San Francisco is best known for it’s hills, Victorian homes, bustling waterfront, and dynamic food scene. What most people may not realize is that just outside of city there is so much to see and do. If you are visiting during the summer months, you may just want to escape the frigid summer temps in SF for warmer microclimates. These five day trips from San Francisco should not be missed on any visit to the city by the bay.
Table of Contents
Day Trips North of San Francisco
Just north of San Francisco in Marin County is Muir Woods on Mt. Tamalpais. Mt. Tam as it’s known to locals, has endless hiking and biking trails, some of which lead right to the ocean or have breathtaking views overlooking the Pacific. It’s one of the prettiest places in Northern California.
One of our favorite hikes is the Muir Woods to Stinson Beach Trail. We like to start this hike with a stop a the Muir Woods Visitors Center and a stroll along the boardwalk in Cathedral Grove.
After the boardwalk the path links up with the Ben Johnson Trail and ultimately the Dipsea Trail all the way to Stinson Beach. This can be done as a one-way hike if you leave a car at each end or as a roundtrip for a total of 9.5 miles.
Day Trips South of San Francisco
Where to hike in the Palo Alto area
Just 35 miles south of San Francisco is Palo Alto. Stanford University is at the heart of Palo Alto offering more than 12 sq. miles of trails, live music, museums, and cafes. One of our favorite afternoons on campus is a trip to The Arts District. This includes the historic Cantor Museum, The Anderson Collection and the outdoor Rodin and Goldsworthy exhibits.
The greater Palo Alto area is also home to some of our favorite California hiking trails. Just off campus, but still on Stanford land is the popular Stanford Dish Trail. There are two routes for this trail. A short 3 mile one, or a longer trail accessed on Alpine Rd. for a total of 5.2 miles.
Slightly further west is Arastradero Preserve with miles and miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. We especially love this spot in the springtime when the fields are green and the temperatures are lower as there isn’t a lot of shade cover out there. Arastradero is lovely oak studded open space just outside of town.
For the chance to view the entire Bay Area in one direction and clear to the Pacific Ocean in the other direction, a trip to the top of Windy Hill can’t be beat. Upon return from Windy Hill during the summer months, you can make a stop at the Webb Ranch U-pick berry farm for an afternoon picking a local favorite, the Olallieberry.
San Mateo County Coastline
Gray Whale Cove State Beach
A short drive from San Francisco down Highway 1, is a beautiful stretch of uncrowded beaches and little beach towns. We love Pacifica for fall surfing, Gray Whale Cove State Beach for picnics any time of year and Half Moon Bay to buy seasonal crab and watch the fishing boats.
Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay is a charming small beach town just across the highway from the ocean. One of our favorite finds a few years ago is the crafty fun Oddyssea maker space and store. The maker space is set outdoors next to the store, with several stations of crafts set up waiting for you to sit down and find your creative side. Kids and adults alike love to spend time here.
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
Our favorite spot any time of year to explore the tide pools is the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. This is an amazing ecotourism destination. It can be helpful to check the tide schedule before planning your visit if you are set on seeing them at low tide. Either way this is a fun day out. Plan to bring a picnic and stay awhile.
If you want to continue your journey from here, check out this San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip.
Don’t Miss Santa Cruz Beaches and Boardwalk
Whether surfing is your jam or rollercoasters, Santa Cruz is a great day trip from SF. The boardwalk is old school and lively with rollercoasters, hot dogs, cotton candy and boardwalk games. It’s also right on the sand.
So if you want to combine a bit of both in one day, that works too! A little further south of town is where the surfers head near points along E. Cliff Drive. Even if you aren’t a surfer, it’s fun to walk along the cliff path to watch them out there. You can actually follow the sidewalk path all the way to Capitola.
What Not to Miss in Monterey Bay
Elk Horn Slough
If you are after wildlife sightings Elk Horn Slough is the place. Near Moss Landing you can rent kayaks at Monterey Bay Kayaks. You can go out with a guide or on your own through Elk Horn Slough.
It is the best place to be on the water with teams of sea animals like otters, seals, sea lions and spectacular birds like pelicans and great blue herons. Kids and adults of all ages can do this trip. The water is calm on this inlet from the ocean with little tide to worry about which makes it ideal for any level.
About the author: Domonique Matthews, founder of The Simple Proof, is a native Californian passionate about exploring at home and around the globe. Follow along as Domonique, her husband and their three children seek adventure and discover new places.