California has plenty of fun road trip destinations without the state itself, but what if you’re looking for a little glitz and glam on your next vacation? That’s why a San Francisco to Las Vegas road trip is the perfect one to go on. You’ll see some of the best parts of California, visit stunning national parks, and end up in the never-sleeping Sin City.
Many people don’t realize how easy it is to drive to Las Vegas from San Francisco and end up flying, but I highly recommend going via car if you have the time. I’ve road-tripped all around California over the years and am always finding a new area to explore. In fact, it’s one of my favorite areas to drive around in the country, and I’ve been to quite a few states.
If you don’t know where to start, this article will help answer any questions you might have about going on a road trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas. I also include a helpful map so you can visually see your stops, list all my favorite areas to visit, and even recommend some good places to stop for the night so you don’t do too much driving.
Tips for a San Francisco to Las Vegas Drive
Planning a trip of this magnitude can be a pain; that’s why I’ve compiled a few tips to keep top of mind when planning your road trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas. These key insights will not only help you plan a scenic journey but also ensure a successful drive from the Golden City to Sin City.
How Long Is the Road Trip From San Francisco to Las Vegas?
Your trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas will vary in length depending on the route you take, the traffic conditions, the stops you want to make, and how much time you spend at each stop.
The most direct route takes you via Interstate 5 and then Interstate 15. It covers about 600 miles and typically takes around eight to ten hours of driving time. However, you should keep in mind that this is without factoring in any breaks or stops along the way.
If you choose to take the more scenic route through Yosemite National Park with additional stops, the total travel time increases significantly. I highly recommend that you plan for at least a few days up to a week on the road to fully enjoy the journey, explore the best attractions, and take in the sights along the route.
Can You Drive From San Francisco to Las Vegas in One Day?
It is possible to drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas in one day, but it would be a long and tedious trip because of the distance. Remember that if you take the direct route, you’ll cover nearly 600 miles without stopping to rest, eat, or go sightseeing.
Driving this distance in one day would mean spending a significant amount of time behind the wheel, which only leads to fatigue and poses safety concerns. Before deciding to drive for almost half the day, it’s important to consider your comfort and capability for long drives and prioritize safety.
Personally, I would do this road trip to Las Vegas in three full days.
What’s the Best Time To Do a San Francisco to Las Vegas Road Trip?
The best time to do a San Francisco to Las Vegas road trip depends on your preferences and what you want to experience during your trip. Summer brings scorching temperatures, and it is unpleasant to visit desert areas like Death Valley and Red Rock Canyon. Believe me – I was last at Death Valley National Park in the winter, and it was almost 100!
On the contrary, bitterly cold winter temperatures make it impossible to explore places in mountainous areas like the Tioga Pass, as they will be closed.
Ultimately, the best time to go on a road trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas is in the spring and fall. During this time, temperatures are mild and pleasant, and there are plenty of things to do. Blooming wildflowers in spring and the vibrant fall foliage also add to the scenic natural beauty.
Where To Fly In and Out of for Your San Francisco to Las Vegas Road Trip
To start your San Francisco to Las Vegas road trip, you’ll likely have to fly into San Francisco International Airport (SFO). It’s a major international airport that offers a wide range of domestic and international flights, making it a convenient starting point for your trip.
At the end of your Las Vegas road trip from San Francisco, you’ll fly out of McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas. The city is a major travel destination and entertainment hub, which is why LAS offers numerous flights to various destinations across the country.
Make sure to reserve your rental car ahead of time! I love using Discover Cars for my trips.
San Francisco to Las Vegas Road Trip Itinerary
Here is a list of the scenic stops I recommend for your road trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas. Feel free to add or remove any of these pit stops to correspond with how much time you have and the sights you’d like to see.
- Yosemite National Park
- Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias
- Mono Lake
- Mammoth Lakes
- Sierra National Forest
- Kings Canyon National Park
- Sequoia National Park
- Death Valley
- Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
- Seven Magic Mountains
- Hoover Dam
San Francisco to Las Vegas Road Trip Map
13 Stops on a San Francisco to Las Vegas Road Trip
There are plenty of scenic spots and sightseeing opportunities between San Francisco and Las Vegas. Here are my 13 favorite spots that you should visit during your road trip.
1. Oakland, California
Located across the bay from San Francisco, Oakland has diverse cultural scenery, beautiful waterfront parks like Lake Merritt, and historic neighborhoods. This vibrant city is an ideal place to make your first stop, as it has a variety of clothing boutiques, restaurants, bars, and art galleries. I first visited the area when my friend lived here for a bit, and I loved walking around the lake and then getting Thai food for lunch.
Oakland was initially inhabited by Costanoan Native Americans during the time of Spanish exploration in the 19th century. That is why the city has an abundance of restored Victorian-style architecture and Art Deco movie theaters, which rose in popularity in the early 20th century.
If you are looking for things to do, there are plenty of things to do in Oakland. Take some time to enjoy leisurely strolls or hikes through giant redwoods at Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park. If you’re an animal lover, head to the Oakland Zoo, home to over 850 species of native and exotic animals.
2. Modesto, California
This central California city is known for its agricultural heritage, so it’s worth a stop when driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas. You can read up on local history at the McHenry Museum, enjoy walking through scenic parks, and experience a bit of small-town charm. Although it’s a quaint town, Modesto offers many modern amenities, which is why it’s among the best places to live in the United States.
Modesto is surprisingly more famous for being the birthplace of renowned filmmaker George Lucas, who is responsible for major movie franchises like Star Wars and Indiana Jones. That’s why you’ll find several cinemas in this town, including the State Theater of Modesto and the Brenden Theaters.
You’ll find plenty to do here. Modesto offers museums, art galleries, and amusement parks that are worth exploring. Another must-see is the Modesto Certified Farmers’ Market, which is open on Thursdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Here, you’ll find numerous vendors selling artisanal goods, ranging from street food to candles, pet products, fresh fruits, and vegetables.
Another fun idea is driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles if you want a shorter trip.
3. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is a natural wonder characterized by towering granite cliffs, lush meadows, cascading waterfalls like Yosemite Falls, and endless outdoor activities. This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts outstanding scenery across its varied landscapes. You can go from high snow-capped peaks to wild forests, lakes, and waterfalls all in one day.
Thanks to its rich human history and natural wonders like sequoia trees, Yosemite National Park was established in 1890 by an act of Congress. Efforts made by naturalist John Muir and magazine writer and editor Robert Underwood Johnson are among the top reasons for the park’s establishment.
Many people take a road trip from Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park, and it’s not hard to see why. In Yosemite, you’ll have tons of things to see and do. A full-day Yosemite National Park tour will guide you through sites like the Tuolumne Grove, the Half Dome, and Yosemite’s natural landmarks such as El Capitan.
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. Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias
Located within Yosemite National Park, Mariposa Grove is home to over 500 mature giant sequoias, which are some of the largest trees in the world. These include the famous Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree. Two of the trees in Mariposa Grove are among the world’s largest giant sequoias, so don’t forget to take photos.
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is the first place in the world to be set aside for preservation and recreational use. Most of the trees in the grove are over 2,000 years old, so you’ll definitely want to see this on your road trip to Las Vegas from San Francisco.
The most famous giant sequoias include the Washington Tree, which is the largest tree in the grove, and the second largest, the Grizzly Giant. If you’re looking for the tallest tree in the grove, look out for the Columbia Tree, standing at 285 feet tall.
Take a Yosemite highlights tour and explore the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias in an air-conditioned vehicle. This tour has multiple stops, including must-see attractions within the park, such as Bridalveil Falls, the Turtleback Dome, and Glacier Point.
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.
You may also be interested in a San Francisco to San Diego road trip.
5. Mono Lake, California
Witness unique sights at Mono Lake, an ancient saltwater lake with surreal limestone formations called tufa towers. Spend time bird-watching endemic species, such as California gulls and eared grebes. The lake is situated in Mono County, and it was formed about 760,000 years ago after an eruption of the Long Valley Caldera – talk about a natural relic!
Marvel at the freshwater sourced from melting ice caps atop the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. The white-washed tufa towers are also a sight to behold. They contain calcareous (calcium carbonate) deposits, which happens when freshwater flows down through lake rocks and saline lake water.
Love national parks? You’ll love going on a San Francisco to Yosemite road trip.
6. Mammoth Lakes, California
Nestled in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, Mammoth Lakes has year-round outdoor activities for every thrill-seeking adventurer. While I love going on a Lake Tahoe road trip from LA, this is an equally stunning one.
In winter, it’s a ski and snowboard destination with stunning backdrops of snow-capped peaks. During warmer months, Mammoth Lakes are ideal for hiking, fishing, rock climbing, and enjoying lush alpine beauty.
For those fascinated by history, Mammoth Lakes won’t disappoint. Their history can be traced back to a handful of miners who discovered gold deposits near the site. By the 1870s, word had gotten out, and a gold rush began. It wasn’t until the 1890s that Mammoth Lakes transformed from a mining outpost into the outdoor recreational hub we see today.
An equally stunning trip is driving from San Francisco to Big Sur.
7. Sierra National Forest
Encompassing a diverse range of landscapes, the Sierra National Forest offers alpine lakes, towering forests, and stunning mountainous vistas. It’s a haven for outdoor enthusiasts looking for hiking, camping, and water activities.
Located on the west side of the central Sierra Nevada mountain range, the site was home to the Native American people for at least 13,500 years. The geology of the Sierra National Forest is dominated by gigantic bedrock and volcanic rock, while the ecosystem supports trees like oak woodlands and Giant Sequoias.
You’ll find several hiking trails and lakes to explore. Some wildlife to keep your eyes open for include the Pacific fisher, mountain yellow-legged frogs, and slender salamanders.
Make sure to reserve your rental car ahead of time! I love using Discover Cars for my trips.
8. Kings Canyon National Park
Famous for its deep glacier-carved canyons, Kings Canyon National Park boasts impressive viewpoints, cascading waterfalls, and Giant Sequoia groves. While this is one of the least visited parks in the state, I think it’s a really unique place to stop. It’s a paradise for avid hikers and nature lovers seeking an escape into alpine scenery.
The park also has an impressive history. In 1940, former President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress created a new national park that included the glacially-formed Kings Canyons. As it is today, Kings Canyon National Park is a result of a merger with the General Grant National Park.
Begin your exploration of the national park at the Kings Canyon Visitor Center, where you can purchase maps, books, and wilderness permits. You’ll also find ranger programs that give insights into the history and ecosystem of the area. I always start at visitor centers to confirm the hikes I want to do are safe at that time, as sometimes they might be unstable if they just had a storm pass through.
9. Sequoia National Park
Home to the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest tree by volume, Sequoia National Park showcases the towering Giant Sequoias along with dramatic landscapes. These range from caves to alpine lakes, giant boulders, and pristine wilderness.
Established on September 25, 1890, Sequoia National Park is the second oldest national park in the United States after Yellowstone National Park and is well worth a visit. The park was created with the intention of protecting the Giant Sequoias from logging. It was the first national park established to protect a living organism.
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are jointly managed by the National Park Service. They offer a range of vegetation, from woodlands to alpine forests. These ecosystems support various wildlife, such as black bears, coyotes, and woodpeckers. In addition to wildlife spotting, you can enjoy hiking the Morro Rock Trail, driving through the Tunnel Log, and exploring the Crystal Cave.
10. Death Valley, California
One of the hottest and driest places on Earth, Death Valley features vast salt flats, unique rock formations like Artist’s Palette, and mesmerizing desert landscapes. These include Badwater Basin, which is the lowest point in North America (I recommend visiting and getting a picture with the sign, as I did above).
Known for the highest temperatures ever recorded in the world, Death Valley got its name from a group of European Americans who were seeking the gold fields of California. The area saw numerous towns spring up between the late 19th and 20th centuries, although they were short-lived.
Some of my favorite spots in Death Valley include the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Zabriskie Point, and the Ubehebe Crater. I also recommend hiking trails like the Mosaic Canyon Trail and historical sites like the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns.
I was last here in March, and even then, temperatures were in the 90s! If you plan on hiking, you’ll want to start as early as possible and bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat, as there’s little shade in the area.
Love this itinerary? You’ll also want to check out the scenic drive from San Francisco to Seattle.
11. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Located just outside Las Vegas, this area boasts dramatic red rock formations, scenic driving routes, and hiking trails that showcase the stunning geology of the Mojave Desert. The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is famous for its vibrant red cliffs made of Aztec Sandstone. This is a popular day trip from Las Vegas, and I’ve done it before when I need a break from the glitz of the city.
The geological history of Red Rock Canyon will leave you in awe. About 600 million years ago, this land was under a deep ocean basin, with its coast in present-day Western Utah. Limestone and dolomite accumulated in this basin, leaving fossilized sea life in the sandstone.
There are a number of hiking trails in Red Rock Canyon that take you through the rugged red landscapes, creeks, and cliffs boasting historical rock art. Again, I recommend starting your hike early since the desert’s heat can be relentless.
12. Seven Magic Mountains, Las Vegas
Add some color to your trip by making a stop at this modern art installation in the desert. The Seven Magic Mountains consist of vibrant stacked boulders that contrast with the surrounding landscape, creating a captivating and Instagram-worthy sight.
Created by famed Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, the Seven Magic Mountains consist of seven dayglow totems reaching about 30 to 35 feet. The towers were built in stages from December 2015. Since then, Seven Magic Mountain has hosted over two million visitors, and for good reason.
I last visited this about four years ago, and at that point, it was pretty crowded (as you can see from the photo above). My best tip is to go early in the morning if you want a picture without anyone else in it. While it is fun to see, it’s a pretty quick stop because there’s not much to do after you walk around and take photos.
Another way to see these colorful installations is via a guided Magic Mountains tour that also takes you to the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.
Want a longer trip? Check out this California to Arizona road trip itinerary.
13. Hoover Dam, Nevada
Last but certainly not least, is a marvel of engineering. The Hoover Dam straddles the Colorado River on the border of Nevada and Arizona. You can take guided tours to learn about its construction and the role it plays in water management and power generation.
Hoover Dam is famous for its cameo in the movies “Transformers (2007)” and “San Andreas (2015)”, but there’s more to it than what meets the eye. The dam was the largest in the world in 1935 after its construction, standing as tall as a 60-story building.
Take an ultimate Hoover Dam tour on your San Francisco to Las Vegas road trip to fully immerse yourself in the majesty of this architectural marvel. You’ll get to walk along the spectacular dam while your knowledgeable guides share stories of its construction, as well as popular figures who had a hand in the building of the dam.
3-Day San Francisco to Las Vegas Drive Itinerary
To make things a bit easier for you, I’ve compiled a 3-day itinerary from San Francisco to Las Vegas. This itinerary can easily include all the stops mentioned above; however, I only cover the most popular attractions along the way.
Day 1: San Francisco to Yosemite National Park
Depart from San Francisco early in the morning to avoid traffic. Drive across the bay to Oakland, where you can stop for coffee, snacks, or breakfast at Buttercup on Broadway Street. Continue east and make a lunch stop in Modesto. Downtown offers numerous grub spots, such as Fuzio Universal Bistro for pizza or sandwiches.
Afterward, get back on the road and enter Yosemite National Park through the Big Oak Flat Entrance. Make a stop at Tunnel View for your first glimpse of the iconic Yosemite Valley, then explore the area by visiting Yosemite Falls and taking a short hike to Mirror Lake.
Where to Stay: Located in El Portal, Yosemite View Lodge provides an affordable stay with multiple pools, an onsite restaurant, and gorgeous river and mountain views. (Rates start at $175 per night)
Day 2: Yosemite to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks
From your accommodation in Yosemite Valley, drive south through the Sierra National Forest to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. At Kings Canyon, you can visit Grant Grove to admire the General Grant Tree and walk the short Big Stump Basin Loop Trail.
Continue to Sequoia National Park nearby to see the world’s largest tree by volume, the General Sherman Tree. I suggest you take the scenic drive along Generals Highway, stopping at viewpoints like the Lost Grove and exploring short trails like the Big Baldy Ridge Trailhead.
Where to Stay: Fresno is the largest town close to Sequoia National Park, so staying at Sonesta ES Suites makes the most sense. The hotel offers modern rooms with a fully equipped kitchen, an outdoor pool, a hot tub, and a fitness center. (Rates start at $142 per night)
Day 3: Sequoia National Park to Las Vegas
Before getting back on the road, take some time to enjoy the serene morning in the Sequoia forest. Drive back through the Generals Highway to leave the parks. Head east to explore the unique desert landscape and salt flats in Death Valley.
Popular spots for sightseeing in Death Valley include the Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point, and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Before you arrive in Sin City, make sure you make a stop at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which is about a 30-minute drive outside Las Vegas.
Upon your arrival in Las Vegas, drop off your rental car if needed and explore the city’s attractions. Visit the Seven Magic Mountains art installation for a great photo-op, then take a tour of Hoover Dam for more Insta-worthy photos and a bit of a history lesson.
Where to Stay: There are plenty of places to stay in Las Vegas, but a fun one is Treasure Island Hotel & Casino. You’ll have lots to do between the hotel’s swimming pools, theater, casino, and the Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. museum. (Rates start at $126 per night)
If you’d like to take on an extended version of this journey, check out my Los Angeles to Grand Canyon road trip.
You’ll love all these stops to make on your San Francisco to Las Vegas road trip.