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.
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.
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.
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.