Looking for the best weekend trips from San Francisco? You have so many destinations from which to choose!
From laid-back beach towns to exciting cities and national parks to wine country, San Francisco and the SF Bay Area are well within reach of a wide variety of weekend getaway destinations.
We’ve done dozens of weekend road trips from the SF Bay Area, and we really enjoy them because they offer a great way to explore different parts of the state (and beyond!) in small bytes. Plus, they require much less preparation and planning than longer trips!
Best Weekend Trips from San Francisco
Road trips are the perfect way to explore California, because the state is so scenic! You will love having the ability to stop off to photograph the views, or to enjoy wildlife you spot en route, or to sample fruit and nuts from roadside stands.
This list of our favorite weekend trips from San Francisco by road is by no means exhaustive. But each place listed is among the top-notch quick getaway destinations for both residents and visitors to the City by the Bay.
And if you are looking to get away just for the day, check out our article on some great nature spots for San Francisco day trips.
We have done many of these mini California road trips more than once, and would absolutely jump at any opportunity to do them any of them again!
Just a note on driving distances and times: they are based on Google maps with a generic start point of San Francisco and without taking possible traffic delays into account.
For visitors to the area: know that traffic can be heavy at peak times on weekends (heading out of the city on Friday from late afternoon onward and heading back into the city on Sunday from late afternoon onward). So plan accordingly!
If the driving time is more than 3 hours in normal traffic, we suggest reserving the destination for a long weekend trip from San Francisco.
And to avoid the traffic on long holiday weekends, take a day off to make your own long weekend and enjoy the nice peaceful drives to and from your getaway!
Here, then, are the most exciting weekend trips from San Francisco!
Napa Valley: Wine Country Delights
Why go: California’s premier wine country destination is one of the most fun short trips from San Francisco, whether you enjoy wine or not.
If you are a wine lover and want to enjoy tastings without worrying about driving, you will want to book a wine tasting tour through the valley.
This popular small-group tour provides transport to three different wineries for tastings. A picnic lunch at a winery is included in the tour cost.
With world-class eateries, charming little towns, spas, art, and shopping, you will be spoiled for choice on what to do on in Napa Valley on your weekend getaway.
Top things to do: Definitely bring your appetite, because Napa Valley is home to some of the best restaurants in the country. You’ll find several Michelin-starred restaurants here, plus a host of other acclaimed eateries.
Map out a few wineries to visit: many Napa Valley wineries boast beautiful architecture, some have gorgeous grounds, and some showcase impressive indoor or outdoor art displays.
Downtown Napa is a joy to explore, and downtown Yountville a pleasure to stroll. Both towns feature public art and lots of upscale shops.
Love the outdoors? Go stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking on the Napa River, or hiking in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park.
Enjoy shopping? Browse the shops in the upscale V Marketplace in Yountville or the charming boutiques in downtown Napa. And if you enjoy thrills, ballooning over the valley is a popular activity!
Where to stay: You have a wide selection of top-notch hotels in Napa Valley. We’ve stayed at The Meritage Resort and Spa, in the south of the valley, and loved it. Get a room with a view of the hillside vineyard!
Best time to go: Any time of year is ideal for a Napa Valley getaway! Visit Napa Valley in November for beautiful colors, in late winter for mustard bloom, during harvest season for an epic grape stomping experience, or in summer, when the days are long and you can pack in more fun into a weekend.
Driving distance and time: 49.3 miles to Napa, about one hour and 15 minutes
Big Sur: Beautiful Ocean Views
Why go: The dramatic coastline and spectacular views of Big Sur make for an enticing escape from San Francisco if you enjoy nature.
Whether you just want to drive and enjoy the vistas, or you plan to hike some Big Sur trails, you will feel truly away from it all in this stretch of magnificent unspoiled coastline.
Top things to do: With six state parks plus a historic light station park, Big Sur offers a wide variety of hiking trails.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, with spectacular ocean views, birds and wildlife, and wildflowers in season, is one of the most beautiful state parks in California.
Walk the scenic nature trails at Point Lobos State Reserve, or do the short moderate hike to Limekiln Creek Falls in Limekiln State Park. Or walk through redwoods to Pfeiffer Falls in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
Driving the Big Sur coast is another pleasurable and less taxing way to spend one day of your stay. Photograph the gorgeous Instagram-worthy McWay Falls, marvel at the Bixby Creek Bridge, stroll the beach at Garrapata, and do lunch with a view at Nepenthe.
The approach road to Pfeiffer Beach is not a piece of cake (it’s just 2 miles though), but the purple sand on the beach and the spectacular natural arch just offshore are worth the trouble.
Garrapata Beach in Garrapata State Park is also a beautiful beach to explore.
Where to stay: Big Sur Lodge in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park offers comfortable cabins with a rustic feel, and the location is convenient to exploring the area.
You can also camp in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, but reserve well in advance because campsites here are very popular.
Best time to go: Big Sur is lovely any time of year, but fall and spring are our favorite times to visit. In the winter, storms can sometimes cause road closures. And in summer, the coastal fog can obscure views.
Driving distance and time: 140.7 miles, 2 hours and 40 minutes
The Ultimate Big Sur Road Trip Itinerary!
Lake Tahoe: High Sierra Beauty
Why go: The crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe, and its scenic location amidst the Sierra Nevada mountains, make for the perfect retreat, whether you plan to get away as a family or as a solo traveler.
And if you are looking for a couples’ getaway, Lake Tahoe is one of the most romantic places in California.
There’s no arguing: Lake Tahoe is one of the mosts popular weekend trips from San Francisco, no matter the season!
Top things to do: Emerald Bay State Park, on the western shore of Lake Tahoe, is one of the most beautiful state parks in California.
Take a kayak out onto the water, or photograph the bay from the viewpoint along the road. In the summer, explore Vikingsholm, the Scandinavian-style castle on the shore.
On the east shore of Lake Tahoe, which lies in neighboring Nevada, walk the boardwalk trail at Sand Harbor State Park, or go down to the water at Zephyr Cove. At Zephyr Cove, you can also embark on a scenic Lake Tahoe cruise.
Enjoy the many beaches along the shore of the lake. Do the scenic drive around the lake. Take the Heavenly Mountain gondola to the top for fabulous panoramas. Or go on a helicopter tour for amazing views over the glassy lake!
Lake Tahoe in the fall is a delight, with beautiful leaf color in the region, lower crowds, and still beautiful weather for the greater part. In the winter, enjoy a wide variety of winter sports and the beautiful snow-covered vistas.
For a super special experience, consider this photography tour of Lake Tahoe that departs from South Lake Tahoe. You’ll enjoy some of the most scenic spots on the lake plus get expert photography tips!
Where to stay: The Landing Resort & Spa in South Lake Tahoe has spacious rooms with fireplaces. Some rooms have fabulous lake views. The on-site restaurant is highly rated as well.
Undecided about which part of Lake Tahoe to use as your base? Explore our guide to different options for Lake Tahoe accommodations: there are many little communities around the lake from which to pick!
Best time to go: Lake Tahoe is a year-round playground, and when you choose to go depends on your preference: winter sports versus hiking or fall colors. We’ve visited Lake Tahoe in every season and found it fabulous every time!
Driving distance and time: 188.2 miles to South Lake Tahoe, 3 hours and 15 minutes
Yosemite National Park: Waterfalls and Granite Cliffs
Why go: Yosemite’s spectacular natural scenery and world-famous waterfalls make it a fabulous getaway destination for outdoor lovers.
It is the most iconic of California’s national parks and a bucket-list destination.
While Yosemite Valley contains the most popular attractions in the park, it can also get crowded in season. Visit off season to enjoy Yosemite’s magnificence in relative quiet, or choose parts of the park that are less visited.
Top things to do: Drive to the two classic Yosemite vista points: Tunnel View and Glacier Point, for panoramic views over Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridalveil Fall.
Do the short walk to Bridalveil Fall to get an up close look.
For a relatively easy and scenic hike, consider the 2-mile out and back trail to Mirror Lake. You can make it a longer hike by walking the full 5-mile loop.
Hikers up for more challenging hikes will find plenty of choices at Yosemite, including the epic Half Dome hike.
If you visit when the waterfalls are in flow, you will definitely want to enjoy as many of Yosemite’s stunning cascades as you can.
Yosemite Falls can be viewed from the valley floor, or you can hike to the top. The popular Mist Trail offers up-close looks at Vernal and Nevada Falls.
Away from the valley, you can drive Tioga Road through Yosemite NP highcountry during the warmer months to see Tioga and Tenaya Lakes or to do a hike in the Tuolumne Meadows area.
Or visit Mariposa Grove, to walk among the giant sequoias.
Where to stay: Tenaya Lodge is located just 2 miles outside the park. With a fabulous location in the mountains and spacious rooms with comfortable beds, Tenaya Lodge is a great choice for your Yosemite getaway.
Best time to go: You can visit Yosemite any time of year, depending on what you want to do in terms of activities.
In winter, Yosemite is a wonderland and you can snowshoe or do cross-country skiing. Spring is wonderful for wildflower viewing and waterfalls.
Driving distance and time: 211 miles to Yosemite Valley, 4 hours
Mendocino Coast: Spectacular Coastal Scenery
Why go: The Mendocino Coast, in the northern part of the state, is known for its wild scenic beauty. The region offers the opportunity for a quiet weekend away from it all.
And this trip is also about the journey, because there are so many pretty little towns along the coast to enjoy if you drive up the slower but more scenic Highway 1.
Top things to do: The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, among the most beautiful botanical gardens in California, are a must visit.
The town of Mendocino, with its Victorian houses and Maine-style cottages, makes for delightful exploration.
You’ll find several beautiful California state parks nearby. At Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park, you will be charmed by the beauty of the old light station.
And Mendocino Headlands State Park offers scenic vistas, hiking paths along the cliffs, and the chance to spot whales and other marine life.
Don’t miss a ride on the Skunk Train! Starting at Fort Bragg, a little ways up the coast from Mendocino, the train takes you through redwood forests along the Pudding Creek on a 90-minute trip.
While in Fort Bragg, stop by the Glass Beach to admire the colorful pieces of glass honed by the sea.
Where to stay: Consider an individual cottage at Agate Cove Inn for a super romantic place to stay! Set in the midst of gardens and old cypress trees, cottages feature charming furnishings. The property is located on a bluff and offers great views of the water and the rugged coastline.
Best time to go: Spring and fall are fabulous times to visit the Mendocino coast. Summer temperatures are nice, but you’ll run into fog. Bring layers, because the north coast can be cool any time of year.
Driving distance and time: 155 miles to Mendocino, 3 hours and 5 minutes
Carmel-by-the-Sea: Quaint Charm
Why go: The super charming village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, with its many restaurants, wine tasting rooms, and art galleries, is justifiably one of the most popular weekend getaways from San Francisco.
The village has a European feel to it, and residents strive to maintain its quaintness and old world charm.
Top things to do: Stroll the village and browse the many one-of-a-kind boutique stores and world-class art galleries. Enjoy wine, cheese, or olive oil and balsamic tastings. Tour Carmel’s fairytale cottages.
Do brunch at one of the many fabulous restaurants in Carmel.
Enjoy two side-by-side stunning sandy beaches: Carmel Beach and Carmel River Beach. Bring your binoculars and watch the many birds at the Carmel River Bird Sanctuary. Walk the scenic path along the shore above the beach.
Tour the Carmel Mission, considered one of the most beautiful missions in California.
Drive three miles south of the village to explore beautiful Point Lobos State Reserve, with its many scenic hiking trails and the opportunity to look for birds, wildlife, and marine life.
Or check out the wineries in bucolic Carmel Valley. Laid back and informal, wine tasting here has a totally different feel as compared to Napa Valley.
Where to stay: Tradewinds Carmel is a lovely boutique hotel located right in the village. It features elegant Asian-inspired furnishings and comfortable beds, and is walking distance to shopping and restaurants.
Best time to go: Carmel is charming any time of year. Bring layers because it can be cool even in summer.
Driving distance and time: 122 miles, 2 hours
Monterey: Whale Watching and Coastal Beauty
Why go: The Monterey Peninsula has many charming towns, and each one could be a wonderful weekend getaway on its own. And Monterey beaches are among the most beautiful in California.
The city of Monterey offers lots to do, but it also makes the perfect base from which to explore the other towns in Monterey Bay, and to enjoy a wide range of activities, both on water and on land.
Top things to do: Monterey is one of the best places in the world to go on a whale-watching tour. Tours are offered year-round, and you may also see dolphins, porpoises, and lots of birds.
On land, visit the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, and stroll Cannery Row, with its many shops and restaurants.
In nearby Pebble Beach, do the scenic 17-Mile Drive, or play a round of golf by the ocean.
In Pacific Grove, catch a west coast sunset at Asilomar Beach, or walk the coastal trail, which features fantastic water views and the chance to see sea and shore birds.
In Salinas, known as the salad bowl of the world, drive past fields of lettuce and strawberry. If you love the works of John Steinbeck, stop by the National Steinbeck Center. Above the Salinas Valley, visit the vineyards along the River Road.
Where to stay: Intercontinental the Clement Monterey is located on Cannery Row, right in the heart of the action. Get a room with a balcony overlooking the water! Enjoy the on-site spa and the outdoor patio with fire pits.
Best time to go: The Monterey peninsula is a great destination any time of year.
Driving distance and time: 113 miles to Monterey, 2 hours
Santa Barbara: Mediterranean Paradise
Why go: One of our favorite beach towns, Santa Barbara has a Mediterranean vibe, with its red rooftops, tall palm trees, and beautiful beaches.
There’s plenty to do if you are looking for an active Santa Barbara weekend getaway, from gardens and museums to shopping and activities on the water.
Top things to do: Stroll State Street in downtown Santa Barbara and browse the stores and art galleries. You’ll find lots of great restaurants and wine tasting rooms here as well.
Walk (or bike) the oceanfront at Cabrillo Boulevard in the morning or evening, and visit Stearns Wharf.
Visit the Lotusland Gardens in Montecito. Spend a few hours soaking up the sun at pristine Butterfly Beach.
Head up into the hills to admire the Mission Santa Barbara, known as the Queen of the California missions because of its beauty.
Take in the views from the Clock Tower at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. Visit the botanic garden, known for its focus on native plants.
Get your art on at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art or visit MOXI, the really cool interactive science and tech museum.
Where to stay: The Santa Barbara Inn has a spectacular location on the oceanfront. Rooms are furnished in a warm Spanish-Mediterranean style and the beds are super comfortable.
Best time to go: Any time of year!
Driving distance and time: 325 miles, 5 hours and 10 minutes
Santa Barbara Weekend: The Ultimate Itinerary for 2 or 3 days!
San Luis Obispo: Wineries and a Wonderful Downtown
Why go: San Luis Obispo is the quintessential Central California town, with lots to offer all types of travelers.
With a thriving wine district, many top-notch eateries, and easy access to many great outdoor adventures, SLO makes for a fabulous San Francisco weekend getaway.
Top things to do: There are so many fun things to do in San Luis Obispo!
Walk the lively streets of Downtown SLO, where you will find boutiques and art galleries to browse. We particularly enjoy browsing stores selling artisanal foods, where you can find local olive oil, cheeses, and wine.
Step inside SLO’s historic Spanish mission. The grounds make for a serene stroll. Museum buffs will enjoy the many small but interesting museums in town.
Hike to the top of Bishop Peak for panoramic views. Edna Valley, just a 10-minute drive from Downtown SLO, is known for its wineries, and you can also find farm stands to sample fresh local produce. The area around the town makes for a very scenic drive.
Hike the super scenic Bluff Trail in Montana de Oro State Park, just a 15-minute drive from SLO in Los Osos. You may spot wildlife, birds, and marine life as you walk.
If you are an avid birder, head to Morro Bay, one of the best birding spots in the state.
Where to stay: Hotel San Luis Obispo is located in the heart of Downtown SLO. Rooms are spacious and feature bright contemporary decor. A rooftop terrace and outdoor pool makes relaxation a breeze here.
Best time to go: SLO is a lovely getaway any time of year!
Driving distance and time: 231 miles, 3 hours and 34 minutes
Pinnacles National Park: Tall Spires and Cool Caves
Why go: One of the lesser visited of California’s national parks, and also its newest, Pinnacles National Park is a wonderful getaway for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.
The park is known for the tall picturesque spires from which it draws its name, as well as for being a sanctuary for California condors.
Top things to do: Hiking is the main reason to go to Pinnacles National Park, because there is no road that goes through the park.
You can enter via one of its two entrances, and then pick from several trails of varying lengths and difficulty. You can combine trails as well.
Camp overnight to enjoy late evening and early morning in the park, as well as the dark skies at night. The park sometimes hosts docent-led night hikes, and you can enjoy all the stars on cloudless nights when the moon isn’t bright.
Pinnacles National Park is famous for its talus caves, and you should definitely plan on exploring one or both of the two major caves. Check before you go though, to make sure they are open when you plan to visit.
Wildlife, birds, and wildflowers in season are other reasons to visit this lesser known park.
Where to stay: There is a campground near the east entrance to the park, with RV sites.
In the town of Hollister, about 30 miles from the east entrance to the park, consider the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott.
Best time to go: Spring is the best time to visit Pinnacles National Park. Temperatures are pleasant and you are likely to see lots of wildflowers. Late fall and winter are also great from a weather perspective.
Driving distance and time: 123 miles, 2 hours and 7 minutes
Ultimate Guide to Pinnacles National park
Cambria: Coastal Charm
Why go: A cute beach town on the Central California Coast, Cambria is a delightful weekend destination, whether you are looking for a romantic couples’ getaway, a family weekend out, or a solo retreat.
The village is also close to the beach town of Cayucos and the little hamlet of Harmony, so if you want to fit more into your weekend, you have plenty of options.
Top things to do: Cambria has two really spectacular walking trails overlooking the ocean: the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk Trail, and the Bluff Trail at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. They are both relatively flat and easy, and perfect for most visitors.
Cambria’s Main Street is charming, if a little touristy. Browse the art galleries and gift stores, and admire the pretty cottage gardens on both sides.
You will also find the Cambria Historical Society building on the street, and its gardens are gorgeous when in bloom.
Just a little over 10 miles to the north, you will find Hearst Castle, the former estate of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. And a few miles south is pristine Cayucos State Beach, a sandy beach where you can go surfing, swimming, or tidepooling.
Where to stay: Blue Dolphin Inn is an adult-only property located close to Moonstone Beach and boardwalk trail. Check it out if you are planning a romantic getaway! Rooms are tastefully furnished and many come with full ocean views!
Best time to go: You can visit Cambria any time of year, but bring layers, because it can get breezy and cool.
Driving distance and time: 232 miles, 3 hours and 37 minutes
Sonoma: Pretty Countryside
Why go: The pretty village of Sonoma makes a great base from which to explore southern Sonoma County, and you can also drive to coastal Sonoma on one of your days here.
The countryside is beautiful, with its rolling hills and vineyards, and the region features fabulous restaurants and an array of activities.
Sonoma is one of the most romantic getaways near San Francisco!
Top things to do: Walk beautiful Sonoma Plaza and admire the colonial architecture.
Here you will find Mission San Francisco Solano, the Presidio of Sonoma, and City Hall. Make sure you stop by Basque Boulangerie: their sweet treats are delicious.
Drive around to see some of the beautiful Sonoma wineries in the area, as well as to appreciate the pretty countryside.
Chateau Saint Jean in Kenwood and Ledson Winery & Vineyards in Kenwood, a few miles to the north, are both stunning. In late spring, visit for the lavender bloom in many area vineyards.
Healdsburg offers many beautiful wineries as well.
The towns along the Sonoma coast, about an hour away, are all charming. Also visit Sonoma Coast State Park, with its bluff trails and sandy beaches.
If you prefer the forest, head to Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, also about an hour away from Sonoma town, where you can walk shaded trails among the giants.
Where to stay: Located in the village, on Sonoma Plaza, Ledson Hotel features six beautiful individually decorated spacious rooms and gorgeous bathrooms with whirlpool tubs. Ask for a room with a balcony that overlooks the square and enjoy the ambience!
Best time to go: You can visit Sonoma any time of year. We love to visit in late spring for wildflowers and lavender bloom or late fall for leaf color.
Driving distance and time: 44.6 miles to Sonoma, one hour
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: Wild Beauty
Why go: If you enjoy the wilderness, you will love exploring Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, located just 63 miles from each other.
Less crowded than Yosemite National Park, the two parks offer spectacular scenery, beautiful drives, and the opportunity to walk among some of the largest trees on the planet.
Top things to do: In Sequoia National Park, visit the Giant Forest, where you can gawk at General Sherman, 275 feet tall and 100 feet wide at the trunk. Other sequoias in the grove are almost as impressive.
Climb the 350 steps to enjoy the views from the top of Moro Rock.
In Kings Canyon National Park, visit Grant Grove Village, where you can see the General Grant tree, also known as The Nation’s Christmas Tree.
Cedar Grove, at the bottom of the canyon, contains gigantic granite cliffs and awe-inspiring Kings River.
Both parks feature miles of hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty, opportunities for wildlife viewing or birdwatching, and scenic drives with Instagram-worthy overlooks. In the winter, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular.
Where to stay: In Kings Canyon National Park, consider the John Muir Lodge, located near the Grant Grove Village. The Grant Grove Restaurant is nearby, and you have easy access to the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway and the Generals Highway to Sequoia National Park.
Best time to go: Depending on your interests and preferences, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks can be visited any time of year. Road closures are possible in winter so check ahead of your trip.
Driving distance and time: 238 miles to Kings Canyon NP, 4 hours
Mammoth Lakes: Mountains and Alpine Lakes
Why go: The ski resort town of Mammoth Lakes has a beautiful location in the Eastern Sierra.
With Mammoth Lakes as your base for the weekend, you can explore a plethora of magnificent natural sights in the region, from mountain vistas to alpine lakes, and enjoy a range of activities no matter which season you choose to visit.
Top things to do: View the lines of basalt columns at the Devils Postpile National Monument, and hike to stunning Rainbow Falls.
Take in the views at Minaret Vista or take a ride on the Mammoth Mountain gondola for magnificent panoramas. Go boating on one of the many lakes in and around town.
Drive a few miles north and enjoy the super scenic June Lake Loop, where you can drive past five stunning lakes. This drive is a must if you visit in the fall.
A little further north, admire the unique tufas at Mono Lake, and walk through the gold rush era ghost town of Bodie, kept in a state of arrested decay.
South of Mammoth Lakes, drive to Bishop, where you can enjoy three beautiful reservoirs built on each of the three forks of Bishop Creek. Go boating, fish, or just walk around and enjoy the drop-dead gorgeous scenery.
Where to stay: The condos at The Village Lodge are located close to town, with easy gondola access and close to restaurants and a grocery store. Ask for a room on a higher floor overlooking the pool if you like quiet.
Best time to go: Any time of year, depending on your interests. If you enjoy skiing and other winter sports, you will want to visit in winter. Enjoy spectacular leaf colors in the fall, wildflowers in the spring, and beautiful weather in summer.
Driving distance and time: 262 miles, 5 hours and 40 minutes
Paso Robles: Central California Wine Country
Why go: The premier wine country destination in Central California, Paso Robles is a laid-back town that also features great eateries, distilleries, and breweries.
It’s perfect if you like to spend a weekend just wandering around town and enjoying great food and drink. You can also do some scenic drives, and take a peek into the history of the region.
Top things to do: Wine tasting should of course be on your Paso Robles weekend itinerary.
There are many tasting rooms in the eminently walkable downtown, or you can do a tour of the vineyards along California Highway 46, east or west. The road is very scenic!
Love soaking in hot mineral springs? In Paso Robles, you can enjoy a relaxing soak at the River Oaks Hot Springs Spa. It’s very affordable, and you can book some other spa treatments as well, for a totally pampering experience.
Or you can soak at the Franklin Hot Springs, by the side of a freshwater lake.
Stroll beautiful Downtown Paso Robles, stopping for tastings of everything from wine to olive oil. Browse the boutique stores, antique shops, and art galleries. Admire the historic buildings.
Just a few miles north of town is the historic Mission San Miguel Arcángel, a National Historical Landmark.
Where to stay: The Allegretto Vineyard Resort, set in the midst of vineyards and olive groves, is a gorgeous Mediterranean-style property with beautifully furnished rooms and a fabulous onsite restaurant. Great whether you want a romantic retreat or a nice family weekend.
Best time to go: Any time of year is good for a getaway to Paso Robles, but spring and fall are especially nice times to visit.
Driving distance and time: 205 miles, 3 hours and 10 minutes
Santa Monica: Classic Southern California Fun
Why go: The key to having a pleasant weekend in the Los Angeles area is to stay focused on one city, or a small area, and avoid doing a lot of driving.
We love visiting Santa Monica, because it has a little bit of everything close by: beach, hiking, museums, shopping, and great food and drink. Plus, Santa Monica is picture postcard Southern California!
Top things to do: Santa Monica beach is long and sandy, and extremely popular. To find quieter parts, walk as far away from the Santa Monica Pier as you can.
If you love the action, the Pier, with its iconic Ferris wheel and other rides, is the place to be! Palisades Park, along the bluffs, offers beautiful views.
Getty Villa and Getty Museum are both short drives from Santa Monica. If you love art, architecture, and gardens, you will want to allow a few hours at each.
Third Street Promenade is a fun place to stroll at night, with lights and street musicians, and lots of dining options.
Browse the Santa Monica Farmers Markets, where you can pick up fresh fruit and fun eats, and enjoy cooking demos and street music.
Enjoy art? Head to the Bergamot Station Art Complex.
Want more outdoors fun? Drive out to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, for ocean-view hiking trails.
Where to stay: Santa Monica Proper Hotel has a great location, walking distance to the beach. Rooms are bright and airy, and elegantly furnished. Take in the sunset from the rooftop pool or bar and enjoy a treatment in the onsite spa.
Best time to go: Santa Monica is a great weekend getaway destination any time of the year.
Driving distance and time: 382 miles, 5 hours and 54 minutes
Lassen Volcanic National Park: Mud Pots and Volcanoes
Why go: Lassen Volcanic National Park offers you the opportunity to enjoy unique hydrothermal features and spectacular scenery without crowds.
Lassen Peak is the largest plug dome volcano on the planet, and the park contains the other three types of volcanoes as well.
If you enjoy the outdoors, you will love your weekend in nature in the northeastern part of the Golden State.
Top things to do: Visit one or more of the hydrothermal areas in the park to see the fumaroles, mud pots, and boiling springs.
Bumpass Hell and Sulphur Works are two of the most popular sites, with a boardwalk or sidewalk from which to safely view the activity.
There are numerous trails of varying lengths and difficulty levels at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Many of them offer views of the spectacular scenery, with mountains, alpine lakes, and meadows to admire as you walk.
You can also backpack in the park.
Drive Lassen Volcanic Park Highway, or bike. If you enjoy water activities, you can do boating at Lassen: pick from one of many beautiful lakes!
Watercraft can be rented at Manzanita Lake, an easy walk from the visitor center. Fishing is also popular.
Where to stay: Campsites are available inside Lassen Volcanic National Park.
If you want to stay in a hotel, Redding is just under an hour from the park.
The Sheraton Redding Hotel at the Sundial Bridge is located on the grounds of the Turtle Bay Exploration Park and offers spacious rooms with comfortable beds.
Best time to go: The park is open all year, but summer is the most popular time to visit. Some roads may be closed during the winter. If you enjoy snowshoeing or skiing, visit in winter!
Driving distance and time: 236 miles, 3 hours and 43 minutes
Santa Ynez Valley: Countryside Charm
Why go: Dotted with charming little towns, the pretty Santa Ynez Valley near Santa Barbara is a wonderful place to explore.
The valley has something for every type of traveler, from outdoor recreation opportunities to art and museums, along with great food, wineries and breweries, shopping, spas, and nightlife.
Top things to do: Drive through the valley, or bike, to appreciate the charming countryside, rolling hills, vineyards, and orchards.
You can also go horseback riding, or hike local trails. Nearby Cachuma Lake offers boating amidst the beautiful scenery.
Stroll the streets of Solvang, to admire the giant windmills and Danish architecture, and get a sweet treat at one of the Danish bakeries.
In Santa Ynez and Los Alamos, enjoy the Old Wild West ambience. Taste moonshine at one of two distilleries in Buellton.
The Best Things to Do in Solvang, CA!
In Ballard, tour the historic homes and local schoolhouse. Los Olivos features lots of wine tasting rooms, art galleries, antique shops, and boutique stores.
With a setting in the midst of vineyards and orchards, Los Olivos makes the perfect base for your Santa Ynez Valley weekend.
Where to stay: Fess Parker Wine Country Inn is a charming bed & breakfast with an onsite spa. Elegantly furnished rooms and suites are spacious and feature fireplaces, and bathrooms are gorgeous.
Best time to go: Any time of year is perfect for a visit to the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley.
Driving distance and time: 291 miles to Los Olivos, 4 hours and 35 minutes
Healdsburg: Great Food and Wine!
Why go: Set in the heart of Northern Sonoma County, Healdsburg is a food and wine mecca, with a multitude of farm-to-table restaurants that showcase local and seasonal ingredients.
A beautiful walkable downtown, spas, and an array of activities in and around town make for a great weekend out from San Francisco.
Top things to do: Eat and drink! Some of our favorite spots? Costeaux French Bakery is a great place for breakfast, and their desserts are mouthwatering delicious.
Brunch at Barndiva is a must. Spoonbar is the place to go for cocktails! For that special dinner, Single Thread, with its 3 Michelin stars.
Tour beautiful wineries in the area: the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in nearby Geyserville features a French chateau that houses some of the director’s memorabilia.
The gardens at the Ferrari-Carano Vineyards are gorgeous. Jordan Winery has an ivy-covered French chateau perfect for photography.
Just outside town, the Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve offers hiking trails where you can work off some of those calories you will consume!
Walks feature spectacular views of the Russian River, Fitch Mountain, and the Mayacama Mountains.
Where to stay: Hotel Healdsburg is located on the town plaza, close to shopping, dining, tasting rooms, and vineyards. Rooms are beautifully furnished and the gardens are lovely. The acclaimed Dry Creek Kitchen is onsite, as is a luxurious spa. Book a stay here!
Best time to go: You can escape to Healdsburg any time of the year! We love to visit in the spring, for flowers, and fall, for leaf color.
Driving distance and time: 69.7 miles, one hour and 25 minutes
The Best Things to Do in Healdsburg, California!
Pasadena: Museums and Gardens
Why go: Old Pasadena is beautiful, with lots of shopping, dining, and great architecture. The streets are walkable, and you will find plenty to keep you busy, from museums and gardens to the great outdoors and nightlife.
Top things to do: Spend a day exploring The Huntington, a complex of over a dozen themed gardens, plus a library and art collection. Also nearby are the Descanso Gardens, another complex of multiple themed gardens.
Enjoy hiking or a scenic drive to the top of Mt. Baldy in the Angeles National Forest. Trails vary in length and difficulty, and if you are a serious and experienced hiker, you will find trails to challenge yourself here. But there are also easy (and relatively short) walks leading to pretty waterfalls.
Museum lovers will want to visit the Norton Simon Museum for its extensive collection of European and Asian art. Take a guided tour of Gamble House, a 1908 Craftsman. Pasadena Museum of History showcases local art, history, and culture.
Where to stay: The Langham Huntington is an old-world hotel located at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, a few miles from Downtown Pasadena. The gardens are stunning, and the property features a luxurious onsite spa and spacious rooms with super comfy beds.
Best time to go: You can get away to Pasadena any time of year. The gardens look best from spring to fall.
Driving distance and time: 387 miles, 6 hours and 20 minutes
Redwood National and State Parks: Tall Trees and Stunning Scenery
Why go: Redwood National and State Parks are worth visiting just to walk in the shade of the tallest trees on the planet.
But the parks also offer scenic drives with water vistas, enormous prairies where you can look for wildlife such as the Roosevelt elk, other coastal flora, and coastal activities such as tidepooling.
Top things to do: In the northern half of the parks, walk the beautiful (and easy) Simpson-Reed Trail through redwoods and an understory of ferns in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
Drive Howland Hill Road, a narrow dirt road that just skirts redwoods on either side.
In the southern part of the parks, drive the spectacular 10-mile Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway through the redwoods.
Walk to the Big Tree in Prairie Creek State Park. Here you can see not just one but many really big trees.
There are two must-do walks in the south of the parks. The Trillium Falls Trail is a beautiful one-hour walk that leads to a small waterfall.
And the walk through the Lady Bird Johnson Grove (on Bald Hills Road) is fabulous, especially if there is coastal mist draped around the trees. For a look at the prairies, and a chance to spot wildlife, continue driving on Bald Hills Road for a few more miles.
Where to stay: At Elk Meadow Cabins in Orick, about 30 minutes south of the parks, you will find spacious fully-furnished vacation rentals perfect for families. There is no restaurant nearby so bring your own food (and toiletries).
Best time to go: The park is open all year, so you can visit at any time, but the area does get cool during the winter.
Driving distance and time: 337 miles, 6 hours
Sonora: Serene Beauty
Why go: Sonora is one of the gold rush towns in California well worth a visit.
This lesser-known gem is a great place from which to explore Stanislaus National Forest, the gorgeous area to the north of Yosemite National Park.
Featuring spectacular scenery and a plethora of activities, the area is also far less crowded than Yosemite, a boon if you are seeking a quiet weekend escape.
Top things to do: Drive the Sonora Pass Road: it features beautiful scenery and blazing yellows and oranges in the fall. The Emigrant Wilderness, accessed from this road, contains awesome granite formations and beautiful alpine lakes.
There are numerous hiking trails from which to pick, and you can also go mountain biking or horseback riding.
If you love water activities, head to Beardsley Reservoir or Pinecrest Lake. Just a short drive away, you can go whitewater rafting on the Stanislaus River.
If you enjoy history, visit Columbia State Historic Park, just 4 miles from Sonora, to see a town that still preserves its gold mining heritage.
Or visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park, about 30 miles away, to walk among giant sequoias.
Or the California Cavern State Historic Landmark, 38 miles away, with its multi-hued cave walls and beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
Where to stay: The Inn on Knowles Hill Bed & Breakfast Hotel features rooms with garden views and a lovely sun terrace. Rooms are charmingly furnished and spacious.
Best time to go: Any time of year depending on your interests and preferences. If you enjoy winter sports, you will love visiting Sonora in winter!
Driving distance and time: 132 miles, 2 hours
More Travel Guides for San Francisco (+ Nearby)
Planning a trip to the City by the Bay? We have lots of great information to help you plan your trip!
If you love nature, you must add Point Reyes National Seashore to your itinerary. Just a little north of the city, the wild and windswept Point Reyes offers spectacular views, epic hiking, and the chance to see wildlife and birds.
To see towering old growth redwoods close to the city, head to the Muir Woods National Monument. Visiting does require some planning, though, so be sure to read our guide before you go!
In the city, Golden Gate Park deserves several hours. It is home to many beautiful gardens and world-class museums. Check out our round-up of the best things to do in Golden Gate Park!
If you are a garden lover, you will want to check our round-up of the best Bay Area gardens, and outdoor lovers will want to read this list of the best state parks near San Francisco!