Spring is one of the best times to visit San Francisco and the surrounding areas. Although it’s definitively still sweater weather, sunshine is common and the hordes of summer tourists are nowhere to be seen. This gives you plenty of breathing room to enjoy the Bay Area. If you have a car, it’s well worth leaving the city to explore some of the many interesting nearby sites. Start planning your getaway now with our list of the best day trips from San Francisco!
Here are some potential day trips from San Francisco that will really help you experience the natural beauty of Northern California in the springtime.
Half Moon Bay
It’s only an hour outside of San Francisco but misty and romantic Half Moon Bay feels totally removed from hectic city life. The bay and its surroundings truly bloom in the spring, with fresh produce for sale along the roadside. This is a great time to load up on strawberries, asparagus and more. Or enjoy the local offerings prepared expertly in one of the many small restaurants in town.
There are over a dozen beaches along the bay, each with their own unique character. Spring is too cold to swim, but excellent weather for hiking, kayaking and wildlife spotting. Between December and June you can often spot humpback whales along the coast. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve at Moss Beach is a great place to observe marine life, while Cowell Ranch State Beach has dramatic cliffs. There are even a few nude beaches along the way!
Muir Woods National Monument is a must-see for visitors to the Bay Area. It’s really more of an afternoon trip, just a short distance from the city. The dramatic scenery and lack of cell phone reception will make you feel as if you’ve been transported somewhere totally remote, or perhaps back in time.
Muir Woods is one of the last freestanding groves of old-growth redwoods. The sheer scope of the towering trees is absolutely mind boggling, as is the fact that some of them are over 600 years old. No hiking is required to see redwoods, just a short walk from the car park.
Monterey is famous for two things: John Steinbeck and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Both of them, along with the scenic town itself, make it worth the trip. The drive is a little over 2 hours on the major roads, but if you have the time, take the slower scenic route along State Route 1 that winds along the wild coastline.
Most everyone agrees that Monterey is one of California’s most beautiful seaside cities. The city of 30,000 was established in 1770, making is historic as well, a history that is explored in Steinbeck novels like Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row. Nowadays visitors flock to the large Monterey Bay Aquarium, which spotlights the area’s local aquatic life. Don’t miss the fluorescent jellyfish or the playful sea otters. While you’re in town make sure to sample Monterey’s signature agricultural offering: artichokes, cooked just about any way you can imagine.
Visiting Napa Valley is popular and it’s a classic excursion for a reason. The United State’s most famous wine region is just 50 miles north of San Francisco. You can take the day to explore the scenery and hop from winery to winery and still be back in the city for dinner. Just make sure you choose a designated driver!
The most popular time to visit Napa is during the wine harvest in September and October, so spring visitors are at an advantage when it comes to avoiding the crowds. Plan ahead to decide which of the 400+ wineries you would like to visit. Some of the most popular are Beringer Vineyards, Castello di Amorosa and Sterling Vineyards.
Photo by French Laundry Facebook
Napa is also renowned for its culinary scene, so consider making reservations at one of the many haute cuisine options run by world-famous chefs like the always-packed French Laundry.
Yosemite National Park
It’s an ambitious drive, and you will most likely spend more time in the car than in the actual park, but it is possible, and even common to visit Yosemite National Park as a day trip out of San Francisco. The 3 hours on the road each way will be rewarded with one of the most impressive National Parks the US has to offer.
Spring is actually an ideal time to visit Yosemite. It’s not as broiling as summer and the spring thaw means that the waterfalls will be at their peak velocity. There is a ton to do and see here, including some spectacular hikes, but if you have limited time you will want to check out the main highlights including Yosemite Falls, the immense granite Half Dome and Glacier Point. Some of the roads are still closed due to snow in the spring, so check conditions ahead of time.
What are some of your favorite San Francisco day trips?
*Feature image by Jim Bahn CC BY
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