Guest Post: Jessica Wright is a travel blogger based out of Northern California. As a photographer and writer, she shares her travels and inspiration on Bon Traveler. Her blog is dedicated to curated destination guides, travel tips, and inspiring spaces. You can find pieces of her adventures daily on her Instagram.
5 Epic Outdoor Weekend Trips from San Francisco
Looking to escape on an outdoor weekend trip from San Francisco? These five epic destinations will give you some creative ideas to start planning your next getaway.
When it comes to getting outdoors, California is chock-full of options from coastal towns to national parks. I’ve compiled the best options that are within driving distance of San Francisco to inspire you to get outdoors this year. The beauty of the California’s landscape is that there are year-round experiences from snowy adventures like snowshoeing and skiing to summer fun on the lake and hiking trails.
You can hit the trails in destinations like Yosemite, explore a lesser-visited national park, or escape to the ocean for some coastal adventures from San Francisco. Either way, these top weekend getaways from the Bay are perfect for families, couples, or even a solo adventure. Take a look at my top five epic outdoor weekend trips from San Francisco.
Looking to escape north of San Francisco? You’ll want to pick Mendocino as your destination for the ultimate remote coastal escape. Situated along the Pacific Ocean, Mendocino is one for those looking to reconnect with the sea and slow down. As a small town, it has a lot to offer for local restaurants like our favorite Trillium Café or Wild Fish where local ingredients are sourced for their menus. You can’t go wrong with either.
When it comes to getting outdoors, you have several experiences to choose from either on land or water. My number one choice is renting a traditional outrigger from Catch-A-Canoe to take up the Big River. You could even pack a lunch with you to enjoy on the outrigger, and be sure to keep your eyes out for the local wildlife like seals and otters. It’s an enjoyable way to spend sunny afternoon.
For hiking, there are several trail choices in state parks like Russian Gulch State Park or Van Damme State Park. And don’t forget to pack your camera, the scenery here is epic.
Where to Stay in Mendocino: My top three recommendations for Mendocino are Glendeven Inn & Lodge, Brewery Gulch Inn, and Mendocino Grove. Glendeven Inn is an adults-only hotel that that sits on a property just off the coastline. It houses its own chickens where the fresh eggs are used each morning in the breakfast delivered to your room. Brewery Gulch Inn is a luxurious option for a romantic getaway in Northern California. With 10 rooms, it is a boutique hotel and has an intimate feeling to the stay. For those looking to be connected with the outdoors, book a glamping tent at Mendocino Grove. Their luxe tents are equipped with everything you need for an authentic glamping experience.
Travel Tip: Mendocino is located just north of the Anderson Valley area. You could plan your trip to go visit one of the wineries like Navarro Vineyards or Husch Vineyards on your way to or from Mendocino.
Yosemite National Park
One of your first weekend trips from San Francisco if you haven’t been should be Yosemite National Park. In around three hours or so, you can be at one of California’s most epic national parks. From sights like Half Dome, Glacier Point, and several waterfalls, there is a lot to do and see for a weekend trip.
If you’re looking to get out on a longer trail after the snowy season, hit Four Mile Trail that takes you up the valley to Glacier Point for stunning views over the park. Glacier Point is also an amazing spot to catch sunset at the end of the day which you can drive to from the valley floor.
Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park: The newest hotel to open that is just outside of the park entrance is AutoCamp. Their chic accommodations include airstreams, luxury tents, and cabins. It is a family-friendly property as well.
Travel Tip: When visiting Yosemite National Park on a weekend trip, I would consider arriving a day earlier like Thursday night through Saturday or staying later, like Saturday through Monday. Just by arriving earlier or later than the usual weekend crowds will ensure a less busy park and a more pleasant experience.
Mammoth Lakes Area
One of the further destinations from San Francisco but well worth the drive is the region of Mammoth Lakes. It’s a year-round getaway given the popularity in the summer for hiking and skiing in the winter. During the summer months, you can enjoy hiking near Twin Falls or head south to hike adventurous trail that takes you to Big Pine Lakes.
Cool off with a dip at Convict Lake or Lake Crowley, and during the winter months, enjoy a soak in the nearby thermal hot springs like Wild Willy’s.
Where to Stay in Mammoth Lakes: When visiting Mammoth Lakes Area, I would recommend booking a vacation rental in town. VRBO has many options for accommodations and the ability to cook food for your trip is a plus.
Travel Tip: One of the best times of the year to visit Mammoth is during the fall foliage season. The area is widely known for its fall colors with plenty of spots to see them like at June Lake Loop.
An iconic stop along Highway 1, Big Sur is at the top of many bucket lists and for good reason. Its sheer cliffs and expansive views of the Pacific make it one of the most beautiful destinations in California. Only a few hours south from San Francisco, it’s an easy weekend trip.
Known for coastal trails that wind through redwoods and span across the shorelines, Big Sur is rich in outdoor experiences. You can even have a beach day at California’s famous purple sand beach, Pfeiffer Beach.
Where to Stay in Big Sur: The two bucket list hotels in Big Sur are Ventana, the all-inclusive Alila Resort and Post Ranch Inn but they are certainly the most expensive. Alternatively, I would suggest booking a cabin at Glen Oaks or a room at the Big Sur Lodge.
Travel Tip: I highly recommend coming in off season and staying overnight. So much of Big Sur is overlooked when people drive through on a day trip. An extended stay will you give more time to explore the area and some of its lesser-visited state parks.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Welcome to Lassen Volcanic National Park, one of lesser-visited national parks in California. I’d put as the most underrated national park I’ve visited because of just how much there is to do here and how little people visit. You can hike up volcanos like the Cinder Cone trail and explore the geothermal area of Bumpass Hell.
You’ll want to consider the time of year to visit on a weekend getaway from the Bay as it does have a lot of snow in the winter months. The best time of year to access more hiking trails is after the snow melt in summer or early fall.
Where to Stay in Lassen Volcanic National Park: Accommodations are quite limited in the park to campgrounds like Manzanita Lake Campground. You could choose to stay nearby at places like Highlands Ranch Resort or Mill Creek Resort Campground. At Mill Creek, they offer private cabin rentals as well.
Travel Tip: Be sure to stock up on gas and food as services are limited in the park. There is a single gas station in the park at Manzanita Campground serving 87. The next closest stations are 30 minutes out in the towns of Chester or Old Station.
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