The 10 Best Weekend Trips From San Francisco, California: A Locals Guide

Practical Wanderlust | Lia Garcia


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!


Morro Bay, California

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


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 and makes a great home base for exploring the surrounding area, such as nearby San Luis Obispo or the wine country of Paso Robles.


By the way, we have a whole guide to exploring California’s Central Coast, which makes an awesome weekend trip from San Francisco!


Where to eat and drink in Morro Bay


Head to Windows on the Water for fine dining and a romantic sunset dinner overlooking the harbor and iconic Morro Rock.


Taco Temple for enormous portions of incredible Californian style Mexican food, plus unlimited chips and salsa!


Brown Butter Cookie Company in neighboring Cayucos for sugar cookies made with brown butter and heaven.


What to do in Morro Bay


Meet an Elephant Seal: California’s weirdest looking residents have a special place in our hearts. On your way down Highway 1, stop at San Simeon for the elephant seal rookery to meet these odd-looking marine critters! This is also one of our favorite stops along the Pacific Coast Highway.


Tour a Ridiculous Mansion: Spend a few hours exploring opulent Hearst Castle as you pass by on Highway 1 and get to know the history of William Randolph Hearst, famed historic California newspaper magnate and the inspiration behind the movie Citizen Kane.


Gaze out to Sea: Explore the cliffside nature walk, scenery, and tidepools in Montana de Oro.


Go Surfing: Rent surfboards and wetsuits from Wavelengths and head to the beach to surf

Enjoy the Harbor: Rent kayaks or paddleboards and meet the otters and sea lions in the harbor.


Go Wine Tasting: Visit nearby Paso Robles for wine tasting. It’s one of California’s best wine countries! If you’re not into wine tasting, there are plenty of other things to do in Paso Robles too (we’ve got a whole guide.)


Head Next Door: Explore Cayucos, a sleepy, charming Old West American surfing town that’s literally down the beach from Morro Bay! Check out our guide to Cayucos.


MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA


Famous for its incredible aquarium – part interactive museum, part animal conservation facility, part research lab – Monterey is all about celebrating sea life and the beautiful California coast.

Rendered iconic thanks to John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row, today’s Cannery Row area is actually a bit of a tourist trap.  


But don’t worry: Monterey has loads to offer as a weekend trip from San Francisco, including plentiful outdoor opportunities! Rent kayaks, ride bikes, and go whale-watching and tide-pooling as you explore this coastal paradise.


Where to eat and drink in Monterey

First Awakenings for brunch


Mundos Cafe for incredible Cuban style sandwiches


Bistro Moulin for a romantic dinner


What to do in Monterey


Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There’s a reason why it’s famous! It’s well worth the crowd.


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.


Rent or bring a bike and bike the scenic Coastal Trail.


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.

Walk around Fisherman’s Wharf to get the boardwalk experience.


SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA


Just south of the Bay Area, Santa Cruz is a laid back, quirky hippie town rich with things to do and see. From the beach boardwalk to the lush redwoods dotted with neon yellow banana slugs, Santa Cruz can be a quick day trip from San Francisco, but it also makes a great weekend getaway.


We recommend staying in an incredible treehouse cabin built high in the redwoods and made from reclaimed redwoods – read more about this awesome place to stay in Santa Cruz.  Here are our highlights and favorite spots in Santa Cruz to visit.


Where to eat and drink in Santa Cruz


Verve Coffee Roasters is a Santa Cruz legend and a must visit for specialty coffee lovers.


Pono Hawaiin Grill offers delicious fresh Poke, plus live music, hula dancing and a great outdoor patio.


What 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.


Visit the campy but classic Mystery Spot.


Nature walks and tide-pooling at Natural Bridges State Beach.


MENDOCINO, CALIFORNIA


When most people think of towns along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, they usually think of what’s south of San Francisco.


But the northern part of coastal Highway 1 offers just as many classic Californian gems and shouldn’t be forgotten when planning a weekend trip from San Francisco! Mendocino and nearby Fort Bragg are the biggest towns up the Pacific Coast Highway and offer the most reward for those who visit the area.


We’ve visited Mendocino multiple times and we’ve got a full blog post up about the best things to do in Mendocino!


Where to eat and drink in Mendocino


If you’re driving up the 1, stop at Queenie’s for an incredible burger.


Just south of Mendocino, Circa 62 has incredible locally sourced brunch and best of all, a wildlife feeding area just outside the windows of the restaurant!

Watch California quails, bunnies, birds, and chipmunks feeding while you eat! Dog-friendly (even has a dog menu).


Everything looked good at Goodlife Cafe & Bakery in downtown Mendocino but we enjoyed our espresso caramel bread pudding the most.


What to do in Mendocino


Take a guided sea cave tour and view wildlife from atop a kayak.


Catch the sunset at Glass Beach in Fort Bragg – if you get lucky, like we did, there might be a pig on the beach playing in the surf!


Go hiking at Van Damme State Park.


Explore the tidepools at MacKerricher State Park.


Forget Napa – Mendocino is famous for it’s wine tasting!


BIG SUR, CALIFORNIA


Big Sur is not so much a weekend trip destination as a weekend trip experience. And the best part of Big Sur, by far, is the incredible scenery. If you like scenic drives – the kind that make your jaw drop open and give you that rush of “glad to be alive” feelings – you’ll like Big Sur.


If you like redwoods, coastal views, cliffs, mountains, waterfalls, beaches, hiking, camping, and all things beautiful and outdoorsy – you’ll love Big Sur.


Driving south from San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway is half of the fun of this weekend getaway! Just check before you go – parts of Highway 1 were closed due to landslides this year.


Where to eat and drink in Big Sur


Big Sur Bakery: The baked goods in the morning are incredible, but so is the dinner menu!


Nepenthe: If you can afford the splurge, the food is as good as the view.


What to do in Big Sur


See the famous McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer State Park (that’s what’s in the feature photo for this post, btw)


Pick a hike, any hike – they’re all spectacular!


Camp at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (book early).


Take an iconic photo in front of the Bixby Canyon Bridge. Tip: listen to the Bixby Canyon Bridge song by Deathcab for Cutie as you drive up!


Check out the human nest at Treebones Resort.


Spend a quiet hour in the Henry Miller Library – or maybe catch one of their impromptu secret concerts.


HEALDSBURG, CALIFORNIA


Healdsburg, a little town north of San Francisco, is close to Napa and Sonoma. 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!


Where to eat and drink in Healdsburg


Kick off a day of wine tasting in downtown Healdsburg at Thumbprint Cellars, the only place in the world where you can buy delicious Thumbprint Wines!


Circle the main square and hit all of the wine tasting rooms. Don’t miss Williamson Wines, which does food and wine pairings with all of its tastings.


Get some homemade pie and ice cream at Noble Folk.


Grab a fluffy cupcake at Moustache Baked Goods.


Wash down your cupcake and pie with a cup of coffee from Flying Goat Coffee.


Visit historic Oakville Grocery on the plaza and pick up some food for a picnic in the square!


What to do in Healdsburg


Walking around the quaint downtown square in the middle of Healdsburg is a great way to spend an afternoon, especially if you stop into all of the tasting rooms for wine. Some of them even have complimentary cheese pairings!


If that wasn’t enough wine for you, there are plenty of other options.


Spend a few hours kayaking on the Russian River.


Take a bike tour and visit vineyards while you pedal.


Visit nearby Guerneville, an adorable little mountain town in the redwoods on the way to the coast. Here are our favorite things to do in Guerneville!


LAKE TAHOE, CALIFORNIA


Most people think of Lake Tahoe as a winter weekend trip destination and associate it with snowboarding and skiing. And while winter in Lake Tahoe is a beautiful time to visit, summer in Lake Tahoe is every bit as magical and fun.


It’s one of the best summertime weekend trips from San Francisco. You can visit North or South Lake Tahoe or even explore the Nevada side or the lake!


Carson Valley, Nevada is an awesome outdoor adventure town only 20 minutes from South Lake Tahoe – and there are wild horses, y’all.  We usually stay near South Lake Tahoe, so here are our favorite things to do in South Lake Tahoe.


Where to eat and drink in South Lake Tahoe


Visit Sprouts Cafe for healthy, filling food and fresh-squeezed juices.


For a much heavier meal, Himmel Haus has incredible German food and a fantastic German and Belgian beer selection.


Pick up some fresh cobbler a la mode at Aloha Ice Cream and Dessert Spa, and then head across the street for an incredible view of the lake at sunset!


What to do in South Lake Tahoe during the Summer


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?)


YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA


Yosemite National Park is a must-visit for any San Francisco Bay Area resident. But I’ve found that during summer in Yosemite it can be difficult to find affordable places to sleep that aren’t a 45 minute drive from the park. The campgrounds book up 6 months early and 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).


Travel Tip: 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!


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.


Where to eat and drink in Yosemite National Park


Look, nobody goes to Yosemite National Park for the food. If you want to eat in the park, the best meal we’ve had is at Ahwanee Hotel, but it’s not exactly budget friendly.


Instead, we recommend venturing out to Mariposa for food. Mariposa is an adorable little Old West Gold Rush town with some great food options. Here are our picks.


Head to Sugar Pine Cafe for breakfast or brunch. This classic little diner serves up comfort food like fluffy biscuits and sausage gravy, cheese grits, and buttermilk pancakes. Plus, you can get a Root Beer Float or a Malt and pretend it’s the 50’s. It’s perfect for pre-activity fueling (or in our case, pre-snowball-fight and hot-tub fueling).


After a long day of adventuring, you’ll need some stick-to-your-ribs sustenance. 1850 Restaurant has it on lock. Try the Finney Fries, which are loaded with smokey cheese and steak. Or the Frybread, a Native American classic served up taco style. Or devour a juicy, award winning burger. Or get all of them! You like, EARNED it.


Thirsty? After dinner, stop by The Alley Lounge to try a few of the 16 rotating craft beers on tap. Yum.


What to do in Yosemite National Park in the Winter


Ice Skate in Half Dome Village with incredible views of majestic Half Dome

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.


Take a horse drawn sleigh ride complete with hot chocolate and cider (depending on weather, call for details).

1699 Van Ness Ave San Francisco, CA 94109

Office: 415-345-3100 • Cell: 415-608-2233

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