10 Stunning Stops on a Los Angeles to Yosemite Road Trip

los angeles to yosemite road trip
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When I started my first travel website, I visited California frequently. While I’ve been to many amazing places, a Los Angeles to Yosemite road trip is one of the best ways to see this stunning state. Everyone should take this trip at least once, as you’ll get to see some of the best oceanside towns and visit small towns along the way. This drive is also the perfect way to get out of busy LA and relax a bit.

One of the reasons I love going on a road trip from Los Angeles to Yosemite is that you can take multiple routes to get there, making it customizable. You can decide to go a more straightforward way, or you might take the route along the Pacific Ocean (my personal favorite way). 

After reading this article on the best places to stop when driving from LA to Yosemite and seeing my suggested itinerary for spending time there, you can decide which ones you’ll do.

Tips for a LA to Yosemite Road Trip

los angeles to yosemite drive

Here are a few tips to keep in mind while planning your Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park drive.

What is the distance from Los Angeles to Yosemite?

You could drive between Los Angeles and Yosemite in about five to six hours without stopping. But that would be boring, which is the point of this Los Angeles to Yosemite itinerary. The LA to Yosemite road trip distance is 279 miles, and there is plenty to see along the way. 

If you’re visiting California and want to make your road trip far more memorable, you should consider a slightly more roundabout trip. Take in aspects of the California coast, a few notable inland stops, and take your time to truly appreciate the gorgeous state that is The Golden State.  

This would make the Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park drive time about 12–15 hours, but with the pleasure of making a few awesome stops along the way (trust me, it’s worth it!).

Can you take a day trip to Yosemite from Los Angeles?

While technically possible, it doesn’t seem wise to do a day trip from LA to Yosemite. Many people do a LA to Joshua Tree National Park drive in a day, but it’s a shorter distance.

Yosemite is just a little too far to make it worthwhile. Regardless of the mode of transportation you use to get there, most of your day will be spent traveling. 

Even if you could magically teleport yourself from Los Angeles to the park, you’d probably want to spend more than a day exploring the country’s most impressive protected park. You’d also miss the best route to Yosemite from Los Angeles, which is along the ocean.

What is the best entrance to Yosemite from Los Angeles?

When traveling from LA, the best (and closest) entrance will be the south entrance. You will most likely pass through Fresno, regardless of which route you choose to take. You can get there via Highway 41. This entrance will give you the easiest access to Glacier Point and the Bridalveil Creek campground.

Make sure to buy your America the Beautiful pass ahead of time so you can easily enter all the national parks for a low price.

Can you drive from Yosemite to Los Angeles in the winter?

Yes, you can. But it will take a bit more planning and plenty of caution.

You may consider opting for the direct route to Yosemite from LA in the winter since the central California Valley experiences the Tule Fog. This thick fog sits at lower altitudes and can make driving particularly hazardous when going from Los Angeles to Yosemite by car.

In this case, getting to your destination sooner rather than spending more time driving would be better. 

Similar to a Lake Tahoe road trip, some roads may also be closed during the winter. The Tioga Pass Road (H120) is regularly shut down due to heavy snowfall in the winter. You may also want to avoid the 395 highway, from which the Tioga Pass road branches.

You might also consider a drive to Palm Springs from Los Angeles.

Los Angeles to Yosemite Road Trip Map

10 Stops on a Los Angeles to Yosemite Road Trip

My preference for a road trip between Los Angeles and Yosemite National Park covers a few more miles than the proverbial crow might fly. My route takes you over 825 miles but allows you to experience much more of central California. 

From the point at which you set out on your drive from LA, these are the ten essential stops you should make.

1. Charlie Brown Farms

charlie brown farms
Image via Flickr by Michael Perry

You’ll need to make your first stop at Charlie Brown Farms an hour or two out of Los Angeles if only to set yourself up with a novelty shake for the road. There’s much more to appreciate here, including a gift shop for an LA souvenir on your way out.

Don’t get too entangled in the vast collection of items and food options here, though. This is ideally a mid-morning breakfast stop (skip the breakfast in LA if you like). From this point, you’re hitting the highway. 

Things to Do

  • Relax in the garden before the long drive ahead
  • Browse the gift shop and buy vintage toys
  • Get a few take-along snacks for lunch

Where to Eat

  • Feast on some real BBQ
  • Try a few milkshake flavors
  • Gather some road supplies at the soda pop shop
  • Sample the Pennsylvania Dutch funnel cake

Make sure to reserve your rental car ahead of time! I love using Discover Cars for my trips.

2. Lake Isabella

Lake Isabella

The next welcome stop on your Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park drive is near a picturesque little lake in the Kern River Valley mountains. Stretch your legs here, and enjoy your packed lunch. 

If you have time on your Yosemite road trip from Los Angeles, you may want to pop into the Silver City Ghost Town Museum. This historic, semi-preserved town is intended to present how a California town might have looked during the gold rush days. 

There are artifacts and items from the era, and the building includes miner’s cabins, a saloon, and a rustic general store. 

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Things to Do

  • See the Nuui Cunni Native American Intertribal Cultural Center and Museum
  • Explore Silver City Ghost Town & Museum (see above)
  • Take a look at Tank Park – yes, it’s a park that features tanks!
  • Walk the Isabella Peak and Whiskey Flat Trails

Where to Eat

  • Nelda’s Diner feels classic and cozy, ideal for a road trip stop
  • 178 Bar & Grill – classic American burgers and steak

Another beautiful drive is the Los Angeles to Big Sur road trip.

3. Pismo Beach

pismo beach

Turn to the west – you’re heading to the coast for my favorite scenic drive from Los Angeles to Yosemite. Pismo Beach happens to be one of the most popular on the central California coast, and I always love stopping here. 

Dinosaur Caves Park is on the northern edge of town. A sizable concrete dinosaur sculpture with a tunnel in its tail marks it. That tunnel leads to an underground sea cave – you can’t say that’s very common. 

They also have the best sunsets here, so head to the pier around that time to get some amazing photos (and have the perfect road trip caption to go with it).

In Pismo Beach, the top of the food pyramid is seafood. Fish, crab, oysters, and clams all form the bulk of the best items on the menu at all the restaurants here. I suggest trying the clam chowder, which is a local specialty. You’ll be nice and full by the time you continue on your Los Angeles to Yosemite road trip.

Things to Do

  • Walk the tunnel at the Dinosaur Caves Park
  • Visit thousands of butterflies at Monarch Butterfly Grove
  • Walk the Pismo Beach Walkway & Boardwalk
  • Have a stroll around the Pismo Beach Pier Plaza

Where to Eat

  • Oyster Loft, for superb views of the pier with your food
  • Ada’s Fish House – try the lobster rolls with a fine cocktail
  • Ventana Grill for some Spanish influence in a stunning location

I’ve been using Roadtrippers for years to help me plan out my trips and find fun stops along the way. Use my code “BTR5QTP” for $5 off when you sign up!

4. Carmel-By-The-Sea

Carmel by the Sea

It’s well worth stopping to look around in Carmel, known for the historic Carmel Mission and the Carmel Path, a 3.5-mile hike that takes you along the water’s edge. Following the boardwalk, you will wander along Scenic Drive, starting at the north end of Carmel Beach, down to the Carmel River State Beach

Similar to a Los Angeles to Grand Canyon road trip, there are tons of photo ops here, so you’ll want to have your camera charged.

The town of Carmel is also quaint and charming. Stop in at a shop or two along Ocean Avenue for a moment. Non-drivers can taste some of the fine wine produced in the area. And if you insist on a good meal, the town offers a good range of Italian and seafood dishes.

Side note: Carmel-by-the-Sea is also the starting point for the famous 17-mile drive, which travels along the coast through Pebble Beach. This is recognized as one of the most scenic drives in the country (and a great time to play road trip trivia). The drive has a toll of $10.50, but the toll is exempt if you eat at one of the restaurants with a bill of $35 or more. 

Things to Do

  • Visit Carmel Beach, and walk the Carmel Path
  • See The Carmel Mission, which dates back to the 1700s
  • Taste a delicious Carmel Valley wine at one of the many tastings being offered at the local wineries

Where to Eat

  • The Grill on Ocean Avenue offers top steak and seafood grill dishes
  • For something more formal, try Casanova Restaurant’s Italian and French options
  • Traditional English Tea, anyone? The Tuck Box offers scones, sandwiches, and tea, of course 

For another fun trip, consider driving from Los Angeles to Sequoia National Park.

5. Monterey

monterey

Monterey is known to have one of the largest public aquariums in the world, the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You’ll love stopping here on your Los Angeles to Yosemite road trip to admire some of the local marine life. There are also plenty of stores nearby to stock up on your road trip packing list for families.

The area is also known for Cannery Row, a district that was originally the foremost sardine canning facility in the US. Today, the Row contains many tourist attractions, including hotels, restaurants, and shopping. 

Things to Do

  • Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which focuses on the local marine life of the bay
  • Discover Old Fisherman’s Wharf, a historic area with lots of shops and takeout spots
  • Take a selfie at the Monterey Moon Tree
  • Take a tour of Cannery Row

Where to Eat

  • Schooners Monterey – beautiful views and top-rated seafood on Cannery Row
  • Estéban Restaurant offers Latin-flavored delights
  • Rosine’s Restaurant specializes in Italian cuisine

6. San Jose

San Jose

The first capital of California when the state was founded, San Jose seems almost tragically forgotten today as a major city. Many people head out on a San Francisco road trip, but you’ll want to visit this city as well. The place to head to is Santana Row, a shopping and entertainment area serving downtown. 

There are great little food spots and boutique stores to service tourists and locals from nearby Silicon Valley. Be warned that some of these boutiques are quite high-end, but they’re still fun to look at on your ​​Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park road trip.

Things to Do

  • Be astounded at the size and mystery of the Winchester Mystery House
  • Take in some true history at Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
  • Visit the Japanese American Museum of San Jose with Japanese American art, history, and culture
  • See the super-large board at the Monopoly in the Park installation

Where to Eat

  • Original Joe’s San Jose is highly rated for burgers and bowls
  • Paesano Ristorante Italiano prides itself on traditional dishes
  • Smoking Pig BBQ Company for a total BBQ treat in a casual setting

Looking for another drive? You’ll love the scenic LA to SF road trip.

7. Forestiere Underground Gardens

Forestiere Underground Gardens
Image via Flickr: Scott Harrison

Forestiere Underground Gardens is a single attraction but is well worth a stop on your way past. This man-made attraction has a deep and fascinating backstory. Sicilian immigrant Baldassare Forestiere arrived in the US in 1901 with ambitions to farm citrus products.

He somehow initiated a project to construct underground caverns, forming them into garden courts, caves, and patients. Each one was created with specific Roman and Italian architectural features like arches and catacombs. 

Today, visitors can tour the caverns as a network of rooms and spaces containing some truly mind-bending marvels. Have you ever seen living trees that produce fruit but are completely underground?

Things to Do

  • Explore the unique and magnificent underground rooms and passages
  • Marvel at the fruit-producing underground trees

Where to Eat

  • Punjabi Chulla & Grill – tasty Indian cuisine for a delicious novelty
  • Huckleberry’s Breakfast & Lunch is best for a hearty breakfast
  • Ramen vs. Pho provides our Asian fusion fix via Laotian cuisine

8. Fresno

Fresno

Fresno is the fifth-largest city in California. Some assert that Fresno is the agricultural capital of the modern world. It is, therefore, somewhat of a world leader regarding farmer’s markets and local produce consumption.

One of the best places for events and nightlife, especially restaurants and nightclubs, is the Tower District

Things to Do

  • Find a moment of tranquility in the Shinzen Friendship Garden Inc.
  • Storyland is an amusement park especially great for kids
  • Pay your respects at the Veterans Memorial Museum Inc

Where to Eat

  • Pismo’s Coastal Grill is not, in fact, in Pismo but serves American seafood to rival Pismo’s best
  • Texas de Brazil – Fresno is an upscale Brazilian restaurant
  • For a fine dining, upscale experience, try The Palms

9. Yosemite Lakes

Yosemite Lakes

If you think you may have forgotten to pack anything for your extended Los Angeles to Yosemite road trip, Yosemite Lakes would be the place to stop and pick it up. The most striking thing about the area is the greenery; parks and views dominate the atmosphere here at the foot of the Sierra Nevada range. 

If you have spare time, stop in at the Coarsegold Historic Village for another look at the past, or try your hand at the nearby Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino

Things to Do

  • Yosemite Lakes Park Recreation Area
  • Coarsegold Historic Village has fun vintage stores and amusements
  • Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino

Where to Eat

  • Yosemite Grill gets the basics of American burgers and grills right
  • The Blue Heron Restaurant & Lounge offers a view over the lake and likewise great food

Leaving from SF? You can head out on a San Francisco to Yosemite road trip instead.

10. Fish Camp

California Tunnel Tree
Image via Flickr: Michael Lanyon

Welcome to the southern gateway to Yosemite. This will be as close to the gate as you might get without actually entering the park. 

Fish Camp is a wonderful full-service resort town known (at least in part) for its historic railroad. The town is very small; a recent census registered just 49 residents, although it more recently claimed to have 200 locals. 

This delightful little community offers its own variety of accommodations (with several privately owned bed and breakfasts beside the resort). Amazingly, it is well-known as one of the coolest stops in Mariposa County.

Things to Do

  • Adventure onGoat Meadow Trailhead that doubles as a tubing hill in winter
  • See Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad
  • Visit the California Tunnel Tree
  • Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza

Where to Eat

  • Jackalope’s Bar and Grill for tasty American fare
  • Tenaya at Yosemite resort has multiple dining options

Looking for another California adventure to go on? Check out this road trip from California to Arizona!

3-Day Itinerary for a Los Angeles to Yosemite Drive

Yosemite

This LA to Yosemite itinerary starts in Los Angeles, but you can also do it backward for a Yosemite to Los Angeles road trip if you’re already in that area traveling.

Day 1: Los Angeles to Pismo Beach

Driving time/distance: 6.5 hours driving time, 380 miles

The first day will be the longest driving day, so start early. Skip breakfast, avoid city traffic, and stop outside LA at Charlie Brown Farms. Pick up a packed lunch while you’re at it. 

Your next stop will be Lake Isabella, where you can get some fresh air, walk around, and have a picnic with your lunch from Charlie Brown. 

The last leg of the day is a stretch to Pismo Beach, our overnight stop. Here we can catch a sunset, eat some top-class seafood, and stroll along the plaza. 

Where to Stay: The Inn at the Cove has great modern rooms with views of the Pacific Ocean and offers free breakfast. (rates start at $340 per night; book your room on Booking.com)

Day 2: Pismo Beach to San Jose

Driving time/distance: 4 hours driving time, 233 miles

The drive is considerably shorter today, and you have the bonus of knowing you’ll end up in one of the most interesting cities in the state. 

First, you’ll start early again, especially if we want to arrive in Carmel for the 17-mile drive through Pebble Beach. Regardless, a hike along the Carmel Path is a perfect mid-morning calf stretch.

Continue to Monterey for lunch along Cannery Row, and you’ll even have time to visit the Old Fisherman’s Wharf and the Moon Tree to mark the occasion on socials!

Don’t linger too long, as San Jose still has much to see and do. At the very least, see Egypt in America at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

Where to Stay: Kasa The Row San Jose is an affordable option offering modern looks and a stylish aesthetic. (rates start at $180 per night; book your room on Booking.com)

Day 3: San Jose to Fish Camp

Driving time/distance: 4 hours driving time, 215 miles

It’s the final day of driving from Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park! Your first and only stop on our way out of San Jose is the Forestiere Underground Gardens, which will introduce a sense of mystery and wonder to your trip. You may want to spend an hour or two here, as it’s quite unlike most other regular tourist attractions.

Then, it’s on to Fresno, where you will want to arrive early enough to explore some of the above attractions. If you have kids, stop in at Storyland (just make sure to get enough road trip snacks for kids first). I also prefer to stop here for lunch, if only for the range of options compared to every other stop after this one.  

A post-lunch hour on the lake at Yosemite Lakes Park Recreation Area will be welcome. If you prefer, looking at the old west Cali Coarsegold Historic Village might fascinate you. 

Finally, you arrive at Fish Camp, with its quaint atmosphere. It’s the perfect appetizer for your longer stay within the park, just a few miles from the southern gate. Whether you stay for a few extra days or head back on your ​​Yosemite to LA road trip, it’s a beautiful area to explore.

Where to Stay: Fairfield Inn & Suites is a highly-rated offering near the city center (rates start at $170 per night; book your room on Booking.com)

You’ll love going on a Los Angeles to Yosemite road trip, whether you’re craving time at the ocean or can’t wait to get to the national park.

6 thoughts on “10 Stunning Stops on a Los Angeles to Yosemite Road Trip

  1. nilza kamansky says:

    I wish you had told us what freeways you took from los angeles to yosemite….I want to do your itinerary but not familiar with freeways. Thank you for sharing a very helpful article.

    • Marissa Pedersen says:

      Hi Nilza, the easiest way is to put all these stops into Google Maps and then you’ll have exact directions and which roads to take. I know many people won’t do all 10 stops so I leave these options for them to pick and choose and make their own itinerary. Have a great trip!

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