20 Places To Visit On A San Francisco to Las Vegas Road Trip

- This post may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure.

Depending on which way you travel, driving straight from San Francisco to Las Vegas would take about 9 hours, not including stops. However, not only are you travelling between two of America’s most incredible cities, but California and the gateway to Nevada have some of the best sights and most beautiful landscapes on the West Coast.

It’s easy to stretch this route into days, or even weeks, depending on your interests, and if you’re an outdoor lover, the array of national parks each warrant at least a few days on their own along the way. This is combined with fascinating towns, state parks, historical sites, lakes and mountains, which means this road trip offers something for everyone. Hiking, biking, climbing and swimming are all on the cards, or for less outdoorsy types, the big cities and unique counties of Santa Clara and San Jose offer dining, nightlife and historic landmarks.

San Francisco to Las Vegas

Looking for a rental car? Click here to find the best deals

Top Tours

20 Places To Visit On A San Francisco To Las Vegas Road Trip

1- San Francisco

road trip las vegas to san francisco
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is an iconic landmark.

San Francisco is one of the best places to ease into a road trip.

You’ll need to spend a few days here since there’s so much to see, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alamo Square and much more.

One of the best ways to maximise time is by hiring a bike to ride along the bay, from the wharf to the bridge.

You can even ride over the bridge to Sausalito if you’re not out of breath by then!

Don’t miss taking one of the city’s famous streetcars, which are essential as the streets are extremely steep.

If you have time one evening, head over to Chinatown for a delicious meal, or in the day, climb Coit Tower for epic views of the city and bay.

From here, you’ll be able to see Alcatraz Island – save at least half a day to visit this historic national park and learn about its fascinating history.

Top tour: 

2- Palo Alto

buildings in Stanford on a blue sky day
Stanford University is a private university 37 miles (60 kilometres) southeast of San Francisco and worth visiting on a road trip.

Palo Alto is 33 miles (53 km) from San Francisco or a 50-minute drive.

Palo Alto is just a short drive south of San Francisco proper.

While it may not be on the usual list of places, it’s worth visiting Stanford University, one of America’s top Ivy League colleges.

Anyone can visit the university, and the walk along university avenue – which is filled with shops, bookstores and cafes, is a fun way to spend a few hours.

If you’re secretly into science, consider visiting the Computer History Museum.

Palo Alto is home to some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names, such as Facebook and Google, and here you can learn about the evolution of tech.

For a final goodbye to the area, take an elevator ride up the Hoover Tower on the university campus for panoramic views over Palo Alto.

Top tour: Silicon Valley Self-Guided Driving Audio Tour for Technology Lovers.

3- Santa Clara

Santa Clara is 14 miles (22.5 km) from Palo Alto or a 30-minute drive.

Just a stone’s throw from Palo Alto (you could almost walk), Santa Clara County is another part of the area with its own identity.

For sports fans, Levi’s Stadium is a must-see, especially if there’s a game on. If not, it still houses the 49ers Museum, filled with cool baseball exhibits belonging to some of the greatest players in history.

For history buffs, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum houses the largest collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts on the West Coast.

Families should also stop in Santa Clara if only to visit the Great America Theme Park, which has many exhilarating rollercoasters and even its own waterpark.

4- San Jose

The dome-shaped modern building of city hall
City Hall in San Jose, California.

San Jose is 5 miles (8 km) from Santa Clara or a 20-minute drive.

The huge county of San Jose borders Santa Clara and has fun things to see and do.

Your first stop should be the Winchester Mystery House – all the better if you’re visiting in spooky season; which is filled with historic ghost stories, false bookcases and trapdoors.

Since you’re off on a long road trip, make time to visit Santana Row, which is San Jose’s main shopping area, where you’ll find an array of shops, cafes and excellent restaurants where you can stock up on supplies and have a bite to eat.

With a little time to spare, Japantown is idyllic for a stroll, which has a few museums about the Japanese settlers in the area, a Japanese friendship garden and, of course, many sushi restaurants.

5- Modesto

Modesto is 80 miles (129 km) from San Jose or a 2-hour drive.

Modesto is a small city between San Francisco and Yosemite National Park.

Modesto is full of beautiful buildings, museums and galleries, so it can be a great pit stop if the weather isn’t ideal.

First, head to the McHenry Museum to learn more about the city’s history through photos, artefacts and exhibits.

Downtown Modesto will give you a shopping and foodie fix, before heading out for an evening of entertainment.

Opt for either the Gallo Center for the Arts, home to the Mary Stuart Rogers Theatre, which always has a play or performance on, or should it be full, the historic State Theatre shows old-style independent movies and dance recitals.

For more California ideas, see:

6- Yosemite National Park

hands on the wheel of the car with mountains and trees in the windscreen
Yosemite National Park is a must-see on a road trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas.

Yosemite National Park is an 84-mile (135 km) drive from Modesto or a 2-hour drive.

Although Yosemite National Park is a slight detour on your journey, it can’t be missed if you’re this close.

Visitors to the park spend anywhere from one to seven days here, but two or three is enough to see it fully.

Some of the most famous viewpoints, such as Tunnel View and Glacier Point, can be seen by car if you’re short on time.

With longer, try to stay in Yosemite Valley to admire El Capitan and Half Dome and do a hike, such as to Bridalveil Falls or the Mist Trail.

In the summer, you can follow the epic Tioga Pass via the Tuolumne Meadows and views from over 10,000 ft (3048 m) to exit the east side of the park, which will lead you to the next stop of Mammoth Lakes.

The pass is closed in winter, so you can head back west and continue onto Fresno.

Top tours:

7- Mammoth Lakes

mountains and trees reflected in the lake
When driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas, a beautiful spot to stop at is Crystal Lake in Mammoth Lakes, California.

Mammoth Lakes is about 100 miles (161 km) from Yosemite National Park or a 2.5-hour drive.

If you’re lucky enough to visit in summer and drive along the Tioga Pass and down the east side of Yosemite, you’ll quickly reach the town of Mammoth Lakes.

Mammoth Lakes is famous as a winter destination, thanks to its fantastic skiing on the unsurprisingly large mountains.

However, being filled with lakes, the region is also a haven for summer activities such as swimming, kayaking, fishing and hiking.

You may not be skiing down Mammoth Mountain, but you can still enjoy unhampered views from the top in the summer, head to the strangely shaped Devil’s Postpile or take a short hike to Rainbow Falls.

Mammoth Village is also well equipped for visitors, with a range of restaurants and shops for renting out gear, tour companies and information centres.

Top tour: Mammoth Mountain Premium Ski Rental Including Delivery.

8- Lone Pine

rock formations
Movie Road in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, CA, is worth checking out on your Las Vegas to San Francisco drive.

Lone Pine is 99 miles (160 km) from Mammoth Lakes or a 2.5-hour drive.

Following the eastern route past Mammoth Lakes, you’ll quickly reach the stunning town of Lone Pine, famous for its jaw-dropping backdrop of the Sierra Nevada peaks and the Alabama Hills.

The town has long been popular for filming classic Western movies, so your first stop should be the Museum of Western Film History to see loads of cool posters, memorabilia and camera from over 400 films shot here.

Next, drive just out of town to the Alabama Hills, which are super popular with photographers due to the unique rock formations and, again, the many famous filming locations.

If you’re preparing to hike Mount Whitney and want to ease in, or aren’t and still want a scenic hike, the short trail to Lone Pine Lake offers stunning scenery over 2.5 miles (4 km) and a refreshing lake as a reward.

9- Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney is 12 miles (19 km) from Lone Pine or a 20-minute drive.

Mount Whitney is a stop on this road trip for those who prepare in advance.

Mount Whitney is the tallest mountain in the United States and is a strenuous hike, even for the experienced hiker, although the views from the top bring people back time and again.

Permits are generally required for hiking in and around Mount Whitney year-round, however, between November and April, there’s no limit on the number of people, and you can grab a pass once you arrive.

Most people spend a night on the mountain to break up the hike, which is 21.5 miles (35 km) in total, otherwise, it would take around 16 hours of straight hiking to complete.

Take your time and enjoy the views if you make it up here; this is one of America’s most renowned achievements.

10- Fresno

Fresno is 60 miles (97 km) from Yosemite National Park or a 1-hour 40-minute drive.

Fresno is only around an hour and a half from Yosemite National Park and sits in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

Being in between some major cities and beautiful national parks, it has a diverse mix of things to do.

If you missed a big game in San Francisco or Santa Clara, you might be able to catch a game at Chukchansi Park during the season.

Alternatively, if you’re visiting in October, Fresno hosts a huge open-air fair for two weeks, with horse racing, rides, stalls and live music.

In the warmer months, Fresno, like much of California, is home to some pretty vineyards and wineries, such as Moravia Wines and Fresno State Winery.

Take a tour of the vineyards and sample some of the different wines in the sunshine, but spend the night instead of driving onward after this activity.

Top tour: Fresno Scavenger Hunt: Fresno Art & History.

11- Sierra National Forest

Sierra National Forest is a 36-mile (58 km) drive from Fresno or a 50-minute drive.

About 45 minutes directly east of Fresno lies the stunning Sierra National Forest.

The forest comprises miles and miles of beautiful pine trees as far as the eye can see, and you can see them all if you take one of the many scenic hikes in the area.

No matter what activity you’re keen on, you’ll find it here, including camping, cycling and fishing, or on a tight timescale, take a drive and have a picnic against the breathtaking backdrop.

There’s also canoeing, sailing, windsurfing and kayaking for water babies and for even more excitement in winter, skiing, snowshoeing and sledging.

Bring a tent and take a day or two to enjoy the area to its fullest.

12- Kings Canyon National Park

how far is san francisco to las vegas
Kings Canyon National Park is a U.S. National Park in the southern Sierra Nevada, east of Fresno, California.

Kings Canyon National Park is a 66-mile (106 km) drive from Sierra National Forest or a 1.5-hour drive.

When faced with the choice between Yosemite, Sequoia and the many other national parks, many people skip out on King’s Canyon. But you may be surprised to learn it’s home to the deepest canyon in the United States (which most people assume is the Grand Canyon).

Unless you plan to camp or do a particularly long hike, you can see King’s Canyon in a full day.

Take a short hike to see General Grant, one of the biggest trees in the area, or for almost no walking at all, Junction Point has impressive views over the entire canyon.

If you spend less time here, it makes a perfect route to continue directly to Sequoia National Park, just a short distance away.

Top tour:

13- Sequoia National Park

road trip from san francisco to las vegas through Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park is a lovely area to drive between San Francisco and Las Vegas.

Sequoia National Park is a 48-mile (77 km) drive from Kings Canyon NP or a 1.5-hour drive.

It’s just an hour and a half to the fascinating Sequoia National Park, an atmospheric forested area filled with some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world.

You can walk among the trees in awe, feeling small, and there are a few other things not to miss.

General Sherman is the most popular attraction. It’s the largest tree in the world, but it’s surrounded by trees equally impressive in stature.

There are also caves here, so pick up a ticket for the Crystal Cave in advance to visit the stunning underground cave filled with stalagmites and stalactites.

If you’re running out of time but still searching for a fantastic photo spot, drive the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, which has loads of pull-ins with sweeping views over the forest and canyons.

Top tour: Stargazing in Sequoia National Park.

14- Red Rock Canyon State Park

golden light just after dawn on the canyon and a road leading to it
One of the jaw-dropping sights from a road trip from Las Vegas to San Francisco is Red Rock Canyon.

Red Rock Canyon Park is 172 miles (277 km) from Sequoia National Park or a 2h 50-minute drive.

Red Rock Canyon is one of the most beautiful and unusual landscapes of any national protected area, filled with reddish boulders, hills, gorges and cliffs.

If you’ve visited the Valley of Fire, you’ll find similarly unique sights here.

Firstly, familiarise yourself with the park via the scenic drive, which is also great if you’re passing through, as it encompasses many of the major lookout points, pull-ins with views and trailheads.

While at the visitor centre, ask about the ancient petroglyphs scattered throughout the park so that you can make a beeline to see these 800-year-old carvings.

In the summer, the park can get typically hot, but if you do just one hike, make it the Calico Hills, which winds through many of the park’s gorges and offers views.

Top tour: Scooter Tours of Red Rock Canyon.

15- Death Valley National Park

distance from las vegas to san francisco
An impressive stretch of road leading into the mountains in Death Valley.

Death Valley is a 116-mile (187 km) drive from Red Rock Canyon State Park, or a 1h 50min drive.

Death Valley is just over an hour from Las Vegas and one of America’s most notorious national parks.

Aim to avoid visiting in July and August, when temperatures can be dangerously hot – unsurprisingly, since it is the hottest and lowest place in the United States.

You can drive between the most scenic points in the park and then head out on foot to explore.

Don’t miss Dante’s View, Zabriskie Point and Badwater Basin, the latter of which is the scientific lowest point.

Artists Palette, where the rock faces are multicoloured, is also pretty for photos or for something a bit strange, Devil’s Golf Course, filled with spiky, lumpy salt for miles and miles sees some stunning sunsets.

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

16- Mojave National Preserve

road with telegraph poles
A straight, empty road in the middle of nowhere in Mojave National Preserve, California.

Mojave National Preserve is a 101-mile (162 km) drive from Death Valley or a 1-hour 50-minute drive.

After leaving Death Valley, the Mojave National Preserve is a bit further on past Las Vegas, but visiting the sights around Sin City is far easier than going in and out repeatedly.

The Preserve has a landscape similar to Death Valley, filled with dunes and is a haven for hiking, camping and off-road driving.

If you’re not heading further south and won’t visit Joshua Tree National Park, you’ll be pleased to know that the Preserve has the highest concentration of Joshua trees in the world.

For endless views over the flats and the hills beyond, try the 4-mile hike to Teutonia Peak or have fun climbing the massive Kelso dunes.

17- Charleston Peak

Charleston Peak is a 104-mile (167 km) drive from Mojave National Preserve or a 1-hour 40-minute drive.

Another one for passionate hikers and climbers, Charleston Peak, is the highest point in the Las Vegas surroundings, with a reasonably strenuous 17.5 miles (28 km) hike to the top.

The trail is recommended in the summertime, as it can get relatively slippery and dangerous in winter, and no permits are required for the journey.

There are also various places to camp along the way, although the trail takes up to nine hours, it’s recommended to space it out if you have time.

Even if you can’t summit the peak, the Mount Charleston area has over 100 miles (161 km) of hiking trails, which lead to lakes, waterfalls and blooming meadows.

Head to the visitor’s centre for information on where to go.

18- Seven Magic Mountains

Seven Magic Mountains are a 67-mile (108 km) drive from Charleston Peak or a 1-hour drive.

It’s highly likely you’ve already seen photos of the Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation just outside Las Vegas which is extremely popular with tourists, Instagrammers and photographers.

Dotted around the desert landscape are seven huge, rainbow-coloured rock towers visited by thousands of people daily.

Each year, there are questions about whether the installation will finally be removed, but now it’s confirmed to be staying until at least 2026 so you’ll have plenty of time to visit.

The area is completely free to enter at all times of day, although you’ll need to drive, and it’s best to arrive earlier to avoid the crowds.

19- Hoover Dam

aerial view of Hoover Dam taken from bypass bridge on the Arizona/Nevada border
Hoover Dam is an engineering marvel to visit when driving from Las Vegas to San Francisco by car.

The Hoover Dam is 51 miles (82 km) from Seven Magic Mountains or a 55-minute drive.

The Hoover Dam is a little further south than the city of Las Vegas, but if you aren’t planning a trip to the Grand Canyon (which often includes a stop here), it’s worth making time for the 45-minute drive.

The dam is one of the most impressive feats of engineering on earth, which might not sound exciting, but the views over the water certainly are.

To really get stuck in, you can kayak the dam, or to stay on dry land, opt for a guided tour or a visit to the power plant.

Very close by are other attractions, such as Memorial Bridge and Lake Mead Recreational Area, which has a lake for boating or kayaking, and many scenic picnic areas.

Top tour: Ultimate Hoover Dam Tour from Las Vegas With Lunch.

20- Las Vegas

san francisco to las vegas road trip
An aerial view of Las Vegas at sunset.

Las Vegas is 37 miles (59.5 km) from the Hoover Dam or a 40-minute drive.

At the end of the trip, Las Vegas is one of America’s most iconic cities.

You’ll most likely be staying in one of the major hotels in the city’s centre, ideally located on The Strip, as exploring the sights is convenient. 

The Strip is around 4 miles long, and once you add in stops to see everything, this can take up the best part of a day.

Don’t miss visiting some of Vegas’ famous restaurants; if you can afford it, eateries like Hell’s Kitchen and La Cirque are worth it for the experience.

Also, wander into some of the hotels, such as Caesar’s Palace and Venetian, both of which have jaw-dropping interiors.

At the far end of The Strip, not far from the Strat, you’ll find famous Fremont Street, full of more authentic Vegas shops, activities and attractions, including the nearby Golden Nugget Casino – poker, slots or roulette, casinos are a must-do when in Vegas.

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

Looking for a road trip? Here are some epic driving vacations.

Previous article20 Places To Visit On A Houston to Miami Road Trip
Next article20 Places To Visit On A Boston to New York Road Trip
India Jayne trainor
India-Jayne Trainor is a British/Australian freelance writer, photographer and contributor to various online blogs and travel websites. She has travelled to almost 30 countries, most recently Cuba and Sri Lanka. Her work focuses on solo female travel, having spent two months backpacking alone through South East Asia as well as living in Germany for a year. Her favourite country to date has been Hong Kong, but she is happy in any country by the ocean. Her next destinations are Uzbekistan and a road trip through the American Mid-West. India is currently based in London, UK.