The 10 Best Weekend Trips from the San Francisco Bay Area: A Local’s Guide

Sunset setting over Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. Fort Bragg and nearby Mendocino are two of the best weekend trips near the San Francisco Bay Area.

The San Francisco Bay Area has everything to offer the wanderlust hungry, outdoor loving, adventure thirsty traveler. From hiking in the Bay Area to exploring the city of San Francisco, it’s hard to get bored here. For me, every weekend is a chance to explore one of California’s many iconic destinations, from Big Sur to Yosemite National Park. Within a few hours drive from San Francisco at any time of the year I can find beach, forest, mountains, snow, desert… whatever I feel like!  My favorite way to spend a weekend is to find some random place to stay (like a cheap AirBnB), grab a Zipcar, and go explore! If you leave Friday night and come back Sunday night, your weekend will feel like a vacation. It’s my favorite way to satiate my wanderlust between big trips. Below are 10 of my favorite weekend trips from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Looking out into the cold waters of the Pacific hoping to see an otter at Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, California! Monterey is only two hours drive south of San Francisco and makes a great weekend trip from the Bay Area. Monterey

Famous for its incredible aquarium – part interactive museum, part animal conservation facility, part research lab – Monterey is all about celebrating sea life and the beautiful California coast. Rendered iconic thanks to John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row, today’s Cannery area is actually a bit of a tourist trap.  Luckily, Monterey has loads to offer, including plentiful outdoor opportunities! Rent kayaks, ride bikes, and go tide-pooling as you explore this coastal paradise.

Where to Eat and Drink in Monterey

What to Do in Monterey

Roaring Camp steam train through the redwoods to the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California, a quick weekend trip from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Santa Cruz

Just south of the Bay Area, Santa Cruz is a laid back, quirky hippie town rich with things to do and see. From the beach boardwalk to the lush redwoods dotted with neon yellow banana slugs, Santa Cruz makes a great weekend getaway. Plus, it’s easy to rent a cozy cabin for cheap from  AirBnB!

Where to Eat and Drink and Santa Cruz

What to Do in Santa Cruz

View overlooking the central coast town of Morro Bay, California from the "Top of the World"

Morro Bay

We might be a little biased, because Jeremy grew up in Morro Bay, but we love visiting. From the giant rock in the center of the harbor, to the resident seals, sea lions and otters, to the picturesque Embarcadero with its fresh seafood restaurants overlooking the ocean, Morro Bay is a quintessential California central coast town and makes a great home base for exploring the surrounding area, such as nearby San Luis Obispo or the wine country of Paso Robles.

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Where to Eat and Drink in Morro Bay

  • Sylvester’s in Los Osos for the best hamburgers ever!
  • Rose’s Landing for fresh, affordable seafood as you watch the sun set over the Pacific ocean
  • Mo’s BBQ in San Luis Obispo for delicious BBQ, with 4 mouth watering house-made BBQ sauces
  • Shine Cafe for fresh, healthy farm-to-table vegan deliciousness. Their tempeh tacos are incredible even for meat lovers!
  • Taco Temple for enormous portions of incredible Californian style Mexican food, plus unlimited chips and salsa!
  • Brown Butter Cookie Company in Cayucos for sugar cookies made with brown butter and heaven.

What to Do in Morro Bay

Breathtaking Pacific ocean sunset over Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, Mendocino County, California. Just up the Pacific Coast Highway aka the 1, Mendocino is an easy weekend trip from the San Francisco Bay Area, California.

Mendocino

When most people think of towns along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, they usuallly think of what’s south of San Francisco. But the northern part of coastal Highway 1 offers just as many classic Californian gems. Mendocino and nearby Fort Bragg are the biggest towns up the PCT and offer the most reward for those who visit the area.

Where to Eat and Drink in Mendocino

  • If you’re driving up the 1, stop at Queenie’s for an incredible burger.
  • Just south of Mendocino, Circa 62 has incredible locally sourced brunch and best of all, a wildlife feeding area just outside the windows of the restaurant! Watch quails, bunnies, birds, and chipmunks feeding while you eat! Dog-friendly (even has a dog menu).
  • Everything looked good at Goodlife Cafe & Bakery in downtown Mendocino but we enjoyed our espresso caramel bread pudding the most.

What to Do in Mendocino

A foggy day off the coast of Big Sur, California, only a few hours south of San Francisco. Big Sur is a perfect weekend trip from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Big Sur

Big Sur is not so much a destination as an experience. And the best part of Big Sur, by far, is the incredible scenery. If you like scenic drives – the kind that makes your jaw drop open and gives you that rush of “glad to be alive” feelings – you’ll like Big Sur. If you like redwoods, coastal views, cliffs, mountains, waterfalls, beaches, hiking, camping, and all things beautiful and outdoorsy – you’ll love Big Sur. Driving south  from San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway is half of the fun of this weekend trip.

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Where to Eat and Drink in Big Sur

  • Big Sur Bakery: The baked goods in the morning are incredible, but so is the dinner menu!
  • Nepenthe: If you can afford the splurge, the food is as good as the view.

What to Do in Big Sur

  • See the famous McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer State Park.
  • Pick a hike, any hike – they’re all spectacular!
  • Camp at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (book early).
  • Take an iconic photo in front of the Bixby Canyon Bridge. Tip: listen to the Bixby Canyon Bridge song by Deathcab for Cutie as you drive up!
  • Check out the human nest at Treebones Resort.
  • Spend a quiet hour in the Henry Miller Library – or maybe catch one of their impromptu secret concerts.
Kayaking on the Russian River near Healdsburg, Sonoma County, northern california. Healdsburg is a perfect weekend trip from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Healdsburg

You may have noticed that Napa and Sonoma are conspicuously absent from my list. It’s not that they aren’t beautiful and fun places to visit. It’s just that you only really go there for ONE thing, and if you’re not a big wine drinker, or don’t want to spend $30 for each tasting, then Napa and Sonoma aren’t the best places to spend a weekend. I far prefer Healdsburg, which is close to Napa/Sonoma and has plenty of (far more affordable!) wine tasting. But Healdsburg offers much more than (really inexpensive!) wine tasting. It’s also situated right on the Russian River, which is perfect for swimming, tubing, and kayaking.

Where to Eat and Drink in Healdsburg

  • Kick off a day of wine tasting in downtown Healdsburg at Thumbprint Cellars, the only place in the world where you can buy delicious Thumbprint Wines!
  • As you circle the main square hitting all of the wine tasting rooms, don’t miss Williamson Wines, which does food and wine pairings with all of its tastings.
  • Get some homemade pie and ice cream at Noble Folk.
  • Grab a fluffy cupcake at Moustache Baked Goods .
  • Wash down your cupcake and pie with a cup of coffee from Flying Goat Coffee.
  • Visit historic Oakville Grocery on the plaza and pick up some food for a picnic in the square!

What to Do in Healdsburg

View from the Rubicon Trail through the pine trees in south Lake Tahoe, California. Lake Tahoe is a perfect weekend trip near the San Francisco Bay Area.

South Lake Tahoe

Most people think of Lake Tahoe as a winter destination and associate it with snowboarding and skiing. And while winter in Lake Tahoe is a beautiful time to visit, summer in Lake Tahoe is every bit as magical and fun. It’s one of the best summertime trips near the San Francisco Bay Area.

Where to Eat and Drink in South Lake Tahoe

  • Visit Sprouts Cafe for healthy, filling food and fresh squeezed juices.
  • For a much heavier meal, Himmel Haus has incredible German food.
  • Grab some ice cream and fresh cobbler at Aloha Ice Cream and Dessert Spa, and then head across the street for an incredible view of the lake at sunset!
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What to Do in South Lake Tahoe during the Summer

A ray of sun hitting Half Dome at Sunset in Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, northern California. Yosemite is a perfect weekend trip from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is a must-visit for any Bay Area resident. But I’ve found that during summer in Yosemite it can be difficult to find affordable places to sleep that aren’t a 45 minute drive from the park. The campgrounds book up 6 months early and I’ve never managed to snag one! So, visit Yosemite in the summer if you can, but in my experience a winter Yosemite trip is a great way to beat the crowds and get some good deals on off-season lodging within the park. Plus, it’s freaking gorgeous. Just remember to bring chains for your car (or rent them on the way)!

Where to Eat and Drink in Yosemite National Park

  • Look, nobody goes to Yosemite for the food. If you can afford it, the best food is at the Ahwanee Hotel. I honestly recommend you bring in your own food, because nothing here is worth the prices they charge.

What to Do in Yosemite National Park during the Winter

  • Ice Skate in Curry Village with incredible views of majestic Half Dome – it’s where I took the photo above!
  • Ski, snowboard or go tubing right in the park.
  • If you’re up for it, snoeshowing is an incredible way to see Yosemite National Park.
  • Even if you’re not eating a 7-course meal or staying in a luxury suite, the Ahwanee Hotel is still worth a visit. It’s absolutely beautiful.
  • The Tenaya Lodge at Fish Camp offers horse drawn sleigh rides complete with hot chocolate and cider (depending on weather, call for details).

And there you have it, the 10 best weekend trips from the San Francisco Bay Area. Have you visited any of these spots? Did we miss anything? Leave us a comment below!

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California is the perfect playground for travel lovers & outdoor enthusiasts. A local's guide to the 10 best weekend trips from the San Francisco Bay Area!

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