A scenic drive through Yosemite National Park

9 Scenic Stops On A San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip

A San Francisco to Yosemite road trip is guaranteed the perfect memory-making, inspiring, and thrilling adventure the family needs for a vacation!

While San Francisco is known for world-famous attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge and the infamous Alcatraz Island, Yosemite National Park is notorious for its dipping valleys, massive rocky monoliths, roaring waterfalls, and ancient giant sequoias.

Nevertheless, these two places boast some of the best family-friendly attractions on the West Coast, from swimming in lakes and basking under giant sequoia trees to walking through botanical gardens and peering through museums. 

On this road trip from San Francisco to Yosemite, which can be easily made into a round trip, we’ll show you the best points of interest to hit along the way.

Distance from San Francisco to Yosemite

As one of the closest international airports, San Fran (SFO) makes the ideal starting points for a road trip from San Francisco to Yosemite!

The non-stop route from San Fran (SFO) to Yosemite National Park in California without stopping is about 170 miles and includes tolls.

This route travels from CA-101 to CA-92 and continues on this path until highway 92 merges with I-580. Continue along this path, take I-205, then merge with I-5 until you reach CA-120, which takes you the rest of the route to Yosemite National Park. 

The scenic route, full of fun points of interest, totals about 243 miles stopping at each of the recommended attractions and activities mentioned below.

This route will take CA-101 from the airport to Golden Gate Park, and heads to I-80 across the Bay to merge onto I-580, then you travel through Northwest Berkeley to Tilden Regional Park. 

Exiting the park, you’ll take CA-13 to reach Lake Chabot Regional Park, then take I-580, merge with I-205, and then CA-120 to Bloomingcamp Ranch.

Once you’ve enjoyed this attraction, take CA-108 to CA-120 to CA-108 to CA-49 to tour the historic ghost town of Jamestown and then explore Columbia State Historic Park. Then, take the same path back to CA-108 and take CA-49 to CA-120 the rest of the way to Crane Flat Lookout, Tuolumne Grove, and finally, Yosemite National Park.

How Long is the Drive From San Francisco to Yosemite?

For the non-stop route, it will only take about four and a half hours, depending on traffic.

To get the most out of the scenic route with stopping points at the different attractions and activities, we recommend four days minimum to take in all there is to offer without stressing about time. 

Best Time of Year to Drive from San Francisco to Yosemite

Ideally, the best time of year to drive from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park is anywhere from May to September.

Yosemite remains open during the winter, though seasonal closures and unsafe winter conditions can make the trip unsafe or spoil plans. We’d recommend only visiting in the winter months if you enjoy your winter sports or are looking for some spectacular snow-covered photos.

If you’re trying to avoid the crowds, we recommend visiting during May or September to avoid the largest crowds which occur from June to August.

Best Stops on a San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

You’ve arrived at San Francisco (SFO) Airport, and now it’s time to explore one of Golden Gate City’s top attractions, Golden Gate Park!

USA San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip – Golden Gate Park

The third most-visited city park in the U.S., receiving around 13 million visitors yearly, Golden Gate Park is an oasis of entertainment, boasting something for everyone to enjoy.

Take your pick of top attractions like the San Francisco Botanical Garden, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the California Academy of Sciences for an exceptional experience with the family.

Spending a whole day at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is relatively easy. Stroll through the vibrant displays in the gardens, learn about art and history at the de Young Museum, or explore the sciences at the California Academy of Sciences with its 2.5-acre “living roof” made of recycled materials that repurposes rainwater for irrigation. 

Tilden Regional Park, Berkeley

The next recommended point of interest to stop on this scenic route is in Berkley, California, famous for its Bohemian vibes and having the oldest campus in the state, the University of California.

USA San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip – Tilden Park Botanic Gardens

A recreational jewel and one of the oldest parks in the District, Tilden Regional Park has quickly become an East Bay area favorite to be enjoyed with families and friends.

Enjoy a scenic walk through thriving meadows and forests full of prospering eucalyptus with the family through the Tilden Regional Park trails, with options that cater to different fitness levels. We encourage heading to Lake Anza on your hiking path to swim, fish, or simply bask in the views. 

Stroll through the Tilden Park Botanic Gardens, which masterfully display native California plant life, including wild lilacs and aquatic plants. Or take the kids to the Tilden Nature Area, which hosts the Environmental Education Center and Little Farm, where kids can feed the farm animals. Before you leave, snap some pics with the family on the Tilden Park Merry-Go-Round!

Lake Chabot Regional Park, Castro Valley

Established in 1874, the Lake Chabot Reservoir became the primary water source for the local East Bay area. Surrounding the reservoir is Lake Chabot Regional Park, favored for recreational opportunities. 

USA San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip – Lake Chabot Regional Park

For the anglers, Lake Chabot is a hotspot for catches such as catfish, trout, and bass. The annual spring fishing derby is hosted at Lake Chabot Regional Park. Stroll through the scenic park on different paths, such as the Lake Chabot History Walk, to learn about the park’s history while basking in the refreshing views.

Finish up by grabbing lunch at the Lake Chabot Marine & Cafe, which acts as a bait and tackle shop for anglers! 

Bloomingcamp Ranch, Oakdale

Previously a sheep farm, the family-owned and operated Bloomingcamp Ranch switched its passions into what is now a historic and beloved bake shop. 

The perfect stop-and-go treat to savor along the way to Yosemite National Park, Bloomingcamp Ranch makes homemade desserts, including pies, apple dumplings, cinnamon rolls, and cookies. Sit outside under the patio to bask under the almond and walnut trees at this wholesome stop! 

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, Jamestown

Located in a historic ghost gold mining town, Jamestown, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park is popularly called “The Movie Railroad.” 

USA San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip – Railtown 1897 State Historic Park

Bringing history to its visitors, the park features a working roundhouse, vintage steam trains, and a designated California Historic Landmark, the Sierra Railway Shops.

A one-of-a-kind for the ultimate San Francisco to Yosemite road trip, the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park allows visitors to become passengers on a historic diesel or steam locomotive and traverse along unrivaled viewpoints of the Gold Country.

Columbia State Historic Park, Columbia

Columbia State Historic Park, often called Columbia Historic District, is a National Historic Landmark District that preserves nearly 30 buildings constructed during California’s iconic Gold Rush. 

USA San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip – Columbia State Historic Park

Once the second largest city in California, Columbia’s population quickly depleted after the gold ran dry. However, it was never entirely abandoned, which is how the old gold mining town is so wonderfully preserved today.

This allows visitors to step back in time to witness how people once lived during the enigmatic gold rush in California. Ride on a stagecoach through the bustling downtown with the family or watch a performance at the Fallon Theatre.

Peer over the two-story brick school house or dress the family in old fashion clothes for a memorable picture-taking opportunity. There’s so much to explore in this historic town of Columbia before reaching Yosemite National Park! 

Tuolumne Grove

Believed to be the second most visited grove in Yosemite National Park, right under Mariposa Grove, Tuolumne Grove is a grove of towering and ancient red sequoia trees. Here, you’ll find the famous landmark, the Dead Giant Tunnel Tree, a walking path cut out from the stump of a sequoia.

USA San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip – Tuolumne Grove

The Crane Flat Lookout is less than ten minutes away, a two-story building with an upper observation level to bask in panoramic views of the natural wonders of Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 

Tunnel View

Made famous by iconic photographer Ansel Adams, Tunnel View is one of those stops that shouldn’t be passed up on!

USA San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip – Tunnel View

Tunnel View is right outside Wawona Tunnel and doesn’t require any hiking to access its breathtaking perspectives. The awe-inspiring vista features landmarks such as the Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, and Half Dome. If you’re heading here during the summer, we highly recommend arriving early to avoid the crowds out to enjoy this incredible scenic drive in California.

Yosemite National Park

Settled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, Yosemite National Park is one of those iconic national parks that everyone knows, thanks to its spectacular and booming natural beauty. 

USA San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip – Yosemite National Park

There’s so much to do at this outstanding park! Ride the historic Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad near the park’s southern entrance as a passenger with unique viewpoints of the Sierra National Forest. 

Bask in the glory of the highest waterfall in Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Falls, as the rushing waters roar as they pour over the rocky cliff. Bring the kids to Merced River to wade in the water with the stunning backdrops of the Half Dome. 

  • Entry to Yosemite National Park is $35 per private vehicle, valid for 3 consecutive days – or use your America the Beautiful pass or other national park concessions.

Our complete guide to Yosemite National Park with kids coming soon!

More Tips for Road Tripping San Francisco to Yosemite

Bring a jacket if your road trip plans are leaning towards May or September, as the evenings can become quite cool!

Also, since you will be visiting a national park, following the Leave No Trace Seven Principles is crucial. These principles are designed to minimize the impact we (humans) may have on these protected environments and the animals and plants that live there.

The Leave No Trace Seven Principles are as follows:

  1. Plan Ahead & Prepare
  2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Some other tips that can be super helpful (or a much-needed reminder):

  • Always, always, always bring plenty of water to stay hydrated! 
  • As we’ve included several other parks, we recommend packing a cooler with snacks and treats (and don’t forget reusable utensils!) to picnic outside, surrounded by refreshing nature. 
  • To stay on top of traffic, construction, and road closures, we recommend downloading the app Waze. Then, using real-time data, Waze adjusts the route to create a safe and optimal path to reach your desired destination, or try California Road Report.
  • Never forget an important road tripping item again, head over next to our road trip essentials checklist before you hit the road!
download your free road trip checklist click here button

Up Next…

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© Family Road Trip 2024

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