While it’s easy to get caught up in the fun-loving, glittery vibes embedded in San Francisco’s soaring skyscrapers and lanes of hip, artsy streets, there’s a lot more to SF than meets the eye. Flanking this incredible American city is a collection of renowned outdoorsy destinations that will keep you just as entertained as the bumping nightlife in a more natural, scenic setting.
This article will share some amazing outdoor destinations to explore from San Francisco. Before we get into it, we just want to point out that Yosemite National Park is an obvious choice for this list. But, since everyone knows this phenomenal area, we’re going to focus on other spectacular outdoor destinations that sit within a three-hour drive from San Francisco.
1. Point Reyes
Just one hour north of San Francisco sits the chilled-out, easy-on-the-eyes Point Reyes. A day trip here could involve many outdoor activities: beaching it, hiking, strolling the quaint town, kayaking, and wine tasting. There’s a lot to cover!
Here’s an idea for you: grab some wine and local cheese from town, head to Drake’s Beach to munch on your food while the waves kiss the shore, and then work off your tasty picnic with a short hike from the beach parking lot up to a viewpoint of the scenic coastline and the beach.
Those craving a more rugged adventure will find that in the 9.5-mile Tomales Point Trail, Marin County Hike. Expect to wind to phenomenal vistas with the possibility of meeting some elk friends en route. Sometimes fog may interrupt your views, so check the forecast before you go. You can also find more hikes flanking the North Bay area (and not just in Point Reyes)—and they aren’t all long and challenging; you’ll find a range of difficulty and miles.
Highly recommended: a three-hour road trip from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe. Seriously. The shaded pine forests and glistening blue waters backed by intimidating snow-capped mountains give Lake Tahoe an indie, special feeling. The storybook-like imagery captivates, inspires, and includes chapters and chapters of activities!
Go on relaxing nature walks, get your heart pumping on challenging hikes, explore the lake via boat, or, if you’re here in winter, go cross country skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, ensuring to take brief breaks to admire the dazzling snowy scenery.
A popular activity is to pack your camping gear and sleep under the stars in Emerald Bay State Park! You can choose between two campsites: Emerald Bay Boat Camp (only accessible by boat or foot) and Eagle Point Campground (near a remote beach). Meanwhile, avid hikers will enjoy the 16.4-mile Rubicon Trail! And these are just a few of the activity options lining Lake Tahoe—D.L. Bliss State Park and Sand Harbor State Park are other incredibly scenic options.
3. Muir Woods and Muir Beach
Drive just 40 minutes from San Francisco to the rustic Muir Woods and Muir Beach, an area steeped in history. In the 1900s, war soldiers used (the now) Muir Beach Overlook to check out incomers via telescopes and would plan their defense accordingly.
Nowadays, Muir Beach fuses two activities: a hike to a scenic viewpoint and a beach-lazing day. Just follow the staircase up to the Muir Beach Overlook and have your camera ready for some quality photos of you and the never-ending view of salty water below. There are cliffs at the top, so be cautious when snapping pictures and admiring the seascape.
Desiring a more secluded, shaded outdoorsy getaway? Head to the nearby Muir Woods, where six miles of carved-out trails await. Unfortunately, pets, bicycles, camping, and horseback riding are banned from the park!
4. Big Sur
Whether you find yourself in San Francisco or the United States in general, Big Sur is a must-visit destination. The pristine coastline is the most extended and most untouched in the contiguous USA. Almost nothing beats the image of roaring water smashing against the foot of jagged cliffs backed by rolling hills. It’s otherworldly!
A collection of beaches and state parks border Big Sur, with the closest one to San Francisco being Garrapata State Park (just over two hours away). However, the following epic locations only take about 30-45 more minutes by car to reach: Andrew Molera State Park, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and Pfeiffer Beach.
5. American River
Get your adrenaline pumping and feel like you’re starring in an epic adventure movie on a rafting trip. Prepare for thrilling rapids, ranging from Class II to IV+. You can find memorable half-day laid-back floats or multi-day trips!
Newbies or families will want to kickstart their rafting adventure from Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, where Class II-III rapids will keep you entertained and safe. The park sits just over two hours from San Francisco. Outside of rafting, the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park offers gold panning lessons!
While you’ll find a compilation of quirky activities and events packed into San Francisco, it’s always fun to get out and explore surrounding outdoorsy hotspots!