Eventually you have to get out. As great as those Mission burritos, Philz coffeez, Giants games and Saturdays in Dolores Park are, too much concrete is bad for the soul. Fortunately this is the Bay Area, where you don’t have to drive two hours through suburban sprawl to get away. In fact, there’re a number of daytrip options close at hand to immerse yourself in nature and/or a uniquely non-City experience. This escapability is a big reason the Bay Area is such a desirable place to live. Two hours is my rough distance for an easy getaway, which means Mendocino, Tahoe and Monterey are just outside the limit, though plenty of people do these in a day. With that, following are some of the best daytrips the Bay Area has to offer.
Wine Country (Napa/Sonoma): This one’s so easy it’s almost embarrassing to list. The main draw, of course, is the world-class wines and wineries of Napa and Sonoma, both roughly an hour’s drive from San Francisco (I used to commute daily from the upper Haight to Napa, 55 minutes). And if you happened to sleep the entire drive, you could almost swear you woke up in Tuscany. Whichever county you choose, once you’re north of Petaluma (for Sonoma) or Vallejo (for Napa), you can start doing wine country things. Napa is the more polished/established of the two, with more and better restaurants, quaint towns and roadside markets located on or just off Hwy 29. Sonoma is more rustic, with more roads to meander down and smaller wineries (or rather, fewer big-name wineries). Either way, there are so many great places to choose from, you don’t really need a plan. Just go.
The Marin Coast: So close, and yet seemingly so remote, West Marin is a sprawling, wind-swept area of beaches, dairy ranches, estuaries, forests, and state and national parks. And a great way to clear your head of all that urban dross. From 101, head west on curvy Hwy 1 to Stinson Beach, which boasts one of the best beaches in the Bay Area. Just north is the hippie/surfer enclave of Bolinas, with its off-the-grid vibe. And still farther north is the town and foodie outpost of Point Reyes Station. The drive to Point Reyes Lighthouse is otherworldly, with fog often blowing across the barren landscape of dairy ranches. And no trip to West Marin is complete without enjoying beer and fresh oysters at one of the areas oyster companies. (If Drakes Bay Oyster Farm is on your list, hurry; you have two weeks before it closes on July 31.)
The Peninsula Coast: Thank goodness for our undeveloped coastline. (Or rather, thank Peter Douglas and others like him who helped establish the California Coastal Commission to protect this precious resource.) I feel that people forget how awesome the Peninsula is west of the 280, which offers so much natural wonder and beauty right outside our backdoors. The vast stands of redwoods throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains is one way to go, offering easy access to great hiking, camping, and intense backpacking for the Sierra Club types. The seaside is another option. Hwy 1 hugs the coast and provides for easy stops at one of a number of excellent beaches, or quaint towns like Half Moon Bay and Pescadero.
Santa Cruz: If Berkeley is the Brooklyn of the Bay Area, then Santa Cruz is the Coney Island, but with a distinctly surfer/skater/granola vibe, and better nature and coffee. It’s kind of part of the Bay Area, but distinctly and refreshingly unique. The Boardwalk seems lifted from another time (when amusement parks were everywhere); like a permanent county fair, but with ocean views. You can indulge in all the bad-for-you food, and enormous cans of beer, ride rickety roller coasters and log flumes, or just enjoy the people watching. Santa Cruz also has great beaches like Natural Bridges, with a popular nearby bike/walkway overlooking the ocean. Pedestrian-friendly Pacific Ave in downtown is the hub of the city, where you’ll find interesting shops, restaurants and talented street musicians (really), and where you can enjoy some of the city’s great coffee, like Verve.