Best Bay Area Weekend Getaways in Northern California

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Big Sur California

Beaches, redwood forests, seaside towns and wineries are among the many options for epic weekend getaways from the Bay Area. Nestled in the scenic and rugged Northern California, the Bay Area is a region that includes San Francisco, Oakland and surrounding cities.

If you’re planning a road trip, drive through Big Sur and witness jaw-dropping ocean views and stunning sunsets. For a dreamy coastal getaway, head to Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Barbara. And wine-lovers will adore Napa Valley or Sonoma County. Learn about those destinations and a lot more with our roundup of the 14 best weekend getaways from the Bay Area.

1. Half Moon Bay

Located about 30 miles south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay is a scenic seaside town with beautiful beaches, dramatic bluffs and wooded hills. This small town attracts surfers, who ride the massive waves that break at Mavericks Beach.

For an outdoor adventure, head to Half Moon Bay State Beach, which is made up of four different beaches. Bring a picnic basket but leave your bathing suit at home, as the water is too cold to swim in and there are riptides. Those looking to get some exercise can hike along the California Coastal Trail, which starts at Pillar Point, another must-visit destination. In town, visitors will find charming shops, art galleries, parks and historical buildings.

2. Sausalito

Just a 10-minute drive from San Francisco, Sausalito is an ideal weekend getaway in the Bay Area. It’s known for its farm-to-table restaurants, luxury hotels, art galleries and array of activities. For example, it’s one of the best places for kayaking and sailing in the San Francisco Bay. It’s also a great place for hiking and biking. Plus, you’ll be near wine country.

3. Redwood National and State Park

See the world’s tallest trees at Redwood National and State Parks. A six-hour drive from San Francisco, this park system protects nearly 40,000 acres of redwood forests, where you’ll find trees more than 1,500 years old.

Walk among these ancient giants while exploring the vast network of hiking trails found within the parks. The Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile scenic drive, is a relaxing way to explore the parks. There are also many campgrounds scattered throughout the park.

4. Big Sur

If you’re planning a road trip, Big Sur needs to be on your route. A three-hour drive from San Francisco, Big Sur is a stretch of coastline that spans about 90 miles along the Pacific Coast Highway 1. The area features steep cliffs, sandy beaches, winding turns and breathtaking Pacific Ocean views.

Be sure to stop and take pictures at one of the two viewpoint on either side of Bixby Creek Bridge. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is another must-stop along the coast. This park features a highly-photographed cove as well as McWay Falls, a powerful 80-foot waterfall. Only 5 minutes from McWay Falls, you’ll find Slates Hot Springs, a holistic retreat. If you don’t want to join one of the daytime workshops, you can take a soak (like the locals do) between 1am and 3am.

There are also several popular beaches in Big Sur, including Pfeiffer Beach, Garrapata Beach and Carmel Beach. We recommend staying for sunset.

5. Santa Cruz

Surrounded by the redwood-covered mountains and expansive beaches, Santa Cruz is the perfect combination of city and nature. Explore the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and ride the amusement park’s historic rollercoaster. Here you’ll also find laser tag, bowling, mini golf and lots of games. The Santa Cruz Trolley, which provides transportation to and from the boardwalk, is also an attraction in itself. After a day of sightseeing, relax at one of the city’s popular breweries.

To explore the redwood forests outside of the city, ride on the Roaring Camp Railroads, which offer a 75-minute tour through the forest. Other popular Santa Cruz attractions include the Seymour Marine Discovery Center and the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.

6. Monterey

A two-hour drive from San Francisco, Monterey combines a small town atmosphere with stunning natural beauty and abundant attractions for the whole family. Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium and explore dozens of exhibits about the local marine life. Penguins, stingrays, sea otters, sharks and jellyfish are just some of the many animals that call the aquarium home.

The museum is located on Cannery Row, a seaside avenue made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name. After visiting the museum, explore the many shops, restaurants and hotels that line this district.

Monterey is also a top destination for whale-watching. Visitors may be able to spot these magnificent creatures from the coast, but there are also organized tours that depart from Fisherman’s Wharf.

7. Carmel-by-the-Sea

Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea are right next to each other, but they each deserve their own entry. A charming seaside town, Carmel-by-the-Sea is like something straight out of a fairy-tale. Here you’ll find whimsical architecture, hidden courtyards, and bohemian shops.

Visit the Carmel Mission, founded in 1770, and explore its decorative Basilica. There is also a museum that preserves the mission’s history. Spend some time outdoors while visiting the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve or Carmel Beach.

Round out your trip by checking out the 17-mile drive, a scenic route that travels along the Monterey Peninsula while passing through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove.

8. Yosemite National Park

Natural beauty abounds in Yosemite. With powerful waterfalls, rich wildlife, towering cliffs and ancient trees, Yosemite should be on everyone’s bucket list. This national park is particularly popular for all who love hiking, photography, rock climbing or outdoor adventure in general.

Explore the iconic Yosemite Valley, home to landmarks like El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls. We also recommend hiking the enchanting Mist Trail, which take you to the base of Vernal Fall and continues to Nevada Fall. For those who need a break from hiking there are plenty of scenic drive, such as the Yosemite Valley loop, Tioga Road and Wawona Road.

9. Mendocino

Spend your weekend on the rugged Mendocino Coast. The small village of Mendocino dates back to the 1850s and is now a designated Historic Preservation District. East coasters will find lots of familiar architecture here, including seaside cottages and Victorian mansions.

Enjoy a variety of outdoor activities in the surrounding Mendocino Headlands State Park, where beaches, hidden grottos and hiking trails abound. Start your adventure at the visitor center, where you can pick up maps or speak to an experienced guide about the area’s best trails.

Other popular attractions include the Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park and the Ford House Museum, listed on the National Historic Register.

10. Napa Valley

Have yourself a wine weekend in Napa Valley. This popular wine region is home to over 400 wineries and tasting rooms. Spend an afternoon wine tasting and learn all about the county’s popular export. To see the vineyards from above, take a hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley. This popular attraction usually takes place at sunrise and lasts about one hour.

Napa Valley also boasts hot springs, located in the town of Calistoga. We recommend visiting Calistoga Hot Springs & Spa or Indian Springs. Finish off your Napa trip by kayaking in the Napa River or by taking the Napa Valley’s Historic Wine Train.

11. Sonoma County

Often considered Napa Valley’s laid-back neighbor, Sonoma County is another paradise for wine lovers. This wine region is located along the coast and is home to towering redwoods, rolling hills and vast vineyards. The most popular vineyards here include the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards and the Buena Vista Winery.

The city of Sonoma features a charming historic plaza where visitors can shop, eat or go wine tasting. If you’re hungry, head to the Barlow, an open-air marketplace full of cafés and restaurants. Those in the mood for some outdoor fun can visit the Sonoma Coast State Park or the Jack London State Historic Park.

12. Fort Bragg

Located on the Mendocino Coast along California Highway 1, Fort Bragg is best known for Glass Beach. This area was once a trash dump and the glass bottles discarded here transformed over time into smooth pieces of sea glass that sprinkle this now popular beach. Glass Beach encompasses several beaches, some of which have more glass than others, so be sure to visit more than one beach.

While you’re visiting Fort Bragg, be sure to stop at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, which attracts nearly 100,000 visitors every year. Home to coastal pine forest, canyons and wetlands, the garden is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. For hiking and photography, visit Noyo Headlands Park or Pudding Creek Beach.

Read More: Best Things to Do in Charming Concord, California

13. Lake Tahoe

Situated about 200 miles from San Francisco, Lake Tahoe is a popular destination for Bay Area residents. Nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe is home to beaches, where visitors can go paddleboarding, boating, swimming or simply sunbathe in the summer. In the winter, the surrounding hills become ideal for snowboarding and skiing.

The area is also home to several popular state parks, including Emerald Bay State Park and Sand Harbor State Park. If you’re hungry or looking to shop, visit the charming small towns that sprinkle the area. Window-shop at South Lake Tahoe, visit historic sites at Truckee or go kayaking in Tahoe City.

14. Santa Barbara

If you have more time, consider Santa Barbara for a long weekend getaway from the Bay Area. This Central Coast city bears a rich colonial history, still evident in the town’s many historic sites and Spanish architecture. Dive into this coastal town’s history by touring the Old Mission Santa Barbara or the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.

Santa Barbara is also known for its world-class wineries, beautiful beaches and stunning natural beauty. Enjoy Santa Barbara’s beautiful coastal views from Stearns Wharf, where visitors can explore souvenir shops, try some tasty seafood or go fishing, kayaking or whale watching.

Walk through the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and see hundreds of native plants, including California poppies, redwood trees and desert lavenders. Visitors can also shop in downtown Santa Barbara, take the family to the Santa Barbara zoo or visit the Santa Barbara Museum Of Natural History.

Adina Keeling is a freelance travel writer from San Diego, CA. She worked in local news for a year until her wanderlust drew her to Costa Rica, where she is now based while freelancing and traveling the world. She has lived in three different countries and traveled to 27. An avid solo traveler, Adina wants to empower other women to safely travel alone.
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