Northern California is packed with charming towns and cities, majestic mountains, serene beaches, and enchanting forests. If you and your sweetheart are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of San Francisco for a few days, you’re in luck since the iconic city is surrounded by exciting towns and communities. Whether you’re touring gorgeous Wine Country, hiking among the towering redwoods, or surfing the Pacific, the Golden State always seems to have a sense of romance and magic in the air. From luxurious mansions to rustic cabins, there is a diverse variety of San Francisco vacation rentals situated within driving distance of the most romantic local attractions in the state. Here are seven of the best towns and cities to visit from San Francisco.
1. Bodega Bay
Located in beautiful Sonoma County, Bodega Bay is roughly 90 minutes north of San Francisco. The area is famous for its beaches, eclectic shops, and seafood. If you’re on the hunt for beachfront vacation rentals, Bodega Bay is a fantastic starting point. When you’re done soaking in the California sun, head to Chanslor Stables and take a guided horseback ride through trails that span picturesque beaches, mountains, dunes, meadows, and more. When you get hungry, visit Terrapin Creek Cafe, a casual neighborhood restaurant that was awarded a Michelin star. The menu includes mouthwatering American and international comfort food. The Bay View Restaurant and Lounge is another excellent restaurant choice, boasting an exceptionally elegant dining room and a delicious seasonal Italian menu that focuses on organic ingredients.
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2. Big Sur
Big Sur is nestled right between Northern and Southern California, roughly three hours south of San Francisco. It’s one of the country’s most beautiful vacation destinations, boasting a stunning blend of serene beaches and majestic redwoods. There are some vacation rentals available in the Big Sur region, but you may also want to look in nearby towns such as San Simeon, Carmel, and Cambria. Enjoy a sunset stroll with your sweetheart at Pfeiffer Beach, a gorgeous purple-sanded expanse that’s secluded enough that it’s rarely crowded. For dinner, visit Sierra Mar, an upscale restaurant nestled on top of a cliff that serves exquisite California cuisine in an elegant dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the vast Pacific Ocean. For a more casual waterfront dining experience that captures the classic laid-back California vibe, visit Nepenthe, a favorite hangout among the locals.
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3. Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is packed with beachfront vacation rentals, beautiful beaches, and an exciting downtown area. The iconic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a must-visit attraction. Ride the amusement park rides if you’re in the mood for a thrill, or just kick back on a bench and watch the eclectic people and performers while you listen to the crashing waves. The boardwalk is also a great place for a mini-golf date. When the sun starts to set and dinnertime rolls around, head to La Posta for Italian food in a rustic atmosphere. Solaire Restaurant and Bar is another excellent dinner option if you’re looking for something more contemporary. In addition to the upscale dining room, you can enjoy poolside cabanas and a bar, hot tubs, and fire pits.
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4. Half Moon Bay
A nature lover’s paradise, Half Moon Bay is a small coastal city that’s located 45 minutes south of San Francisco. Stop by Sea Horse Ranch for a horseback ride on the shores of the area’s scenic beaches. Hike through the Crystal Springs Reservoir, home to a huge variety of plant and animal life. For breakfast, lunch, or dinner, visit The Conservatory, where you can enjoy an incredible view of the Pacific Ocean through the dining room’s floor-to-ceiling windows. The restaurant creates deliciously light American cuisine using local, organic ingredients. Half Moon Bay Distillery is a fantastic place to enjoy a cocktail made from local spirits, and you can even take a tour of the fascinating facility.
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5. Santa Rosa
Santa Rosa is the largest city in gorgeous Sonoma County, roughly an hour north of Santa Francisco. The city is famous for its many wineries, and it’s surrounded by other charming towns such as Sebastopol, Guerneville, and Petaluma. It’s also just a stone’s throw away from the scenic Russian River, a perfect place to spend the day swimming, tubing, or just relaxing on the shore with your partner in crime. Russian River Brewing Company is a lively bar that serves excellent elevated bar food and some of the most highly regarded beer in the entire world. Bistro 29 is a great place to dine, featuring delicious French cuisine served in an upscale-yet-casual environment. Ca’Bianca Restaurant is another phenomenal eatery, featuring Italian and California cuisine and — of course — an extensive wine list.
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Pescadero is a bit under the radar compared to other San Francisco getaways, but this quaint town has plenty of romance to offer couples. Harley Farms is a delightful place to visit, featuring goats, llamas, and other farm animals as well as a cheese selection that’s truly sublime. Visit the historic Pigeon Point Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse on the entire West Coast. When the sun sets, head to Cascade Restaurant for a delicious meal made with local ingredients, including fresh-caught seafood and organic produce. Before you head home, stop by The Pescadero Flowery where you can pick your own flowers to remind you of your trip.
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Sausalito is located in Marin County just a half hour north of San Francisco. You can cut that time in half and have a bit of fun in the process by starting at the San Francisco Ferry Building and taking a 30-minute ferry to Sausalito. Once you arrive, visit the Point Bonita Lighthouse — it’s the last manned lighthouse on California’s coast, and it’s a lovely spot to for couples to explore or relax. The Trident restaurant is known for its outstanding outdoor deck views as well as its exquisite seafood and steaks. If you head 30 minutes north of Sausalito, you hit Muir Woods, a magical area with massive redwoods, picturesque hiking trails, and a variety of wildlife.
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