Best Towns & Cities To See Near San Francisco
There’s much more to see than just “The City”
The towns and cities near San Francisco Bay abound with treasure troves of natural wonders, especially along the coast lines and mountain tops. Below we’ve cherry picked out a few of the very best things to do in towns near San Francisco. Our SF Bay Area city & town maps also identify specific local highlights and current weather conditions.
marin half-moon-bay-coast san-mateo-county
silicon-valley santa-cruz east-bay further-away
Marin – north of SF across Golden Gate Bridge
|Sausalito||map||Nifty village easily accessible by ferry|
|Marin Headlands||map||Beautiful views from just across Golden Gate Bridge|
|Tiburon||map||Small bayside town further north|
- Sausalito – One of the best little seaside towns in the world is just an exciting 30 minute ferry boat ride away (or a longer bike ride via the Golden Gate Bridge). See the Sausalito-Tiburon map for exact locations.
- Marin Headlands – Stunning views and unique things to do just across Golden Gate bridge. Also see the Headlands map.
- Tiburon – Tiburon means “shark” in Spanish. It’s a beautiful little town a few minutes north of Sausalito by car or ferry. See Sausalito-Tiburon map
Half Moon Bay Coastline – just south of SF
|Beaches & Trails||map||Beaches & trails along the coast|
|Coastal Towns||map||shows ALL the coastal towns below|
|Half Moon Bay||map||Spanishtown-oldest town in county|
|Pacifica||map||Some nice hikes around Pacifica|
|Montara||map||Beautiful little residential town|
|Princeton-by-the-Sea||map||Princeton Harbor and more|
|El Granada||map||Little-known parks|
|Pescadero||map||Nice Sunday drive|
- Best towns and sights to see while driving Cabrillo Hwy (Hwy1) down the coast south of San Francisco. From Montara to Santa Cruz is a superb stretch of coastal road for a Sunday drive; but, start reasonably early (e.g., 9:30-10 am) to avoid slow traffic. Also see coast map.
- Best trails & beaches along the Half Moon Bay Coast. Also see trails map.
- Half Moon Bay – County’s oldest settlement known as Spanishtown in the 1840s. Still the biggest little town on the coast. See coast-town map
- Montara – A relaxed hidden jewel with great weather and ocean views.
- Princeton-by-the-Sea – Excellent beach walks, restaurants, & some retail. See map
- El Granada – Sleepy residential town with great parks for hiking. See map
- Pescadero – A short & particularly beautiful coastal drive gets you there.
San Mateo County – just south of SF
|Skyline Ridge||map||A great Sunday drive on the mountains|
|Bicycle Sundays||map||Scenic ride along Canada Rd to Woodside|
|San Mateo County||map||Things to do in county|
|Foster City||map||Like a beautiful resort with water sports|
|Redwood Shores||map||Marshland nature hikes|
|Belmont||map||Best parks and dog walks|
- Skyline Ridge – Driving or biking Skyline is a treat most SF dwellers have never heard about. Also see Skyline map.
- Bicycle Sundays – Canada Road in Belmont provides a low-key biking adventure for adults and kids. See map. Nearby is also Sawyer Camp Trail, a very popular biking and hiking venue.
- San Mateo – A pleasant suburb between San Francisco & Palo Alto. See a San Mateo County map.
- Foster City – It feels surprisingly like a resort yet is just off Hwy 101 & Hwy 92. A walk along the lagoon is a nice urban break or rent a paddle boat or go swimming. See map.
- Redwood Shores – Like Foster City but newer with better nature trails. Both Foster City and Redwood Shores have excellent family biking along the shoreline around their perimeters. See map.
Silicon Valley – further south
|Stanford-Palo Alto||map||The origin of Silicon Valley|
|California Ave||map||Nice older commercial street near Stanford|
|Town of Woodside||Small wealthy community near Stanford|
|Mountain View||map||Home of Google|
|Castro Street||map||The happening place in Mt View|
|San Jose||map||Bigger population than SF|
|Los Gatos||map||Good destination near San Jose|
|Morgan Hill||map||A suburb south of San Jose|
|Hollister||map||A nice day trip even further south|
- Stanford-Palo Alto – Home of Stanford and Hewlett-Packard, Inc. Lots of wealthy Stanford grads, doctors, and famous businessmen like Steve Jobs live around here for a reason; they like it. Also see Stanford-Palo Alto map.
- San Jose – Has a larger population than SF (948,000 vs 809,000) and is ranked among the top 10 most livable large cities in the US. Feels more like a giant suburb than a city. Has a few interesting gems to check out. Also see San Jose map.
- Los Gatos – This upscale little town is a great place to visit Sunday mornings. We like it better than Mill Valley in Marin. Also see Los Gatos map.
Santa Cruz & south
|Santa Cruz||map||Old resort area, new college town|
|Capitola||Beautiful little old resort town|
|Carmel by the Sea||map||Famous artist town|
|Hollister||map||A nice inland day trip|
- Santa Cruz – Resort community with a famous old (1907) oceanfront amusement park containing a Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster. Home of UC Santa Cruz.
- Capitola – Historic little resort town. It has the nicest weather & beach around as well as an adjacent shopping area.
- Carmel by the Sea – Former artist haven with nifty main street shops, a unique little beach, and the famous 17 mile drive. Clint Eastwood was once the town mayor. But, it’s a long round trip for one day. Also see Carmel map.
|East Bay||map||Has a few good attractions|
|Niles||map||Interesting old railroad town on the east side of Fremont|
- Be sure not to miss the historic USS Hornet aircraft carrier in Alameda.
Here’s a few places a bit further away we’ve enjoyed on long weekends. They are only a short plane flight away:
- San Diego – Seeing the tourist side of San Diego makes for a great weekend trip. E.g., Old Town, Little Italy, The Embarcadero, GasLamp Quarter, Coronado Island & Balboa Park are all only a few minutes away from the airport.
- Las Vegas – After you’ve seen everything on the Strip check out old Las Vegas on Fremont Street where the locals go for a relaxed evening out.
- Seattle – The Pike Place Fish Market is a must see. We want to take the ferry to visit Victoria, British Columbia, on our next trip.
- Lake Tahoe – We prefer North Shore in the spring or fall when the ski crowds are gone. We usually drive up and stop by Sacramento on the way. Of course the Lake Tahoe region is outstanding for winter weekend ski trips as well.
- Sacramento – Check out Old Sacramento and the Capitol Park grounds. White water river rafting on the American River is great fun for a hot summer weekend.
- Napa Valley & Sonoma – Famous wine region. We usually plan a day of “bar hopping” between the great wineries in the area.
- Carmel – We often visit Carmel & Monterey on a day trip.