10 Terrific Stops on a San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip

San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip
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San Francisco is a fun town, with places like Chinatown with a rich history and scenic places like the famous Painted Ladies. Don’t even get me started on the food – there are so many places to choose from that it’s hard to pick a favorite. However, sometimes you need a little adventure outside of the city, which is where a San Francisco to Yosemite road trip comes in.

While you can do a Yosemite road trip from San Francisco in a day, I highly discourage it. For one, you’ll be rushed and exhausted, and for two, you’ll be missing out on so many fun stops along the way. That’s why I go into detail about all my recommended places to visit, and I’ll bet there’s at least a handful you’ve never heard of before.

This is exactly why I go on so many road trips every year – you constantly get to explore new attractions, restaurants, and more that you never would have if you just stayed around the city. You can say I’m a bit addicted to road-tripping at this point!

This article will share the best places to stop, a recommended itinerary, and where to stay on your road trip from San Francisco to Yosemite. I guarantee that you’ll love heading to this national park so much that you won’t want to come back to the city!

Tips for a San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip

Yosemite National Park

Planning on heading along Interstate 580 and California 120 to the gorgeous Yosemite National Park? You definitely should, as it’s a great road trip for couples. Well, not before you’ve read these useful tips and answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about a road trip from San Francisco to Yosemite.

Can You Drive from San Francisco to Yosemite in a Day?

Yes, driving from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park in a day is possible. It only takes around three to four hours to drive to the park without stopping. That said, it’s one of the most scenic routes in California, so not taking some pit stops along the way would be criminal. Unless you’ve organized your car incredibly well, you’ll need to take a snack break anyway.

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

How Far is the San Francisco to Yosemite Drive?

The drive from San Francisco to Yosemite is around 170 miles long if you go along the Interstate 580 highway and the California 120 highway. This is the fastest way to get from San Francisco to Yosemite, and it will take you at least three hours.

You can drive along US Highway 101 or US-101 via San Jose if you’re looking for another classic road trip. This drive is around 210 miles and will take around four hours without traffic.

What’s the Best Time of Year to Visit Yosemite?

The best time to visit Yosemite National Park is between June and September. This is when ideal temperatures, most activities, and stunning weather are in full effect. That said, with these favorable conditions come crowds of tourists and locals.

For those looking to avoid a busy park, consider visiting Yosemite between November and April, as it’s during the shoulder seasons of winter and fall. It may be colder, but the park is still idyllic.

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.

San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip Map

10 Stops on a San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip

San Francisco Cable Cars

Looking for some awesome places to stop along the way to Yosemite? Fear not; I’ve got ten fantastic pit stops for you to explore on a San Francisco to Yosemite road trip.

1. Berkeley

UC Berkeley

One of the first stops on the drive is the charming city of Berkeley, California. It’s most well known for being the home of the University of California, Berkeley campus, and for having an inviting atmosphere.

What’s more, the city has a rich history, such as being the birthplace of the 1960s Free Speech Movement. You can learn all about this at the Berkeley Freehouse, which has exhibits about Mario Savio, a prominent human rights activist in the city.

For some shopping and people-watching, visit Telegraph Avenue for some vintage clothing boutiques, bookstores, and eclectic antique shops. Getting a bit hungry? Check out Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, the city’s culinary hub, on this North Berkeley food tour.

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2. Oakland

Oakland California

Just four miles from Berkeley is Oakland, the Bay Area’s third-largest city. It’s another delightful town with a diverse cultural scene and some picturesque vistas. Consider yourself a lover of architecture? Check out the Old Oakland district, which has well-preserved Victorian buildings and some cozy cafés and boutiques. 

Prefer to get out into some nature on your road trip to Yosemite from San Francisco? Visit Lake Merritt, locally known as the “Jewel of Oakland,” for a tranquil walk along one of its many paths, or rent a paddleboat. It also has gardens where you can find succulents, bonsai trees, rhododendrons, and dahlias.

Other fantastic places to visit are the Fruitvale District, for colorful street art and Mexican cuisine; Chinatown, for bustling markets and Asian restaurants; and the Uptown District, for vibrant galleries and theaters.

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!

3. Lake Chabot Regional Park

Lake Chabot Regional Park

Next up, we’ve got a Bay Area favorite – Lake Chabot Regional Park, which you’ll want to put on your list of what to do on a drive from San Francisco to Yosemite. Why’s this? Well, it’s an absolutely stunning park that’s full of hiking trails, fishing lakes, and a marina for boating.

So, whether you want to enjoy a bit of exercise and stretch your legs after driving or bring a picnic for a leisurely lunch, it’s all accessible here. There are over 20 miles of trails connecting to Anthony Chabot Regional Park’s 70 miles of hiking paths. Then, there is also a mountain-biking loop for those adrenaline junkies. 

All in all, there is something for everyone here. What’s more, with a parking fee of only $5 per car, it’s also a relatively cheap stop.

Want another SF adventure? You’ll love driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas or driving from San Francisco to Sequoia National Park.

4. Mount Diablo State Park

Mount Diablo State Park 1

Another terrific park is Mount Diablo State Park, named after the 3,489-foot-tall mountain that it’s centered around, and you’ll want to put it on your San Francisco Yosemite itinerary. It’s another highlight of California’s natural beauty, as you can enjoy hiking, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing all inside this park. 

Hiking up to the summit of Mount Diablo can be as challenging as you want it to be. You can walk up the Mary Bowerman Interpretive Trail if you want something light. For something a bit more difficult, you can take the 7.4-mile-loop hike from Mitchell Canyon along Donner Creek and Falls Trail to the peak. 

Once at the top, you can enjoy sweeping views of Californian scenery, including the Golden Gate Bridge, the Farallon Islands, and several other peaks, before moving on during your San Francisco to Yosemite road trip.

You’ll love having these car trivia questions for your trip.

5. Stockton

Stockton California

As you exit the Bay Area, you’ll start driving through California’s Central Valley and soon reach the delightful city of Stockton. It’s almost the halfway point between San Francisco and Yosemite National Park, so it’s a great place to stop for a bite to eat and simply enjoy a fascinating city.

Stockton has a diverse population, and this is apparent in the local art, culinary, and religious scene. You can find all kinds of restaurants here with Mexican, Southeast Asian, and Filipino flavors. 

To learn more about the area’s history, check out the Haggin Museum. Prefer to peruse some art? Head to the Mexican Heritage Center & Gallery. Lastly, for a tranquil stroll, Micke Grove Regional Park has a Japanese garden, a zoo, and the three-acre Wortley Lake.

6. Modesto

Modesto, California Picnic Area

Another brilliant city in the Central Valley is Modesto, which has everything from a vibrant downtown to some terrific art galleries and museums. What’s more, it’s famous for being the birthplace of George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars franchise, so you’ll want to see this during your San Francisco to Yosemite driving.

Get a glimpse into Modesto’s past at the McHenry Mansion, an iconic Victorian mansion through which you can get guided tours. The Great Valley Museum is another splendid spot to learn about the area’s natural history and geology.

Want to enjoy some arts and culture or a bite to eat? Head to Downtown Modesto, where you’ll find the Gallo Center for the Arts, which hosts concerts and plays; Brenden Theatres for blockbuster films, and Modesto Certified Farmers’ Market every Thursday and Saturday from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Other great itineraries include a Portland to San Francisco drive and a San Francisco to Seattle road trip.

7. Oakdale

Cowboy Museum Oakdale California
Image Credit: The Cowboy Museum

Howdy, y’all, we’re coming into the Wild West. Otherwise known as the Cowboy Capital of the World, Oakdale has a proud ranching history. Annually, it hosts the Oakdale Rodeo, one of the oldest-running rodeos in the US. For a more in-depth look into this cultural heritage, check out The Cowboy Museum.

But that’s not all the city has to offer. Situated next to the Stanislaus River, it’s a fantastic spot for fishing, kayaking, and even rafting. Plus, it’s close to incredible natural beauty, such as Woodward Reservoir Park. Feeling a bit hungry on your San Francisco road trip to Yosemite? Visit Oakdale Cheese & Specialties for some delightful locally-made cheese and wine.

8. Columbia State Historic Park

Columbia State Historic Park

Moving onto another historically important pitstop – Columbia State Historic Park. It’s famous for being a Gold Rush town, as between the 1850s and the 1870s, over a billion dollars of gold was mined in the area.

Since 1945, Columbia has been a State Historic Park, so it’s literally like stepping back into the past. Whether that’s by riding in a stagecoach or visiting a historic saloon, it’s a fun way to experience the area’s history. You can also go on a daily town tour, starting at 11 a.m., if you want a more detailed understanding of its past.

Several hiking trails, overnight lodging, a museum, and picnic areas also exist.

Want to head south instead? You can go on a San Francisco to San Diego drive.

9. Groveland

Groveland California

One of the last spots on your San Francisco to Yosemite road trip is Groveland, which is close to the park’s northern entrance. It’s also a popular lodging option for many of the park’s visitors, as there are some terrific places to stay here.

It’s also got a fun atmosphere, especially on its Main Street. Here, you can find the iconic Iron Door Saloon, California’s oldest continually operating saloon. It’s been open since 1852, so it’s an entertaining spot to experience the Old West.

If you’re more interested in the history of Yosemite than cowboy saloons, pay a visit to the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum. Here, learn about the region’s indigenous tribes, the Gold Rush, and the construction of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

10. Mariposa

California State Mining and Mineral Museum
Image Credit: California State Mining and Mineral Museum

Last but not least, we’ve got the idyllic mining town of Mariposa. Given the town’s importance to the Gold Rush, it has a charming history.

You can dive into this past at the California State Mining and Mineral Museum, which has exhibits of authentic mining tools and minerals. The Mariposa Museum and History Center offers a better look into life above ground, including that of the Native American experience and how other people lived during the Gold Rush.

Need a break from all the reading? Visit Butterfly Creek Winery for some delectable wines, including local Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Zinfandel. It’s a nice opportunity to try some Mariposa County wine with stunning views.

Want a shorter trip? Check out the SF to Big Sur drive.

5-Day Itinerary for San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip

San Francisco to Las Vegas Road Trip

Want to make the most of your San Francisco to Yosemite road trip? Here’s a five-day adventure, plus magnificent places to stay for each night.

Day 1: San Francisco to Oakland

Mileage: 19 miles

Driving time: 35 minutes

Okay, so we start visiting Yosemite from San Francisco with a nice short drive from San Fran to Oakland. I highly recommend taking a detour to Berkeley, as it’s a terrific place to visit with a deep history and some fantastic restaurants to eat at. 

Plus, the short distance to cover means you can see all of the Bay Area’s delights and get a great night’s rest in Oakland. There is so much to try for dinner in the city, from bánh mìs and pho along International Boulevard to chewy hand-pulled noodles and steaming dumplings in Chinatown.

Note – if this is too short of a day for you, feel free to combine the first two days. People who fly in may want a shorter first day, which is why I included it.

Where to Stay: 

  • Oakland Marriott City Center – This hotel is ideal for exploring the city in downtown Oakland and is across the street from a subway station. (Rates start at around $149 per night) 
  • Waterfront Hotel – Overlooking Jack London Square and the harbor, this chic hotel offers convenient access to Oakland’s top attractions. (Rates start at around $134 per night) 

Day 2: Oakland to Stockton

Mileage: 136 miles

Driving time: 3 hours and 30 minutes

I hope you’re well rested because Day 2 involves the longest drive. It starts with a 30-minute drive to Lake Chabot Regional Park after you’ve fueled up in Oakland. My recommendation: try out Sequoia Diner for a delectable upscale breakfast. 

Off to Lake Chabot we go, and what a stunning first stop on Day 2. Here, you can enjoy a short hike or boat ride. Save your energy for Mount Diablo State Park, where you can hike up the peak easily after driving for an hour. 

That will stretch your legs out; you’ll need it as the last stint to Stockton will take around an hour and 30 minutes. Stockton has so much to offer, but for dinner, you can’t go wrong with El Rancho Inn Steak and Lobster House for carnivores or Cocoro Japanese Bistro for sushi lovers. 

Where to Stay:

  • Courtyard by Marriott Stockton – Enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep in this tranquil hotel with its pristine rooms and friendly staff. (Rates start at around $208 per night) 
  • Holiday Inn Express Stockton – Located on the Golden State Highway and en route to Modesto, this affordable hotel is ideal for this road trip. (Rates start at around $121 per night)

Day 3: Stockton to Oakdale

Mileage: 47 miles

Driving time: 1 hour

Day 3 is much more relaxed in terms of driving, so you can enjoy exploring Stockton at your own pace in the morning. This means you can eat your hotel breakfast without feeling rushed. Prefer to eat out? For egg dishes, you can’t go wrong with bánh mìs. Itching for something Latin American? Head to Mi Ranchito Café.

Done a bit of city-venturing and ready to get on the road? You’ll drive for around 30 minutes before reaching Modesto. Here, you can enjoy a bit of everything, whether you’re a history buff, culture vulture, or nature lover.

Downtown Modesto is the place to be for entertainment and eateries. The McHenry Museum and McHenry Mansion both offer incredible insights into the city’s past. Lastly, Tuolumne River Regional Park is an exceptional spot to get some fresh air.

The last stretch of Day 3 involves a 30-minute drive to Oakdale, where you can enjoy tons of rest. This lively city is a great way to experience the Wild West, especially if you visit the Cowboy Museum. I recommend Firenze Ristorante for dinner for classic Italian fare and House of Beef for a classic steak meal.

Where to Stay:

  • Motel 6 Oakdale –  Around 1,300 feet from the city center, this chic hotel is perfect for some rest. (Rates start at around $85 per night)
  • Holiday Inn Express Oakdale – Being just off the highway and with free continental breakfast, this reasonable hotel is ideal for road-tripping. (Rates start at around $141 per night)

Day 4: Oakdale to Groveland

Mileage: 67 miles

Driving time: 1 hour and 33 minutes

Day 4 involves more driving than Day 3; however, it’s an incredibly scenic route. This includes driving past the Sierra Nevada mountain range and New Melones Lake. Let me not get ahead of myself. Cahoots Corner Café offers swift service and classic American breakfast dishes for breakfast. 

The first section of driving will take around 45 minutes to reach Columbia State Historic Park. Once here, you’ll be enchanted by the historic mining town of Columbia – which has been well-preserved. Feeling a tad hungry? Columbia Kate’s Teahouse offers a wide range of teas, sandwiches, and baked goods. 

Next, you’ll drive for another 45 minutes until you get to Groveland. Depending on what you feel like, you can go more into the historical rabbit hole by visiting the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum. Getting famished in the evening? The Iron Door Saloon is a must-visit in town for charbroiled burgers. Prefer some tacos or enchiladas? Cocina Michoacana is ideal for you.

Where to Stay:

  • Hotel Charlotte – Extend your Wild West experience in this historic boutique hotel with free Wi-Fi and satellite TV. (Rates start at around $140 per night)
  • The Groveland Hotel – This colorful hotel offers a relaxing stay with complimentary drinks and massage treatments. (Rates start at around $163 per night)

Day 5: Groveland to Yosemite

Mileage: 72 miles

Driving time: 2 hours

Onto the last day, which involves a fair amount of driving. You could shorten this by heading to Yosemite’s Hetchy Hetch or Big Oak Flat entrances. That said, a good breakfast will get you on the right start. Mountain Sage offers breakfast bagels and fantastic coffee.

Next up, you’ll drive to Mariposa, which should take around an hour. Here, you can explore a mining town that’s full of interesting spots, including museums, the Butterfly Creek Winery, and the Mariposa Marketplace—ideal for a gift or souvenir. 

Your road trip ends with a roughly 50-minute drive to Yosemite National Park, which needs no introduction. It’s honestly so beautiful that you’ll struggle to find words to describe it, besides majestic and jaw-droppingly stunning. 

Where to Stay:

  •  Yosemite View Lodge – As one of the closest lodgings near the park, this is the perfect spot to rest up before a day of hiking. (Rates start at around $155 per night)

Camping at Yosemite National Park – With over 13 campgrounds, there are tons of places to camp in the park. That said, book in advance here to avoid disappointment. (Rates start at around $8 per night)

You’ll love going on this San Francisco to Yosemite road trip! Let me know what your favorite part is in the comments.

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