San Franciscans are spoiled for choices when it’s time to get away from it all. From quiet hamlets on the coast to rugged cabins near national forests, here are our top eight picks for the best Bay Area weekend getaways.
Beach Towns Near San Francisco
Looking for abundant sunshine and soft sand beaches that stretch for miles? You’ve got plenty of options within a few hours’ drive.
Stroll along the famous boardwalk or soak up the sun at one of the gorgeous beaches in the laid-back town of Santa Cruz, just 70 miles south of San Francisco. Santa Cruz is a surf town, but it’s worth an afternoon to head inland to the mountains for a hike through the towering old-growth forest at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. And if you prefer spectating to surfing, you can still check out the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum in the historic Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse.
This hidden gem is worth the drive. Cayucos sits halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, so you’ll find fewer crowds than in beach towns closer to the major cities. Spend a weekend surfing, fishing off the historic pier, or devouring way too many treats from the Brown Butter Cookie Company.
Northern California Coastal Towns
If you’re looking to escape the bustle of the city, these quiet and charming Northern California coastal towns are perfect for a weekend getaway.
Gualala—pronounced “Wha-la-la”—sits 115 miles north of San Francisco, at the mouth of the Gualala River. This sleepy town offers picturesque hiking trails, a regional park, an assortment of restaurants, and easy access (via the Coast Highway) to numerous other quiet beaches and coastal towns. Spend your vacation days sampling local wines, relaxing at your vacation rental, and marveling at the redwood trees at Gualala River Redwood Park.
Although Mendocino has fewer than 900 year-round residents, there’s no shortage of things to do. Surrounded on all sides by Mendocino Headlands State Park, this community offers rugged trails with spectacular ocean views, numerous coves with cozy beaches, a museum, an art center, and plenty of restaurants.
Tucked away on scenic Highway 1, the small town of Bodega Bay is famous for its breathtaking views, captured in Hitchcock’s classic The Birds. Take a horseback ride along Doran Beach or hike up to Bodega Head for an unbeatable whale-watching perch.
There’s much more to northern California than the beach. Head east to explore scenic wine country, national parks, and one of the most beautiful lakes in the country.
Sonoma County is home to more than 400 wineries, 17 American Viticultural Areas, and a smattering of charming towns to spend the weekend. Foodies flock to Healdsburg for farm-to-table dining, and laid-back Guerneville has been considered one of the best Bay Area weekend getaways for the LGBT community for decades.
Drive 143 miles east of San Francisco and you’ll hit Groveland, a lovely town that sits right on the edge of Yosemite National Park. Groveland is a prime home base for all things outdoors-related, including hiking, river rafting, mountain biking, and stargazing. Downhill skiing and snowshoeing are also popular winter pastimes in this untamed corner of the state.
Lake Tahoe may be the best Bay Area weekend getaway for outdoorsy types—in the summer, there’s boating and hiking galore, while the winter brings skiing and snowboarding at several resorts. South Lake Tahoe is the most bustling town, with epic views from the Heavenly ski slopes and dozens of restaurants (along with a few casinos on the Nevada side of the state line). Resort communities like Tahoe Donner and Dollar Point draw in families with perks like swimming pools, tennis courts, golf courses, and private beaches.