5 Best Day Trips in the Bay Area

A grape vineyard in California under the sunset

The San Francisco Bay Area has so much to offer that people could spend a week here and still find new things to explore and do. Yet, there are also fantastic day trip options within spitting distance of San Francisco and the universities in Fremont, California. We’ve covered a lot of ground when it comes to Bay Area activities. Everything from our favorite outdoor activities to our recommended options for students taking their parents out on the town - we’ve introduced you to lots of options. Now we want to spread our wings a little and take you outside the Bay Area to surrounding cities and towns because some of Northern California’s best offerings don’t necessarily lie within city limits. The question is: where to?

Sure, everyone knows about Sausalito day trips, but what else is out there? Fortunately, a lot. So much that we even discovered new things as we researched this article. That’s why it was so difficult to choose only five. So, how did we do it? Well, we took into consideration everything from the sights to sounds, culture, adventure, traveler sentiment, variety, and local insight. It wasn’t an easy list to put together, but we think we’ve managed it. Are you ready to venture out of Fremont and see what the wider area around the San Francisco Bay Area has to offer? Let’s dive right in!

1. California’s Great America

While Southern California likes to lay claim to the title of “Theme Park Capital of California,” Northern California is no slouch. Enter California’s Great America, a theme park in Santa Clara. It’s about a 1 hour and 45-minute drive from Fremont but head out early so you have time to navigate the lines. California’s Great America has some awesome rides like the Gold Striker, a giant wooden roller coaster. It’s also got a whitewater rafting ride and a single-rail steel roller coaster. There’s a food court, souvenirs, and merchandise for those who are visiting from outside California.

Attached to California’s Great America is the Boomerang Bay Water Park, which is open during the summer season and is a great place for students or visiting families to splash around during the hot summer months. The maze of slides and tubes will leave you cooled off and smiling in delight, no matter your age bracket. Finally, there’s Planet Snoopy and Kidzville, which is another separate amusement area for young kids. Live stage productions are held all day long. From September through October, Great America holds its Halloween Haunt, which has haunted houses, costumed actors, and scares of all shapes and sizes. Are you ready to leave the confines of the universities in Fremont and embrace your inner child? If so, head on over to California’s Great America for the day!

2. Napa Valley

We’re taking you to the exact opposite side of the equation now. If spending your day at an adventure theme park isn’t something that excites you, consider something much more adult. Enter Napa Valley. It doesn’t get much more adult than one of the premier wine destinations not just in California, but the world. SFBU students and visitors should consider themselves lucky to have access to such a high-demand destination.

For day trippers, the best way to get a full feel of Napa Valley will be on the Napa Valley Wine Train, which travels to nearby St. Helena and back, snaking through scenic hills and vineyards along the way. It’s a gorgeous and quick way to get a feel for Napa Valley without the need to stay overnight. In the end, one should raise their expectations. Napa Valley grants travelers access to 400-plus wineries, the Calistoga hot springs and mineral pools, and a handful of Michelin-starred establishments. Whether you are into wine, food, or scenic views, Napa Valley is a true treat for anyone who wants to day trip out from SFBU or another university in Fremont and explore some of the best Northern California has to offer.

BONUS TIP: While this category is meant to highlight Napa Valley, we want to provide a more inexpensive and family-friendly option: Sonoma! About 45 miles north of San Francisco, Sonoma also boasts dozens of wineries and exclusive eateries but also offers Safari Park West and the nearby Sonoma Coast State Park.

3. Filoli Estate & Gardens

Just 25 miles south of San Francisco, the Filoli Estate & Gardens encompasses nearly 700 acres of wild parkland, 16 immaculately landscaped gardens, and a historical mansion with several rooms open to the public. Filoli was built 10 years after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and was seen at the time of its building as a symbol of hope amid the ruin. Its stunningly beautiful English Renaissance gardens are considered by many to be among some of the best English garden replicas in the United States.

And it’s these gardens that hold the charm the Estate is known for. Beautiful flowers, gigantic trees, and perfectly manicured gardens lie behind huge shrubbery stands. Even better, the gardens constantly change based on the season, so true anthophiles will find reasons to visit multiple times throughout the year. If the size of the grounds and mansion seems imposing, consider a 1-hour guided tour. The estate often hosts special events as well, so be sure to visit their website for more information.

While the gardens and grounds steal the show, the mansion itself is quite special. From the flower-covered portico to a grand marble foyer and huge ballroom, it’s a building that will take you back in time. Make note of the massive vaulted ceilings that run the length of one of the house’s wings and are 174 feet long. There’s also a reception room and a formal dining room that has 20 seats and two marble fireplaces. So, for a relaxing day trip that will transport you from the urban Fremont center to the 19th Century, head to Filoli Estate & Gardens!

4. Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

Even though we are a university in Fremont, California, surrounded by dense urban jungle and Silicon Valley heavyweights, there is a different kind of jungle - forest, if you will - that we want to take you to. If you haven’t noticed by now, as an avid follower of the SFBU Blog, we love the great outdoors. We love nature and activities that get you out and into the wild, whether that be in the woods, up in the mountains, or lounging on the beach. And what better way to have a uniquely Northern California day-trip than by visiting the redwoods!

Naturally, most people are familiar with Redwoods National Park, but we wanted to take you somewhere different to give you a two-for-one. Just under two hours from Fremont, Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve is an ancient Redwood grove that feels as wild as it does timeless. Well-manicured trails snake through over 800 acres of coastal redwood lands. And these redwoods, quite literally, stand out. Some are more than 350 feet tall and over 2,000 years old. The Parson Jones tree is the largest tree in the grove and is taller than the length of a football field. It’s huge! And no matter what you have in mind for your day trip, a nice picnic, a calm hike, or something more strenuous, Armstrong State Natural Reserve has it all. Now, what’s the two-for-one we mentioned?

BONUS TIP: Located in Central Sonoma County, the town of Guerneville lies just a stone’s throw from the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. It has long been a weekend getaway and summer vacation spot for San Franciscans. But if you get out early enough, you can make a full day-trip out of visiting the town and the park. The town has tons of charm and its riverside location adds an extra touch of beauty and serenity. If you’re going to visit the redwoods at Armstrong State Natural Reserve, well, you may as well add Guerneville into the mix for a full day of natural and man-made merriment.

5. USS Hornet Museum

As we made our way through various outdoor options, charming little towns, and amusement parks, we came across a day-trip activity that stood out for its uniqueness. A tour of the USS Hornet aircraft carrier! It’s highly unlikely that - unless you’ve served in the U.S. Navy - you have ever been on or seen the inside of an aircraft carrier. These things are basically floating cities and a tour of the USS Hornet is probably as close as you’ll ever get to wander around one.

Approximately one hour away from universities in Fremont, the USS Hornet is parked at the pier in Alameda, California. Despite its sleek and high-tech look, it was built in 1942 and played a significant role in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Perhaps most interestingly, it was also used to pick up and transport the Apollo astronauts as they returned home from the moon. After a short 10-minute history and safety video, visitors are free to roam about the vessel, with volunteers stationed throughout in case you have any questions or get lost. With tons (and we mean that literally) of passageways, compartments, and desks to explore, there’s no doubt you’ll easily spend your full day enjoying this unique experience.

Well, there you have it! It wasn’t easy for us to choose these five day trips out of the many options we have. But we hope that SFBU students or anyone else stumbling upon these options find them fun and enjoyable. Whether you are day-tripping out from SFBU, a premier university in Fremont, California, or somewhere else in the Bay Area - safe travels!