The 5 Best Day Trips From San Francisco

Unwind among the rolling hills and vineyards of Napa Valley
Unwind among the rolling hills and vineyards of Napa Valley | © Philary / Getty Images
San Francisco has its fair share of wonder. A jaunt down to Fisherman’s Wharf promises views of Alcatraz and docks overrun with glistening sea lions, while Prohibition-era saloons and bright murals are a frequent sight along the rest of the city’s sloping streets. But sometimes you may need to balance out the pulsing vibrancy of the city with a therapeutic change of scenery. Escape to nature for the day to bask in the magic of vast oceans, dense forests and romantic wine country.

Monterey and Carmel

Linked by the spectacular Pacific Coast Highway – a 17-mile (27km) road that weaves past rugged wilderness and grandiose mansions – the ocean-hugging cities of Monterey and Carmel exude coastal charm, and have been home to their fair share of celebrities. The former’s aquarium brims with a menagerie of psychedelic sea creatures, while Carmel’s storybook cottages are a particular highlight, and almost as wanderlust-inducing as the white sands of its dog-friendly beach.

ToursWhale-Watching Tour
From $42 per person
3 hours
Don’t miss this chance to see the ocean’s underwater goliaths on a tour run by the longest-running whale-watching company in Monterey Bay. Traversing the waves, an expert captain will provide in-depth narration of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary and surrounding area. As you travel, keep your eyes peeled for the swell of a humpback whale emerging from the deep blue waters. The majestic creatures may not be the only thing you see – dolphins, sea otters, seals, jellyfish and even orcas have all been known to make an appearance.

Berkeley

Berkeley’s laid-back energy seeps out of its ’80s-style record stores, grassy parks and curious bookstores. The city’s most famous feature is the prestigious university, known as the birthplace of the 1960s free-speech movement and listed among the top in the world. It has also carved out a culturally diverse reputation with sites such as the Chilean-American La Peña Cultural Center and plays host to a variety of annual arts festivals.

ToursBest of North Berkeley Food Tour
From $110 per person
3 hours
5 (7)

North of Downtown, Berkeley has its own slice of foodie paradise that has been nicknamed the “Gourmet Ghetto”. This food walking tour will see you tucking into a cornucopia of handmade cupcakes, gourmet cheeses and well-stuffed sandwiches. Led by an in-the-know guide, you will stop at a collection of sustainable and organic eateries, meeting the local chefs and owners. As they paint a picture of the city’s culinary culture, you’ll also be treated to signature Berkeley brews – there is even a stop at a wine cellar for a tasting.

Bodega Bay

The sleepy stretch of Bodega Bay has served as the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s flocks of frenzied birds, the witchy terrors of cult film The Puppet Master and even the vampirish prelude to Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers. Despite its Hollywood-horror popularity, the fishing village is a picturesque combination of crescent-shaped beaches, fresh seafood and secret coves. Day-trippers are often found hiking its shores or renting a kayak to paddle round the secluded lagoon.

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ToursSailing Tours of Bodega Bay
From $122 per person
3 hours
5 (1)

Find your sea legs as you explore the enchanting coast of Bodega Bay. Setting sail from the harbor, your captain will show you the ropes as you expertly cut your way through the sapphire water. On this three-hour tour, you’ll learn about the ancient art of sailing and get hands-on as much or as little as you like. Completely customized to your preference, you can split your time between searching for playful sea life or helping your guide navigate the 33-foot boat.

Napa

Set in the heart of the famous wine region, the town of Napa aims to replicate the glamorous airs that its beloved libation is often associated with. Years ago, the sleepy county capital was hardly a tourist hotspot, but with the increasing popularity of wine and a foodie focus, it’s now firmly on the map. Look out for fine-dining restaurants, bustling farmers markets and artisanal chocolatiers – and relish their culinary delights with a glass of wine. Napa’s buzzing downtown is also known for its 19th-century architecture and romantic riverfront promenade.

ToursHistorical Kayak Tour of Napa Valley
From $59 per person
2 hours
5 (4)

Kayaking may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Napa Valley, but you’ll be surprised to find that it’s a perfect way to discover what lies behind its wine-soaked facade. This tour will take you down the serpentine waters of Napa River while a guide fills you in on the storied past of the area, telling tales of the first settlers, the ever-changing landscape and even the time when the slick coif of Elvis Presley himself rolled into town. As you paddle, you will spot native birds skimming the waters and pass the muddy banks where scenes from Apocalypse Now were filmed.

Napa Valley

Napa Valley’s wine-growing reputation has put it firmly on the map. Hundreds of wineries have cut the undulating hillside with strips of twisting vines, giving the countryside a natural emerald glow. Excess is the region’s forte – whether it’s feeling the buzz from sipping a spectrum of wines, dining out at one of the gourmet restaurants or sinking into the pillowy bed of a luxury lodge, you will be quite at your leisure to enjoy its delights.

ToursHalf-Day Napa Valley Bike and Wine Tour
From $135 per person
4 hours 30 minutes
5 (4)
Napa Valley is criss-crossed with winding roads and dirt tracks that are perfect for cycling, and this tour takes full advantage. Follow your guide as you pedal past vineyards braided with grape vines, hopping off to explore the cool cellars of the adjoining wineries. Along the way, you’ll learn about the distinctive wine-making styles and farming practices of the valley, and if you’re looking to let loose your inner connoisseur, a wine tasting at each venue is also in the cards. Be sure to bring some extra cash, as tastings are not included in the tour.