Six of the best San Francisco day trips

MUIR WOODS NATIONAL MONUMENT

Less than an hour's coastal drive from downtown San Francisco, the redwood forest of Muir Woods contains some of the world's most ancient trees, many of which are on a scale that must be seen to be believed. Named by President Theodore Roosevelt in honour of naturalist John Muir, the woods are often shrouded in coastal fog, lending them an almost mythical air, only enhanced by the abundance of wildlife, including more than 50 species of birds.  With a variety of trails suited to just about anyone, it's worth lacing up the hiking boots early on a weekday to avoid crowds. Entry is $US7 and the woods are open all year. See nps.gov

SANTA CRUZ

Renowned for its countercultural, bohemian elan fused with SoCal '60s surf culture, this thriving university town is home to some of California's best surf beaches. The downtown area has a kicking bar and restaurant scene interspersed with cool little record stores, book shops, offbeat cafes and museums. A short drive north, Big Basin Redwood State Park has more than 8000 hectares of forest for hiking and with over 70 wineries, the Santa Cruz Appellation is among the oldest wine regions in America. If you get a chance, drop in on the Surf Museum inside the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse to check out the selection of knick-knacks tracing the last century of surfing in the region; there's even a board with a chunk taken out by a Great White. See cityofsantacruz.com 

POINT REYES

This triangular peninsula in West Marin County is a blustery 285 square kilometre stretch of rugged coastline where clam chowders, cosy pubs and picturesque beaches combine to create the perfect day (or overnight) trip. Rich with biodiversity, it's the perfect place to spot whales, elephant seals, deer, birdlife and more as you wander an impossibly beautiful network of lagoons and forested cliffs. Take a stroll to windiest and westernmost at Point Reyes Headlands crowned by the lighthouse before tucking into fresh oysters at Tamales Bay. For charming old school surf culture, check out nearby Bolinas and Stinson Beach areas. See pointreyes.org

SONOMA COUNTY

Home to more than 425 wineries across 17 distinct wine areas, the Sonoma region is seen as a less commercial, more informal answer to the prestigious Napa Valley. Pack a picnic or cruise any number of cellar doors for a laid back, unpretentious tasting. Beyond the wine, Sonoma is a dramatic setting. Flanked by the mountains of Western Sonoma County, picturesque Highway 1 winds through 90 kilometres of Pacific Ocean coastline, through charming towns such as Bodega Bay with its family-run inns and restaurants. Adventure seekers will be pleased to know there's now even a zipline running over the redwood forest while kayaking and canoeing trips are also available on the Russian River. See sonomacounty.com  

CARMEL

A ritzy seaside village with an almost European feel, Carmel was a haven for artists, writers and poets in the early 1900s but has since become a somewhat gentrified version of its early incarnation. Above a pristine white sand beach, the town centre is compact enough to navigate by foot. Packed with high-end boutique art galleries and shops, bars and restaurants, the idea is just to stroll about, drop in for a wine tasting down a hidden passageway or just take it easy, enjoying a book by the ocean. If you have a little longer, the boutique 24-room Hideaway Inn is set for its much anticipated opening this spring. See carmelcalifornia.com 

MONTEREY BAY 

A National Marine Sanctuary since 1992 and the former capital of the sardine canning industry, Monterey is all about the ocean. While there are national parks, beaches, hiking trails and outstanding golf courses, the main draw card here is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a staggering facility where you'll see sharks, jellyfish, otters and all manner of creatures hailing from Baja's deserts to coral reefs and mangrove forests. The daily shows and feedings make quite a spectacle but it's best to get in early to avoid the hordes. See monterey.com 

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