Craving an all-American road trip to celebrate the Fourth of July? We don’t blame you—San Francisco has been a little too gray and blustery for our liking these days, too, and there’s something about this most patriotic of holidays that calls for heat and sun. So we’ve rounded up three cheerful, (mostly) sunny spots where you can escape the tourist crowds who flood SF for the Fourth of July, while at the same time, avoiding the hordes of urban dwellers who flee to well-traveled getaway destinations (Lake Tahoe, we love you, but we’d rather visit another time).
Here, inspiration for a sunny getaway near San Francisco: All are within a few hours' drive of the city. All you have to do is pick one, pack up the car, and go.
San Luis Obispo
If you’ve really had it with SF’s so-called summer, SLO, as it’s affectionately referred to by locals, is just the spot. About a three-and-a-half hour drive from San Francisco, the laid-back coastal town skyrocketed to fame when Oprah declared it the happiest city in the country a few years back. Thankfully, it hasn’t let that go to its head, with locals as friendly and the vibe as chill as ever.
Cyclists and hikers can get seriously carried away here, with hundreds of miles of trails that offer everything from craggy mountain excursions to easy, breezy walks along the beach. One of the most popular hikes is the 1.5-hour (each way) trek to Bishop’s Peak, which takes you to 1,559 feet above sea level (it’s a fairly strenuous excursion; prepare for a bit of a boulder scramble at the top). Once there, savor the panoramic views of SLO and the Los Osos Valley sprawling out below. Biking and kayaking options abound, too; for an insider’s take, check out well-respected tour operator Central Coast Outdoors.
Once you’ve had your fill of outdoor adventure, get your fill of adult beverages at any of SLO’s esteemed craft breweries, which are currently enjoying a moment in the spotlight. The newly formed Central Coast Brewers Consortium provides an extensive list, but good recommendations are Firestone Walker, one of the first in the area, or the newly opened BarrelHouse Brewing Company, which boasts a new speakeasy-style taproom in downtown.
Forgo Marina types and fanny-packed tourists that overflow Napa and Sonoma this time of year with a trip to this off-the-beaten-path wine region that boasts tasty pinot noirs and sparkling wines, a gorgeous state park right on the river, and one of the best disc golf courses around—which is part of a kick-ass brewery, to boot. To get there, you’ll have to navigate the harrowing twists and turns of a two-lane, 28-mile stretch of Highway 128, but once you hit the tiny town of Boon (don’t blink, or you might miss it) you can exhale.
For some outdoorsy exploration, head to Hendy Woods State Park, about eight miles of Boon. The park is undergoing a renovation project through June 27 to install new parking, restrooms, and other facilities but its trails will remain open during that time. (Camping sites all appear to be booked during the 4th of July weekend, however.) The park features two virgin redwood groves, and the Navarro River runs right through the park. Bring a swimsuit, pack a picnic lunch, and take a refreshing dip with locals in the river.
For wine-tasting, there are picks-a-plenty, but some of our favorites are Navarro (super-nice staff, terrific views, and great value); Mary Elke (a quaint, pint-sized tasting room to sample excellent wines from this well-respected local winemaker); and Roederer (grab a magnum—or bigger—of bubbles to take to your next gathering and you’re guaranteed life-of-the-party status).
When your palate is puckered out, head over to Anderson Valley Brewing, one of the most popular hangouts in these parts, for great beers and one of the best disc golf courses in NorCal. While throwing back beers is a totally respectable way to spend some downtime, why not throw some discs around while you're at it?
Named for the Spanish word for fisherman, this cozy little beach town is an ideal getaway when you’re short on time but longing for a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. About 30 miles south of SF (prepare for traffic on a holiday weekend), Pescadero is well known for its 115-foot Pigeon Point Lighthouse, which has guided ships since 1872. (The lighthouse’s on-site hostel is an excellent, affordable spot for bunking down, but the secret is out, as it’s booked solid through September.)
For such a tiny town, the outdoor offerings are impressive. Nearby is Butano State Park, which boasts miles of trails wind through the park’s approximately 4,628 acres of canyons and uplands. Another must-do is Ano Nuevo State Reserve, which has one of the largest elephant seal colonies around. Here, more than 10,000 of these vocal creatures return to breed, give birth, and molt their skin in scenic dunes and beaches. A one-and-half mile hike on a gravel travel will take you to an ideal lookout spot; don’t forge the binoculars. And about a mile south of town, in Bean Hollow State Park, is Pescadero’s very own Pebble Beach, which has deposits of varicolored, water-worn pebbles several feet deep, including agate, moonstones, and sardonyx.
Any trip to Pescadero would be remiss without a stop at Duarte’s Tavern, which has been in operation since 1894, when it started out as a saloon and barbershop. Today, the beloved establishment is known for its delectable cream of artichoke soup, as well as the original tavern—the perfect place to raise a pint or two.