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As part of a series on long weekend getaways, we’re showing you how to make the most of your summer Fridays, school breaks and the season’s extra-long days. Check back every week for inspired itineraries and easy escapes.
It probably goes without saying that there is a lot to do in San Francisco. But there are also a number of incredible destinations just a drive away from the City by the Bay.
If you’re searching for a charming, scenic small town, there’s Monterey. And if what you want is an active adventure, Big Sur may be calling your name. Travelers (or, more specifically, oenophiles) can enjoy an overnight in Napa with wine tastings and luxury spa treatments. But if you’d really rather wrap up summer sunning on the beach and strolling along a boardwalk, try Santa Cruz instead.
Each destination is distinctive — and totally doable as a long weekend getaway. Whether you’re game to spend 90 minutes in a car or don’t mind settling in for a weekend road trip, consider adding one of these California destinations to your list of last-minute summer travels.
Distance from San Francisco: 90 minutes
Start a weekend in Santa Cruz at the iconic boardwalk, which is perfumed with the aroma of buttery popcorn and sticky sweet cotton candy. Get your thrills on the classic rides, which range from coasters to the iconic log flume. Bring your heart rate back to normal at the bay side of Santa Cruz in the Capitola neighborhood, which is home to serene, protected beaches. On the west side of town, however, water sports enthusiasts can tackle serious swells. A happy medium? Cowell Beach, which has gentler waves and is great for neophyte surfers. During a weekend trip to Santa Cruz, carve out time to visit Natural Bridges State Park. There are typically a number of sea lions and otters off the coast, and during low tide, starfish and sea urchins can be spotted in tide pools. Trek along the bluffs on West Cliff Drive to Natural Bridges for unmatched views.
Where to stay: The Dream Inn is comfortable, stylish and centrally located on Cowell Beach. Every room has a private balcony facing the ocean. It’s all surf style, and the staff is very helpful.
Don’t miss: The Giant Dipper at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Built in 1924, it’s one of the finest wooden roller coasters in the world. It’s smoother than Brooklyn’s Cyclone and peaks at 55 miles per hour.
Distance from San Francisco: 3 hours
At the end of July, the iconic stretch of Highway 1 that was buried in a 2017 landslide was officially reopened — meaning travelers can once again enjoy one of the nation’s most popular road trips. A long weekend trip to Big Sur is ideal for outdoorsy types, who can picnic on Pfeiffer Beach or lounge on Sand Dollar Beach, where you can excavate jade and surf. If you’re thinking about surfing, bring a wet suit, since the water cam be chilly. And though redwood enthusiasts are often nudged north of San Francisco, some of the oldest and largest redwoods reside in Limekiln State Park. There are two trails at Limekiln — neither is longer than a mile — and one leads to a dramatic 100-foot waterfall. If you’re enjoying the trip from the passenger seat, demand a stop at the Henry Miller Memorial Library, where you can browse for a book to buy from the store.
Where to stay: The Post Ranch Inn offers some of the best views of the California coast. The luxurious hotel is 1,250 feet above the Pacific Ocean, and you can’t see or hear Highway 1.
Don’t miss: Hiking enthusiasts will love Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, where you can get mindblowing view of California’s central coast from the top of Manuel Peak.
Distance from San Francisco: 2 hours
A cute California town dotted with eclectic shops, seafood restaurants and dive bars, Monterey is a fun getaway for people who want a bit more mettle than San Fran. Check out the Monterey Museum of Art, which features early California artworks from when Monterey was a gritty factory town — and later, order an adobada burrito from the hole-in-the-wall Baldemiro’s Taco Shop nearby. Of course, no trip here would be complete without an afternoon spent at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is one of the finest in the country. Not only is there a fascinating array of sea life on display at the aquarium, but there are plenty of interactive opportunities, too. Guests can even dive into the bay for an edifying experience with instructors until early September.
Where to stay: The Mission Ranch Hotel is a town away in picturesque Carmel, but who cares? The hotel was preserved and restored by Clint Eastwood, and the views of Point Lobos and Carmel Beach are spectacular. This hotel is an especially good fit for a romantic weekend trip for two.
Don’t miss: Paddle around the bay in a kayak, which can be rented at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Don’t be surprised if you encounter a herd of seals during your excursion.
Distance from San Francisco: 1 hour
There are a number of different ways to enjoy a trip to Napa, but most revolve around the contents of a wine glass. Permits are required to serve food during tastings, which is rarely more than a wafer at most wineries, making Round Pond Estate a great option for imbibers who want to eat and drink. The spa scene here is just as noteworthy as the vineyards. You can soak in a pool of warm mud or try something less sticky, like a soothing salt bath sound. Either way, it’s a very relaxing way to spend a long summer weekend, particularly when you chase the experience with yet another glass of wine. Nightlife is on the subdued side in Napa, but Blue Note Napa, a relatively new jazz club, is lively and delivers stiff drinks (if you need them). Just note that you’ll have to leave San Francisco early — really early — to do the drive to Napa in 60 minutes.
Where to stay: There are a number of excellent places to stay if you want to overnight in Napa. Rancho Caymus Inn is close to a number of fine wineries and the Rutherford Grill, which is one of the area’s most venerable bistros. The Senza Hotel, meanwhile, is one of the most luxurious (think: heated bathroom floors and a nightly wine and cheese hour). Napa has a number of great points hotels, too, like the Andaz Napa, which is available for 20,000 World of Hyatt points per night (or $276) on select dates this summer.
Don’t miss: Book an excursion on the Napa Wine Train. It’s a three-hour ride during which you can enjoy a gourmet meal and choose between 40 wines. Imbibe while looking enjoying the passing towns of Napa, Yount and Rutherford.
Feature image by Garth Pratt on Unsplash.
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