The greater San Francisco area offers many amazing day trips: north, south, east, and even west into the Pacific Ocean.
My four favorite are:
- Muir Woods
- Farallon Islands
- Pacifica and Half Moon Bay
- Wine Country
Muir Woods National Monument
Coastal Redwoods (Sequoia Sempervirens) are the tallest trees on earth, often rising over 350 feet tall (107 meters). These beautiful sequoias live to 1,800 years old or more. Muir Woods National Monument is an expansive and historic redwood grove within 30 minutes of San Francisco.
Logistics. Muir Woods is north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge. To get there, take Marin Transit in-season or take a tour bus. Admission is $10 for visitors 15 and older (under 15 is free).
Helpful hints. Go there about 2 hours before closing. That is when crowds are fewest. It is very hard to get any cell reception in Muir Woods, so plan ahead if you are using Uber.
Farallon Islands and Whale Watching
The Farallon Islands are home to an extensive number of marine mammals and sits on the whale migration route. The islands are 27 miles off the San Francisco coast and even if you see no whales the trip itself is an amazing perspective showing plenty of wildlife. Though chances are you will see whales.
Oceanic Society. I recommend taking the trip with the Oceanic Society which is dedicated to building a healthy future for the world’s oceans. A naturalist is on every ship and they are really friendly and informative.
Caution. No matter how much you want to see whales, if you are prone to sea sickness this is not the day trip for you as you have to travel through what is called the Potato Patch Shoal. Way up, then way down, then up, and down, and over and over and over again, up and down.
Half Moon Bay and Pacifica
Both Pacifica and Half Moon Bay are smaller California coastal towns south of San Francisco where you can easily spend a day walking, hiking, sitting at the beach, eating and drinking, and just enjoying the slower and quirky California life.
Napa, Sonoma, Russian River Valley all offer delicious wine to taste (and buy). I try to mix it up between a few larger houses (because they have cool tours and collections) and more higher-end small houses.
Russian River and Sonoma
My recommendations for tours and tastings (as opposed to just tastings):
- Korbel Winery – Both the winery tour and the garden tour are wonderful, and the champagne tasting is always fun. The deli is a great stop for lunch too.
- Benzinger Plan ahead to ensure you get on a tour (I recommend the Partners Tour – its really interesting).
- St Francis Winery – Take the walking tour. You’ll even learn about the significance of the soil.
- Coppola – Make sure you allow time to see the Movie Gallery museum if you are a movie buff.
- Gregory Graham – Excellent winery to visit but recognize it is pretty far north.
I did not put up any recommendations for Napa as I usually go to Sonoma but feel free to add yours in the comments.
Logistics and Helpful Hints.
- If you are going to taste wine (and swallow) at the typical 5 or 6 houses, have a designated driver or better yet hire a driver or go with your group.
- Make a plan of wine houses you want to visit ahead of time (but if you see something that peaks your interest by all means stop). For example, I prefer red over white, and chardonnay is low on my list, so I am not going to houses that feature their chardonnay.
- Some houses charge for a tasting and others only charge for the premium collection (usually $5 or $20 but may be more depending on the experience). The charge is worth it.
- Listen and learn especially at the smaller houses. If you are new to wine tasting ask questions. The only stupid question is the one unasked. But there are a few basics:
- Always hold the glass by the stem, never the bowl, to keep the wine at the appropriate temperature.
- Taste at the front of your mouth, then taste holding it in your mouth briefly, then taste in the back of your mouth. Say a few words outloud to describe what you tasted (plum, ash, licorice, berries, vanilla, pears). Describing the wine out loud will make you cognizant of comparing tastes, developing your palette.
- Crazy, aggressive swirling of the wine seems to be a thing lately. It should not be.
- If you don’t like a wine, don’t drink it. Its OK, that’s why it is a tasting not a drinking.
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This San Francisco travel overview is broken into 10 parts:
San Francisco Part 1 – Overview (including getting there, weather, and where to stay)
San Francisco Part 2 – Top 5 Touristy Things To Do
San Francisco Part 3 – Best Walks in San Francisco
San Francisco Part 4 – Top 5 Off the Beaten Path Things To Do
San Francisco Part 5 – Where to Eat and Drink
San Francisco Part 6 – Avoiding the Bad Side
San Francisco Part 7 – Experiencing the Wild Side
San Francisco Part 8 – Amazing Day Hikes Around San Francisco
San Francisco Part 9 – Amazing Day Trips Around San Francisco
San Francisco Part 10 – Further Afield from San Francisco (and Worth It)
I did use the city as a base for some tours around the area such as Napa Valley and I believe Yosemite NP. I found there’s much more opportunity to venture out then from say LA.