One of our favorite things about San Francisco is all the day trips you can do. When you visit San Francisco, you'll want to plan for a couple of day trips depending on how long you're staying. Whether you drive to Big Sur, or explore the wine country, these day trips will make the most out of your trip. You will find detailed plans for 6 San Francisco Day trips to do with and without a car.
All six San Francisco day trips are thought to be active outdoor day trips with some wine or cocktails involved. Each has a hike or a bike ride, however they don't require you to be a high performance athlete. If you can put one foot in front of the other or you can ride a bike, you're well suited for these trips.
Weather in San Francisco
California is one of the five mediterranean climates of the world. This means that you are in one of the best climates on the planet. There is no cold winter, but also not a super hot summer. The weather varies much less than it would in a place where seasons more defined. This throws off a lot of travelers, as sometimes they expect summers to be warmer and winters to be colder.
Bring layers so you can adapt to different weather conditions. Even day-to-day weather can change dramatically. Always having a sweater and a wind breaker handy is a good idea in SF. Also pack a pair of jeans and a pair of shorts if you're coming during the warm months.
Weather in Napa and Sonoma is different than San Francisco. It is warmer in summer and colder in winter. If San Francisco is foggy, it might be a good idea to do one of the Napa or Sonoma trips.
Strategize your San Francisco day trips depending on the weather. If it going to be a cloudy day in the city, consider going to Napa or Sonoma. If it is going to be warm and sunny consider doing the Golden Gate bike ride or the Tiburon and Angel Island trip.
Best time of year to visit San Francisco
The best time is September or October. During these two months you will get the best weather. June and July are not warm and tend to be the foggier months.
Getting around San Francisco
Renting a car in San Francisco
For some of the San Francisco day trips you will need to drive. Driving is how you will visit places outside of the obvious touristy spots. San Francisco has plenty of car rental options and driving around the Bay Area is very easy.
Getaround - a car sharing startup where you can rent cars from ordinary people. It is sort of an AirBnB for cars. This is a great option as cars are parked all around the city. Before you rely on Getaround make sure you can signup and get approved. Review their driver eligibility requirements beforehand.
Downtown Car rentals - All the main companies (Hertz, Avis, Enterprise) have downtown locations. These are all international driver friendly. Book you car ahead of time.
Airport Car rentals - like any large international airport, you can rent from any company. Renting at SFO airport will probably be the cheapest, but you do have to factor in the cost of getting to the airport. The airport car rental can also get very busy so budget a bit more time.
For directions use Google Maps or Waze. Download the Google Maps offline in case you don't have connectivity.
San Francisco Day Trips
- Day Trip 1: Tiburon brunch and Angel Island hike
- Day Trip 2: Bike across golden gate bridge and Sausalito
- Day Trip 3: Bike through Vineyards in Sonoma
- Day Trip 4: South Bay Redwood Forrest Hike and Palo Alto
- Day Trip 5: Napa Wine Country and Hot Air Balloon
- Day Trip 6: Carmel and Big sur
- Not worth doing
- Too long for a day trip
Day Trip 1: Tiburon brunch and Angel Island hike
Our first San Francisco day trip gets you out on the bay and hiking on an island with great views of the bay and city. There is no need to drive but do check the weather. This trip is absolutely amazing on a nice day and you'd want to avoid it on a rainy or cloudy day.
Ferry from San Francisco to Tiburon
The Ferry from San Francisco to Tiburon leaves from Pier 41, next to Fisherman's Wharf. Plan to take the 9:45 AM ferry. Be at the Pier by 9:00 AM. No need to buy tickets in advance, you can buy them when you get there. Do not miss this ferry! Next one leaves at 11:20PM and throws off the entire day. So give it enough time.
From the ferry you'll get great views of the city, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. It will stop first in Angel Island. Don't get off. Go all the way to Tiburon.
Important Tip: Once you are getting close to Tiburon, you'd want to head to the ferry exit. Be the first one to get off the ferry and head directly to Sam's. Chances are that 50% of the ferry is heading to Sam's and it does get pretty busy. So you'll want to get an table or get your name on the waitlist as soon as possible.
Brunch at Sam's in Tiburon
Once you arrive to Tiburon, make a left as soon as you get off the ferry. Follow the wooden path between the restaurants and the water. Continue straight, pass what looks like a wooden dock. Straight ahead you will see a side entrance that will lead to the Sam's deck.
Once you arrive at Sam's (formally called Sam's Anchor Cafe) get yourself a table outside. Do not settle for a table inside even if you have to wait. On weekends it can be quite crowded but if you beat the ferry crowd you should be ok. You can also sit at the bar tables, get yourself a drink, and wait. Sam's serves brunch on weekends and they have their regular menu on weekdays. Order a Bloody Mary, enjoy the view and the food. This deck overlooking the Tiburon Marina is simply amazing.
Ferry from Tiburon to Angel Island
Check the schedule of the Tiburon to Angel Island Ferry. No need to buy tickets in advance, but beware that they only take cash.
Angel Island Hike
Once you get to Angel Island the idea is to hike around the island. Angel Island is a State Park so there is not much there. This PDF has the map of the park with the trail. It is also very easy to ask around. This hike should take you 2-3 hours. You will get fantastic views of the city, the bay, and the bridge.
Ferry from Angel Island to San Francisco
Once you've gone all the way around take the ferry back to Pier 41.
Wine and Cheese at Union Larder
To finish out the day, take an Uber to Union Larder. A wine Bar in the Russian Hill neigboorhood where you can get a wine and cheese plates to finish off the day. Here you can just walk in, no need to make a reservation beforehand.
Day Trip 2: Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito
The second day trip is a San Francisco classic with some good additions. On this trip you will bike across the Golden Gate Bridge all the way to Sausalito. A small picturesque town across the bay. Here you'll break for lunch and drinks, you'll have time to chill out by the bay before you make your way back on the ferry. Once back in the city you'll end up at one of San Francisco's most unique bars.
Pick up Bikes
First off you need to pick up your bikes. You'd want to be strategic on where you pick up your bikes. There are many bike rental places and they all rent similar bikes at similar prices. So you'll mostly want to choose based on location. We recommend using Parkwide
and their Marina Green location at 2 Marina Blvd. You can book online, but also beware that you'll want a clear open day for this trip. So do check the weather and choose the exact day once you are here. If it is foggy, you won't be able to see the bridge.
Ride along Crissy Field
You will first have a flat ride all along Crissy Field along the bay. You will go past the St Francis Yacht Club and finally make it to Presidio Park. Here you'll start the climb to the bridge.
Bike across The Golden Gate Bridge
Riding across the Golden Gate bridge is a unique experience. Take your time stop take pictures and enjoy!
Once you are on the other side, you want to follow signs to Sausalito. You will follow a curvy downhill road, then an uphill, to a final descent to Sausalito.
Drinks and Lunch at Bar Bocce
Sausalito has many nice places. For us, we look for a place with good food and drinks as well a nice out door space where you can chill out. Bar Bocce is that place. Once you get to Sausalito and you see the ferry dock, continue along the bay until you get to Bar Bocce. Tables normally have a multi-hour wait, but you can order at the bar and seat on their little beach they have. This is actually preferable than a table. Here order the Pepperoni Pizza (highly recommended) and a pint or two of beer. Chill out and enjoy!
Ferry from Sausalito to San Francisco
Make sure to check the ferry schedule. Take the Blue & Gold Fleet ferry that takes you back to Pier 41. Arrive 30 - 45 mins before the ferry because it does get full for bikers. If you do not make it to the ferry, you'll have to check for other ferries, look for a taxi that can take bikes (they exist), or build up the courage to ride back.
Once you are back in the city, you need to ride from Pier 41 across Fort Mason to the Marina Green. Once you drop off your bike you are next door to Fort Mason.
Drinks at The Interval
Once you drop off the bikes, head for a drink and a snack to The Interval in Fort Mason. The Interval is a unique bar. It has a floor-to-ceiling library with books ranging from how to rebuild civilization to how to build a clock that lasts 10,000 years. It is also home of The Long Now Foundation. A foundation that focuses on fostering long term thinking. It is a counterpoint to today's faster-cheaper mindset and encourages a slower-better thinking.
Day Trip 3: Bike through Vineyards in Sonoma
You can't visit San Francisco without visiting the wine country. The wine country has two main valleys. First, the Napa Valley, the most famous valley with over 400 wineries. Second, the Sonoma Valley much smaller with a more local feel to it and less commercial than Napa. Biking in the Sonoma Valley is not a widely known thing, but it is a great option to experience Sonoma.
Sonoma is significantly warmer than San Francisco in summer and cooler in winter. Check the weather before so you can prepare appropriately.
Drive from San Francisco to Sonoma
You want to leave the city at around 9:00 AM to make it to Sonoma at around 10:30 AM. The drive can be anywhere from 1 to 2 hours depending on traffic. Before you start, you'd want to eat a sandwich or have a good snack. You won't be having lunch until late afternoon.
Pick up Bikes
You are going to rent bikes from the Wine Country Clyclery downtown Sonoma. Call them in advance and reserve your bikes. They have traditional bikes as well as electric bikes, depending of how far you want to go and how much exercise you want to get in. You'll also want to check to see the latest recommendations on wineries to ride to. Below are some wineries that we love, but also look at the map and craft your own route.
Important tip: pack a couple of large water bottles - the Sonoma heat, the bike ride and the wine will require a fair amount of water drinking.
Ride to Sebastiani
Sebastiani is a big winery just outside downtown Sonoma that makes for a good first stop. No reservations are required at Sebastiani.
Ride to other wineries
After Sebastiani you are pretty much at the edge of town. From here you can go two or three other wineries. Check which wineries take walk-ins and which require a reservation.
Ride to Buena vista Winery
After Buena Vista ride back and return your bikes. You'll be exhausted, thirsty and hungry.
Late lunch at the Girl and the Fig
The Girl and the Fig is perfect for a late lunch. This small farm-to-table restaurant will be a great choice for Californian cuisine. Make your reservation at around 4:00 or 5:00 PM. Even if you don't find a table online, give them a call and they might be able to accommodate you. Plan B for late lunch is the Swiss Hotel . It has a nice outdoor patio and good casual food.
Drive from Sonoma to San Francisco
After dinner you'll make you way back to the city.
Day Trip 4: South Bay Redwood Forrest Hike and Palo Alto
Two things that California is known for: Giant Redwood trees and Tech Startups. In this trip, you'll be hiking through a Redwood Forrest and then then heading to Palo Alto to get a feel of the Sillicon Valley tech scene.
Redwood Forrest Hike
To see the biggest redwood trees, you need to go to the Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve or Sequoia National Park. Both over 3 hours driving from San Francisco that make it difficult to make it in a day trip. Another option is Muir Woods in Marin. It is nice, but this is where everyone goes. It gets very crowded and the trees are the same as you would see in any other redwood forrest. I would not recommend Miur Woods. Our recommendation is to hike the redwood forrest at the Corte Madera Creek Open Space Preserve in the South Bay. Here you will have the forrest for yourself.
Set the Google Maps to Corte Madera Creek Open Space Preserve. It should be a 45 minute drive from San Francisco. You want to do the Tafoni, Resolution, and Fir trail loop. It is straight forward when you get there to follow the signs for this trail. It is a 6 mile (9.6 km) round trip that should take you around 3 hours. The Tafoni Trail has big sandstone formations that lay in the middle of the redwood forrest.
Lunch in Palo Alto
Once you are done hiking, head to Palo Alto. Park your car and walk around. Palo Alto has a cool downtown worth visiting. For lunch go to Mendocino Farms. Here you can get a good sandwich and a beer or wine. After lunch grab a coffee at the Red Rock Cafe where a lot of startup founders and venture capitalists hang out in Palo Alto.
Walk around Stanford University
On the other side of the highway from Palo Alto is Stanford University. We always enjoy walking around the Stanford Campus. It is a beautiful campus that makes for a good walk. If you need to do any shopping, the Stanford Mall is actually a good option and less crowded compared to Union Square.
Drive from Palo Alto to San Francisco
The drive back to San Francisco should take you anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.
Drinks and Dinner at 21st Amendment
To get a sense of the startup vibe in San Francisco, go to 21st Amendment, a local brewery where you can get casual food. This is a common spot for founders and startup employees that work nearby in Soma.
Day Trip 5: Napa Wine Country and Hot Air Balloon
This one is an unforgettable trip and one of our favorite San Francisco Day Trips. You will be experiencing the Napa Valley from a hot air balloon, drink great wine, and eat delicious food.
Drive from San Francisco to Yountville
The drive from San Francisco to Yountville, one of the towns in Napa Valley, is around 1:20 to 2hrs with traffic. The thing is that depending on the time of year the Hot Air Ballons meeting times are between 5:30 AM to 7:30 AM.
Keeping the early start time in mind, one option is to rent a car the day before and drive to Yountville very early in the morning, which should only take about 1 hour this time of day. Another option is to drive to Yountville the night before and stay at a hotel close to where the Hot Air Balloons take off. The
Hot Air Balloon Flight
Seeing the Napa Valley from above right after sunrise is a trully unique experience. Hot Air Balloon flights are just over an hour long. This is plenty of time to enjoy the views, take pictures, and see different parts of the valley. They cost around $200 - $250 USD per person. You also have the option to add brunch and champaign at the end. However, we recommend doing your own brunch - more on that below.
You need to book the flight in advance. We recommend Napa Valley Aloft, that is an experienced flight operator. As mentioned above, the meeting time are between 5:30AM and 7:30AM depending the time of year. They are subject to weather conditions. The Aloft team will keep you well informed on the status of the flight.
The views will make it for an unforgettable experience!
Brunch at South Side Cafe in Yountville
Expect to land anywhere between 7:00 AM - 8:30 AM. After that experience it is time to get some brunch. Head to the South Side Cafe in Yountville. This is a simple and nice place to grab breakfast that won't break your wallet and where you won't have to wait for hours. They also have a nice outdoor patio where you can sit and chill for a bit. This brunch should get you going for the day. After brunch take some time to walk around Yountville, it's a super nice town.
We like less commercial wineries that have nice outdoor spaces and good wine.
Lunch at Addendum
You might have heard of the French Laundry. It has been voted the best restaurant in the world for several years. The French Laundry is in Yountville, needless to say, eating at the French Laundry is not part of the plan. You need to book months in advance and be prepared to spend $250-350 per person. The French Laundry however, has a sister restaurant called Adhoc. Adhoc is absolutely fantastic, but also way too much for the casual lunch we are looking for. Adhoc has yet another sister "restaurant" called Addendum. Addendum is an outdoor garden next to Adhoc. It serves buttermilk fried chicken, barbecue pork ribs or pulled pork sandwiches. This makes it for a great lunch. Note that it opens Thursday to Saturday from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM. In the colder months they serve lunch right next to Adhoc and not in the garden. You should plan to order online to avoid the line. When you order online you just show up at the time you said and pick up your food.
Plan B for lunch is Gott's , an outdoor burger place in St. Helena. This local joint first opened in 1949 and remains a Napa Valley classic.
One of our favorite things to do in Napa is to drive around and visit random wineries. Every winery has their own charm. You will find everything from local family run vineyards to some of the top wineries in the world. Wineries will generally have a sign whether they are reservations only or they are open for tastings.
Tasting local food at Oxbow Public Market for Dinner
After all the wine tasting the best way to end the day is with some local Napa food at the Oxbow Public Market. At the Oxbow Market you'll have plenty of options. It is a food hall with a casual environment with with top of the line food options. It does get crowded so beware you might not find a place to sit.
Drive back from Napa to San Francisco
After a full day, you'll want to drive back to San Francisco and have a good rest.
Day Trip 6: Carmel and Big sur
Big Sur is the most beautiful part of the California coast. This is perhaps the longest drive of all San Francisco Day Trips, but well worth it. Its mountains, cliffs, and beaches make it a unique scenery. You'll have lunch overlooking the ocean cliffs and finish the day in one of our favorite towns.
Drive from San Francisco to Big Sur
The first stop is the Bixby Creek Bridge. This is a bit of a longer drive. Depending on traffic it can be anywhere from 2:30 to 3:30 hours. You'd want to leave at around 8:00 AM. Another option is to drive down the night before and stay the night in Monterrey. The
is a good option if you chose to stay the night.
The Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the best views. It is worth to stop and take pictures.
Drive to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
From the Bixby Creek Bridge to the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a 40 minute drive. This drive covers the entire length of Big Sur. Enjoy the scenic drive, and make sure to take good pictures.
The Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is an overlook to the cliffs on side side and a beach and a waterfall on the other.
Lunch at the Pebble Beach Club
After a morning of driving you'll want to relax. Head to the Pebble Beach Club. You'll want to eat at the The Bench restauant, not the fancy restaurant upstairs. The Bench is outside overlooking the golf course and ocean cliffs. Order a Rose, some food and enjoy the view. This is the Pebble Beach golf course where the PGA Tour is played.
Carmel by the Sea
After your late lunch head to Carmel by the Sea. Park your car as close to the beach as you can. Walk along the path above the beach. Admire all the different houses and their unique styles. If the weather is good, spend some time down at the beach and wait for the sunset.
Drive back from Carmel to San Francisco
From Carmel to San Francisco, you'll have around a 2 hour drive.
Not worth doing
A lot of people that come to San Francisco wanting to visit the 'Sillicon Valley'. As if the Sillicon Valley was a physical place. Something like a futuristic technology park like those that are built in other parts of the world to foster innovation. The Sillicon Valley is not that. It is mostly people, that live in suburbs and work in office parks. These office parks are not worth visiting. The only building with architectual value is the Apple Park. A circular building designed by Norman Foster originally and envisioned by Steve Jobs. The problem is that due to Apple's secretive culture, you cannot visit the Apple park. They have a visitor center at the other side of the street. It has a model building and a deck where you can see a bit of the real building. Not worth the trip.
Too long for a day trip
There are several trips that you can from San Francisco that are absolutely amazing. However too long of a drive to be a day trip from San Francisco.
Tahoe, Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park are all incredible places. You should plan to visit these at some point in your life. That said, for a day trip they all are more than 4 hours away making them outside the range. For Tahoe, you need at least 2 nights. For Yosemite and Sequoia, you'll need more like 3 or 4 nights.
These will be covered on a later post, San Francisco Short Trips.
We hope you enjoy your San Francisco Day Trips.