San Francisco is one of the best cities to travel to with your loved ones. It offers a wealth of activities – no matter the age!
From world-class art galleries and museums, hiking and outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, stunning vistas stretching for miles, famous historical sites, and incredible food – there is something for everyone in San Francisco.
While there is plenty enough to do in the city to keep you occupied for your visit, if you have some extra days available, then consider traveling beyond the city for some amazing destinations!
Whether you’re looking for some breathtaking marine wildlife and sprawling beaches, or even lush forests and rolling hills, or maybe even snow-capped mountains and relaxing natural hot springs – all of this can be achieved within a short drive away from the city, making it a great starting point for many different adventures.
With all this in mind, we have compiled a list of some incredible day trips from San Francisco to enjoy with your loved ones. Without further ado, let’s jump straight into it and start making some memories.
Monterey makes for a popular destination among Bay Area locals and tourists alike. Situated within a simple two-hour drive south of San Francisco, it is home to one of the best aquariums in the world: Monterey Bay Aquarium.
A trip to the Monterey Peninsula simply isn’t complete without first making a stop at the aquarium. Inside, you’ll experience a wealth of aquatic life with everything ranging from species local to the Californian coast and even more exotic ones further afield.
From sharks, sea horses, jellyfish, sea otters, octopus, starfish, rays, and many different types of fish than you could imagine being held under one roof!
Viewing decks are situated around the enclosures for the perfect spot in the house to catch a glimpse of sea lions and sea otters roaming in and around the waves of kelp forests. If you’re fortunate, you may even notice a whale or two underneath the surface.
To those with small children, stepping into Monterey Bay Aquarium may feel like a deja vu to you. Well, don’t be concerned, since it was the inspiration for the functional ‘Marine Life Institute’ in the beloved movie Finding Dory.
It’s easy to get caught up in time at this Aquarium, and, before you know it, you’ll have spent half your day here with ease! So, if you’re looking to take a trip, you may want to consider waking up early and making a whole day out of it.
If you’re looking to go the extra mile, you could even make it an overnight trip and book accommodation near the site.
While the Monterey Bay Aquarium might be the main attraction in the area for visitors, the fun doesn’t stop there! In fact, Monterey is known as being one of the best towns on the whole Northern Californian coast – you won’t be short of things to do.
One popular attraction is their whale-watching trips. If you’re looking to stay between April to November, you might want to keep your eyes peeled for some humpback whales – it’s a memory you’d never forget.
On top of this, Monterey features some truly breathtaking coastlines. With plenty of tidal pools to explore all along the rocky shores. We recommend the Asilomar and the Pacific Grove Marine Gardens Park.
These tide pools are rich with life containing anything from hermit crabs, teeny tiny fish, anemones, and even starfish.
Looking to experience some jaw-dropping scenery? Then the famous 17 Mile coastal drive is a must. Along the route, there are 17 different designated stops which include sandy beaches, stunning vista points, rocky beaches, and a Monterey Cypress grove.
Before heading back to San Francisco, for some old-school playtime fun, make sure to make a quick diversion to the Dennis the Menace Playground for a wave of nostalgia.
This playground in El Estero Park contains something kids of all ages can enjoy, from various slides, plenty of running space, swings, and climbing structures – the perfect way to end a busy day.
Muir Woods is another extremely popular day trip destination when you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco.
Here, you’ll find yourself feeling as if you’re worlds away from the city with towering coastal redwoods surrounding you. Due to its close proximity to the city and simple hiking trails, it makes for a popular destination among visitors of all ages.
Depending on the hiking trail you choose, the intensity can vary greatly. However, the main trails throughout the woods are relatively flat and can even be decked or paved to make them suitable for wheelchair and stroller access.
Likewise, this makes them easy for little legs – making Muir Woods the perfect family destination.
On top of this, Muir Woods is accredited with the National Parks system, meaning that children between the ages of 5 and 13 can take part in their Junior Ranger program!
As part of this program, children are provided with activity books to fill out as they explore the park, learning about different plants and animals that call the area their home. Once completed, your child is rewarded with their very own Junior Ranger badge.
The great thing about Muir Woods is that it can be easily accessed. It is located on a convenient trip to the north across the Golden Gate and can be easily entered through both cars from the city and a ferry from Sausalito.
If you’re looking to take your car, make sure to arrive early to avoid any busy weekend traffic which means that parking lots fill up quickly.
Once you’re on your way back, take a quick detour to Battery Spencer – the Golden Gate Bridge Vista ViewPoint – or Fort Baker for impressive views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Similar to Muir Woods located in the north, Baig Basin State Park is also home to some impressive towering coastal redwood groves.
Situated only an hour and a half drive south of San Francisco, this great state park is the perfect location to enjoy some prime family time exploring and hiking.
Since the park is further away from the city and much larger, Big Basin doesn’t typically get very crowded, as opposed to Muir Woods. This makes it the perfect location if you’re visiting the city during peak tourist season. The hikes available vary dramatically in difficulty.
You’ll have some which encompass a simple loop trail, while others will last you the whole day; taking you towards the ocean and past waterfalls.
The best trail for families with small children is the Redwood Trail. It starts near the victory center and consists of a fairly flat half-mile loop.
The trail takes you past some of the tallest trees in the wood, including the Mother of the Forest which stands at an impressive 329 feet tall with a 70 feet circumference at the base. The inside of this tree is hollowed out; however, it isn’t accessible to visitors.
Another tree that is hollowed out is the nearby Chimney Tree; although, with this tree, you are in fact allowed to stand inside it! If you’re looking for a longer trail that remains child-friendly, then you should consider the Sequoia and Skyline to Sea trail loop.
The hike takes you to a platform overlooking the magnificent Sempervirens Falls. It is a fairly easy hike at 4 miles in length and with an elevation of approximately 300 feet.
While the towering trees may be a focal point of Big Basin’s attraction, you should also keep your eyes open for the smaller creatures. Along the trails, you may just find yourself coming face to face with one – the banana slug!
These interesting creatures can be located in the undergrowth and sitting on fallen trees, and, considering they’re a slug, they’re fairly large!
For the nearby University of California Santa Cruz, this quirky slug has made a name for itself as the mascot. Local tradition in the area calls on those who have never seen a banana slug before to kiss it – so pucker up!
If you’re able to solo travel the area, rent a motorcycle in San Francisco to explore the Big Basen and all its towering giants in style. Featuring many impressive tight turns and extreme elevations, it is among the best routes within the state.
If you’ve had enough of the hustle and bustle of city life, take a day out of your trip to explore the wider areas surrounding San Francisco.
While the city itself has everything you need to keep you satisfied, sometimes all you need is to reconnect with nature and breathe some fresh air. Hopefully, this guide has informed you about the best day trips from San Francisco that the whole family will enjoy.
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