If you live in San Francisco or are looking to spend a thrilling weekend in the Bay, then this is for you. We’ve put together a roundup of our top 3 favorite road trip destinations from San Francisco that you can do in a single weekend. Each destination is unique from each other, but are also what we consider must-go places if you’re in Northern California. Collectively, the Kuju team has spent over 10 years in San Francisco, exploring in every direction, so we’ve been on quite a few adventures and wanted to share our favorites with you.
When it comes to an epic weekend road trip, we’re looking for a few things. The first is that the destination has to be beautiful and filled with landscapes that we don’t usually have access to in the city. One factor that plays into this is distance. A quick one hour drive won’t get you anything incredibly different from what we usually see, so generally the best places are a three to four drive away. This is specific to the San Francisco, Bay Area.
However, too long of a drive, and the trip won’t be suitable for a weekend, so we usually choose a destination that is less than a five hour drive away. Three hours is the sweet spot, though.
A second consideration is time of year and weather. Believe it or not, it can get cold and snowy in Northern California. We like to choose road trips to destinations where the weather is mild for the time of year and we can almost guarantee safe passage.
Lastly, we are looking for places where we know we’ll have a ton of fun and can take time to rest and rejuvenate for the weekend and discover ourselves a #kujumoment.
At the top of our list is Mendocino, California. Just over three hours north across the Golden Gate Bridge, Mendocino is a hidden gem with breathtaking views of the rocky California coastline and redwood forests. One of our favorite parts of Mendocino is the redwood trees that dot the coastline, which make for a fantastic sight.
Not only is the destination incredible, but the drive there is equally amazing. Once you pass Geyserville on US-101 North, you’ll hit CA-128 , which is a well-paved, curvy road through the redwoods. It’s unlike any other highway we’ve seen before, and leads all the way to the coastline, opening to a view of the Pacific.
While in Mendocino some of our favorite things to do are hike around the Mendocino Headlands Park, explore Jughandle State Natural Reserve and along Highway 128, you won’t want to miss the Philo Apple Farm for a variety of fresh apples picked from their orchard. For accommodations, check out Mendocino Grove for a modern camping (aka glamping) experience.
Yosemite National Park
Next up on our list is Yosemite National Parks. Not only is it one of the most popular national parks, but it’s also only a four hour drive from San Francisco. While not as quaint as Mendocino, the grandeur of Yosemite’s granite formations and vast wilderness is from another world. There’s nothing that compares to the feeling of driving through the valley as El Capitan reveals itself. It’s insane to think that Alex Honnold climbed up the 7569 foot wall free solo without a rope.
To get here, you’ll take I-580 E and CA-120 E across 167 miles. It’s a relatively easy drive with little winding roads, but do keep in mind that Yosemite is a national park, which means there is a park fee, which is $30 per vehicle. If you’re planning to visit any other national park within a year, then it might make sense to buy the America the Beautiful Pass, which is $80 and gets you free entry into national parks for a whole year.
Our favorite things to do in Yosemite are hike Upper Yosemite Falls, take photos at Glacier Point and drive through Yosemite Valley. Note that in the winter time it snows, so be sure to come prepared!
Last but not least is Big Sur, California. As the location of some of the most iconic photos of the Golden State, Big Sur is best known for its coastal views created from steep cliffs that meet the Pacific. One of the things that makes this place unique is its proximity to city developments, making it great for stargazing, camping and simply getting away.
To get here, you’ll be driving south through Santa Cruz and Monterey then down CA-1, California’s iconic coastal highway. Make sure to fill up on gas while in Monterey because gas stations are sparse in Big Sur. Campsite accommodations can be tricky, so be sure to book in advance. Fernwood is a safe choice if you can’t reserve a public campsite. If you’re looking to splurge on luxury, we recommend Ventana Big Sur, Post Ranch Inn or Treebones Resort.
Some of our top things to do in Big Sur are drive over Bixby Bridge, enjoy the sunset at McWay Falls or explore Pfeiffer Beach.
What are some of your favorite weekend road trip destinations? Let us know in the comments below!