Yosemite National Park is just the beginning of your sightseeing trip. There’s plenty more places to visit around the Sierra Nevada, including at nearby Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, as well as in the San Francisco Bay Area, stretching from the majestic Golden Gate Bridge to the redwood forests and beaches of Marin County.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Just a half-day’s drive south of Yosemite, these parks are worth a visit in their own right. From their towering groves of giant sequoia trees and granite rock formations to the bottom of North America’s deepest canyon, you’ll be astounded by how much beauty the southern Sierra Nevada offers.
From Yosemite, Kings Canyon National Park is the closest park. In Grant Grove, you can pay your respects to the gigantic General Grant Tree, which measures over 267 feet high and over 40 feet around its trunk.
A two-mile detour leads out to Panorama Point. Afterward, cruise the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway deep into the canyon, passing head-spinning vistas like the Canyon Viewpoint. At the river bottom, Boyden Cavern leads guided, kid-friendly walks through a marble and limestone cave. East of Grizzly Falls, the Cedar Grove area of the park is worth a visit to see Roaring River Falls in late spring.
Walk across the swinging bridge at nearby Zumwalt Meadow and you might just see black bears, mule deer, and myriad bird life. Keep driving to Road’s End and crane your neck up at the North Dome and Grand Sentinel rock formations towering above the valley.
Back up out of the canyon, it’s a pleasant drive south of Grant Grove along the Generals Highway to Sequoia National Park. Near the Wolverton area, you can visit the General Sherman Tree, the largest known giant sequoia tree in the world.
This survivor sits at the edge of the Giant Forest, the biggest collection of giant sequoias in the world. Get a sense of just how big these giants are by walking around the forest on gentle nature trails. Then head out to Crescent Meadow and past the Tunnel Log, a fallen giant sequoia that you can drive through. Nearby Moro Rock rewards with spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada, once you’ve earned them by climbing a quarter-mile of stone steps to the top, that is.
Just north of the Giant Forest, the Lodgepole visitor center sells tour tickets for Crystal Cave, an underground cavern where kids can ooh and aah over stalactites and stalagmites, hanging curtains, and other imaginatively shaped flowstone formations.
Afterward, follow the Generals Highway south as it drops heart-stoppingly into the Sierra Nevada foothills. At Amphitheater Point, the Kaweah River and high Sierra Nevada peaks spread out before you. Farther on, you can inspect Native American pictographs and morteros (grinding holes) at Hospital Rock before exiting the park near the town of Three Rivers. Also nearby, a steep, narrow and winding side road leads to the old mining settlement of Mineral King, nestled in the Sierra Nevada high country.
San Francisco and Marin County
To describe everything there is to see in San Francisco would take an entire guidebook. But if your time is limited, make sure you stroll through Golden Gate Park, with its top-notch museums and gardens.
The views from the top of Coit Tower are among the city’s best. The ferry ride over to Alcatraz Island, formerly a military fort and an infamous prison, affords beautiful bay views, too. For that postcard shot of the city’s skyscrapers and its often foggy bay, walk out across the Golden Gate Bridge – it can be incredibly windy, so dress warmly!
The iconic bridge is also the gateway to Marin County, a nature-loving escape for city dwellers. Walk among old-growth coastal redwood forests at Muir Woods National Monument, which you may recognize seeing in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Vertigo, or out across the shaggy, golden and grassy Marin Headlands, which are crisscrossed by ocean-view hiking trails.
Mount Tamalpais State Park is unbeatable for its panoramic vistas, especially if you take the short hike to the summit. Back down on the Pacific coast, Highway 1 passes by white-sand Stinson Beach en route north to Point Reyes National Seashore, where the Point Reyes Lighthouse is a great spot for whale-watching in winter, and also observing a colony of elephant seals.