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San Francisco, with its awe-inspiring natural beauty and enviable number of restaurants with Michelin stars, is a city that’s hard to leave. But between the adjacent coastal towns and vineyard-lined enclaves, the area around San Francisco just begs to be explored. From Lake Tahoe to Napa Valley, and Big Sur to the charming town of Carmel, the beauty found on these weekend trips from San Francisco is nothing short of poetic. Here, the best weekend trips from San Francisco to inspire your upcoming road trips:
The luxury hotel game alone is enough to merit a week-long exploration of Napa Valley. For those heading to St. Helena, choose between Las Alcobas Napa Valley and Meadowood Napa Valley, both American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts properties. Las Alcobas Napa Valley sits in a refurbished Georgian mansion from the early 1900s, and even if you don’t spend the night, booking brunch at their restaurant, The Acacia House, is a must. The same is true for Meadowood—guests get to experience their truly luxurious pool, but those not staying must dine at their three Michelin starred restaurant. Two other spots you can’t miss in St. Helena: Goose & Gander, a chic cocktail bar for when you’re temporarily wined out, and a long, luxurious meal at archetype.
While we’re fans of the drinking scene in Napa proper—from the locals’ favorite wine bar, Compline, to tasting in the Legacy Lounge at Trinchero Napa Valley, to the rooftop of the Archer Hotel—staying in Calistoga is perfect for anyone taking a weekend trip to escape the city. Take your morning walks along Calistoga’s main drag, Lincoln Ave, shop at Roam Antiques and Design, and taste the latest releases at Tank Garage Winery. Nothing makes for a perfect Calistoga day quite like booking a morning spa treatment at Calistoga Ranch, Auberge Resorts Collection, where you can indulge in “forest bathing” in their heated mineral pools, followed by an afternoon playing pinball at Tank while sipping their new Going Home carbonic white. Those staying at Calistoga Ranch, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, can book one of their “50 freestanding guest lodges” surrounded by the mesmerizing natural Northern California elements.
To get to the heart of Big Sur is about two and a half hours from the city, making it one of our favorite weekend trips from San Francisco. The first stop to make before pulling into your hotel is Big Sur Bakery, where you can get coffee, great bread and pastries, lunch, and even some homemade snacks and semi-local wines to go. (If you’re exhausted on your way in, swing by Big Sur Bakery later for dinner, or reserve a table on the cliffside terrace at Nepenthe.) Your weekend in Big Sur will be all about hiking, high-end glamping, and good eats. Those hiking in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park should start with the Pfeiffer Falls/Valley Views trail (two miles), before advancing the next day to the Tanbark Trail (a five-miler through the Redwood forest). For chic glamping accommodations, the answer can only be Ventana Big Sur, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts partner; their luxury tent-cabins have amenities galore and private fire pits. Alternately, there are 59 guest rooms on the resort side of Ventana if glamping isn't your speed. You can also check out the luxurious Post Ranch Inn.
At the cliffside property—also an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property—every room has an unforgettable view, many are equipped with outdoor jacuzzi tubs, and resort guests can participate in complimentary daily yoga and guided nature activities.
Half Moon Bay
For those who don’t want to drive more than an hour in San Francisco traffic and are looking forward to a weekend spent golfing, hiking, biking, and luxuriating at the spa, The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, is the obvious answer. They are a Legend Award honoree in the Best Hotel Views category for good reason; one of their two golf courses is perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Bike rentals are included in the resort fee, and there’s nothing like pedaling along the cliffs of Half Moon Bay. Drive up to Sam’s Chowder House, to spend an afternoon noshing on lobster rolls on their deck overlooking the Pacific. While the hotel is right on the Coastal Trail, you can expand your hiking repertoire by taking the Purisima Creek Trail at Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve. And while venturing into town, don’t miss stopping at Half Moon Bay Wine & Cheese; the shop, perfect for gourmands, has a lovely tasting bar. Wrap up your perfect weekend in Half Moon Bay with a reservation at Navio, the ocean-to-table sustainable seafood restaurant under chef Jakob Esko.
South Lake Tahoe
Here’s the truth: Lake Tahoe is a three-hour drive and one of the best weekend trips from San Francisco—if you get on the road before the rest of the city dwellers heading out of town. The last thing you want is to get caught in the traffic moving east and turn the three-hour drive into a five-hour road trip. Assuming you make good time leaving San Francisco, Lake Tahoe is a perfect outdoor escape no matter the season. In the summer, stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts partner, to capitalize on their Lake Club, which offers direct access to the lake. In the winter, work with Inspirato to find a super-luxe Lake Tahoe ski cabin for the whole family. Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the U.S., and the area boasts 300 days of sunshine a year. Take advantage by getting out on the lake and kayaking, or in the winter, ski one day at Heavenly Mountain, and another at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows. After a day spent boating (or skiing, depending on the season), you have your pick of restaurants where your brood can refuel in view of the lake, from Lakeside Beach House Restaurant to Riva Grill on the Lake to Artemis Lakefront Cafe.
Carmel Valley and Carmel-by-the-Sea have a few of Napa Valley’s elements—great wine, excellent dining options—on a much more intimate, small-town scale. Enjoy lunch at La Bicyclette, where the ingredients are local and exceptionally fresh, and spend your afternoon gallery hopping (visit Aaron Chang Ocean Art, Rieser Fine Art, Galerie Rue Toulouse, and Bennett Sculpture Carmel). Carmel Beach is dog-friendly, and therefore the perfect place to take your family on a long morning walk.
For those craving more of a hike, set out for Point Lobos State Nature Reserve or Mission Trail Park. And don’t overlook the Carmel wine scene. It’s not on Napa’s scale, but is still an integral part of Carmel tourism, and its proximity to the coast makes it an excellent Pinot Noir purveyor. For dinner, reserve at Forge in the Forest, where you can dine on the patio and appreciate the historical significance of the restaurant site. And, of course, for rustic-chic luxury accommodations, book a suite at Carmel Valley Ranch, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts partner, set on 500 acres with an 18-hole golf course. If spa living is more your speed, stay at Bernardus Lodge & Spa, another American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts partner, where you’ll be reluctant to leave your serene villa and The Spa at Bernardus.