Road Trips

Ultimate San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip!

glacier-point-1789695_640
Written by Town & Tourist

A California road trip between San Francisco and Yosemite is one the most epic in the USA. On this road trip you will find winding mountain roads with ancient redwoods guarded the great National Park.

How far is Yosemite from San Francisco?

Yosemite National Park is a 3-4 hour drive which covers approximately 179 miles.

How to get to Yosemite from San Francisco?

Of course the easiest & most free flowing way to get from San Francisco to Yosemite is to hire a car and take a road trip between the two! For more info on the best car rental deals check out: Ultimate Car Rental Travel Hacks!

By Ride Share – Budget Method

A Public transport road trip is possible but takes such a long time. Many tour companies also offer bus tours. You can also try apps such as Lyft or Uber ride share to hop into cars of other people driving there, this is a real cost effective method.

But does have a risk element as the other people may wish to drive back sooner, or you could fall out with them and then be stranded! In this instance your best method would be to speak to your accommodation provider or get back onto Lyft to look for people driving back to SF.

By Train/Bus

Amtrak’s San Joaquin train route stops in Merced, where you can catch a bus to Yosemite. The whole journey takes very long, around 7 hours from San Francisco.
San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip

San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip

Insider Tips to not get lost!

Yosemite National Park is a large place which covers 1,200 square miles but doesn’t have a single street address!

Useful Address to use: 9031 Village Drive, Yosemite National Park, CA

Don’t always trust your GPS:

If you just type “Yosemite” into google maps you may get most the way there before hitting a snag when the annoying phrase “You have arrived at your destination” comes on when obviously you haven’t. To help avoid these issues I suggest using our useful map below!

Map of San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip

Dive into our interactive Map below! 

User Guide: Use the +/- arrows to zoom in an out of the landmarks. Many users choose to share the post on facebook and access the map that way.

Tip: Turn your phone sideways for easier use. Click the directions button top right to be routed to attraction.

Web Masters: If you have your own website feel free to embed our map in it by clicking the button in the top right hand corner. Just be sure to credit us at: www.townandtourist.com/road-trips/San-francisco-Yosemite

Routes from San Francisco to Yosemite:

  • CA Highway 120 – From San Francisco

CA Highway 120 is susceptible to landslides any time of year! If you wish to travel this route, be sure to check road conditions on the Cal trans website, enter 120 into search.

This driving route is open most of the time and goes through Oakdale and Groveland, and is popular with visitors from the San Francisco Bay area and Northern California! On this driving route you will go through Oakland & Groveland.
You will pass through almond orchards, ranches and small farming towns. From there you will drive up the steep incline Priest Grade to Big Oak Flat and the old gold mining town of Groveland.Apart from Priest Grade which raises 1,000 feet in 8.5 miles, the rest of the road is mostly straight with gentle curves. Hwy 120 enters Yosemite at the Big Oak Flat entrance.
  • CA Highway 140 – From San Jose Area

CA Hwy 140 is the most Scenic Drive into Yosemite and is open for most of the year. It also will take you through the towns of Mariposa and Fish Camp. This route is also popular if your driving from the San Jose area. This road continues uphill through Midpines and parallels with the Merced River before entering Yosemite via the Arch Rock Entrance.

Yosemite to San Francisco Road Trip

Yosemite to San Francisco Road Trip

  • CA Highway 41 – South west entrance. 

CA Hwy 41 is a popular route with GPS, however it’s not the most scenic. If you choose to take this route head to Mariposa then continue from there.

From US Hwy 99 at Fresno, CA Hwy 41 runs north and west toward Yosemite’s South Entrance. The drive takes you through the towns of Oakhurst and Fish Camp and into the park near the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias and Wawona. CA Hwy 41 is your best option if you’re staying at Tenaya Lodge, which is just outside the park boundaries.

On highway 41,  you will also find Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

Gas Stations closest to Yosemite?

The gas pumps closest to Yosemite Valley are open year-round inside the park at Wawona (45 mins south of the valley on Wawona Road) and Crane Flat (30 mins northwest on Big Oak Flat Road/CA Hwy 120). In the summer time, you can get gasoline from Tuolumne Meadows on Tioga Road.

There is also a gas station at El Portal, which is just before the park entrance of CA highway 140. However, be aware that any of these gas stations the gas is more expensive you will pay between 20-30% more. For better prices fuel up in Mariposa, Oakhurst, or Groveland.

San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip Itinerary

San Francisco

The city of San Francisco can be made to feel very small if you know where to go and what to see if you spend a couple of days here. Known for its diverse cultures and incredible food scene you won’t be disappointed on a trip to San Francisco. 

How to get from San Francisco Airport?

If your fly into San Francisco you will most like arrive at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) which is in south San Francisco. However, you may also fly to the smaller Oakland Airport (OAK) which is across from San Francisco Bay.  From the airport you can Rent your car (which I recommended!) you can also take an airport transfer or rideshare. 

Budget Method from the Airport

There is a BART Train (San Franciscos Subway) which will take you to the city centre, however you will need to find alternative transport to your hotel from there. But on the plus side it’s half the cost of a cab.

Welcome to San Francisco

Welcome to San Francisco

Transport around San Francisco

If you have already rented a car then you will have no problem getting around the city. However, if your saving that till you set of on your road trip there are alternative ways of getting around San Francisco.

Walking – FREE option!

San Francisco is a fairly compact city and is extremely walkable. You can walk to most major attraction within 30min-1 hour. As you wander round you will get a real “feel” of the San Francisco vibe. Just be aware of then Notorious San Francisco hills/slopes which can give your legs a real workout.

1. Chinatown and North Beach

Chinatown and North Beach (Little Italy) are two of San Franciscos most diverse neighborhoods They are right next to each other so you can actually walk through each. Chinatown offers asian street markets with hidden alleyway restaurants and a real energy to the area.

Insider Tip:

Head to Bow Bow Cocktail Lounge for cheap beers and some fun Karaoke. You can also check out the “Fortune Cookie Factory” where you can learn about the Chinese tradition, gain some wisdom and eat some samples! 

San Francisco China Town

San Francisco China Town. Source: peeterv / Getty Images

North Beach:

  • Northwest on Columbus Ave: This has heaviest concentration of Italian restaurants, coffee houses, and shops in North Beach.
  • Southeast on Columbus: The famous City Lights bookstore is right across the street; where you can read in the footsteps of some of American’ most famous authors. Head further down Columbus Ave to the old Barbary Coast, where you will find the green Sentinel Bldg (SF Landmark 33), and the Transamerica Pyramid.
  • West on Broadway: Here you will find old school Strip clubs, such as the Condor Club where Carol Doda, one of the America’s first topless dancer  worked during late 1960s, things are very tame these days.
  • North on Grant Ave: The oldest street (1845) in town. You can also check out The Saloon, the oldest surviving bar (1861), and Cafe Trieste, where Italian espresso was introduced in 1956 to the West Coast!

2. Fisherman’s Wharf/Pier 39

Fishermans Wharf is the 2nd largest tourist destination in San Francisco. It was a former dockland for fisherman which is now an amusement area. Head to Pier 39  where you will find a kitsch restaurants, and a small amusement park with family rides & attractions. You can also find the famous sun bathing sea lions. 

Ghirardelli Square is public plaza surrounded by many luxury hotels, restaurants, and of course the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, which has a tasty chocolate sundae you have to try! It has a large neon sign overhead so it’s pretty easy to spot. 

Pier 39 San Francisco

Pier 39 San Francisco. Source: Pier 39

3. Off the Grid – Food Popups! 

Every week “Off the Grid‘ hosts a variety of food market popups in hot spot locations all over the city. They are great to check out for lunch or in the evening.  They offer a diverse range of foods from local gourmet food trucks. Live music & entertainment is also on show at the events included acrobats & Magicians.

The events are popular with families, groups of friends, date nights and even dogs! 

4. Thrift shopping in Haight-Ashbury

The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is hipster heaven. It was the birthplace of the hippie movement in the 1960s and still holds true to that today. Here you will find some of the best Thrift shops in California. Two of my favourite stores are Wasteland and Buffalo Exchange. (addresses on our interactive map at the start of this post)

Haight-Ashbury

Haight-Ashbury. Source: Shutterstock

5. Castro District

San Francisco’s Castro district is the most fabulous. As a large area know for its strong LGBT community expect a fun, carefree and non judgmental community. One fun thing they offer here is “Sing a Longs” these once a month events have everyone singing along to classic movies such as The Sound of Music and The Little Mermaid. There is also costume contests. 

6. Mission – “Mexican Food Heaven”

The Mission District in San Francisco is a neighborhood which has been home to the Mexican Community since the 1700s! The music is energetic, the smells are enticing and the sights are captivating. 

Hungry?

Grab a mouth watering burrito from one of these hotspots:

(Addresses on interactive map)

7. Alcatraz Island

The Notorious island prison which is just 1.25 miles offshore from San Francisco bay.  It has was a military prison, and a federal prison from 1934 until 21 March 1963.

Fun Fact: Alcatraz island once housed notorious prisoners such as Al Capone, George “Machine-Gun” Kelly, Alvin Karpis (the first “Public Enemy #1”), and Arthur “Doc” Barker

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island

8. Golden Gate Bridge

A classic Monument, but still worth a visit.

9. Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park offers 1,017 acres of public grounds. Enjoy the tranquilty and highlights such as the San Francisco Botanical Garden and Japanese Tea Garden.

10. Union Square

Union Square is a 2.6-acre public plaza bordered by Geary, Powell, Post and Stockton Streets in downtown San Francisco. Here you will find central shopping, hotel, and theater district that surrounds the plaza for several blocks.

Where to Stay in San Francisco?

There is a diverse range of accomodation choices in San Francisco, for luxury head to Union Square or Nob Hill, here are some of my favourites:  the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, the Fairmont, or the Westin St. Francis are all great choices. 

If your after something more on cost effective check out the area around Fishermans Wharf, see Fishermans Wharf Hotels.

2. Oakland 

Oakland is a city on the east side of San Francisco Bay. This is a more affordable place to base yourself while exploring the San Francisco Bay Area. It is also less then 10 miles from Oakland Airport.

How far is Oak Land from San Francisco?

Oakland is 20 miles to San Francisco. Riding BART (Subway), it will take you about 40 minutes.

The city itself is known for its restored Victorian architecture and boutiques. There is also the Oakland Museum of California covers state history, nature and art. Whereas Uptown has a variety of theatres, restaurants, bars and galleries.  It also has a trendy restaurant scene with Oakland Restaurant week gaining traction.

Skyline at dusk, Oakland, Alameda County, California, USA

Skyline at dusk, Oakland, Alameda County, California, USA. Source: Getty

Best places to Eat in Oakland?

  • Shakewell offers is bistro serving traditional Spanish tapas alongside beer, wine & cocktails in a buzzy space!
  • Hopscotch is an American food diner with a Japanese twist and seasonal cocktails. The diner/Japanese marriage

“Delicious wings and cocktails (surprisingly good cocktails)! Oysters so-so (fries served to people next to us looked like they’d be tasty though we didn’t have room to get them). Friendly people and v good service. I’d go back for more!” G Reviews.

3. San Leandro 

San Leandro is a large suburban town in Alameda County, here you can find Oakland Zoo (features african elephants, lions, wolves and many more!). It was established in 1922. In addition, you will find Lake Chabot Road which offers a scenic drive through Castro Valley. East Bay Regional Park District is also a nice park to visit.

4. Pleasanton 

Pleasanton is a pleasant place! Offers great year-round weather, lots of fun community events, local fairgrounds, and beautiful outdoor recreational areas. Highlights include The Alameda County Fairgrounds  which has been the home of the annual Alameda County Fair since 1912,  its one-mile race track is the oldest in America. Shadow Cliffs Regional Recreation Area and c

5. Oakdale 

Oakdale is a large town on the Highway 120 route and a good place to stop for a meal, fill up the tank (at low prices!) and buy some snacks.

Insider Tip:

You can also have a picnic at vista point above Lake Don Pedro (east of Oakdale).

First_national_bank_of_oakdale

First_national_bank_of_oakdale.,Source: Wiki commons

Highlights:

Western history museum with a gift shop & exhibits exploring the area’s ranching & rodeo traditions.

Address355 E F St B, Oakdale, CA 95361, United States

  • Dorada Park
Amenity-rich public park which features a children’s playground, open green spaces & a swimming pool.
Address600 N 2nd Ave, Oakdale, CA 95361, United States
  • Oak Dale Dog Park

If your taking a road trip with your dog, a stop at Oak Dale Dog Park is a good option, for more info see: 9 Dog Friendly U.S Road trips

Best Places to Eat in Oakdale?

Quaint Italian bar & eatery offering stone-oven pizza, steak & seafood mains.

Address502 N Yosemite Ave, Oakdale, CA 95361, United States

  • Cahoots Corner Cafe

Address110 E F St, Oakdale, CA 95361, United States

Insider Tip:

Best place for Breakfast in town! The BBQ bacon is mouth watering.

  • Ryderz

Modest all American spot offering an all-day menu, plus a lounge with a full bar, pool table & jukebox.

Address875 E F St, Oakdale, CA 95361, United States

6. Mariposa (If take Highway 140) 

If you take highway 140, or take this route on the way back you should definitely check out Mariposa. 

Highlights:

  • Mariposa Museum & History Center
  • Yosemite Ziplines and Adventure Ranch
  • California State Mining & Mineral Museum
Mariposa

Mariposa. Source: Luke Chapman/Flickr/(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Where to Eat?

Happy Burger

Burgers, fries and shakes served with a heavy dose of old school Americana. The venue is decorated with old album covers and boasts the largest menu in the Sierra. It’s also one of the more affordable meals in town.
Address5120 CA-140, Mariposa, CA 95338, United States

Charles Street Dinner House

Welcome to the Wild Wild West. Here you will find, wagon wheels and hearty, hand cut steaks, lobster tails and BBQ ribs.

Address5043 Charles St, Mariposa, CA 95338, United States

7. Yosemite National park 

How long should I spend in Yosemite? 

You can spend from 1 day to 3 days or more at Yosemite National Park it spans over  3,027 km² so plenty to explore. 

How much does it cost to enter Yosemite National Park? 

Yosemite costs approximately $35 per car valid for seven days

Day 1: Hiking Cooks Meadow to Glacier Point

Cooks Meadow Loop hike  spans 2.25 miles and take you around the Yosemite Valley. This is the ideal introduction to Yosemite and is fairly easy, flat and offers breath taking views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. Afterwards we took the drive to the base of El Captain.

Insider Tip: 

You should check out Yosemite Village, where you can pick up a useful hiking map and visit the Ansel Adams gallery. There’s also a shop and some restaurants where you can grab lunch…or alternatively bring a packed lunch like we did!

Yosemite-National-Park-camping

Yosemite-National-Park made it onto the Town&Tourist list of the 21 Unique Camping Destinations! U.S.A

Drive up Glacier Point Road:

From the valley you can take the 1 hour drive Glacier Point which offers panoramic views of Yosemite. On the way you will find some nice hikes so it’s well worth stopping of.

Glacier Point:

Glacier Point is one of the most popular viewpoints of Yosemite National Park. From the top you will be able to enjoy incredible views of high country, Half Dome, Nevada Falls to the forests in the valley below! This is a must see for any trip to Yosemite!

Insider Tip: 

There are now restrictions on driving on Glacier Point Rd from Mid-May to September between 10 am and 4.30 pm.

If the Glacier Point parking lot is full, you will have to park at Badger Pass and then take the shuttle bus to Glacier Point, this shuttle also stops at the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trailhead. See the NPS website for the latest updates.

glacier-point-1789695_640

glacier-point-1789695_640 (San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip Itinerary)

Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Hikes

Sentinel Dome and Taft Point hikes are both short but I would budget at least an hour for each to really enjoy the spectacular views along the way. The Taft Point Hikes (2.2miles) offers a forested hike with epic views of the valley and deer which can get really close!

Insider Tip: 

There is a Sentinel Done and Taft Point combo hike which takes around 4 hours. However, we chose to return to the trailhead after each to grab water and use the toilet.

Day 2: Mist trail & Vernal Falls

Mist Trail is a 7 mile hike which is really popular during the summer months. The steep trail, which has rock stairs for some parts which take you past the spectacular Vernal and Nevada Falls. These both offer fantastic flows even during the summer!

Insider Tip:

Hike down Muir Trail on the way back rather then retrace your steps this routes offers some unique views of the Nevada falls.

Yosemite National Park vernal Falls

Yosemite National Park vernal Falls . Source: Trail Run Project (San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip Itinerary)

Hungry? 

Afterwards head to Curry Village for lunch, where they have everything from Pizza to Ice cream and some tasty coffee.

Day 3: Mono Lake

Mono Lake is a saline soda lake, which was formed at least 760,000 years ago! Unique rock formations look like something from the terrains of Mars and offer some of the strangest scenery known to man!

Insider Tip:

Sunrise or Sunset are the best time to visit Mono Lake.

After visiting Mono Lake, you can also take the short June Lake loop and then drive to Mammoth Lakes.

MONOLAKE-STATE-PARK

MONOLAKE-STATE-PARK (San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip Itinerary)

Where to stay in Yosemite National Park?

The best accommodation is inside the park and better still Yosemite valley. A few favourites we stayed at included, the Tenaya Lodge which is a luxurious hotel in the park and the Rush Creek Lodge  at Yosemite which is in an ideal location.

Road Trip Tips:

How to get the best car rental Deals?

To get the best car rental deals check out: Ultimate Car Rental Travel Hacks!

car rental travel hacks

car rental travel hacks (San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip Itinerary)

Want to the know the secrets of great hotel deals, check out: How to find the Best Hotel Deals??

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About the author

Town & Tourist

A travel resource guide that has been carefully crafted and curated by travel bloggers to help you find the best places to travel to in the USA.