The Best Road Trips From: San Francisco

by Rachel on May 31, 2012

The Best Road Trips is a weekly summer series highlighting our favorite getaways from major cities all over the United States.

If you’re lucky enough to live in San Francisco or its outer-lying suburbs, you know one thing for sure: There are plenty of vacations that are just a short car ride away. And while SF has plenty to offer on its own — hello, Union Square shopping — sometimes it’s a bit more fun to take a drive. Especially in a convertible. With the top down. So get your bags packed, slather on some sunscreen and hop in the whip — we’ve got some miles to cover.

Road Trip #1: San Francisco to Napa Valley

  • Total Driving Time: 1 hour, 2 minutes
  • Distance Covered: 49 miles
  • Take This Trip If: You’ve had a long week, and desperately need a glass of wine.

A private outdoor living room at Calistoga Ranch.

The pool at EuroSpa & Inn.

Wine is steeped in Napa County’s history, with vineyards popping up in the area by the mid-19th century. Known to produce some of the top American vintages, Napa also has more to offer than delicious drinks, including romantic scenery, top-notch spas, and incredible dining — including arguably the country’s top restaurant, French Laundry by famed chef Thomas Keller. If you’re aiming for a luxurious experience, look no further than the 5-pearl Calistoga Ranch, an Auberge Resort. The romantic property has killer rooms complete with working fireplaces, private Jacuzzis, and outdoor rain showers. For a more budget-conscious option, check out the EuroSpa & Inn, which has free Wi-Fi, amazing views from the pool and hot tub, as well as spacious units furnished with wet bars and microwaves. Plus, breakfast is on the house.

  • Top Driving Tip: When leaving from San Francisco, you have two options when heading north to Napa — the Bay Bridge or the Golden Gate. Go with the latter; it’s a far more scenic drive and will get you to Calistoga in approximately the same amount of time.

Road Trip #2: San Francisco to Lake Tahoe

  • Driving Time: 3 hours, 29 minutes
  • Distance Covered: 186.5 miles
  • Take This Trip If: You want to spend some time in the water.

The pool at the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe.

The beach at the Franciscan Lakeside Lodge.

Lake Tahoe is traditionally known for being a winter destination, as the season brings Tahoe snowy, chilly conditions — but it’s also a prime place to visit come summertime, thanks to water sports galore. Try your hand at speed boating, rafting, or some fishing. If you’re more of a land dweller (or get seasick like us, *sigh*), the biking experience here is unparalleled thanks to scenic grounds and a challenging terrain. Post up in the Southern region of the area, which offers the most entertainment as well as easy access to adventure activities. If you’re craving super-luxe digs, spend a night at the elegant Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe. Not only are the views incredible (the resort is a top a mountain), but the hotel also provides the top-notch service expected from the Ritz-Carlton brand. Savvy travelers should check out the Franciscan Lakeside Lodge, which has outdoor fire pits, rooms with kitchenettes, as well as freebies like self-parking and Wi-Fi. The Franciscan also has a ton of on-site activities to relish in, including horseshoes and volleyball.

  • Top Driving Tip: Although it may be tempting to get out and tour Sacramento — the underrated Californian capital — en route, stay in the car and soak up the Sierra Nevada mountain range: We promise it’s worth the 3-plus-hour drive.

Road Trip #3: San Francisco to Yosemite National Park

  • Total Driving Time: 3 hours, 50 minutes
  • Distance Covered: 200 miles
  • Take This Trip If: You’ve spent too much time in the city and need some fresh air.

The Ahwahnee's scenic exterior.

The view from Yosemite Lodge at the Falls.

Known for its stunning sites, breathtaking beauty, and protected nature, Yosemite National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most flocked-to destinations in the United States. With  incredible granite cliffs, clean steams, giant sequoia forests, and waterfalls, this national park is a outdoorsman’s dream. But hiking around the park isn’t your only way of seeing Yosemite — you can rock climb, too. (Well we would be too scared, but perhaps you’re not.) Most visitors stay in the Yosemite Valley area for a typical “Yosemite” experience, and no lodging option proves to be more opulent than a stay at The Ahwahnee, which offers amazing views of nearby summits to go along with its rustic-luxe decor. Or, save a few bucks and book a room at the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls — it too has a prime location, but at a fraction of the Ahwahnee’s nightly rate. Plus, the Lodge offers free shuttles to other areas of the Valley should you want to explore behind the hotel area’s confines.

  • Top Driving Tip: While many locals would suggest taking Route 41, we recommend taking Route 580 (the MacArthur Freeway) to Northern Yosemite Highway (120) to shave about a half-hour off your driving time.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kitty August 8, 2012 at 12:56 pm

We want to take Hwy. 1 from Seattle, or Portland, down to around Monterey, CA in Sept. Any suggestions? We’ll be driving from Colorado.

Rachel August 8, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Hi Kitty,

We’re unsure of your question: Are you starting from Colorado, then heading to Seattle/Portland? We want to give you the best advice possible, but would love to know more!

– The Oyster Editors

Roger Ellman August 9, 2012 at 6:54 am

These are very good.
Two other road trips I recommend:

1). Down the coast on Highway 1 to Big Sur. You pass Half Moon Bay and Monterey, the treat is to stop at Nepenthe or its cafe for coffee, cake or lunch. Or, a liitle more formally (but relax this is BigSur!), lunch at Ventana Inn. All have terraces with views and a feeling that will make you feel your world is new again!
Drive time about 1 hour 30 minutes

2). Short trip across the Golden Gate Bridge and follow signs to Mill Valley and Stinson Beach (Highway 1). Stinson Beach. Then you can have a 60′s-modified style bite to eat at Bolinas and carry on to Point Reyes National Seashore. On your return wind your way round via Novato, back to Highway 101 to get back to the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco.

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