9 Best Stops on a San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip


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As two of the most famous locations in California, you’ve likely spent a lot of time researching what to do in San Francisco and Yosemite. But what about the time in between? Sure, it’s a fairly quick drive that could be knocked out in an afternoon, but if you’re willing to make a longer day out of it, there’s plenty to do and see along the road.

From Bay Area shopping to valley wineries to historic landmarks, the drive from San Francisco to Yosemite is littered with worthwhile detours. Check out our favorite stops and make the most of your San Francisco to Yosemite road trip.

Planning a San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip

The drive from San Francisco is fairly easy and the roads are well cared for. You’ll start off driving through the East Bay, so be prepared for lots of traffic. In fact, if at all possible, avoid leaving during commute hour as traffic around the area gets really bad between 8-10 AM and 4-6 PM.

When you get about two hours in, you’ll hit some winding mountain roads that take you into Yosemite, but they are well paved and easy to navigate so long as you don’t hit the gas too hard. Speaking of gas—there’s about an hour stretch between Oakdale and Groveland that doesn’t have any gas stations. But as long as you plan for that, you’ll be good to go.

El Capitan in Yosemite National Park
El Capitan in Yosemite National Park

The most direct route from San Francisco is taking I-80 E out of the city to I-580 E to CA-120 E, which leads directly to the Big Oak Flat Entrance on the western side of Yosemite.

That said, if you want to hit all the stops in this guide, the best route from San Francisco to Yosemite is to take US-101 North to get out of the city, then connect with I-580 E and onwards to CA-120 E.

If you need to rent a car for this trip you can browse Rentalcars.com which aggregates prices across a number of car rental companies. Alternatively, it is also possible to rent an RV or campervan from Outdoorsy.

How Far is San Francisco to Yosemite?

If you take I-80 E out of the city, your San Francisco to Yosemite drive time will be about 3 and a half hours. If you take US-101, that jumps up to 4 hours. Depending on which route you take, the distance from San Francisco to Yosemite is between 170 and 200 miles.

With the drive being as short as it is (at least, in California terms, where we don’t call a drive long until it’s over 5 hours — the LA to Yosemite drive is much longer!) it could easily be done in one go. However, there’s so much to see along the way, I recommend leaving early and making a whole day (or even two days!) out of your San Francisco to Yosemite road trip.

Yosemite National Park Entrance Sign
Yosemite National Park Entrance Sign

Best San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip Stops

Mill Valley Public Library

Perhaps a strange addition to your San Francisco to Yosemite drive, believe me when I say this is not your everyday library. Adding this to your route will take you a few miles north, but it’s worth the detour. Plus, it’ll line you up for the next location on our list.

The Mill Valley Public Library is a library, yes, but it’s so much more than that. The towering architecture and cozy fireplace are gorgeous in their own right, but the real attraction is the deck surrounded by California’s famous redwoods.

There aren’t many places where you visit a redwood grove in California without paying park entry fees, and the chance to do so in a spot as peaceful and removed as the Mill Valley Public Library is a truly spectacular experience.

Whether you spend a few hours here reading and resting up before your long drive, or just soak up the sun on the deck, this is a great way to get up-close-and-personal with trees older than the state itself.

Berkeley

As you head off on your San Francisco to Yosemite road trip, you’ll head just south of one of the East Bay’s main attractions: Berkeley, CA. Berkeley is a beloved college town known for its Northern California hippie aesthetic and dedication to all things bohemian.

If you don’t have a chance while you’re in SF to do a full-day trip to Berkeley, it’s worth at least stopping by on your way out. Telegraph Ave. is littered with thrift stores, used book stores, a local game store, bars, cafes, and of course, home to Berkeley’s famous ice cream sandwich shop, CREAM.

Start at the intersection of Telegraph Ave. and Bancroft Way and just walk south until you’ve seen (and shopped) enough!

Lake Chabot Regional Park

A favorite of Bay Area natives, Lake Chabot Regional Park is a beautiful place to enjoy some hiking, swimming, and general lake activities on your way east.

Parking is $5 per vehicle and, once parked, you can take your time enjoying the beauty of the lake and the surrounding greenery. If you’re planning a longer visit, you can sign up for the Lake Day Tour ($10) or the guided kayak tour ($45) or even charter a boat ($120)!

Alternatively, pack yourself a picnic and just enjoy some fresh air alongside a stunning lake to break up your San Francisco to Yosemite National Park drive. 

Pedestrian bridge crosses Lake Chabot
Pedestrian bridge crossing Lake Chabot

San Francisco Premium Outlets

For a very different Californian experience, either instead of or in addition to your Lake Chabot visit, head over to the San Francisco Premium Outlets. Strangely named, as they are actually located in Livermore, CA, these outlets offer San Francisco shopping at a fraction of the price.

With far too many outlet stores to list here, you can find everything from Adidas to Gucci to Yankee Candle. This outdoor outlet mall is a great way to get any of the styles you saw in San Francisco without having to spend your entire vacation budget.

Plus, there are tons of restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat or stock up on snacks for your drive.

Wente Vineyards

While Napa and Sonoma are famous for their Californian wines, Livermore has slowly been growing in popularity for those interested in equally delicious wines without the crowds of the more famous locales. If you haven’t had a chance to revel in the California wine tasting experience, stop by Livermore’s wine region on your way out.

Wente Vineyards is a personal favorite where you can not only enjoy a delicious tasting, but can check out their 18-hole golf course. Their standard seated tasting runs $30-40 per person, but if you’re looking for something more luxurious, they offer a food and wine pairing tasting for $65, a reserve tasting for $85, and a library tasting for $60.

Reservations are not required, but highly encouraged to ensure you get a seat.

Vineyards in Livermore
Vineyards in Livermore

Sons Farm Fresh Fruit Stand

After Livermore, the drive from San Francisco to Yosemite gets a little… well, I’ll be honest: boring. Any drive through Central California tends to be lacklustre, especially compared to the coastal cities you’re leaving and the stunning National Park you’re driving towards.

That said, there is one undeniable perk to Central California: the fruit stands. There are few other states in America that can boast nearly year-round access to fresh berries, mouth-watering peaches, and true California-grown avocados.

As you pass through Oakdale on your San Francisco to Yosemite road trip, make sure to stop at Sons Farm Fresh Fruit Stand to fill up on delicious, locally grown, California produce.

Columbia State Historic Park

In the last hour of your San Francisco to Yosemite drive, take a small detour north to visit Columbia State Historic Park for a snapshot of Gold Rush-era California. What Colonial Williamsburg is to the East Coast, Columbia State Historic Park is to California.

The entire town is built to model what 1850s architecture looked like and all the staff double as re-enactment actors so when you step on site, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to the days of the California Gold Rush.

In addition to learning a healthy dose of local state history, you’ll be able to peruse museums, shop at historic-themed stores, pan for gold, or even make your own candles. The best part? Entry to the park is entirely free!

Columbia State Historic Park
Columbia State Historic Park

Priest Station Café

Just before you head up the mountain and into Yosemite National Park, stop in Big Oak Flat for a bite to eat at Priest Station Café. Deceptively close to the highway, this restaurant might not look like much, but it serves absolutely delicious food and provides an unreal view of the rolling hills leading into Yosemite.

If you time it right, the deck offers an unbeatable sunset viewing opportunity. In addition to killer food and stunning views, Priest Station Café has a rich history deeply connected to the growth and development of Yosemite National Park as it originated as a miner’s supply store owned and operated by the wife of Yosemite’s first park commissioner in 1853.

Iron Door Saloon

Just 30 minutes before you arrive in Yosemite you’ll pass through the small, historic town of Groveland, CA. The town is pretty small without all that much to offer, but it is home to some truly historic California landmarks, including Iron Door Saloon.

Built in 1852, the Iron Door Saloon is the only historic building in the country built out of granite, as opposed to the more common construction material of the time, slate. In addition to simultaneously serving as the county’s post office from 1863-1880, the Iron Door Saloon (then called Granite Store) is the oldest continuously operating saloon in California.

Not only can you get a drink here, but you can trace bullet holes from centuries past, peruse antique gold mining equipment, and check out photos of the famous John Muir enjoying the area.

Where to Stay Near Yosemite National Park

When going on a road trip from San Francisco to Yosemite, you’re going to need to find a great place to stay near the Park entrance. If you’re looking for a suitable accommodation option in, make sure to have a look at these suggestions:

Little Valley Inn – Situated in the town of Mariposa within spitting distance of the park entrance, this lovely inn is the perfect place to base yourself when exploring this iconic national park. They have a number of clean and comfortable rooms available and there is also a hearty buffet breakfast on offer each morning. Click here to see their availability

Mariposa Lodge – Another well-reviewed accommodation option located in Mariposa, this lodge makes for a perfect base for exploring Yosemite National Park. They have countless lovely rooms available, an on-site swimming pool and they even allow pets. Click here to see their availability

Private Rental – Finding a private vacation rental is another fantastic accommodation option in Yosemite. There are a number of fantastic options available – like this cosy hilltop cabin – you’re sure to find something that suits your travel style and needs. Click here to browse Yosemite private rentals

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Yosemite hotels!

Yosemite's Famous Rock Formations
Yosemite’s Famous Rock Formations

After Groveland, it’s just half an hour before you hit the Big Oak Flat Entrance and your San Francisco to Yosemite road trip is complete!

Are you planning to drive from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park? Have any questions about this road trip? Let us know in the comments!

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Sarah is a writer for The World Was Here First who has spent over a decade traveling the world and writing stories inspired by the people and places she encounters along the way. She is an avid adventurer who is always seeking new opportunities to expand her worldview and, thus, her writing.

Comments

  1. Great article! Especially enjoyed the mention of Sons Fresh and the fruit stands along Highway 120. We hope you’ll come back through this way and visit us in Escalon (just a few miles from Oakdale). All the fruit stands along this corridor are great and all have a different vibe.
    We are Zinc House Farm, just west of Escalon. We are the only “farmstand” along Highway 120. Our 5-acre organic farm supplies our farmstand and we are the only ones on the highway that operate in this way. Our vision is to become a destination for people interested in agritourism. We are promoting agriculture and education regarding where food comes from.
    Currently we are in the middle of constructing a winery, tasting room, commercial kitchen and event area for our visitors to have a great experience in an area that is lacking in this type of venue.
    We hope you’ll be back this way soon and would love to meet with you!

    Reply

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