and Italian varieties.
For those looking for some exercise while wine-tasting, why not go by bike? One of the world’s best wine-cycling routes starts and ends right in Healdsburg. The 30-mile loop will take you through Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley. Along the way, you’ll pass plenty of wineries you can stop at for a tasting.
Where to stay in Healdsburg
Bella Villa Messina Bed and Breakfast is a great place to stay close to town. Perched above Healdsburg, you can take in stunning views of the vineyards. Don’t miss the complimentary wine and cheese cocktail hour at sunset and delicious daily breakfast.
Recommended by Laura of Wine Travelista
Weekend Trips from San Francisco to popular Lake Towns
If you are looking for to explore an amazing lake town and enjoy some water activities and hiking, there are several popular lakes within a few hours of drive from San Francisco.
Lake Tahoe is of course, one of the most popular lakes, but there are others that are noteworthy like Mammoth Lakes and Lake Shasta.
21. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a popular weekend or long weekend getaway, come winter or summer! The gorgeous lake nestled high in the Sierra Nevada mountains attracts those looking for outdoor adventures and those who want to relax on the lakeshore.
Lake Tahoe is split into two main shore points – the North Shore and cities like Truckee, Tahoe City, and Kings Beach, and the South Shore via US-50 to South Lake Tahoe.
- Distance from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe: around 200 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe: around 4 hours by car
The 200-mile drive from San Francisco usually takes about 4 hours but can be longer in heavy traffic, especially during a winter snowstorm.
What to do in Lake Tahoe
- Enjoy hiking on the several trails in Lake Tahoe
- Summer water activities like swimming, kayaking, parasailing
- Winter skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing
Lake Tahoe is the ideal summer destination for hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and even horseback riding. Take the Heavenly Gondola to see panoramic views of Lake Tahoe.
Indeed, go hiking Mt Tallac for 360 degrees view of Lake Tahoe, or trek along the famous John Muir Trail (JMT as it is also known!), or one of the wilderness areas like Desolation Wilderness. Eagle Lake Trail and Vikingsholm Trail are extremely popular hikes here.
There are several water activities to be enjoyed in Tahoe in summer like swimming, parasailing, boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, etc. Kayak the turquoise waters of Emerald Bay. Join a sailing cruise for a fun day on the water!
In the winter months, the snow-covered mountains are home to about ten ski resorts, perfect for skiing and snowboarding. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sleigh riding, and ice skating are also fun outdoor activities. Thrill seekers might want to try snowmobiling, snow camping, snowkiting, or even skydiving!
If sightseeing is your thing, visit some of the top attractions around Lake Tahoe and learn about the past history of the area. From the Donner Party’s tragic history to the stagecoach stop hotel in Truckee to the Vikingsholm castle’s Scandinavian architecture, Lake Tahoe offers plenty of unique things to see.
Where to stay in Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe abounds with lodging options for all budgets and services. But, for a special treat, the historic 19th-century River Street Inn in Truckee will add character to any weekend away!
Recommended by Patricia Pagenel of Ze Wandering Frogs
22. Lake Shasta
Lake Shasta is the largest reservoir in California with several waterways and marinas and offers many recreational activities like boating (houseboats!), fishing, and swimming. Its also home to the famous Shasta Caverns which are a must see!
- Distance from San Francisco to Lake Shasta: around 223 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Lake Shasta: around 3.5 hours by car
The drive from San Francisco to Lake Shasta is around 3.5 hours. You can explore the town of Redding along the way and visit the Sundial bridge.
What to do in Lake Shasta
- Rent a houseboat
- Explore Shasta Caverns
- Shasta dam and Sundial bridge in Redding
- Hike nearby Burney Falls
Lake Shasta area has a lot to offer year round. Spring and Fall months are the best time to visit as Summer months can get in triple digits.
There are houseboat rentals available on the lake and many of them larger ones are loaded with amenities. You can cruise around the large lake in your own houseboat and explore the water channels on this oddly shaped lake.
The Shasta Caverns are really amazing to see, there are tours available that take you on a boat to the caves in Lake Shasta and then in a bus up a steep mountain. The entire journey with the boat ride and the bus to reach the caves is an adventure in itself.
The nearby Burney falls are spectacular and worth the drive from Lake Shasta. You have to hike down a well maintained trail to reach the base of the Burney falls.
The city of Redding is only 10 minutes drive and has some great things to explore like the Shasta Dam which has free tours, the Sundial Bridge and the Turtle Bay Park. You can see epic views of Mount Shasta from the Shasta dam bridge.
Where to stay in Lake Shasta
The Inn at Lake Shasta is a great place to stay while exploring Lake Shasta area and the Shasta Caverns. The forest setting offers a peaceful getaway.
23. Mammoth Lakes
Located in the heart of Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, Mammoth Lakes is a gorgeous mountain town with a grand outdoor scene that’s one of the best getaways from San Francisco.
- Distance from San Francisco to Mammoth Lakes: around 330 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Mammoth Lakes: around 5 hours by car
From San Francisco it takes an average of 5 hours to reach Mammoth Lakes if you are driving, but a quick flight from San Francisco to Mammoth is just under 40 minutes.
What to do in Mammoth Lakes
- Skiing at Mammoth Mountain in winter
- Hiking and camping in summer
- Visit Mono Lake and tufa formations
- Admire Fall colors and scenery in the Eastern Sierras
Mammoth Lakes is home to snow-powdered peaks, natural hot springs and countless hikes – making it one of the most unique destinations in California.
Although this destination is famous for its ski slopes and top-notch lodges, you will find plenty of other activities here. No matter the season, Mammoth Lakes offers amazing adventures that will keep you busy for days.
In summer, you can mountain bike, camp and hit the trails and winter creates perfect opportunities for skiing and snow boarding at above 11,000 feet.
The town is located in the heart of Inyo National Forest where you can find plenty of opportunities for wild camping and unplug for a couple of days.
Fall in the Eastern Sierras brings out stunning fall colors with many trees coming out in amazing golden hues. It’s a perfect spot to take a road trip through the Eastern Sierras and visit nearby June Lake and Bishop Lake.
Whatever the season, make sure to visit downtown Mammoth Lakes where you can find a good variety of restaurants, cafes and various stores catering to visitors.
Just outside of Mammoth Lakes you will find the stunning Mono Lake, an ancient saline lake that’s become famous for its incredible tufa formations.
Where to stay in Mammoth Lakes
The Village Lodge, a classic mountain resort that’s located near the gondola and boasts great amenities including a kitchen, a concierge service and a free airport shuttle.
Recommended by Daria of The Discovery Nut
Weekend Trips from San Francisco to nearby Cities
There are several interesting cities with historic sight seeing or recreational activities within a few hours of San Francisco worth going on a weekend getaway.
24. Mt Shasta
Mt Shasta is a mountain city located at the base of Mount Shasta in Siskiyou County, with amazing recreational activities during winter like skiing and summer like hiking and camping.
- Distance from San Francisco to Mt Shasta: around 330 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Mt Shasta: around 5 hours by car
There are so many things to do in Mount Shasta, it’s certainly deserving of a weekend getaway from San Francisco! At just under five hours away, it won’t take you too long to get here, and you will have plenty of time to do a handful of amazing activities.
What to do in Mt Shasta
- Hike Old ski Bowl on Mount Shasta mountain
- Hike Caste Lake to Heart Lake
- Explore Mt Shasta town
We suggest heading up Mount Shasta (the mountain) and getting some hikes in. The Old Ski Bowl provides epic views of Mount Shasta and the surrounding peaks.
If that’s a bit too much for you, just head to the Greenway trails at the base of the mountain for a lighter route without giving up the majestic views.
Another favorite is the Castle Lake to Heart Lake hike. This is a great moderate and relatively short hike at around 3 miles round trip. You’ll, of course, get to see Mount Shasta in all her glory, plus a very cool view of a lake from above in the shape of a heart.
While in town, there are plenty of cute coffee shops, brew pubs, and bakeries to pop into.
Where to stay in Mt Shasta
If you’re camping or van-lifing around California, you’ll want to set up camp at Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort. It’s right on the lake, with incredible views and a campsite that makes you feel like you’re a million miles away from civilization. Grab a paddle board, head out on the lake, or take a chilly dip in and relax on the sandy shore.
Recommended by Nina and Garrett from California is for Adventure
Petaluma is a charming and historic small town located just north of bustling San Francisco. This picturesque town is home to farmers’ markets, beautiful nature scenery, and a variety of art galleries and restaurants. So if you’re looking for a relaxing weekend escape from the city, add Petaluma to your list!
- Distance from San Francisco to Petaluma: around 39 miles
- Travel time from San Francisco to Petaluma: around 45 minutes by car
To get to Petaluma from San Francisco, take Highway 101 North. It’s approximately a 45-minute drive to the city center, and once you arrive, there are plenty of things to do.
What to do in Petaluma
- Stroll and explore historic downtown Petaluma
- Picnic at Shollenberger Park and Helen Putnam Regional Park
- Paddleboarding on the Petaluma River
Petaluma is known for its array of natural beauty spots such as Shollenberger Park, the Petaluma Wetlands, and Helen Putnam Regional Park which are great places to go for a scenic walk or picnic. If you are feeling adventurous, you can also go paddleboarding on the Petaluma River.
For a laid-back exploration, the historic downtown of Petaluma also features antique stores such as The Find and Summer Cottage Antiques.
There are also the Premium Petaluma Outlets if you’re looking for an amazing deal on some of your favorite items! After you do some shopping, you can check out the galleries at the Riverfront Art Gallery.
While you are in downtown, check out the numerous trendy restaurants such as the Petaluma Pie Company where you can get both sweet and savory pies, or Central Market for delicious wood-fired pizza. For dessert, you can’t miss Lala’s Creamery for locally made ice cream.
Where to stay in Petaluma
The best place to stay in Petaluma is the Sheraton Sonoma Wine Country Petaluma, located near downtown with stunning views and a wonderful experience.
Petaluma makes a great weekend getaway from San Francisco and offers something for everyone. From stunning natural scenery to the unique downtown, you won’t be disappointed with a trip to Petaluma!
Contributed by Pafoua of Her Wanderful World
Wrap up: Weekend Trips from San Francisco
There are so many incredible destinations that can be reached from San Francisco within a few hours of drive. California is filled with hidden gems waiting to be explored. Be it historical towns, beaches, national parks, lakes, wine regions, small cities, mountain towns, California has it all.
I am sure you will find a new favorite destination in this list for your next weekend getaway from San Francisco!
Check out my other San Francisco posts below!