Features

Get Out Of San Fran To See Some Of The Best Of California

San Francisco is one of the world’s most iconic cities, and more and more Aussies are heading there than ever before (especially with sweet new flight connections). But once you’ve explored the City by the Bay and its immediate area, where to next? It’s time you consider San Francisco daytrips – and there are plenty to get you pumped.

Here are three incredible Californian road-trip destinations to explore, just a few hours’ drive from San Francisco:

Mendocino

With its dramatic ocean-bluff setting, this bohemian coastal community is a magnet for artists, writers and yogis. The closest thing to a New England village in California, Mendocino is home to pastel-coloured Victorian cottages wrapped in roses with ornate balconies.

Luxurious B & Bs welcome you to curl up by the fire; restaurants serve just-caught seafood and local organic wines, and galleries beckon with artwork and quality handcrafts. Festivals abound, often celebrating the region’s produce, be it sweet Dungeness crab, craft beers, or wild mushrooms in winter.

Glass pebbles at Glass Beach. Image: Matthew Lee High / Flickr

Mendocino’s coastline has beaches for every kind of explorer, including Glass Beach – a cove in Fort Bragg that glitters with thousands of multi-coloured glass pebbles. Walkers will be happy too, as Mendocino Headlands State Park also borders the town on three sides.

Distance from San Francisco: 249km, or 3.5 hours driving north

Suggested stop-off: Healdsburg, a small town in north Sonoma County. Its plaza has been named one of the most beautiful town square in the US – and don’t miss Downtown Bakery and Creamery.

Monterey and Big Sur

Monterey. Image: David Grimes / Flickr

Welcome to Big Little Lies country! The Monterey coastline was the real star of this blockbuster show, providing the dramatic backdrop for its twisting plot lines. The show – and Monterey – will be coming to our screens again for season 2 in early 2019.

Wrapped by the Pacific on three sides, the Monterey Peninsula offers wind-tossed beaches and quiet coves, fine dining and casual eats, early history and postmodern art. World-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, with its psychedelic jellies and bat-ray petting tanks, is a must-visit. It was also the backdrop for one of the most memorable mother-son Big Little Lies scenes.  Step outside and find yourself among hotels, shops, and restaurants along Cannery Row, made famous by local author John Steinbeck.

Bixby Bridge. Image: Domantas Klimas / Pexels

Big Sur’s Bixby Bridge, Garrapata State ParkPfeiffer Beach, and McWay Falls are where you’ll find basically every dramatic view featured heavily in Big Little Lies’ opening credits. Thankfully, they’re all along Highway 1, making for probably the easiest scenic road trip in the history of road trips.

Distance from San Francisco: 192 km, or 2.5 hours driving via the scenic coastal route

Suggested stop-off: Santa Cruz – the famous surf spot. Walk the boardwalk and check the surf to see if Mavericks’ famous monster waves are pumping

Yosemite National Park

Known for its plunging waterfalls, giant sequoia trees and sheer granite cliffs, you could easily spend weeks exploring Yosemite National Park. It has a distinct appeal no matter what time of year, including winter, when it becomes a snowy wonderland for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Towering above the Yosemite Valley floor, El Capitan is the undisputed king of the granite monoliths and a mecca for daredevil rock climbers. With a pair of binoculars, you can even watch climbers inch their way up The Nose. One of western USA’s most photographed landmarks, Half Dome inspires awe from every angle. Hard-core hikers can trek to its summit (permits are required); everybody else can admire its sheared-off granite from afar.

Or, float gently down the lazy Merced River. Lie on your back in an inflatable raft, trail your fingers in the water, and gaze up at Yosemite’s granite walls as you meander downstream. Glacier Point’s 2200m overlook provides an unforgettable vista of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra crest. Stand at the stone walls and survey Vernal and Nevada Falls and the Merced River canyon, or walk inside the granite Geology Hut to peer out at Half Dome. Best time to visit? Sunrise or sunset, when Half Dome and its granite neighbours turn pink.

Distance from San Francisco:  286km, or 5 hours driving east

Suggested stop-off: Columbia, a historic gold rush town that looks like a set from an old western movie

While we’re on the topic of Yosemite (honestly the best of all San Francisco daytrips) read more about the perfect day in the park.

(Image: Stanislav Sedov / Flickr)