As great as San Francisco is, sometimes you just need a temporary escape from the city. Maybe you’re looking for a change of pace, or you’re just itching to see what’s beyond this seven by seven-mile grid. Well, you’re in for a treat. Northern California is filled with history, nature, and delicious eats. No matter what your interests are or what you’re looking to do, here are 10 weekend getaways from San Francisco that’ll re-energize or relax you.

For a little bit of all different activities

Berkeley

Weekend getaways from San Francisco: The University of California, Berkeley campus, featuring Doe Library and the Campanile bell tower.
Photo: BerkeleyLaw

How to get there

  • By BART – Just across the bay from San Francisco, Berkeley is well-served by public transportation. You can easily get there with just a 30 to 40-minute BART ride. From San Francisco, take the Richmond line. Then, depending on which area of Berkeley you’d like to start at, get off at either the Downtown Berkeley or North Berkeley stop.
  • By bus – Another really simple and easy way to get to Berkeley is by bus. Jump on the F bus at the Transbay Terminal. It’ll take you over the Bay Bridge, through Emeryville, and then to Berkeley.
  • By car – Most of the sights in Berkeley can be seen on foot or by bus. However, if you’d like to have a little more freedom, Berkeley is just a 20-minute drive from the city. A word of warning though you may have difficulty finding parking once you get there.

What to do

  • Enjoy the outdoors Berkeley is surrounded by nature, with plenty of hiking trails and hills to scale. You can traverse Claremont Canyon, visit the University of California Botanical Garden, sniff flowers at the Berkeley Rose Garden, climb up huge rocks at Indian Rock Park, or spend an entire day exploring Tilden Regional Park.
  • Spend a day on campus – The UC Berkeley campus is one of the city’s main attractions. Take your time exploring every building on campus, as all of them are unique. Ride to the top of Sather Tower (also known as the Campanile), take a guided tour, and visit the ornate Doe Library.
  • Take a self-guided food tour – You could spend an entire day eating in Berkeley and still barely scratch its culinary surface. When in Berkeley, be sure to visit the two distinct centers of food. Known as the Gourmet Ghetto, North Berkeley serves up some fancy eats and is home to the famous Chez Panisse. For cheaper yet equally delicious meals, head to what students fondly refer to as the Asian Ghetto (more formally known as Durant Square). Most of the restaurants in this small plaza serve Asian cuisine, but you’ll also find Italian food, Mediterranean food, and donuts.
  • Shop new and used – You won’t find many major chains in Berkeley. Instead, the city is a treasure trove of boutiques and thrift stores. At the west end of Berkeley is Fourth Street, a strip of clothing, home goods, and beauty and health stores by the waterfront. Similarly, the Elmwood Shopping District on College Avenue has some higher-end shops. If you enjoy thrifting or are on a tight budget, head to Telegraph Avenue instead for multiple consignment shops.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

How to get there

  • By car – Driving is the best way to get to Carmel, and it only takes about two hours from San Francisco.
  • By public transportation – You can technically get to Carmel using a combination of BART, shuttle, and bus. But it takes about four hours and involves multiple transfers and some walking, so it’s not ideal.

What to do

  • Visit the home of poet Robinson Jeffers – Robinson Jeffers, a poet known for his literature inspired by the California coast, designed and built his family’s cottage (Tor House) and a four-story stone tower (Hawk Tower). The Tor House Foundation runs guided tours every Friday and Saturday for a small admission fee ($12 for adults and $7 for students). If you’re interested, be sure to make a reservation, as tours are limited to six people.
  • Take an art walk – Art lovers should visit Carmel on the second Saturday of the month, when the city hosts its art walk. During the evening, take a self-guided tour through over 15 art galleries and meet the local artists.
  • Enjoy the beach and hiking trails – There are lots of outdoor activities in and around Carmel. You can take a walk along Carmel Beach or go hiking in Point Lobos (a 30-minute drive) or Big Sur (an hour drive).
  • Take a scenic drive – Follow the 17-Mile Drive for breathtaking views of the California coast. Don’t be afraid to make plenty of stops to take photos and discover the surrounding Pebble Beach area.

Santa Cruz

How to get there

  • By car – Santa Cruz is about an hour and a half drive south of San Francisco.
  • By public transportation – You can also easily get to Santa Cruz via public transportation, although you will need to transfer. Take the Caltrain from San Francisco to San Jose, and then transfer to a bus. Alternatively, you can take a Greyhound bus. Depending on the route, it takes anywhere from three to four hours to arrive in Santa Cruz.

What to do

  • Enjoy rides and games on the boardwalk – Don’t miss the oldest amusement park in California. Since 1907, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been a popular attraction. It’s home to two National Historic Landmarks – the Giant Dipper, the fifth oldest roller coaster in the US, and Looff Carousel, a hand-carved merry-go-round.
  • Discover mysterious forces – Described as a “gravitational anomaly,” the Mystery Spot seems to bend the laws of physics and gravitation. Whether you believe in the supernatural, the Mystery Spot is a fun hour-long experience.
  • Journey through redwood forests – See Santa Cruz and its surrounding areas by train at Roaring Camp Railroads. Board steam trains from the late 1800s and early 1900s and learn about the history of Roaring Camp.

Monterey

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium

How to get there

  • By car – Monterey is about a two hour drive south of San Francisco. While you could technically make your way down via public transportation, driving is the most practical and efficient method.

What to do

  • Immerse yourself in marine wildlife – The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best in America, featuring over 35,000 creatures and almost 200 exhibits. Discover two floors of octopuses, sharks, penguins, otters, and much more. If you time your visit right, you can even catch one of their live feedings.
  • Shop and eat at Cannery Row – Once home to bustling fish canneries, Cannery Row is now a street lined with restaurants, wine tasting rooms, and local stores.
  • Go whale watching – Take a whale watching tour for a chance to see these massive and majestic creatures up close, in addition to dolphins, sea otters, and seals. Don’t forget to layer up, as it can get chilly out on the ocean.

Sacramento

How to get there

  • By bus – Megabus and Greyhound both run direct buses from San Francisco to Sacramento. Since it only takes an hour and 40 minutes to two hours by bus, this is a good alternative to driving, as long as you don’t mind using public transportation, taxis, and Uber or Lyft to get around the city.
  • By car – California’s capital is only an hour and a half northeast of San Francisco. Driving up to Sacramento is the best way to easily access all parts of the city once you arrive.

What to do

  • Step back in time to the Gold Rush era – Situated along the Sacramento River, Old Sacramento State Historic Park is a 28 acre district that features the Pony Express Terminal, the Transcontinental Railroad, the California State Railroad Museum, and many other attractions. With tours, museums, shops, and restaurants, there’s plenty to do in the historic district during the day and night.
  • Tour the State Capitol – While you’re here, it’d be silly to not visit the State Capitol building and see where the state government operates. Admission is free, with hourly tours.
  • Splash around – Spend an afternoon floating in tubes and zipping down water slides at Raging Waters water park. During the summer, this is the perfect way to cool off. (Sacramento can get significantly hotter than San Francisco.)
  • View Californian art and other masterpieces The Crocker Art Museum is split between two buildings the historic Crocker mansion and art gallery and the modern Teel Family Pavilion. Known for its collection of Californian art, European drawings, and international ceramics, you’ll probably want to allot at least three hours to see it all.
  • Shop fresh produce and vintage wares – The Handle District in Midtown Sacramento has boutiques and vintage finds. Every Saturday, it’s also the site of the Midtown Farmers Market.

For nothing but food, drinks, and relaxation

Sausalito

Houses on the waterfront and a wooden walkway along the water in Sausalito.
Photo: Sausalito.gov

How to get there

  • By bike – Get in some exercise as you make your way to Sausalito. You can rent a bike at Fisherman’s Wharf and ride it across the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s about an eight mile bike ride, but you may find yourself making multiple stops along the way to snap photos of the picturesque north coast of San Francisco.
  • By bus – There are multiple bus lines that run between San Francisco and Sausalito, so check out Golden Gate Transit’s bus schedule for more details.
  • By ferry – Catch a ferry to Sausalito from either Fisherman’s Wharf or the Ferry Building. The trip takes about 30 minutes.
  • By car – There are many ways to get to Sausalito, so consider driving as a last resort. It takes 20 to 30 minutes to get there, depending on traffic. But once you’re there, having a car isn’t necessary and it may become more of a hassle when it comes to finding parking.

What to do

  • Stroll along the waterfront – One of the best ways to enjoy Sausalito’s beauty is to walk along the waterfront. You’ll get a view of Angel Island and the Tiburon peninsula across the bay.
  • Learn about local hydraulics – To see a one and a half acre model of the Bay Area’s delta system, swing by the Bay Model Visitor Center. It’s free and worth making a quick stop.
  • Play some bocce – Hang out on Bar Bocce’s waterfront patio and enjoy a game of bocce ball while sipping on cocktails and digging into their sourdough pizzas.
  • See local boutiques and art galleries – If you just stick to Bridgeway, you’ll only see the popular tourist shops. Walk north a bit farther, and you’ll reach Caledonia Street, which is where locals spend their money on art, furniture, books, and more.

Sonoma

How to get there

  • By car – Getting to Sonoma is a quick hour and a half to two hour drive up north. If you’re planning on going wine tasting, having a car is essential, since the wineries are spread out. Be sure to have a designated driver, though!

What to do

  • Go wine tasting – More laid back than Napa, Sonoma is where you want to go for quality wine tasting with less glitz and glamor. While it can be less touristy than Napa, you may still want to contact wineries in advance to make sure they can accommodate you.
  • Eat, drink, and shop – Restaurants, wine tasting rooms, and shops surround Sonoma Plaza. Its modern offerings almost obscure the fact that the plaza is an important historical site where California ceased to be controlled by Mexico.
  • Visit Jack London’s ranch – See the location that inspired the famous writer’s late work. Just a 20 minute drive away, the Jack London State Historic Park features over 29 miles of trails and free guided tours.

Napa

Castello di Amorosa, a Tuscan built castle and winery in Napa Valley.
Photo: NapaValley.com

How to get there

  • By car – Napa is about an hour and a half drive north of the city.

What to do

  • Indulge in some (or a lot of) wine – You’re in wine country, so what else would you expect? With over 400 wineries, you’re bound to find a place that fits your style and taste.
  • See Napa from above – Experience Napa in a way very few people do. For a truly special weekend, book a hot air balloon ride to get an incredible bird’s eye view of Napa.
  • Relax however you see fit – Napa is all about relaxation, whether you’re spending it on a golf course, at a luxurious spa, or biking between wineries. If you’re visiting in the summer, Napa hosts outdoor concerts and festivals many of which are free.

For outdoor adventures

Yosemite National Park

How to get there

  • By car – If you’re heading to Yosemite, there’s a good chance you’re bringing some type of outdoor gear with you. The best way to get there is to simply drive. Yosemite is about three to four hours east of San Francisco.

What to do

  • Camp – Yosemite National Park is open year-round, although some entrances do close during the winter. This means you can technically hike and camp as much as you’d like and trust us, one visit to Yosemite is not enough.
  • Play in nature – All sorts of nature activities are available in Yosemite, including fishing, rock climbing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.

Lake Tahoe

A skier wearing a red jacket, skiing down a slope in South Lake Tahoe.
Photo: TahoeSouth.com

How to get there

  • By car – It takes three to four hours to drive to Lake Tahoe and its surrounding areas. However, keep in mind that Tahoe is a popular weekend destination, so you may face traffic on your way there and back. Also, snow can massively slow down your travel.

What to do

  • Enjoy the outdoors – No matter what time of year it is, Tahoe is known for its abundance of outdoor activities. During the winter, enjoy skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and snowmobiling. During other times of the year, you can explore numerous hiking trails or go paddleboarding, kayaking, and sailing.
  • Go on a brewery tour – Explore Tahoe’s craft beer scene by going on a brewery tour. Tahoe Brew Tours organizes outings in both North and South Lake Tahoe, so you can do all of the drinking and none of the driving.
  • Have a spa day – Pamper yourself with a trip to the spa. With a variety of places to choose from, you’ll find a treatment that relieves whatever aches, soreness, and stress you have. As you plan your spa day, don’t forget that there are also many nearby hot springs.
  • Place your bets – Feeling lucky? Head to big name casinos, like Harrah’s, or local ones, like Lakeside Inn and Casino to try your hand at slots or any of the many card games.