14 Top-Rated Weekend Getaways in the Bay Area, CA
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When you're ready for a break and want to get away for the weekend from San Francisco, you have a seemingly endless array of options. Couples may want a romantic getaway near San Francisco, like The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay with its ocean-view rooms, luxurious spa, and fine dining. Families traveling with children may prefer a resort destination with a wider range of activities, like Lake Tahoe or Yosemite National Park.
California's excellent freeway and highway system means many weekend getaways from the Bay Area are no more than a few hours away by car. There are close getaways, like The Claremont Club & Spa, right across the Bay Bridge from downtown San Francisco in Berkeley, and ones that take some work to get to, like Carmel, a three-hour drive down the coast. Plan your next short break with our list of the top-rated weekend getaways in the Bay Area.
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1. Lake Tahoe
The country's largest alpine lake covers a part of the border between California and Nevada, about 200 miles from the Bay Area. The getaway drive takes about 3.5 hours, except if you get caught in holiday traffic going either way. In the winter, Lake Tahoe is a truly world-class ski (and snowboard) destination with multiple large-scale ski resorts surrounding the beautiful blue lake.
In the summer, it's an excellent adventure and outdoor destination with an enormous range of things to do. There's all kinds of boating and fishing on the lake and thousands of miles of hiking trails (and mountain biking) in the surrounding wilderness. The lake also has beaches, which are popular places to swim and enjoy the summer sunshine.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe: Best Areas & Hotels
- Read More:
- Top-Rated Tourist Attractions at Lake Tahoe
2. Stinson Beach
You can't beat Stinson Beach for an old-fashioned easy Bay Area weekend getaway, especially for families. This old-school beach town in Marin County, only 35 minutes from downtown San Francisco, has a few vintage motels and similar accommodations and is refreshingly devoid of any kind of new development. The white, powdery, soft sand is perfect for sunbathing, and the surf here is gentle, making this a great swimming beach.
When you get hungry, there are a few locally owned restaurants and cafés. Stinson Beach is part of the massive Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It's right next to Mount Tamalpais State Park and the giant redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument, a great little day trip while on your weekend getaway.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Stinson Beach
3. Point Reyes
Point Reyes, less than an hour from San Francisco, is another natural, unspoiled Bay Area getaway destination. The entire area is officially known as the Point Reyes National Seashore, a national park. It includes the Point Reyes Lighthouse, opened in 1870. The lighthouse is reached via a frightening (and tiring) 300-step stairway and is open to visitors.
The national seashore area includes one of the greatest unspoiled beaches in Northern California, called Great Beach. It's 11 miles of raw California coastline–no buildings, no development, just beach and ocean. The national seashore (like a national park) is also home to Drakes Beach, located near the lighthouse. Not named for the hip hop star, this beach is America's version of England's White Cliffs of Dover with dramatic, sheer, white limestone cliffs towering hundreds of feet above the rough Pacific below.
4. The Claremont Club & Spa
This historic urban resort is in the city of Berkeley atop the Oakland hills, just 12 miles away across the Bay Bridge from downtown San Francisco. The Claremont Club & Spa, A Fairmont Hotel, opened in 1915 and continues to be an important social and hospitality favorite for visitors and the local community. Aside from being a luxury hotel, it's also a fitness and country club that offers private memberships.
There are a ton of things to do without ever having to leave the property. Options include swimming in one of the three saline pools, playing tennis on one of the 10 courts, taking one or more of the 90 fitness classes offered per week, hiking in the local canyons, and, of course, enjoying the enormous hotel spa. There are several dining options at the Claremont, including Limewood, their signature restaurant featuring locally sourced, farm-to-table cuisine.
The small seaside town, formerly known for its fishing and fish packing industries, has evolved from the gritty John Steinbeck vision into a fun weekend getaway destination. Monterey is now filled with a lot of things to see, do, and eat, and those former fish canneries are now trendy boutiques, art galleries, tourist shops, and restaurants.
There are a few small beachfront hotels right on the sand, across Monterey Bay from the downtown area. It takes about 2.5 hours to drive down from San Francisco, via the very scenic Highway 1 coastal highway. The route includes the epic 17-Mile Drive section, which hugs the ocean near Pebble Beach. Monterey is also home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a must-see attraction that showcases the incredibly rich biodiversity of the bay.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Monterey: Best Areas & Hotels
- Read More:
- Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Monterey
The next city down the coast from Monterey, Carmel is a beautiful small town with a compact, one-square-mile downtown village filled with locally owned shops, art galleries, boutique hotels, and a lot of restaurants. Development is heavily controlled, and most of the cottage-style buildings are original to the town's early 20th-century founding. The village also has no traffic lights, no parking meters, and no individual address numbers on buildings (each building has a name instead).
The city is officially called Carmel-by-the-Sea and has long been a haven for artists of all types. The city bills itself as being extremely dog-friendly, and canine companions are welcome in most of the city's businesses. Dogs are also welcome, off-leash, on the city's big Carmel Beach.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Carmel: Best Areas & Hotels
7. Lake Berryessa
This man-made lake was created in the 1960s with the construction of a large dam that now provides a lot of hydroelectric power to several Bay Area cities. The lake, the largest in Napa County, is where San Franciscans come to relax and to play on the water.
Lake Berryessa is very popular with boaters, as well as swimmers and water skiers. The lake is stocked with a wide variety of fish and is a popular getaway destination for anglers. It's surrounded by a vast, 6,000-acre nature reserve, which has hiking trails and other places to explore. The lake is north of San Francisco and it takes about two hours to drive here.
8. Bodega Bay
This Bay Area weekend getaway destination is in Sonoma County, about 90 minutes from San Francisco and not far from the Napa Valley. The entire area is a big, protected bay, with multiple beaches along the coastline. There's a fishing and pleasure boat harbor and the quaint village of Bodega Bay. Movie fans will recognize the town of Bodega Bay from its appearance as the location for the iconic Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds.
The area's history is fascinating. It was occupied by the Russians in the early 19th century before becoming part of Spanish California and later the United States. Inexpensive accommodations and inexpensive restaurants make Bodega Bay a good, cheap romantic getaway as well.
This very upscale city is in Marin County, right on the other side of the Golden Gate Strait and the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. It's a beautiful, seaside community, filled with very expensive real estate and fantastic houses on the hills overlooking the ocean.
There's a pleasure boat harbor with a lot of live-aboard boats. Why not try an afternoon sailing adventure or a kayak safari to explore the local marine life? For some retail therapy, there's a compact downtown area filled with art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants.
Sausalito is part of the Marin Headlands, the natural open space and hills overlooking the city. Some of the views of the Golden Gate Bridge, bay, and city from the elevated locations are truly amazing (and very Instagram-worthy).
10. Half Moon Bay
A visit to Half Moon Bay and the area's main resort, The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay is the perfect Bay Area romantic getaway for couples. The luxury hotel is the only seaside luxury resort in Northern California, and most of the rooms and suites have spectacular ocean views. The pet-friendly resort sits atop a cliff, with a very nice beach only a short walk away.
Aside from a championship golf course, a luxurious spa, and all kinds of fitness facilities, the resort has a unique drone school. You can learn to fly a drone and film some cool footage of the resort and ocean while doing it. And while it may be great for couples, it's also a good getaway for families, as the hotel (and all Ritz-Carltons) has a Ritz Kids program. This provides full- and half-day summer camp-like supervised programs for kids. They also have a Kids Night Out dinner and movie, supervised playgroups on Friday and Saturday nights, so parents can get some alone time.
Sonoma County, about an hour's drive from San Francisco, is like a cheaper, more authentic Napa Valley. It's filled with vine-covered fields, and there are many curbside farm stands where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Dairies and other local producers also have roadside shops where you can buy and try fresh cheese, meats, and other foods. The area is also populated with a few luxury resorts and spas.
Outdoor activities include hiking, biking (road and mountain), boating, and fishing. A good place to hike is the Jack London State Historic Park, which aside from having miles of hiking trails, has the former home and the grave of celebrated author Jack London. Sonoma is both a city and a county, and Sonoma Plaza is the city of Sonoma's 19th-century town center and main street area. Railroad buffs (and kids) will love the Sonoma TrainTown Railroad, a small-gauge steam railroad and train amusement park.
12. Santa Cruz
This traditional California beach town has a wide, flat beach with soft, golden sand and reasonably gentle surf. Next to the beach is the iconic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an old-school, mile-long wooden boardwalk, lined with shops, carnival games, and next to an amusement park. The Boardwalk opened way back in 1907, and two rides (the Giant Dipper roller coaster and the Looff Carousel) are even National Historic Landmarks.
The ocean in front of the beach is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and from the beach, you can often see dolphins, otters, sea lions, and whales. Santa Cruz is about a 90-minute drive from San Francisco.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Santa Cruz: Best Areas & Hotels
13. Mammoth Lakes
This natural getaway destination is another year-round outdoor area known mainly for its winter sports. It's a beautiful six-hour drive from San Francisco (or a 45-minute flight). The town is in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and Mammoth Mountain is the local mountain and the name of the ski resort. Yosemite National Park is close-by, and nearby Mono Lake, with it's lunar-like landscape, is also something to see.
The elevation is high, and so is the snowpack, sometimes allowing ski areas to stay open well into the summer months. A visit to the Mammoth area should also include a stop at the nearby Manzanar National Historic Site. This is one of the 10 concentration camps set up by the US government during World War II for people of Japanese descent.
14. Yosemite National Park
For the ultimate Bay Area weekend getaway, you can leave San Francisco early in the morning and about four hours later, you'll arrive at Yosemite National Park. It's truly a spectacular place, with incredible natural wonders like the 3,000-foot granite walls of El Capitan or the giant granite Half Dome rock. Also be sure to check out Bridalveil Fall, a 600-foot waterfall.
The park is also home to giant sequoia redwood trees. There's a small village in the park with shops and the park's museum and visitor's center. You can also find places to eat and spend the night.
There's a range of activities available, from hiking and camping, to tours by tram. The guided tram tours are available in a two-, four-, or eight-hour (all-day) itinerary and take you all over the park.
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More Getaway Ideas: If you are interested in going further afield or don't mind hopping on a short flight, you can find all kinds of great destinations. Couples should have a look at our article on the Top Romantic Weekend Getaways in California. If it's a beach getaway you are looking for, see our list of the best beaches in Northern California. And for something unique, check out our list of the best hot springs in California.