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12+ Absolutely Best Road Trips from San Francisco

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Rudyard Kipling, once said, “San Francisco has only one drawback: ’tis hard to leave.” In order to enjoy a romantic weekend, sandy beaches, outdoorsy activities you don’t have to go far from the city’s Bay Area. Just embark on one of these road trips from San Francisco to fuel your wanderlust. 

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These amazing weekend trips from San Francisco are located only an hour to a few hours away from the city. With a plethora of options from family resorts to luxury couples suites and affordable holidays plus nature-escapes, this list has you covered.

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Best Road Trips from San Francisco

Half Moon Bay 

Distance: 30 miles | Duration: 45 minutes

Poplar Beach Road Trips from San Francisco
Poplar Beach

Located very close to San Francisco is the beautiful coastal city of Half Moon Bay. It is known for its sandy beaches including the quaint Half Moon Bay State Beach and the Poplar Beach. 

The Poplar Beach brings visitors for picnics, day hikes and nature walks. The beach has a parking area, and it allows entry for horses and leashed dogs.

Other than picnic and sun-bathing at the beach, you can also embark on the Coastal Trail hike. This trail links the Poplar Beach to Half Moon Bay State Beach, offering scenic views of the Pacific Ocean and the Mavericks surfing location. Mavericks is a surfing destination and is quite popular in the winters. 

Another reason for visiting the Poplar beach as a day trip from San Francisco is that there is no entry fee to the beach. For parking there is a $2/hour fee. However, there are no washrooms on-site. 

The beach is only open until sunset and is meant for day use only. 

The city center of Half Moon Bay is very charming and beautiful. You can stroll the center, hang out and relish ice creams and pastries, or sip warm coffee in the evening. 

Read: Road trips to take on the West Coast

Muir Woods

Distance: 20 miles | Duration: 45 minutes 

Muir Woods Road Trips from San Francisco
Muir Woods

By Shobha from Just Go Places Blog

Muir Woods is only 16 miles from San Francisco but it feels a world away. A national monument, Muir Woods, is a forest that was saved from logging in the early 20th century. You can see coastal redwood trees some of which are hundreds of years old. It was named after John Muir, the father of conservatism in the United States.

The oldest redwood in the 560 acres of Muir Woods is over 1000 years old! We found the display showing the growth pattern of an old Redwood tree fascinating. 

Believe it or not, Redwoods can live to 2000+ years old. These redwoods are related to the Giant Sequoias you find in other parts of California, such as the Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 

If you can’t get to that national park, definitely visit Muir Woods. The forest is simply breathtaking and makes you realise how amazing nature can be. 

There are several hikes you can undertake in Muir Woods from simple ones that you can undertake with children to more advanced trails. The main trails are on a boardwalk and flat so that you can bring a stroller for younger children. One of the more advanced trails can take 5+ hours depending on how fast you cruise along. 

If you visit Muir Woods with kids, think about taking a park ranger-guided stroll during which you will get much more information about the forest. That’s where we learned that Coastal Redwoods drink about 500 gallons of water per tree!

There are various ways to get to Muir Woods from San Francisco such as by taking a tour or by driving yourself. You could even bike if you are feeling particularly fit. 

We drove and it took only about 45 minutes. Along the way, you can stop by the pretty seaside town of Sausalito which is only on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. The park is open every day of the year. 

Sonoma Valley

Distance: 45 miles | Duration: 1 hour

Ferrari Carano Winery Sonoma Valley
Sonoma Valley

By Sierra from Free to Travel Mama

Sonoma Valley is a short and sweet one hour drive from San Francisco. If you would like to stop along the way, Muir Woods is a gorgeous redwood grove just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Baker Beach is also a photogenic spot to stop with views of the bridge.

Sonoma is best known for its wineries and they certainly don’t disappoint. Tasting rooms can be found by the hundreds and along almost every rural road. Popular spots in the valley are in the town of Kenwood, as well as in the Dry Creek Valley, just north in Healdsburg. 

If you’d like an educational tram ride through the lovely vineyards, Benziger Family Winery is your best bet. Stop by Ferrari Carano Vineyards and Winery for award winning Fumé Blanc and floral gardens or Truett Hurst Winery is a perfect spot if you wish to bring a picnic along.

Outdoor adventures are plenty and most are available year round. Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve is a gorgeous spot for a hike and a picnic. 

Zip lining with Sonoma Canopy Tours will allow you to see the giant redwoods from a new perspective as you fly through the forest. Kayaking, paddle boarding, and canoeing are easy and fun for all ages down the gentle Russian River. 

Bodega is the closest coastal town and offers hiking trails along the bluffs, crashing waves, windy and beautiful picnic spots, and the best salt water taffy and clam chowder in the state.

READ: Cities, and beach towns in California’s coastline

Point Reyes National Seashore

Distance: 60 miles | Duration: 1.50 hours

Views of Point Reyes Road Trips from San Francisco
Point Reyes

By Matt from Wheatless Wanderlust

If you want to experience quintessential coastal California, there is no better way to do it than by driving from San Francisco up the coast to Point Reyes National Seashore and Tomales Bay. 

Located just an hour and a half north of San Francisco along the Pacific Coast, the drive up to Point Reyes is half the fun, especially if you take the longer coastal route.

For a perfect coastal California day trip from San Francisco, drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and hop onto Highway 1, stopping at Equator Coffees for some of the best locally-roasted coffee in the Bay Area.  

Then take picturesque Highway 1 and wind along the coast past Stinson Beach. If you’re in the mood for a longer hike, make sure to stop on the way up and do the hike to Alamere Falls, the best hike in Marin County, which ends with a gorgeous waterfall that empties onto a sandy beach. 

Explore Point Reyes National Seashore, where you can hike along the beach and take in the classic coastal views that make this part of California special.

Then, head into Point Reyes Station and head to Bovine Bakery, the best bakery in town with lines out the door every morning, and Cowgirl Creamery for some locally made cheese. 

Grab some supplies for a picnic and head out to Hog Island Oyster Company on Tomales Bay to enjoy some locally caught oysters alongside your cheese and baked goods before making the journey back into the city. 

Pinnacles National Park

Distance: 123 miles | Duration: 2 hours

Pinnacle National Park
Pinnacles National Park

By Zach and Julie from Ruhls of the Road 

Pinnacles National Park is located just over 2 hours outside San Francisco and is an incredible destination for a day or weekend trip out into the wilderness.

Here you’ll find a jaw-dropping trail along the peaks, a network of caves taking you deep into the mountainside, and the rare opportunity to spot the famous California Condor.

The High Peaks trail takes you across the peaks at the center of Pinnacles National Park, and is the location of the best views in the park. 

The California countryside spreads beneath you in a 360 degree panorama that will leave you in awe. The rock formations along the High Peaks Trail are wonderfully unique, not existing in the state’s other National Parks like Yosemite and Joshua Tree.

After the High Peaks trail, head to Bear Gulch where you can explore the huge cave system inside the mountains of Pinnacles. Bring along a flashlight, and explore the high-ceiling caves at Bear Gulch. 

As you emerge from the caves, keep your eyes peeled, as you are in California Condor territory. These majestic and enormous birds are few in numbers, but are incredible to see. They soar through the skies with their enormous wingspans over 10 feet wide.

All in all, Pinnacles National Park is an incredible experience. At just over 2 hours outside San Francisco, this is the perfect place for a road trip for the day or for a weekend. Explore the wilderness in the park, spot some wildlife, and enjoy the scenery!

Big Sur

Distance: 146 miles | Duration: 2.50 hours

San Francisco to Big Sur Coast line
San Francisco to Big Sur Coast line

By Chrysoula from Athens and Beyond 

The US has many epic road trip routes but one of the easiest and yet most beautiful journeys is that from San Francisco to Big Sur in California.

The route between the two is just over 150 miles long, which could hypothetically be covered in around 4 hours but can be enjoyed in much greater depth if you take two-three days to do it.

The journey from San Francisco to Big Sur travels out of the city on Highway 1 and routes down the coastal road past Pacifica State Beach and Mavericks Beach at Half Moon Bay; around the edge of Butano and Big Basin Redwoods State Parks; past Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay; and onwards to Big Sur.

There are so many lovely destinations to stop off at along the way that it can be difficult to choose, so you’ll need to weigh up whether you want to visit beaches, national parks, lively beach towns, off-the-beaten-path destinations or a combination of all of the above.

Even if you only take two days to make the journey down to Big Sur, you can still enjoy a variety of sights including the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, the giant redwoods, and the restaurants, bars and museums of Monterey.

The real highlight of this drive is the final stretch you see as you round the headland coming into Big Sur with the rocky cliff edges clashing with the luxurious turquoise waters and (hopefully) beautiful blue skies in the background!

Lake Tahoe

Distance: 188 miles | Duration: 3 hours

Lake Tahoe road trips from San Francisco

By Aswani from A Charming Escape

Lake Tahoe, about 3 hours away from San Francisco is the most picturesque lake you will see in California. It is a great place to visit any time of the year and the drive is equally amazing. 

In summer, Lake Tahoe is perfect for water activities and in the winter, it is ideal for skiing and visiting the snow covered mountains. On your way to Lake Tahoe, the university town of Davis is a great place to grab a bite and visit the arboretum. Placerville is another quaint town with a history dating back to gold mining. 

South Lake Tahoe is the closest place to stay if you drive from San Francisco. Other areas to stay include Squaw Valley, Tahoe City and Zephyr Cove. 

Once you are in Lake Tahoe, drive around the lake with stops at South Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay, Tahoe City towards the north. If you plan to drive south, stop by Zephyr Cove, Cave Rock and end your drive with a perfect beach day at Sand Harbor beach. 

For water activities, rent a kayak or jet ski. There are several boat rentals available as well.

If you prefer hiking, check out Cave Rock state park at Sunset or Eagle Falls trail at Emerald Bay for breathtaking views. Lake Tahoe can get busy and the drive could take a long time, so plan accordingly and be prepared.

Pebble Beach

Distance: 123 miles | Duration: 3 to 4 hours

Pebble Beach Road trip San Francisco
Pebble Beach

By Neha from Travel Melodies

A scenic drive along the Pacific coast with enchanting views of the ocean, white sand beaches, rocky cliffs, mountains, and lush green golf course. For sure, you will fall in love with the drive.

The 17-mile long drive is a scenic route inside the affluent Pebble beach community with four primary entrances. There is an entrance fee of USD 10.50 per car that needs to be paid at the entrance and a map of the route along with all points of interest is provided. 

 There are many attractions along the route that are a must stop. 

If you love wildlife then Fanshell Overlook is a place to spot thousands of seals basking on the beach and the rocks. 

Walk on the white sands at Spanish Bay beach , or splurge at the restaurants to watch the waves crashing. And right behind the beach is the iconic golf course. The splash of colors and the ethereal beauty will charm everyone.

And if you are driving through in the evening, then don’t miss the dramatic sunset at the Cypress Point Lookout . It also is the point to view the Lone Cypress , a 250 year old Cypress tree standing alone on the cliff, one of the most photographed trees and the most popular destination on this drive.

Bird rock ,as the name suggests, is a hangout rock of many sea birds along with harbor seals and sea lions.

The picturesque loop easily takes 3-4 hours to drive around with halts at the scenic points. Pebble Beach is around 2 hours drive from San Francisco and is one of the best road trips in the USA.

Yosemite National Park

Distance: 210 miles | Duration: 4 hours 

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

By Manpreet from Hello Manpreet

San Francisco to Yosemite National Park makes for an amazing road trip itinerary. For this trip, we hired a car from SF airport and had a reservation at a lodge within the park. The total distance was approximately 200 miles, and would last 4 hours without stops.

It’s a fairly relaxed drive, with some scenery on route, but it really takes it up a notch as you start to approach Yosemite. The sights become very beautiful and being surrounded by mountains has something magical about it.

We stopped for lunch on-route at Livermore outlets, which are about an hour into your way to Yosemite. We would highly recommend stopping here on route and giving yourself a couple of hours to indulge in some retail therapy. The prices were great and there was an array of eateries to suit any appetite.

From here, it’s about 3 hours to the heart of the park. Remember to be careful as you approach the hills as the roads are narrow and very bendy. It was after sunset when we started to move uphill and we had to keep our speed low to remain calm and safe.

The last couple of hours of the journey are truly picturesque and the scenery is stunning. You will be left speechless and in awe of the beauty, you see on your road trip from San Francisco.

Kings Canyon National Park

Distance: 238 miles | Duration: 4 hours 

Kings Canyon National Park in California
Kings Canyon National Park

By Nicole from American SW Obsessed 

Located outside of Fresno, California, Kings Canyon National Park was established in 1940 and also neighbors Sequoia National Park. The park consists of over 450,000 acres of wilderness, including that of large soaring Redwoods. 

This makes Kings Canyon National Park a great road trip from San Francisco. Visiting Kings Canyon is a great way to get out of the city and experience the giant redwood trees

One of the top things to do in Kings Canyon is the Rim Walk.  This walk is a 4 mile loop to the top where you can have 360 degree views.  The walk takes 2-3 hours and the hardest part is the beginning where you are heading uphill.  

For an easier walk, consider King’s Creek.  At less than 2 miles this walk follows a trail between canyons and ends at a beautiful lookout point.

As always, ensure you have plenty of water with you and we recommend heading out early to beat the heat.  Make sure you apply sunscreen and of course enjoy the views.

Lost Coast

Distance: 230+ miles | Duration: 4.50 hours

Lost Coast Trail
Lost Coast Trail Road Trips

By Allison from She Dreams of Alpine

A road trip from San Francisco to the Lost Coast is perfect for any outdoor lover, as well as any wine lover since you’ll head straight through wine country on your way to this stunning beachside hiking adventure. 

It takes about 4.5 hours to drive the 230 miles from San Francisco to the southern trailhead of the Lost Coast Trail where you can then spend a few days backpacking along a gorgeous stretch of coastline.

On the way to the Lost Coast, you’ll pass through the notable wine country of Sonoma and Mendocino Counties.

In Santa Rosa, Paradise Ridge Winery features a sculpture garden to explore, as well as a lovely tasting room. A little farther north in Geyserville, you can visit the Francis Ford Coppola Winery to check out the wines and cool film memorabilia. And in Ukiah, Rivino Winery offers live music to accompany its wines.

After you’ve explored wine country, make your way to the Black Sands Beach trailhead to begin your Lost Coast Trail backpacking adventure. You’ll follow the trail along this unique, isolated beach north for 25 miles until you reach the northern trailhead at Mattole Beach. 

Savor the full experience of the Lost Coast wilderness by spreading out your hike over a few days. This way can spend a couple of nights beachside camping – and maybe even bring along one of the bottles of wine you picked up to toast the jaw-dropping sunsets over the ocean.

Redwood National & State Parks

Distance: 312 miles | Duration: 6 hours

Redwoods National Park

By Joss from Little Green Globetrotter

Less than 6 hours north of San Francisco along the ‘Avenue of the Giants’ highway, the sprawling serenity of the Redwood National and State Parks are a hiker’s paradise. 

Trinidad (294 miles from San Francisco), a quaint beachside town, is an ideal base to access all the forest has to offer. En route, be sure to stop at one of three ‘drive through trees’ (located in Klamath, Myers Flat and Leggett). 

These are a little gimmicky but a fun and inexpensive stop-off, especially if you’re travelling with kids, and it really puts into perspective just how huge the Redwood giants are. You could opt to drive straight to your accommodation and head out to explore the forest from there, or you could stop at trails along the way. 

There’s something for all ages, abilities and time frames; your only challenge will be narrowing down which hikes you want to do (the James Irvine trail to Fern Canyon was a favourite for our family)!

Less frequented than many other National and State Parks, it’s easy to walk for miles without seeing another soul. 

The towering canopy, the hum of tumbling creeks, the echo of birdsong and the earthy smell of life in ancient forests all breathe wonder, awe, and amazement into the young and young-at-heart alike, and hiking with children is sure to be an adventure filled with stories of magical forest creatures hidden around every corner. 

It’s hard to come away from the Redwoods without a renewed commitment to protecting our incredible planet. This is worth saving. 

San Diego 

Distance: 501 miles | Duration: 8 to 10 hours with stops along the Pacific Coast Highway

San Diego from San Francisco
San Diego

By Jodie from Ala Jode

A road trip from San Francisco to San Diego is the perfect getaway for a long weekend. It takes a total of eight hours to drive directly between the two cities, but there’s a much more scenic option if you have the time: the Pacific Coast Highway. 

The Pacific Coast Highway, which runs right along the coast in California, will take you an extra 100 miles and add an extra two or three hours to your total journey time. Its incredible views, laid-back towns and sunny shores make it well worth it though. 

There are lots of unique places to stop along the Pacific Coast Highway between San Francisco and San Diego. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is one of the most beautiful spots in California and home to a number of iconic bridges and waterfalls. 

If you can, spend a night near here so you can watch the sunset over this strip of the coast. Morro Bay and Pismo Beach are equally scenic spots to visit and spend the night. 

If you want to make the most of this road trip, allow yourself around seven days. You’ll be able to stop at four different spots along the coasts – two on the way south and two on the way back – as well as spending a couple of days in San Diego. 

We hope you enjoyed our list of awesome road trips from San Francisco. Do you have a favorite?

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