Point Reyes National Seashore

Trip Planning

Big City Escapes: San Francisco

Planning on hitting the road to San Francisco? Jeff Crider recommends some must-see locations!

Many people like to include San Francisco on their tours of California because of its many attractions, including its beautiful Victorian homes, its incredibly steep hillsides and roadways, and its famous landmarks, such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Lombard Street, which some call “the crookedest street in the world.”

But like any big city residents, RV enthusiasts who live and work in the Bay Area need a change of scenery from time to time.  The good news for Bay Area RVers is they have plenty options. One convenient destination for families seeking a weekend getaway is Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Lodi. Located along the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta less than 90 minutes from San Francisco, Jellystone offers organized family activities with Yogi Bear, Boo Boo and Cindy Bear. Amenities include a swimming pool, lazy river and water playground, open through Oct. 29, which features water blasters, water slides, water cannons and a 750-gallon hydrostorm. Other campground amenities include miniature golf, gem mining, lazer tag, Gaga ball, a jumping pillow, sand volleyball and watercraft rentals.

Many other attractions are located just a few hours away along the North Coast, the Sierra Nevada and to the south of San Francisco in the Santa Cruz, Monterey and Big Sur areas. Here’s a closer look at what these destinations provide, along with nearby campgrounds that can be used as base camps for mid-week or weekend getaways:

North Coast Destinations: Point Reyes, Bodega Bay and Mendocino

Popular destinations north of San Francisco along State Route One include Point Reyes National Seashore, which is the site of the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Built in 1870, the lighthouse is located in one of the windiest and foggiest places in the U.S. The towns of Bodega and Bodega Bay, of course, are famous as the site of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror classic, “The Birds.” BodegaBay.com lists several local landmarks were featured in the film. Visitors to this area of California also enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking and sampling seafood restaurants. Quaint towns further north include Mendocino, which is known for its fine Victorian architecture, art galleries and boutique stores. Local attractions include several state parks as well as the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Taking the shortest routes, Bodega Bay is about a 90-minute drive from San Francisco, while Mendocino is about three hours to north, depending on traffic. Here’s a sampling of campgrounds in these areas:

Bodega Bay Area Campgrounds

  • Bodega Bay RV Park in Bodega Bay: This park has been owned and operated by the same family since it first opened in 1967. The park features 71 RV sites, two group clubhouses, a putting green, a fenced dog run and an onsite restaurant.

  • Casini Ranch Family Campground in Duncans MillsThe Casini family has owned the same acreage along a scenic stretch of the Russian River since the late 1880s. Their property was originally used for a redwood lumber mill and later a dairy before becoming a ranch for raising sheep and cows. Casini Ranch has 225 RV and tent sites as well as rental cabins. Activities include swimming and river tubing and watercraft rentals are available. The campground also offers movie nights, hay rides, ice cream socials and guided hikes on holiday weekends.

  • Dillon Beach Resort in Dillon Beach: Established in 1888, this resort features tiny home-style beach cottages and cabins as well as an onsite restaurant, the Coastal Kitchen, which provides delicious meals made with with locally and regionally sourced ingredients Friday through Sunday.

Mendocino Area Campgrounds

  • Albion River Campground & Marina in Albion: This park offers a unique camping and boating experience for both RV and tent campers. Located south of Mendocino on the Albion Cove where the Albion River meets the Pacific Ocean, the campground is one of only two sites on the Mendocino Coast that provides both sheltered river moorage and ocean access. The campground is an annual destination for dive clubs, bottom fishing and salmon fishing groups, crab lovers, and kayak and canoe enthusiasts. Boaters can either brave the ocean swells or explore the scenic Albion River. The park also has an onsite RV rental.

  • Caspar Beach RV Park & Campground in Mendocino: This campground features RV and tent sites as well as furnished cabins. Caspar Beach is a white sand beach nestled in a cove between Doyle and Caspar creeks, the Caspar Headlands State Nature Reserve and the Caspar Headlands State Beach.

  • Mendocino Grove in Mendocino: This 37-acre resort offers furnished glamping tents on wooden platforms with comfy down comforters, wool blankets and cotton linens. Outside you’ll find redwood decks with leather butterfly chairs, a picnic table and a fire ring with a grill designed for cooking over the open fire.  The resort even has a “campfire valet” to set up your campfire. Gas-fired barbecues are also available.

 Wine Country

San Francisco is within an hour of two of literally hundreds of wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties.VisitNapaValley.com and SonomaCounty.com offer extensive listings of wineries in both counties along with information on festivals, restaurants and other attractions.

Napa Area Campgrounds

Sun Outdoors Steele Canyon and Sun Outdoors Spanish Flat: These two campgrounds are both located along Lake Berryessa, about 20 miles north of Napa. Activities include swimming, fishing, wake boarding, kayaking, boating and waterskiing.

Sonoma Area Campgrounds

  • San Francisco North / Petaluma KOA in PetalumaThis campground complements its RV and tent sites and fully furnished park model rentals. Onsite amenities include a large swimming pool and spa; a jumping pillow; a themed playground; a 30-foot rock climbing wall; horseshoe, bocce ball and ring toss areas; a large dog park; and a petting zoo.
  • Thousand Trails Russian River in Cloverdale: This campground is located along the Russian River and features hiking trails, fishing and a game room. The park complements its RV sites with park model rentals.
  • Windsor RV Park in Windsor: This park is located less than a mile away from historic downtown Windsor, which has many boutique shops and unique restaurants to explore.

The Sierra Nevada Gold Rush Country

Bay Area RV enthusiasts are within just a few hours of the Sierra Nevada’s Gold Rush Country, the oak and pine covered hillsides where gold was discovered over 175 years ago. One of the easiest Sierra Nevada foothill communities to reach from the Bay Area is Placerville, which was known as Hangtown in the Gold Rush days because of several hangings that took place there on the same day using the same tree. Placerville today offers visitors everything from historic architecture to nearby wineries and farms, including apple orchards. Placerville is about a three- or four-hour drive from the Bay Area, depending on traffic.

Venture north another 20 minutes or so north of Placerville and you arrive in the tiny town of Coloma, which includes a state park that marks the site along the South Fork of the America River in Coloma where James Marshall discovered gold in 1848, sparking the California Gold Rush. The site is commemorated by Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, which includes a replica of John Sutter’s sawmill, a variety of historic buildings and structures of the gold rush era, and the James Marshall monument.

(Photo courtesy of Rod Hanna and Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority)

Coloma and Placerville Area Campgrounds

  • Camp Lotus in Lotus: This quiet, forested campground is located along the South Fork of the American River and offers a mix of RV and tent sites and rental accommodations. 

  • Coloma Resort in Coloma: This campground features riverfront campsites as well as cabin and bunkhouse accommodations. Weekend guests often go river rafting, while others enjoy river tubing from one end of the campground to the other.

  • Placerville RV Resort & Campground in Shingle Springs: This campground features 112 sites, including RV and tent sites and rental cabins.

The Lake Tahoe Area

Roughly four hours east of San Francisco is Lake Tahoe, an attractive escape at any time of year, offering beautiful mountain scenery as well as opportunities for hiking, kayaking, boating, fishing and skiing during the winter months. Popular destinations on the California side of Lake Tahoe include Hope Valley, a scenic area with lakes, hiking trails, and areas with beautiful aspen trees, and Emerald Bay, which is arguably the most spectacular — and most photographed — area of Lake Tahoe.

History buffs will want to visit historic Truckee, which was established in 1868 as a railroad town connecting Reno with Sacramento. Donner Memorial State Park and Museum is also near Truckee, which contains information, artifacts and exhibits documenting the history of local Native Americans, the transcontinental railroad and the Donner Party, a group of Midwestern pioneers who reportedly resorted to cannibalism after becoming stranded in heavy snows while trying to cross the Sierra during the winter of 1846.

Cities on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe have numerous casinos and live entertainment, but the Nevada side of the lake has beautiful mountains, too, which feature hiking trails and ski areas.

Tahoe Area Campgrounds

(Photo courtesy of Rachid Dahnoun)

The Santa Cruz Mountains

Travelers heading south from San Francisco can reach the Santa Cruz area in just over an hour, depending on traffic. Santa Cruz itself is famous for its Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which offers family and thrill rides, games and other amusements. Attractions in the Santa Cruz Mountains include Roaring Camp, where families can enjoy rides through the redwood forests on historic railroad trains.

Santa Cruz Area Campgrounds

(Photo courtesy of River RV Park in Carmel, California)

The Monterey Peninsula

Roughly two hours south of San Francisco is the Monterey Peninsula is one of the most beautiful locations along the Central California coast, with attractions ranging from the 17 Mile Drive to Point Lobos State Nature Reserve. The reserve, which is situated on its own little peninsula just south of the Monterey Peninsula, features pine forests draped with Spanish moss as well as rocky coastal cliffs with beautiful coves and grottos.

History enthusiasts will also enjoy exploring the Carmel Mission, one of the most beautiful missions in California, as well as the many historical sites in Monterey, which was California’s capital under Spanish rule. Points of interest include the adobe home where Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired to write Treasure Island, and the seaport area known as Cannery Row, which inspired John Steinbeck to write the classic book with the same name. Cannery Row is also the home of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a popular attraction for families.

Bay Area RV enthusiasts who want to travel a little further south would do well to visit Big Sur, which has some of the most breathtaking hiking trails along the Central California coast, including those at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which also has a waterfall that spills over a cliff into the Pacific Ocean. Other Big Sur area attractions include tours of the historic Point Sur Lighthouse.

Campgrounds in the Monterey and Big Sur Areas

Jeff Crider


Jeff Crider, President and CEO of Crider Public Relations, has been involved in covering the campground industry for over 25 years. Jeff has worked as a freelance writer for publications such as RV Business, Motor Home Magazine, Trailer Life, Highways and other Affinity Group Inc. publications since 1995. He has also successfully pitched many of the nation's top tier media outlets, including CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Financial Times, Reuters, The Associated Press and National Public Radio. In addition to writing, Jeff is also a talented photographer and humanitarian.