You can spend a lifetime in San Francisco and still feel like there’s more to do and see. But it’s not called the greater Bay Area for nothing. So we put together our top picks for day-long excursions around San Francisco (all an hour or less away) that go beyond the ever-wonderful (and always popular) wine country.
Tomales Bay, Point Reyes, Mt. Tamalpais, Bolinas, and Larkspur
20 minutes to an hour drive from San Francisco.
Hiking lovers, take note: just across the Golden Gate Bridge you’ll find some of the most gorgeous hikes around. Point Reyes National Seashore has no shortage of beautiful trails; we love the 8-mile loop to Alamere Falls, a cascade of water plunging into the ocean. Another must-visit in Point Reyes: Tomales Bay, home of some of the Bay Area’s most delicious oysters. Drive or kayak out to Hog Island or Tomales Bay Oyster Company, bring a picnic and plenty of beer, and get shucking for a full-day feast.
Mount Tamalpais has no shortage of trails, as well. There are plenty of rigorous hikes and bike rides to test your mettle, but a worthy, mellow excursion is one to the German Tourist Club. Basically a bar in the woods, the Tourist Club is a prime spot to bring a picnic and enjoy some beer on tap.
Make your way back through Larkspur, where you’ll find both excellent ice cream and Pizzeria Picco, a stand-out Neopolitan-style pizza joint from Bruce Hill.
Berkeley, Oakland, and Alameda
25 minute drive from San Francisco, can also take BART across the Bay.
Oakland has gotten all kinds of attention lately for its stellar food scene and up-and-coming neighborhoods. Believe the hype: in addition to hot spots from top chefs (Plum, Haven, Commis, and Hawker Fare, to name a few), you can find stupid-good taco trucks, quality cocktails, an enviable beer scene, and the best fried chicken sandwich in the west. Check out concert schedules at the Fox Theater—the redone space is a killer space to see some great music.
Berkeley has had a long-running reputation for a great food scene, as well: Queen Alice may still reign supreme, but the surrounding denizens of the Gourmet Ghetto are not to be ignored. A new favorite is Comal, a thoughtful, flavorful approach to Mexican cuisine (with a killer cocktail program to match). Speaking of live music, the Greek Theater on UC Berkeley’s campus is easily one of the most stunning outdoor venues around.
You’ll find a more off-the-map gem in Alameda. If you’re in town over the first weekend of the month, the Alameda Flea Market is a must—the enviable assortment of furniture, antiques, art, jewelry, and more will satiate your shopping needs. Downtown Alameda has a charming selection of restaurants and bars, including an offshoot of the always-packed San Francisco mainstay, Burma Superstar. Here, you’ll find the same great menu (be sure to get the tea leaf salad) without the two-hour wait.
Pacifica and Half Moon Bay
30-40 minute drive from San Francisco; if you have the time, take scenic Highway 1 along the coast
The Pacific may be a little chilly up around these parts, that doesn’t mean San Francisco doesn’t have its beach towns. Cruise down to Pacifica and hit the waves (wetsuit strongly suggested) at Linda Mar Beach, or opt for for a stimulating land-bound activity with a hike to the top of Montara Mountain through San Pedro National Park. The 7-mile loop is a great hike no matter the weather, but if you do get clear skies, you’ll be rewarded with a 360-degree view of the Bay Area.
Pacifica has some great eateries, as well. Gorilla Barbecue is a smoked-meat lovers’ dream—the bright orange boxcar was even featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, but has been a local-loved establishment for a while now. The new kid in town is The Surf Spot, featuring outdoor fire pits, a beach volleyball court, and a stage for live music. The menu features small plates from the owners’ favorite surf spots around the world.
Just south you’ll find Half Moon Bay, with beautiful beaches, charming inns, and the world-famous Mavericks surf spot (seriously, experts only). Class it up with a game of golf at one of two jaw-droppingly beautiful courses at the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay; you’re likely to catch a glimpse at a wedding or two going on. Head to the Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. for local beers, tasty seafood, and ever-necessary outdoor fire pits.
Palo Alto and Stanford
Approx. 40 minute drive from San Francisco; accessible by Caltrain, as well.
Palo Alto may be known for being home to a certain online outfit, but there’s plenty more going on in this sunny university town. Start on campus with a stop at the Cantor Art Museum to browse its changing exhibits, and scope out the permanent Rodin sculpture collection in the garden. Admission is free.
Then, hike or run the Stanford Dish—the 3.7 to 5 mile loop has beautiful landscapes and wildlife, not to mention a massive radio telescope collecting data from space.
Be sure to make time for some off-campus activities, too. Downtown Palo Alto has an array of shops, restaurants, and bars. We like the Peninsula Creamery: the classic diner has the best milkshakes around, delicious burgers, and fries. Grab beers and rub elbows with some serious soccer fans at The Rose & Crown, a tiny little English-style pub tucked away in an alley.