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7 Easy Weekend Trips From San Francisco

By Jessie Beck

Dec 18, 2020

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

Photo by Jessie Beck

The Tule Elk Preserve is just one of many things 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 seven 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 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. A short walk from downtown is Stanford Inn, which features cozy, pine-paneled rooms overlooking Mendocino Bay, organic made-to-order breakfasts, and loaner mountain bikes. Or immerse yourself in nature at Mendocino Grove, 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.

Read More: This Coastal California Getaway Is the Big Sur You Haven’t Heard of . . . Yet

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

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Wylder Hotel, which has rustic but recently refurbished log cabins, yurts, and budget-friendly campsites 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

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 and 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, an intimate boutique hotel with a pool, spa, and breakfast delivered to your room each morning. Prefer to glamp? Head to Autocamp 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. “In normal times, we’d include places like Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, Hearst Castle, a California condor tour with Ventana Wildlife Society, and a tour of the Point Sur lighthouse on this list, but all remain closed to visitors at this time.” Instead, shop for local art at Hawthorne Gallery or Coast Big Sur and plan to hike one of the area’s many trails.

Where to stay in Big Sur

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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, which currently offers a COVID friendly all-inclusive option, as well as the creative rooms at Post Ranch Inn (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 Carmell Valley Village.

Where to stay in Carmel Valley

Relax with a room at family-friendly Carmel Valley Ranch. Or for a more Tuscan-esque experience, stay at Bernardus Lodge & Spa, 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

Point Reyes Station is where all the action is, but we prefer to cozy up in a bay-side Airbnb, like Enchanting Garden Getaway 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 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. Due to COVID, it is currently accepting limited reservations by phone at 415-663-1034.

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