The Best Road Trips from San Francisco

January 8 2022, 10:06pm

Itching for a San Francisco road trip but not sure where to go next? San Francisco is your gateway to the best road trips in California. Whether you’re looking for a day trip or an extensive road trip, we’ve got the best road trips from San Francisco. 

Visit major cities like Los Angeles and Sacramento, witness California’s iconic golden coast, taste the world’s finest wines, or trek the diverse landscape to see what natural wonders you discover. All this and more awaits you on the road.

See which of these road trips you’ll cross off your bucket list next!

San Francisco to Santa Cruz

santa cruz

Distance: 73.1 miles

Duration: 1-2 Days

Planning a trip from San Francisco to Santa Cruz lets you experience the beautiful California coast along Highway 1. Get ready for lots of scenic ocean views, charming coastal towns, and plenty of outdoor adventures to keep you active on this road trip.

Stop by Pacifico, just 12-miles south of San Francisco. It’s where you can start the trip with a hike along the Devil’s Slide Trail, a popular section of the California Coastal Trail hikes. Then, splash around or surf the Pacific Ocean at Pacifica State Beach.

Drive down to Half Moon Bay, a coastal town that gets you out into the water. Climb aboard a boat at the Pillar Point Harbor to sail off on exciting fishing or boating excursions along the coast. Or spend time sunbathing on Half Moon Bay State Beach.

Finally, a stop in Pescadero is recommended before reaching Santa Cruz. Pescadero is full of must-see sights, like the picturesque Pigeon Point Lighthouse perched on the coast or observing elephant seals inside Año Nuevo State Park.

San Francisco to Yountville and Napa

napa valley wineries

Distance: 56.4 miles

Duration: 2-3 days

California’s famous Napa Valley wine region is just a short drive away from San Francisco and should be on everyone’s bucket list. But before indulging in the region’s delectable spirits, there are a few stops you don’t want to miss along the way.

The road trip takes you through Vallejo, a town where you’ll be surprised where the best views come from. Views of the Benicia State Recreation Area lets you see the coast, while a ride on The Joker roller coaster in the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom takes you up 100-ft on this adrenaline-rushing coasting.

It won’t be long before you reach Berkeley, a visually attractive city, especially when walking the University of California Berkeley campus. Sather Tower is the most iconic landmark on the campus and lets visitors climb to the top of this clock tower for panoramic views of Berkeley.

When you reach Napa, you’re finally in wine country. Pair a wine tour at a local winery with a vineyard tour and end with a stroll through the Napa Art Walk for the ultimate experience.

San Francisco to Sacramento

sacramento

Distance: 87.9 miles

Duration: 1-2 days

You won’t need much of a roadmap when traveling from San Francisco to Sacramento since it’s just a straight shot on the I-80 highway. But while it’s one of the easiest road trips from San Francisco, why rush the trip when there are some interesting stops you’ll want to check out along the way?

The road trip takes you through Oakland, one of the popular Bay Area cities. You’ll drive past the antique buildings preserved in Old Oakland and swing past Jack London Square, where events are always happening. 

Continue north on the highway route and exit when you see the sign for Vacaville. You’ll witness the rural side of California, where farms dominate the land. Several local farms allow farm visits to see behind-the-scenes of a working farm, from raising animals to growing crops. You’ll even taste farm-to-table restaurants.

Shortly before arriving at your final destination, you’ll drive through Davis, CA. It’s the perfect time to get out and stretch your legs at the green belt, a series of bike paths for recreation. It’s also home to the US Bicycling Hall of Fame.

San Francisco to Yosemite

yosemite

Distance: 167.3 miles

Duration: 2-3 days

Be sure to pack for the outdoors because this San Francisco to Yosemite road trip is full of activities to enjoy California outdoors. You can easily plan a day trip to Yosemite National Park, but tack on an extra day or two to see what other wonders the region holds.

Leaving San Francisco will lead you directly into Mt. Diablo State Park. Strap on your hiking boots because the hike up Mt. Diablo is not for the faint of heart, with a 13-mile trail reaching a height over 3800-ft.

Take a break from the outdoors as you pass through Stockton and discover the rich cultural scene. The Haggin Museum holds a notable fine art collection from the 20th century. Or learn about the region in the San Joaquin County Historical Museum. Lastly, go for a stroll through the serene Japanese gardens in the Micke Grove Regional Park before leaving town.

The Yosemite National Park is the highlight of Yosemite. Hike one of the 750-miles of trails to witness the rushing waters tumbling over the edge at the Yosemite Falls or admire the beautiful scenery in the Yosemite Valley. Or a drive along the Tunnel View scenic highway gives you breathtaking views overlooking the valley without leaving your car.

San Francisco to Big Sur

big sur

Distance: 146 miles

Duration: 2-3 days

Going on a Big Sur road trip from San Francisco takes you along the most scenic sections of Highway 1. You’ll have views of the ocean the entire journey. But while you’re taking in the sights, look out for signs to these destinations.

Santa Cruz is one of the first big cities you’ll reach along the coast. Bring out your swim gear because Santa Cruz Beach is the go-to place to hang out in town. Go for a swim or grab a bite to eat on the Santa Cruz Wharf. And if that beach gets crowded, the Natural Bridges State Beach is an excellent alternative and famous for its naturally-formed rock arches.

The next stop on the Big Sur road trip is Monterey. Situated on Monterey Bay, it’s a place with abundant marine life. See your favorite underwater creatures up close inside the Monterey Bay Aquarium or spot whales swimming in the bay.

Visiting Carmel-by-the-Sea brings you to one of California’s favorite beach towns. Hang-10 while surfing in Carmel Beach or explore the depths of the water while diving in Carmel River State Beach.

San Francisco to Mendocino Coast

Distance: 170 miles

Duration: 2-3 days

Traverse the rugged California coast from San Francisco to Mendocino Coast via Highway 1. As one of the most scenic road trips in California, you’ll experience the diverse destinations along the coast filled with interesting natural attractions and possibly surprise sightings.

Start your journey with a visit to Point Reyes National Seashore. The 19th century Point Reyes lighthouse stands overlooking this stretch of preserved coastline. Keep an eye out into the bay to spot gray whales during migration season.

Continue north on the coast to reach Bodega Bay. This fisherman haven has tons of fishing tours on the water or pier. Relish in the views from Bodega Head, where it’s not uncommon to see whales breaking the surface. Also, check out Doran Regional Park if you’re craving time on the beach during your road trip.

Point Arena is another must-visit destination while traveling to Mendocino Coast. Walk the sandy shores of Manchester Beach or the unique Glass Beach. And nothing is more picturesque than views from the Point Arena Lighthouse.

San Francisco to Lake Tahoe

lake tahoe

Distance: 199 miles

Duration: 1 day

Lake Tahoe is a popular day trip from San Francisco. Hit the road in the morning, and you can squeeze in a few exciting stops during the trip and still have plenty of time to arrive and enjoy a day at the lake.

The trip passes through Sacramento, the capital of California. It’s worth spending an entire day here if you have time. Tour inside the California State Capitol Building or check out landmarks preserved from the Gold Rush in the Old Sacramento district.

At the highway crossroads, merge onto I-80 to visit North Lake Tahoe, or US-50 will take you to South Lake Tahoe. The North Lake Tahoe route runs near Grass Valley, a hub during the Gold Rush. See where millions of ounces of gold were mined in the Empire Mine State Park.

If you opt for South Lake Tahoe, you’ll enter the El Dorado National Forest before arriving at your final destination, where you’ll have over 100 scenic hiking trails to explore.

San Francisco to Lassen Volcanic National Park

painted dunes lassen park

Distance: 247 miles

Duration: 2-3 days

Escape the big city for an outdoor paradise when you take a road trip from San Francisco to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Hike the trails that take you to cool, refreshing lakes with clear water or heat things up at the lava beds. During the drive up I-5 N, there are a few places you should stop by before reaching the park.

You can visit Napa Valley, a region dotted with some of the world’s best wineries. You can stay overnight here in a charming bed and breakfast to enjoy a local wine tour or purchase a few bottles to enjoy later.

Further north, you’ll pass by the Mendocino National Forest. But since it’s California’s only national forest without vehicle roads, travelers can experience the pristine natural setting. Forest critters and the rustling trees provide the soundtrack while hiking to the Blue Lakes or other landmarks.

Driving across the Sundial Bridge in Redding will let you know how much time you have to spend in this city before continuing the trip. Then, visit Shasta State Historic Park to tour the ruins of a 19th-century gold mine town. Or take in the mountain views surrounding Whiskeytown Lake.

San Francisco to Santa Barbara

santa barbara

Distance: 325 miles

Duration: 2-3 Days

The trip from San Francisco to Santa Barbara gives a mix of outdoor fun and exploring the region’s major cities. The Pacific Ocean’s endless horizon accompanies you as you drive along California’s coast en route to Santa Barbara.

Travel on US-101, where you’ll check out San Jose, California’s hub for science and technology. Drive downtown to visit the Tech Museum of Innovation or tour the city to see the former headquarters for tech giants like Google and Apple.

Take a break from technology with a trip through Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park after reaching Highway 1. See the unique rock formations protruding from the coast near Pfeiffer Beach or go for a nature walk beneath towering Redwood groves.

Santa Maria is the next big city you’ll reach on the way to Santa Barbara. It’s famous for its wineries. Also, hiking the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes sitting on the coast. And don’t forget to taste its signature barbecue style.

San Francisco to Los Angeles

los angeles

Distance: 500+ miles

Duration: 3-4 days

Choosing the Pacific Coast Highway can add a few days to your trip, but it’s the scenic route that you’ll be glad you took. The quickest way is via I-5 that you can take on the return Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip.

The first stop is Santa Cruz, a coastal town with plenty of activities. Grab a snack and stroll the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk before running out on the sandy beach. And you’ll instantly recognize the Seymour Marine Discovery Center by the giant whale skeleton outside.

Santa Barbara is the next stop on your road trip, whose photogenic Spanish-revival architecture will quickly fill your camera roll. Swing by the Old Mission Santa Barbara, which was built in 1786. Then, join the bustling crowds at Stearns Wharf for shopping and dining.

You’re basically in LA when you reach Santa Monica, but it’s a city with its own glamourous attractions. Santa Monica Pier is home to the iconic Ferris wheel providing incredible views at the top. Go swimming at Santa Monica State Beach or shop at the posh boutique shops lining the Third Street Promenade.

San Francisco to San Diego

san diego balboa park

Distance: 600+ miles

Duration: 4-5 days

The drive from San Francisco to San Diego is the ultimate California road trip! One of the best road trips from San Francisco takes you along the famous Pacific Coast Highway and to famous cities like Los Angeles, where one day is never enough to explore.

Highway 1 takes you to Big Sur to enjoy a bit of outdoor recreation on your trip. Pick your favorite hike to explore the attractions and viewpoints in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park or Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

Los Angeles will be a highlight of your trip. It’s one of the most visited cities in the US with many tourist attractions. Pose in front of the Hollywood Sign and find stars from your favorite celebrities on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Don’t worry if you can’t see everything, there’s always time during the return San Diego to San Francisco road trip.

Get ready for some fun during your road trip when you arrive in Carlsbad. Go on thrill rides at Legoland California theme park and explore the underwater world at Sea Life Aquarium.


Whether you’re planning on doing a day trip or wanting a multi-day affair, there’s so much to see and do from San Francisco. Don’t forget to have a few key locations planned and be open to any hidden gems that may appear along the way.

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