6 Fun Stops on a San Francisco to Sequoia National Park Road Trip

San Francisco to Sequoia road trip
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If you’ve been following me for awhile, you’ll probably notice a theme – in addition to doing general road trips, I love going on road trips to explore new national parks. The only problem with these is most parks aren’t anywhere near major cities, so it takes a bit of a drive to get there. This is also true for a San Francisco to Sequoia National Park road trip, but that’s why I’m here to help you break it up so you’re not stuck in the car all day.

I love this trip because you get a good mix of larger cities with plenty to do as well as smaller ones once you get closer to Sequoia. They’re probably all towns you’ve heard of before but don’t know exactly what to do, which is why I give you all my personalized recommendations for where to eat, where to visit, and where to stay.

With that, let’s get into all the tips you need to know when driving from San Francisco to Sequoia National Park.

Tips for a San Francisco to Sequoia National Park Drive

Sequoia National Park

Before you begin your San Francisco to Sequoia National Park drive, here are a few tips to help you prep and plan to ensure a smooth ride for everyone. If you’re new to road trip life, use my longer family road trip checklist as well.

How Long is a San Francisco to Sequoia National Park Drive?

From San Francisco to Sequoia National Park, it’ll take you about 280 miles to get there. In terms of drive time, this is just under six hours in normal traffic. It could take a lot longer if you happen to choose the wrong time of the day to drive; as we all know, traffic in California can be miserable.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do it all at once. In fact, it might be a good idea to break up the trip to enjoy more of the great towns California has to offer. See below for my recommended stops and overnights.

Side note: San Francisco offers other great road trips as well. Try this San Francisco to Big Sur Road Trip or this San Francisco to Las Vegas option.

Can You Do a Day Trip to Sequoia from San Francisco?

The relatively long drive to Sequoia National Park from San Francisco makes a day trip difficult, and I wouldn’t recommend it. Who wants to spend most of the day stuck behind the wheel?

Instead, why not break up the road trip into a few days to see a little more? I’ve added a recommended itinerary further down to help you do this.

The Best Time in the Year for an LA to Sequoia National Park Road Trip

If there’s a particularly special time to visit Sequoia National Park, it’s definitely from June to August. This would also be the best time to take on this road trip. Temperatures are moderate, there’s lots of activity in the park, and shuttles make it easy to get to the main attractions like Giant Forest, Morro Rock, and the popular campsites.

On the downside, this is probably the busiest time at Sequoia. Summer brings out everyone on vacation, but I personally just start the days early when I visit national parks in the summer to beat the crowds. I also know that I’ll have to wait longer at certain attractions, but it’s worth it to me to get the warmer weather.

Winter visits will require some extra preparation, like snow chains for your vehicle. The park will have fewer organized activities, and some areas may even be closed due to poor ground or weather conditions.

Here’s a bit more of a breakdown:

  • April to May: As the snow melts, the rivers run. As this happens, flowers begin to bloom in some regions of the park, providing a beautiful spectacle for nature lovers to witness.
  • June to August: Temperatures range from 50F through 70F+. Another bonus during the summer months is the availability of a free shuttle within the park, which takes you to some key attractions.
  • September to November: It gets colder at night, and the park’s ranger activities decrease. Some parts of the park and its facilities, like the Cedar Grove and Mineral King, reduce hours and may close down entirely towards the end of this period.
  • December to March: It’s winter! Much of the higher-lying area will be snow-covered, and several days will welcome more snow. To get to those facilities and attractions that are still open, I’d suggest you use the shuttle, as driving on snowy and icy roads can be challenging. There are daily park transit updates on which shuttles are running and to where.

San Francisco to Sequoia National Park Road Trip Map

Want a visual of what the LA to Sequoia trip entails? Take a peek at this map I have for you.

6 Stops on a San Francisco to Sequoia National Park Road Trip

San Francisco Cable Cars

As mentioned, you can drive the route from San Francisco to Sequoia National Park in one day, but I don’t recommend that at all. You would be better off planning an exciting road trip with a few stops instead, as you’ll see below.

There are multiple stops to make on a road trip to Sequoia National Park from San Francisco, but here are just six of the best (plus Sequoia itself) to pique your interest.

Some of these stops are also ideal for a Los Angeles to Sequoia National Park road trip. 

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1. Oakland

Oakland California

Oakland’s rich cultural tapestry and exciting mix of restaurants, bars, and theaters make it a fun first stop on your road trip. It also happens to be the third largest city in the Bay Area

Oakland offers a great mid-city lake setting as well as a stunning visual arts scene that includes both museums and vibrant street art. Fruitvale, the Hispanic neighborhood, offers awesome food and atmosphere. But there’s also historic Old Oakland, with lots of restored Victorian buildings.

I’ve been to Oakland several times, and two of my favorite restaurants are Homeroom for tons of creative mac and cheese options and Brotzeit Lokal for German food.

Interesting fact: Oakland is reported to have the most artists per capita for any city in the United States.

You can take a detour here on a road trip to Los Angeles from Seattle. 

2. Berkeley

UC Berkeley

The most well-known aspect of Berkeley is its university and the history of human rights activism, particularly the Free Speech Movement. The city sits on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay. Campanile (or Sather Tower) is a popular first stop for tourists.

Telegraph Avenue is a hotspot and hub for shops and restaurants. For a taste of Berkeley nature, try Tilden Park and Lake Anza, which pride themselves on their commitment to sustainability. I find these both such peaceful places, and a great stop to take a break on a drive from San Francisco to Sequoia National Park.

3. Palo Alto

Baylands Nature Preserve

Palo Alto sits in California’s Silicon Valley, home to another famous institution, Stanford University. University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto offers a mix of casual and upscale restaurants. The Baylands Nature Preserve could be a wonderful distraction for nature lovers if you have the time on your San Francisco road trip to Sequoia National Park.

If you need some supplies, drop in at the Stanford Shopping Center. Alternatively, if you’re really feeling like a tourist, take a short hike into the nearby foothills to see “The Dish,” a huge radio telescope.

If you spend the night here, check out the Shoreline Amphitheater to see if they have any concerts that night. I saw a show here years ago and loved the open-theater vibe on my San Francisco to Sequoia road trip.

4. Santa Clara

Santa Clara

Welcome to Silicon Valley! Santa Clara is a tech hub and home to the Intel Museum, a notable name in tech history. Touring the exhibits on technological milestones such as the silicon chip is well worth the time, even for casual computer users.

However, I was surprised to know this area isn’t just for tech workers – it’s actually family-friendly, too. Kids will be delighted with a stop at California’s Great America, an amusement park with over 70 rides and attractions. Younger kids will also like Planet Snoopy, especially those geared toward them. 

Pick up some fresh supplies at the Santa Clara Farmers Market, after which you might enjoy a walk through Central Park.

5. San Jose

San Jose

The city of San Jose is at the center of Silicon Valley and is known for its rich architectural history, in addition to its status as a center for technical innovation. You’ll find both Historic and contemporary buildings in the city’s central business district.

The Tech Museum of Innovation is a prominent architectural landmark that attracts tech enthusiasts. With its hands-on exhibits and state-of-the-art innovations, this museum transports visitors into a world of technology and invention. I found it an interactive stop during my Sequoia National Park road trip from San Francisco.

Another attraction I highly recommend is the Winchester Mystery House. This intriguing mansion is famous for its architectural oddities and mysterious history. Built by Sarah Winchester, the widow of the inventor of the Winchester rifle, the house is a sprawling Victorian-style mansion with numerous rooms and hallways, many of which lead to nowhere. It’s said that Sarah Winchester constructed the house in such a complex way to confuse the spirits of those harmed by the Winchester rifle.

6. Fresno

Shinzen Japanese Garden
Image Credit: Shinzen Japanese Garden

In Fresno, the Forestiere Underground Gardens is a fun attraction to start at. Created by Baldassare Forestiere over 40 years ago, this subterranean complex of courtyards and passageways was inspired by Roman catacombs. It’s a cool retreat from the California sun, showcasing unique architecture and horticulture.

For a peaceful escape within Fresno, the Shinzen Japanese Garden is ideal. This serene space embodies traditional Japanese garden aesthetics with koi ponds, bonsai trees, and arched bridges, offering a tranquil contrast to the city’s hustle and a spot for quiet reflection.

I have plenty of other SF itineraries if you feel like venturing out! You’ll love a San Francisco to Joshua Tree road trip, a Portland to San Francisco drive, or a San Francisco to San Diego road trip.

You could also do a longer trip, like a road trip from Seattle to San Diego.

Itinerary: 4-Day Road Trip from San Francisco to Sequoia National Park

San Francisco

If you’re up for a really fun-filled road trip from San Francisco to Sequoia National Park, consider organizing the car like a pro and stretching it out over four days. Here’s my suggested four-day itinerary to make your journey unforgettable.

Day 1: Oakland and Berkeley

Driving time: 40 minutes

Mileage: 18 miles

If you leave San Francisco early in the morning, you can easily fit in a few decent stops in Oakland and Berkeley. It’s a simple 12-mile trip from San Francisco to Oakland, so that first stop could be a great breakfast or brunch road picnic. 

Picnic at Lake Merritt (look out for the Oak-ness Monster!) and make a point to see the colorful and intriguing street art on offer. The rich and varied collections at the Oakland Museum of California will then pique your interest.

From there, it’s north to Berkeley for an afternoon of university-town fun. It’s only five miles from Oakland.

In Berkeley, you can tour the “Gourmet Ghetto,” climb Sather Tower, and fill your mind at Lawrence Hall of Science. You can also see the snakes at the East Bay Vivarium or taste sake at the Takara Sake Museum.

Where to Stay: After trying out the sake, I think spending the night is best. Graduate Berkeley is appropriately named, as it’s about a mile from the Berkeley campus. (Rates start at approximately $195 per night.)

Day 2: Palo Alto, Santa Clara, and San Jose

Driving time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Mileage: 60 miles

The next day, push on southwards to Palo Alto, about 40 miles (or just over an hour) on US 101. University Avenue is a great option for a late breakfast, then browse Downtown.

See “The Dish,” a giant radio telescope, and learn how it all came together at the Computer History Museum. Don’t spend too long dawdling, though, as you still have a few additional things to do today on your Sequoia National Park road trip from San Francisco.

Another 15 miles to the west – still on the 101 – is your next stop, trendy Santa Clara in the heart of Silicon Valley.

This is your opportunity to check out the Intel Museum. Thrill yourself at the 49ers Museum. Go, sports fans! After that, time to unwind with a walkabout and shopping treat at Mercado Santa Clara. Then, it’s back in the car for the final stretch of the day.

San Jose is a few minutes west, about five miles. Surprisingly, this tech town will be a bit of fun for kids traveling with you as well. They will love the Children’s Discovery Museum and perhaps even a look into the past Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum.

For your own partially envious thrill, see how the trendy spend their money at Santana Row. Then forget about it all and strengthen your love of life at the Japanese Friendship Garden.

Side note: If you are traveling with kids, remember to pack some good kids’ road trip snacks

Where to Stay: Signia by Hilton San Jose is centrally located downtown. It also has great and varied dining options. (Rates start at around $250 per night.)

Day 3: Fresno

Driving time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Mileage: 150 miles

The drive from San Jose to Fresno is a little bit longer, so it’s probably best to get a good breakfast. It will take about two-and-a-half hours via the 101, covering around 150 miles. If you need to stop for a break, Gilroy, Los Banos, and Madara are right on the route. 

Once you get to Fresno, indulge in the parks and arts to unwind from your long ride. Later in the afternoon or evening, head to one of the town’s numerous downtown bars and eateries.

  • Get an appreciation for nature’s vibrance at Roeding Park.
  • Get into some fine art discussions at Arte Americas.
  • Look into a bit of religious history at St. John’s Cathedral of Fresno.
  • Take a Kearney Mansion Museum and Gallery Tour.

Where to Stay: DoubleTree by Hilton Fresno Convention Center is in the middle of downtown and near plenty of restaurants, stores, and parks. (Rates start at about $144 per night.)

Day 4: Sequoia National Park

Driving time: 90 minutes

Mileage: 77 miles

Leaving from Fresno, it’s a quick 90-minute drive to the gates of Sequoia National Park. The reason you’ve come to Sequoia National Park will be evident from the outset. Mountains, canyons, highlands, and the famous namesake Sequoia trees await you.

Sequoia offers guided National Park hiking tours. Stargazing in Sequoia National Park is exhilarating, too, with massive skies showing off the starry galaxy in all its glory. 

One of the great things about your final destination is that you can experience a two-for-one national park adventure at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, which are only 10 miles apart. You’ll witness stunning mountains, canyons, awe-inspiring sequoia trees, and more.

Where to Stay: Lazy J Ranch Motel in Three Rivers has a peaceful and pretty lawn area, so even when you’re not in the park, you’ll feel like you’re on a getaway. (Rates start at around $200 per night.)

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