San Francisco to Yosemite Loop Road Trip

Start off in California’s most romantic coastal city, San Francisco. After having fun exploring the Bay Area, head east to Yosemite National Park, passing through Tri Valley, Oakdale, Groveland, Merced, Hetch Hetchy, and Sonora.

Start: San Francisco, California

Days 1-3: San Francisco

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge

In San Francisco, start at Golden Gate Park: Tour the California Academy of Sciences and Conservatory of Flowers. Head to Pier 39 for views of Golden Gate Bridge. Take to the water with Hornblower Cruises or Ride the Ducks; wrap up with a meal on the pier (Hard Rock Cafe, Fog Harbor Fish House, and Crab House are good bets).

Day 4: Tri-Valley Wine Country

San Francisco to Tri-Valley: 44 miles

Livermore Wine Country. Photo by John Jo

Head east on I-580 to the Tri-Valley, a five-town wine region full of fine cuisine, great shopping, and bike trails. Hop on the new Beer Trail. Stay the night in an historic hotel in Pleasanton, Livermore, San Ramon, Dublin or Danville.

Day 5: Merced

Tri-Valley to Merced: 93 miles

Viewing Cheese Packaging at Hilmar Cheese in Hilmar, CA

Take I-205 east to Manteca, then go south on CA 99 through Modesto to Hilmar, home of the beloved Hilmar Cheese Company’s factory tour and cafe. Head south through Atwater (stop at the Castle Air Museum) to Merced.

Day 6: Mariposa

Merced to Mariposa: 37 miles

Ziplining adventure. Photo courtesy of Yosemite Zipline

Drive CA 140 east to the park’s gateway town of Mariposa. Cool your heels for the day with stops at the Mariposa Museum and History Center or a ride with Yosemite Ziplines and Adventure Ranch. Stay in a quaint B&B.

Days 7-8: Yosemite National Park

Mariposa to Yosemite’s Arch Rock Entrance: 44 miles

Yosemite sunset from Glacier Point's View Terrace.

Go east on CA 140 to El Portal and into Yosemite National Park. Explore Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point Road, and the Winona Area. Stay in a lodge or campground inside the park.

Day 9: Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy

Yosemite Village to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir: 40 miles

Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley is now a reservoir.

Exit out the Big Oak Flat Entrance and head north to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Evergreen Road and then Hetch Hetchy Road wind along John Muir’s second favorite valley to this northwest entrance to the park (open daily from 7am to 7pm). Gaze over the O’Shaughnessay Dam at Kolana Rock and take a short hike to Wapama Falls. Stay the night at Evergreen Lodge and stargaze in their salt water hot tub.

Hot tub stargazing at Evergreen Lodge. Photo by Kim Carroll Photography

Day 10: Yosemite’s Gold Rush Country

Hetch Hetchy to Sonora, California: 64 miles

Groveland's Iron Door Saloon and The Groveland Hotel. Photo by Grant Ordelheide

Travel west along Highway 120, a winding road that is dotted with historic mining towns dating from California’s mid-19th-century Gold Rush. Groveland is a wonderful throwback to the Old West days, with its historic hotels, saloons and eateries.

Steam-powered train excursion. Photo by Kevin Zimmerman

Your destination for the night is Sonora, a lively mountain town with hotels and restaurants. From Sonora, it’s a short hop to explore the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, and Columbia State Park where you can try your luck at gold panning.

Have extra time? Go for a trip on the wild side, whitewater rafting along the Tuolumne River with OARS.

Day 11: Trip Back to San Francisco

Sonora to San Francisco: 132 miles

Oakdale Chocolate Festival. Courtesy photo

On your way west on Highway 120, make last stop at the Cowboy Capital of the World, Oakdale. If you are traveling during the summer season, there’s a good chance that Oakdale will be having an event such as their annual Chocolate Festival, Rodeo & Parade, Testicle Festival, Salmon Festival, and concerts in the park.

End: San Francisco, California