This post is part of a series on travel close to home. You can find more posts from this series on my page Getaways Near Me (or You)
Oakland and San Francisco are twin cities. They’re not identical twins, more like fraternal twins. These cities shared the same incubator but grew up very differently. However, you are fortunate if you are visiting or live in either town. There are many places to get away for a day or a weekend.
Living in San Francisco and the Oakland East Bay Area most of my life, I can attest to the fact that sometimes it’s hard to choose where to go. Here are some of my favorite day trips from Oakland and San Francisco. And after all these years, I’m still exploring.
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Heading North Across The San Francisco Bay To Marin County
Sausalito is a charming town north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Climbing up the hill from Richardson Bay, Sausalito is said to have the charm of a quaint Mediterranean seaside village. Being adjacent to the GGNRA, where you can bike, hike, and sail, is a big draw for the active set. If you want more things to do in Sausalito, I’ve written a post about the town; you can read it here.
The Marin Headlands
This unique part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area offers unmatched vistas as you head west along the coastal road over the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean. You will want to stop and take photos for “Insta” nearly every chance you get. I like it so much that I wrote a whole article on the sites you will find in the Headlands.
Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods redwood forests are a must-see for any nature lover. The trees are giant, and the forest is beautiful. It’s a great place to enjoy the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. Plan ahead for this trip as the parking is limited. Also, you must make your reservation for parking before heading to the park, or you will be turned away. FYI, there is no cell service at Muir Woods. I recommend touring Muir Woods mid-week if possible, as the weekends are jam-packed.
Mt. Tamalpais State Park
Often called the birthplace of Mountain Biking,Mt. Tam, as we affectionately call it, is the highest peak in the Marin Hills. However, it is also the home to Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre (aka Mountain Theater), which offers Broadway musicals and award-winning plays all summer. Go for a ride, take in a show, or enjoy a great meal at the Mountain Home Inn.
While you must take a very windy road from Hwy 101 to Stinson Beach, the drive is worth it. The beach is 3.5 miles long with fine white sand. And while this is Northern California, the beach gets 260 days of sunshine yearly. If you’re a beach lover, this is one of the best swimming beaches in the GGNRA. But plan to get there early as the parking lots fill up most days before noon.
This small town just north of Stinson Beach is known for the reclusiveness of its scant 1,500 residents. If you are looking for a quiet getaway but don’t want to go far from the Oakland San Francisco Metro, this could be the place if you can find it. Bolinas residents are famous for removing road signs leading to town. But don’t let this dissuade you. Rent a cabin or plan a stay in a B&B overlooking the Bolinas Lagoon and settle yourself in for a relaxing time.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes is a beautiful coastal park with stunning cliffs, beaches, and hiking trails. Many people come here to whale watch; if lucky, you may see some Tule Elk while hiking around. But my favorite place to visit is the Point Reyes Lighthouse. This lighthouse is only accessible by walking down the cliff face on a stairway of over 300 steps. That’s the equivalent of a 15-story building. And you have to walk up those same stairs to leave. It is quite a workout.
If you are done hiking in Point Reyes but still want to enjoy the coastal vibe along CA 1, check out Tomales Bay. We love to stop at the original Hog Island Oyster Company in Marshall. If you are there on a Tuesday and have booked in advance, you can have the Whole Hog Experience—a tour of the oyster farm, a class in oyster shucking, and oyster tasting.
Day Trips From Oakland and San Francisco Up The Coast To Sonoma County
Legend has it that from certain sacred places, the moon appears to rise and set seven times behind the peaks of the Mayacama Range. Because of this, the Coast Miwok, Pomo, and Wappo, the Sonoma region’s native people, called the area “Valley of the Moon.”
Alfred Hitchcock made this town hugging the coast famous in his 1949 thriller “The Birds.” But really, two towns make up what we commonly think of as Bodega Bay: Bodega and Bodega Bay. To the east of CA 1, in Bodega, you’ll find many filming locations from The Birds, including Potter School House and St. Teresa of Avila Church. On the west side of the highway is my favorite place to get away for my birthday weekend: the Lodge at Bodega Bay. This lodge, spa, and restaurant is a unique weekend getaway.
Do you love all things Charlie Brown and Snoopy? Then this museum is a must-see for you. Here, you will find the world’s most extensive collection of original Peanuts artwork in the world. And be sure not to miss the Kite-Eating Tree on your visit.
Have you always wanted to go on an African Safari but couldn’t afford the cost? An enterprising group here in NCA brought the Safari Adventure home to Cali. You can go for the day and enjoy an open-air ride through the 400 acres filled with rhinoceros, zebra, cape buffalo, bongos, and more. Or, if you have an adventurous spirit, stay the night in one of the Luxury Safari West tents imported from Botswana and fall asleep listening to the sounds of the savannah.
The Town Of Sonoma
Just a short trip north of the bay, you will find the historic town of Sonoma. Stroll through the San Francisco Solano Mission, the furthest north and last California mission. Next, enjoy the picturesque downtown by visiting boutiques, art galleries, and wine-tasting rooms. Lastly, enjoy a great meal at Café La Hay or the girl & the fig before heading home.
Sonoma Wine Country
You will find terrific wineries throughout the Valley of the Moon. Two of my favorites are 1) Raven’s Wood, less than a mile from Sonoma Square, which gets points for easy access. 2) Iron Horse Vineyards, up in the hills, is set in a rustic location with unlimited views. But don’t stop there; Sonoma County has more than 250 wineries and 13 distinct American Viticultural Areas to choose from.
Bay Area Day Trips In The Napa Valley Wine Country
Napa Valley is world-famous for its wine. Hundreds of wineries are in the Valley; most offer tours and tastings. You can also enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants in Napa Valley, like Thomas Keller’s French Laundry (you must book months in advance) or the easier-to-get-in Rutherford Grill.
Napa Valley Wine Train
If you’ve never been to Napa Valley Wine Country, the wine train is an immersive way to jump in. The Wine Train offers an array of day trip experiences. The most relaxing is to ride the rails through the Valley while enjoying a gourmet lunch with or without local wine tastings. Or go all in with the whole day “Legacy Experience that includes a welcome glass of sparkling wine, a 4-course wine country-inspired meal, and 3 hours of wine tasting and photo ops in the Napa Valley.
The Famous Calistoga Mud Baths
Calistoga has long been known for its therapeutic “Mud Baths.” Before Europeans set foot in California, the Wappo tribe discovered the volcanic hot springs in the Valley by Mount St. Helena. In the mid-1800s, after California became a state, the first Hot Springs Hotel opened, and wealthy San Franciscans began traveling to Calistoga to enjoy the natural springs.
My first visit and mud bath was on a “girls’ weekend,” we took our baths at the venerable Dr. Wilkinson’s. Since then, my favorite place in Calistoga is Indian Springs, with its Olympic-size heated mineral pool and cute private cabins.
Oxbow Public Market
If you plan to visit two or more wineries (as most people do) on your day trip to Napa, you must stop at the Oxbow Public Market. Whether you eat in or take away picnic provisions, you will find some of the best gourmet foods in the Napa Valley here.
Wine Tasting In Napa Valley
When people think of wine tasting in California, they immediately think of the Napa Valley. There’s sound reasoning behind this thinking. Napa Valley sits between two mountain ranges, the Mayacamas and the Vacas. The Valley has a proper dry Mediterranean climate, but its proximity to the sea means most mornings are cool; this results in the perfect environment for growing wine grapes.
With that in mind, Napa Valley is the perfect choice for a day trip from the Oakland San Francisco Bay Area. If you live just an hour away like me, you can visit different wineries often throughout the year. But if you are visiting, make a plan. In the 30-mile span of the Valley, there are over 400 wineries. From the underground cellars of Berringer to the gondola ride up the mountainside at Sterling, you can’t go wrong. Best tip for a great day trip to the Napa Valley? Hire a car and driver.
Day Trips from Oakland And San Francisco Closer To Home
Berkeley – That Crazy College Town North Of Oakland
University of California Berkeley
Berkeley is a vibrant college town just north of Oakland. Visit the campus to see the Sather Tower, often called the Campanile, as it closely resembles the Campanile di San Marco. Numerous fossils from prehistoric times are stored inside the tower in its cool, dry interior. After a visit to the university, enjoy the shops, restaurants, and bars that line University College and Telegraph Avenue.
University of California Botanical Gardens
Follow Centennial Drive into the hills above the campus to reach the Botanical Gardens. The gardens’ mission is: “to develop and maintain a diverse living collection of plants…” The joy for us gardeners is that you can meander through gardens from the Mediterranean to Mexico and Asia to Southern Africa, with a significant emphasis on the flora and fauna of California and North America.
Tilden Regional Park
You can spend the day hiking in the hills above Berkeley, and around every turn is another fantastic view of San Francisco Bay. The trail system is well thought out and caters to hikers, bikers, and equestrians. For family adventures, Tilden’s Little Farm has ducks, pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens that will eagerly eat from your hand. Don’t miss the ride-on miniature steam train and round out the day with a ride on the vintage merry-go-round for a treat.
Down Town Oakland Has Its Fair Share Of Fantastic Day Trips!
Lake Temescal is a delight for residents and visitors in the northern corner of the Oakland hills. One-half of the lake has a beach and beach house and is open most of the summer for swimming (water conditions allowing). The remainder of the lake is available for fishing and is periodically stocked with rainbow trout, largemouth bass, and catfish. All around the lake are inviting picnic areas. If you have a large get-together, you can reserve your space by calling 1-888-EBPARKS.
Jack London Square
This lively shopping and dining mecca sits right on the Oakland Estuary. If you’re not too busy listening to Jazz at Yoshi’s, take a peek inside Jack London’s Cabin. This one-room log cabin was London’s home in Alaska just south of Dawson City before the 1898 Gold Rush. That cabin was dismantled and reassembled in Dawson City, and one here in Oakland. While you’re there, don’t miss London’s favorite hang-out in town, Heinolds’s First and Last Chance Saloon, located here since it first opened on June 1, 1884.
The Oakland Zoo
Everyone loves a day at the Zoo, and the Oakland Zoo is a fantastic zoo to get your fix. The Zoo is home to over 850 animals for you to see in habitats like the “African savanna” and a “tropical rainforest.” Still, you have to take a gondola to the newest setting, the California trail. You can see six of the Bay Area’s nine counties from the gondola!
Oakland Bay Bridge Walk
When they built the new Bay Bridge, they included a pedestrian/bike path. So far, the trail only goes from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island (the island south of Treasure Island), but the plan is to go all the way to San Francisco eventually. It is a good hike with breathtaking views of the bay from above. The path is 2.2 miles long and an “out and back” hike. All in from the staging area and back is around 5.6 miles, so dress comfortably and wear good walking shoes.
Day Trips From Oakland To San Francisco? Sure!
If you are looking for things to do in San Francisco, read my post on the 100 best things to do in SF. But if you want a few quick San Francisco day trips, here are some thoughts.
The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the world’s most iconic landmarks. You can drive across the bridge, but the views are even better when you walk or ride a bike. When my daughter was younger and driving me crazy, this was the best adventure to wear her out.
Right below the southern anchorage of the Golden Gate Bridge is Fort Point, the oldest military base on the West Coast. Docents are there daily to assist you on a self-guided fort tour. Just outside the Fort, you may recognize the location of the opening scene of Vertigo, another Hitchcock film noir.
This island in the middle of the bay has a storied history. Once a high-security prison, it is now a popular tourist destination. It’s a great place to learn about American history and see some of the most famous inmates in the world. My husband and I grew up in SF but never went to Alcatraz until just a few years ago as part of an anniversary weekend City Stay. So hop on a ferry, get a short tour of the Bay, and see the Famous Alcatraz!
San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf
There is much to do in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf Area. Ghiradelli Square’s famous chocolate factory and other fun shops are an all-time favorite. Or you can stop in at the Buena Vista Café for brunch or lunch and have the world-famous “Irish Coffee,” Last but not least, there is Pier 39, with various shops, restaurants, and attractions, including the now world-renowned sea lions. Fisherman’s Wharf is also where you will find the ferries that head to Sausalito, Alcatraz, and Oakland.
Fun Day Trips From Oakland And San Francisco In The East Bay
Chabot Space and Science Center
You can visit NASA in the Bay Area at Chabot Space and Science Center in Joaquin Miller Park. The center houses three incredibly powerful telescopes in its observatory, available to the public for viewing. If you’ve always wanted to look deep into space, the astronomers here are happy to help. Chabot has a planetarium with shows taking you on virtual space flights through our galaxy. And you won’t want to miss the numerous exciting exhibits, like a full-scale model of NASA’s Artemis rover.
Lake Chabot Regional Park
Another excellent open space in the Heart of the Bay is Lake Chabot Regional Park. Here, you can indulge in various outdoor activities, from hiking, biking, and horseback riding on the many trails to boating, kayaking, and fishing in the vast man-made reservoir, Lake Chabot. The park is dog-friendly (leashed, of course), kid-friendly, and has ample picnic areas for your day in nature.
In Contra Costa County, Mount Diablo captures your view from almost anywhere. About an hour’s drive from Oakland/San Francisco, this state park is an excellent choice for a day trip. You can access the park at four different gates, but the most common is the North Gate Road at the edge of Walnut Creek.
As mountains go, the peak is not tall, only 3849 feet high. But as gently rolling hills and valleys surround it, the views are extensive. On a clear day, you can easily see the Golden Gate Bridge to the West and maybe a peak at the Farallon islands. Our friends who recently moved to the Sierra Nevada foothills can even watch the sunset behind Mount Diablo from their back yard 120 miles away.
Livermore Outlet Stores – Fantastic Shopping
Are you a shopper? The San Francisco Premium Outlets are located in Livermore, about an hour’s drive east of San Francisco and Oakland. With over 180 stores, you can spend your whole day going from one shop to the next. Prada, Burberry, Kate Spade, and more await your visit.
Livermore Wine Country
Livermore is the closest wine country for a day trip from the Oakland San Francisco area! There are more than 50 wineries in the Livermore Valley, including one of the oldest in California, Concannon, established in 1883. Because almost everyone heads to the Napa Valley when they think of wine country, you will find the tasting rooms in Livermore a bit less crowded.
Ferry Rides Are A Good Choice for Day Trips From Oakland And San Francisco
Taking the San Francisco Ferries from Point A to Point B can be a fun Day Trip. There are great views all around and lots of fresh air. But you can make it into a twofer by combining the ferry ride with a destination tour.
Oakland To San Francisco
The ferry ride from Oakland to San Francisco is typically more of a commuter trip. But you can catch the ferry at Oakland’s Jack London Square and head to the Ferry Building in San Francisco for an easy day trip. This ride takes you under the bay bridge and around Treasure Island, so you have fantastic views of the bay in just a 30-minute ride—far less time and stress than driving. Once in SF, catch the “F” street car up to Pier 39, walk to the Exploratorium, or enjoy lunch and shopping at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market.
San Francisco or Tiburon to Angel Island State Park
Angel Island is a former immigration station, often called the Ellis Island of the West. There are self-guided tours of the Immigration Station & Museum. But most people come to the island for hiking and biking. There are bike rentals on the island and a tram tour if you’re not up to the hike. There is limited food service on the island, and it is pricey. So, to be safe, bring plenty of water and snacks. Angel Island has fantastic picnic areas scattered around the island.
San Francisco to Sausalito
If you plan to spend the day in Sausalito without driving, the ferry is the way to go. Leaving from the Ferry building, you have the best views of the San Francisco skyline. Next, you get an up-close view of Alcatraz and a panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge. And finally, as you pull into Richardson Bay, you see Sausalito climbing up the hill in front of you. It’s a fantastic ride.
Fantastic Day Trips To The South Of Oakland And San Francisco
Transport yourself back to the early days of the 1900s with a walk through the summer home (mansion) and gardens of William Bowers Bourn, II. You may not know his name, but Mr. Bourn owned one of California’s richest gold mines. Designed by architect Willis Polk, the estate sits on 654 acres in Woodside at the southern end of Crystal Springs Reservoir, surrounded by lovingly tended formal gardens. The name of this grand estate is an acronym from Mr. Bourn’s credo: “Fight for a just cause, Love your fellow man, and Live the good life.”
Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay is a coastside town with shops and restaurants. In the fall, it’s the home of the Pumpkin Festival. Folks from all around bring their giant pumpkins to try to win the prize in the World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off. Stroll through the tide pools at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve near Moss Beach at low tide. Then pop into the Moss Beach Distillery for my favorite Steamed Clams and Mussels and a good cocktail. Half Moon Bay is an excellent place to find a bite on the coast.
These following few locations are stretching the limits of a day trip. Reaching these destinations may take 2 – 3 hours, depending on your starting point. But if you only briefly visit the Bay Area, Santa Cruz and Monterey are worth the effort.
Santa Cruz County has redwood forests, beautiful beaches for swimming, surfing, long walks, and a true Beach Boardwalk. If you are a fan of old-fashioned seaside amusement parks, this is the place to go. Since it opened in the early 1900s, The Coney Island of the West has provided Nor Cal with a day of fun in the sun: my favorite ride, the Giant Dipper, a creaky wooden roller coaster with a 70-foot drop.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Monterey County is a bit of a road trip, but the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the #1 reason most people visit Monterey. And it’s number 1 because it’s incredible. I’ve seen aquariums in Seattle, WA, Washington DC, Genoa, Italy, and more. But the Monterey Bay Aquarium is, to me, still the best. We have been donor members for over 25 years.
Monterey’s Cannery Row
Now more often referred to as “Restaurant Row,” Cannery Row is the place in Monterey for shopping and dining. Eat fresh local seafood at Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar. Sip on a local brew at Cannery Row Brewing Company. And for dessert, have a taste of San Francisco at the Ghiradelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop.
Carmel’s 17-Mile Drive
The 17-mile drive is where you go to see the homes of the rich and famous. In the forested hillsides with captivating ocean views, you can golf at Pebble Beach and take an Insta with the Lone Cypress, perched on the continent’s edge.
Here are some tips for planning day trips From Oakland And San Francisco
Except for the ferry rides, you will most likely need a car for day trips in the Oakland San Francisco Bay Area. As in most urban metros, traffic can get congested. When you ask the average person living in the Bay Area how far it is to a location, you are as likely to get the answer in time as you are in distance.
Plan your transportation. If you’re driving, be sure to factor in the cost of gas and parking. If you’re taking public transit, check the schedule and ensure you’ll have enough time to get there and back.
Many day trips don’t include food, so I recommend packing lunch and drinks.
Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. The sun can be intense in California, especially by the coast. So be sure to protect yourself from the sun.
Keep in mind that the Bay Area has many “Micro-climates.” It may be 65⁰ and foggy in San Francisco, but a sunny 85⁰ when you get to Napa. Dressing in layers is your best bet.
Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of walking, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes.
Bring a camera. You’ll want to capture all the memories of your day trip!
Day trips are a great way to explore the Oakland San Francisco area and see some of the state’s most beautiful places. With some planning, you can have a perfect day trip you’ll never forget.