Boston to San Francisco Road Trip

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Boston and San Francisco are two fantastic cities packed with exciting things to do and places to see, so what better way to experience both world-class urban centres than planning an epic road trip from one to the other? The drive from Boston to San Francisco is an adventure that passes through cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas and Denver.

It crosses the mighty Rockies, the great plains of Iowa and Nebraska, and the idyllic vineyards of Napa and Sonoma. Few journeys rival crossing the United States from East to West, with even fewer dishing out so much to see and such diverse landscapes to take in than a road trip from Boston to San Francisco.

Boston to San Francisco

20 Places To Visit On A Boston to San Francisco Road Trip

1- Albany, NY

Albany is the Empire State’s official capital and the most influential city in New York State after NYC.

Split in half by the Hudson River, the city has been the capital since 1797 and has a large array of stunning historical and cultural sites to explore and uncover.

It is a haven for the performing arts, with several institutions solely dedicated to theatre, dance, ballet and opera found throughout Albany. Some of Albany’s biggest and most visited attractions include the New York State Capitol, the Egg Performing Arts Center, the New York State Museum and the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza.

Albany is 169 miles (272 km) and about a 3-hour drive from Boston.

Top tour: Hudson River Sightseeing Cruise from Albany.

2- Syracuse, NY

In New York’s beautiful Finger Lakes region, Syracuse is a leafy city with plenty of history and entertainment.

The city is home to the main campus of Syracuse University and the largest shopping mall in New York State (Destiny).

The city is surrounded by water, with the Erie Canal on the one side and Onondaga Lake on the other, two natural features which helped propel Syracuse to success during the 1800s and early 1900s.

Today, Syracuse offers road trippers the opportunity to explore unique attractions such as the Erie Canal Museum, the Everson Museum of Art, Destiny USA and the Great New York State Fair, making Syracuse a worthy road trip destination between Boston and San Francisco.

Syracuse is 147 miles (237 km) and about a 2.5-hour drive from Albany.

Top tour: Syracuse Showdown Scavenger Hunt.

3- Rochester, NY

with blue cloudy sky.
A historical building in downtown Rochester, New York.

Home to more than 12,000 acres (4,856 ha) of public parks, over 100 annually-held festivals and many other fantastic attractions, Rochester is one of upstate New York’s finest cities.

The city grew from America’s biggest flour supplier into a leading hub for innovation during the 1800s and 1900s and is today a city filled with several important museums and art galleries for road trippers to tour.

From the state-of-the-art The Strong to the Memorial Art Gallery, there’s so much to experience in Rochester.

Rochester is 88 miles (142 km) and about a 1.5-hour drive from Syracuse.

4- Buffalo, NY

Buffalo is New York state’s second-largest city after NYC and America’s gateway to Niagara Falls.

The city features several cultural institutions and historic landmarks ranging from architectural masterpieces by Frank Lloyd Wright to the Buffalo City Hall.

It’s home to two major sports franchises and the inauguration site of Theodore Roosevelt.

Buffalo’s biggest attraction is Niagara Falls, which is 20 miles (32 km) north of Downtown Buffalo.

Buffalo is 74 miles (119 km) and about a 1.5-hour drive from Rochester.

Top tour: History Ride: The Best of Buffalo by Bike.

5- Cleveland, OH

The Cleveland sign on the waterfront
Check out the Cleveland skyline from the lakefront in Ohio on your Boston to San Francisco road trip.

Cleveland is one of Ohio’s premier travel destinations and largest cities, despite only spanning an area of roughly 78 square miles (20,202 ha).

Jam-packed with world-class museums and cultural institutions, this unique city on the shores of Lake Erie is close to some of Ohio’s best beaches and within a short drive from Detroit, Pittsburgh and Columbus.

The city has several must-see landmarks, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the splendid Cleveland Metroparks system.

There are also several professional sports teams to cheer for in Cleveland, making it an excellent venue to visit when travelling from Boston to San Francisco.

Cleveland is 189 miles (304 km) and about a 3-hour drive from Buffalo.

Top tour: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Admission in Cleveland.

6- Detroit, MI

Aerial view of downtown Detroit
A bird’s-eye view of downtown Detroit in Michigan.

Once the epicentre of the world’s car manufacturing industry, Detroit fell on rough times when many big players, such as General Motors, closed down.

Today, the city is going through a rapid transformation and gentrification process, which aims to make Detroit an enviable tourist destination.

Motor City is home to many stunning architecture and cultural institutions left over from when Detroit was one of the wealthiest cities in the world, such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Temple and Belle Isle Park.

Another fantastic Detroit attraction is the city’s many professional sports franchises, such as the MLB’s Detroit Tigers, NBA’s Detroit Pistons, the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and the NFL’s Detroit Lions, which all enjoy regular sell-out crowds.

Detroit is 169 miles (272 km) and about a 2.5-hour drive from Cleveland.

7- Chicago, IL

Cloudy day in Chicago
You’ll find plenty to do in Chicago and stopping for a day or two while on an extended driving trip from Boston to San Francisco will inspire you to go back for more.

As the Midwest’s largest city, Chicago is a heavyweight when it comes to influencing the region’s culture, politics and economy.

Rivalling cities such as Los Angeles and New York City when it comes to the amount and quality of attractions on offer, Chicago truly is one of the must-see cities in the USA.

The city has an incredibly diverse food scene ranging from Michelin-star restaurants to regular food trucks.

It is also home to world-class museums and art galleries.

Millennium Park, the Chicago Riverwalk, Wrigley Field and the Chicago Theatre stand out as four iconic attractions in the Windy City.

Chicago is 285 miles (459 km) and about a 4.5-hour drive from Detroit.

Top tour: Chicago Architecture River Cruise.

8- Des Moines, IA

city skyline and street in des moine
Here’s your chance to pay a visit to Des Moines, Iowa, while on a cross-country road trip from Boston to San Francisco.

Des Moines is the beating heart of Iowa, serving as the Midwest state’s capital, its biggest city and its cultural centre.

The city is home to many museums, restaurants, entertainment options and scenic urban parks and is situated between Chicago to the east and Omaha to the west.

Attractions include the Iowa State Capitol, the Des Moines Art Center, the Salisbury House and the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.

Des Moines has so much to see and do, making it possible to spend an entire week in the city without seeing the same attraction twice.

Des Moines is 333 miles (536 km) and about a 5.5-hour drive from Chicago.

9- Omaha, NE

buildings in the city
While driving between Boston and SF, Omaha is a city to explore in Nebraska.

Located on the edge of the great American West, Omaha is the largest city in Nebraska and straddles the shores of the Missouri River.

The city didn’t even exist when the Lewis and Clark Expedition crossed the region in 1804.

Only after the expedition finished did the first fur traders start setting up shop in the area known today as Omaha.

The city has many unique historic and cultural attractions for a city of its age, such as the Joslyn Art Museum and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

Omaha is great to explore if you want to see a different side of Nebraska. 

Omaha is 134 miles (216 km) and about a 2-hour drive from Des Moines.

Top tour: Omaha Scavenger Hunt: The West’s Glorious Gateway.

10- Denver, CO

Downtown Denver cityscape on a sunny day.
Denver is the gateway to some of the best ski resorts in the country.

Denver, or the ‘Mile High City’ as it’s often called, is a stunning and sleek modern city nestled between the breathtakingly beautiful Rocky Mountains.

Denver is the largest metro area in Colorado and is the state’s legislative, economic and cultural hub, which means there’s no shortage of amazing things to do and see in and around the city.

The city is situated more than a mile (1.6 km) above sea level, hence the nickname, and is home to world-class attractions such as the Denver Art Museum, the Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Larimer Square.

Denver is also a gateway to some of the best ski resorts in the Rockies, making it one of America’s best cities for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers.

Denver is 539 miles (867 km) and about an 8-hour drive from Omaha.

Top tour: Discover Rocky Mountain National Park from Denver.

11- Cheyenne, WY

boston to san francisco cheyenne wyoming
The State Capitol Building in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Rugged and breathtakingly beautiful, Cheyenne is wild and untamed Wyoming’s capital and largest metro area.

The city oozes cowboy culture through and through, complete with an Old West look and feel reminiscent of the Wild West.

Cheyenne is near the Colorado state border, making it an accessible destination to reach from Denver.

Visit the Wyoming State Capitol, the Boots of Cheyenne public art sculptures, and have fun during the colourful Cheyenne Frontier Days festival.

Cheyenne is 102 miles (164 km) and about a 2-hour drive from Denver.

12- Salt Lake City, UT

Salt Lake City skyline aerial
Salt Lake City, Utah, is an interesting place to visit on a Boston to San Francisco driving vacation.

The venue for the 2002 Winter Olympics and the global headquarters of the Mormon Church, Salt Lake City, is a unique destination with a little something to see and do for everyone.

The only three-word state capital in the United States provides a mix of indoor and outdoor attractions, such as the Great Salt Lake, Temple Square, the Utah State Capitol and the free-to-visit Utah Olympic Park.

The most famous Salt Lake City landmark is the Bonneville Salt Flats, a 30,000 acre (12,141 ha) dried-up lakebed that has been ground-zero for several world land speed records.

Salt Lake City is 439 miles (707 km) and about a 9-hour drive from Cheyenne.

Top tour: Tabernacle Choir Performance + Salt Lake City Bus Tour.

13- Las Vegas, NV

boston to san francisco las vegas
The Strip at sunset.

Las Vegas is the world’s unofficial entertainment and gambling capital, never ceasing to amaze new and seasoned visitors with its bright lights, ever-changing skyline and the trials and tribulations of casino booms and busts along the famous Las Vegas Strip.

The city is widely regarded as the brightest city on Earth and can even be observed from space.

Las Vegas is a remarkable road trip destination where travellers can see the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower and the canals of Venice all in one day.

Viva Las Vegas is a must-see travel destination when spending time in the southwest United States and a city that’s bound to be one of the major highlights of any road trip from Boston to San Francisco.

Las Vegas is 421 miles (678 km) and about a 6.5-hour drive from Salt Lake City.

Top tour: Las Vegas Helicopter Night Flight with Optional VIP Transportation.

14- Death Valley National Park, CA

road between Death Valley and Las Vegas
The Las Vegas to Death Valley stretch in Nevada showcases the Mojave desert wilderness and is just one of the landscapes you’ll encounter on a Boston to San Francisco driving trip.

Situated on the Nevada-California state border, the Death Valley National Park is an inhospitable environment and one of America’s most scenic and varied national parks.

The park’s climate fringes on the limits of what humans can withstand, ranging from near-frigid temperatures at night to scorching temperatures during the daytime.

The highest ambient air temperature recorded in the world was measured within the Death Valley National Park in 1916, hitting a sizzling 134 °F (56.7 °C) on the thermometer.

Both incredibly hot and bone dry, visitors to the park need to prepare for their visit well in advance to avoid the risk of heat exhaustion or being stranded.

Even though the park’s climate may put many off from visiting it, it is home to a vast array of unique natural features and is one of the best places to see the entire night sky in detail.

Death Valley National Park is 126 miles (203 km) and about a 2-hour drive from Las Vegas.

Top tour: Death Valley National Park Self-Guided Audio Driving Tour.

15- Yosemite National Park, CA

Deer crossing warning yellow sign, California USA. yosemite national park
Yosemite National Park is a stunning natural jewel on a Boston to San Francisco road trip.

The stunning Yosemite National Park is the crown jewel in California’s National Park system, nestled deep within the Sierra Nevada Mountains in northeast California.

The park is spread across 1,200 square miles (310,799 ha) and is full of breathtaking Californian vistas and biodiversity.

More than 1,000 staggering waterfalls, near-vertical cliffs and verdant gorges are a testament to its status as a UNESCO-listed National Park. 

Conveniently situated just over three hours from the Bay Area, Yosemite’s nature trails, scenic lakes, ancient sequoia forests, and a wide array of animal species create the perfect outdoor wonderland. 

Yosemite National Park is 297 miles (478 km) and about a 4-hour drive from Death Valley National Park.

Top tour: Vernal and Nevada Falls.

16- Reno, NV

Welcome Sign, Reno
Break your driving with night lights and city fun in Reno, Nevada.

Tucked between two of the Western United States’ most unique natural landmarks, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Lake Tahoe, Reno is Las Vegas’ less rambunctious and more outdoorsy sibling.

The city is charmingly called the ‘Biggest Little City in the World’ and features a harmonious blend of casinos, ski resorts, museums and nightlife options to keep road-trippers thoroughly entertained during their stay in Reno.

The city’s National Automobile Museum, Nevada Museum of Art, Reno Rodeo, Mt. Rose Ski Resort and Silver Legacy Casino are just some of the highlights road trippers can expect to find when exploring Reno, making it a must-see Nevada destination.

Reno is 180 miles (290 km) and less than a 4-hour drive from Yosemite National Park.

17- Lake Tahoe, CA

winding mountain road, conifer trees around the lake and mountains in the background
Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe, California.

Lake Tahoe is a stunning natural landmark conveniently situated on the Nevada-California border.

The bright blue lake’s the largest alpine lake in North America and is bordered by majestic snowcapped peaks.

Lake Tahoe is an immensely popular destination for both summer and winter sports, attracting over 2.7 million visitors to its shores every year.

Situated within a three-hour drive from the skyscrapers of San Francisco, Lake Tahoe’s world-class hiking and watersports opportunities during summer and skiing and snowboarding slopes during winter make it a fascinating destination to plan a road trip.

Lake Tahoe is 37 miles (60 km) and about a 50-minute drive from Reno.

Top tour: Lake Tahoe Small-Group Photography Scenic Half-Day Tour.

18- Sacramento, CA

California state capitol building at night
Night view of the California state capitol building in Sacramento.

Sacramento is the official capital city of the Golden State capital city and is roughly 90 miles (145 km) northeast of Downtown San Francisco.

Rich in history that dates back to California’s Gold Rush boom, this fascinating city has a laundry list of unique things to do and see, ranging from old historic buildings to fantastic museums and art galleries.

At the top of the list of the best things to see in Sacramento is the impressive California State Capitol, which is also a museum that portrays the state’s history.

Another great attraction is the Pony Express Terminal, which is a National Historic Landmark dedicated to memorialising the final destination of America’s famous Pony Express mail service.

Sacramento is 110 miles (177 km) and about a 2.5-hour drive from Lake Tahoe.

19- Napa, CA

Napa Valley is California’s famous and award-winning wine region that produces all sorts of wine varieties that regularly rank among the best in the world.

Hundreds of vineyards and wineries can be found all around Napa, Downtown district, making it a vinophile’s dream destination where many wineries open their doors to teach visitors the entire wine-making process from vine to glass.

One of the best attractions in Napa is the Napa Valley Wine Train, a 36-mile (58 km) roundtrip train journey which passes by some of the most prestigious wineries throughout the Napa Valley.

Conveniently situated just 60 miles (97 km) outside Downtown San Francisco, Napa’s greatest attractions include the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, the Napa Art Walk and the Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.

Napa is 62 miles (100 km) and about a 1.5-hour drive from Sacramento.

Top tour: Wine Country Hot-Air Balloon Ride from Yountville.

20- Sonoma, CA

Home to more than 400 world-class wineries and mere minutes away from San Francisco, Sonoma is a sublime slice of California heaven revered for its rustic charm and slower, more relaxed pace.

Sonoma is neatly squeezed between verdant valleys and rolling hills, providing visitors with stunning views of rural Northern California everywhere they turn.

The region is renowned as an internationally-acclaimed wine producer, but Sonoma has plenty of other historic and culturally significant venues to discover, too, such as the Sonoma State Historic Park, the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art and Safari West.

Sonoma is 14 miles (23 km) and about a 30-minute drive from Napa.

Top tour: Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley.

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Mark Westwood is a Seattle-based writer who writes for various online blogs and travel websites. In 2017, he went on a 12-month road trip across the USA visiting many iconic landmarks and small towns along the way. Having explored over 20 countries, his favourite places to date are along the west coast of the USA but he is happiest anywhere where there are mountains and ocean.