Escape the San Francisco Bay Area with one of these long weekend trips along the coast, into the wine valleys, or up to the Sierras. Enjoy days of hiking coastal trails along windswept bluffs, tasting world-renowned wines, discovering the historical past of California, or hiking up to granite cliffs or among the world's largest trees. Here are five great ways to get out of town this summer and explore more of your extended backyard.
  Trip Style Activity Level Crowd Factor Total Driving Distance
Monterey Peninsula & Big Sur Small Towns, Food & Wine, Nature & Outdoors Relaxed Moderate 320 miles
Yosemite Valley & Mariposa Grove Hiking, Nature & Outdoors Moderate Sparse 540 miles
Sonoma and Mendocino Coast Small Towns, Food & Wine, Nature & Outdoors Active Moderate 320 miles
Napa Wine Country & Calistoga Hot Springs Food & Wine, Nature Relaxed Dense 150 miles
Family Fun in Gold Country & Lake Tahoe Hiking, History, Nature & Outdoors Moderate Moderate 420 miles

Itinerary #1: Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur

This classic California drive takes you along the scenic coast from Monterey to Big Sur, and is perfect for a long weekend trip. Start with a bike ride along the coast of Monterey and Pacific Grove, and learn about local history in downtown Monterey and Cannery Row. Explore the artist's colony of Carmel-by-the-Sea, where you can slow down and nurse a coffee as you stroll the streets admiring the local galleries and boutique shops. Drive south along the coast to Big Sur for hikes in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and views of famous McWay Falls

Round out your trip with a relaxing spa day in Carmel and a delicious fresh seafood lunch in Moss Landing, where you are almost certain to spot seals and otters in the Elkhorn Slough. Read more

Recommended duration: 3 days

Total driving: about 320 miles

Drive scenic Hwy 1 along the Big Sur coastline

Itinerary #2: Yosemite Valley & Mariposa Grove

Follow John Muir's path from the Bay Area to Yosemite amidst some of the most impressive landscapes and natural wonders in the country, including Half Dome and El Capitan (the latter featured in the 2018 documentary Free Solo). Start in Yosemite Valley, America's second oldest National Park. The Valley offers a variety of activities for all types of visitors: easy walks through meadows and along rivers, challenging hikes up the side of the canyon, bike rides made easy with protected bike lanes, and relaxing rafting down the Merced River.

On day two, drive to Glacier Point for a panoramic view over the entire valley below. Stop in Wawona for lunch before continuing to the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, home to some of the largest trees in the world. You can explore the grove on foot or by a small passenger train shuttle. You can easily extend this trip by adding a few more days north of the valley in the high country of Tuolumne Meadows. Read more

Recommended duration: 3-4 days

Total driving: about 540 miles

Reflection of Half Dome in Mirror Lake

Itinerary #3: Sonoma and Mendocino Coast

The rugged, isolated coastline north of San Francisco is perfect to explore over a long weekend. This route features the best from Bodega Bay to Mendocino, including spectacular natural beauty and incredible modernist architecture at the Sea Ranch. Visit Fort Ross, the southernmost Russian settlement in North America, and picnic by the peaceful Gualala River. 

Make your way north to the Point Arena Lighthouse and the charming village of Mendocino to explore the bluffs of Mendocino Headlands State Park. On your drive back, save some time for wine tasting in Anderson Valley, a fine wine region often over-looked due to its relative proximity to Napa and Sonoma. Read more

Recommended duration: 2-3 days

Total driving: about 320 miles

Point Arena Lighthouse, Mendocino Coast

Itinerary #4: Wine Country & Calistoga Hot Springs

Treat yourself to the ultimate Bay Area indulgence weekend in Napa and Calistoga. Start by tasting the world-renowned Napa varietals as you drive through beautiful wine country, with stops at Domaine Carneros, Artesa Vineyard and Winery, and Louis M. Martini Winery. Taste the local culinary delights at top farm-to-table and Michelin-star restaurants. 

On day two, pick up your bike for an active day cycling between some of the top wineries and vineyards in the Calistoga area. You can visit Castello di Amorosa (modeled after an Italian castle), Dutch Henry Winery, (on the famous Silverado Trail connecting Calistoga with Napa), Chateau Montelena Winery, and Benett Lane Winery, home to over sixty 90+ point wines.

For your final day, treat yourself with a relaxing soak in Calistoga's geothermal hot spring pools. Stroll along Main Street, visiting the quaint stores and cafes downtown. Float high above the valley on a hot air balloon ride, or head to the nearby Petrified Forest to see the trees-turned-to-rock by the local minerals. Read more

Recommended duration: 3 days

Total driving: about 150 miles

Morning vineyard fog in Calistoga

Itinerary #5: Family Fun in Gold Country & Lake Tahoe

Get out into nature and soak up some history with this family-friendly itinerary through California Gold Country. Start in Old Sacramento with an underground tour at the Sacramento History Museum to learn more about the Gold Rush. 

Then, it's on to Lake Tahoe, offering endless ways to play! Mix active adventures with relaxing afternoons as you hike your way up Donner Peak and Mount Judah and float down the Truckee River. For a more casual outdoor encounter, you'll soak up some culture under the stars with an open-air theater performance at Sand Harbor. Read more

Recommended duration: 5 days

Total driving: about 420 miles

Crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe

More California Trips

Looking for other ways to explore the best of California? Check out some of these top California Itineraries:


Map of Northern California Long Weekend Trips: Coastal Drives, Wine Weekends, & Sierra Exploration
Map of Northern California Long Weekend Trips: Coastal Drives, Wine Weekends, & Sierra Exploration