The best weekend trips from San Francisco! These are my favorite weekend getaways from the city as someone who grew up in the Bay Area.
One of the best parts of living in San Francisco is how centrally located it is in California.
There are endless opportunities to get out in nature, take a drive along the Central Coast, explore California’s wine country, and more.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to see within San Francisco, but part of what makes the Bay Area such a special place is how many stunning areas there are within a few hour’s drive.
If you’re looking to get outside the city, these are some of my favorite weekend trips from San Francisco – as someone who grew up in Santa Cruz and has lived in California for 25+ years.
Whether you’re looking to explore a new city, go for a hike in the redwoods, or simply want to spend a couple of days taking in the best coastal views in the state, there’s a weekend destination for you on this list.
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Best Weekend Trips Near San Francisco (Under a Three Hour Drive)
Distance from SF: 1 hour, 59 miles
California’s most famous wine country region, Napa is one of the best places to visit for a weekend trip from San Francisco, especially if you’re a fan of rolling vineyards.
There are over 400 wineries in Napa Wine Country, a region that is most famous for its world-class Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Some people like to say that the wine tasting in Napa is overrated or a little too posh at times, but there’s no doubt that it’s worth visiting at least once to make up your own mind.
Plus, if you’re looking for a romantic weekend getaway, the scenery and luxury accommodation options in Napa are hard to beat.
Besides wine tasting, this is also one of the most popular areas in California for hot air ballooning. It makes sense with the miles of beautiful wine country scenery below. So if you’re not afraid of heights and you have the budget, this is another activity that should be added to your time in the area.
Local tip: If you want to explore the Napa wine country region to the fullest, go on a guided tour from San Francisco and have someone else do the driving. If you want to do it yourself, make wine tasting reservations ahead of time as many wineries are by appointment only.
Things to do in Napa
- Ride the Napa Wine Train
- Go wine tasting at Castello di Amorosa Winery and Chateau Montelena Winery
- Have lunch at Oxbow Public Market
- Explore Downtown Napa
- Wake up at sunrise to experience a hot air balloon ride over the valley
Where to Stay in Napa
Point Reyes National Seashore
Distance from SF: 1 hour and 15 minutes, 39 miles
Point Reyes National Seashore and its surrounding nature is one of the most popular day trips from San Francisco. With how close it is to the city and how comparatively undeveloped this part of the Bay Area is, it’s the perfect quick trip (or last-minute trip) to take a break from the busy atmosphere of San Francisco.
However, it can be a fun weekend away as well and, especially for those who want to spend the weekend hiking, relaxing in nature, and really exploring the natural beauty of Point Reyes.
Located in Marin County and right next to Tomales Bay, Point Reyes features the scenic and historic Point Reyes Lighthouse, plenty of trails and wildlife, long sandy beaches, and a nearby Cypress Tree Tunnel.
I’d recommend stopping by the Bear Valley Visitor Center to start off your time at the park and learn more about the history of Point Reyes and the flora and fauna you might come across.
This is also a great area for fresh oysters, so you don’t want to miss having lunch at The Marshall Store before you leave.
Local Tip: You’ll find free WIFI at the Bear Valley Visitor Center but, otherwise, you will mostly be without cell service while you’re at the park and in the Point Reyes region as a whole.
Things to do in Point Reyes
- Hike to Alamere Falls
- Take in the views from Point Reyes Lighthouse
- Enjoy an afternoon at Drake’s Beach
- Stroll through the Cypress Tree Tunnel
- Explore Point Reyes Station
- Kayak Around Tomales Bay and hike the Tomales Point Trailhead
- Eat fresh oysters at The Marshall Store
Where to Stay Near Point Reyes
Distance from SF: 1 hour and 15 minutes, 71 miles
I may be biased since I grew up there, but Santa Cruz is one of my favorite weekend getaways in the Bay Area.
Under a hundred miles south of San Francisco, the city is known as one of the best surf towns in California because of its quality waves and surf culture.
In Santa Cruz, you’ll find beautiful beaches, redwood forests, cute downtown shopping areas and boutique shops, and plenty of delicious healthy food options.
Santa Cruz is also where you’ll find Monarch butterfly groves, cliffside views, the oldest amusement park in California, and abundant marine life around the Monterey Bay.
If you’re visiting in the winter, it’s also a great place for whale watching since whales pass so close to the shore each year during their annual migration.
Local tip: One of the best things to do in Santa Cruz is eat. Check out the many unique eateries around the city, from brunch to lunch at taquerias and dinner out on the Santa Cruz Wharf. The city is also a lot chillier than most people think. Bring layers and expect fog in the mornings and cool nights.
Things to do in Santa Cruz
- Hike around Wilder Ranch and/or Big Basin Redwoods
- Explore Natural Bridges State Beach and the Monarch Butterfly Grove
- Drive West Cliff Drive
- Spend a day at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
- Eat Dinner at sunset on the Santa Cruz Wharf (Riva Fish House is my favorite spot)
- Grab lunch and shop along Pacific Avenue
- Walk around Capitola Village and spend the afternoon at Capitola Beach
- Watch the surfers at The Hook or Steamer Lane
- Discover the local beaches, like Seabright Beach, Sunny Cove, or Twin Lakes Beach (which also has fire pits if you want to enjoy a bonfire)
Where to Stay in Santa Cruz
Distance from SF: 1 hour and 30 minutes, 88 miles
If you’re looking to get lost in California’s pioneer history, there’s no better city than Sacramento to take you back in time to the Gold Rush era.
Less than a two-hour drive from San Francisco, this historic city is a great weekend trip from San Francisco. And it has a lot to offer besides just its gold panning history and the fact that it’s the state capital of California.
Although mostly known for its politics and agriculture, in recent years, Sacramento has become a trendy city in its own right. These days, it’s especially known for its bustling foodie scene, street art around every corner, and a decent craft beer culture.
It’s also nicknamed “The City of Trees” for its countless green parks and different types of trees you’ll find all over the city.
And if you are looking to explore more of the city’s history, you won’t want to miss the Old Sacramento State Historic Park. The park allows you to step back in time to the 19th century and California’s pioneer days with historic storefronts and cobblestone streets.
If you’re planning a longer stay, Sacramento is also a good base for exploring other parts of the Central Valley and the Sierras. Popular days trips from the city could include Auburn and Lake Tahoe.
Local tip: Sacramento is America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital so don’t miss out on exploring the foodie scene around the city.
Things to do in Sacramento
- Take a free tour of the California State Capitol Building
- Step back in time at Old Sacramento State Historic Park
- Explore Sutter’s Fort
- Head over to the Tower Bridge at sunset
- Go on a Historic River Cruise with Hornblower
- Tour the Leland Stanford Mansion
- Rent bikes and ride along the American River Bike Trail
- Find the colorful murals around town, especially around Midtown and downtown
Where to Stay in Sacramento
Distance from SF: 1 hour and 45 minutes, 115 miles
Just on the other side of the bay from Santa Cruz, you’ll find Monterey. Although Monterey is only about half an hour away from Santa Cruz, they’re two very different cities.
Whereas Santa Cruz leans into its surfer and hippie vibe and has a large student population, Monterey is more pristine, upper class, and has an older population.
In Monterey, you’ll find the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, plenty of stunning beaches (like Del Monte Beach and Carmel Beach near the city), a lot of mouthwatering seafood, and a stunning coastal drive just south of the city called the 17-Mile Drive.
This is the perfect spot for a luxe romantic road trip from San Francisco (or a family trip) that’s laid back and full of sparkling seaside views.
About eight miles away (roughly a 20-minute drive) from Cannery Row, you can also visit the tide pools in Point Lobos and spend an afternoon at Gibson Beach. And, similar to Santa Cruz, Monterey is an ideal spot for whale watching during the winter or early spring.
Local tip: Monterey has similar weather to Santa Cruz. Expect fog in the mornings and cool evenings. In general, it’s always good to bring layers with you when you’re staying here.
Things to do in Monterey
- Spend a day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
- Drive the 17-Mile Drive
- Explore Cannery Row
- Grab an early dinner with a view at Old Fisherman’s Wharf
- Soak up the sun at Del Monte Beach
- Have a picnic at Lovers Point Park
- Visit Colton Hall Museum
- Hike the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail
- Take in the coastal views from Point Pinos Lighthouse
- Take a tour of the Robert Louis Stevenson House and the John Steinbeck House in Salinas
- Go hiking, explore the tide pools, and relax on the beach at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
- Watch the sunset at Carmel Beach – and once you’re done at Carmel Beach you can grab dinner at a nice eatery in Carmel-By-The-Sea
- See the Carmel Mission and learn about its history (the Carmel Mission was built in in 1797!)
Where to Stay in Monterey
Pinnacles National Park
Distance from SF: 2 hours, 123 miles
Roughly two hours away from the city is Pinnacles National Park. It was previously known as Pinnacles National Monument, until 2013 when it was officially declared a national park by President Barack Obama.
Just inland from the Big Sur coastline, this park is easily one of the most unique weekend getaways from San Francisco.
Although this is California’s newest national park, its volcanic landscape was formed 23 million years ago. From rock spires to talus caves, canyons, and woodlands, it’s easy to feel as if you’ve arrived on another planet.
The park is especially good for day hikers, wildlife enthusiasts, and rock climbers who are looking for some time away from the city.
It’s also one of the best spots in North America to see California condors in the wild (and their nine-and-a-half-foot wingspan!).
Local tip: Weather can change quickly at the park. Pack layers and bring plenty of water. If you park at the visitor center, there’s a free shuttle bus that runs on the weekends to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area.
Things to do in Pinnacles
- Go hiking! My favorite day hike is the High Peaks Trail to Bear Gulch Loop (6.7 miles), but other good ones include the Bear Gulch Caves Hike (1.5 miles), Moses Spring Trail (2.2 miles), and the Balconies Cave Hike (9.4 miles)
- Bring a flashlight and explore the talus caves. There are two caves at the park – Bear Gulch Cave and Balconies Cave. Just make sure to stop at the visitor center or check conditions ahead of time because they’re sometimes closed after it rains or seasonally to protect the local bat population
- Birdwatching – seeing California condors in the wild is a sight to behold
- Stargazing if you’re camping overnight at the park
- Rock climbing, if that’s your thing
- Explore the nearby Mission Soledad (one of the 21 Spanish Missions in California)
Where to Stay Near Pinnacles
Distance from SF: 2 hours and 45 minutes, 140 miles
Less than a three-hour drive from San Francisco, Big Sur is easily my favorite weekend road trip from San Francisco and offers some of the prettiest ocean views on the Central Coast.
The drive along the Big Sur coastline is the most breathtaking coastal drive you will ever take in California (and possibly the world).
No matter how many times I visit Big Sur, I’m still amazed at its natural beauty every single time. The glittering crystal blue waters contrasted perfectly with golden-hued cliffs and rocky landscapes are truly one-of-a-kind.
Make sure to give yourself ample time to drive the Big Sur coastline. Hit the main scenic spots like McWay Falls, Bixby Canyon Bridge, and Pfeiffer Beach. And don’t miss grabbing dinner and a cocktail at sunset from Nepenthe – it’s a magical experience.
Once you’ve spent a day checking out the main sights in Big Sur, go on a hike or two at one of the many state parks in the area and explore more of the local beaches.
Another one of my favorite things to do in Big Sur is to simply drive up and down the coast looking for turnouts along the road (there are a lot) that give you a different perspective of the stunning coastline.
I’d recommend starting each day by grabbing a takeaway breakfast and coffee and heading to a random turnout to take in the cliffside views over the coast.
It’s also a fun experience to have a least one sunset picnic while you’re in Big Sur. You can grab a pizza and some drinks to enjoy at one of the many local beaches to watch the sun go down.
As I mentioned above, this is one of my favorite places to visit in California, and it’s an ideal getaway from San Francisco for anyone craving coastal views along Highway 1.
Local tip: There is limited cell service in Big Sur, so plan your route ahead of time. Book accommodation well in advance as well because campsites and hotels book up quickly. Lastly, check road conditions before you leave – there are sometimes landslides that close Highway 1.
Things to do in Big Sur
- Take a picture in front of Bixby Creek Bridge
- Explore Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and McWay Falls
- Watch the sunset at Pfeiffer Beach (and see its famous rock arch and purple sand)
- Go hiking – a couple of hikes to start with include the Partington Cove Hike (1 mile), Limekiln Falls Hike (1.5 miles), Ewoldsen Trail (5 miles), and the Tan Bark Trail (6.4 miles)
- Visit the Henry Miller Library
- Explore more of the local beaches, like Sand Dollar Beach, Garrapata State Beach, and Gibson Beach at Point Lobos
- Grab a cocktail and/or dinner from Nepenthe at sunset
- Enjoy any of the turnout viewpoints along the drive – they’re all stunning
Where to Stay in Big Sur
Fernwood Resort– I recently stayed here for an anniversary trip to Big Sur and they have a private hot tub in most rooms, which is a nice luxury after a full day of hiking and exploring the coast.
Mendocino & Fort Bragg
Distance from SF: 3 hours, 155 miles
An often overlooked part of California, the Mendocino Coast has a rugged beauty that is more likely to be seen in Oregon than California.
Unlike the pristine beaches and towns you’ll find in Southern California, this part of the California Coast is all about windswept vistas and down-to-earth and laid-back local communities.
The change of pace and unique scenic beauty of this area makes it one of the best weekend getaways from San Francisco.
If you want to be surrounded by nature, there’s the Mendocino Headlands, Russian Gulch State Park, and Van Damme State Park right there. Or, if you’re more interested in history, Fort Bragg used to be a military garrison and then a rough lumber town.
Exploring its downtown area and restored facades takes you back in time through its many eras.
If you’re more into the idea of a pampered and laid-back weekend trip, Mendocino is the place for luxury bed and breakfasts with an ocean view and fuzzy bathrobes.
Both cities, which are only about a 15-minute drive from each other, have a great farm-to-table foodie scene as well. And there’s an underrated wine region just inland from the coast around Philo and Navarro.
No matter what type of weekend getaway you’re craving, the Mendocino Coast is one of the best overnight trips that appeal to a lot of different types of travelers. If you have a dog, Mendocino also has quite a few dog-friendly accommodations around town like the Stanford Inn and Sweetwater Inn.
Local tip: You usually lose cell reception on Highway 128, once you pass Boonville. Make sure you have your route planned out ahead of time. This part of California is often foggy and windy, so also make sure to bring layers on a trip to the Mendocino Coast.
Things to do in the Mendocino Area
- Ride the Skunk Train
- Hike the Fort Bragg Coastal Trail (4.5 miles)
- Grab fresh seafood from Noyo Harbor
- Enjoy the ocean views at Pomo Bluffs Park
- Visit the International Sea Glass Museum and Guest House Museum
- Try Cowlicks Hand Made Ice Cream
- Smell the flowers at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
- Take in the views from Point Cabrillo Light Station
- Walk Around the Mendocino Headlands
- Spend an afternoon hiking through Russian Gulch State Park
- See the colorful glass at Glass Beach on a sunny day
Where to Stay in the Mendocino Area
Distance from SF: 3 hours, 188 miles
Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, straddling the state line between California and Nevada. And the best thing about Lake Tahoe, besides its natural beauty, is that it’s a good place to visit year-round.
In fact, Lake Tahoe is one of the most popular weekend getaways near San Francisco at any time of the year.
In the summer, people bask in the sun at high altitude beaches, swim in the freshwater lake, and go hiking. In winter, they take to the ski resorts, go snowshoeing, and enjoy that hot tub life in the evenings after a long day in the snow.
Just a three-hour drive from San Francisco, Lake Tahoe is one of those places to be visited time and again because you will never run out of options for activities.
Local tip: If you visit during summer weekends, make accommodation reservations far in advance and prepare to sit in traffic. This is Lake Tahoe’s busiest tourist season. Also, Lake Tahoe is huge. It takes around three hours to drive around with no stops. Plan what you want to see and do ahead of time to avoid any last-minute delays. Check out this post comparing North vs South Lake Tahoe to decide where to base yourself.
Things to do in Lake Tahoe
- Visit Emerald Bay State Park and see Vikingsholm
- Go hiking – a few trails to start with include Eagle Falls & Eagle Lake Trail (2 miles), Cascade Falls Trail (1.4 miles), Rubicon Trail (9 miles), and the Mount Rose Trail (10 miles)
- Do the Tahoe Via Ferrata in the summer or go skiing in the winter at Squaw Valley
- Ride the Heavenly Gondola
- Go kayaking at Sand Harbor Beach
- Swim in the clear waters at D.L. Bliss State Park
- Tour the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion at Sugar Pine Point State Park
- Road trip around the lake and take in the stunning viewpoints, such as Inspiration Point near Emerald Bay
- Do a self-guided craft beer tour around the breweries in South Lake Tahoe
- Experience the casinos and nightlife in South Lake Tahoe
- Go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in the winter
Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe
Best Weekend Getaways From San Francisco (Under a Five Hour Drive)
Yosemite National Park
Distance from SF: 3 hours and 30 minutes, 171 miles
With its accessible nature only a few hours away from the city, Yosemite is one of the most popular and famous national parks in California.
Yosemite National Park has attracted countless people to its high altitude wonderland for well over a century – the area was first protected in the 19th century (in 1864 to be exact).
Today, over four million people visit every year to take in the awe-inspiring viewpoints, giant sequoias, deep valleys, hiking trails, and waterfalls.
A few of the must-see sights in the park include Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Valley View, Tunnel View, and Glacier Point.
Local tip: Yosemite is a busy park. If you’re planning a trip to Yosemite National Park, book hotels and campsites well in advance. Plan for traffic, especially in the summer. Once you’re in the park, there’s a free shuttle to take you around to major sights – you can pick it up from Yosemite Lodge.
Things to do in Yosemite National Park
- Take in the views from Glacier Point, Valley View, Tunnel View, and Olmsted Point
- Discover as many Yosemite waterfalls as possible (especially if you’re visiting in May or June) – a few not to miss include Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Fall, Bridalveil Fall, and Horsetail Fall
- Go hiking – a few of the best hikes at the park include the Tenaya Lake Loop (2.5 miles), Mirror Lake Loop (5 miles), Yosemite Falls Hike (7.2 miles), Panorama Trail (8.5 miles – book the Hiker’s Bus online to get to the trailhead), Half Dome Hike (16 miles and you need to secure a permit online beforehand, distributed by lottery)
- Walk through the Mariposa Grove – where you’ll find over 500 old-growth sequoias
- Drive Tioga Pass and stop at a bunch of viewpoints/turnouts
- Explore the Hetch Hetchy and Tuolumne Meadows areas
- Visit Yosemite Museum and Indian Village
Where to Stay Near Yosemite National Park
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Distance from SF: 3 hours and 45 minutes, 218 miles
One of the top places to see California redwoods, Humboldt Redwoods State Park is a quintessential Northern California getaway. Like a lot of destinations in California, it’s perfect for those who want to get out in nature for the weekend.
With 77,000 acres of redwood trees, over 100 miles of hiking trails, and the largest contiguous old-growth redwood forest in the world, this is one of the best road trip options if you want to spend the weekend hiking through redwoods.
It’s also where you’ll find one of California’s most famous drives – the Avenue of the Giants.
The Avenue of the Giants is one of the most popular drives, so expect it to be somewhat touristy (by Northern California standards). But even with the crowds, the scenery makes the drive well worth it.
The drive is 31 miles along old Hwy 101 and features some of the most impressive redwood trees along the California redwood belt. And if you’ve ever wanted to drive through a tree, this is the spot to do it, assuming your car is small enough.
Local tip: For the Avenue of the Giants, pick up an auto tour map or travel guide at the visitor center before the drive. There are brown auto tour signs along the route that give you clues on where to stop.
Things to do in Humboldt Redwoods State Park
- Drive the Avenue of the Giants
- Do short hikes to a few of the main sights along the drive – A few to start with include the Giant Tree & Flat Iron Tree Hike (0.6 miles), Rockefeller Loop Trail (o.6 miles), and the Founders Grove and Dyerville Giant Hike (1.3 miles)
- Visit Williams Grove
- Drive through the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree ($10 to drive through a tree)
- Enjoy the scenery and find the local beaches at the end of the Lost Coast Drive
- Take a short detour to visit Ferndale to see the Victorians and historic storefronts
Where to Stay Near Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Distance from SF: 3 hours and 45 minutes, 232 miles
Morro Bay is an unassuming small seaside city near San Luis Obispo that is equal parts friendly and scenic.
The city’s most striking feature is Morro Rock, a 576-foot rock that was part of a volcanic peak called the Nine Sisters 23 million years ago. The rock is not only an interesting piece of geological history to visit, but it has been used by sailors for navigational purposes for over 300 years.
In addition to Morro Rock, Morro Bay is a fun city to explore and one of the best weekend getaways in California.
For the most scenic drive from San Francisco, you can head down Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, the whole way to Morro Bay.
Once you get to Morro Bay, there’s an attractive embarcadero to walk along, fresh seafood restaurants with waterside views, beaches, hiking, and water activities. It’s also a haven for bird watchers so bring some binoculars.
If you’re looking for breezy Pacific Coast views and hikes near the ocean, Montana de Oro State Park is one of the prettiest parks in the area and right next to the city.
And Morro Bay is an ideal spot for exploring nearby Central Coast sights as well, such as Hearst Castle and the Elephant Seal Rookery at Point Piedras Blancas in San Simeon.
There are also the seaside cities of Cayucos and Pismo Beach just a short drive away and the more inland city of San Luis Obispo right there as well.
Local tip: Morro Bay can be foggy and breezy so it’s good to wear layers. There are also quite a few interesting festivals that come to Morro Bay every year. Check the city’s event calendar ahead of time to see if you can hit one.
Things to do in Morro Bay
- Walk to Morro Rock
- Explore the Embarcadero
- Eat at the Shine Cafe for breakfast or lunch
- Spot sea otters – a good place is near the boardwalk on the way to Morro Rock
- Rent a kayak and explore the harbor and estuary
- Go antique shopping and stop by the historic Bay Theatre in downtown
- Walk the Morro Bay State Park Boardwalk
- Take in the views from Siena’s View
- Hike and enjoy the beaches at Montana de Oro State Park
- Lay in the sun at Cayucos Beach for an afternoon
- Take a day trip to San Luis Obispo
- Tour Hearst Castle in San Simeon
- Visit the Elephant Seal Rookery in San Simeon
Where to Stay in Morro Bay
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Distance from SF: 3 hours and 45 minutes, 236 miles
Yosemite and Joshua Tree might get most of the attention when it comes to California national parks, but Lassen Volcanic National Park is well worth the visit. This is one of the least busy national parks in California but it still has plenty of that “wow” factor.
Lassen Volcanic is also one of the top places to visit in California for geological wonders and formations, most notably, for its hot springs and geysers. The park’s most famous features are Lassen Peak (its resident volcano), Bumpass Hell, and Subway Cave Lava Tubes.
Be prepared to see volcanic sights in the form of mud pots, hot springs, and sulfur vents, as well as plenty of hiking trails, dense forests, alpine lakes, and meadows full of wildflowers (in the right season).
Local tip: The months between late spring and early fall are the best time to visit as park roads close down from November to May. Cell service is limited. Be wary of altitude sickness as elevation gets up to 10,457 feet. There’s only one gas station in the park (only open during the high season), so fill up your tank in Shingletown or Susanville ahead of time.
Things to do in Lassen Volcanic Park
- Go hiking! A couple of trails to start with include the Mill Creek Falls Hike (3.8 miles) and the Devil’s Kitchen Trail (4.2 miles)
- Climb up a volcano at Cinder Cone
- Take in the reflections at Lake Helen
- Watch the sunset at Manzanita Lake
- See the geological wonders at Sulphur Works, Bumpass Hell, and Little Hot Springs Valley
- Explore the Subway Cave Lava Tubes (15 min drive from Manzanita Lake) – make sure to bring a flashlight!
- Enjoy the stargazing opportunities
Where to Stay Near Lassen Volcanic Park
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Distance from SF: 4 hours and 15 minutes, 263 miles
Located right next to each other and administered together by the NPS, it’s easy to hit both Sequoia and Kings Canyon in one long weekend trip.
Kings Canyon is the place to explore deep canyons, meadows, wide-open vista points, waterfalls, and a fair share of sequoia trees. It’s also home to the deepest canyon in the US – Kings Canyon is 8,200 feet deep. The scenery is comparable to Yosemite, so if you’re looking for a less touristy alternative to Yosemite, this is the park to visit.
Once you’re done exploring Kings Canyon, head to Sequoia National Park to be surrounded by more of the world’s tallest trees – giant sequoias.
At Sequoia Park, don’t miss General Sherman, a giant sequoia that is the largest living thing in the world by volume. Afterward, you can explore the trails in the Giant Forest to be fully immersed in a grove of these majestic trees.
And there are plenty of non-tree attractions around the park as well, including sights such as Moro Rock, Crystal Cave, Mineral King, and other natural features in the form of lakes, canyons, and waterfalls.
Local tip: If you’re traveling during the high season, take the park shuttle ($15 per person) that goes around both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, as well as nearby cities. Bears are common in both parks, so don’t leave food in your car and use bear lockers/canisters if you’re camping.
Things to do in Sequoia National Park
- Go hiking! A few trails to start with include the Big Trees Trail (1.5 miles), Crescent Meadow Trail (1.8 miles), The Congress Trail (3 miles), and Tokopah Falls Trail (4 miles)
- Take a tour of Crystal Cave – The only way to see the cave is through a 45-minute guided tour, which you can book here. Tours only run from spring to fall
- Stand underneath the massive General Sherman
- Take in the panoramic views at the summit of the Moro Rock Trail
- Explore the Mineral King area
- Visit the Giant Forest Museum
- Drive through the Tunnel Log
- Walk around Muir Grove
- Spend a half-day at Giant Sequoia National Monument
Things to do in Kings Canyon
- Go hiking! A few trails to start with include North Grove Loop (1.5 miles), Buena Vista Peak Hike (2 miles), Cedar Grove Overlook Hike (5 miles), and Mist Falls Trail (9 miles)
- Drive the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
- Take in the views from Zumwalt Meadows Panoramic Point
- Walk around General Grant Grove
- See Grizzly Falls and Roaring River Falls
- Have a picnic on the beach at Hume Lake
Where to Stay Near Sequoia and Kings Canyon
Distance from SF: 4 hours and 45 minutes, 290 miles
Mount Shasta is one of the most iconic landmarks in Northern California. It’s also been a spiritual place for Indigenous people for thousands of years.
And at over 14,000 feet high, summiting Mount Shasta’s peak is a popular challenge for skilled mountaineers around the world. Even if you’re not a mountaineer, the Mount Shasta area is full of natural beauty and outdoor activities, no matter what season you’re visiting.
These range from tackling easy hiking trails filled with colorful wildflowers, forests, meadows, and waterfalls, to skiing or snowboarding at Mt. Shasta Ski Park if you’re planning a winter weekend trip.
Mount Shasta is one of the best places to visit if you’re looking for an underrated destination that’s not too far from San Francisco. It offers the winning combination of outdoor activities and the charm of small-town California.
Local tip: The best way to see Mt. Shasta is by hiking and driving around it. Spend at least a couple of hours doing the scenic drive on Everitt Memorial Hwy and tackling a short hike or two to take in the mountain from different perspectives.
Things to do in Mount Shasta
- Do a scenic drive along Everitt Memorial Highway from Mt Shasta to Panther Meadows
- Explore the small-town vibes of Mt. Shasta City
- Go hiking – a couple of trails to tackle include Faery Falls hike via the Spring Canyon Trail (2 miles) and the Grey Butte Trail (3 miles)
- Take in the views from the John Everitt Vista Point
- Spend the day hitting the slopes at Mt Shasta Ski Park if you’re visiting in winter
- If you’re visiting in late spring or summer, do the South Gate Meadow Trail to enjoy a stunning display of wildflowers
Where to Stay in Mount Shasta
Long Weekend Getaways From San Francisco (More Than a Five Hour Drive)
Distance from SF: 5 hours and 15 minutes, 325 miles
When you arrive in Santa Barbara, you’ll be met with white stucco buildings and red-tiled rooftops that give off a Mediterranean vibe.
Santa Barbara is one of the most beautiful places you’ll find on the Central Coast with a stunning harbor, good beaches, and upscale boutiques and restaurants that line clean, open streets. The city is also home to the Franciscan Mission Santa Barbara that was built in 1786.
And if you’re looking to spend more time in the area, it’s not too far from the wine country of Santa Ynez, the Channel Islands, or Los Angeles.
Due to its natural beauty and relaxing atmosphere that caters to a more luxury-focused clientele, the city a perfect romantic weekend destination in California.
While you’re in town, don’t miss out on Butterfly Beach, the view from Inspiration Point, or being near the coast at sunset.
Local tip: Santa Barbara has impressive multi-hued sunsets. During one of your nights in town, grab dinner near the water just before the sun goes down. This is where you’ll see the city’s beauty come to life on another level.
Things to do in Santa Barbara
- Eat fresh seafood at Stearns Wharf
- Visit the historic Mission Santa Barbara and El Presidio de Santa Barbara
- Walk around Santa Barbara Botanic Garden or Ganna Walska Lotusland
- Walk up and down State Street
- Grab an ice cream from McConnell’s
- Ride bikes along Cabrillo Boulevard
- Enjoy the beaches – I’d recommend starting with East Beach, West Beach, Arroyo Burro Beach County Park, or Butterfly Beach
- Hike to Inspiration Point (4 miles)
- Go on a whale watching tour
- Take in the Spanish-Moorish architecture and soak up the city views at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse
- Visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Art
- Do a day trip to Los Angeles if you have the time
Where to Stay in Santa Barbara
Distance from SF: 5 hours and 30 minutes, 321 miles
If you’re looking to base yourself somewhere for a long weekend while you explore the Sierras and its world-class scenery, Mammoth Lakes is a great choice.
Less than a six-hour drive from San Francisco, the town of Mammoth Lakes is situated smack dab in the middle of some of the best destinations that the Sierras have to offer.
And there’s a lot to do in and around Mammoth Lakes at any time of the year.
In the summer, hike around Mammoth Lakes Basin or Little Lakes Valley, taste the local craft beer, and go to a blues music festival. In the colder months, go snowshoeing or tubing, find nearby hot springs, or hit Mammoth or June Mountain for skiing and snowboarding.
Since it’s a long journey, Mammoth Lakes is ideal for a 3-day trip or more to give you enough time to visit the top sights, enjoy the hot springs to the fullest, and immerse yourself in the area.
Local tip: Make sure to stop by the Mammoth Welcome Center when you first get into town to grab maps, check current trail conditions, and pick up permits if needed. If you need tire chains during the winter, you can find them in Bishop or any Mammoth gas station. Also, use the local transit system, it’s free!
Things to do in Mammoth Lakes
- Ride Mammoth Mountain’s scenic gondola
- Go snowboarding or skiing at Mammoth Mountain during the winter
- Hike to Devil’s Postpile & Rainbow Falls (4.9 miles)
- Take in the beautiful alpine lakes along the Skelton Lake Trail (3 miles)
- Appreciate the panoramic views from the Crystal Lake Trail (1.8 miles)
- Tour the local hot springs nearby – Hot Creek Geological Site, Wild Willy’s Hot Spring, and Hilltop Hot Spring are good ones to start with
- Take in the views from Minaret Vista
- Visit the Mammoth Museum at the Hayden Cabin Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center
Where to Stay in Mammoth Lakes
Channel Islands National Park
Distance from SF: 5 hours and 45 minutes, 352 miles + ferry (usually 1-2 hours depending on which island you’re visiting)
It might take some extra planning to get to, but the Channel Islands are a unique weekend getaway from the Bay Area.
The park includes five islands – Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara, and San Miguel. Each one features an array of ecological and historical wonders, such as sea caves, Torrey pines, seal hangouts, a 1932 lighthouse, and generous clifftop views.
To explore the islands, take a ferry from Ventura and plan to camp overnight on one or two islands depending on how much time you have.
I would recommend giving yourself at least 3-4 days to really take in the natural beauty of these islands. Spend that time hiking around the islands and doing a sailing or kayaking tour to explore the sea caves and local diversity.
The Channel Islands are an ideal place to visit for anyone who is looking for a more adventurous and outdoorsy weekend getaway from San Francisco and who has an extra day or two to spare to make it into a longer trip.
Local tip: There are a few different ways to get to the islands, but the most straightforward is by hopping on an Island Packers boat. Their boats run often and travel to every island. Note how long boat trips are ahead of time and plan accordingly. There is very little cell service on the islands.
Things to do in the Channel Islands
- Kayak the sea caves around Santa Cruz Island
- Enjoy Scorpion Beach and do the Cavern Point Loop (2 miles) and Scorpion Canyon Loop (4.5 miles) on Santa Cruz Island
- Hike up to Inspiration Point and see the tide pools at Frenchy’s Cove on Anacapa Island
- Visit Water Canyon Beach and do the Torrey Pines Trail (5 miles) on Santa Rosa Island
- Go Snorkeling at Anacapa’s Landing Cove and Santa Cruz’s Scorpion Beach
Where to Stay in the Channel Islands
If you’re looking for more city-focused weekend trip, I’d recommend heading to Los Angeles or San Diego as well. However, it’s sometimes easier to fly if you only have a weekend since there’s so much to do in each city.
Looking for more Northern California travel tips? Check out these related posts below!
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- Torrey Pines Hiking Guide: Best Trails & What to Know Before You Go - March 3, 2021
- 18 Best Weekend Trips From San Francisco (From a Local) - March 2, 2021
- 5 Best Lake Tahoe Beaches (And What to Know Before You Go) - February 24, 2021