Yosemite is one of the closest major national parks to San Francisco, so naturally, it’s a popular road trip. Within a few hours, you’ll be a world away from the vibrant city life and soaking up the tranquil ambiance of nature.
What’s more, the drive to the national park is far from boring. There are lovely towns to explore and plenty of natural and cultural sights. But how long does the road trip take, and where should you stop along the way?
We’ll answer all these questions and more below, so read on to discover the ultimate San Francisco to Yosemite road trip itinerary for a fabulous weekend away from SF or for a great detour on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip, after spending some time in San Francisco, of course!
San Francisco to Yosemite Itinerary
Amazing stops that will show you even more of California’s beauty on the way to visit Yosemite.
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For day one of your road trip, you’ll visit various towns between San Francisco and Yosemite and some attractions close to the national park. Stay the night at The Groveland Hotel so that you have a short drive into Yosemite the next morning.
You’ll be pleased to hear that you don’t need to drive for long to reach the first stop of the road trip. From San Francisco, take a short 15-20 minute drive across Oakland Bay Bridge into the hip and up-and-coming town of Oakland. Soak up the rich culture and picturesque waterfront view by sipping a coffee at one of the cafes in Jack London Square.
After, take a walk through the trendy neighborhood of Temescal, browsing in the boutiques and artisan shops on Telegraph Avenue. Then, wander down the historical Temescal Alley that was once lined with horse stables.
From Oakland, join the Nimitz freeway, heading southeast. After 35-45 minutes, you’ll arrive in Livermore Valley, part of the Tri-Valley region. Livermore is home to the beautiful Del Valle Regional Park, which has a splendid lake trail. Unfortunately, you won’t have time to complete the 14-mile looped route. Still, you can explore the area via a shorter course, like Cresta Blanca.
If you don’t feel like taking a walk, visit one of the wineries or cellars here instead. Nottingham Cellars, Fenestra Winery, and Retzlaff Vineyards are just a few that hold tastings. Many wineries also serve delicious food made with organic, local produce, so enjoy brunch in Livermore Valley before continuing your road trip.
Columbia State Historic Park
Hit the road again, this time for the day’s longest drive. In 2 hours or less, you’ll arrive at the preserved gold-rush era town, known as Columbia State Historic Park. If you’ve ever wondered what life was like in California in the 1850s, you can now experience it.
The town reenacts what life was like during this historical period with tours, stagecoach rides, and gold panning activities. It’s just a 15-minute drive from Montezuma, making it a quick detour from the highway.
From Columbia State Historic Park, head south again on the highway and drive for 90 minutes to Tuolumne Grove. This giant sequoia grove sits on the western outskirts of the park and while it’s not as big as Mariposa Grove, it’s a convenient stop-off to end day one.
Explore the area via the short 2.80-mile (4.5 km) Tuolumne Grove hike, passing through the famous Tunnel Tree, various sugar pines, and giant sequoias.
Crane Flat Lookout
Depending on the time you finish at Tuolumne Grove, you might be able to catch the sunset at Crane Flat Lookout, next to Tuolumne Grove. There is a 2.8-mile (4.5km) hike out and back to the viewpoint, but if you have a 4WD you will likely be able to drive 90% of the way up. From the top, you’ll enjoy a 360-degree view of Yosemite, a magnificent way to end the first day of your road trip.
Waking up in Groveland, you’ll be just an hour away from the top Yosemite attractions. Today, explore Yosemite Valley and the surrounding areas, ending the day with an unforgettable sunset experience. After sundown, stay overnight in the park or head back to The Groveland Hotel.
From Tuolumne Grove, continue towards Yosemite. After around 25 minutes, turn onto Wawona Road for the first official Yosemite attraction, Tunnel View. You’ll find this iconic viewpoint just before entering the Wawona tunnel.
On the right-hand side, you’ll see an incredible vista of all the park’s significant peaks, El Capitan, Half Dome, and Sentinel Dome. Either stop for a few minutes to admire the view or follow the short 2-mile (3.2 km) Artist Point trail from Tunnel Point.
Yosemite Valley & Falls
A short 15-minute drive east of Tunnel View will bring you to Yosemite Valley. There are various hiking trails here, but the biggest attraction in the area is Yosemite Falls. There are two falls, the upper and the lower, with separate paths leading to each.
If you’re not in a rush and fancy a challenging but rewarding hike, choose the 7.5-mile (12.2 km) Yosemite Falls Trail. Or, if you want to conserve your energy, take the 1 mile (1.9 km) Lower Yosemite Falls trail instead. This gentle flat route will bring you close to the lower fall in about 30 minutes.
Drive a short 2.5 miles east from Yosemite Valley to the iconic Mirror Lake. Park just over the bridge at Merced River and take the short 2-mile (3.2 km) trail from North Pines Campground to this popular attraction.
The lake is famous for its mirror-like water, reflecting the surrounding trees and mountains. However, the ambiance here is exceptionally tranquil, too. So, if it’s not too busy, you can enjoy some meditative moments by the water. Or, feast on a picnic with a view in one of the shaded areas.
One of the top benefits of staying overnight at Yosemite is being able to visit the best sunset spot in the park, Glacier Point. From the top of the 7,214 feet, 2,200-meter glacier, you’ll enjoy splendid views of Yosemite Falls, Nevada Falls, Half Dome, and much more.
If you’ve got the energy and the time, hike the 4.8-mile (7.7 km) trail up to the mountain from Yosemite Valley. Otherwise, drive to the viewpoint by heading back to Wawona Tunnel and turning left at Glacier Point Road Junction. The drive will take around 45 minutes so ensure you arrive ahead of sunset.
Spend your last day exploring the north of the park before making your way back to San Francisco, incorporating a couple of stop-offs.
Tuolumne Meadows & Lembert Dome
Tuolumne Meadows is a 1.5-2 hour drive from Groveland. These picturesque meadows in the north of the park sit at an elevation of 8,600 feet with giant peaks like Lembert Dome as a backdrop. You can stroll through the fields, refresh in the river, or simply enjoy the peace and quiet of this serene off-the-beaten-path spot.
A short 10-minute drive from Tuolumne Meadows is Gaylor Lakes, another tranquil area free from tourist crowds. Hike the blissful 3-mile (5 km) trail that runs alongside the lake and then up to the peak. Once you reach the top, you’ll experience a breathtaking perspective of the lakes below and the mountains in the distance.
Hetch Hetchy Valley
Now it’s time to leave the park and begin your journey back to San Francisco. On the way, take a detour to Hetch Hetchy Valley by turning off for Evergreen Road, just before Rush Creek.
Hetch Hetchy is a glacier valley and reservoir that is beautiful to visit any time of the year. The reservoir is used to supply water to San Francisco. So, unfortunately, you cannot canoe or kayak in these beautiful waters. Still, that doesn’t mean you cannot admire it on land, so take one of the short hikes here, such as the 2-mile (3.2 km) Lookout Point trail.
From Hetch Hetchy, drive for another 2.5 hours until you reach the vibrant town of Modesto. Take a leisurely late lunch in one of the top-quality eateries, stretch your legs walking down the pretty tree-lined streets, and enjoy a spot of shopping at Vintage Faire. Once you’ve had enough of this pleasant town, embark on the journey’s final stretch. You’ll have a 1.5 to 2-hour drive back to San Francisco from Modesto.
Other Places to Stop Between San Francisco and Yosemite
Because there is so much cool stuff to see and do in between these two California destinations, we want to give you a few more options. So here are a couple of other places you might like to add to your itinerary.
River Journey Adventures California Rafting
If you’re an adrenaline seeker and not tired after 3 days of exploring Yosemite, head to River Journey Adventures California Rafting on the way home. The adventure company runs rafting trips from May to September and rents kayaks, SUPs, and tubes. Find them in Knights Ferry, a town you’ll pass on this San Francisco to Yosemite National Park drive.
Lodi Wine County
Although you may not associate wine-hopping with a trip to Yosemite, you’ll be keen to learn about Lodi Wine County if you’re a wine enthusiast. The wine region consists of three wineries that run tours and tastings for visitors to try the delicious wines of the Lodi Appellation. Stopping off at Bokisch Vineyards, Klinker Brick, and Harney Lane on your way back to San Francisco makes for a fun and relaxing end to the trip.
San Francisco to Yosemite Trip FAQs
If you were to drive from San Francisco to Yosemite directly, it would take between 3 and 4 hours, depending on traffic. However, the best route from San Francisco to Yosemite is one where you incorporate plenty of stop-offs.
By following this itinerary, it will take longer to reach the park. Still, the drive will be much more enjoyable, and you’ll have plenty of breaks and short walks to re-energize and stretch your legs.
While it is possible to visit Yosemite in a day, you’ll spend 6 to 7 hours driving from San Francisco and back. So even if you leave early, your time in the park will be limited, meaning you’ll have to stick with the centrally located attractions.
We recommend staying for longer than a day, if possible. With two days, you can explore at a leisurely pace and fit in a magnificent Yosemite sunrise and sunset. Or, if you decide on a three-day trip, you’ll have an entire day in the park, plus extra, and can get off the beaten track and visit other gems.
Now you know what to do in Yosemite, you’ll need to book somewhere to stay. Groveland is a popular base for road trippers heading to Yosemite from San Francisco. It’s close to the western entrance, the nearest park entry from San Francisco, and approximately one hour away from many Yosemite attractions.
Groveland is also one of the best places to stay in Yosemite as it’s cheaper than staying within the national park and has more amenities. Thanks to the many coffee shops, burger bars, and pizza joints, you’ll have all your meals covered in Groveland. Here are the top picks for accommodation in Groveland:
All Seasons Groveland Inn: This historic inn has the perfect blend of vintage and contemporary, resulting in a luxurious bed and breakfast with cozy cabin-style rooms with fireplaces and sleek bathrooms with spa bathtubs.
The Groveland Hotel: This 3-star hotel has quirky rooms, individually decorated for a personal experience. On-site, you can enjoy a refreshing drink on the patio after a long day of driving and exploring.
Berkshire Inn: This cozy inn has traditionally decorated rooms with private entrances, ensuite bathrooms, and mountain views. But the highlight is their impressive breakfast spread with delicious homemade bread.