Three Excellent SF Weekend Getaways, All Using Public Transport

Skip the airport insanity and record-breaking gas prices, like so

July 1, 2022 7:33 am
An aerial view of Sausalito on a golden morning with the Golden Gate Bridge peaking over the hillside.
Find yourself in Sausalito by ferry in half an hour.
DianeBentleyRaymond via Getty

The coastal and mountain highways of Northern California might be the stuff road trip dreams are made of, but with eye-watering gas prices, sky-high car rental rates ($500 for an economy compact and $700 for a Tesla Model Y, if you can snag one) and airports in disarray, it’s time to consider public transport for that next “let’s get out of town” weekender. 

Sadly, America’s obsession with driving and California’s car-centric culture isn’t going away anytime soon. But public transportation is a totally viable, greener, more affordable and fun “like in the old days” way to adventure closer to home. Let’s not forget that hopping on the Amtrak or a Greyhound Scenicruiser in the ’50s and ’60s was classy.

Herein, three weekend getaways from San Francisco by public transportation. We’ve got the details on schedules, what to see and do, cool places to stay, and local, in-the-know spots to shop and eat. Even if you have a car, you’ll want to scope these out.

The Ferry to Sausalito

Usually more of a day-tripper destination, Sausalito may be a mere 10 miles by car, but getting there by boat makes it decidedly more romantic, especially when you’re staying over. The fishing-village-turned-shipyard-turned-tony-seaside-community boasts a nice creative scene (the Sausalito Art Festival is a major draw over Labor Day weekend) and multi-million dollar views.

The Schedule: The Golden Gate Sausalito Ferry sails six times between 7:35 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. from the Ferry Building. It takes 30 minutes and a single adult ticket costs $14. You can bring bikes, but reserve spots ahead of time online during summer. The Blue & Gold Fleet also operates a daily service with similar sailing times to and from Pier 41.

The See & Do: Start with a stroll along Bridgeway, Sausalito’s famous shop, restaurant and gallery-lined waterside promenade, before detouring to the 100-strong artist collective ICB. If sampling small-batch vodka appeals, make reservations for an expression tasting or pairing (go with the Hog Island oysters or martinis and caviar) at the Hanson Gallery and Tasting Room.

The Stay: For a secluded, water’s-edge retreat, it doesn’t get dreamier than The Inn Above Tide. Expect postcard views from every window, nightly wine and cheese socials, and a wood-burning fireplace in your suite. Another option is Casa Madrona. Pink Floyd once stayed in the former Victorian — now très modern — mansion, which is ideally located for walks to Swede’s Beach.

The Meal: Grab pastries and coffee at local go-to Sausalito Bakery & Cafe, then make it a late lunch at Copita Tequileria y Comida for gluten-free Mexican and cocktails. For sustainable seafood and lovely views, get to Fish. For fancy dinner reservations, try Le Garage (French bistro classics), Poggio Trattoria (Northern Italian) or the Michelin Bib Gourmand-rated Sushi Ran.

The Bus to Mill Valley

Yes, it’s only 15 miles to Mill Valley, but hanging up the car keys and venturing further into neighboring Marin County via commuter bus means you get to sit back and enjoy the ride (and not worry about parking). Mill Valley has a quaint and walkable downtown, but tucked below Mount Tamalpais, it’s also surrounded by nature and national parks. Bring hiking boots.

The Schedule: With two pick-up points in downtown S.F. (Perry & 3rd, Fremont & Mission), the Golden Gate Transit Bus system’s Route 114 takes riders all the way to Mill Valley depot in just over an hour. There are five northbound departures daily Monday through Friday, the first at 2:58 p.m. and the last at 6:28 p.m.. Single adult tickets should cost about $8 or $6.40 for Clipper cardholders.  

The See & Do: Take a walk among ancient redwoods in the Muir Woods. To get there sans car, hop on the Muir Woods Shuttle at the Larkspur Ferry Terminal (reservations essential). Swing by the Lumber Yard for some retail therapy at Makers Market (think handcrafted everything) and a glass of wine at Watershed. Rent bikes or book a guided tour with Mad Dogs & Englishmen.

The Stay: Nestled among redwoods, the historic B&B Mill Valley Inn is steps away from shops and restaurants downtown and conveniently located next to one of several hidden heritage stairways. The Acqua Hotel on the edge of Richardson Bay is a modern boutique alternative.

The Meal: People travel for the amazing Puerto Rican dishes at Sol Food, while Equator in downtown Mill Valley is a coffee institution. If you rented bikes, cycling to The Pelican Inn at Muir Beach for lunch should be topping the restaurant must-visits. Back in town, Bungalow 44 is an excellent restaurant for dinner with a killer $1 oyster happy hour. 

The Train to Truckee

Just shy of the California-Nevada state line, the magic little mountain town of Truckee is a three-to-four-hour drive depending on traffic. Sure, the train might take a little longer (more on that in a moment) but imagine sitting back with a good book, some snacks and a coffee while watching the mountain scenery unfold instead of grinding along I-80 while trying to find a good podcast. 

The Schedule: Amtrak’s iconic California Zephyr is one option for getting there. It departs the Emeryville station daily at 9:10 a.m. (coach costs $38; note that if you’re coming from S.F.,  you’ll need to hop on a connecting Amtrak chartered bus from downtown) and gets into Truckee at 2:38 p.m. The other option is by “mixed service,” starting with another chartered bus to Emeryville before transferring to the Capitol Corridor commuter route to Sacramento. From there, it’s another bus ride to Truckee. Times vary, but an 8 a.m. S.F. departure takes a little under five hours, and a coach ticket costs $41.

The See & Do: Truckee offers an alternative — albeit now more trendy — vibe to nearby Lake Tahoe, especially during summer. Surrounded by Tahoe National Forest, hiking, mountain biking, climbing and kayaking, among other outdoor pursuits, will keep folks busy for a weekend/lifetime. With its coffee shops and mom-and-pop stores, an afternoon hanging out and people-watching in Truckee’s Old West-style historic downtown is one also well spent. 

The Stay: Built in 1870 by a local timberman, the Tahoe Star Hotel has spades of historic charm, although rooms here are decidedly 21st century. It’s also located just across from the Amtrak train station, too, so you won’t have to walk far with the bags. If a modern mountain cabin is more your jam, this tiny home on Airbnb is located five minutes outside Truckee with a free TART Connect public bus stop right outside. Download the app for times. 

The Meal: Truckee Tavern & Grill is a local institution (think rustic wood-fired fare and top-notch drinks), then there’s Moody’s Bistro for high-end eats and live music. Hit up Stella’s for excellent farm-to-table dishes and the laid-back FiftyFifty Brewing Company for microbrews. For açaí bowls, nine-layer “dankaccinos” and single-origin pours, it’s got to be Dark Horse Coffee Roasters.

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