Best Day Trips from San Francisco
San Francisco offers so much to do, travelers could easily spend a week in the city and never get bored. However, some of the Bay Area's best offerings don't necessarily lie within city limits. The good news? You can experience the best of these places in just a day. To decide the Best Day Trips from San Francisco, U.S. News took into account a variety of factors including sights, culture, adventure, traveler sentiment and expert insight. Want to put in your two cents? Vote below to influence next year's list.
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Sausalito#1 in Best Day Trips from San Francisco
Sausalito is an easy hop, skip and jump across the Golden Gate Strait from San Francisco, making it one of the easiest excursions the Bay Area has to offer. The Sausalito Ferry will take you to base of this waterfront town, where you'll be greeted by leafy hillsides, scenic, bayfront pathways and plenty of nautical charm. Start by exploring the amenity-packed Bridgeway Promenade and then end at Cavallo Point for prime Golden Gate views.
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About two hours south of San Francisco, Monterey features one of California's dreamiest stretches of coastline. Whether it's the dramatic, rocky cliffs along the scenic 17-Mile Drive or the seemingly endless beaches of Fort Ord Dunes State Park, there's bound to be something that'll take your breath away. While here, visit the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium and local favorites like Point Lobos and Carmel-By-The-Sea.
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If one city embodies the cool, laid-back lifestyle often associated with California, it's Santa Cruz. Located about 75 miles south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz is as chill as can be, with its beautiful outdoor offerings bolstering the take-it-slow-and-enjoy-the-atmosphere vibe. Be sure to check out the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for thrills and Natural Bridges State Beach for some peaceful rest and relaxation.
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Having Napa, considered the country's premier wine destination, so close to the city is an absolute treat for San Francisco visitors. About 50 miles north, the area grants travelers access to 400-plus wineries and a bevy of Michelin-starred establishments. Those with little time to spare will enjoy the Napa Valley Wine Train, which travels to nearby St. Helena and back, snaking through scenic hills and vineyards along the way.
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Carmel Beach#5 in Best Day Trips from San Francisco
If you're heading south to Monterey from San Francisco for a day trip, a stop at Carmel Beach is a must. Part of the charming town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel Beach is considered one of the best beaches in the area. The beach features vibrant blue waters and white sand as well as a scenic pathway, appropriately titled Scenic Road, that takes you to the nearby, equally beautiful Carmel River State Beach.
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Sonoma has always been lauded as a more affordable alternative to Napa Valley. About 45 miles north of San Francisco, Sonoma features plenty of the same perks as Napa, including more than 400 wineries and plenty of top-notch eateries. Where it differs from Napa is with its family-friendliness, thanks to Safari Park West and the beaches and trails at nearby Sonoma Coast State Park.
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If you're traveling with kids, the most family-friendly day trip from San Francisco is to San Jose. Not only is it less than two hours south by car, but it also offers attractions that will thrill the little ones, including California's Great America theme park, the Children's Discovery Museum and the Winchester Mystery House. Meanwhile, adults will enjoy shopping haven Santana Row and the Tech Museum of Innovation.
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Those with an interest in California history will no doubt delight in a trip to Sacramento, the capital of California. Visitors can explore Capitol Park, home to the state's Capitol and a variety of monuments, as well as Old Sacramento, a National Historic Landmark District that pays homage to California's past. The city also features loads of cultural hot spots worth visiting, including the Crocker Art Museum and the bustling Midtown neighborhood.
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Muir Woods National Monument#9 in Best Day Trips from San Francisco
Muir Woods National Monument is the perfect day trip for those wanting to get outdoors and become one with nature. Situated across the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods National Monument features miles of trails that take you through its famous redwood trees and along the coast. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area also sits right next to the site, offering even more chances to behold Northern California's beautiful scenery.
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