The California coast is one of the most sought-after areas to explore in the country, lined with historic main streets, spectacular views, wildlife, iconic landmarks, and a mix of exciting cultures; San Francisco makes a fantastic base to explore some of the best of the US.
San Francisco is home to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Lombard Street (known as the windiest street in America-although it really isn’t), world-class dining and shopping, the famed cable cars, colorful Victorian homes, many fun neighborhoods that capture the boho vibe the city has done so well since the 60s. It is also known for its insanely good weather in September and October, which sees the city living outdoors, enjoying the warm sun and cool breeze.
There are many amazing areas to explore in and around the Bay Area, some a few hours away while others are best enjoyed together over a long weekend. In this post, I’m sharing some of my favorite day trips and weekend getaways from the San Francisco bay area, along with itinerary options for longer road trips from San Francisco.
With the variety of scenic and exciting road trips easily customizable to your travel style and time constraints, it will be hard to settle on just one.
I’ve broken this post up into sections listing some of the best areas to explore, from National Parks, State Parks, wine regions, and other enjoyable towns and cities, and have combined them into suggested itineraries at the end of this post with drive time, highlights and overnight stop suggestions.
If you are looking for exact itinerary suggestions with a map, scroll to the end of this post or use the drop-down table of contents menu below to skip to the road trip itinerary suggestion section.
National Parks near San Francisco
The west coast is known for its incredible National Parks, from white sand dunes and red arches to towering waterfalls and stunning coastal views; California’s 9 National Parks and additional National Recreation areas, monuments, and historic sites have something special to offer at each one.
Muir Woods National Monument
Distance: 16 miles, 40 mins
Best things to See: Hike through its old growth Redwood Trees
Muir Woods is a small state park with some amazing natural history. Tourists visit this park to enjoy the hiking trails weaving among the massive ancient Redwood trees. This park preserves some of the oldest trees in the world; some Redwoods are over 1,000 years old and reach a height of 250 ft or more. Due to the popularity of this National Site, advanced parking and entrance reservations are required. Visitors will be turned away without a reservation on arrival. There is no reception in the park, so visit GoMuirWoods.com to make parking and entrance reservations in advance.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Distance: 70 miles, 1 hr 45 minutes
Best things to See: Wildlife spotting, Hiking, Elephant Seals
If you’re looking for a quick and easy road trip from San Francisco, you’ll love a weekend at the Point Reyes National Seashore. Point Reyes in Marin County stretches miles along California’s Coast with opportunities for wildlife sightings, including Elk, Grey Whales, and Elephant Seals, miles of scenic hiking trails, and water sports, including kayaking. You can enjoy a variety of scenic trails that wind through the park’s beautiful forests and along the coast, offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Drive along its beaches or explore over 150 miles of maintained trails and multiple backcountry areas. There is enough to see and do for a week-long stay or more, but if you only have a weekend make sure to visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse, drive to Tomales Point and the Tule Elk Reserve, hike to Chimney Rock, visit the Elephant Seal overlook and drive through the Cypress Tree Tunnel.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Distance: 247 miles, 4 hours
Best things to See: Lassen Peak; the largest Plug Dome Volcano in the world
Lassen Volcanic Park is known for its geothermal activity and large volcanic domes. Lassen Peak is the highest plug dome in the world. The 2022 Dixie Fire burned nearly half of the park, leaving utter devastation in its wake that will take years to rejuvenate. The burned areas lie in sharp contrast to the other half of the park, which is still green. It may look different now, but it is still a great area to explore for the lava beds, lava tubes, mud pots, and boiling lakes. It is easily explored in a day, and visiting during summer to early fall is best to avoid winter park closures.
Yosemite National Park
Distance: 270 miles, 3.5 hours
Best things to See: Visit Tunnel View and Glacier Point, hike through Yosemite Valley, hike the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall
The famous Yosemite National Park is located about 270 miles east of San Francisco and is one of those destinations everyone should visit at least once in their lives. Road trips to the park from San Francisco only take around 3 hours and are perfect for a weekend in nature. Yosemite Valley is famous for its magnificent rock formations, including Half Dome, a prime climbing destination as documented in the Netflix documentary Free Solo. Visit Yosemite for magnificent views of its towering granite rocks, scenic mountains, wildlife, waterfall hiking trails, and plenty of camping opportunities. May through November sees the most visitors, with June, July, and August welcoming over 1.5 million visitors annually. Advanced reservations are recommended if wanting to stay inside the park, and entry reservations may be required to drive into the park. Visit the National park Website at www.nps.gov to plan your visit.
Distance: 238 miles, 4 hours
Best things to See: See the largest remaining grove of sequoia trees in the world
Located north of Sequoia National Park in inland California, Kings Canyon is a beautiful spot for a weekend getaway from San Francisco. It takes around 4 hours to drive there from the city, with a distance of approximately 240 miles. You’ll fall in love with the beautiful Mist Falls and their scenic backdrop, which can be seen after a short hike. Kings Canyon is known for its impressive giant sequoias, which you can see in Grant Cove. With so much natural beauty, it’ll be a challenge to return to the busy streets of San Francisco after your road trip has ended. The park offers camping, picnicking, and fishing opportunities, so there is plenty to do and see on a weekend away.
Sequoia National Park
Distance: 270 miles, 4.5 hours
Best things to See: See General Sherman, the largest tree in the world, drive through the tunnel log
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park are often visited together. However, if you only have a few days, you’ll be better off planning two separate road trips from San Francisco to make sure you get to appreciate both parks. Located 270 miles and 4.5 hours from the city, Sequoia National Park is a fantastic spot to see wildlife, including black bears, mule deer, and even mountain lions. But, of course, the ancient sequoia trees are what this area is famous for and, together with the Sierra Nevada Mountains, make it fantastic for hiking and other outdoor activities.
Pinnacles National Park
Distance: 126 miles, 2.5 hours
Best things to See: See the spring wildflowers March-May; hike to High Peaks and explore Bear Glutch Cave
Famous for its rocky spires and hiking trails through the ancient lava-formed mountains, Pinnacles offers wildlife spotting, including Golden eagles and California Condors, 30 miles of hiking trails, and excellent star gazing. The park is divided into two sections; the east side offers a swimming pool and the park’s only campground for tents and RVs with full hookups and coin showers. It is one of the smallest National Parks in the country but offers some incredibly unique landscapes.
Channel Islands National Park
Distance: 356 miles; 6.5 hours to Ventura Harbor; + 1-3 hours on a ferry from the mainland, depending on what island you visit.
Best things to See: Explore Painted Cave, one of the world’s largest sea caves;
Channel Islands National Park is a collection of 5 naturally beautiful and scenic islands rich with wildlife off the coast of southern California near Santa Barbra. There are daily ferries to the undeveloped islands from Ventura Harbor. You can reach the islands via boat and explore by foot, there no cars are allowed on the islands. Kayaking is a popular way to explore from the coast, and overnights can only be done by dispersed camping. Santa Cruz Island is a popular choice for a day trip and offers great opportunities for snorkeling and diving, while San Miguel island is fantastic for campers and hikers. A 16-mile hike will take you around Point Bennett, the location of the world’s largest concentration of seals and sea lions. There are no restaurants, food, water, or accommodations on the islands, so make sure to bring all you need to enjoy a day trip (or overnight camping) on these remarkable islands.
Death Valley National Park
Distance: 458 miles, 7.5 hours or make a multi-day road trip out of it and take HWY 395 and stop at Yosemite, Pinnicals Kings Canyon, and Sequoia along the way
Best things to See: Badwater Basin, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, sunrise at Artists Palette, hiking trails and sunset at Zabriskie Point.
Eastern California’s Death Valley National Park protects many desert landscapes. It takes around 8 hours to drive here from San Francisco, with over 500 miles of distance to cover. Visitors can take the scenic route through the park to see the many different landscapes, from the salt flats of Badwater Basin to the towering sand dunes of Mesquite Flats and the intriguing colors of Artist’s Pallett. A visit to Death Valley I best done in winter when temperatures are more comfortable. The park is considered the hottest place on earth, with a record temperature recording of 134 degrees Fahrenheit.
State Park Road Trips
With all the stunning National Park landscapes in California, it is no surprise California also has the most state parks in the US, ranking in 280 state-operated parks. Many of these parks are a safe haven for wildlife and protect natural and historical areas, offer dramatic views, and are easily explored on a day trip, making state parks some of the best road trip ideas from San Francisco.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Distance: 319 miles, 6 hours
Best things to See: Hike through Fern Canyon
Head to northern California to the beautiful Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, one of three Redwood State parks in the area, including Jedediah Smith State Park and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. The 320-mile drive from San Francisco might seem long, but with so many breathtaking coastal towns and views to see along the way, it’ll pass quickly. This is one of the best weekend trips for nature lovers who will love the impressive redwood forests, narrow canyons, and abundant wildlife you can spot here. Take advantage of the various hiking trails, including the popular James Irvine and Miners Ridge trails, which offer stunning views of the forest and the Pacific Ocean or the unique Fern Canyon with its green-covered walls, a shooting location for Jurassic Park The Lost World.
Russian Gulch State Park
Distance: 157 miles, 5 hours 45 mins
Best things to See: Hike the Headlands trail to the sea caves and views of the arch bridge
3.5 hours from San Francisco in northern California’s Mendocino County lies Russian Gulch State Park, one of California’s most underrated state parks. The park’s famous Russian Gulch Headlands Trail is a must-see, which offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, the Mendocino Coast, and the park’s iconic arch rock formation. The deserted beaches, lush forests, and cave trails are top attractions in the area, along with the Russian Gluch Arch Bridge. The long drive from San Francisco is more than worth it, especially when the weather is sunny and warm.
Sonoma Coast State Park
Distance: 68 miles, 2 hours
Best things to See: Scenic views of its rugged coastline along coastal hiking trails
Sonoma Coast State Park encompasses a beautiful stretch of rugged coastline around 70 miles north of San Francisco on the Central Coast. This park is known for its windblown beaches and untouched nature, perfect for camping and hiking. You can get here in just 1.5 hours from San Francisco, making it a great day trip for those who prefer short drives. Make sure to pack a picnic and plenty of snacks, as there are only a few shops or restaurants around this area.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Distance: 119 miles, 2 hours
Best things to See: Spot seal pups relaxing on the beach at China Cove, see whales breach in winter, hike the scenic trails for coastal views
Sometimes called California’s crown jewel of state parks, Point Lobos is a fantastic way to enjoy nature. Just south of Carmel on Highway 1, this area offers miles of scenic views from its easy-to-follow trails, many opportunities for wildlife spotting from Sea Lion Point and Bird Island, and many beaches and the best scuba diving on the Monterey Peninsula. You can easily explore this park in a few hours to a half day and enjoy the surrounding scenic areas, including Soberanes Point and Cally Lily Valley. Point Lobos makes a great stop on a PCH road trip from San Francisco.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns state park
Distance: 156 miles, 3.5 hours
Best things to See: View McWay falls, a waterfall that drops into the ocean from a cliff overlooking the beach
Head to Julia Pfeiffer Burns state park for stunning coastal views just 3 hours and 150 miles south of San Francisco. One of the park’s main highlights is the McWay Falls, an 80-foot waterfall that cascades onto a beach surrounded by vibrant wildflowers in spring. McWay Falls is one of California’s most beautiful waterfalls and a must-see for anyone exploring the state; however, the trail to the falls has been partially closed for a while. The best views are seen from the water. The park also offers a unique opportunity to see the Big Sur coastline from the top of the bluffs, with plenty of nature trails and two tent camping sites with spectacular views.
Wine Region Areas Near San Francisco
The Wine Country near San Francisco is considered the combined areas of Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, and Solano counties. There are over 1700 wineries in the valleys of the North Bay area of San Francisco, with miles of green rolling hills, quaint villages, and delicious local and international wineries with 5-star dining and charming accommodations. Although close enough to spend the day, a wine country road trip is best enjoyed as an overnight trip or weekend getaway to allow time to explore all the wonderful areas and sample wine without worrying about driving home the same day.
Napa County Wineries
Distance: average 60 miles, 1-2 hours
Top Rated Wineries: Sattui Winery in St. Helena; Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga,
Napa Valley, including the towns of Napa, Yountville, Rutherford, St. Helena and Calistoga, is one of the most well-known destinations in the world for wine lovers. It is only a short drive from San Francisco and offers picturesque landscapes, world-class wineries, and delicious food. You’ll love how scenic the area is with its rolling hills, lush vineyards, and charming towns. Napa Valley has many world-renowned wineries, including Robert Mondavi, Opus One, and Castello di Amorosa. Visitors can take tours of the wineries, try all the best wines, and learn about the winemaking process. Sattui Winery St. Helena, Napa, is the most visited winery in all of Napa. Guests love their house wines, Artisan Deli, food trucks, and picnic grounds.
Sonoma County Wineries
Distance: 80 miles, 1- 2 hours
Top Rated Wineries: Francis Ford Coppola Winery; Iron Horse Vineyards; Buena Vista Winery
Where Napa Valley is known to be more expensive and upscale, Sonoma County is a more laidback option for weekend tourists looking for wine tastings and vineyard tours. You’ll appreciate the generally lower costs for dining and the smaller, family-run wineries and local farm-to-table fare you’ll find here. It takes around 1-2 hours to reach Sonoma County from San Francisco, which includes the towns of Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Cotati, Healdsburg, and Cloverdale. Enjoy various outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, and hot air balloon rides, which offer stunning views of the Bay Area from many towns within Sonoma County. Some of the most famous wineries in Sonoma Country include Iron Horse Vineyards, Halleck Vineyard, Sebastopol Winery, and Buena Vista Winery.
Mendocino County Wineries
Distance: 170 miles, 2-3 hours
Top Rated Wineries: Navarro Vineyards & Winery, Lula Cellars, Parducci Wine Cellars (the oldest winery in Mendocino)
Head A bit north, and you will be welcomed to Mendocino county, home to many coastal state parks, Redwood forests and the unique Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. It is also known as California’s leading organic wine-making region, with almost 25% of the grapes in Mendocino county grown organically. Most of the wine valleys are on the east side of the county near the towns of Ukiah, Hopland, and Redwood Valley. This region has a lot of smaller family-owned establishments that still harvest great-tasting wines that rival that of more popular areas in the state and is known for making some of California’s best-tasting sparkling wines.
Distance: 465 miles, 8 hours
Top Rated Wineries: Wiens Family Cellars, Oak Mountain Winery
A bit south-make that a lot more south of San Francisco is the cozy wine region of Temecula, known for its variety of grapes and delicious range of wines produced from Riesling, and Chardonnay, to Bordeaux varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Enjoy delicious wine tastings in an outdoor setting along its picturesque wine trail and head to downtown’s main street for dinner, shopping and some laughs. Combine this wine region with stops along the way, including Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and even Joshua Tree for a complete road trip experience.
The Best Day Trips from San Francisco
Weekend road trips don’t have to involve long drives, a journey within the Bay Area of San Francisco is the perfect way to escape city life for a day. All of these options are less than 2 hours away from San Francisco and make fabulous day trip destinations.
Distance: Arrive by ferry (30 mins), private boat, bike (2-3 hours from Fisherman’s Warf) or car (25 mins)
Best things to See: The colorful and unique floating homes
A quick trip across the bay will bring you to an unexpected treasure easily confused for a European fishing village. Sausalito is the perfect city escape with its Mediterranean vibes, tasty seafood, colorful downtown and oceanfront promenade. Make sure to visit the Marinship neighborhood for the iconic historic floating home community that has been around since the 1880s. You can get to Sausalito a number of ways but the 30-minute $20 scenic ferry ride is by far the most popular. See fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge along the way.
Normandy Village, Berkeley CA
Distance: 14 miles, 40 mins
Best things to See: Walk along Spruce street (near Hearst Ave.) to admire the architecture of Normandy Village
If you’re looking for a fun day trip from San Francisco, you don’t need to go far. Head to Normandy Village in Berkeley, just a short drive from the city center. Spend some time wandering the quaint streets and exploring this charming village, which has a variety of Normandy-style buildings. You’ll love the choice of cute cafes, international restaurants, and small shops where you can find souvenirs and artisanal products. Don’t forget to stop by the Normandy-style church, which dates back to the 1920s, and the world-renowned university in Berkeley.
Half Moon Bay
Distance: 31 miles, 45 mins
Best things to See: Spot whales in the bay from March to May, Hike to Pillar Point to watch surfers catch waves at the famous Maverick Beach
This small town has beautiful coastal views, many hiking trails, and pristine beaches, perfect for a sunset stroll or horseback riding. Nature lovers will appreciate the tranquility and variety of wildlife, while others will enjoy the art galleries, boutique shopping and delicious dining within its historic district. There are also pubs and breweries for the low-key lover, a fishing pier, and the nearby world-class big wave surf spot, Maverick Beach.
Distance: 54 miles, 1 hour
Best things to See: Go wine tasting and hike through the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve
Los Gatos makes a great low-key getaway from San Francisco, perfect for a day of fun hiking through its rocky terrain and wine tasting at its many local wineries. Hike the famous Los Gatos Creek Trail, a scenic path that runs through the town with stunning views and plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, and picnicking. Remember to explore the nearby Vasona Lake County Park, which offers a variety of recreational activities such as boating, fishing, and swimming or Castle Rock State Park to enjoy Pacific Ocean views and the 70-foot Castle Rock Falls. A visit to Los Gatos isn’t complete without trying some local wines. Taste the Pinotage variety at Loma Prieta Winery or visit the historic red school house circa 1800s at Burrell School Vineyards & Winery. Enjoy walking tours and views of the Santa Cruz mountains at Byington Vineyard and Winery.
Distance: 76 miles, 1.5 hours
Best things to See: Enjoy the Beach Boardwalk and nearby natural rock formations of Shark Fin Cove and Natural Bridges
Known for its beaches, surf breaks and surfing history, including that of Jack O’Neill, Santa Cruz is at the northern end of Monterey Bay and makes a great day trip from San Francisco. Stroll down its Beach Boardwalk enjoying the entertainment, local seafood, and boutique surf shops, and ride the 1907 wooden coaster. Enjoy scenic views of the rocky coastline, wildlife watching, and the lighthouse near Seal Rock, and visit nearby the natural wonders of Shark Fin Cove and the Natural Bridges State Beach.
Distance: 120 miles, 2 hours
Best things to See: Enjoy stops along the 17-mile Pebble Beach Scenic Drive
No need to go far for one of the best weekend trips in the Bay Area. No more than 2.5 hours south of San Francisco, you’ll find the peaceful town of Pebble Beach, known for its world-renowned golf courses and resorts. Take in the stunning vistas along 17-Mile Drive, a picturesque route that winds along the Pacific coastline and passes by famous landmarks such as the Lone Cypress and the iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links. If you stay for sunset, you’ll hear the Spanish Bay Bagpiper that plays rain or shine right in front of Sticks Restaurant. In addition, the area offers opportunities for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding on the many trails winding through the Del Monte Forest and along the coast. Enjoy nearby towns of Carmel, Monterey, and Carmel-By-The-Sea. The Pebble Beach area is one of the best weekend road trip destinations on the west coast of California.
These locations are over 2 hours away from San Francisco and make a great destination for overnight stops and weekend road trips. Many of these destinations can be routed together to create an even longer road trip from San Francisco to see the California coast, the best National Parks, towering Redwoods and beautiful wine valleys.
Scroll to the bottom of this post for road trip itinerary route suggestions with travel times, suggested overnight stops, and road trip highlights, all linked via Google maps to help make planning a breeze.
Distance: 330 miles, 6 hours and 45 mins
Best things to See: Outdoor adventures, enjoying the lakes in the summer, and the snowy mountains in the winter.
A year-round destination for outdoor lovers, Mammoth Lakes, is known for its stunning natural beauty and 5 major lakes found within the town as well as it popular ski mountains, Mammoth and June. Mammoth Mountain is the highest ski-lift-served mountain in California at 11,000 feet. The town offers plenty of accommodation, shopping and outdoor adventure activities year-round, including hiking, sightseeing, water sports, skiing, snowmobiling, and more. Located right off of scenic highway 395, there is a slew of other destinations that can easily be visited, creating a fantastic road trip adventure itinerary.
South Lake Tahoe
Distance: 188 miles, 4 hours
Best things to See: Drive the 28-mile Lake Tahoe National Scenic Byway or just the west side if short on time, bike ride, kayak or paddleboard on the lake.
A weekend away at South Lake Tahoe is one of the best road trips from San Francisco for nature lovers. Located 180 miles and 4 hours east of the city, right on the state line to Nevada, this little resort town is the perfect place to relax and unwind with fantastic water views. The area is known for its beautiful alpine scenery, and visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, and swimming in the summer and skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing in the winter. The lake is also excellent for water sports such as jet skiing, wakeboarding, and parasailing. Visitors can also take a cruise on the lake to enjoy the stunning views or go fishing, kayaking, or stand-up paddle boarding.
Fort Bragg and Glass Beach
Distance: 171 miles, 3 hours and 45 mins
Best things to See: A stop at Glass Beach is a must
Fort Bragg is a small Northern California town about 170 miles north of San Francisco. The drive here takes 3.5 hours and is perfect for a weekend getaway. Fort Bragg is home to Glass Beach, a former dump site that, over time, has turned into a beach filled with sea glass, an unforgettable sight to see. Visitors can also explore the historic Skunk Train, which offers a scenic railway ride through the redwood forest. The Pudding Creek Trestle, Noyo Harbor, and MacKerricher State Park are also worth a visit, perfect for fishing or camping.
Distance: 155 miles, 3.5 hours
Best things to See: The coastal views at Mendocino Headlands State Park
The town of Mendocino is located 150 miles north of San Francisco and can be reached in 3.5 hours. Explore Northern California and its rugged coastline on this incredible road trip which is especially exciting for nature lovers. The Mendocino Headlands State Park is a must-see destination, offering beautiful coastal views and a great selection of hiking trails. Mendocino is a charming destination with various unique shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Mendocino is known for its wine country, and visitors can explore the surrounding vineyards and spend the day doing wine tastings.
Distance: 115 miles, 2.5 hours
Best things to See: Visit the Old Fisherman’s Warf, ride bikes down the coastal drive and spot whales
Leave the busy city behind and drive 2.5 hours south of San Francisco to Monterey, which is a fantastic choice for those who aren’t interested in a round of golf but still want to see the area around Pebble Beach. At around 110 miles, this is the perfect distance for a weekend trip since the drive is relatively short. One of the must-see destinations in Monterey is Cannery Row, a historic district once home to a thriving sardine canning industry. Today, the row has been transformed into a popular tourist destination, offering a variety of shops, restaurants, and galleries. Visitors can also explore the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is home to thousands of aquatic animals and is dedicated to conserving marine life. Don’t forget to stroll down the famous Old Fisherman’s Wharf and try some of the local catch of the day.
Distance: 143 miles, 3 hours
Best things to See: Iconic Bixby Bridge, Ragged Point, McWay Falls, Keyhole Arch at Pfeiffer Beach
Big Sur is a beautiful coastal area located 140 miles south of San Francisco. This road trip takes just over 3 hours and is a must-do for a glimpse of California’s coastal beauty. Visitors can take in the stunning vistas along the famous Big Sur coastline, which runs along the Pacific Coast Highway and offers unparalleled views of the ocean, cliffs, and unique rock formations. The area is home to several state parks and sandy beaches, such as Pfeiffer Beach and Andrew Molera State Park, which offer hiking, swimming, and camping opportunities. Keyhole Arch is famous among photographers which flock to this natural arch formation during certain times of the year to capture the sun setting perfectly inside the arch.
San Luis Obispo
Distance: 236 miles, 4 hours and 15 mins
Best things to See: Beautiful tree-lined downtown, Bubble Gum Alley, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa 1772
Explore the Central Coast of California on a road trip to San Luis Obispo, known as America’s Happiest City and a great stopping point on a drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Its pedestrian-friendly streets allow for town walks among the beautiful rolling hills and tree-lined streets. You’ll love exploring the historic downtown area, which offers a variety of shops, restaurants, and art galleries. The city is also home to the famous San Luis Obispo Mission, one of the state’s most well-preserved Spanish missions. It is known for its wine country and the world-famous Bubble Gum Alley (off of Higuera Street). Nearby Avila Beach and Pismo Beach are also worth a visit, offering beautiful coastal views and prime fishing spots.
Distance: 248 miles, 4 hours and 15 mins
Best things to See: Enjoy the Clam Festival in October and the Monarch Butterfly migration from October – February
Just south of San Luis Obispo is the Clam Capitol of the world, Pismo Beach. If you’ve ever wanted to enjoy a wine tasting by the ocean, this is the place to go. The area is known for its wineries and sweeping surf beaches along with its clam-digging spots and friendly otters that love to fest on the local clams. If visiting in late October through February, a visit to the famous Monarch Butterfly Grove, where thousands of Monarch butterflies migrate every winter, is a must-see.
Distance: 330 miles, 5.5 hours
Best things to See: The iconic Santa Monica Pier
Follow the scenic Pacific Coast Highway south to the seaside town of Santa Barbara on one of the most unforgettable road trips from San Francisco. The coastal views on the way are guaranteed to impress, but Santa Barabara also has a lot to offer. Explore the city’s Spanish colonial architecture, visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, hike in the Santa Ynez Mountains, or relax on one of the city’s many beaches. Santa Barbara also has a thriving wine country, offering wine-tasting tours and beautiful vineyards. The fastest route down south takes around 5 hours and is just under 350 miles long.
Distance: 383 miles, 7 hours
Best things to See: Hollywood Sign, the walk of fame, drive through Beverly Hills, visit the Griffith Observatory and light post installation at the LA Country Museum of Art
A drive to Los Angeles from San Francisco makes for the perfect weekend away with the many fun, unique and iconic landmarks you will pass along the way. Follow the famous Pacific Coast Highway for some of the best coastal views, passing Big Sur and several state parks, including Julia Pfeiffer Burns and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Once in LA make sure to take in all of the iconic attractions Los Angeles is known for, including the Hollywood walk of fame, the Hollywood sign, the Griffith Observatory, and art museums.
Distance: 433 miles, 8 hours
Best things to See: Head to Victoria Beach to see the castle on the sand
Laguna Beach is a small town close to Los Angeles, about 430 miles and 7 hours south of San Francisco. The drive down may be long, but it’s also stunningly beautiful, so time will pass quickly. Laguna Beach is also known for its white-sand beaches, such as Aliso Beach and Thousand Steps Beach. Spend an afternoon at Heisler Park, a beautiful park on a bluff overlooking the ocean, and the Laguna Art Museum, which features works by California artists. Additionally, Laguna Beach is home to the famous Pageant of the Masters, an annual event where real people recreate classic works of art.
Distance: 501 miles, 9 hours
Best things to See: Visit the sea caves around Sunset Cliffs, Balboa Park and surrounding museums, hike through Torrey Pines Natural Reserve
A San Francisco to San Diego road trip is one of the best drives in southern California. The most direct route will take about 9 hours and over 500 miles, but if you can turn this drive into a multi-day road trip, there are plenty of towns and coastal cities to visit along the way. It is the perfect opportunity for a west coast US 1 road trip through Carmel, Pebble Beach, and Big Sur, with many chances to stop at the many state parks and other coastal towns like Laguna beach and Santa Barbra and big cities like Los Angeles.
San Diego is a vibrant and colorful place known for its mild climate, which makes it a perfect place to relax and soak up some sun. However, the real attraction here is the small coastal towns in the area, which have fantastic beaches and plenty of opportunities for water sports and low-key dining. You’ll love La Jolla for its walkable downtown, scenic hikes, and delicious local fare. Head to the nearby La Jolla Cove, known for its sea caves and seals, as well as the famous La Jolla Underwater Park and Ecological Reserve, which offers a variety of recreational activities such as snorkeling, diving, and kayaking. Visit Carlsbad in May to March and enjoy the vibrant blooms of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus at the Carlsbad flower fields or head inland to Lakeside or Julian for camping and hiking.
Road Trips from San Francisco Itinerary Suggestions
There are so many different road trip routes from San Francisco that include a slew of nature parks, artsy towns, charming coastal cities, and unique attractions. You’ll need months to see it all, but here are my top road trip routes that cover a variety of stops and are easily customizable for your specific travel needs. You can easily omit stops to make these long road trips a week or less.
North of San Francisco: Wine Valley, Mendocino Coast, Redwoods, National Parks, Lakes
Suggested route time: 10-14 days; stay a couple of nights in each location
Average route distance: 930 miles; 19 hours of drive time
|Overnights:||What to SEE along the way:|
Lassen Volcanic National Park
South Lake Tahoe
Muir Woods National Monument
Mendocino Headlands State Park
Russian Gulch State Park
Glass Beach (Fort Bragg)
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park
South Lake Tahoe
Normandy Village (Berkeley)
East from San Francisco: Lakes, National Parks, optional US 1 back to San Francisco
Suggested route time: 14-16 days
Average route distance: 1,125 miles, 24 hours of driving time; Optional Route 1 back to San Francisco adds about 8 hours and 450 miles
|Overnights:||What to SEE along the way:|
Yosemite (use east entrance Tiogo Pass, closes in winter)
Red Rock Canyon State Park
Sequoia National Park
*San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo
Monarch Butterfly Grove
Elephant Seal Vista Point
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Half Moon Bay
For a shorter trip, after Sequoia National Park, head back to San Francisco via Hwy 198 to Hwy 99 through Fresno (4 hours), skipping the west coast US 1 leg.
The optional US 1 coastal route back to San Francisco adds 8 hours. After Sequoia, drive to San Luis Obispo (3 hours) and then continue north along the coast. Check US 1 road conditions; partial road closures happen often for repairs, flooding, or landslides.
Southern Pacific Coast Highway/ US 1 to LA optional add on San Diego
One of the most famous road trip routes in California is the iconic PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) that stretches over 650 miles from Orange County, near Long Beach, to Mendocino County in northern California. I’ve done this entire route in sections a few times and have absolutely loved the scenic views, variety of wildlife, beautiful parks, and friendly people I met along the way.
This road trip option is for the southern route starting in San Francisco and heading south toward Los Angeles. The most important thing to check with this route is if US 1, the PCH is open all the way to Los Angeles. You can still road trip to LA but may have to backtrack along US 1 to hit all the stops if there are closed sections of the road, preventing you from driving along the coast the entire way.
Suggested route time: 5-7 days to enjoy all the stops
Average route distance: 450 miles, 9 hours. Continuing to San Diego adds about 3 hours and 130 miles to the route
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Point Lobos State Park
Calla Lily Valley
Elephant Seal Vista
Channel Islands National Sea Shore
Santa Monica Pier
*Torrey Pines Natural Reserve
South Inland: National Parks, State Parks, Desert, Wine Valley
Suggested route time: 10-14 days to enjoy all the stops, but this is easily cut shorter in a number of ways
Average route distance: 1,430 miles, 24 hours of driving
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Joshua Tree National Park
*N Los Angeles/Pasadena
Joshua Tree National Park
Route 66 Stops
Skip Death Valley and Borrego Springs area to shave 400 miles off this road trip and around 7 hours or extend this trip to Las Vegas, only 2 hours from Death Valley. There are many things to see in the Las Vegas area that do not include the strip if gambling and big crowds aren’t your things. Think Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park. Head back towards Los Angeles from Las Vegas, stopping at many fun attractions along the way or head south to Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs, which makes a great base for many day trips before arriving back in San Francisco.
With so much diversity on the west coast, it’ll be hard to choose just one route. I hope these road trip options and pit stop suggestions will help you plan the best road trip from San Francisco. If you have any itinerary suggestions, add them to the comment section below. I am always looking for fun new road trip routes.