San Francisco is one of the best cities there is, but if you venture outside of it, know that the surrounding bay area is also rich with places to stay and things see and do. From bustling urban centers to quaint enclaves to pristine natural settings, Northern California can please even the pickiest of travelers. Here are its top day trip destinations, all within a two-hour drive from San Francisco:
1. Monterey. Until 1849, Monterey was California's capital under several flags. It's a maritime city that offers enduring charm and a new discovery with every visit.
What to do: Don't miss 17-Mile Drive's postcard-perfect scenery, and spend time along Cannery Row (made famous by John Steinbeck) before visiting what could arguably be called the world's best collection -- and display -- of marine life: Monterey Bay Aquarium (www.montereybayaquarium.org).
Where to stay: The upscale InterContinental the Clement Monterey (www.ichotelsgroup.com).
2. Napa Valley. America's wine country is a cross-section of pastoral grandeur and high expressions of refined tastes.
What to do: Choose a mode of transit by which to view the valley, whether it be bike (tandem bikes are particularly fun), train, or hot-air balloon. Tour and taste at one of hundreds of wineries, relax with a spa treatment, and have a gourmet picnic.
3. Berkeley. This highly political college town, sometimes called "Berzerkley," is known for its eclectic population with an artsy, ardent outlook.
What to do: Walk around the UC Berkeley campus to take in a museum like the Lawrence Hall of Science (www.lawrencehallofscience.org) or to catch a game (www.calbears.com/tickets/cal-tickets.html). Then stroll down Telegraph Ave. to see the leftover hippies, crunchy cafes, and shops selling psychedelic paraphernalia.
Where to stay: The Claremont Resort and Spa (www.claremontresort.com) for the definitive old-money stay.
4. Santa Cruz. A historic waterfront town with a lively, surfer-cool citizenry.
What to do: Punctuate a day at the beach with rides on the waves -- and at the amusement-park-like Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (www.beachboardwalk.com). Tour the Victorian downtown, then surround yourself with the giant, quintessential-to-California trees of Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
Where to stay: The Casablanca Inn (www.casablanca-santacruz.com) for ocean views, Wi-Fi, and breakfast.
5. Healdsburg. A well-heeled small town with reverence for the area's rich history, fancy hotels, some of the world's best food, friendly tasting rooms -- and just a touch of quirkiness.
6. Sacramento. The capital of a state whose economy ranks among the top 10 internationally blends the old, the new, and the political.
What to do: Tour the Capitol (www.capitolmuseum.ca.gov), visit character-filled Old Sacramento (www.oldsacramento.com) along the river and trace the area's settlement at Sutter's Fort (www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=485).
Where to stay: Embassy Suites (www.embassysuites.com), which is ideally perched above the river, or the Sheraton Grand (www.sheraton.com/sacramento), the lodging of choice for celebrities visiting the Capitol.
7. San Jose. The most populous western city between Los Angeles and the Canadian border is a deserving destination for more than just techies.
What to do: Visit the Tech Museum of Innovation (www.thetech.org), take the kids for a day at Happy Hollow (www.happyhollowparkandzoo.org), browse the largest public library west of the Mississippi (www.sjpl.org), see something supernatural at the Winchester Mystery House (www.winchestermysteryhouse.com), and revel in the Silicon Valley nightlife of San Pedro Square (www.sanpedrosquare.com).
8. Sonoma. Napa's less-crowded sister valley's namesake town is pleasant and slow-paced, yet world-class.
What to do: Get your fill of history by visiting the town square and Mission San Francisco Solano (www.athanasius.com/camission/sonoma.htm), strolling the adorable shops and venerable restaurants, then hop on a bike equipped with a picnic basket to tour the wineries (www.getawayadventures.com).
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers in our California forum today.