Weekend trips are like the travel fairy godmother’s answer to living in the San Francisco Bay Area. From anywhere near San Francisco, you can hop in a car on Friday night and drive for a few hours to absolutely anything you could possibly want: beach (actual beach, not that arctic zone they call Ocean Beach), snowy mountains, not-snowy mountains, lakes, dense forests, deserts, sweeping coastal cliffs. It’s heaven for wanderlust addicts like us. As Bay Area locals for years (4 years in Oakland for me, 7 for my husband, who lucked out and got to live in San Francisco before renting a smelly closet cost over $1k a month) we’re well versed in weekend trips near San Francisco. But after a while, it’s like, “but I’ve been to [insert town near San Francisco], I want to do something NEW!” Well, you
spoiled fortunate Bay Area resident you (and those of you visiting the Bay Area like “omg, I can’t afford to stay here over the weekend, help”) you’re in luck. We’ve found 10 totally offbeat, ridiculous, and awesome budget-friendly places to plan your next weekend trip from San Francisco around. Who needs a list of museums to explore when you’re sleeping in a f***ing tree?! Can you really even say you’ve been to Big Sur if you haven’t slept in a human nest?? The answer to these questions and more, my friends, lie below. Without further pontificating, here are the weirdest, quirkiest, and most essential places to stay near San Francisco!
1. A Quirky Railroad Caboose in Dunsmuir, California
4 hours north on the 5 from San Francisco, you’ll find Dunsmuir (which, yes, TOTALLY sounds like a Game of Thrones reference). Thou shan’t find Casterly Rock laid upon Dunsmuir, but in its stead, seek the Railroad Park Resort. Yes, that’s right. This place is called the Railroad Park Resort, and you’ll be sleeping in a freaking railroad car, like the Boxcar Kids only all grown up and with way better furnishings and a heated pool. The resort is situated next to a babbling brook, which sparkles with the “best water on earth” (that’s Dunsmuir’s official city slogan, so you know it’s true) and in front of the stunning facade of the Castle Crags, part of the Shasta Cascade (yes, as in Mount Shasta). You can even climb up the narrow little caboose stairs and gaze at the mountains from the little caboose roof (does anyone else get a kick out of the word caboose or just me?) If you’re too good for a railroad car, you can book a Vintage Cabin instead, but like … obviously stay in a railroad car, how cool is that?!
- What to do in Dunsmuir: Other than go “choo-choo!” a lot, you can hike the Pacific Crest Trail through Castle Crags State Park, take an awesome Instagram photo at the Wagon Creek Bridge, enjoy lakeside scenery at Lake Siskyou, oh and soak up the GIANT FREAKING SNOW-CAPPED MAJESTY of Mount Shasta from like, everywhere. There are so many rad hiking trails near Mt. Shasta, take your pick! Also, the town of Dunsmuir itself is super cute.
- Cost: $125-$130 for a Caboose. Verdict: Bring a romantic partner and split the bed/cost. You two can cuddle up and choo-choo together all night long.
- Distance from the Bay Area: 4 hours | Website: Railroad Park Resort
2. A Redwood Treehouse in Santa Cruz, California
Some redwood cabins are in or near the redwoods. Other redwood cabins are made from salvaged redwood. This cabin? It’s both. Sitting in and around redwood trees – as in, the cabin has been gently built around them – and also made from reclaimed fallen redwoods, this gorgeous treehouse in Santa Cruz, California is as close as you’re going to get to living in an actual redwood, which is the dream, right?! Full disclosure: we’re mildly obsessed with redwoods. We got married in them. We want redwood tattoos. They’re our fave! Don’t be surprised if we both run off and live in one at some point. By the way, the other big awesome plus to this redwood treehouse? It’s like, AT the Mystery Spot. Like you have to drive through the Mystery Spot to get to the treehouse. If you concentrate real hard, you can feel the space-time continuum shift as you enter & exit the parking lot. We loved the quirky, eccentric Mystery Spot, but we also loved being able to literally walk there. This was one of our favorite places to stay near San Francisco, and Santa Cruz makes a perfect weekend trip!
- What to Do in Santa Cruz: Get your kitsch on at the funky, quirky Mystery Spot (it’s really fun in a silly, campy way!), grab a delicious specialty coffee at Verve, enjoy a delicious bowl of Poke at Pono Hawaiin Grill, take the Roaring Camp Railroad through the redwoods to the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, go tide-pooling at Natural Bridges State Beach, make friends with Santa Cruz’s resident neon yellow banana slugs,
- Budget: $130 Verdict: It’s a cozy little cabin treehouse, but you’re not roughing it. Bring a date who thinks the redwoods are totally romantic.
- Distance from the Bay Area: 1.5 hours | Book: Star Redwood Treehouse
3. A Historical Covered Wagon in Bridgeport, California
Relive ye olde Gold Rush days in a covered wagon in Bridgeport, California, in beautiful Mono County. Yes, that’s right. A covered wagon. Like the Oregon Freaking Trail (the best PC game of all time, amirite?) Also, apparently John Wayne stayed in a log cabin here once, which gives this place mad cowboy cred. What else is rad about visiting this part of the Eastern Sierras? Bodie Ghost town. There is no better way to relive the heady days of the Wild West than by peering into the saloon windows of a decaying, abandoned Ghost Town and then coming home to cook some fresh-caught fish over a fire and climb into your covered wagon for the night. Oooh, I get goosebumps just thinking about it! Grab your rifle and your role-playing hat, y’all, and head to this totally off-beat place to stay near San Francisco.
- What to do in Bridgeport: Give yourself the heebie-jeebies at Bodie Ghost Town, take in the stunning natural beauty of Mono Lake, relax in a natural hot spring, go fishing for Brown Trout in the Bridgeport Reservoir.
- Cost: $36 for a covered wagon. Verdict: You don’t need nobody. You’re a lone wolf, always have been. Maybe always will be. *Cue a moody gaze into the distance* Also, it’s cheap enough that you don’t need to share, so.
- Distance from the Bay Area: 5 hours | Website: Virginia Creek Settlement
4. A Glamorous Riverboat in Sacramento, California
Stay on an actual riverboat right next to bustling downtown Sacramento. The Delta King is a real, historical riverboat. From 1927!! The Delta King used to shuttle passengers from the California capitol of Sacramento to bustling San Francisco and back again – until the construction of the much more iconic Golden Gate Bridge relegated it to the land of Myspace and Betamax. Now, it’s a fabulous hotel in a prime location. Other than staying on an actual freaking riverboat, the best part about the Delta King is that they have MYSTERY DINNER THEATRE. You guys. Fake gunshots. Twiddly mustaches. Suspects. Victims! It’s like IRL Clue and the only thing cooler would be if Tim Curry was the host and it was Colonel Mustard in the Billiard Room with the revolver all along.
- What to do in Sacramento: What more could you possibly want than mystery dinner theatre?! But if you insist … rent a bike and hit the epic 32-mile bike trail, cool off at Raging Waters or Golfland Sunsplash (which are both water parks even though one of them has golf in the name), hit up apple hill and pretend it’s real fall, go white water rafting, and check out the hip downtown Sacramento Grid.
- Cost: Rooms from $107 per night. Verdict: I feel like this would make a pretty good third date, but only if your date is into Clue.
- Distance from the Bay Area: 1.5 hours | Website: The Delta King
5. A Luxurious Casino in Reno, Nevada
You didn’t think this list was going to be all cabins and wagons and roughing it, did you? No. We love luxury – we just usually can’t afford it. Enter Reno: The Biggest Little City in America! Reno is actually awesome (stop judging it, you haven’t even been, have you?) but when visiting Reno, you absolutely must stay in a casino. Not just because it rhymes. But because it’s Nevada, baby! Staying in a plush casino in Reno is just a luxurious as staying in a casino in Las Vegas, except you get to keep more of your money and spend a lot more quality time outdoors. Our favorite pick is Atlantis Casino Resort Spa. First of all, it’s totally affordable. Second of all, check out that freaking spa. It’s legit one of the best casino spas in the world (like, according to an actual magazine about spas, not just me.) And thirdly, because some dude from Redding said “The Atlantis is an amazing place, if there is ever a zombie apocalypse it would be a great place to be.” Like, this an actual quote on the website. Sold, you guys. Sold. You can thank us later, after your Milk and Honey Cocoon at the spa has transformed you into a heavenly goddess, you’ve tucked into a melt-in-your-mouth steak at the AAA Four Diamond steakhouse, taken a dip in the whirlpool (or one of the other pools – there are 3!!), and won a few bucks at the slot machines (you high roller you).
- What to do in Reno: Grab a specialty coffee at The Hub, go whitewater rafting or kayaking on the Truckee River, hit the slopes at Mount Rose Ski Resort, take a hike, sample artisanal booze at some local craft distilleries (Depot is our favorite), participate in the monthly Reno Beer Crawl, check out rad street art in the eccentric Midtown District,
shelter from the zombie apocalypse,eat a warm, gooey donut ice cream sandwich (yes!) at Simple Ice Cream Sandwiches
- Cost: As low as $70 midweek, closer to $150 on the weekends. Verdict: Way cheaper (and closer!) than Las Vegas. Take a date or a friend (or a few friends! Girl’s weekend, anyone?!) and find out that there’s more to Reno than what you saw on Reno 911.
- Distance from the Bay Area: 3.5 hours | Website: Atlantis Casino Resort Spa
6. A Sunlit Shanti Cabin in Mendocino, California
This adorable little cabin (made from salvaged redwood, of course) on an adorable little farm serves up quintessential northern California vibes. It’s so chill, y’all. There’s an outdoor shower so you can embrace your eco-goddess, a delicious and beautiful organic garden right outside your tiny little cabin door, and you can co-create food with the friendly host! We stayed in the rustic Shanti cabin in 2015 and fell in love with Mendocino! If you’re new to AirBnB, get $40 of free travel credit by signing up with our link.
- What to do in Mendocino: Eat an amazing breakfast and watch wild quails and bunnies at Circa ’62, take a guided sea cave tour and view wildlife from atop a kayak, catch the sunset at Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, go hiking at Van Damme State Park, explore the tidepools at MacKerricher State Park, go wine tasting in Mendocino’s famous vineyards!
- Cost: $72 per night. Verdict: Bring an adventurous romantic partner to cozy up with on your quirky weekend getaway. But maybe first check and see see how they feel about outdoor showers.
- Distance from the Bay Area: 3 hours | Book on AirBnB: Sunlit Shanti
7. A Ridiculous Human Nest in Big Sur, California
Human Nest … it sounds like something you’d find at Burning Man, right? But this is in Big Sur (close enough). A human nest, as you might have guessed, is a human-sized nest. It’s also probably the least frills that money can buy for $175. Not only will you need to bring your own tent in case of rain (we didn’t say waterproof human nest, did we?) but you’ll have to bring your own linens and a cookstove, too (or just like, eat at the delicious restaurant on-site. No judgement, dude. You’re still sleeping in a nest). You’ll be rewarded for your roughing-it efforts by sweeping views of the ocean and twinkling stars overhead as you snuggle into your little twig burrough. Fall asleep after watching the sun set from your nest. Lay in your nest listening to the waves crash far below. Wake up in your nest like “um, where’s the ocean?” as you soak up that Big Sur fog. Hey, if a human nest is too weird for you, there’s always the much cozier Yurt option also available at Treebones Resort (which my husband can tell you, from experience, makes a fantastic location for a bachelor party).
- What to Do in Big Sur: Go hiking, eat delicious food (and baked goods!) at Big Sur Bakery, relax in the hot springs, check out the famous McWay Falls, and generally soak up the coastal beauty of Big Sur. Important note: the roads are currently closed through parts of Big Sur thanks to the winter rains. Check before you go!
- Cost: $175 for a nest, $320 for a Yurt Verdict: Bring a friend. Both to split the cost, and also because it’s a shame not to share such an incredible view!
- Distance from the Bay Area: 4 hours | Website: TreeBones Resort
8. An Iconic Lighthouse in Pigeon Point, California
I know what you’re thinking. First you want me to pretend I’m a giant bird in a nest, now you want me to sleep in a f***ing lighthouse?! Are you insane?! First of all, maybe, because both of those sound awesome to me. Secondly, this lighthouse is the coolest hostel ever. That’s right: this lighthouse is a hostel. And you know how we feel about hostels (which is that we love them, because they’re affordable, social, and generally wonderful budget-friendly places to stay). Not only is this hostel in a lighthouse, but there’s a cliff-side hot tub looking out over the ocean. Yup, you heard me right. A hot tub. Looking out over the Pacific Ocean. Sunset watching? Check. Falling asleep to the lulling sound of waves and barking seals? Check. Budget-friendly? CHECK! A bed in a dorm room (cuz it’s a hostel) costs $31, or you can upgrade to a private room (maybe with that extra cash you won from the penny slots in Reno, you big spender!) for $82. Travel Tip: Book hella early. Like, many months early.
- What to do in Pigeon Point: Whale watch, explore the coastal tidepools and beaches, hike the redwoods in Butano State Park, watch majestic elephant seals elegantly flomp around at Año Nuevo State Reserve, sample goat cheese at Harley Farm Goat Dairy, and grab a beer at Highway 1 Brewing Company.
- Cost: $31 for a dorm room, $82 for a private. Verdict: Bring a group of buddies to share the car and, if you’re lucky, a whole dorm room with.
- Distance from the Bay Area: 1 hour | Website: Book on Hostelworld
9. A Rustic Tent Cabin in Big Basin Redwoods Park, California
Situated among the towering old growth redwoods in Big Basin Redwoods Park (the first state park EVER!) are the quaint Tent Cabins: not quite camping, but also not quite glamping, either. The rustic tent cabins are like going camping without needing a tent: you’ll have beds and a roof over your head – and even a wood burning stove in the corner, so cozy – but that’s about it (although bedding and other supplies can be rented for an extra fee). Cook your food around a roaring campfire, gaze up at the majestic redwoods around you, make a few s’mores, and enjoy the tranquility. You can almost smell the pine-scented air just by flipping through photos of the tent cabins. One small warning: the raccoons at Big Basin are crafty little sneaks, and you may find 2 adorable critters running distraction while a third makes a lunge for the bag of marshmallows. Like, what does a raccoon need with marshmallows, anyway?! They’re not even real food. Anyway, I’m obviously speaking from personal experience: I had my bachelorette party at the Big Basin Tent Cabins! And yes, 3 raccoons made off with our s’mores supplies, while we were still using them. So sneaky!
- What to do in Big Basin: There are plenty of hikes in Big Basin – enough to keep you coming back for weekend trips from San Francisco again and again. Our favorites? Sempervirens Falls if you want an easy hike to a waterfall, Slippery Rock if you want a slightly longer hike past a waterfall, the Berry Creek Loop if you want a good long hike to (you guessed it) a waterfall! We recommend Berry Creek Loop if you’re up for a 10-mile day hike: it’s one of the best old growth redwood hikes near the Bay Area, and the falls are absolutely stunning.
- Cost: $85 per night Verdict: This is a great friend group camping trip (or bachelorette party)! Bring a few pals who are curious to try camping but don’t have their own gear yet, and impress them with your mad fire-cooking skills (pro tip: you CAN flambee bananas with bacon grease and bourbon in a cast-iron over the fire, and it looks REALLY COOL).
- Distance from the Bay Area: 2 hours | Website: Big Basin Tent Cabins
10. A Cozy Cabin in Lake Tahoe
Staying in a cozy cabin on Lake Tahoe is one of those right-of-passage essential experiences that you must have at least once (or, more likely, kind of often, actually). Whether it’s winter and you’re gazing out at the softly falling snow from the hot tub (or carving up the slopes, you total badass, you) or summer and you’re spending your days sitting on the beach and enjoying boating and other athletically-inclined water sports: you need to stay in a Tahoe cabin. It’s just the best way to experience Lake Tahoe. Luckily, there are loads of them – we can’t pick just one! Your needs will vary based on the number of friends you can get to come with you, and the cost will get lower as you move further away from the lake.
- What to do in Lake Tahoe: During the winter, hit up a resort for skiing and snowboarding (or snow tubing, if that’s more your speed. It’s more mine). During the summer, go hiking, rent a boat, go kayaking or stand-up paddle-boarding, or just chill on the beach and swim!
- Cost: Depends on the size of the cabin and the number of friends you can round up to join you, but you can pretty much always find a Tahoe cabin that works out to under $100 per person! Verdict: Bring friends. The more, the merrier. And the merrier, the cheaper for everyone!
- Distance from the Bay Area: 3.5 hours | Website: Book at Lake Tahoe Vacation Rentals or search on AirBnB (psst! Want $40 in free AirBnB credits? Use our link to sign up!)
11. An Isolated Lookout in Plumas National Forest, California
Looking to get away from the rat race? Want to feel like you’re above it all? Look no further than Black Mountain Lookout. The tiny one-room ranger station is the only accommodation you’ll find in Plumas National Forest. It literally towers over the park (like, it’s up on a tower) and you can see nothing but nature and stars for miles and miles around you. You’ll feel blissful serenity and isolation (or sheer panic. Don’t stay here if being isolated in the forest terrifies you). The lookout cabin is a step up from camping: there’s electricity, a fridge, a stove, and actual bathrooms. But, there isn’t any water … so… bring some. It’s just you and the bald eagles, buddy.
- What to do in Plumas National Forest: Um, hike. Look at stars. Birdwatch. Read a book. Contemplate existence. Look, this isn’t Reno, there’s no nightlife. Don’t go to an isolated ranger station expecting to be entertained.
- Cost: $60 per night Verdict: If total aloneness isn’t your thing, bring a low-stress companion who is down to just exist and chill and gaze at stars and think about like, life.
- Distance from the Bay Area: 4 hours| Website: Black Mountain Lookout
12. An Adorable Bed & Breakfast in Half Moon Bay, California
Half Moon Bay: a small coastal town just south of the Bay Area recently made famous by the award-winning film Birdemic: Shock and Terror!, (actually I think it won “Worst Film Ever Made” or something, so obviously we love it, please go watch the trailer, and then watch the hanger scene, and if you want to discuss this masterpiece please leave us a comment). But there’s more to Half Moon Bay than terrifying clip-art birds and gorgeous beaches. There’s also an awesome pumpkin festival every October, with the best Hay Mazes and pumpkin patches anywhere within a weekend trip near San Francisco. And there’s an adorable quaint little downtown. Which is fitting, because our favorite place to stay in Half Moon Bay is the cutest, most adorable little Bed & Breakfast, the Zaballa House! Way back before AirBnB, they had actual BnBs, with things like frilly tablecloths, friendly hosts serving meals to their guests, and antique furnishings. Harken back to the days of yesteryore as you stuff yourself with the gourmet breakfast buffet, sip complimentary wine and nibble complimentary cheese, soak your worries away in a whirlpool or giant antique tub, cozy up with a book in the study by a crackling fireplace, and – potentially – make friends with other people’s dogs (yay)! And of course, we wouldn’t be recommending it if it wasn’t totally budget-friendly!
- What to do in Half Moon Bay: Stroll the mile through the adorable downtown to the shore and spend a day on the beach;
- Cost: $94 mid-week, $100+ on weekends, but usually available under $150 Verdict: The perfect romantic weekend for you and someone else’s dog. Or like, whoever. We don’t judge.
- Distance from the Bay Area: 1 hour | Website: Zaballa House
I hope you liked our roundup of the most off-beat, ridiculous, essential, and totally awesome places to stay near San Francisco (on a budget)! How inspired are you to go book yourself a weekend getaway in a fabulous (yet affordable) luxury resort, a rad lighthouse hostel, or a rustic cabin right now?! Hey, where’s the coolest place that you’ve ever stayed? Drop us a comment!
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Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Atlantis Casino Resort Spa. All opinions, off-handed remarks, sarcastic commentary, and bad jokes are 100% our own and totally not their fault.