day trips from san francisco

Find solace in Muir Woods. (Photo: Getty Images)

San Francisco

Easy Escapes Around San Francisco

San Francisco is so much more than the City by the Bay. The communities that make up the Bay Area stretch from Silicon Valley to Napa Valley, from the East Bay to the shores of Marin County. By car or by ferry, each of these four regions is a unique day trip from downtown San Francisco and nearby SFO.

Wine Country

An afternoon of wine tasting in Napa Valley is an easy 50-mile drive from San Francisco. Skip the big-name brands and instead seek out the region’s boutique wineries, many of which are located along the Silverado Trail.

Cliff Lede’s eponymous Yountville winery offers a selection of varietals and French blends named for Cliff’s favorite classic rock songs. Other spots worth a stop: Reynolds Family Winery, Clos du Val and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, where you’ll want to be sure to make a reservation for their cave tour.

day trips from san francisco
Enjoy a tasting in nearby vineyards. (Photo: Getty Images)

The French Laundry is probably the most famous restaurant in Napa Valley, but locals prefer chef Thomas Keller’s more casual (and affordable) Ad Hoc, serving family-style comfort food just down the street. Though the four-course meals are unlike anything you’ll eat at home.

East Bay

The East Bay is one of the most accessible of escapes from downtown San Francisco since it’s well served by public transportation. Beat the Bay Bridge traffic by riding BART, which makes several stops in Oakland and Berkeley, or take the ferry from San Francisco’s Ferry Building to Jack London Square.

Here you can refresh at Heinold’s First and Last Chance Bar, a historic and literary 19th-century landmark built from recycled timber from an old whaling ship and one of writer and activist Jack London’s favorite spots in the late 1800s.

day trips from san francisco
Get your quirky drink on at Heinold’s First and Last Chance Bar. (Photo: Getty Images)

A stroll along the three-mile Lake Merritt walking path is a popular afternoon activity for locals. This tidal lagoon in the heart of Oakland features a bird sanctuary in the northeast corner.

For museums, check out the Oakland Museum of California and the Lawrence Hall of Science. And if you do drive, the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front Museum in Richmond is a must-visit.

The East Bay has a plethora of hole-in-the-wall and up-and-coming restaurants to make your mouth water, from the handmade noodles at Shan Dong in Oakland’s Chinatown to California cuisine at Hopscotch Restaurant & Bar in Uptown. Abesha in Temescal is considered the best Ethiopian food in the East Bay, and Comal in Berkeley offers modern Mexican and a unique cocktail menu — try the Jack Satan!


day trips from san francisco
Cyclists can stop at the Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. (Photo: Getty Images)

Before the Golden Gate Bridge was built, the villages in Marin County were accessible only by ferry and train, and they retain their 19th-century charm today.

Mill Valley is tucked up at the base of Mount Tamalpais under the shade of second-growth redwood trees. The historic downtown is centered around the old railroad depot, which now houses locals’ favorite, The Depot Bookstore and Cafe.

The surrounding streets are lined with boutique clothing stores, jewelers, art galleries and restaurants. It’s also the start of Marin County’s most famous hike, the Dipsea Trail. Leaving from Old Mill Park, you’ll climb three steep staircases and hike through Muir Woods National Monument before arriving at Stinson Beach (take cash for cab fare back to Mill Valley).

Twenty minutes north from Mill Valley you’ll find the charming downtown of San Anselmo, home to some 130 antique dealers. Less than 10 minutes from here lies Fairfax, known as the “birthplace of mountain biking.” Outdoorsy types should be sure to stop at the Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.

Continue to wind your way north through Samuel P. Taylor State Park toward Point Reyes Station for a cheese tasting at Cowgirl Creamery. For dessert, head to the Palace Market for a swirl of house-made buffalo milk ice cream.

Silicon Valley

Tech tourism is a thing in Silicon Valley — you can visit the Intel Museum, NASA Ames Research Center, Computer History Museum and The Tech Interactive to name a few — but the region is more rural than you might expect.

Saratoga, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Los Altos and Palo Alto offer picturesque tree-lined downtowns chock full of boutique shopping, art galleries and award-winning restaurants.

It’s worth budgeting a few hours to enjoy the art and architecture at Stanford University. Don’t miss the Rodin Sculpture Garden, the Stanford Memorial Church or the view from the top of the Hoover Tower. Park near the Stanford Visitor Center on Galvez Street and stop in for a map or to join a scheduled walking tour.