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While San Francisco is best enjoyed without the hassles of a car, many trips outside the City itself can be more complicated. Whether you rent a car, take a tour, or use public transit depends on many factors—travel time, cost, and flexibility just to name three! This article describes ways to get to destinations outside of SF. For information on getting around the City itself, see TripAdvisor’s Getting Around and Public Transportation articles. For trip planning assistance with many of the public transit options described below, check out 511.
Marin County is located on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Muir Woods National Monument and Marin Headlands, which is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, are two of the most popular destinations just north of SF.
Muir Woods: This destination is a short drive from SF. However, parking often reaches capacity early on summer weekend days, so driving may not necessarily be the best way to get here. Guided tours are available, and most have year-round daily departures from SF. From the first weekend in May to the last weekend in September, Golden Gate Transit Route 66 provides service to/from Muir Woods on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. Buses pick up at Marin City, which can be reached via regular Golden Gate Transit bus service to/from SF. In addition, buses are scheduled to meet Golden Gate Ferry Sausalito service from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Marin Headlands: This destination also is a short drive from SF. Parking generally isn’t a problem here, certainly not compared to SF or Muir Woods, but driving isn’t necessary. Some tours combine a visit to Muir Woods with a visit to the Marin Headlands. In addition, Muni Line 76 operates bus service year-round on Sundays and holidays.
Sausalito: For travel information to/from Sausalito, please refer to TripAdvisor’s Sausalito Getting Around article.
The Napa and Sonoma Valleys are two beautiful, world-renowned wine regions located just north of SF. Both make for easy day trips (or one combined day trip) from the City via car. Guided tours are available, too, but don’t necessarily leave from SF.
Napa: Public transit is an option for visits to Napa, but visiting Napa-area wineries may be a challenge. Napa Valley Car Free has more information on public transit and other non-automobile ways to experience Napa.
Sonoma: While there is bus service to Sonoma, it is very limited and indirect and is not recommended, especially not as a day trip from SF.
Located on the sunny side of the Bay, the East Bay communities of Berkeley and Oakland are as well established as SF. Because most of both cities were developed well before World War II, they have more in common with SF than surrounding suburbs. While driving and parking there is less taxing than in SF, public transit remains one of the best ways to visit UC Berkeley or explore one of the area’s eclectic shopping districts. Because both cities have well defined flat and hilly areas, getting around on foot and bike is even easier than in SF! But you still have to get there first. Both BART and AC Transit Transbay buses operate frequently between SF and the East Bay, and there is regular ferry service to Alameda and Oakland, making a day trip or even a mere afternoon outing a cinch.
For information on using BART to access Oakland International Airport, see TripAdvisor’s Arriving & Departing article.
The Peninsula serves as a bedroom community for Financial District and Silicon Valley office workers. The Peninsula is home to biotechnology firms like Genentech, too, making it a draw of its own. The Peninsula gently flows into Silicon Valley, of which San Jose is the largest city by population but a relative lightweight in terms of actual Silicon Valley offices.
Traffic can be a challenge on US 101, and I-280 is recommended as the preferred travel route whenever possible. I-280 is a designated scenic freeway, too, which makes driving it that much more pleasant! Car-free travelers do have a couple options open to them. Caltrain operates from SF to San Jose with stops at all points in between, and this is a great alternative to driving during commute hours. BART also serves some Peninsula communities on its way to San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
For information on using BART to access SFO, see TripAdvisor’s San Francisco Arriving & Departing article. For information on using Caltrain to access San Jose International Airport (SJC), check out the San Jose Arriving & Departing article.
To the south of the San Francisco Bay Area lies the Monterey Bay region. Most travelers opt to drive to reach these communities and points to the south along the Central Coast, but driving is not essential. Due to distances involved, day trips using public transit are either not recommended (Santa Cruz) or not possible (Monterey, Big Sur, etc.).
Santa Cruz: To get here on public transit, take Caltrain from SF to San Jose Diridon Station. Transfer to the Highway 17 Express bus, which operates to downtown Santa Cruz.
Monterey: To get here on public transit, take Caltrain from SF to San Jose Diridon Station. Transfer to MST Route 55, which operates to downtown Monterey. Note that the bus only makes three trips daily. Additional bus connections are available in Monterey to Carmel, Pacific Grove, and Big Sur.
Central Coast: Amtrak provides “Thruway motorcoach” bus service from the Ferry Building in SF to most Central Coast communities. In addition, one train per day on the Coast Starlight route operates from Oakland to select Central Coast communities. Amtrak provides Thruway bus service from several SF stops to Oakland, where timed, guaranteed transfers are made with northbound and southbound trains. Greyhound also provides bus service from SF’s Transbay Terminal to select Central Coast communities.
Found to the east of the Bay Area, Yosemite and Lake Tahoe are not close enough for day trips to SF. However, both are wildly popular destinations for Bay Area residents as well as visitors. Driving is the popular travel choice to either location, but it isn’t absolutely essential. Amtrak provides daily service at least twice a day to both. Greyhound does not serve either destination.
Yosemite: Board an Amtrak bus in SF, transfer to a San Joaquin train in Emeryville, and transfer to another bus in Merced. All connections are timed and guaranteed. Tours originating in SF are available, too, but any advertised day trips will be long and offer only limited opportunities to explore the Yosemite Valley.
Lake Tahoe: Board an Amtrak bus in SF, transfer to a Capitol Corridor train in Emeryville, and transfer to another bus in Sacramento. All connections are timed and guaranteed. While organized tours originating in SF are not available, casino bus service is available to Stateline.