Plan an escape from San Francisco with a day trip to Monterey. Head south for a couple hours on California’s most scenic highway that connects San Francisco to Monterey.
The Pacific Coast Highway (aka the PCH) is California’s Highway 1. This road hugs the California coastline as it winds past rocky overhangs and coastal farming towns. Many locals and travelers alike consider the PCH to be the most scenic drive in California — if not in all of America!
Even on our San Francisco bus tours to Muir Woods, we spend some time on this iconic highway as we drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to have lunch in Sausalito.
For anyone considering a day trip from San Francisco, you’ll likely be driving down this scenic highway for at least part of your journey — especially if you’re traveling south to Monterey, California.
Without a doubt, there are faster ways to Monterey. Cutting through Silicon Valley, California’s hub of technological innovation, can get you from San Francisco to Monterey just as easily as the PCH. But you’d be missing out on the views of the Pacific!
Why go on a day trip from San Francisco to Monterey?
Even though Monterey is less than half the size of San Francisco there is just as much to see and do: whale watching, exploring the Monterey Bay Aquarium built right into the bay and discovering the same iconic Victorian architecture San Francisco is famous for!
How far is Monterey from San Francisco?
The distance from Monterey to San Francisco about a 120 miles south, so you’re not looking at a very long San Francisco to Monterey Bay driving time either. You should only be on the road about two hours each way.
Such close distance makes Monterey the perfect coastal town for a day trip from San Francisco. Even though it is easy to reserve a rental car for this trip, we always suggest researching Monterey tours from San Francisco for stress-free travel.
THE BEST TOURS FROM SAN FRANCISCO TO MONTEREY
Extranomical Tours take the scenic route from San Francisco to Monterey via Highway 1.Travel like a VIP with complimentary hotel pick up and drop off at most hotels in Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf hotels. The scenic drive down California coast from San Francisco to Monterey will be filled with expansive views of the Pacific Ocean and you’ll have the perk of free wifi on board the bus!
You’ll have the option to add on tickets to world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium to explore during your stop in town. The aquarium’s unique location on the waterfront creates a remarkable experience for guests on this tour from San Francisco to Monterey Bay Aquarium.
After lunch, continue your tour through the 17 Mile Drive that leads to Carmel-by-the-Sea. Here, you’ll enjoy a leisurely stroll through the main “downtown” area filled with local boutiques, stunning mansions and impossible views of the Pacific Ocean.
Local big bus tour operator Tower Tours leads this Monterey tour from San Francisco. Hotel pick ups are available at most Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf lodgings in the city. At the end of a long day exploring from San Francisco to Monterey travelers will be dropped off in the Union Square.
You’ll have the option to add on tickets to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with this tour. Something we definitely consider adding on! If not, you’ll be able to spend the entire two hour break exploring historic Cannery Row in downtown Monterey. This once active cannery is now a hub for boutiques and great little restaurants.
After the big lunch stop you’ll continue traveling from Monterey to Carmel, just down the coast. On this short drive you’ll stop for a quick photo op the Lone Cypress, a 250 year old tree isolated on a rocky bluff overlooking the Pacific. Afterwards you’ll be returning to the city. The distance from Monterey to San Francisco will be a little over two hours.
As beautiful as the two hour drive from San Francisco to Monterey is, driving all the way down the PCH to Los Angeles offers stunning views the whole way down. Renting a car is always an option, but keep in mind most rental agencies charge you a drop fee after returning a car in a different city than you rented.
Instead, you can opt for a three day tour from San Francisco to Los Angeles via Monterey and a few other quaint little coastal towns. We’ve previously featured traveling by train in our article on how to get to Yosemite from San Francisco and our piece on the best Yosemite tours. So, it might not be much of a surprise that we also love to take the San Francisco to Monterey train!
Alright, so the train portion of this tour isn’t until the final day. However, this is a silver lining because southern California offers up views of some of the most classic California beaches. California is a state known for laid back and mellow locals. Travel like a local with this extended tour to Monterey and beyond.
GrayLine of San Francisco
Gray Line offers one of the most economical options for those looking for a tour to Monterey and back to San Francisco. Don’t let this budget tour fool you, it still packs in a lot with traveling from San Francisco to Pebble Beach via the 17 Mile Drive to arrive in Carmel.
If you’re thinking that taking public buses will be easier, you need to remember how far Monterey Bay is from San Francisco. 120 miles will be a tough commute on public transportation — and will take twice as long as any tour. Even a Monterey to SFO shuttle will be hard to come by!
On this Monterey tour from San Francisco you’ll be spending two hours in downtown Monterey, just like the other boutique tours we’ve featured on this list.
Incredible Adventures take travelers by tour bus to Monterey for a fun day trip. After picking up travelers from hotels around the city, this San Francisco to Monterey drive takes winding coastal roads with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean from Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.
Spend two hours in Monterey exploring the small waterfront town at your own pace. Skip the line at the Monterey Bay Aquarium by purchasing tickets with your bus tour. After having a chance to explore John Steinbeck’s old hangout of Monterey you’ll hop back on your bus to cruise the 17 Mile Drive and enjoy some more free time in Carmel-by-the-Sea. A town that once voted Clint Eastwood into office as Mayor!
San Francisco Shuttle Tours
Travel from San Francisco to Monterey on a bus with San Francisco Shuttle Tours. A driver will pick you up from your San Francisco hotel early in the morning to head out on a leisurely drive to spend an afternoon in Monterey.
On this tour from SFO to Monterey you’ll enjoy a two hour break in downtown Monterey where you can explore Cannery Row and all the boutiques lining the waterfront. When booking your tour, you do have the option to add on tickets to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Doing this saves you $10 off the entry fee AND you’ll be able to skip the line when entering!
Afterwards you’ll take winding roads through the 17 Mile Drive with views of the Lone Cypress, Pebble Beach Golf Course and finally stopping in Carmel-by-the-Sea for a little over an hour. By the time you have to board the bus back to San Francisco, you’ll find comfort on the luxury tour coach as it cruises through Silicon Valley and back to the city.