San Francisco is known around the world for its jaw-dropping views, colorful Victorian homes and unbeatable restaurant scene. Another huge bonus to living in SF or making a stop in the City by the Bay during your vacation? It’s super close to a handful of other hot spots, like Napa Valley, Monterey and Big Sur. Scroll on for five super special and truly unique Northern California getaways that won’t break the bank — all within a four-hour drive. Your perfect weekend awaits!
1. Bolinas and Stinson Beach: Alamere Falls is a little-known waterfall that cascades onto a private beach, which will serve as your reward halfway through an awesome eight-mile trek along a trail just outside of downtown Bolinas, CA. Getting your nature fix here will make you feel like you’re an entire world away from the hustle and bustle of the city — despite the fact that the trail is less than an hour away from SF.
If you’re looking for a longer getaway, choose to spend a night or two nearby in Stinson Beach. Not only is it the perfect post-hike pit stop (Parkside Cafe‘s patio and warm pesto appetizer are EVERYTHING), but you’ll be able to wake up in a tiny (and quiet!) beach town where the waves crash endlessly. The morning fog and mist feel like something out of a Bon Iver song. What’s not to love?
2. Healdsburg and the Russian River: It might be lesser known than some of the other Napa Valley hot spots, but Healdsburg is the perfect place to spend a weekend without summer’s tourist crowds. The tiny northern town has a beautiful center with boutiques and curated shops filled with everything from books to housewares. What’s more, you’ll have your pick of tasting rooms and top-notch eateries (we love Chalkboard for the laid-back vibe and charcuterie plates) — all within a short drive of more vineyards, like the uber cute family-owned Preston Farm and Winery.
If you love the great outdoors as much as you love wine and cheese, transform your trip into a more active vacation. The nearby Russian River is a gorgeous spot for biking, hiking and long walks. Balance is key, after all.
3. Sacramento and Apple Hill: California’s state capital is just a couple of hours away from SF. Get your Golden State history fix with a trip to the California State Capitol building and a visit to Old Sacramento, the district best known for the infamous gold rush. Be sure to see Old Sacramento State Historic Park too. The restored buildings have been turned into shops, restaurants and museums that are the epitome of California cool.
Head north just an hour more to reach Apple Hill, a must-visit all year round. The area is known for — you guessed it! — apples. But that’s not all you’ll find here. You can cut your own Christmas tree, pick berries, sample wines and admire the scenery as you drive the winding roads.
4. Sausalito and Marin Headlands: These two classic stops are mere minutes north of SF but are deserving of a day trip or extended adventure on their own. While Sausalito gives off European resort-town vibes, from its small shops and acclaimed restaurants, the Marin Headlands are an outdoorsy gal’s dream. Though you *can* bike up the headlands (this is for super serious riders only), we recommend taking a car to get a lay of the land. Sausalito is really easy to get around by bike once you arrive, and you can get there from the city by car or ferry.
If you like a day with some variety, plan to spend a morning in the mountains, and wind down with a good meal afterward. The fire pits and pizza make Bar Bocce a solid pick, while Poggio offers a more sophisticated indoor dining experience.
Pro tip: The views from the Marin Headlands promise to be some of the best opportunities for Golden Gate Bridge pics that a person can possibly find — make sure your camera or phone batteries are charged up!
5. Monterey Bay Peninsula and Big Sur: Home to Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel, Monterey Peninsula is an amazing place for a getaway. John Steinbeck’s stories come to life alongside the country’s most-loved aquarium in Monterey, and you can find tons of charming streets and curated boutiques in Carmel. Complete your adventure with a drive along the scenic 17-mile drive through Pebble Beach or dinner at the Mission Ranch, Clint Eastwood’s restaurant. You may even catch the screen legend in person!
Travel about an hour south and you’ll find Big Sur, a place that Henry Miller called “one of the greatest meetings of land and sea.” Thick forests are literally on the edge of the ocean. You can visit a purple sand beach (it’s as beautiful as you’d imagine) and hike by natural waterfalls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Turn your day trip into a memorable weekend by scoring a yurt with full ocean views at Treebones Resort. You’ll love the ultra-fresh sushi bar for late-night eats, plus a delicious MYO waffle bar for fueling up come breakfast time. Yum!
(Featured photo via Getty)