San Francisco and Yosemite National Park are two of the best places to visit in California. San Francisco is an iconic city, home to much more than just the Golden Gate Bridge and very steep streets. You’ll find some of the best seafood on the West Coast, amazing beaches and lots of local culture. To the east in Yosemite is a landscape of towering redwood forests, impossibly high rock formations, wildlife roaming the valleys and stunning vistas.
Although the drive from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park is a little over three hours directly to the park’s entrance, it is worth taking time out of your schedule to extend the drive since there is so much to see on the way. Whether you’re interested in beautiful vineyards, recreational areas or bustling cities, you can find all this and more by taking just a few short detours. But, of course, the road trip is equally fun in the opposite direction, as you may want a bit of relaxation after the epic hiking and sightseeing on offer in Yosemite.
San Francisco To Yosemite National Park
If you’re rather not drive and would prefer to join an organised tour from San Francisco to Yosemite, here are three popular tour options:
- Yosemite National Park and Giant Sequoias Day Trip from San Francisco
- 2-Day Yosemite National Park Tour from San Francisco
- 3-Day Yosemite Camping Adventure from San Francisco
- Yosemite and Glacier Point Tour by Amtrak
Another alternative if you don’t want the hassle of renting a car is to book a one-way private transfer.
10 Sights Between San Francisco And Yosemite National Park
1- San Francisco
San Francisco is a great starting point and the city deserves a few days of exploration.
The city is easily navigable by public transport and on foot, so if you plan to hire a car for your trip, consider booking it for the day you leave the city.
One of the most famous things to explore here is the Golden Gate Bridge and Recreational Area.
If you’re feeling active, the best way to reach the bridge is to rent bikes at Fisherman’s Wharf and cycle along the city’s coastal area.
The area has lots of hiking trails and spectacular beaches, and you can also head to the other side to visit Sausalito and the Marin Headlands.
Other things not to miss in San Francisco are trying clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf and riding the famous street cars up the city’s infamously steep streets, including the windy Lombard Street.
Then wander through Chinatown for a bite to eat and see the Painted Ladies in Alamo Square.
If you have extra time, visit Alcatraz, the most notorious prison in the United States, for a fascinating tour out in the bay. Get your San Francisco City Pass here.
2- Napa Valley
60 miles (97 km) from San Francisco, 1 hour 10-minute drive.
The Napa Valley shouldn’t be missed if you’re in the area, although since it is filled with vineyards and if you’re planning on tasting wine, we’d suggest spending the night (or taking a day trip from San Francisco).
Napa is just over an hour from San Francisco, and although not strictly on the way to Yosemite, it makes an excellent detour or half-day trip.
Napa has a huge number of wine regions, so if you’re short on time heading to downtown is a great place to start, as it has loads of great wineries, tasting rooms and bars.
Visit Vintage Sweet Shoppe or Vintners Collective, and then if you have time, head further out to explore a vineyard.
Don’t forget to take some bottles with you to enjoy during the rest of your journey. You may enjoy this small-group wine-tasting tour in the Napa.
12 miles (19 km) from San Francisco, a 20-minute drive
If you’re driving straight out of San Francisco, Oakland will likely be your first stop.
The city has some great things to see and do and is far less crowded than its more famous Bay area neighbour.
Take a stroll around Lake Merritt which has its own Japanese, bonsai and community gardens to explore, excellent birdwatching and an amusement park.
Also, check out the Redwood Regional Park for your first taste of these impossibly tall trees and downtown Oakland for great restaurants, bars and shops.
For amazing views across the whole area, Chabot Space and Science Centre or Mountain View Cemetery are the places to go, especially if you want to catch a beautiful sunset.
5 miles (8 km) from Oakland, a 15-minute drive
You may have heard of Berkeley as it is home to the University of California, Berkeley, however, alongside its beautiful campus, the neighbourhood offers lots to see.
Berkeley is right above Oakland, so you can easily combine your visit.
While you’re in town, admire the Sather Tower, modelled on the Campanile of Venice and head to the Lawrence Hall of Science to learn about animals, space and engineering, plus panoramic views over the area.
Another place to visit is the Takara Sake Museum, which is the only one of its kind in America.
You should also visit the UC Berkeley Campus, even if to visit the university’s famous Free Speech Monument.
5- Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
25 miles (40 km) from Berkeley, a 30-minute drive
Most people know the famous Six Flags Theme Park is near Los Angeles, but it also has outposts across the U.S. and Discovery Island is one of the best.
Just north of Oakland in Vallejo, this could be a fun detour or way to break up a drive if you’re travelling with kids.
The park has every attraction imaginable, from the animal kingdom with a zoo and exhibits to all of the crazy rollercoasters and thrilling rides you would expect.
You can buy tickets at the gate, but they are cheaper if you buy online in advance.
For younger kids, there are also lots of fun shows, animal experiences, and a range of restaurants for all tastes.
For more California ideas, see:
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- Deserts In California Guide
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- Best Time To Visit California
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- 9 California National Parks
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6- Mount Diablo State Park
36 miles (58 km), 1-hour drive from Six Flags, Oakland or Berkeley
Yosemite’s attractions may overshadow Mount Diablo, but it is one of California’s most famous places.
The state park is perfect for those looking for a first foray into nature, with lots of hiking and outdoor activities.
You can hike, drive or cycle to the summit, which has an elevation of over 4000 ft (1219 m), from where you’ll have spectacular views over California.
If you visit in winter, there is likely to be snow, so make sure to come prepared for the cold.
There is also an information centre where you can learn more about the history of Mount Diablo and the plant and animal species that call the area home.
70 miles (112 km) from Mount Diablo State Park, a 1.5-hour drive
Stockton is right in the middle of San Francisco and Yosemite, so it makes an ideal halfway point for a quick stop to stretch your legs, see the sights and get a bite to eat.
For racing lovers, it is home to the Delta Speedway, which holds weekly track races or if you prefer a dash of culture, visit the Haggin Museum to learn about the area’s history.
One of the more unusual attractions is the Wat Dhammararam Temple, a huge Cambodian temple with an enormous Buddha statue built by Cambodian refugees in 1982.
For all your food and shopping needs, Miracle Mile has loads of excellent cafes, bars, boutiques and restaurants and if you’re staying the night, catch a show or performance at the popular Bob Hope Theatre after dinner.
8- Mariposa Grove
150 miles (241 km) from Stockton, a three-hour drive
After entering Yosemite, showing your permit and paying for entry, Mariposa Grove is one of the first things you should explore.
The grove is one of the most famous areas of the park and is the largest grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park.
There are over 500 trees, some more than 2000 years old.
The most famous are Grizzly Giant, which is 209 ft (64 m) high, the Tunnel Tree and, further along the trail, the Faithful Couple and the Mariposa Tree.
You can reach the grove by hiking, but this can be as short or long as you like.
To Grizzly Giant, it is around 1.7 miles (2.7 km) with little elevation, however, the full trail winds through all of the famous trees and is a nine-mile roundtrip, ending at Wawona Point, one of the prettiest viewpoints in Yosemite at 6,800 ft (2072 m).
9- Tunnel View
25 miles (40 km) from Mariposa Grove, a 45-minute drive
Whether or not you visit Mariposa Grove, no visit to Yosemite is complete without visiting Tunnel View, not least because it is on the road into the park.
At this viewpoint, there is a small car park and lookout area just beyond the Wawona Tunnel on State Highway 41, as it gets later in the day, the car park will have less and less space.
Tunnel View is your first spectacular view down the entire valley, from where you can see the carpet of thousands of trees below, El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Fall and almost all other rock formations.
Visit in spring to see the waterfall in full flow or in winter to see the mountains capped in snow.
10- Yosemite Valley
6 miles (9.6 km) from Tunnel View, a 20-minute drive
The final stop on the road trip will be your destination of Yosemite Valley, where you may be staying in a hotel such as the Ahwahnee, camping in one of the many campgrounds or just parking up and spending the day. Or join this three-day camping adventure from San Francisco.
The best way to get around the park is via the Yosemite Shuttle, which has a green and purple line covering all the main sites.
These buses will drop you at the many trailheads to begin any hikes, such as the John Muir, Lower Falls or Glacier Point trails.
They also stop at lodges, campgrounds and Yosemite Village, which has a restaurant, café, information centre, small supermarket and shop to grab any last-minute supplies or get information about the park conditions.
If you’re visiting in summer, note the likelihood of forest fires, and look out for bears and bobcats at all times of the year.
It is highly recommended to spend a couple of days in Yosemite to explore all the sights fully.
If you have any extra time and visit in the summer months, head to the lesser visited Tioga Pass road, which leads off the east of the park, for some of the most epic views at over 10,000 ft (3047 m), spectacular lakes, forests and the famous Tuolumne Meadows.
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