The 10 Best Weekend Trips from San Francisco, California: A Local’s Guide

Big Sur is one of the 10 best weekend trips from the San Francisco Bay Area!
A local's guide to the 10 best weekend trips from San Francisco and the Bay Area, California! Monterey, Morro Bay, Yosemite, Santa Cruz, Lake Tahoe, Healdsburg, Mendocino, Big Sur, and more Northern and Central California travel.A local's guide to the 10 best weekend trips from San Francisco and the Bay Area, California! Monterey, Morro Bay, Yosemite, Santa Cruz, Lake Tahoe, Healdsburg, Mendocino, Big Sur, and more Northern and Central California travel.

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 us, 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 we can find beach, forest, mountains, snow, desert… whatever we feel like!  Our favorite way to spend a weekend is to find some random, offbeat place to stay near San Francisco, grab a rental car (cuz we aren’t fancy car owners – the Bay Area is expensive, y’all) and go explore! If you leave Friday night and come back Sunday night, your weekend will feel like a vacation. It’s our favorite way to satiate my wanderlust between big trips. Below are 10 of our favorite weekend trips from San Francisco! (Updated 5/10/2017)

Gorgeous Morro Bay harbor faces the famous icon of Morro Bay: Morro Rock, a towering volcanic plug that is viewable from everywhere in town.
Gorgeous Morro Bay harbor faces the famous icon of Morro Bay: Morro Rock, a towering volcanic plug that is viewable from everywhere in town.

Morro Bay, California

We might be a little biased, because Jeremy grew up in Morro Bay, but we love visiting. From the giant Morro 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. By the way, we have a whole guide to exploring California’s Central Coast, which makes an awesome weekend trip from San Francisco!

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.
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What to Do in Morro Bay

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.
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 San Francisco.

Monterey, California

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 Row area is actually a bit of a tourist trap.  But don’t worry: Monterey has loads to offer as a weekend trip from San Francisco, 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

The Roaring Camp Railroad in Santa Cruz, California takes you on an open-air train ride through the lush redwoods and straight to the beach and the Santa Cruz Boardwalk!
The Roaring Camp Railroad in Santa Cruz, California takes you on an open-air train ride through the lush redwoods and straight to the beach and the Santa Cruz Boardwalk!

Santa Cruz, California

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 can be a quick day trip from San Francisco, but it also makes a great weekend getaway. We recommend staying in an incredible treehouse cabin built high in the redwoods and made from reclaimed redwoods – read more about this awesome place to stay in Santa Cruz.  Here are our highlights and favorite spots in Santa Cruz to visit.

Where to Eat and Drink and Santa Cruz

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What to Do in Santa Cruz

Looking for more tips on visiting Santa Cruz? Wayfaring Views has a full Santa Cruz weekend itinerary, and Atlas Heart has a fantastic post on visiting Santa Cruz in the winter!

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.
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, California

When most people think of towns along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, they usually think of what’s south of San Francisco. But the northern part of coastal Highway 1 offers just as many classic Californian gems and shouldn’t be forgotten when planning a weekend trip from San Francisco. Mendocino and nearby Fort Bragg are the biggest towns up the Pacific Coast Highway and offer the most reward for those who visit the area. As for accommodation, we stayed in the most incredible rustic cabin in Mendocino!

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 California 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

Looking out over Big Sur, California at sunset. Big Sur is a great weekend trip from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Jeremy looking out over Big Sur, California at sunset. Grab the Jack Keruac novel of the same name to read as you explore this jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring natural wonderland.

Big Sur, California

Big Sur is not so much a weekend trip destination as a weekend trip experience. And the best part of Big Sur, by far, is the incredible scenery. If you like scenic drives – the kind that make your jaw drop open and give 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 getaway! Just check before you go – parts of Highway 1 were closed due to landslides this year.

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.

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What to Do in Big Sur

  • See the famous McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer State Park (that’s what’s in the feature photo for this post, btw)
  • 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.
Kayaking on the Russian River near Healdsburg. Healdsburg is a perfect weekend trip from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Healdsburg, California

Healdsburg, a little town north of San Francisco, is close to Napa and Sonoma. Like Napa and Sonoma, Healdsbug is home to loads of vineyards and tatsing rooms – the perfect place to spend a day wine tasting delicious local California wine. But unlike Napa and Sonoma, many of the wine tasting rooms in Healdsburg are walking distance from one another, and many of them are complimentary! (Yes, y’all, FREE WINE.) 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. Healdsburg is the perfect weekend trip from San Francisco if you like a balance of both wine tasting AND outdoorsy exploration!

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!
  • Circle the main square and hit 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

Clear Waters, Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe, N by inkknife_2000 (7.5 million views +), on Flickr
Lake Tahoe in the summer is a whole different place filled with outdoor activities – a nature lovers playground! Photo Credit: “Clear Waters, Lake Tahoe” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by inkknife_2000

Lake Tahoe, California

Most people think of Lake Tahoe as a winter weekend trip 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 weekend trips from San Francisco. You can visit North or South Lake Tahoe or even explore the Nevada side or the lake! Carson Valley, Nevada is an awesome outdoor adventure town only 20 minutes from South Lake Tahoe – and there are wild horses, y’all.  We usually stay near South Lake Tahoe, so here are our favorite things to do in South Lake Tahoe.

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 and a fantastic German and Belgian beer selection.
  • Pick up some fresh cobbler a la mode 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

Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, northern California. Yosemite is a perfect weekend trip from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Everywhere you turn in Yosemite National Park is basically an Apple screensaver. Yosemite is a perfect weekend trip from San Francisco.

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park is a must-visit for any San Francisco 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 visiting Yosemite in the winter 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 and totally isolated, like a Narnia-esque winter wonderland: first you’re driving through sunny California scenery and then bam, all of a sudden: snow and ice everywhere. It’s unreal! 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 in 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).

That’s our roundup of the 10 best weekend trips from San Francisco. Have you visited any of these spots? Did we miss anything? Leave us a comment below!


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A local's guide to the 10 best weekend trips from San Francisco and the Bay Area, California! Monterey, Morro Bay, Yosemite, Santa Cruz, Lake Tahoe, Healdsburg, Mendocino, Big Sur, and more Northern and Central California travel.

 

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Hey, I'm Lia! I'm a Kentucky native living in San Francisco. I'm extremely practical and also entirely addicted to travel, which I'm forever trying to reconcile. If I had a patronus, it would a spreadsheet. Or a llama. Possibly a llama creating a spreadsheet. I'm married to Jeremy and I'm obsessed with him and it's super gross, unless you're us, in which case it's the best.

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