Among the perks of leaving San Francisco over the 4th of July weekend: sunlight, bodies of water you actually want to swim in and fireworks that aren't swallowed by fog. Nothing says America like a good old fashioned road trip. Here are some affordable options to satisfy your wanderlust.
Russian River, Guerneville Distance from SF: 2.5 hours
Cheap lodging, great beer, and the weirdest hodgepodge of people outside Haight-Ashbury await in Guerneville. The eclectic town boasts a mixture of tourists, hippies and a vibrant LGBT community. While it's tempting to spend the day people-watching at the town's only Safeway, most people go there for the Russian River. Raft and swim all day for free, hike through the redwoods and then head to the town plaza and iconic bridge to watch the fireworks show at night. If you're really on a tight budget, find a designated driver and make it a day trip; it's less than three hours from San Francisco.
Nevada City Distance from SF: 3.5 hours
Don't let the name fool you; Nevada City is not in Nevada. The former miners' town is in California, about an hour closer than Tahoe and just as gorgeous. Better yet, it's more affordable. Plenty of lodges, hotels, and Airbnb listings offer rooms for under $200. Cool off at South Yuba River or any of the area's many watering holes. Enjoy homemade ice cream at Treats, and stare in wonder as your bartender at The National Hotel informs you one gin and tonic costs as much as a piece of toast back home.
American River, Sacramento Distance from SF: 2.5 hours
If you're looking to float down a river and drink beers with Governor Jerry Brown, your best bet is the American River. Just a short drive from downtown Sacramento, the lazy river is filled with tattooed bros and tipsy locals. It's less scenic than the Russian River, but with cheap hotels, motels and Airbnb options nearby, it's just as affordable. Plus, you're guaranteed to get a tan; the average high in July is 92 degrees! Watch fireworks from River Cats Stadium in Old Sacramento and grab $3 beer specials from a number of local bars.
Santa Cruz Distance from SF: Less than 2 hours
You've had that Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk jingle stuck in your head too long. It's time you soak up some warm California sun. Unlike San Francisco, this seaside town actually gets warm in July, with average highs reaching the mid 70s. The food and drinks are affordable, the people are weird and there's a ton of free or cheap entertainment available. Take a sunset stroll along the ocean, hike through nearby Big Basin Redwoods State Park and ride the historic Giant Dipper wooden coaster at the admission-free Boardwalk. Then, top it off with a fireworks show right on the beach.
Big Sur Distance from SF: 3.5 to 6 hours, depending on the route
Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway (a.k.a. Highway 1) is a rite of passage for anyone who lives in California. And while it's tempting to stop at that really fancy Taco Bell in Pacifica and call it a day, you owe it to yourself to spend a weekend in Big Sur. Get there fast by shooting down the 101 and cutting over to PCH once you pass through Gilroy. Or if you'd rather take the scenic route, stick to the 1 all the way down the coast, stopping in Half Moon Bay, Monterey, and Carmel along the way. There are a ton of camping options, though most are on a first-come, first-serve basis, so get there early, enjoy stunning views of the Pacific and keep your hands on the wheel.
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