5 Northern California Day Trips

You've heard of Sleepless in Seattle - well I'm carless in San Francisco. However, I haven't let not having a car stop me from doing my own exploring in and around San Francisco and even beyond the city limits. While I love San Francisco, it has been nice to take some day and weekend trips over the last few months. If nothing else, for an escape from the fog.

While I don't expect travelers visiting San Francisco to spend most of their time taking day trips outside the city every day, I do, however, recommend taking at least one day trip, even if it's just across the bay to the East or North Bay. Today I highlight a few of my favorite day trips from San Francisco.

1. Sausalito. Good news: A car isn't required for going over to Sausalito. You can take the ferry over or for the more adventurous traveler, walk or bicycle across the Golden Gate Bridge. However, that steep hill you go down on your way into Sausalito? You have to come back up it. Sausalito has a certain small beach town charm that I'm so accustomed to on the east coast. I've spent many afternoons enjoying a glass of wine on the dock while looking out across the bay to San Francisco. Head to the waterfront to Bar Bocce on a warm afternoon for drinks, pizza, and a game of Bocce Ball.

2. Sonoma. That's right. Sonoma and not Napa. Actually I haven't been to Napa, but judging from my first trip to Sonoma County, Napa will have to put on quite the show to top it. My introduction to Sonoma County actually came courtesy of a small town that is probably unfamiliar to most travelers to Northern California called Healdsburg. I thought my little North Carolina hometown of Graham was small, but Healdsburg is even smaller. However, Graham wasn't overflowing with wine. My favorite winery was Dry Creek Vineyard, who kept serving me wine and I kept drinking it. I haven't been to a ton of wineries, but Dry Creek had one of the most impressive selections I've seen, including Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a dessert wine, Soleil, which was delicious and dangerous, which is probably good that it's in a smaller bottle.

3. Monterey. Monterey and Carmel are really a package deal since they are so close to one another. It's a little bit further of a drive at a couple hours from San Francisco. If you want some semblance of a city life, but without the hustle and bustle of San Francisco, then this is a good overnight trip. I recommend outdoor enthusiasts heading for the water to rent kayaks to paddle around the bay, which often offers sightings of seals, otters, and sea lions. If you like looking at water and not being in water, than maybe the Monterey Bay Aquarium is for you, which I've heard many people note as their favorite aquarium in California.

4. Big Sur. Consider doing at least an overnight stay when planning a visit to Big Sur, which is even further south than Monterey and Carmel. Part of this being due to the distance, but also because once you get there and see the natural beauty, you may not want to come back so quickly. If you have just a day, I recommend either beginning or ending your day at Pfeiffer Beach. On a clear day, end it at Pfeiffer Beach, which offers a unique view of the sunset when the sun peers through one of the rocks just beyond the shoreline. My favorite view, however, is just south at Nepenthe, a restaurant and wine bar located at the top of a cliff and overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It's been one of those rare travel moments where my breath was taken away.

5. Point Reyes. If you want the sheer beauty of Big Sur, but without the long drive, then cross the Golden Gate Bridge to head north to the Point Reyes National Seashore. If you get an early morning start, you may get into Point Reyes and to Tomales Bay in time to do some paddling before the wind arrives. If paddling, I recommend taking off on the western side of the bay in Inverness so that you can then continue north to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. If the road continues to narrow and you feel like you're driving through cow pasture, you're not lost, but have just a couple more miles until you get to the lighthouse. Make sure you gas up ahead of time as there aren't many gas stations near Point Reyes and the ones that are there are very expensive.

What's your favorite day trip in California?