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 a 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!
Looking for tips for visiting the San Francisco Bay Area? We’ve got lots of ’em in these posts (or browse them all):
- Where to Stay in San Francisco (& Where NOT to)
- 12 Off-Beat & Awesome Places to Stay Near San Francisco
- The Ultimate Self-Guided Walking Tour of San Francisco
- Things to do in Oakland, CA (and also, where to eat in Oakland)
We’ve also got tons of travel guides for other destinations in California! Take a look below or browse them all:
- California’s Central Coast region, including Morro Bay, Cayucos, Paso Robles, and Monterey
- Sierra Nevadas region, including June Lake, Lake Tahoe, and Yosemite
- Where to go Whale Watching in California
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The Best Weekend Trips from San Francisco
Between Jeremy’s lifelong Californian status and my decade of residency, we’ve spent over 40 years exploring California. (We’re in our 30s, but I’m doing the thing where you add all your experience years together so sound really impressive.) And during that time, we’ve taken a lot of weekend trips! California is huge, and there’s so much to see that you can spend a lifetime exploring it and STILL not have seen everything.
When we’re planning a weekend trip, we mentally break down California into smaller, more easily explorable regions. Here’s a breakdown of how we think of California by region:
- Northern California: From about the San Francisco Bay northwards, Northern California features looming redwoods, rolling fog, scenic coastal views, the state’s best wine country, and a whole lot of weird, quirky, hippie sh*t. This region includes Mount Shasta, Lassen National Park, and the jaw-dropping Avenue of the Giants.
- Wine Country: There’s not just one wine country in California – there are several! California produces some of the best wine in the world. Experience it for yourself by going wine tasting in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Paso Robles.
- The Central Coast: Located between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Central Coast is a quiet goldmine of charming beach towns, rolling wine country, fresh seafood, abundant farms, and beautiful coastal scenery. This area includes Morro Bay, Cayucos, Pismo, Big Sur, and Monterey.
- The Mountains: The Sierra Nevada mountains dominate the eastern side of California. And yes: they do get snow each year, and lots of it! Head to the mountains for incredible hiking, skiing, outdoor adventure, hot springs, beautiful fall foliage, and fascinating pioneer and Gold Rush history. This area includes Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Mammoth Lakes, and June Lake.
- SoCal: Roughly stretching from Los Angeles southwards, Southern California includes multiple mountain ranges, a series of islands that double as an overlooked National Park, and a huge expanse of colorful desert, plus two of California’s biggest cities: Los Angeles and San Diego!
- The Bay Area: Hey, it’s our home base! San Francisco and its neighboring cities and towns has everything to offer, and it’s where we’ve called home for the past decade. From the hippies on Haight Street in San Francisco to the Black Panthers in Oakland to the techies in Silicon Valley, the Bay Area is the best place to discover why California has always been full of forward-thinkers. (And eat amazing food while you’re at it.)
We’ve also organized our guide to the best weekend getaways from the Bay Area according to these regions – minus the Bay Area (duh) and SoCal, which a challenge to get to within a weekend without flying.
Our upward limit of drive-time is about 5 hours, which gets you to Los Angeles on the 5 if there’s no traffic (… so pretty much in the middle of the night) and up to Mendocino if you take the 5 instead of the 1 (although we usually take the 1 at least one way because it’s so gorgeous!) Anything further than a 5 hour drive didn’t make the list!
So without further ado, here are the best weekend trips from San Francisco!
Weekend Getaways on the Central Coast
My husband Jeremy grew up in an area of California known as the Central Coast. Located along the stretch between Los Angeles and San Francisco, instead of bustling cities, what you’ll find along this jaw-dropping stretch of Highway One is about 200 miles of scenic coastline, elephant seals sunning themselves on rocky beaches, wineries, hiking trails, charming seaside towns, fabulous Victorians (and one ridiculous mansion) a smattering of natural hot springs, and deliciously fresh seafood.
The Central Coast is actually made up of six distinct counties: Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz. It’s massive, and this region offers everything from sugar-sand beaches and great surfing to adorable marine wildlife critters (otters! Seals! Sea lions!) to groves of Monarch butterflies flitting through delicious smelling eucalyptus trees to sheer cliffs looking down on crashing waves.
We have a whole guide to exploring California’s Central Coast, plus plenty more destination guides to places like Monterey and Big Sur. But here is our shortlist for where to visit along the Central Coast!
We might be a little biased because Jeremy grew up in Morro Bay, but we LOVE visiting this beautiful, quirky little town.
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.
Morro Bay makes a great home base for exploring the surrounding area – check out our guide to the Central Coast for more nearby destinations in this area!
Here are the best things to do in Morro Bay:
- Stroll the Embarcadero. Along the waterfront, you’ll see the iconic Morro Rock behind otters, fishing boats and paddle-boarders in the harbor. Pop into Crills II for a big, sticky, sweet cinnamon bun, and pick up a big bag of yummy saltwater taffy from Carousel Taffy.
- Explore the cliffside nature walk, scenery, and tidepools in Montana de Oro.
- Go Surfing! You can rent surfboards and wetsuits from Wavelengths and head to the beach to surf
- Rent kayaks or paddleboards and meet the otters and sea lions in the harbor.
- Explore Cayucos, a sleepy, charming Old West American surfing town that’s literally down the beach from Morro Bay – and most importantly, the home of delicious Brown Butter Cookie Company. Check out our guide to Cayucos for more.
- Head to Windows on the Water for fine dining and a romantic sunset dinner overlooking the harbor and iconic Morro Rock.
- Eat fresh seafood! Head to Dutchman’s Seafood House for clam chowder in a bread bowl topped with fresh dungeoness crab, and Tognazzini’s Dockside for fresh oysters BBQ’d or smothered with garlic butter.
The Inn at Rose’s Landing is probably the most beautiful hotel in Morro Bay, with bright, airy, nautical-chic rooms. Some rooms have balconies with views of Morro Bay’s most famous rock. You can also watch a stunning California sunset over the water from the rooftop balcony!
There are also some great, budget-friendly VRBOs in Morro Bay to check into for your stay. We dig this Charming Waterfront Home – it’s a little 70s, but its windows and private balcony overlook Morro Bay and Morro Rock and it’s only steps off of the Embarcadero.
Looking for more things to do in Morro Bay? We wrote up a whole post about Jeremy’s adorable, quirky hometown! Check it out:
Otters. Whale watching. Clam chowder. Just two hours down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco, Monterey’s world-class aquarium, fascinating history, fresh seafood, and rich arts scene make this coastal paradise a must-visit destination. Rendered iconic thanks to John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row, Monterey is one of the most beautiful towns along the California coast, as well the most historically important!
Monterey played a critical role in the history of not just California, but also Spain, Mexico, and the USA. You see, Monterey was the capital of Alta California, a massive Spanish and later Mexican territory that included most of modern-day California, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. So yeah, kind of a big deal.
But that’s not all: Monterey would later become a whaling capital, and then – after that industry literally died out – Monterey would be known as the sardine capital of the world! … Until all the sardines died, too.
Today, Monterey’s economy relies on tourism, and it’s become one of the country’s pioneers in marine sustainability and ocean conservation. How’s that for righting a century of marine-life-related wrongs?
Famous for its incredible aquarium – part interactive museum, part animal conservation facility, part research lab – Monterey has loads to offer as a weekend trip from San Francisco. Rent kayaks, ride bikes, and go whale-watching and tide-pooling as you explore this coastal paradise.
Here are the best things to do in Monterey:
- Visit the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in the world – and one of the best!
- After learning about the local kelp forest ecosystem, rent kayaks or standup paddleboards from Monterey Bay Kayaks and get up close and personal with otters, seals, and other Monterey Bay residents.
- Walk around Fisherman’s Wharf to get the boardwalk experience. Oh, and grab some fudge from Carousel Candies.
- Rent a bike, e-bike, or 4-person surrey bike at Adventures by the Sea just off of Cannery Row to explore the Monterey Bay Recreation Trail , which winds 18 scenic miles along the coast to Pacific Grove.
- During the winter and spring, Monterey is an excellent place to go whale watching– more details in our guide to whale watching in California.
- Explore the tidepools and nature walks in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. For the best tidepooling, head to Weston Beach about 90 minutes before low tide.
- Eat fresh, sustainable seafood! Head to Old Fisherman’s Grotto on Fisherman’s Wharf for Monterey Style Chowder, full of fresh seafood and smoky bacon in a garlic butter toasted sourdough bread bowl, and Cafe Fina on Fisherman’s Wharf for Cioppino, a rich mariner’s stew made with fresh seafood in a tomato saffron broth served over pasta.
- Drive to nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea to relax on Carmel Beach, hike Soberanes Point and Whale Peak, and take a self-guided tour of Carmel’s many fairytale style, storybook homes. For dinner, head to Le Souffle, a cozy French entire restaurant themed around souffles – get the mushroom, gruyere, riesling and carmelized onion entree souffle, and the chocolate dessert souffle!
We recommend staying at the fabulous InterContinental The Clement Monterey, the best-located hotel in Monterey right off the water in the center of Cannery Row and a 3-minute walk to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the beach.
For more tips to plan your weekend getaway, head over to our Monterey travel guide!
Only two miles from the town of Monterey, neighboring town Pacific Grove is well worth a visit. On the northernmost tip of the Monterey Peninsula, Pacific Grove offers a dramatic, rugged, and beautiful coastline along with its own sandy beaches.
Pacific Grove welcomes more than just ocean-seeking tourists — in fact, it’s known for the seasonal influx of migrating Monarch butterflies! Visit in the winter to see some of California’s most colorful seasonal residents.
Speaking of color, Pacific Grove puts on a fleeting but gorgeous spectacle in April or May each year — a “magic carpet “ of vibrantly pink blooming ice plant flowers. Planted in the early 1900s, it covers the Pacific Grove Coast in a blanket of magenta each spring. (Sadly, ice plant is beautiful, but definitely not native and very invasive.)
This beautiful seaside town is also known for its charming Victorian homes, some of which have been turned into quaint bed and breakfasts. There’s definitely a bit of quirkiness to Pacific Grove, too, with sights like the Butterfly House adding to the vibrant colors of this adorable town.
Soak up Pacific groves colorful, quirky, Victorian charms with some of our favorite things to do:
- Eat at The Beach House Restaurant overlooking beautiful Lover’s Point Beach. Try the Seafood Pasta with fresh salmon, scallops, clams, and grilled prawns in a tomato-caper sauce.
- Meet the Monarch Butterflies at the Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary. Nicknamed “Butterfly Town, USA,” Pacific Grove welcomes thousands of monarch butterflies here between October and March! Learn more.
- Go Tidepooling at the Point Pinos Lighthouse, the oldest continually operating lighthouse on the Pacific. The “Great Tide Pool” at Point Pinos is one of the richest tidepools habitats in the world! (There are also plenty of other places to go tidepooling nearby.)
- Get coffee and browse the bookstore in Bookworks in the charming, Victorian downtown
- Have Brunch at Winston’s in downtown Pacific Grove, if only for the lemon ricotta blueberry pancakes. They’re incredible!
- Drive the scenic 17-mile drive at Pebble Beach resort. For a $10.50 entrance fee, you’ll drive past picture-perfect Pacific beaches, forests, and oceanside mansions, and the 250-year oldLone Cypress tree (a variety which only rows here and in Point Lobos). Be sure to stop at Spanish Bay Beach, Restless Sea, Seal Rock, and Crocker Grove! (Psst – there are several stunning scenic drives in this area! Here’s a list of a few more.)
- After your scenic drive, watch the sunset while being serenaded by a bagpiper at the Inn at Spanish Bay in the Pebble Beach golf resort. Sit by a flickering firepit sipping a cocktail as you listen to the melodious wail of bagpipes as the sun sets over the ocean and the fog rolls in over the hills – it’s truly magical.
The best place to stay in Pacific Grove – and one of our favorite places we’ve ever stayed – is the Seven Gables Inn, located in a beautiful yellow Victorian across from Lover’s Point Beach. From our room’s sweeping ocean views to its ornate vintage furniture, we never wanted to leave. The Inn is a splurge on the weekends but mid-week you can find deals as low as $200/night, even during Monarch Butterfly season in early spring!
Just south of the Bay Area, Santa Cruz is a laid back, quirky hippie town. It stretches from a charming, vibrant beach boardwalk (which inspired Pixar Pier at Disneyland) into lush redwoods dotted with neon yellow banana slugs. Santa Cruz is close enough to be a day trip from San Francisco, but it also makes a great weekend getaway.
One quirky but quintessential Santa Cruz experience is to stay in a redwood treehouse that’s literally in the trees. Honestly, Santa Cruz is worth a trip just to stay in a treehouse, but there’s plenty more to enjoy.
Here are the best things to do in Santa Cruz:
- Take the Roaring Camp Railroad through the redwoods to the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
- Stroll through the quaint Santa Cruz downtown square. Be sure to stop at Verve Coffee Roasters, a Santa Cruz legend and a must visit for specialty coffee lovers.
- Visit the campy but classic Mystery Spot.
- Nature walks and tide-pooling at Natural Bridges State Beach.
There are lots of funky, quirky VRBOs in Santa Cruz, but a quintessential Santa Cruz experience is to stay in a redwood treehouse that’s literally in the trees. Ever wanted to live like the Swiss Family Robinson IRL? Now’s your chance!
If you prefer to be closer to the beach, this beachy cottage is 3 blocks from the beach and has a fabulous pergola to enjoy the beautiful weather.
Looking for more tips on visiting Santa Cruz? Wayfaring Views has a full Santa Cruz weekend itinerary, Atlas Heart has a fantastic post on visiting Santa Cruz in the winter, and Bridges and Ballons has a great guide to fun things to do in Santa Cruz!
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 be sure to always check before you go – parts of Highway 1 are often closed due to landslides from the winter rains.
Here are the best things to do in Big Sur:
- See the famous McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer State Park, one of California’s two tidefalls – waterfalls that spill directly off a cliff into the ocean!
- Pick a hike, any hike – they’re all spectacular! Hiking in Big Sur through the redwoods is hands down the best way to experience
- Stop by Big Sur Bakery for a croissant first thing in the morning – go early, they sell out quickly. The baked goods are incredible, and so is the dinner menu!
- Enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime meal with a view at Nepenthe, a restaurant perched on a cliff high above crashing waves. It’s definitely a splurge, but the food is as good as the view.
- Take an iconic photo in front of the Bixby Canyon Bridge. And listen to the Bixby Canyon Bridge song by Deathcab for Cutie as you drive up!
- Spend a quiet hour in the Henry Miller Library – or maybe catch one of their impromptu secret concerts.
As for where to stay in Big Sur, we recommend camping! It’s not just a budget-friendly way to experience Big Sur, but we think it’s the best way to experience it. We have a complete guide to camping in Big Sur.
San Luis Obispo’s Five Cities are the Central Coast’s answer to a warm, sunny SoCal beach. Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Shell Beach, and Oceano, are all adjacent (and extremely cute) little beach towns!
Each has its own flavor, but Pismo Beach is definitely the most popular (and, in our opinion, the best spot to visit). Perched atop white cliffs that are straight outta Ireland, Pismo Beach has a slightly kitschy 50’s charm, white sandy beaches, yummy food, and a bunch of beautiful resorts to stay in.
If you’re looking to soak up the surf and sun while wearing flip-flops and shorts, Pismo Beach is the town to do it in – and it’s less than 4 hours down Highway One from San Francisco.
Here are the best things to do in Pismo Beach:
- Renting a beach cruiser and cruising down the coast. Wheel Fun Rentals is located right in the heart of Pismo and rent all types of bikes and water gear.
- Take a crazy sand dune adventure! Rent an ATV made to careen gracelessly over the sand dunes at Sun Buggy and prepare to hold on for dear life. Dune buggying is basically like being on a roller coaster, only there’s no track and you’re the one controlling the wheel. Ahhh!
- Hop in a kayak and explore Pismo’s incredible sea caves on a Sea Cave tour with Central Coast Kayaks. Keep your eyes open for sea lions, otters, and dolphins.
- Want to give surfing a try? Hit up Pismo Beach Surf Shop, where you can pick up a board and wetsuit.
- Pismo Beach has a fantastic little pier and boardwalk to stroll and explore.
- Seriously, relax at the beach. Watch the incredible sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Build a sandcastle. Chill. Live the SLO life.
- Stop at either Splash Cafe or Brad’s Seafood Restaurant for lunch. These two local favorites serve up delicious Clam Chowder in a Bread Bowl. And on weekends, Brad’s turns on the BBQ pit and serves up some great Tri-Tip Sandwiches.
- For dessert, or anytime, visit the famous Pismo Beach institution Old West Cinnamon Rolls, and old-timey bakery serving up heavenly cinnamon rolls and addictive icing. They’re SO GOOD. Tip: ask for the cream cheese icing on the side and they’ll give you a little extra 😉
We love staying at the luxurious The Cliffs Hotel & Spa. It’s a bit of the splurge, but for those views and the private beach access, it’s worth it! For a vacation rental option, this cute budget-friendly beach flat is just a 6-minute walk to the beach.
Weekend Getaways in Wine Country
What’s a weekend in California without a bottle of wine?? California makes some of the best wine in the world thanks to the perfect combination of hot daytime sun and cold marine fog and wind. And also because we ROCK. Suck it, France!
There are wine countries are spread out across the state, and all of them are worth a visit – but we think these make the best weekend getaways from San Francisco!
Rolling vineyards. Misty mountains. Opulent castles. Napa Valley is California’s most iconic wine country – and for good reason! California makes the some of the best wine in the world (we’re biased, but it’s also true) and Napa wineries are the glittering heart of California’s globally-celebrated wine industry.
Napa Valley is one of the world’s most iconic wine destinations, but it isn’t just the Cabernet that brings in nearly 4 million tourists to this area every year. Located just an hour north of San Francisco, Napa’s classic wine country views, Michelin-starred chefs, and imaginative wine tasting experiences attract wine lovers and inspire connoisseurs. Napa Valley is a required weekend trip from San Francisco – you have to experience it at least once!
Here are the best things to do in Napa Valley, and the various towns the region includes:
- Go wine tasting. Duh, you’re in Napa. Even if you’re not a big wine person, the sloping mountain views and historic châteaux make visiting Napa wineries essential to your trip. Taste Napa’s famous Cabernet Sauvignons at the storybook Far Niente or Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, the winery that put Napa on the world’s radar. We’ve also got a full guide to the best Napa wineries!
- Take a dip in a natural hot spring in Calistoga! Meadowlark Country House & Resort is a clothing-optional resort – welcome to Northern California – with gorgeous mountain scenery. Calistoga Hot Springs & Spa is a resort with multiple covered pools, including a 104-degree geothermal pool, an 80-degree lap pool, and various spa services. Palm trees line the deck, and a glass dome covers their geothermal pool, which helps trap the steam and at times gives a foggy, mysterious feel. And Indian Springs Calistoga has the largest natural mineral pool in Napa Valley – and three thermal geysers!
- Soar over Napa Valley’s vineyards and mountains in a hot air balloon!This hot air balloon ride takes off from Yountville and lasts for about an hour, and you’ll learn about ballooning’s colorful history as well as local highlights.
- Take a historic train ride (with wine). Napa Valley’s Historic Wine Train will bring you from Napa to St. Helena and back on a relaxing, scenic 3-hour train ride, complete with a multi-course meal (with wine, of course).
During your weekend getaway, stay at the beautiful Archer Hotel in downtown Napa, right downtown and within walking distance to wineries and shops. The rooms are luxurious (look at that tub!) and the hotel features a swanky rooftop bar that is frequented by locals.
We also love La Casita, a charming little Spanish style bungalow located in Napa’s Old Town, walking distance from all of downtown Napa, with a hot tub and a cute backyard patio. Or if you’ll be visiting wine country with a group (hello, bachelorette party?) this stunning hill-side retreat with breathtaking 360’ views of Napa Valley in Calistoga is what Napa dreams are made from. Wake up to mountain views, hang out on the sprawling decks with views of the rolling hills and vineyards, and sip wine by the gorgeous fire pit!
How many wine country getaways in California are also charming coastal towns? Mendocino and nearby Fort Bragg are the biggest towns on the northern stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway. Mendocino is known for it’s world-class wine and stunning coastal views, and Fort Bragg is best known for Glass Beach.
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 the scenic drive is half the fun of the trip!
We’ve visited Mendocino multiple times and we’ve got a full blog post up about the best things to do in Mendocino! Here are our top picks:
- Mendocino is famous for it’s wine tasting! While you’ll find plenty of wine in town, Highway 128 is known as The Wine Road and is home to countless wineries – here’s a guide. We suggest a stop at Navarro Vineyards & Winery for wine & cheese.
- Mendocino’s coastline is dotted with stunning natural sea caves! Take a guided sea cave tour and view wildlife from atop a kayak.
- Eat a fresh, sustainable seafood dinner at Wild Fish in a stunning setting overlooking the ocean. But arrive early or make a reservation! There are only a small handful of tables, and Wild Fish is popular – especially on weekends.
- Catch the sunset at Glass Beach in nearby Fort Bragg. The beach is covered in smooth, colorful glass pebbles – remnants of a time when this area was a garbage dump, made beautiful by the pounding waves.
- Go hiking! Traverse through a pygmy forest at Van Damme State Park, along the coast (and past tidepools) on the Mendocino Headlands Trail, or to a waterfall that runs nearly year-round on the Russian Gulch Waterfall Loop.
- Explore the tidepools at MacKerricher State Park. We recommend driving to the Seal Watching Station (YASSSS SEALS) to visit the tidepools at Laguna Point.
During your trip, stay at the quirky, adorable, charming Andiron Seaside Inn & Cabins. Each cabin has a charming, quirky theme (ours was kitschy 1950’s space ephemera), there’s a hot tub tucked away in the forest, there are 3 resident goats, and the owners serve happy hour each day featuring local wines and treats. It’s awesome!
There are also plenty of fantastic vacation homes in Mendocino, like this Serene Coastal Home, which has incredible ocean views, exposed beams and a deck to watch the waves roll in – perfect for a romantic hideaway!
Looking for more things to do in Mendocino? Check out our travel guide!
Situated between the Salinas River and the Santa Lucia Coastal Range, Paso Robles (known locally as simply “Paso”) is one of the world’s leading wine regions. It’s been described to us (many times, mostly by locals) as “what Napa was like 30 years ago.”
And while we weren’t in Napa 30 years ago, we’re pretty sure that means it’s still got that charming, small-town vibe, as well as world-class vineyards and wineries.
Visitors to Paso Robles can expect warm, dry weather, cool foggy nights, beautiful rolling vineyards, and like, several buckets of wine. That’s just an estimate though. Don’t expect to be provided a bucket. If buckets are your thing, bring your own bucket.
Wineries aren’t the only claim to fame in Paso Robles: there’s also a blossoming distillery and craft brewery scene. Paso Robles is a booze traveller’s dream destination – we’ve got an entire guide to Paso Robles breweries and distilleries!
If you’re a foodie and you love drinking (um, us) you’ll definitely want to spend a weekend in Paso Robles. Here are the best things to do on your weekend getaway:
Travel Tip: Plus, The Wine Line can help you create a wine tasting day that fits your preferences even if you have no idea what wineries you want to visit. We had a great time on The Wine Line and highly recommend it as a budget-friendly transportation option for wine tasting in Paso Robles!
- Go wine tasting! Hello, duh. There are over 300 wineries in Paso, so use our guide to the best wineries in Paso Robles to help narrow it down. To make things easier (and safer), book a hop on hop off wine tasting tour with The Wine Line to enjoy a comfortable shuttle to 4 wineries of your choice.
- Drink some craft beer. In addition to Paso Robles’ national pride, Firestone Walker, make sure to visit Silva Brewing and BarrelHouse Brewing.
- Hit up a few craft distilleries. Paso Robles has an entire Distillery Trail to explore. We love KroBar, which makes grape-based gin and brandy, and RE:Find for grape-based cucumber vodka, limoncello, and kumquat liqueur.
- Soak in a thermal hot spring at Franklin Hot Springs (cheap and public) or River Oaks Hot Springs (somewhat cheap and not as popular).
- Dine at The Hatch for bone marrow, burrata on toast, and grilled octopus, or head to La Cosecha for the best South American food we’ve had outside of South America.
We’ve got tons more tips where that came from – in fact, we have a whole post about things to do in Paso Robles.
Healdsburg, a little town just north of San Francisco, is close to Napa and Sonoma. And like Napa and Sonoma, Healdsburg is home to loads of vineyards and tasting 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!
Here are the best things to do in Healdsburg:
- 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, and Thumbprint Cellars, the only place in the world where you can buy delicious Thumbprint Wines! If that wasn’t enough wine for you, there are plenty of other options.
- Visit historic Oakville Grocery on the plaza and pick up some food for a picnic in the square.
- For afternoon tea (when wine tasting, that’s totally a thing) get homemade pie and ice cream from Noble Folk, a fluffy cupcake at Moustache Baked Goods, and coffee from Flying Goat Coffee.
- Spend a few hours kayaking on the Russian River.
- Take a bike tour and visit vineyards while you pedal.
As for where to stay, we really love this vacation rental with high open beam ceilings and a great outdoor patio space shaded by mature trees overlooking a lovely garden.
But we are particularly obsessed with this one, located right next to world-famous Chalk Hill Vineyards, this 900-square foot cottage is the perfect place to take in some nature. And wine!
Weekend Getaways in the Sierra Nevadas
The Sierra Nevada mountains dominate the eastern side of California – and yes, they do get snow each year, and lots of it! This is where you’ll find the best skiing and snowboarding in California.
But the Sierras are beautiful all year round. During the summer, you’ll find some rugged – and beautiful – hiking, outdoor adventure, and hot springs. And in the fall, this is the best part of California for fall foliage!
This area is also full of fascinating (and occasionally morbid) pioneer and Gold Rush history. Here are a few of our favorite places to visit in the Sierras!
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!
We usually stay near South Lake Tahoe, so here are our favorite things to do nearby:
- For apres-ski carbs, head to Himmel Haus for 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!
- Find a beach and relax all day – we recommend D.L. Bliss State Park or Emerald Bay.
- If you go with a group, pool together and rent a boat.
- Try Stand-Up Paddleboarding or Kayaking.
- Hike the Rubicon Trail for sweeping views of Emerald Bay, or hike to Crag Lake for gorgeous pine and granite cliff vistas leading to an alpine lake.
- Visit Vikingsholm , a totally WTF Viking’s castle on Emerald Bay. (It’s there because of rich people. But still, WTF?)
Stay at the lakeside Kamp Knobcone Studio with dramatic vertical windows and a fireplace-adjacent cozy bathtub. Perfect for a romantic getaway! Or Grab a few friends and stay at this Historic Log Cabin, with three bedrooms and a massive deck.
For more tips for visiting Lake Tahoe, we’ve got two travel guides to help you plan your trip:
We also have a Podcast episode all about Tahoe! Towering pine trees, ancient granite cliffs, crystal clear water, cannibalistic pioneers… wait, what? Strap on your snow goggles and come along as we cover the macabre past and enchanting present of this alpine paradise with more ghosts than you can shake a ski pole at.
Listen above or just click here to launch your Podcast app! Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss new episodes.
Yosemite National Park
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 we’ve never managed to snag one!
So, visit Yosemite in the summer if you can, but in my experience a visit to Yosemite in the winter is a great way to beat the crowds and get some good deals on off-season lodging near the park – here’s a post about our favorite place to stay near Yosemite, Rush Creek Lodge.
Plus, Yosemite in the winter is 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).
One $30 pass to enter the park will cover your whole party for 7 entire days, so you can visit the park as much as you want even when you’re staying outside of Yosemite. You can pick up a pass online at REI or in person at any National Park
- Ice Skate in Half Dome Village with incredible views of majestic Half Dome
- You can ski, snowboard or go tubing right in the park
- Take a hike! Here are several great hikes that are still accessible during the winter
- If you’re up for it, snowshoeing is an incredible way to see Yosemite National Park
We’ve got a detailed guide the breaks down where to stay in Yosemite by park entrance.
Looking for more tips for visiting Yosemite? Browse all of our blog posts about Yosemite, or head to our winter in Yosemite guide:
Psst: If you’re planning to visit multiple parks this year, we recommend picking up an America is Beautiful National Parks Pass. The pass is valid at over 2,000 National Parks and 10% of the sale proceeds are donated to the National Park Foundation, helping to keep our parks beautiful! The average cost of admission to a National Park is $35, which means that the pass quickly pays for itself after just a few visits. AND you are supporting the National Park Foundation. Win/win! You can pick up a pass online at REI or in person at any National Park.
Crisp mountain air. Shimmering lakes. Scenic drives. Colorful fall foliage. Welcome to June Lake, California: a rustic little mountain town in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains packed with scenic trails to explore, breathtaking mountain views to admire, and in the fall, brightly colored aspens to frolic in.
From October until the first snow of the season, June Lake is by far one of the best places in Northern California to see fall foliage! To time your visit perfectly, bookmark the Mono County Foliage Tracker and check it religiously.
June Lake makes a fantastic addition to a California road trip that includes Yosemite National Park and Mammoth Lake, as they are all nearby!
Here’s what to do on a cozy mountain getaway to June Lake:
- Drive the scenic June Lake Loop, a 16-mile drive through towering aspens, rugged mountains, and glacial lakes.
- Go kayaking on Silver Lake and take in shimmering mirrored lake views, crisp foggy air, and brightly colored foliage from a kayak in a beautiful mountain-ringed lake. You can rent a kayak, paddles and life jackets right on the shore of the lake from Silver Lake Resort, conveniently located directly across the street from the best breakfast in town.
- Take a 3.8 mile hike around Parker Lake to see gorgeous fall foliage, breathtaking views of Mono Lake, and distant mountain summits.
- On your way to or from June Lake, take a dip in scenic Travertine Hot Spring in nearby Bridgeport. These rustic mineral springs might just have the best views of the Sierras!
We suggest staying at the Heidelberg Inn where old movie stars used to stay in June Lake, right in the heart of the town. It’s within walking distance to everything, including a beautiful view of the lake itself!
For a vacation rental, this dog-friendly Mountain Chalet has huge vaulted windows and a gorgeous deck looking directly out on a sheer mountain face with a gushing natural waterfall – and with 4 bedrooms, it’s the perfect pick for a group trip to June Lake.
We’ve got even more suggestions in our guide to things to do in June Lake!
Hey, while you’re exploring near the San Francisco Bay Area, why not check out some of our other posts?
- 24 Mind-Blowing Northern California Hikes
- 8 Quintessential Places to Visit on California’s Central Coast
- 36 Amazing Napa Wineries: The Best Wineries in Napa (by a Sommelier)
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Did you get inspired to escape on one of the best weekend trips from San Francisco? Which one are you most dying to visit? Leave us a comment below!
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