WRITTEN BY Christina Manukyan
Christina enjoys exploring and writing about different walks of life. Among her favorite topics are traveling, art, self-improvement, design, entertainment, and food. When she is not working on her a…See full bio
As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
Struck by wanderlust? Satisfy your drive with a getaway high up in the mountains. The Bay Area’s rugged terrain offers fantastic opportunities for mountain biking, camping, or glamping getaways. If you’re adventuresome, you’ll definitely need one or two (or maybe five) options for an enviable escape in the mountains. Regardless of if you want to traverse awe-inspiring mountain peaks on foot or by bike—or are in need of a relaxing retreat—this getaway guide has you covered. With many iconic mountain escapes near San Francisco, it’s hard to pick just one.
Point Reyes Hill—the second highest mountain on the northern part of Inverness Ridge—offers a therapeutic escape from the urban hustle. Situated along the California coast within the Point Reyes National Seashore, this paradise is home to grasslands, lush vegetation, forested ridges, brushy hillsides, and the aromatic fragrance of pine and spruce trees. Since there are several ways to reach the peak and enjoy the views, it's a great spot to bring the whole family. Not feeling a hike? Drive your way to the top via the Sir Francis Drake Highway just south of Point Reyes Station. Once you’re at the top, sit back and take in the stellar views of Point Reyes, Drakes Bay, Drakes Estuary, and the hills of West Marin County.
If you’re all about hiking, Point Reyes is home to a system of trails perfect for day hiking and backpacking. The most popular hike is via Bear Valley Trail, a relatively easy and pleasant trail stretching through a well-shaded canyon. Here, you’ll arrive at Divide Meadow before meandering down towards the coast. For the ultimate mountain vacation near S.F., pitch a tent under the stars at one of the many campgrounds Point Reyes has to offer.
The campgrounds are designed for between one and six people and offer plenty of amenities including picnic tables, a charcoal grill, and a food storage locker. Some larger group campsites are also available, and typically come complete with twice as many facilities. For the beach bums, head to Coast Campground. Nestled in a coastal grassy valley, you can easily access tidepools and the beach—which is located within 200 meters of the campground. If you’re craving movement therapy, head to the flat and relatively easy 2.7-mile Coastal Trail. The trail takes you to the HI Point Reyes Hostel. If you're looking for a short, two-mile hike to Alamere Falls, opt to spend the night at the Wildcat Campground. Located near an open meadow on a bluff, it’s a quick walk to the beach and to Tomales Bay, which offers boat-in camping options.
For sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, reserve a spot at the Sky Campground and be prepared to combine your two favorite recreational activities—camping and mountain biking. The easiest way to reach the campground is by biking from the Sky Trailhead to Limantour Road. For a more luxurious camping experience, glamp at the Tree House Cottages near Point Reyes for a fun and fab mountain getaway. These cottages are also ideal for a romantic weekend for two or as a tranquil NorCal beach escape.
The rugged stretch of California’s central coast showcases scenic vistas of the Pacific Ocean. Recognized for its exceptional beauty, the Big Sur landscape is a national treasure. Catering to all types of adrenaline junkies, it boasts a wide variety of sporty activities; from surfing and kiteboarding to mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding, there’s something to peak any interest.
While traversing Big Sur, stop by McWay Falls at the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park—one of only two waterfalls plunging into the Pacific Ocean. Then, get historically acquainted with Big Sur by visiting the Point Sur Lighthouse. It’s a designated California State Park and is the Golden State’s only nineteenth-century lighthouse that's still open to the public. For the bookworms, we recommend The Henry Miller Library—a non-profit bookstore and arts center.
If you’re cravin’ a top-notch camping experience, reserve your spot at one of the campgrounds located in Big Sur. Streamside camping is also available in the Big Sur Valley, but for views of the south side, you'll want to camp on the bluff. To access the park’s campgrounds, take the Pine Ridge Trail—the most popular hike into the Ventana Wilderness. This trailhead comes equipped with all the amenities you need for an ideal hike, including freshwater, clean toilets, and a parking lot.
Next, drive your way through the longest route in California—Highway 1—for a scenic ride. This roadway is among the top 10 world-renowned streets, and is compared to the likes of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris and Broadway in New York. Situated on the 90-mile stretch of highway are 300-plus hotels, cabins, and high-end resorts providing the opportunity for endless getaways if camping just isn’t your thing. Book your stay and spend more than a day because you'll never regret a vacay spent in the Big Sur.
Part of the Pacifc Coast Ranges, the Santa Cruz Mountain Range stretches from San Mateo County to Salinas Valley. Trek through the coastal redwoods, big leaf maples, and California bay laurels to experience the region's diverse ecosystems, then breathe in the healing scent of the Pacific madrone. You’ll spot rare birds such as the great blue heron and red-tailed hawk, soaring above lush forests, along with rare black-tailed deer wandering north from Big Sur.
Discover endless opportunities to connect with nature in the Santa Cruz Mountains; home to California’s oldest state park—the Big Basin Redwoods—you’ll discover waterfalls, lush canyons, and sparse slopes. The park also features renowned mountain rides, but you'll want to take a trip down dirt roads to see the beautifully remote areas of Santa Cruz County. If you’re a mountain biking pro, wind through the lower portion of the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, along with the Gazos Creek and Chalks Road trails for a challenging ride.
Admire the views as you hike up the 38-mile Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail—where you'll start at Castle Rock State Park, head through Big Basin, and end at the Pacific Ocean. Still have energy to expend? Horseback ride, rock climb, or backpack through the region to explore all it has to offer. For the romantics, star-gaze your way through the multi-day outings in the Castle Rock State Park and Big Basin Redwoods backcountry campgrounds. Just pitch a tent, turn up the tunes, and unwind as you watch the serene scene unfold in front of you.
Head to Lake Tahoe—the hidden gem of the Sierra Nevada mountain range—to admire the largest alpine lake in North America. From diverse mountain landscapes to year-round activities, there’s something here for everyone. Head to Emerald Bay State Park to see exquisite Lake Tahoe vistas while being sheltered by towering trees and vibrant granite cliffs. For a historical tour, visit the 38-room Vikingsholm mansion off the Emerald Bay shore to see one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the U.S. Then, take a boat trip to Fannette Island and feel the cool droplets of water on your skin.
The Kings Beach State Recreation Area—the longest shoreline in the area—is 13 acres of pure bliss. Spend your time in this seventh heaven swimming, sunbathing, or boating. In addition to picnics and playgrounds at Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe’s landscape is perfect for the hiking enthusiasts. For a wondrous waterfall experience, hike your way to Cascade and Eagle Falls. Next, challenge yourself to climb the steep Shirley Canyon Trail which leads you to Shirley Lake. Mountain bikers rejoice and bike the 12.8-mile point-to-point Flume Trail to take in stellar views of the lake after pushing you to your limits with the twists and turns of the rugged mountain terrain. For a fun adventure, backpack through the 63,960-acre federally protected Desolation Wilderness that's located just west of Lake Tahoe.
Lake Tahoe never shuts down—winter months are also a prime time for fun. This winter wonderland is home to luxurious ski resorts such as the Squaw Valley Ski Resort and Heavenly Ski Resort. Boasting phenomenal views and black diamond runs, Lake Tahoe is your go-to winter getaway.
This historic NorCal region is famous for its success during the 1849 California Gold Rush. Situated on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, Gold Country spans 48.3 square miles. Home to Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and Sequoia National Park, it’s a top mountain getaway near S.F.
Escape to the Gold County redwoods and head to the Calavera Big Trees State Park via the North Grove Big Trees Trail. The park features well-shaded routes passing through two groves of lush sequoia redwoods. While hiking the Upper Natural Bridge Trail, take a dip in the limestone tunnel’s creek of Calaveras County. The moderate 5-mile out-and-back route features mystical caves, unusual rock formations, and challenging climbs.
Paradise in the pines awaits you at the Gold Country Campground Resort. Accessible year-round, it’s the perfect getaway from the city and has top-notch amenities. Celebrate with the family and head to the Auburn Gold RV Park for a weekend full of camping, BBQing, picnicking, fishing, water skiing, mountain biking, and hiking.
Keep boredom at the Bay and explore the breathtaking mountain activities during your next vacay. For weekend trips closer to home, check out the San Francisco getaway guide for tips and tricks on the cool things to do.