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9 Easy Weekend Trips From San Francisco

By Jessie Beck

Oct 21, 2021

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The Tule Elk Preserve is just one of many places to visit during a weekend in Inverness and Tomales Bay.

Photo by Jessie Beck

The Tule Elk Preserve is just one of many places to visit during a weekend in Inverness and Tomales Bay.

Get away from the city with one of these easy, drivable weekend getaways.

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San Francisco is an amazing city in its own right, but one of the best parts of living here is that you can be at a world-class vineyard, on a beach, or up a mountain within a short drive. There are the North Bay’s oyster farms and vineyards, the (sometimes) snowy Sierras to the east, the quiet of Tomales Bay. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful retreat or a change of scene, consider one of these nine easy weekend getaways from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Fill your weekend exploring tide pools on the beach and exploring small towns along the Mendocino Coast.

1. Mendocino Coast

  • Distance: three hours north of San Francisco
  • Best for: a remote drive along Highway 1

The Mendocino coast is no secret weekend getaway spot. While most visitors will focus on exploring the coastal town of Mendocino and its surrounds, there’s much to be discovered along the 90+ miles of Mendocino’s coastline. If it’s your first time in the area, go ahead and base yourself in the small town of Mendocino—beaten path or not, its proximity to trails, beaches, restaurants, and small locally run shops make it a must on any California getaway list. Or explore a new stretch of the coast, like the small town of Elk and nearby Salt Point State Park to the south of Mendicino.

What to do on the Mendocino coast

You could easily fill your weekend exploring tide pools on the beach and hiking trails with dramatic ocean views, but part of the Mendocino coast’s charms are in the small towns near the highway. Save plenty of time for pit stops from Guala to Fort Bragg; shop the variety store Matson Mercantile in Elk, or sample fresh local seafood at Wild Fish.

Where to stay on the Mendocino coast

For classic Mendocino coast, book a stay in the town of Mendocino itself. Right in the heart of downtown is JD House (from $150/night), a six-room bed-and-breakfast with ocean views and decor that lands somewhere between ship captain’s home and modern hygge. Or immerse yourself in nature at Mendocino Grove (from $189/night), where you can stay in safari tents complete with beds, rugs, and firepits for a dreamy glamping experience.

For a more removed but no less beautiful homebase, head 15 miles south to the small coastal town of Elk and reserve a room at the Harbor House Inn (from $349/night).

Read More: Local Getaways: Escape to the Mendocino Coast

Turn off your phone and head to Wylder Hotel for a remote mountain getaway.

2. Hope Valley

  • Distance: three hours, 15 minutes east of San Francisco
  • Best for: a less-crowded escape to the Sierra Nevadas

A short drive south from Lake Tahoe, Hope Valley has all the beauty of a Sierra Nevada mountain getaway—minus the crowds. It’s an ideal weekend destination to retreat to the woods for a few days of digital detox amid alpine lakes and pine forests.

What to do in Hope Valley

Like much of the Sierras and Tahoe, Hope Valley is known as an outdoor destination. In warmer months, grab your hiking shoes or mountain bike to explore miles of trails in the nearby wilderness, like the range of trails around scenic Echo Lake or Snowshoe Thompson’s Cave, which is “a short 1.15-mile hike filled with lore,” says AFAR travel news editor Michelle Baran.

In the winter, opt for a snow-filled adventure snow-mobiling or snowshoeing on one of the trails at Hope Valley Sno-Park then warm up in the natural hot springs at nearby Grover Hot Springs State Park.

Where to stay in Hope Valley

Wylder Hotel, which has rustic but recently refurbished log cabins, yurts (from $200/night), and budget-friendly campsites (from $45/night) you can rent, makes for an ideal homebase in Hope Valley.

Read More: Local Getaways: A Beautiful Mountain Escape in Northern California

Yoga among the redwoods is one of many activities at Canyon Ranch Woodside.

3. Santa Cruz Mountains

  • Distance: one hour south of San Francisco
  • Best for: wine, hikes, and mountain bikes

Bay Area residents often come to the Santa Cruz Mountains for day trips and brief weekend adventures. But if you plan to stay longer, you won’t be bored—there’s enough winery hopping and hiking among the redwoods to fill an entire weekend.

What to do in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, road cycling, and rock climbing are the main draw for visitors to the Santa Cruz Mountains. After you’ve worked up an appetite on the trails, visit one of the area’s wineries, like award-winning, family-run Mindego Ridge, or the many ranches and farms—an afternoon picnic and visit with the goats at Harley Farms Goat Dairy is a local favorite—to relax and refuel.

Where to stay in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Book yourself into a luxurious tree house at Canyon Ranch’s Woodside Retreat, which includes a full schedule of activities, like hikes and yoga sessions, and three healthy, locally sourced meals each day.

Read More: Local Getaways: The Santa Cruz Mountains Offer a Much-Needed Escape to Nature

Glamp in a classic Airstream or safari tent at Autocamp Russian River.

4. Guerneville

  • Distance: one hour, 45 minutes north of San Francisco
  • Best for: summer fun and food by the Russian River

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Although scenic year-round, Guerneville’s location alongside the Russian River makes it an especially popular weekend destination in the summer, when you can float, kayak, or canoe in the water. Off the river, this tiny town is also home to a surprising number of delicious places to eat—with even more restaurants, breweries, and wineries a short drive away.

What to do in Guerneville

In the summer months, pack a floatie and a cooler full of snacks to spend the day lazing around on the Russian River. Visitors can also rent a canoe from Burke’s Canoes. Afterwards, this Sonoma County town is an excellent homebase for food and wine lovers—biscuits at Big Bottom Market, winetasting at Hartford Family Winery, beers at Stumptown Brewery, and ice cream at Nimble & Finn’s are a few of the area’s tasty highlights.

Where to stay in Guerneville

You can’t go wrong renting a house by the river in Guerneville, but for a romantic couple’s retreat, consider a stay at Boon Hotel + Spa (from $259/night), an intimate boutique hotel with a pool, spa, and breakfast delivered to your room each morning. Prefer to glamp? Head to Autocamp (from $149/night) and stay in a tricked-out Airstream trailer for the weekend.

Read More: Where to Eat on the Russian River

Big Sur has something for varied adventures and budgets, from basic campsites to five-star luxury.

5. Big Sur

  • Distance: three hours south of San Francisco
  • Best for: a classic California coastal getaway

With its dramatic coastlines, waterfalls plunging into the ocean, and expansive, rugged redwood forests, Big Sur is one of those quintessential California destinations—and also a fortunately easy weekend getaway destination from the Bay Area.

What to do in Big Sur

“Nature is one of the region’s biggest draws, but there’s plenty of exploration to do beyond the trees,” says AFAR senior editor Aislyn Greene. Places like Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, Hearst Castle (currently closed during road construction), a California condor tour with Ventana Wildlife Society, and a tour of the Point Sur lighthouse, as well as shopping for local art at Hawthorne Gallery or Coast Big Sur are all excellent things to do while in Big Sur.

Where to stay in Big Sur

Accommodation in Big Sur ranges from basic campsites, like those at Pfeiffer State Park, to five-star luxury. Some of our favorite Big Sur hotels include the spectacular Ventana Big Sur resort (from $1,775/night, all-inclusive), which gives guests the option to choose between staying in one of their luxurious suites or getting in touch with nature in their safari-style tents, as well as the creative rooms at Post Ranch Inn (from $1,275/night)—weekend retreat in a tree house, anyone?

Read More: Embrace the Slow Life—and Maybe a Few Trees—in Big Sur

Carmel Valley (not to be confused with nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea) is less than three hours from San Francisco by car.

6. Carmel Valley

  • Distance: two hours, 30 minutes from San Francisco
  • Best for: a wine country escape to the south

Napa Valley and Sonoma County aren’t the only places to go for a weekend of winetasting and sunshine (though you’ll rarely see us turn down a trip there). Carmel Valley (not to be confused with nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea) to San Francisco’s south is an equally fantastic, but often overlooked, destination for wine and food adventures.

What to do in Carmel Valley

Plan your weekend around winetasting at the area’s vineyards, like western-style Cowgirl Winery or Joyce, which specializes in wine from sustainability-minded vineyards. Then, decompress with an afternoon of hot and cool outdoor pools and a massage at Refuge Spa or a stroll through the shops at Carmel Valley Village.

Where to stay in Carmel Valley

Relax with a room at family-friendly Carmel Valley Ranch (from $585/night). Or for a more Tuscan-esque experience, stay at Bernardus Lodge & Spa ($495/night), a wine country escape with rooms that overlook its 28-acre vineyard.

Read More: Why Carmel Valley Is the Wine Country Escape You Need

This 15-mile stretch of watery inlet is home to many dairy and oyster farms, as well as excellent natural vistas.

7. Tomales Bay

  • Distance: one hour, 30 minutes north of San Francisco
  • Best for: oysters, cheese, and kayaking in the sea

If a weekend of eating fresh seafood, sampling locally made cheese, and kayaking in a tranquil bay sounds like your kind of getaway, then head to Tomales Bay. This area, just north of the Point Reyes National Seashore, refers to the 15-mile stretch of watery inlet separating Point Reyes Peninsula from mainland Marin County. It also happens to be home to many dairy and oyster farms, as well as scenic parks and natural vistas.

What to do in Tomales Bay

Start off your weekend in Tomales Bay with an outdoor activity or two, like watching elk in the Tule Elk Preserve, hiking to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, or kayaking in Tomales Bay.

After you’ve worked up an appetite, eat your way through the area’s specialties, oysters and cheese, with a stop at the Cowgirl Creamery cheese shop in Point Reyes Station, oysters at Hog Island or Tony’s Seafood in Marshall, and a locavore dinner at Saltwater Oyster Depot in Inverness. Locals know: For oysters to go, no-frills Tomales Bay Oyster Co. is the best in the bay.

Where to stay in Tomales Bay

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Point Reyes Station is where all the action is, but we prefer to cozy up in a bay-side Airbnb, like Enchanting Garden Getaway (from $326/night) in the tranquil town of Inverness on the west side of Tomales Bay.

For a truly unique experience, try to get a reservation at one of the hotels by the Olema Group. In Inverness is the quirky yet cozy Manka’s Inverness Lodge (think: tree branches as decor, dark 1900s-style fireplaces, plush beds with Pendleton blankets, and in-room bathrooms that include an outdoor shower surrounded by redwoods). Ten minutes to the south in Olema is their sister property, Druid’s Hall, whose rustic-yet-clean rooms are located in a historic building that was once a meeting space for the United Ancient Order of Druids. You can make reservations for either hotel by phone at 415-663-1034.

Take a leisurely walk along the Pacific Ocean while relaxing in Cambria.

8. Cambria

  • Distance: four hours south of San Francisco
  • Best for: whale watching, wine, and relaxing on the beach

Equidistant from San Francisco and Los Angeles, the coastal town of Cambria is further than most of the other weekend getaways on this list, but it offers a blissfully relaxing break for those who brave the extra miles. Known as where the pines meet the sea, this low-key town is full of opportunities to get outside and hike, explore tidepools, or hang out on the beach—then fill up on delicious seafood and wine while admiring views of the sunset.

What to do in Cambria

Lean into Cambria’s laid-back charm and while away your day with walks along Moonstone Beach or hike the bluffs at Fiscalini Ranch. Come sundown, enjoy a glass of wine and bite to eat at one of several locally owned eateries, like seaside Sea Chest Oyster Bar or Madeline’s, which sits along the just-lively-enough Main Street. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a drive to explore nearby sights like the tiny town of San Simeon and Big Sur to the north, Morro Bay State Park for hikes or beach hangs to the south, or Paso Robles wine country to the east. 

Where to stay in Cambria

At the north end of Moonstone Beach, family-friendly Oceanpoint Ranch (from $117/night) has comfortable rooms (many of which have wood-burning fireplaces), plenty of activities (shuffleboard, croquet, horseshoes), and an onsite restaurant that serves to-go breakfasts and hearty suppers. For a more woodsy experience, Cambria Pines Lodge (from $104/night) is a cozy, forest retreat complete with a lounge perfect for enjoying a glass of local pinot by a warm fire.

Read more: Why Cambria Is Central California’s Most Relaxing Weekend Break

Instead of wine, taste brandy, at the new California Brandy House in Napa.

9. Napa Valley

  • Distance: one hour to 90 minutes northeast from San Francisco
  • Best for: wine, of course, but also so much more

Napa Valley may feel like an obvious choice for a Bay Area getaway (it is undeniably easy), but that doesn’t mean your itinerary has to be predictable. With an exciting array of new restaurant and hotel openings, as well as lesser-known tours, activities, and tastings (and we don’t just mean wine), it’s easy to go beyond the most well-known attractions. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you could even turn your Napa getaway into a mini road trip from Napa Valley to Mendocino along the scenic Highway 128.

What to do in Napa Valley

Napa is about more than wine. To see a different side, spend the day cycling its back roads with Napa Valley Bike Tours, hang out with a (very cute) crew of rescue animals at Oasis by Hoopes, or taste brandy at California Brandy House. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Empress M, the newly opened vision of entrepreneur Margaret Wong that features gourmet Chinese dishes like shrimp dumplings, Sichuan calamari, and roast duck; Lucy Restaurant at Bardessono, a tranquil restaurant with seasonally inspired dishes like asparagus en cocotte; or North Block, whose menu by Momofuku alum chef Nick Tamburo revolves around a wood-fired oven and features such items as sourdough pizzas and cured trout with almond milk and trout roe.

Where to stay in Napa Valley

There’s no shortage of incredible hotels and resorts throughout Napa Valley, but there are several new and noteworthy places to consider checking in to. The George (from $250/night) in downtown Napa, is a nine-room inn in a historic, recently restored, 19th-century home where guests are treated to plush towels, comfortable beds, and fresh English muffins from nearby Model Bakery

Further north in Calistoga, the iconic Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs (from $279/night) has been transformed with its chic, fully renovated, midcentury modern–inspired rooms, an on-site eatery, House of Better, that serves Southwestern-style fare, a new outdoor spa, and several new room concepts, like a stand-alone one-bedroom bungalow.

Read more: Napa’s in Bloom: How to Plan the Perfect Spring Weekend 

This article originally appeared online on December 18, 2020; it was updated on October 20, 2021, to include current information.

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