Itinerary: San Francisco, CA to Yosemite
Orange Route (195 miles): San Francisco, CA to Yosemite
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 Oakland, Manteca, Oakdale, Big Oak Flat, and Groveland on Highway 120. This is our shortest and most direct sample route, covering almost 200 miles. This route is best traveled from spring through fall.
Explore San Francisco
The Bay Area offers a wealth of National Park Service (NPS) sites, starting right in the city of San Francisco. In the popular Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood, San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park has a unique collection of historic 19th-century sailing vessels. Take the whole family to Golden Gate Park, a favorite urban greenspace that stretches west all the way to the Pacific Ocean. In the heart of the park are two outstanding museums: the kid-friendly California Academy of Sciences, with its planetarium shows and four-story indoor rainforest, and the de Young Museum, respected for its outstanding art collections from around the world.
Marin County & Wine Country
Golden Gate National Recreation Area stretches from the city of San Francisco north across the majestic Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County. In just one day, you can go hiking in the golden hills of the Marin Headlands, be awed by the serene cathedral of coast redwoods (incidentally, the tallest trees on earth) at Muir Woods, and kick back on crescent-shaped Stinson Beach, a family-friendly destination.
Further north, Point Reyes National Seashore awaits with its rocky headlands, historic lighthouse, tule elk herds, migratory northern elephant seals, and a hiking trail that follows the famous San Andreas Fault, responsible for many of California’s biggest earthquakes. Not far away you’ll find the vineyards of Northern California’s well-known wine country, stretching from the Russian River Valley near the coast to the sunny inland Sonoma and Napa Valleys.
East to Yosemite National Park
When you’re done exploring the Bay Area, head across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco to Oakland. Follow Interstate 580 (I-580) south, then east. Take I-205 east to I-5 north. Exit onto Highway 120, which leads east through Manteca and Oakdale, both useful stops for picking up any last-minute supplies. Farther east, Highway 120 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. From here, it’s a short drive east to Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat (Northwest) Entrance, past the turn-off to Hetch Hetchy.
Alternate Route via Highway 140
Especially in winter, when driving conditions on Highway 120 in and around the park may require chains, snow tires and/or 4WD, an easier approach from the Bay Area to Yosemite follows Highway 140. Driving this 210-mile route takes around four hours, barring any traffic jams.
The alternate route starts off the same way by crossing the Bay Bridge from San Francisco to Oakland, then following I-580 south, then east. But instead of diverting onto I-205 east, keep following I-580 south, then take Highway 132 east to Modesto and Highway 99 south to Merced. East of Merced, Highway 140 winds up into the Sierra Nevada foothills, following the Merced River Canyon. It passes the small towns of Mariposa (another Gold Rush era mining settlement), Midpines, Briceburg, and El Portal before arriving at Yosemite’s Arch Rock (West) Entrance.