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30 Great Day Trips from San Jose

30 Great Day Trips from San Jose

San Jose’s position in San Francisco’s South Bay Area makes it the perfect hub for launching day trips that can take visitors southward down the state’s historic Highway 1, north into San Francisco or up into Wine Country, and over into the area’s warmer East Bay microclimates.

Day trips from San Jose can include windswept coastal beauty, hamlets right out of storybooks, and hiking trails that wind through Redwoods, waterfalls, and lush parks.  Wine tasting, surfing, unique architecture, local lore, and history that involves famous authors are all just a short drive from downtown San Jose.

So, let’s dive into the wide variety of day trip adventures from San Jose.

Ready for a weekend escape? Here are our 25 favorite Northern California weekend getaways.

30 Great Day Trips from San Jose

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is one of the great day trips from San Jose
Surfing at Cowell Beach by Flickr/fredsharples

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 33 miles (45 minutes)

Endless summer surfer beach vibes abound in Santa Cruz. The city’s relationship with surfing dates back to 1885, when three Hawaiian princes exported it to the area.

Bone up on the sport’s history at the Surfing Museum at the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse. Perched above the internationally renowned surfing hotspot Steamer Lane, it is full of photos, surfboards, and other artifacts.

Pull on a wet suit to guard against the chilly Pacific waters and take a surf lesson at Cowell Beach. Pleasure Point is a great spot for more experienced surfers to ride the waves.

Natural Bridges State Beach is one of the greta day trips from San Jose
Natural Bridges State Park

If surfing is not your thing, there are 29 miles of stunning coastline to enjoy. Natural Bridges State Beach is the seasonal home to migrating Monarch butterflies and a great place to view whales, seals, and otters.

Seabright State Beach is a prime spot to watch the sunset. The USS Palo Alto, a half-sunken concrete freighter visible from the shores of Seacliff State Beach, makes for an interesting beach photo backdrop.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk treats
Churro Shake at the Santa Cruz beach Boardwalk by Sharlene Earnshaw

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is one of the biggest draws for day trips from San Jose. There’s nothing like a cool ocean breeze through your hair as you scream your way through the Giant Dipper, the classic wooden rollercoaster that has been thrilling riders since 1924.

Relive your carefree summer days devouring a variety of food served on a stick, noshing on caramel apple chips, and competing for giant stuffed animals in carnival games.

Cap off your day with dinner on the Santa Cruz WharfThe Ideal Bar & Grill is known for its seafood but offers options for non-seafood eaters. The Jack O’Neil Lounge is a nod to the local legend who popularized the wet suit among surfers. It’s also a great place to enjoy gorgeous views of Cowell Beach and the Santa Cruz Wharf while you dine!

Santa Cruz Mountains

Roaring Camp Railroads by Flick/ Steve Jurvetson

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 30 miles (42 minutes)

Despite its proximity to Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz Mountains offer enough activity and points of interest to enjoy as a separate day trip. You never know what you may find in the collection of small towns tucked in these mountains.

In Felton, you can visit the Big Foot Discovery Project to learn local history and see evidence, including film footage of Big Foot sightings. You can also ride the rails at Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad! Take the beautifully preserved 1880s Redwood Steam Train deep into the forest and get a unique view of Northern California’s majestic Redwood trees.

Zipping through the redwoods is an adventurous option! Redwood Canopy Tour at Mt. Hermon offers two-hour guided eco-adventures that include six zip lines and two sky bridges at heights of up to 150 feet.

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park not only offers opportunities to hike among the Redwoods, but you can camp, swim, and horseback ride, too. The park’s 40-acre redwood grove includes the tallest tree in the park, which is 277 feet tall.

Check out the famous Fremont Tree, a hollowed-out tree you can enter! Be sure to visit the Garden of Eden, a natural swimming area nestled in the forest along the San Lorenzo River.

Henry Cowel Redwoods
Henry Cowell Redwoods by Sharlene Earnshaw

Big Basin Redwoods State Park offers a unique opportunity to see nature renew itself. California’s oldest state park is recovering from a devastating 2020 wildfire. Small portions of Big Basin are open for partial day-use access and by reservation only.

You’ll need some fuel for your mountain escapades. Stop by the Grove Cafe + Bakery in Felton and feast on a breakfast of delicious toasts and bowls or a hearty sandwich or salad.

If communing with nature is on your itinerary, get a day pass at the Trout Farm Inn in Felton and relax poolside, nestled among the soaring redwoods and majestic oaks overlooking Zayante Creek. It sounds like Heaven, doesn’t it?


Capitola by Aly Haskins

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 34.8 miles (44 minutes)

California’s oldest seaside town, Capitola, could also easily be added to a Santa Cruz itinerary, or it could be a day trip from San Jose that is all its own.

Quieter than Santa Cruz, this charming, colorful village hugs Capitola Beach, a sandy stretch perfect for volleyball matches and beach aerobics. It’s also a great place to enjoy a sunny beach day in the shadow of the historic and colorful Capitola Venetian, the frequent subject of many photos.

A noteworthy landmark currently under repair sits at the end of the beach. The Capitola Wharf, ordinarily the finish line for the annual Wharf to Wharf Run, which starts at the Santa Cruz Wharf, suffered significant damage from the epic winter storms in 2023.

Once all that activity and sun have given way to hunger, head up to the village’s Esplanade for a slice at Pizza My Heart or lunch at Zelda’s on the Beach. Plenty of quaint spots nearby serve delicious eats.

To burn those calories, pick up a kite at Rainbow City Limit and take it back to the beach. The village streets around the Esplanade are also full of cute boutiques offering unique beach house-style art, jewelry, apparel, or other gifts.

Photo via Shadowbrook Capitola

If you want a romantic and upscale dining experience, you want a table at Shadowbrook. Set along Soquel Creek, the establishment is known for its seafood. Patrons can ride a historic funicular into the restaurant or descend the stairs wrapping around the lovely garden. Trees grow up and through the building in several areas of the restaurant, providing a natural, elegant, and organic atmosphere.


Photo by 4Kodiak

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 59.5 miles (1 hour)

Fondly nicknamed the Salad Bowl of the World, Salinas was the setting of many books by Pulitzer and Noble Prize-winning author John Steinbeck.

Don’t worry if East of Eden or The Grapes of Wrath were not among your required reading in high school; you’ll still enjoy the National Steinbeck Center. The main exhibit tells Steinbeck’s story, organizing it geographically to highlight locations around Monterey County that played a role in his life and work.

The Queen Anne Victorian where Steinbeck grew up is a five-minute walk from the center. It now houses a restaurant called the Steinbeck House, where family pictures and memorabilia are displayed. 

If you’re interested in including another historic house in your visit, the more than 100-year-old home of Salinas’ first mayor is a short walk from the Steinbeck place. The oldest building in Salinas, today it is a community center featuring historical exhibits.

The World’s Salad Bowl has become a destination for wine lovers in recent years. I don’t know about you, but I don’t mind a fine glass of wine with my salad! Follow the River Road Wine Trail south from Salinas toward Soledad for opportunities to sample Syrahs, Point Noirs, and other small bath varietals at wineries along the way.

Laguna Seca Raceway via See Monterey

Depending on the timing of your visit, you could catch a high-speed event at the Weather Tech Laguna Seca Raceway. Race season typically kicks off in April and goes through September.

Salinas is also a major stop on the Cowboys Association Circuit. To put it bluntly, this is California’s largest and most popular rodeo. If a day-tripping itinerary of bull riding, big shiny Cowboy buckles, and roping sounds like a good time to you, don’t miss It! Rodeo Salinas usually rolls into town during the third week of July.

Moss Landing

Kayaking on the Elkhorn Slough by See Monterey

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 59 miles (1 hour)

This day trip destination will put you in the view of otters, seals, sea lions, wharf seals, shore birds, and much more! Moss Landing is home to the Elkhorn Slough, one of California’s most wildlife-rich coastal wetlands.

Moss landing is definitely one of the best places in California to see sea otters. Whether you traverse the waterway via kayak or as a passenger on the Elkhorn Slough Safari, you are in for an experience you won’t soon forget! 

Otter in Elkhorn Slough
Otter in Elkhorn Slough by Sharlene Earnshaw

Imagine seeing a mama otter swimming through the water with her baby on her chest or watching the shore birds feed on worms plucked from the muddy banks. Listen to the calls of Harbor Seals and California Sea Lions. Root on the otters (it always goes back to the otters in this part of the state) as they protect their food sources from opportunistic seagulls.

The quaint little village of Moss Landing boasts vibrant fishing and agricultural industries. It also offers a rare opportunity to slow down and take in the peaceful pace of a small town living in harmony with nature. You never know what you’ll find in such a spot — including William Shakespeare!

The Shakespeare Society of America houses over 3,000 lovingly preserved items, including rare book and visual art collections, costumes, props, photos, and slides.

Haute Enchilada Restaurant
Haute Enchiliada by Sharlene Earnshaw

Before heading back to San Jose, have dinner at the Haute Enchilada Art Café. Known for its elegant take on Mexican and traditional cuisine, it is an art gallery and a perfect date night dining spot. You may be lucky enough to catch a live performance while you’re there.

While the deep-fried artichoke hearts at the Moss Landing Café are out of this world, neighboring Castroville is known as the Artichoke Capital of the World.

Get an education on all things artichoke at none other than the Artichoke Festival held in June. You may even see the crowing of the Artichoke Queen. Fun fact: the first queen, crowned in 1948, was Marilyn Monroe!

Pacific Grove

Pacific Grove
Pacific Grove Superbloom by Kristine Dworkin

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 73 miles (1 hour, 14 minutes)

Nicknamed “Butterfly Town, USA,” the small coastal town of Pacific Grove enthusiastically welcomes the color-winged creatures annually. The town even has a beautiful Monarch butterfly sanctuary! The butterflies start to arrive at the end of October. The migration peaks the week after Thanksgiving and wanes around the beginning of March.

If you visit in April or May, a lush carpet of blooming purple ice plant flowers hugs the coast of the Monterey Peninsula and provides amazing photo opportunities! One of the best places to see them is from the portion of the Monterey Coastal Recreation Trail next to Ocean View Boulevard. Street parking and a couple of parking lots are available along Ocean View.

Lovers Point Beach

The beach at Lover’s Point is popular for boating, kayaking, swimming, and surfing. You can rent kayaks, paddle boards, and snorkeling gear at Pacific Grove Adventures right there at Lovers Point! They also offer bicycle and surrey rentals if hiking the Pacific Grove Purple Carpet doesn’t sound appealing.

While Lover’s Point Park is a great spot for picnics, there are some delicious eateries in the immediate area for those not interested in packing a meal.

The Grill at Lovers Point is a great place to enjoy a burger and fries with an ocean view. This cash-only venue is a convenient break from a beach day without having to stray too far from the sand or feel the need to get cleaned up first. For a charge of caffeine or a sweet treat, the Lovers Point Beach Café is the place to hit up.

When your beach day is over and you’re ready for a relaxing meal, which could include Calamari, Sand Dabs, or Prime Sirloin, dine at the Beach House and watch the sunset over Lover’s Point.


The Monterey Bay Aquarium by See Monterey

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 71.4 miles (1 hour, 11 minutes)

There was a time when Monterey’s Cannery Row, made famous by the John Steinbeck novel of the same name, was lined with sardine canneries. Today, it is full of unique boutiques where visitors shop for souvenirs instead. There are still nods to history throughout the place, including a fine dining establishment called the Sardine Factory, known for its sustainable seafood!

A quick stroll of the nearby old Fisherman’s Wharf offers panoramic views of the bay and the sight of harbor seals sunbathing on the nearby rocks and buoys. Be sure to get a bowl of clam chowder! Many wharf restaurants offer their own variations of the creamy comfort food, each claiming that theirs is “the best!”

Don’t miss the Monterey Bay Aquarium! This incredible institution is dedicated to protecting California’s ocean and inspiring the next generation of conservation leaders.

Attend a sea otter or penguin feeding. Explore exhibits like the 28-foot-tall Kelp Forest housed in one of the tallest aquariums in the world or “Into the Deep,” the largest collection of deep-sea animals in North America, including glowing jellyfish!

The aquarium houses 200 exhibits featuring crustaceans, octopi, birds, fish, and mammals. You can even add a behind-the-scenes tour of restricted areas and spaces. There is no shortage of things to see and do for any visitor to the aquarium. Tickets to Monterey Bay Aquarium must be purchased online. No in-person ticket sales are available at this time.


Dog-friendly Carmel Beach by Kristine Dworkin

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 75 miles (1 hour, 14 minutes)

The fairytale cottage architecture, manicured gardens, and adorable shops make Carmel-by-the-Sea a must-do day trip.

If this destination doesn’t already sound special, one more detail may level things up for you! Carmel-by-the-Sea prides itself on being one of the most dog-friendly cities in the state.

Water bowls sit outside almost every shop. Gourmet dog treats are among the delectable items for sale in the Carmel Bakery. It’s common to be presented with a doggie menu when dining out. I have ordered grilled chicken and steak for my pup at Toro Sushi and Forge in the Forest. Some establishments even offer a “Yappy Hour” for four-legged friends traveling with their humans.

Designer-builder Hugh Comstock had a huge influence on the cottage architecture that came to shape Carmel by the Sea. There are 21 of his storybook cottages are scattered throughout Carmel. You can purchase a self-guided audio walking tour to check them out yourself. 

If walking on hilly roads is not for you, two of his cottages are in the downtown business area – and house businesses you’ll want to patronize! The Tuck Box is a charming breakfast and brunch spot that will give you the experience of dining in a dollhouse. Down the hill, you’ll find the Cottage of Sweets, the most divine candy store you’ll ever come across.

Don’t leave downtown without getting an Instagram-worthy shot of your crew in front of the Carmel Shell Mural at the corner of Mission and Sixth.

A trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea would be complete without a visit to gorgeous Carmel Beach! Let your beautiful pup run free with the other dogs living their best lives down there! If you enter the beach from the parking lot at the end of Ocean Avenue, there’s a Free Little Library for dogs—it’s full of sticks, of course!

You may spot a green oasis on the shores across Carmel Bay as you stand on the beach. That is the world-famous golf mecca of Pebble Beach, home of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am professional golf tournament!

Lone Cypress on 17-Mile Drive

You can visit this storied property via the 17-Mile Dive. The breathtaking ocean views along the rugged Pacific coastline make the admission fee worth it ($12 per vehicle). But throw in stunning sights like the Ghost Trees, Cypress Point Lookout, and Spanish Flats as you wind through the Del Monte Forest, and you’ll be glad you ponied up the dough!

Big Sur

Big Sur by Kristine Dworkin

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 99.7 miles (1 hour, 46 minutes)

Whether you’re watching it pass by your car window or stopping at the iconic Bixby Bridge for a photo, Big Sur offers unparalleled scenic beauty. If this is your day trip destination, then make sure you get out in this gorgeous landscape. There’s an extensive trail system for hikers of all levels and abilities. Keep in mind that you are venturing out into a fragile natural landscape. Make sure you pack out whatever food and supplies you pack in with you!

McWay Falls is a California icon
McWay Falls by Jerry Kirkhart

The Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View Trail is a short and relatively easy hike. It’s about 2 miles out and back, with 500 feet of elevation and a waterfall to admire! The Waterfall Overlook Trail is wheelchair accessible. About 0.5 miles long, it leads from the parking lot to an overlook where visitors can take in the majestic McWay Falls, which pour down on the sandy beach below it in McWay Cove.

If you’d like a little more adventure and some local lore, set out on the trail to Partington Cove. The route winds its way down a slope, where you can enter a long tunnel that opens on a rocky cove. Big Sur pioneer John Partington carved the tunnel, which was once used for shipping logs and later smuggling moonshine. Never mind that there’s a nearly 300-foot climb back to the trailhead off Highway 1, you’ll have bragging rights and a cool story to tell!

All of this hiking is bound to make you hungry. Stop by Nepenthe! Perched high above the Pacific, this establishment has served poets, artists, and travelers since 1949. After you enjoy Nepenthe’s iconic Ambrosia burger, head to the Phoenix shop on the same property to find distinctive clothing and handcrafted jewelry.

Pinnacles National Park

Hiking in Pinnacle National Park by See Monterey

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 76.4 miles (1 hour, 25 minutes)

For this day trip destination, you’ll need a good pair of hiking shoes and plenty of water. Pinnacles National Park gets its name from the towering spires of volcanic rock that appear to bulge from its landscape.

Sky-high volcanic structures line the Moses Spring Trail, which takes visitors up 377 feet of elevation gain to Bear Gulch Reservoir. The mile-round hike also includes some easy-to-navigate caves.

If your day trip is in the spring, you could be treated to a super bloom. Over 100 species of wildflowers carpet the park. But that’s not the only natural wonder you’ll spot in Pinnacle National Park, it is also home to the endangered California Condor. With its nine-foot wingspan and bald head, the condor is quite a sight!

While condors are Pinnacles National Park’s signature bird, close to 200 other species live there, including turkey vultures, hawks, golden eagles, and peregrine falcons, so bring your binoculars!

Read more about California birds of prey and how to idenitfy them.

Pack a flashlight, too, because you do not want to miss the Bear Gulch Cave Trail! This 1.5-mile hike includes a talus cave with two sections that have rocky, dark paths to navigate. Talus caves are formed when rocks fall from higher locations creating a jumble of boulders.

There are no restaurants in Pinnacles National Park. The only option for dining inside the park is to pack a picnic to set it up and enjoy with a view. Keep in mind that you are visiting a fragile natural place, visitors are encouraged to leave no trace. Pack out all of your trash.

San Juan Bautista

Mission San Juan Bautista by AiminTang

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 45.7 miles (46 minutes)

A day trip to San Juan Bautista is like traveling back in time. Home to Mission San Juan Bautista, a picturesque and beautifully preserved example of California’s historic missions, this city teems with an appreciation and commitment towards preservation. The mission sits on the edge of the only remaining Spanish Plaza in California.

The main street is lined with buildings straight out of the Old West, including adobes dating back centuries. There is even a nationally registered historic district! Take a self-guided tour by following the historic district walking trail.

San Juan Bautista State Park
Photo via California State Parks

Visit San Juan Bautista State Historic Park for a guided tour of life in the 1800s. The park features four main historic museums, a blacksmith shop, a historic jail, and an early American settler’s cabin.

The historic downtown offers plenty of opportunities for bringing some history home with you. Peruse fabrics and quilts at the Family Threads Quilt Shop, go antiquing at Fool’s Gold, Sweet Pea, Vintage Rose, or Old Adobe Antiques, and look for fashionable treasures in thrift shops like Mrs. B’s Z Store.

Untouched hillsides, open fields, and natural habitats surround San Juan Bautista. Hike the Juan Bautista De Anza National Historic Trail, an unpaved 8-mile section of trail that goes through the northern Gabilan Range starting near downtown San Juan along the Alameda south of Highway 156. Park near the trailhead and walk this scenic mountain trail exploring local geology, wildlife, and wildflowers in the spring.

From the hiking trails of Fremont Peak State Park, visitors enjoy expansive views of Monterey Bay, San Benito Valley, Salinas Valley, and the Santa Lucia Mountains east of Big Sur.

Once all this exploring has you hungry, there are quite a few family-owned eateries to choose from for fueling up. Dona Esther’s serves authentic Mexican cuisine in historic surroundings. Get a table at Jardines Restaurant for a more romantic meal al fresco amid gardens under shade trees.

The Slow Coast

Shark Fin Cove in Davenport by Kristopher Shinn

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 43 miles (57 minutes)

Affectionately referred to as the “Slow Coast,” it’s immediately evident why the towns of Davenport, Pescadero, and San Gregorio have earned this nickname.

The Slow Coast is the 50-mile stretch between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay. Its coastline is a little wilder, the pace is slower, and its beauty is unparalleled, but you can easily fill a day trip itinerary with fun explorations of these lesser-known spots.

Let’s start with Davenport. Hit up Whale City Bakery for sustenance to fuel your adventures! They are known for their ham and cheese croissants and tacos.

Davenport’s roots go back as far as 1867 when whaling captain John Pope Davenport built a shipping wharf in the area. The eerie remains of the Davenport Pier provide an interesting photo backdrop. Located just off the Pacific Coast Highway, a swing is often fastened to a partially submerged pylon close to the beach.

The town’s most famous landmark, though, is Shark Fin Cove. It is home to a unique rock formation shaped like the slimy dorsal.

This hidden gem is also well worth the short hike! Be careful, though—the trail is steep and can be slippery, but it is worth the stunning view. There’s also a large rock arch tunnel to check out down on this beach! Go at low tide for beautifully framed shots of the ocean from inside it.

Backed by high cliffs and sand dunes, Bonny Doon Beach is another stunning spot. Be warned, though, there are times you may have to wade across Liddell Creek to get to it.

The most elusive beachy spot in Davenport is Hole-in-the-Wall Beach. The name comes from its only access point, a hole in the rock off the southern part of Panther Beach. If you intend to go, low tide is the best time for getting in and out of the hole. I should also warn you that this is considered a clothing-optional beach due to its secluded location.

Elephant Seals at Ano Nuevo State Park
Elephant Seals at Ano Nuevo State Park

Continuing north toward Pescadero, you’ll pass by Año Nuevo State Park, which is famous for its large population of elephant seals in the winter months, as well as being home to Pigeon Point LighthouseStanding 115 feet tall and positioned on the edge of a cliff, the lighthouse has been guiding mariners since 1872.

Venture a few miles further to Pescadero State Beach, which is a great place to explore tidepools and spot starfish, anemones, crabs, and more. The town of Pescadero isn’t far from here. Grab some artichoke bread at Arcangeli Grocery Co and then get caffeinated at the quirky Downtown Local coffee shop.

As you head out, stop by Harley Farms for a tour, an opportunity to meet the goats, and a chance to purchase some creamy and delicious goat cheese!

Continue on down the coast to San Gregorio, popping into the historic San Gregorio General Store. This cool off-beat little place is part bookstore, bar, cafe and gift shop. You can pick up picnic items and take them out to gorgeous San Gregorio State Beach. If there’s a band setting up when you arrive, my advice is to get a couple of cold ones and stick around to enjoy the live music. The scene is always fun!

Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay, Photo by Kristine Dworkin

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 40 miles (49 minutes)

A day trip to Half Moon Bay offers a variety of active outdoor fun that includes kayaking, horseback riding, cycling, and surfing. This is the home of the Mavericks Invitational, after all.

Head to Pillar Point to get out on the waters with Half Moon Bay Kayak Co.; no experience is necessary to navigate one of these vessels around the protected harbor! Visit the fish markets or reach out ahead of time on the FishLine for information on how to buy fresh fish right off the boats!

The famed Mavericks surf spot isn’t far from here. This is where the big-wave pros ride up to 60-foot waves in the winter months.

During warm summer weather, enjoying a handcraft artisinal cocktail in the garden patio at the Jettywave Distillery is a great way to beat the heat. The historic Moss Beach Distillery (which is not a distillery, but it is haunted) is a great dinner option, with an outdoor patio where you can watch the sunset over the Pacific.

If land-based activities are more of your thing, consider taking to the Coastside Trail. Whether you go by foot or by wheels, this paved six-mile pathway has all sorts of natural delights to reveal, including breathtaking views and access to beautiful beaches and parks.

Fuel up during your ride at the Barn, a locally sourced burger spot housed in a cool rustic barn not far off the trail near Miramar Beach. Reward all your calorie-burning fun with a thick shake with flavors like Cookie, Affogato, and Horchata.

It’s ok to indulge, especially if you’re hopping back on that bike and continuing on afterward! Sam’s Chowder House is another local favorite near the trail. Sam’s Lobster Roll was selected as one of the Top Five “Best Sandwiches in America” by NBC’s The Today Show

Devil's Slide
Devil’s Slide area

Don’t miss Devil’s Slide! A once treacherous section of Highway 1, it was once plagued by accidents and road closures, including a landslide that closed the road for good in 1995. The highway was eventually diverted through a tunnel system. The old 1.2-mile section of road is now part of the California Coastal Trail with dedicated lanes for cyclists, pedestrians, and equestrians.

Stroll Half Moon Bay’s Main Street for unique gifts and shopping experiences. One of my favorites is the Garden Apothecary. At first glance, it looks like a plant nursery, but it is so much more. They offer a natural skincare line, herbs, organic teas, and lots of healthy community outreach!

Get lost in the shelves of Inkspell Books, an independent bookstore full of new and used books. Pick up locally-made kombucha, sauces, preserves, and jams at Cunha’s Country Store. Finish off your day with a fine dining experience at one of my family’s favorites Pasta Moon!

Half Moon Bay hosts a famous annual pumpkin festival worthy of an autumn visit. No matter the season, though, you’re in for a welcoming, laid-back experience in Half Moon Bay.

Palo Alto & Mountain View

Stanford University, Photo by Kristine Dworkin

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 18 miles (22 minutes)

Considered the birthplace of Silicon Valley, this day trip from San Jose is a great one for techies. Silicon Valley’s exact birth location is on Addison Avenue in downtown Palo Alto.

The iconic Hewlett-Packard Garage is where Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard launched HP and inspired every garage-based tech startup afterward. Tucked behind a quaint home, the garage can only be viewed from the sidewalk. However, there’s a sizeable historical marker detailing its history out front. It may not seem like much, but it is considered hallowed history in these parts. 

Down the road in Mountain View, the Google Visitor Center provides a nice background in all Googly things, a lovely cafeteria sourced by local small businesses, and a cool art walk. It’s located near Shoreline Park, not far from another great tech-inspired stop, the Computer History Museum.

No visit to the area would be complete without spending some time at Stanford University. I recommend entering the campus from Palm Drive. This scenic stretch leads into the Stanford Oval, revealing a postcard-worthy view of the historic quad and Hoover Tower.

Among Stanford’s many notable sights is the largest collection of work by French sculptor Auguste Rodin outside of France. The first of several possible encounters with Rodin is just outside the quad.

Burghers of Calais by Wally G

The six figures known as the Burghers of Calais cast quite a presence. In fact, they often appear in visitor Instagram feeds and selfies. The Rodin Sculpture Garden is just a 10-minute walk from this spot. The left wing of the adjacent Cantor Arts Center houses an additional 170 Rodin pieces.

Once all that artsy exploring makes you hungry, there’s no need to tear yourself away from feeding your soul in order to feed your body. Tootsie’s at the Cantor overlooks the Rodin Sculpture Garden. There is nothing like a leisurely lunch on the café terrace.

If you enjoyed your outdoor art experience with Rodin, you might be interested to know that there are 80 more outdoor artworks around campus, including the spectacular Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden. 

The Coffee House, often referred to as the CoHo, is a favorite student hangout. Located in the Student Union, it is packed whenever live music or a game is on TV. Be sure to check out the cafe wall featuring caricatures of famous Stanford graduates.

Filoli Gardens

Filoli Gardens, Photo by Flickr/ David McSpadden

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 29.4 miles (32 minutes)

This is one of those day trips from San Jose that will have you time-traveling. By exploring the estate and the 16 acres of perfectly manicured formal gardens at the Filoli Historic House and Gardens in Woodside, you’ll get a look at how some of the area’s more well-heeled folks lived in the early 1900s.

You’ll begin a the beautiful Georgian-style house built between 1915 and 17 for William Bowers Bourn II and his wife. William was the president of Spring Valley Water Company and the owner of a California gold mine.

The Bournes lived in San Francisco, so this was their “humble country place.” This simple home includes a stately ballroom that was the site of many formal balls and concerts and an elegant dining room. I was particularly impressed by the kitchen, which included a walk-in safe for storing the silver!

The gardens at Filoli are gorgeous any time of year. Mr. and Mrs. William P. Roth, who bought the home in 1936, are to thank for their expansiveness. Not only did they add a pool, they further developed and enhanced the formal gardens.

After you make your way from the Visitor Center through the Clock Tower Shop, you will pass through an ornate door and enter the Sunken Garden with its serene reflecting pond in the center. The adjacent Walled Garden is named for the 10-foot-high brick walls around it. Clipped hedges separate it into many smaller ornamental rooms.

Blossoming crabapple and cherry trees provide a lot of shade and a hint of scent during the spring. On the other side of the formal garden walls is a large working garden with fruits, vegetables, and many flowers.

Imagine beating the heat with a summertime party at the Pool Pavillion! This lovely little oasis instills as much peace as it does fun. Spending the day stretched out on a chaise with a lemonade and a book sounds pretty great, too! The Garden House is another great haven for such an activity. Located in the middle of the gardens, the tall windows enable a view of all the blossoms or autumn colors, depending on the season.

The best time to visit is in the spring when the gardens are in full bloom. My family also enjoys Christmas at Filoli when the gardens are decked out in lights. Visitors drink hot chocolate or mulled wine around the outdoor firepits.

The house is also decorated with a tree in every room and a bounty of gift wrapped presents in every room. There are events and performances throughout the year, so be sure to consult Filoli’s calendar when planning your visit!

If the place looks familiar, that’s because it was the filming location for movies like Heaven Can Wait with Warren Beatty, The Game with Michael Douglas, and The Wedding Planner with Jennifer Lopez. It was also the home of the Carrington family in the TV show, Dynasty.

There is a cafe on site. The Quail Cafe offers delicious entrees and side salads, hearty sandwiches, and satisfying pastries.

Fun fact: The name “Filoli” comes from the first two letters of each sentence in William Bourn’s three-part credo: “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.”

San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge, Photo by Kristine Dworkin

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 49 miles (54 minutes)

A day trip here will involve a lot of hills- after all, San Francisco is known for them! How else would you be able to ride a cable car halfway to the stars? Three routes remain from San Francisco’s iconic cable car system, including one that takes visitors up and down those infamous steep hills.

The beloved Golden Gate Bridge is the most popular landmark in these parts. Flanked by stunning Golden Gate National Parks on each end, a walk across the structure is an easy activity for all abilities and hiking levels.

If the famous San Francisco Fog, Karl, does not interfere, you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the city and the Marin Headlands all along the way. This includes a birdseye look into Fort Point, the Civil War-era fort that is tucked under one of the arches of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Presidio in San Francisco

Presidio Park is on the San Francisco end of the bridge. It’s the largest US national park in an urban area, it’s home to a myriad of butterfly species, birds, and native plants. San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood street also runs along a tidy row of officers’ homes on this former military base.

You can enjoy a picnic in lush meadows and along breezy headlands. Take to secluded hiking trails that wind through cypress, pine, and eucalyptus forests.

Explore San Francisco’s vibrant neighborhoods. The Castro neighborhood is known for its colorful LGBTQ+ community and iconic movie theater.

Chinatown is a great destination to eat dim sum and then stroll the interesting shops filled with everything you can imagine (and some things you never would). Delicious Dim Sum and Wing Sing are solid options.

The Haight Ashbury neighborhood evokes images of free-spirited 60s hippie culture and is also filled with great thrift shops. Enjoy family-style Italian dining and gelato in North Beach.

Hike the staircases of Telegraph Hill in search of the area’s famous parrots. Take in the city views around Coit Tower. Get a taste of Latin culture in the Mission District. Traverse the eight hairpin turns of the “Crookedest Street in the World,” Lombard Street.

Head to Fisherman’s Wharf for some clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at Boudin’s. For a sweet treat, visit the world-famous Ghirardelli Square for a decadent chocolate sundae.

San Francisco is also home to many fine museums. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) has an impressive collection of contemporary art, and the Exploratorium is a hands-on science museum that’s fun for all ages.

The California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park features a planetarium, rainforest, and natural history displays. The park is also home to great playgrounds, swan boats on Blue Heron Lake (formerly Stowe Lake), and the enchanting Japanese Tea Garden, which explodes in bloom in the Spring.

Another great experience is taking the ferry to Alcatraz Island, the former federal prison that’s now a popular tourist attraction. The audio tour takes you through the cells and gives a glimpse into what life was like for the prisoners who were housed there. If this activity is on your list, be sure to book way in advance!

Muir Woods

Muir Woods, Photo by Kristine Dworkin

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 65 miles (1 hour, 27 minutes)

Often described as a pilgrimage rather than an excursion, a day trip to Muir Woods leaves its visitors with a reverence that can only be evoked by walking into a place like Cathedral Grove, a silent preserve and home to the tallest and oldest (we’re talking 400 to 1,000 years old!) redwoods in Muir Woods.

It’s not unusual to see fellow hikers and tree huggers lovingly running a hand over the massive tree trunks or standing at their large roots, looking up into their heights as if they were acknowledging a visitation by one of nature’s miracles.

The trees in Muir Woods are so massive and dense that light bends as it squeezes between the trunks and comes through the branches in pieces. The tallest tree is about 258 feet tall, and the largest diameter is 17 feet. Redwood trees can only be found on the Pacific coastline between Monterey and Southern Oregon, so visitors to San Francisco will definitely want to see these ancient groves. 

Muir Woods

The Fern Creek and Hillside Trail is a great trail for a classic Muir Woods experience. It’s a 1.9-mile loop that takes an average of 40 minutes to complete. You’ll pass popular sites like the Redwood Tree Slice, the Pinchot Tree, and the Cathedral Grove as you walk fully shaded and surrounded by towering trees.

Like on any other hike, you should bring plenty of water and a water-resistant jacket. Muir Woods can get chilly and damp. For sustenance, you can pick up a grab-and-go sandwich at the Muir Woods Trading Company or dine in the cafe before or after your pilgrimage in the trees. Just remember to always pack out whatever you pick up and leave no trace in the woods.

Due to its close proximity to San Francisco, this redwood forest is an incredibly popular destination. Parking must be reserved in advance, and shuttles are available through

Muir Beach is located three miles west of Muir Woods and is a great addition to your time in Muir Woods.


Napa Valley Vineyard by Kristine Dworkin

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 88.5 miles (1 hour, 34 minutes)

A stroll along the leafy paths of a Napa Valley vineyard with a gleaming glass of Chardonnay or a robust Cabernet in the grasp of your hand, taking in the crisp air—it’s a nice mental picture, isn’t it? 

Home to over 400 wineries, any time of year is a great time for a day trip to the gorgeous Napa Valley, but there are two that I find particularly special.

Napa Valley Mustard

The first is Mustard Season. Bright yellow wild mustard blooms carpet Napa Valley vineyards annually from January through March. This is a wonderful time to enjoy art, wine, and events throughout the Valley.

Here’s a little factoid to go with your Instagram photos, mustard is not only a colorful sight against the valley’s green landscape, it is also a cover crop to protect the soil and replenish it with nutrients while also attracting beneficial insects, preventing erosion, and warding off grapevine pests.

Autumn is another spectacular time to make a day trip to Napa. The fall colors are popping, the air is crisp, and it’s Harvest season, or as the locals refer to it, Crush.

Wine Grapes

Running from August through October, Crush starts with picking grapes for white and sparkling wine and concludes with red wine. By September, the warm, oaky smell of wine barrels is in the air, fueling expectations of the coming vintage of wine.

A drive along Silverado Trail is the perfect way to experience either of these seasons. It winds through the heart of the valley, sweeping through the small towns that make up this picturesque area.

A hot air balloon ride is the best way to get a bird’s-eye view of the valley’s beauty! Watch a new day dawn over the valley from 2,000 feet in the air! All rides begin at dawn, and many offer coffee or champagne.

If your day trip takes place during the hot summer months, you can rent a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard from Enjoy Napa Valley and take to the Napa River. A couple of great options for exploring the scenic valley floor include the Wine Train and the Napa Vine Trail, a cycling/walking system that runs about 15 miles.


Henry Coe Park in Gilroy
Biking in Henry Coe Park, Photo by Visit Gilroy

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 49 miles (56 minutes)

Garlic is the most immediate thing that comes to mind for most who know about Gilroy. The aromatic herb is celebrated annually at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, a full weekend of sampling garlicky morsels, including ice cream!

Don’t worry, garlic fans, should your day trip not fall during the Garlic Festival, you will not miss out on needing a breath mint after lunch! Gilroy has a Road to Garlic Map you can follow to find all of the best restaurants, shops, and other great garlic experiences in the Garlic Capital of the World!

Why stop at the Garlic, though? None of the other day trips from San Jose list a Taco Trail! Gilroy is home to a wide variety of affordable authentic Mexican Food. You’ll find delicious tacos, burritos, enchiladas, tamales, and more at casual taquerias and sit-down restaurants throughout the city — and they are all mapped out for you!

Now that you’ve eaten — and eaten well — it’s time to burn off those calories! Gilroy is a great place for getting outdoors. Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch County Park is perfect for day-trippers. It offers trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. For those interested in fishing, the lake is home to a population of black bass, bluegill, black crappie, and Eurasian carp.

The shores offer opportunities for bird watchers with over 219 different species of birds, including bald eagles. The park is also home to numerous reptiles, amphibians, insects, mammals, black-tailed deer, turkeys, wild pigs, and even mountain lions.

Henry Coe State Park

Henry Coe State Park is another great option for outdoor activity. Once the home of Ohlone Indians, the park is now home to a fascinating variety of plants and animals.

It has over 87,000 acres of wild open spaces and over 250 miles of trails and old ranch roads to explore. You’ll find hikers, mountain bikers, backpackers, equestrians, picnickers, and photographers there year-round!

Tiburon, Sausalito & Angel Island

Sausalito is one of the great day trips form San Jose
Sausalito, Photo by iStock/vichie81

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 59 miles (1 hour, 14 minutes)

This day trip is a three for one- three spots in one day trip from San Jose, that is! Start at the Bridgeway Promenade in Sausalito. A walk south along the promenade offers the best views of San Francisco across the bay. Grab a coffee at Equator Coffees or the Sausalito Bakery & Cafe. As you walk back towards town, browse through the art galleries and boutiques.

If you’d like to get out on the bay, rent a kayak or paddleboard with SeaTrek. Located in Richardson Bay, SeaTrek is sheltered from the open ocean and strong currents, which means the waters in and around it are generally calmer, making it an ideal spot for both beginners and experienced kayakers.

Getting out on the bay can put visitors in closer proximity to area residents including birds, seals, and humans occupying Sausalito’s famous houseboats.

Tiburon by www78

In Tiburon traversing on two wheels is a great way to see the town. Blackie’s Pasture, Paradise Beach State Park, and the Tiburon Loop all offer great scenic experiences for bicyclists that include bay views, wildflowers, and rolling hillsides. Blackie’s Pasture adds a little local folklore involving a swaybacked horse. Didn’t bring a bike? You can rent an electric Bike from Demo Sport on Tiburon Blvd.

For a sweeping view of Tiburon, the San Francisco Bay, and the city skyline beyond it, hike up the hill to Old St. Hilarys. Built in 1888 as a place of worship for local railroad workers, this simple church can be spotted from almost anywhere in Tiburon, its bright white coat of paint standing out against the blue sky. It sits in an impressive wildflower conservatory consisting of over 217 species of ferns, grasses, and other seed-bearing plants.

You may need to fuel up before making the trek. Woodlands Market is a great place to stock up on gourmet picnic supplies to enjoy, along with that stunning view!

View of Angel Island
View of Angel Island from Marin

Just a 10-minute ferry ride from Tiburon’s shores, Angel Island is often called the “Ellis Island of the West” due to its history as a holding place for Asian immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship. Park rangers offer informative one-hour tours of the station and barracks.

The island’s trails reveal other histories of the place. Before becoming a military installation, the island was a seasonal hunting spot for the coastal Miwok people. Pack a picnic and enjoy 360-degree views of the San Francisco Bay from atop Mt. Livermore, the highest point on the island. It’s a one-hour hike to the top.

Angel Island’s 6-mile paved Perimeter Trail is perfect for the casual bike rider. The route offers spectacular views and gorgeous scenery without a lot of effort!


UC Berkeley Campus, Photo by Kristine Dworkin

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 47 miles (59 minutes)

A city with a track record of serious academics and a history of civic unrest, a visit to Berkeley conjures images of liberal activism and the 1960s hippie scene.

There’s no better way to showcase this than a walk down Telegraph Avenue. Within a six-block radius of UC Berkeley’s south entrance, you’ll find an array of locally owned businesses with interesting wares. Moe’s Books has been a Berkeley favorite and a world-famous destination for readers since 1959.

Telegraph Avenue is also home to a number of vintage clothing boutiques full of finds that will stylishly set you apart from your friends! As they say in Berkeley, “Buy secondhand and say no to fashion waste!”

Telegraph Avenue is also known for its record shops. Rasputin Music has been a favorite since the 1970s, and Amoeba Music has a vast selection.

A popular foodie enclave has taken hold. Controversially nicknamed the Gourmet Ghetto, this part of town is home to well-known institutions like Chez Panisse and Cheese Board Pizza. I can tell you from personal experience that the smoked pastrami at Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen is so amazing that it has ruined all other smoked pastrami for me!

If you’d like to try a little bit of everything in this part of North Berkeley, I highly recommend a food tour with Edible Excursions. It was a delectable afternoon of amazing locally sourced and sustainable food served at colorful culinary landmarks in this neighborhood. 

Sather Tower at UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley’s Campanile turned out to be a fabulous calorie burner. The third-tallest bell and clock tower in the world, it offers a spectacular, sprawling view of the San Francisco Bay Area from its observation platform.

The Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) is a great place to experience the city’s rich arts and culture scene. BAMPFA is the cultural centerpiece of downtown Berkeley with more than 20 exhibitions, 450 film screenings, and dozens of public programs each year.

Marin Headlands

Marin Headlands
Fort Cronkhite, Marin Headlands by yhelfman

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 59 miles (1 hour, 18 minutes)

Rolling peninsulas, breathtaking scenery, and some surprising history are some of what you’ll enjoy during a day trip to the Marin Headlands. The area holds cultural history originating with the Coast Miwok peoples who have lived here for thousands of years to the American military, and you would never know about a lot of it at first glance!

Here’s one intriguing example: the only fully restored Nike Missile Site in the country! It is nestled in a formerly secret underground missile bunker. You don’t just get up close and personal with the missiles; you get to watch them rise out of the ground on a massive elevator and into a firing position. It’s a stirring sight to see!

During the tense years of the Cold War, from 1953 to 1979, the United States Army built and operated close to 300 Nike missile sites in the United States. These sites were designed to be the last line of defense against H-Bomb carrying Soviet bombers that had eluded the Air Force’s interceptor jet aircraft. 

Fort Baker
Fort Baker

There are also remnants of multiple military installations to explore, including Fort Baker. Nested at the Sausalito end of the Golden Gate Bridge, this 335-acre fort consists of 25 historic buildings. There are seacoast fortifications to check out and hiking trails where you can look for rare plants and endangered butterflies. Fort Baker will also give you a different perspective of the San Francisco Bay.

Adjacent to picturesque Rodeo Beach is Fort Cronkite, a former World War II military post. The barracks, mess halls, and other structures are still standing. Hike along the coastal trail to Battery Townsley, where you can see the 16-inch caliber gun.

The Marine Mammal Center is another amazing stop in this area. The world’s largest marine mammal hospital, the center cares for over 130 sick or injured marine mammals at any given time. Visitors learn what it takes to care for and rehabilitate marine mammals, including meal prep at the Fish Kitchen.

The center also features interactive exhibits and gorgeous wildlife photography on display. It’s free to visit, with the option to pay for a guided tour that allows you to see these animals and learn about their stories and treatment.

Bridge to the Point Bonita Lighthouse

Walk the trails along the headlands and take in the amazing views of San Francisco. Don’t miss Point Bonita Lighthouse, which was built in 1855 and is accessible by footbridge. It appears to be precariously balanced on a jagged cliff above the ocean.

I know, I know, I have covered a lot of military sites thus far. However, we cannot forget about the original residents of this beautiful place! The Marin Headlands Visitor Center offers more information about their cultural history. You can also see a Miwok shelter and listen to modern-day Miwok people talk about their lives.

As you head back south to San Jose, I advise you to make one last stop. Hawk Hill is the highest point in the headlands and provides one of the best views in the Bay Area. Scanning this panoramic lookout with views of Point Bonita and Rodeo Beach will leave you amazed that you were so close to an urban center during this excursion.

Sonoma County

Sonoma County Coast, Photo by iStock/ Robert_Ford

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 128 miles (2 hours, 45 minutes)

A day trip to Sonoma County is only the beginning of what will surely be an ongoing relationship with Sonoma County. I say that because there are so many varied ways to enjoy this area, they simply cannot be covered in one day. Believe me when I tell you, you will want to return to this area and see more.

While wine may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Sonoma County, the area offers a lot more than that. For example, the county includes over 50 miles of stunning Pacific Ocean coastline along California’s famed Highway 1.

There are more than 60 regional and state parks, which means you have many choices for communing with nature. By booking a Russian River kayaking, cycling, and wine-tasting tour with Getaway Adventures, you can enjoy some of that nature and world-renowned wine at the same time.

Take a drive along California’s Bohemian Highway and fall in love with the tiny little hamlets of Monte Rio, Occidental, and Freestone. You’ll find organic farms and wineries, innovative restaurants and shops, and specialty nurseries.

In Occidental, you’ll find an adventure with a little more adrenaline in it—ziplining through ancient Redwood Trees with Sonoma Zipline Adventures.

Sonoma Ballooning offers hot-air ballooning packages for those wanting to fly over all the gorgeous vineyards and pastoral landscapes instead.

Bodega Bya Coastline
Coastline near Bodega Bay

Visit the coastal town of Bodega Bay for some amazing seafood and Alfred Hitchcock-related folklore. Along with the neighboring village of Bodega, which is 4 miles inland, it was featured in the Hitchcock classic thriller The Birds.

Many of the film locations still exist, including the Potter School House and the Tides Wharf & Restaurant, where you can enjoy a bowl of scrumptious chowder without being bothered by one bird!

Should you feel the need for speed, check out the racing action at Sonoma Raceway. NASCAR, Indy Car, and motorcycle racing are big draws as some of the biggest names compete on a road track with 11 challenging turns. Those wanting to experience racing on a more personal level can suit up and jump in a real race car at the track’s driving school.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes Lighthouse, Photo by Flickr/Bruce Washburn

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 105 miles (2 hours, 14 minutes)

A day trip to Point Reyes National Seashore is like landing in heaven for outdoor activities. Imagine 70,000 acres intended solely for playing outside! 

The area includes 70 miles of bucolic wilderness, perfect for horseback riding, hiking trails, and wildlife spotting.

Depending on the timing of your visit, you can watch the gray whale migration, spot elephant seals, and observe raptors and shorebirds from the bluffs above the ocean and a few of the beaches alongside it. Tule Elk has even been spotted on some of the trails! Geology buffs enjoy studying the seismic forces at work along the Earthquake Trailhead.

Alamere Falls

For those who like a hiking challenge, I recommend trekking out to stunning Alamere Falls. While not an easy trek—a 13-mile round-trip hike—this spectacular spot is popular! The falls cascade over a ~40-foot-tall cliff onto the south end of Wildcat Beach.

Beware of getting too close to cliff edges, and be mindful of coastal erosion! Also, make sure to check the tides before you go; you will want to complete this hike at low tide. At high tide, the waves will cover the beach, forcing you to turn around on your hike.

If you like oysters, I can tell you there is nothing like slurping right out of the shell right next to where they are harvested! About half the state’s shellfish growers lease acreage on the floor of nearby Tomales Bay.

I highly recommend stopping by The Marshall Store in the bayside hamlet of Marshall, where oysters are prepared every which way— raw, barbecued, smoked, Rockefeller (spinach, cheese, and breadcrumbs), and Kilpatrick-style (bacon and Worcestershire sauce).

Cypress Tree Tunnel
Cypress Tree Tunnel

The iconic Cypress Tree Tunnel, located at what is now Point Reyes National Seashore’s North District Operations Center, has appeared in many Instagram posts.

The Monterey cypress trees that now create the “tree tunnel” were planted around 1930. Be on the lookout for signs for “North District Operations Center” on the road out to the area’s famous lighthouse.

Speaking of the lighthouse, I promise you that the 308 steps down (and back up again) to the Point Reyes Lighthouse are well worth it!

Built in the 1870s, it is a stunning sight. The natural beauty around it and the sheer drama of the lighthouse itself perched on the edge of a cliff down a rigorous slope will leave you amazed. If you are headed out this way, go prepared! There are no services, so make sure the car is fueled up fully, and you pack in snacks and water.

Cap the day off with a nice meal in Point Reyes Station. The Station House Cafe dinner menu includes those oysters I mentioned earlier.

The pizza at Osteria Stellina is out of this world. Dig into the mouth-watering, spice-rubbed rotisserie Chicken at Side Street Kitchen. Enjoy a cheese tasting at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. This locally made cheese includes the famed Point Reyes blue cheese.


Oakland is a nice day trip from San Jose
Downtown Oakland, Photo by iStock/trekandshoot

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 42 miles (48 minutes)

You might think that on its surface, a day trip to Oakland doesn’t appear to be much different than a visit to any other urban center. Oh, how wrong you would be to think that!

Not many day trips from San Jose include visiting an inactive volcano! This one is less than 15 minutes from downtown Oakland.

Sibley Volcanic Preserve near Oakland
Sibley Volcanic Reserve by Caryniam

The Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, one of the East Bay’s oldest parks, is crowned by a 1,763-foot round-top volcano. This park offers 30 miles of trails for exploring by foot or bike. Volcanic features to check out include two lava tubes, a cinder cone, and a manmade labyrinth.

On your way back downtown, relive the sweet ending from the Pixar movie Up! with a cone at Fenton’s Creamery.

Back in the city’s urban center, don’t miss the Oakland Museum of California! This institution lays out a nice overview of the state’s history, art, and culture through a variety of exhibits and programs.

Beautiful gardens and outdoor spaces surround the museum One of my favorite spots is Peace Terrace. Named for the giant sunny yellow Peace sculpture at its center, it also offers a panoramic view of Lake Merritt.

Lake Merritt

There are a few water-based adventures to enjoy in Oakland. Picnic lakeside and then rent a paddle boat for two at the Lake Merritt Boating Center. Test your balance with a stand-up paddleboard lesson at California Canoe and Kayak at Jack London Square.

Captain a kayak on the Oakland Estuary and paddle over to Oakland’s Local German beer garden, Brotzeit Lokal. You can also find out what it was like to cruise presidential style on the USS Potomac, FDR’s “floating White House.” 

Visiting Jack London Square is a must! Named after the famous American author who lived in Oakland, the area features several historic buildings, including Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, which opened in 1884.

Oakland is also home to one of the best zoos in California! I told you this place is full of surprises! The Oakland Zoo is home to over 700 animals from around the world. The zoo features several unique exhibits, such as the African Savanna, which allows visitors to see giraffes, zebras, and other animals up close.

Mount Hamilton, Lick Observatory

Shane Telescope at Lick Observatory
The Shane telescope at Lick Observatory, Mount Hamilton, by Sundry Photography

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 24 miles (57 minutes)

Perched on the summit of Mount Hamilton, the Lick Observatory has a lot to offer those who want a day trip trained on the skies. Start with a picnic lunch in the parking lot, where you can enjoy an expansive view of the Santa Clara Valley at 4,209 feet in elevation. If you forget your picnic basket, snacks and sodas can be purchased from vending machines on-site.

Lick Observatory is a multi-campus research unit owned and operated by the University of California. A major site in the University of California Observatories, Lick has been operating in the university system since 1888. It provides access to world-leading optical-infrared observing equipment for education and research. A self-guided walking tour allows you to explore the facilities at your own pace.

The main observatory building, constructed in 1888, houses many exhibits highlighting Lick Observatory’s science research, technology, and history. Lick also serves as UC’s chief testbed for developing new instruments and technologies for optical astronomy.

Take a look at the Great Lick Refractor in the 36-inch telescope dome while enjoying a short informal talk about the observatory’s history. Talks begin at the Gift Shop at 12:30, 1:30, 2:30, 3:30, and 4:30 p.m. Afterwards, take a short walk over to the Shane dome to view the 120-inch Reflector, one of the major telescopes used first to discover extrasolar planets.

The observatory is open to the public year-round on Saturday and Sunday, from 12 to 5 p.m. Admission is free, and the Gift Shop gives tours of inside the dome of the 36-inch Great Refractor every hour on the half-hour. It is possible to visit the observatory at night by purchasing tickets to the Summer Series from June through September.

One last thing to know about traveling to Lick Observatory—travel prepared! The road follows a gradual grade laid out over a century ago for horses and carts. It is narrow in places and has many sharp turns. If you visit during the winter, the road could see temporary closures because of snowfall. Also, due to the high elevation, the weather on Mt. Hamilton may be cool and changing, so pack a sweater or a coat in the car.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Photo by Flickr/lamblukas

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 33.5 miles (41 minutes)

Landscape painter Francis McComas referred to Point Lobos as “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world.” It’s easy to see why world-class photographers Edward Weston and Ansel Adams spent so much of their lives patrolling the woods and shores of Point Lobos for the perfect photograph.

Considered the crown jewel of the California State Park System, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is great for nature study, painting, picnicking, SCUBA diving, jogging and, as we’ve already established, photography.

There are 16 hiking trails in this reserve, all well-groomed and accessible along the coast. Bird Island Trail Loop is probably the most popular. This easy, 0.8-mile loop leads past highlights like China Cove, Gibson Beach, Pelican Point, and Bird Island Overlook.

Point Lobos is an excellent day trip from San Jose

From December through April, Gray Whales can be seen migrating offshore. You might see Orcas during April and May. Humpback whales travel through the region between May and December. Sea Lion Point lookout is a great spot for watching all this activity.

Point Lobos State Reserve is also the spot for some epic bird-watching. Take a walk to the rocky outcrop of Bird Island and watch for herons, seagulls, egrets, hawks, and many more. Sometimes, park docents have their scopes out and trained on bird activity. If you’re lucky, you may even see baby chicks during the springtime hatching season.

There are tidepools on either side of the south shore of Point Lobos. They’re in a rocky area called Carmelo Formation, where you can go exploring at low tide to look for fish, sea urchins, sea anemones, mussels, snails, and seaweed.

If you’re interested in SCUBA or snorkeling, Whalers Cove and Bluefish Cove are the places to go. Reservations must be made in advance.

If you’d like to learn about the area’s human history, check out the Whalers Cabin. Built by Chinese fishermen in the 1850s, it is the only intact structure in the state park system. Once one of several cabins built around Whaler’s Cove, it housed multiple residents and operations up until 1983, when it was finally vacated and proposed to be converted into a museum.

An additional small structure, the Whaling Station Museum, was built next to the original cabin. Both are informative places for learning more about Point Lobos’s rich cultural history and the whaling industry that thrived in this region in the mid-to-late 1800s. 


Livermore Wine Country, Photo by Flickr/ Jay Huang

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 38 miles (45 minutes)

Tucked within the Diablo Range, Livermore is California’s oldest wine region. Today, over 50 wineries are spread throughout the Livermore Valley. Each one is unique and offers a different wine-tasting experience.

If you are curious about wine but feel a little intimidated, stop by 3 Steves Winery. Founded by three friends, all named Steve, the place is as casual as the warmth of friendship. What better spot is there to learn about wine than nestled in the warmth of friendship? You don’t even need a reservation!

The Wente Vineyards are more well-known. Located on beautiful rolling hills, this family-owned winery has won many awards. Fun fact: There is also an 18-hole golf course on the grounds. It is 181 yards and par 72, designed by Jack Norman. It’s part of the PGA Tour’s Nationwide Tour.

The tasting room at McGrail Vineyards and Winery is situated in the middle of the valley with beautiful views of the vineyards and the mountains around it. McGrail’s Cabernet Reserve put them on the map when it won the Best Red Wine in the US at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition!

Del Valle Regional Park
Del Valle Regional Park

 If you thought Livermore’s wine country was gorgeous, wait until you see the city’s open-space recreational areas. Del Valle Regional Park features a five-mile-long lake perfect for boating, swimming, and fishing.

Sycamore Grove Park offers sweeping vineyard views, surrounding valleys, a creek, and wildlife. From the ridge top in Morgan Territory Regional Reserve, you can enjoy views of Mount Diablo and Mount St. Helena.

Downtown Livermore is a colorful place to visit partly because it is home to 15 vibrant murals created by local artists. All of them are “Insta-worthy,” download the Livermore Mural Guide and see for yourself!

While you’re hunting those artsy walls, you can also take advantage of some unique shopping experiences! Vault Calfornia sells one-of-a-kind products and gifts made by local artists and crafters. Baughman’s Western Outfitters features cowboy-themed apparel for all ages. Fantasy Books & Games is a great place to indulge in fantasy and sci-fi, card games, and hard-to-find figurines.

If none of what I’ve laid out for you in Livermore sounds cerebral enough, perhaps you’d like to visit what has been dubbed as the “smartest one-square mile on Earth.” Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is world-famous for its premier research and development. You can do things like step inside the replica of a target chamber and learn about the facility’s work in climate science at the the lab’s Discovery Center.

Mt. Tamalpais State Park

East Peak Observation Deack at Mount Tamalpais
East Peak Observation Deck at Mount Tamalpais, by Bruce Washburn

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 63 miles (1 hour, 21 minutes)

Of all the day trips from San Jose, this one will leave you most stunned by what you see. Once the home of the world’s most crooked railroad, Mount Tamalpais State Park rises to an elevation of 2,579 feet. Its deep canyons and sweeping hillsides are cloaked with cool redwood forests, oak woodlands, open grasslands, and sturdy chaparral.

One of the most confusing things about visiting Mt. Tamalpais is that it is actually made up of many different parks — with interconnecting trails and open spaces. It is a state park, a national park, and a water district.

No matter which one you choose, there are outstanding hiking, biking, picnicking, and wildlife-watching opportunities. With over 200 miles of trails, hiking is the most popular way to spend a day.

The most spectacular views in the Bay Area can be marveled at from the East Peak of “Mt. Tam,” as it is affectionately nicknamed. You can stroll the 0.75-mile-long Verna Dunshee Trail, a handicap and stroller-accessible loop circling the mountaintop.

The trail runs past remains of the old railroad, which used to go all the way up the mountain. Interpretive plaques along the way provide information on the history. 

Mount Tam Trail

The reward at the end is 360-degree views across the Bay Area, including downtown San Francisco, Point Reyes, the Farallon Islands, and Mt. Diablo. The views are especially magical at sunset. There’s no better way to get an overview of the Bay Area than to lay it at your feet!

The Dipsea Trail is calling for hikers who hunger for a challenge. This 9.7-mile out-and-back trail is near Mill Valley, California. Considered a challenging route, it takes an average of 5 hours and 40 minutes to complete. This is a very popular area for hiking and running, so you’ll likely encounter other people while exploring. The trail is open year-round and beautiful to visit anytime.

Mount Tam is also renowned as the birthplace of mountain biking. The first mountain bike race, Repack, was held on the gravel service roads of this state park. Old Railroad Grade, Deer Park Fire Road, and Coast View are all great for newer riders; Dias Ridge has some single-track.

Whether you decide to hike or bike, come to the park prepared. If you’re biking, bring food, water, and a flat kit. Mill Valley Market is a great place to pick up sandwiches and other picnic items.


Hakone Gardens
Hakone Gardens, Saratoga by Jonathan Mueller

Distance from Downtown San Jose: 12.4 miles (17 minutes)

This scenic day trip is a short drive from downtown San Jose. Charming and quaint, downtown Saratoga is affectionately referred to as “the village.” The historic 1880s buildings in this stretch on Big Basin Way off Highway 9 are home to unique boutiques, galleries, and restaurants.

Take a coffee break at Sue’s Gallery Cafe. Known for its mochas and matcha lattes, the caffeine here is served in pottery pieces that can be purchased at the gallery next door.

Looking to seriously fuel up for the activities ahead? The Big Basin Burger Bar is quite satisfying! If your travel partner is a very particular eater, this place has an extensive BYO (build your own) menu.

Hakone Gardens by LPS.1

Once you’re ready to work off that burger, head up the road to the Hakone Estate and Gardens, one of the oldest Japanese gardens on this side of the Pacific. Take a docent-led tour through this 100-year-old traditional Japanese garden or enjoy an authentic tea ceremony in the tatami mat room.

Explore the Zen garden, walk around the pond and fountains, and relax in the bamboo garden. Don’t miss the Cultural Exchange Center, which reproduces a 19th-century Kyoto tea merchant’s shop and home.

Montalvo Arts Center is another cultural gem! The estate’s 175 acres feature hiking trails, landscaped gardens, marble sculptures, and rustic woodlands. The Italianate 19-room villa hosts weddings and events.

Concerts are hosted in the Carriage House Theatre, Historic Villa, and Lilian Fontaine Garden Theatre. You can also check out the art exhibits in the Project Space Gallery and Art on the Grounds.

Saratoga has 15 town parks. In Kevin Moran Park, the largest, you can toss bocce balls or relax in the meditation garden. In Congress Springs Park, you can play soccer or baseball. In Azule Park, you can pitch horseshoes or cook on the barbecue grills.

Saratoga also offers many fabulous wine-tasting opportunities. Pack a picnic and head to Savannah Chanelle Winery for lunch with a view of a Redwood forest. Mount Eden Vineyards is a small historic wine estate overlooking the Santa Clara Valley. Founded in 1945, it is recognized as one of the original “boutique” California wine properties.

The Mountain Winery is another great stop. This mountaintop gem became famous when actor Orson Welles uttered its slogan, “We will sell no wine before its time,” in television commercials from 1978 to 1981. Today, it is more frequented as a concert venue. Enjoy dinner with a view before a show in the summertime. In its historic stone masonry, the tasting room still attracts many wine enthusiasts.

Cap your day off with a fine dining experience back in the historic Saratoga Village. The Plumed Horse offers upscale modern dining that is as impressive to the eye as it is to the palate. With a menu full of creative shared plates like crispy sushi bites and buttermilk fried chicken sliders, the Hero Ranch Kitchen is a local favorite.