6 weekend road trips from San Francisco to avoid crowds

Yosemite, Napa, Big Sur: the options for weekend getaways from San Francisco are endless, but that also means you will need to contend with big crowds at any of these well-known tourist destinations. But there is no reason you should be limited to those options in a state so well-endowed with natural beauty of every variety. Whether you are a wine connoisseur, a hiking warrior, or just want to enjoy a weekend away from the hustle of the city, there is something on this list for everyone.

Here are some great getaways from San Francisco for upcoming long weekends; traversing mountains, valleys and the beautiful coastline, there is a little bit of everything for everyone.

1. Stinson Beach

  • Distance from SF: 24 miles
  • Best for: relaxing, unplugged getaway with a hint of outdoor adventure, beach time and bohemian vibes

Just 20 miles north of San Francisco, in between the hilly Mt Tamalpais State Park and the rugged Pacific, lies the quaint bohemian town of Stinson Beach. A close enough drive for a quick day trip, it’s underrated for a weekend getaway. But less driving means more quality time at the destination, so if you haven’t done it yet, add Stinson beach to your weekend getaway list. Stay at this lovely little airstream through Airbnb right by the beach set in the sublime garden of a historic house called Willow Camp Estate. Who doesn’t love a cozy Tommy Bahama trailer outfitted with all the conveniences you might need – a little stove, a Bluetooth speaker, a comfortable bed. It’s secluded space in the garden by the ocean means you are in for one of the most restful nights of sleep serenaded by the sounds of the waves and swaddled by the coziness of the bed.

Wake up to catch the pastel wisps in the sky by the beach during sunrise and head right over to the Dipsea trail,  which cuts 7 miles through Mill Valley running right into the Pacific coast. With nearly 2,000 feet in total elevation gain, this hike will be certain to get your heart rate up. It starts out with a steep incline giving you beautiful views of the coastal arc before heading deeper into a lush green trail with lazy creeks, gurgling waterfalls, and towering redwoods. Finally, it is time to head to Siren canteen for lunch right on the beach. Fill up with tacos and local Marin kombucha while laying out in the sun. Enjoy the quaint town for the rest of the day or head back to your airstream for some quiet garden reading with a bottle of wine.

2. Glen Ellen

  • Distance from SF: 60 miles
  • Best for: zen, luxurious getaway for the wine lover

A small town 20 minutes from Sonoma town center, Glen Ellen is a quaint hamlet in the infamous wine country that still keeps you away from the hordes of tourists that frequent Napa and Sonoma. Stay at the zen-inspired  Gaige House for a little traditional Japanese infusion to your wine country getaway. Constructed in the 1800s by a renowned butcher, the house was, in fact, a butcher shop in a previous life. Zen-like tranquility drips from every corner of the space. From the picnic tables and hammocks lined up by the gently flowing Calabaza Creek to the hot tub nestled under the frangipani trees to the thoughtfully appointed Zen suites, the attention to luxurious details is impressive. Get there in time for an evening happy hour at 5pm to sample local wines and cheese. Settle into your suite, a beautiful sanctuary complete with a courtyard and a granite soaking tub in the spacious bathroom.

There are a few dinner and winery options right in Glen Ellen and even within walking distance. The Fig Cafe comes highly recommended but if you choose to, you can venture out to downtown Sonoma to spend a lovely evening. Get dinner and a bodacious pinot noir in the outdoor courtyard under the stars at Harvest Moon Cafe followed by drinks and dessert at Tasca Tasca, a Portuguese wine bar. The next day is all yours to tour wineries to your heart’s content. I love the Cline Cellars, sister winery to the much more opulent Jacuzzi Winery where you can spend a lovely afternoon tasting French varietals before settling with a bottle of the Viognier at the picnic tables under the sun.

3. Port Costa

  • Distance from SF: 35 miles
  • Best for: an enigmatic step back in a time machine

It’s not every day you are checking into a hotel with rooms named after ladies of the night. But here at the Burlington Hotel in Port Costa, California, you are surrounded by remnants of a past heyday, carefully restored to tell its story. “Victorian, dilapidated awesomeness” is how the lady who works at the adjoining Honey House Cafe described Port Costa. Founded in 1879, Port Costa was a major center of the grain trade between the Central California Valley and the rest of the world. Waterfront warehouses and saloons were built to support the merchant traders until the town became obsolete with the building of the Benicia bridge.

It’s the kind of town where you can’t really distract yourself with a checklist of things to do. The town center is only one block long with the notorious Warehouse Cafe, where strong drinks and a rambunctious crowd rule the evenings, rounding out the cul de sac. Beyond the train tracks bookending the town lies the water that carried the giant vessels that gave this little town its reason for existence.

Before you start to believe this is some old, forgotten Victorian town, head over to one of its latest additions, Bull Valley Roadhouse, from the owners of The Slanted Door in San Francisco. They serve delectable meals sourced from local farms complete with Prohibition-era cocktails in a dining room that sets you back in time like the town it is a part of.

4. Mount Lassen

  • Distance from SF: 240 miles
  • Best for: Active, outdoorsy adventurers

Lush forests, sparkling lakes, snow capped peaks, quiet camping respites, boiling geysers, active volcanoes, Mount Lassen National Park has it all! Fortunately, Mount Lassen is still relatively less frequented than the far more popular Yosemite, so it is a perfect escape for a long weekend when everyone else is likely stuck in traffic heading in to see El Capitan. With its volcanic roots, Lassen will give you your fill of geothermal springs, boiling geysers and sulfur springs.

If you are in the mood for something more rugged, you can base yourself on the shores of Lake Almanor pitching a tent at a gorgeous campsite by a gurgling creek called High Bridge campground where you can call asleep to the sounds of the flowing waters. You are right around the corner from the small quiet town of Chester, a stop for those hiking the PCT. The town with a population of just over 2,000 has all the essentials – a convenience store, a few restaurants, places to buy firewood and ice but feels removed enough from city life to feel like an escape.

If you are in the mood for something more relaxing, head over to the historic Drakesbad Ranch renowned for its hot springs and rustic getaway feel. You can enjoy massages, horseback riding or take advantage of the miles of hiking trails that fork off in the lush green vistas surrounding the ranch.

Hiking opportunities abound in these parts with over 150 miles of trails within the Park. The hikes around the breathtakingly blue Juniper Lake bookended by the snow canopies of Lassen peak are especially gorgeous. Many of these trails can be snow-covered well into the spring and early summer so prepare accordingly.

5. Dry Creek Valley & Lake Sonoma

  • Distance from SF: 75 miles
  • Best for: a bit of everything for wine lovers and outdoor enthusiasts

Even though you might not have heard of Dry Creek Valley it’s likely you have drank a Zinfandel from the region. Bookended by Russian River and Lake Sonoma on either side, this wine region is dotted with many family-owned vineyards. Driving down the one-lane Dry Creek Road you will notice the number of vineyards packed into a small area which makes it easy to cover off a few quite easily. Compared to sister Sonoma or Napa Valleys, this area will feel less overrun by tourists. Sbragia Family Vineyards, Bella Vineyards, and Ferrari-Carano are just some of your options. Stop for some nosh at the Dry Creek General Store which has been around since 1881 and sit on their porch for lunch with a view out into the Valley. The adjoining bar is also an eclectic local watering hole.

While you can stay in nearby Healdsburg, consider camping during your visit to Dry Creek Valley on the shores of Lake Sonoma for easy access to boating and water activities, or to picnic on the grass overlooking the lake. As long as your are in these parts, be sure to check out Gin’gilli’s Vintage Store, a total vintage and kitsch collectible destination!

6. Santa Cruz

  • Distance from SF: 75 miles
  • Best for: R&R with some beach time

Santa Cruz is also one of those supremely easy getaways from the city; close enough so you don’t spend too much time driving and more time at the destination itself. Base yourself at the Chaminade Resort & Spa nestled in the Santa Cruz mountains for a weekend focused on wellness and relaxation. Get a massage at their Spa, enjoy the hot tub and sauna, walk around the miles and miles of hiking trails, and enjoy dinners by a campfire at the restaurant overlooking the canopy of mountains. At night, you will find yourself sleepy extra soundly devoid of city noises around you.

During the day, be sure to head down to nearby Capitola for the two Bs- brunch and beach. Stop along the way for some fresh fruit smoothies at Pleasure Point Juice before heading down to the quirky town of Capitola with its row of colorful houses that frame the beach. Keep it simple with tex mex at Margaritaville and sit out on their patio with a pitcher of their classic margaritas while you gaze out onto the ocean and feel the warmth of the sun on your face.