It’s about four hours from San Francisco to Reno by car—but how can you worry about speed when you’re driving through such attraction-packed territory? From parks and museums to wildlife and spectacular views, the destinations that dot the way from SF to Reno are sure to stay in your mind long after you’ve left them. And if you’re going to be driving from California to Nevada anyway, why not take your time and do a little sightseeing? Check out some of the amazing places that you can stop when you do a road trip from San Francisco to Reno!
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is only around 20 minutes north of San Francisco, but if you’re craving a healthy dose of nature after being in the city, then this is definitely the place for you! Covering over 80,000 acres, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is an absolute wealth of outdoor recreational activities, not to mention all of the historical and cultural sites that are scattered throughout the park. A couple of the park’s main attractions include Point Bonita Lighthouse, the Bay Area Discovery Museum, and Muir Beach Overlook. But, if you’re looking to see something truly extraordinary, then head to Black Sands Beach, also known as Bonita Cove Beach.
Situated just below the Marin Headlands and adjacent to Point Diablo, Black Sands Beach is, as its name suggests, a beach with unusually dark sand. In a secluded area of the park and a lesser-known point of interest, Black Sands Beach is an ideal spot to appreciate the awesomeness of Mother Nature and snap some breathtaking photos! Be prepared to do a good bit of hiking to reach Black Sands Beach, and while the walk there might seem easy because it’s downhill, don’t forget that you’ll have to make the trek back up eventually. (Also, please note that it is a federal offense to remove any sand, rocks, or other natural resources from the beach.)
A little over an hour north of San Francisco, Santa Rosa is a modestly-sized city that has an electric range of attractions, including the Charles M. Schulz Museum, the Pacific Coast Air Museum, and Spring Lake Regional Park. (With the city being in the heart of wine country, there’s also plenty of vineyards around, too!) Another cool place to go while you’re in Santa Rosa is Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, right in the downtown area of the city.
Open every day from 8 am to dusk (with no admission charge!), Luther Burbank Home & Gardens is a delightfully colorful destination with an enchanting aura. A National Historic Landmark, Luther Burbank Home & Gardens is a Santa Rosa gem carrying a significance that reaches far beyond the city. Once the home of the renowned horticulturist Luther Burbank—whose birthday continues to be celebrated as “Arbor Day”—Luther Burbank Home & Gardens presents visitors with the opportunity to learn more about a historical figure whom they might not know much about. The specialty gardens that you’ll find include the Medicinal Garden, the Spineless Cactus Garden, the Edible Landscape Garden, and the Wildlife Habitat Garden. After you’re done touring the property, don’t forget to check out the gift shop, where you can purchase all sorts of souvenirs and trinkets.
Located close to an hour north of San Francisco (and about a half-hour southeast of Santa Rosa), Jack London State Historic Park is a destination that will be loved equally by literary enthusiasts, history buffs, and nature lovers alike. Built by American author Jack London in the early 1900s, this sprawling rural estate includes a number of historic buildings, a lake, hiking trails, picnic areas, and even London’s gravesite. In addition to its visually stunning landscape, Jack London State Historic Park is brimming with details about the writer’s life, and special emphasis is placed on his love for nature and being outside.
Call of the Wild (1903), The Sea Wolf (1904), White Fang (1906), Martin Eden (1909), and John Barleycorn (1913) are among London’s best-known works, and though he died suddenly at the age of 40 in 1916, his influence lives on, as does the popularity of his writing. When you visit Jack London State Historic Park, you’ll get to know London on a more intimate level and will have the opportunity to tour the cottage that he once lived in, as well as the remnants of his beloved Wolf House, which was largely destroyed by a fire in 1913.
Sacramento, California’s capital city, is about an hour-and-a-half northeast of San Francisco, and it’s the perfect place to stop if you feel like you’re in need of some cultural enrichment. Sacramento has lots of museums to choose from, including the California State Capitol Museum, the California Railroad Museum, the California Automobile Museum, and the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum. One museum that you don’t want to miss, however, is the Crocker Art Museum, a historic institution with a collection that ranges from California art to international masterpieces.
Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm, the Crocker hosts rotating exhibitions in addition to its permanent collection, and you’ll find everything from paintings and photography to ceramics and multimedia sculptures on display throughout the museum. Admission to the Crocker is $12 for adults; $8 for seniors, students, and military personnel; and $6 for children ages 6 to 17. (The museum recommends allowing for at least three hours if you’re going to try to see everything!)
The Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary is about halfway between San Francisco and Reno, so it’s at an ideal point in the drive to take a break from the car for a little and stretch your legs for a bit! Apart from its convenient location, the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary is as admirable of an organization as it is a fun stop. It all started in 1963 when local veterinarians were in search of a home for a bear cub that had been found after a forest fire. At the time, the city’s park superintendent had been fostering a couple of deer and a coyote on park grounds, and he was able to convince the city government to allocate the resources for him to take care of the orphaned bear as well. From there, the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary grew into a sanctuary-style facility where members from the community can come to see all kinds of animals.
Some of the zoo’s residents include cougars, tigers, bobcats, black bears, foxes, wolves, coyotes, feral pigs, donkeys, zebu, sheep, monkeys, prairie dogs, snakes, and lizards. The zoo is open Tuesday through Sunday, and admission is $6 for adults and $5 for seniors and children ages 2 to 12.
The largest alpine lake in North America, Lake Tahoe is certainly a sight to be seen! South Lake Tahoe is a little over an hour southwest of Reno, and one thing’s for sure: You won’t be short on things to see and do while you’re visiting. During the summer, fishing, boating, swimming, and other water activities can be enjoyed in the lake. Meanwhile, during the winter, you can hit the slopes and go skiing or snowboarding. Weather-permitting, the area’s hiking and biking trails can be taken advantage of all year long. But, while you’re in South Lake Tahoe, don’t forget to take a ride on the Heavenly Mountain Gondola—it’s a scenic ride that’s unforgettable!
Take in some of the clearest, most far-reaching views that Lake Tahoe has to offer when you board the mountain cable car and ascend high into the air. The ride is about 2.4 miles long, and once you reach the top, you can continue to revel in the panoramic scenery from the mountain’s observation deck. A gift shop and a cafe are also waiting for you at the top!
Carson City, Nevada, is only around 30 minutes south of Reno, and if you’re looking for one last stop on your drive from California, it’s hard to do better than this one! The capital of Nevada, Carson City is a vibrant town where you’ll find parks, restaurants, and, of course, the state capitol building. But, if you’re really trying to get your fill of Nevada heritage, you’ll take the time to visit the Nevada State Museum in Downtown Carson City.
Open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, the Nevada State Museum is a family-friendly attraction where you can learn all about the area and its history. From vintage machinery to geological artifacts, the Nevada State Museum has all different kinds of exhibits and displays that are sure to acquaint you with the state and leave you feeling ready to take on Reno!
It might not be the most famous city in Nevada—that, of course, would be Las Vegas—but Reno still has a long list of attractions and points of interest to offer. While you’re in town, some of the places that you’re going to want to check out are the National Automobile Museum, the Wilbur D. May Center, the Fleischmann Planetarium, and the Nevada Museum of Art (You know, just to name a few!). Fondly nicknamed “The Biggest Little City in the World,” Reno has all of the diversity and action of a big city while still maintaining that unmistakable small town charm and friendliness. And whether you’re into cars, culture, or casinos, Reno has something for everyone to enjoy. But, that doesn’t mean that you should breeze right through California and head straight there! If there’s any state that deserves a few detours, it’s good, old Cali—but don’t take our word for it… Hit the road and do some exploring!