16 Top-Rated Day Trips from San Francisco

Written by Lisa Alexander
Updated Oct 6, 2023
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In an incomparable setting of rolling hills overlooking a sparkling emerald-green bay, San Francisco is close to some of California's most beautiful seaside towns and nature sites. Outside "The City" (as locals refer to San Francisco) are many fantastic destinations within easy reach, from 30-minute rides north or south along the coast to a four-hour drive to Yosemite that's definitely worth the travel time.

If you love sunshine and sandy beaches, head south to the fun-loving town of Santa Cruz for a day at the historic Beach Boardwalk amusement park. For a romantic getaway, head to the seaside resort town of Carmel which has adorable storybook cottages and a gorgeous sandy beach.

Do you love the great outdoors? Be sure to check out Marin County's hiking trails at Muir Woods, Stinson Beach, and Mount Tamalpais. In Half Moon Bay and Pescadero, the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean and an idyllic pastoral landscape provide a relaxing escape.

The university town of Berkeley offers award-winning theater, gourmet restaurants, and a lively collegiate atmosphere. Among the most unforgettable excursions is the ferry ride from San Francisco to Sausalito, a postcard-perfect waterfront community that resembles a Mediterranean fishing village.

There are many fabulous places to visit, just a short drive or train ride from San Francisco. The only trouble is deciding where to go when you have limited time. Plan your excursions from the city with our list of the top day trips from San Francisco.

1. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

It seems impossible that nature created the landscape unintentionally. The scenery of Yosemite is sublime, with some of the most magnificent landscapes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

During the last Ice Age, retreating glaciers carved out granite monoliths with sheer rock walls that encircle the seven-mile-long Yosemite Valley. The awe-inspiring landscape is full of marvelous surprises: 1,000-foot waterfalls, crystalline lakes, flower-blanketed meadows, and old-growth sequoia forests. It's also home to black bears, coyotes, chipmunks, 262 bird species, and endangered animals such as Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep and Sierra Nevada red foxes.

Yosemite was made famous in the 19th century by landscape painters like Albert Bierstadt, who portrayed the valley as the Eden of the American West. In the 20th century, the renowned photographer Ansel Adams captured Yosemite in vivid images, and naturalist John Muir described this incredible place "where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike."

With 750 miles of nature trails in six different areas, the UNESCO-listed, 1,200-square-mile Yosemite National Park abounds with opportunities for outdoor activities, especially hiking the spectacular trails. Tip: Be sure to keep your personal safety in mind at all times. Certain areas of the trails, around rivers, waterfalls, and cliffs, can be dangerous.

Other things to do at Yosemite include rock climbing (for advanced climbers), bird-watching, horseback riding, lake fishing year-round, river fishing from April through November, and skiing in the wintertime. You may also want to just relax, go for picnics, and take nature photos.

If you enjoy camping, you can choose from Yosemite's top campgrounds. You may also stay at a hotel right next to the park: the Yosemite Valley Lodge. A legendary hotel, The Ahwahnee (a National Historic Landmark) offers luxurious rustic-chic accommodations within Yosemite National Park.

Tip for a Day Trip: Yosemite is nearly 200 miles from San Francisco, and getting there from the city is a long drive (about four hours each way) for a day trip on your own. We recommend an organized tour if you are visiting Yosemite as a day trip from San Francisco. The Yosemite National Park Day Trip is a full-day excursion (14 to 15 hours) that includes transportation to and from San Francisco, as well as a guided tour of Yosemite's top attractions.

Practical Considerations: Yosemite National Park welcomes millions of visitors every year. During the high season (from spring through fall), you will encounter traffic when entering the park. Sometimes, you may have to wait multiple hours. During summertime, you should expect a one-hour to four-hour wait! To avoid the wait, the park advises visitors to arrive in the afternoon.

2. Seaside Towns of Carmel and Monterey

17-Mile Drive
17-Mile Drive

California's Central Coast is known for its beauty. Within easy driving distance from San Francisco, two seaside towns stand out: Carmel and Monterey. Both towns boast pristine natural surroundings and an alluring old-world ambiance.

Nestled along the stunning Carmel Bay, the seaside village of Carmel (120 miles south of San Francisco) is one of California's most romantic getaway destinations. The secluded Carmel Beach will delight you with its pillowy, fine white sand framed by windswept cypress trees.

The village of Carmel has plenty of tourist appeal and things to do and visit: fairy-tale cottages, upscale art galleries, cute boutiques, and fine-dining restaurants. Plus, you can choose from a wide variety of bed-and-breakfast and luxury hotels.

Less touristy and more urban in feel, the coastal town of Monterey (115 miles south of San Francisco) is famous for its historic Cannery Row. This historic waterfront fish-packing district was the inspiration for the colorful tales in John Steinbeck's novel Cannery Row.

Another of the top places to visit in Monterey is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, especially beloved by kids, who adore seeing the incredible sea life, penguins, and otters.

Not to be missed when visiting Carmel and Monterey is the stretch of California's oceanfront Highway One between the two towns, known as the 17-Mile Drive. This 17-mile portion of the Pacific Coast Highway (California State Route 1) is considered one of the most beautiful drives on the West Coast.

Along the 17-Mile Drive are several glorious viewpoints and must-see nature sites, including the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Bird Rock Vista Point, and the iconic Lone Cypress tree. Also on this route are the prestigious Pebble Beach golf courses.

Getting there: The drive from San Francisco to Monterey (115 miles) takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes without traffic. It's just a few miles further to Carmel. The train ride is a 6-hour journey and requires two transfers, making it an impossible option for a day trip.

If you have limited time and prefer to leave the driving to someone else, take a guided tour. One recommendation is a full-day Monterey and Carmel Tour from San Francisco, with stops in Monterey at the Cannery Row and the aquarium. It continues on to Carmel via the 17-Mile Drive.

3. Santa Cruz and the Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz and the Beach Boardwalk
Santa Cruz and the Beach Boardwalk

This balmy beach-town playground is just 70 miles south of San Francisco, tucked away on the Monterey Bay. You will love the carefree, fun-in-the-sun vibes and the Beach Boardwalk amusement park that draws crowds during summertime.

Fronting the Beach Boardwalk is Main Beach (also known as Boardwalk Beach), a wide shoreline with shallow waters ideal for swimming, bodyboarding, and paddleboarding. The Main Beach is also a great place for sunbathing, building sandcastles, and playing beach volleyball.

More remote beaches, like Sunset State Beach and Natural Bridges Beach, offer peace and serenity. Surfers head to Cowell Beach, or if they're really experienced, to Manresa Beach, which has impressive swells that only the best wave-riders can handle.

Other top tourist attractions in Santa Cruz include the Santa Cruz Mission, built in the late 18th century by Spanish missionaries; the downtown area for shopping and eating out; and the Santa Cruz Wharf for spotting sea lions, fishing, or dining at a seafood restaurant.

For families with kids, Roaring Camp Railroads train rides offer a thrilling experience. The train rides take you through redwood forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Getting there: The drive from San Francisco to Santa Cruz takes about two hours. A public transportation option is the Greyhound bus route which takes 3 hours and 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco.

Read More: Best Beaches in Santa Cruz

4. Sausalito: Marinas & Scenic Walks

Marina in Sausalito
Marina in Sausalito

Getting to Sausalito is half the fun! The 30-minute boat ride from San Francisco will dazzle you with views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Angel Island before arriving in the peaceful harbor of Sausalito. It has been called one of the most thrilling ferry rides in the world.

This seaside town north of San Francisco in Marin County is sheltered from the fog by the rolling hills of the Marin Headlands. Sausalito has pleasant sunny weather and idyllic scenery. In fact, this picturesque waterfront town resembles a fishing village along the Mediterranean Sea.

You might enjoy spending a leisurely afternoon strolling the historic downtown of Sausalito. From the ferry stop, you can take a walk along the waterfront and browse the boutiques along the way. The Bridgeway path looks out to Sausalito's yacht-filled marinas and the San Francisco skyline across the bay.

In the downtown, a cluster of quaint, pastel-painted, Victorians house interesting locally owned shops, art galleries, ice-cream parlors, cafés, and restaurants. On warm days, it's a delightful experience to dine by the bayfront or alongside the marinas. A favorite waterfront restaurant is Scoma's which specializes in sustainable seafood and Mediterranean cuisine.

Tips for getting there: If you take the ferry ride from San Francisco to Sausalito, you will depart from the San Francisco Ferry Terminal within the San Francisco Ferry Building. Arrive early so that you have time to explore the ferry building, which has many casual eateries and cafes. In fact, the San Francisco Ferry Building is a gourmet destination in itself. It's also the location of a fabulous farmers market on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

Alternatively, if you decide to drive to Sausalito, you will be treated to a scenic drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. A day trip to Sausalito by car offers a great way to combine two sightseeing experiences: seeing the Golden Gate Bridge up close and a stop at the Golden Gate View Point on the other side of the bridge where you can see vistas of San Francisco across the bay.

Read More: Top Attractions & Things to Do in Sausalito

5. University Town of Berkeley

University Town of Berkeley
University Town of Berkeley

Perched on a hilltop with views of the bay and backed by a grove of redwood trees, the prestigious U.C. Berkeley campus takes your breath away. Serious academic study takes place here, but you can't tell as you walk around the peaceful leafy grounds. Adding to the serenity is the babbling Strawberry Creek.

Impressive classical-style buildings house the university's classrooms, libraries, and research centers. The emblematic Sather Tower is one of the world's tallest bell towers and affords amazing views of San Francisco Bay from its observation platform.

You can get a sense of undergrad life at Bancroft Library at the heart of the campus or the bustling Sproul Plaza, where students gather to participate in protests, listen to speakers, and enjoy impromptu performances by street musicians.

To see where students hang out off-campus, head to Telegraph Avenue. This legendary street reveals the legacy of Berkeley's bohemian counterculture. It's packed with bookshops, quirky shops, and casual eateries serving all kinds of ethnic cuisine and quick bites.

Berkeley is also well known for its culture, theater, and restaurant scene. You can watch a Pulitzer-Prize-winning show and then dine in the Gourmet Ghetto, home to the famous Chez Panisse bistro that started the local, organic farm-to-table cuisine movement. Chez Panisse owner Alice Waters is credited with changing food culture in America.

Other top tourist attractions in Berkeley include the Botanical Garden and the Lawrence Hall of Science. For families with kids, Tilden Park is a favorite spot. Children love the small working farm, steam train ride, and old-fashioned merry-go-round.

Getting there: You can either drive from San Francisco or take the BART, public transportation, to get to Berkeley. The 14-mile drive from San Francisco to Berkeley crosses the Bay Bridge and takes around 30 to 45 minutes, depending on traffic. There is a bridge toll on your way back, and parking fees in Berkeley whether you park in a metered street spot or in a parking lot.

If you take the BART ride from Embarcadero station in San Francisco to Downtown Berkeley (closest to the campus and downtown) takes just 22 minutes. However, the walk from the Downtown Berkeley station to the campus/downtown area is around 15 to 20 minutes. Take the Richmond line to Berkeley for a direct BART ride. This route is available every 15 minutes.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Berkeley

6. Muir Woods Hiking Trails and Muir Beach

Muir Woods
Muir Woods

If you love nature and have time for only one excursion outside of San Francisco, then visit the Muir Woods National Monument. This day trip gives you the chance to see a rare old-growth coastal redwood forest, among the very few remaining in Northern California.

The scenery is unlike any other forest you've seen unless you have wandered through ancient redwood groves before. The peaceful and refreshingly shaded trails invite you to meander through fern-fringed creek banks, canopies of giant redwood trees, and groves of fragrant bay laurels.

It's possible to take another three-mile trail from Muir Woods down to the Pacific Ocean at the secluded Muir Beach. This sandy beach offers camping sites and picnic areas. Nearby is The Pelican Inn, where you can grab a hearty meal of authentic English country cuisine before taking the hike back to Muir Woods.

Planning your visit: Due to the crowds and limited space, Muir Woods National Monument requires you to make a reservation in advance for paid parking or for a shuttle bus ride.

You may find that it's easier to leave the driving and parking to a tour guide. One recommendation is the Muir Woods and Sausalito Half-Day Tour, which departs from San Francisco.

Getting there: The only way to get to Muir Woods is by car. The 16-mile drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, along Highway 101, and then on winding country roads, takes about 45 minutes.

7. Half Moon Bay's Countryside & Beaches

Half Moon Bay coastline
Half Moon Bay coastline

The small rural town of Half Moon Bay nestles along the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by forests and farmlands, just 30 miles south of San Francisco (a 45-minute drive). Although it's close to The City, this coastal community has retained its country ambiance. Pumpkin patches, ranches, and vegetable farms cover the hillsides that slope down to the beach.

Spectacular sandy beaches extend for miles along the Half Moon Bay coastline. It's a great place for nature walks along the shoreline, while surfers wearing wetsuits brave the frigid waters and powerful waves.

When the conditions are right, surfing competitions are held at Mavericks Beach. Other outdoor activities include hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and bird-watching.

One of the highlights of Half Moon Bay is the historic downtown, which has many locally owned shops and excellent restaurants, as well as casual cafés and eateries. You'll find a wide selection of restaurants, where you can grab a hearty meal after an invigorating walk on the beach or hike along coastal bluffs.

A favorite time of year to visit Half Moon Bay is in October for pumpkin picking and for the Pumpkin Festival in mid-October.

8. Stinson Beach and Dipsea Trail Hike

Hiking trail above Stinson Beach
Hiking trail above Stinson Beach

On sunny days, Stinson Beach is a popular day-trip destination in Marin County, 23 miles north of San Francisco (allow at least one hour by car). This dreamy beach community is just six miles north of Muir Beach, although it can take 30 to 45 minutes (in traffic) to get from Muir Beach to Stinson Beach on a winding two-lane road that hugs the coastline and traverses the Steep Ravine Canyon.

The drive requires concentration at the hairpin turns, but it rewards with striking ocean vistas. All the effort feels worth it upon catching sight of the little piece of paradise at Stinson Beach.

Protected by the hillside, the 3.5-mile-long sandy shoreline at Stinson Beach is ideal for sunbathing, jogging, windsurfing, beach volleyball, and picnicking. Swimming is possible, however not always recommended due to dangerous rip currents and frigid waters. Surfers and bodyboarders ride the waves wearing wetsuits.

From Memorial Day until Labor Day, lifeguards patrol the beach. (Be sure to check with lifeguards about safety before entering the water to swim.) Next to the beach is a shady area with picnic tables and barbecue grills, as well as restrooms and shower facilities.

The town has a grocery store, where you can purchase picnic foods. Or you could choose from several oceanfront cafés and restaurants that serve casual meals on sunny outdoor patios.

Tip for Travelers: During high season, it's best to begin the drive as early as possible in the morning to avoid traffic and to ensure finding a parking spot at Stinson Beach (the lot fills up quickly on weekends and during summertime.)

For coastal views, the Dipsea Trail is not to be missed. The 10-mile hiking trail begins at Muir Woods National Monument, traverses the forest and rolling hills, then descends a ravine into Stinson Beach, with breathtaking ocean and bay vistas along the way. Alternatively, you can start at Stinson Beach (which begins with steep steps and switchbacks) and complete a short portion of the trail.

Hiking Tips: Dress in layers and wear shoes with good traction to avoid slipping on the steps. Portions of the trail are exposed to the strong afternoon sun, so a visor and other sun protection are recommended. Watch out for poison oak that grows on the side of the trail. Bring bottled water and pack lunch for a picnic at Stinson Beach.

9. Filoli Estate

Filoli Estate
Filoli Estate

The Filoli Estate is a hidden gem 30 miles south of (35-minute drive) San Francisco, tucked away in a pastoral landscape with the densely wooded Santa Cruz Mountains as a backdrop. The 654-acre estate is registered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

With a grandeur that rivals Europe's finest estates, Filoli boasts gracious architecture, lavish rooms, and splendid grounds that have made it a top choice for film sets. The house was pictured in Dynasty, Heaven Can Wait, and George of the Jungle among other movies.

The elegant Georgian Revival-style manor house was built between 1915 and 1917 for William Bowers Bourn II, owner of Empire Gold Mine in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. Within the 54,256-square-foot mansion is a noteworthy collection of interior decor, paintings, and antiques.

Filoli is renowned for its 16-acre formal gardens, landscaped in the English Renaissance style with perfectly manicured hedges, terraces, decorative pools, fountains, flower beds, and a rose garden. Pleasant pathways and parterres invite you to wander and admire the ever-changing array of seasonal plants and blossoms, from colorful tulips in early spring to vibrant chrysanthemums in autumn.

The Filoli Estate also has a 10-acre orchard, with over 500 fruit trees including heirloom varieties, and a 528-acre nature preserve comprised of redwood forest, oak groves, chaparral, a pond, reservoir, creeks, and grasslands.

The Filoli Nature Preserve includes a trail system of 22 hiking paths, only accessible on docent-led hikes, but visitors may take self-guided hikes on the Nature Preserve's one-mile loop Estate Trail.

Address: 86 Canada Road, Woodside, California

Official site: www.filoli.org

10. Mount Tamalpais

Mount Tamalpais
Mount Tamalpais

Just 22 miles north of San Francisco, Mount Tamalpais State Park in Marin County delights nature lovers with a 60-mile network of park trails. The hiking paths meander through refreshing redwood groves and oak woodlands overlooking deep ravines, forested hillsides, and sweeping grasslands.

Those seeking a challenge may hike to the summit at 2,571 feet for breathtaking views. On a clear day, the outlook extends all the way to the Farallon Islands, 25 miles out in the Pacific Ocean, as well as to San Francisco and across the San Francisco Bay to the cities of Berkeley and Oakland.

Mountain bikers can use the multi-use trails, as well as the uphill road leading to the top of Mount Tamalpais for recreational cycling.

Mount Tamalpais is a place of exceptional natural beauty year-round. During the rainy season (October until March), gurgling creeks and rushing waterfalls add to the peaceful environment. From February until May, vibrant wildflowers blossom throughout the park. Whale-watching is possible during the migration season, from November to April.

On warm summer days, many visitors enjoy picnicking in the park's shaded picnic areas. For the views, the East Peak summit picnic area astounds with its 360-degree panoramas.

Getting there: The drive from San Francisco to Mount Tamalpais is only 22 miles However, it takes about one hour to get there. The two-lane country roads in Marin County wind around the mountain, so you need to drive slowly.

11. Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve

Pescadero State Beach
Pescadero State Beach

About 45 miles south of (1-hour and 15-minute drive) San Francisco, the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve allows access to unspoiled nature and superb birdwatching. At the confluence of the Butano Creek and Pescadero Creek, the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve is a 235-acre wetland with a tidal estuary and freshwater marsh.

More than 200 species of birds find refuge in the marsh, among them the great blue heron and double-crested cormorants. The Pescadero Marsh is also home to endangered species, such as the California red-legged frog, San Francisco garter snake, steelhead trout, and coho salmon.

You may hike around the nature preserve by following one of the four trails. For avid birdwatchers, the Sequoia Audubon Trail, a 2.5-mile round-trip hike, is a good choice. Some visitors bring binoculars for an up-close view of egrets, ducks, herons, and other species.

To learn more about the natural environment and wildlife of the marsh, visitors can join guided walking tours (free of charge) on the first Sunday of the month at 10 am and the second Sunday of every month at 1 pm, as long as weather permits. The tours include a one-mile walk and take about two hours.

Across the highway from the preserve, accessible by a pedestrian walkway, is Pescadero State Beach. Backed by rocky ocean bluffs, this pristine mile-long sandy beach features coves, tide pools, and areas for fishing. Facilities include picnic tables, parking lots, and restrooms with vault toilets (without running water).

About three miles from the beach, the little country town of Pescadero has a grocery store, small boutiques, and a quirky locally owned café. A popular spot in town is Duarte's restaurant, a Pescadero institution famous for its artichoke soup and homemade pies.

12. Angel Island

Angel Island
Angel Island

Travelers can get away to a remote, unpopulated island just across the bay from San Francisco. Angel Island is a state park, accessible by taking a 30-minute ferry ride from Pier 41 in San Francisco or a 10-minute ferry ride from the town of Tiburon.

Angel Island State Park opens at 8am and closes at sunset daily. A place of serene seaside beauty, Angel Island has more than 13 miles of scenic hiking trails, ranging from moderate to advanced, as well as nine miles of cycling trails. Visitors may rent bikes once they arrive at the island.

The highest point on Angel Island is Mount Livermore at 788 feet, which rewards hikers with panoramic views of San Francisco and the bay, the Marin Headlands, and Mount Tamalpais.

The island's amenities include a Visitor Center, public restrooms, an outdoor café near the dock, boating slips for day use or overnight, camping sites with toilets, and several picnic areas with tables, barbecue pits, and running water.

Angel Island is known as the "Ellis Island of the West" because around 500,000 immigrants arrived here between 1910 and 1940. Two museums illustrate Angel Island's history as an immigration station: the Detention Barracks Museum and the Angel Island Immigration Museum. Both museums are open Wednesday through Sunday.

If you start the day early enough, it may be possible to also spend time in Tiburon, where the Angel Island ferry departs. (Be sure to keep track of the ferry schedule.) This charming seaside town has picturesque yacht marinas and a quaint downtown area. The lovely Main Street is lined with boutiques, cafés, and restaurants.

On the weekends, locals enjoy having brunch in Tiburon. Most of the waterfront restaurants feature sunny terraces that overlook the San Francisco Bay. If you're getting around by car, it's also worth visiting the 900-acre Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary (open April through September) for bird-watching, and the Tiburon Ridge Trail for hiking and biking.

13. Trione-Annadel State Park in Sonoma County

Trione-Annadel State Park in Sonoma County
Trione-Annadel State Park in Sonoma County | David Berry / photo modified

Explore the beautiful landscape of Trione-Annadel State Park, 60 miles north of San Francisco (about a 1.5-hour drive) in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County. The park features several miles of trails for hiking or mountain biking around the gorgeous Lake Ilsanjo.

The park is also known for its fields of vibrant wildflowers that bloom in the springtime. The best time to see wildflowers is in April and May, but some flowers can be seen from January until September.

For lake fishing, Trione-Annadel State Park is one of the best places to visit in Sonoma County. Anglers can catch black bass and bluegill fish in Lake Ilsanjo. A California fishing license is required.

14. Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve

Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve
Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve | Franco Folini / photo modified

The Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve lies just 17 miles from San Francisco across the Bay Bridge in the East Bay. The drive only takes 35 minutes with no traffic, although bridge traffic can easily add an extra 20 to 30 minutes.

Native huckleberry plants thrive within the 241-acre preserve, which offers ideal soil conditions and a cool climate tempered by coastal fog. Within the Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve, the Interpretive Loop Trail is a 1.7-mile hiking trail that traverses mostly shaded terrain, including a bay forest.

Tips: Stay on the upper trail for a more moderate walk. Visitors are allowed to pick berries from huckleberry plants along the trail.

15. Woodside and Portola Valley

Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve near Woodside
Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve near Woodside

Although Woodside has the look of a Gold Rush-era country town, it is actually a wealthy Silicon Valley residential community and suburb of San Francisco (just 30 miles away). From San Francisco, it's an easy 30-minute drive on Highway 280 past a picturesque stretch of rolling hills and the Crystal Springs Reservoir.

The town itself is quite small but has several notable restaurants, including The Village Pub which boasts a Michelin star; The Little Store Restaurant in a historic roadside stand; and Alice's Restaurant, a famous hikers' and motorcyclists' hangout located deep in the redwood forest that surrounds the center of Woodside.

Another dining destination in Woodside's lush redwood forest, The Mountain House is a cozy family-owned restaurant in a historic cabin. This is a great place to enjoy a meal after hiking at the nearby Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve.

Other places to go hiking in Woodside include Wunderlich Park, which features hillside trails that traverse redwood forest, oak groves, and meadows; and Huddart Park, a majestic environment of coastal redwoods and babbling streams.

Neighboring Woodside is Portola Valley, another upscale Silicon Valley suburb that feels like a rural escape. Outdoorsy types will enjoy the hiking opportunities at Windy Hill Preserve and Shady Trail.

Rossotti's Alpine Inn is the place to go for casual dining in Portola Valley. The Old West-style building has housed a tavern restaurant since 1852 and still treats guests to an inviting ambiance and hearty meals. The restaurant features outdoor seating in a tranquil setting next to Los Trancos Creek.

If you want to extend the day trip and spend the night, luxurious accommodations can be found at Canyon Ranch Woodside, which is considered one of the best all-inclusive resorts in the United States.

16. Los Gatos

View of the Santa Cruz mountains at Castle Rock State Park in Los Gatos, California
View of the Santa Cruz mountains at Castle Rock State Park in Los Gatos, California

For anyone who likes quaint towns and boutique shopping, Los Gatos is a worthwhile day trip from San Francisco. Centering around Old Town Plaza, the historic downtown is a lovely place to take a relaxing stroll for the afternoon.

The town has the feel of a retreat in the country, thanks to its secluded location tucked away behind the forested Santa Cruz Mountains. As much of an attraction as the town, the spectacular natural surroundings offer inspiring scenery for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.

Just a 10-minute (three-mile) drive from Los Gatos is Bear Creek Redwoods Preserve, a 1,430-acre redwood forest with meandering creeks and expansive mountain views. Bear Creek Redwoods Preserve has six miles of hiking and equestrian trails.

Another popular recreation area, Castle Rock State Park (about a 30-minute drive from downtown Los Gatos) is perched on one of the highest ridges in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Castle Rock State Park features 34 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding, and backpacking. Rock climbers can take on the challenge of the park's rocks and caverns.

Getting there: The only efficient way to get to Los Gatos from San Francisco is by car. The drive from San Francisco takes about 1 hour. Public transportation options require too many connections to make it worth the effort.

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