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5 Family-Friendly Day Trips Just Outside San Francisco

day trips from san francisco

MargaretW / iStock / Getty Images

The San Francisco Bay Area is full of world-famous attractions folks travel from all over the globe to behold. There’s a lot to do in your neck of the woods, from the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz to the Fisherman’s Wharf and Angel Island. Of course, if you’re raising a family on the West Coast anywhere between Sausalito and Half Moon Bay, chances are you’ve done everything the area has to offer a hundred times over.

We all know that parents and guardians living in the San Francisco area are so busy working that they’ve actually had to invent new days of the week and add extra hours to those days just to make ends meet. This being the case, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to create a quick and easy guide to get you and your loved ones out on the road to enjoy one-day-round trips that can be tackled with fun short drives.

Whether you live in San Francisco itself or just across a bridge in places like Oakland, Berkeley, or some other Bay Area burg, we hope this family travel guide featuring the best day trips makes your excursion one remember!

5 Family-Friendly Day Trips from San Francisco

1. Big Sur

Even if you’re not raising future surfers, Big Sur is an excellent destination for families who love the outdoors. Along with a short and beautiful drive down Highway 1, trips to Big Sur include serene hiking trails that weave through succulent wildflower patches and opportunities to kayak in the Pacific Ocean. In addition to its own charms, Big Sur makes a perfect ultimate destination on a round trip that includes some of the coastal cities listed below.

2. Sacramento

California’s state capital has a lot to offer that you won’t find in San Francisco. What’s more, you can easily walk down its streets without stepping in the same sort of stuff you might find back home (you know what we’re talking about). For starters, trips to the California state capitol building can be both fun and instructive, especially if you’re trying to bring up future politicians. In addition to the state capitol, Sacramento also has a beautiful Old Town area full of lovely restaurants, attractions, and gift shops that will please kids of all ages. Last but not least, if it’s the right time of year, you could even consider attending the state fair at the Cal Expo, where you can enjoy rides, games, and all that rich fair fare.

3. The Northern California Coast

RELATED: Redwood National and State Parks Guard California’s Coastline

Just North of San Francisco, you’ll find a trove of outdoor recreational areas in and around Marin County that make much more of a trip than a quick visit to the Marin Headlands. For instance, the Muir Woods National Monument is only a 17-mile drive from downtown S.F. and an excellent destination for hikers, horseback riding, and more. Here are some other state and national parks within a reasonable drive that you and your family should definitely consider:

  • Point Reyes National Seashore
  • Mount Tamalpais State Park
  • Samuel P. Taylor State Park
  • Tomales Bay State Park
  • Stinson Beach

4. Monterey

Of all the “small towns” on the California Coast that make for a great family day trip destination, Monterey is no doubt in the top three. Attractions include sites animal lovers will appreciate, like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and piers overflowing with several species of noisy, smelly sea lions. If you’ve got book nerds on board, be sure to visit the Cannery Row area, which has been made famous by the writings of iconic American author John Steinbeck.

5. Other “Small Towns” Near San Fran

When you live in a metropolitan area like San Francisco, most other cities besides New York and L.A. seem like small towns in comparison. While these humble burgs might not think of themselves as quaint family destinations, you’ll probably appreciate their relatively calm and elbow room. Here are a few places you could enjoy in a day while making lifelong memories:

  • Santa Cruz: While there’s a lot to do in this seaside city, the number one draw is definitely the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
  • Carmel-by-the-Sea: This is a great destination if you’re trying to bring up little beatniks and hippies, as it has quite a few art galleries and cafes. If your family is more into the outdoors, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is also just south of the city.

Who Didn’t Make the Cut?

Yosemite National Park

Since Yosemite takes over 3 hours to reach by car ? and that’s if you don’t run into crazy traffic like you know you will ? we’ve made the painful decision not to include it on our list of one-day road trip destinations. Over 6 hours of driving, complete with bathroom breaks and rest stops, isn’t worth it if you’re just coming to look at the national park’s central valley for the span of a short afternoon, especially if you consider the drive there and back is none too scenic. Now, if you’re interested in a family-friendly weekend getaway, that’s another story.

Napa Valley

While the rolling hills of Sonoma County’s wine country beckon to sophisticated adults, we all know wine tasting isn’t exactly what kids are into. At least it shouldn’t be. Similarly, we definitely would suggest you drink while driving, biking, kayaking, or any of the other fun activities that constitute the best family experiences. As such, Napa is out of the question.

Redwood National and State Parks

While we can’t blame any family for wanting to walk amongst the majestic coastal redwood forests of California’s Northern Coast, Redwood National and State Park are way further off than you might think. At over 5 hours by car, there are indeed closer redwood trees for you and your family to enjoy.

Got a favorite way to spend a day outside the San Francisco Bay Area? Help a family out on our Wide Open Roads Facebook!

READ MORE: 25 Cities, Parks, Forests & Attractions to Customize Your California Road Trip