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It’s easy to be captivated by the the City by the Bay with its iconic hills, Victorian architecture and breezy joie de vivre. But beyond its relatively small 49 square miles lies a metropolitan area of nearly 7 million people and a staggering number of attractions, including miles of vineyards, dazzling coastal towns and inland treasures. Here are 5 essential San Francisco day trips:

ALSO: 7 signs you just got back from San Francisco.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Boardwalk | Flickr CC: Hawthorne Ave

Santa Cruz (estimated driving time: 90 mins)

The counter cultural spirit of the 60s has largely vanished from San Francisco as tech workers have taken over the city and driven rents to sky high limits, but a laid-back vibe still prevails in Santa Cruz, a crunchy-cool university town and surfing mecca a relative stone’s throw from the city. Check out the Boardwalk, whose wooden roller coaster is the largest of its kind on the West Coast, and grab a bite at the beloved Picnic Basket. Afterward hit one of the area’s great beaches. The surf is up at iconic Steamer Lane (recommended for advanced surfers only) while the clothes are off at Bonny Doon, a famous nude beach.

Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay (estimated driving time: 90 mins)

You know Bodega Bay even if you don’t think you do. It’s a tiny town of only 1,000 people that hugs Northern California’s rocky and rugged coastline but was also the iconic setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror thriller The Birds. The schoolhouse from the film is still there and you’ll likely run right into it, but this coastal excursion isn’t really about Lilliputian Bodega at all, but rather the jaw-dropping drive along Hwy 1 which zips you through Marin County (consider breakfast or lunch in Tiburon) including Muir Beach, Stinson Beach and onward to the Point Reyes National Seashore. A more stunning day we can’t imagine.


Russian River

The Russian River (estimated driving time: 90 mins)

You wouldn’t think hanging out by a river would be such a big deal this close to the ocean, but not only does this southward-flowing body of water boast swimming, fishing, kayaking and beaches, but because it’s inland it also promises better weather than the foggy coast. The region also makes for an excellent base for exploring wine country. Try this: Spend the afternoon idling along the river, then grab some vino from a local winery and head to the coast to watch the sunset from Sonoma’s Goat Rock Beach.

RELATED: 10 totally touristy — but worth it — things to do in San Francisco


Palo Alto

Palo Alto (estimated driving time: 50 mins)

There are braniacs galore studying at Palo Alto’s esteemed Stanford University (indeed the navigational app you use to get to this town was probably designed by one), but Palo Alto is a destination in its own right. Its charming downtown is bursting with cafes, restaurants and shops that cater to more than just college undergrads, and along the way you’ll find the Filoli estate, a country mansion set on 654 beautifully landscaped acres designed as part of the Golden Age of American Gardens. Don’t miss it.

Monterey Peninsula

Monterey Peninsula

The Monterey Peninsula (estimated driving time: 2 hrs, 15 mins)

There’s so much to do in this stunning Central Coast region you could turn this easy excursion into several day trips or even a full weekend if you wanted. If you’re traveling with the little ones in tow consider an afternoon at the stellar Monterey Bay Aquarium, followed up with a strolldown tourist friendly Cannery Row (made famous by John Steinbeck in his novel of the same name). Meanwhile, adults will enjoy shopping and eating in gorgeous Carmel (where Clint Eastwood was once mayor), a round of golf at world famous Pebble Beach, and the leisurely and justly stunning 17-mile drive around a chic portion of the peninsula.

Tagged: California

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Jason Heidemann

Jason Heidemann

Jason is an associate editor at Orbitz, a social media marketing consultant and a freelance cultural reporter for numerous publications. His works has been featured in the Huffington Post, Time Out, Passport, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and many others.

6 thoughts on “The 5 best day trips from San Francisco”

  1. Great post and those are some nice day trips. I did the Monterey and so loved it. We did the 17-mile scenic drive, beaches and the cannery row. I may have to do the rest later. Thanks for share .

  2. How can you possibly make this list and not reference the Napa Valley? You have the Russian river but not Napa?
    Interesting choices.

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