Explore San Francisco before heading inland to sample Northern California’s amazing food and wines on this epic 431-mile adventure.
There are few better places to start a road trip than San Francisco. From walking on the Golden Gate Bridge to seeing the bay up close by ferry, foot or aquarium, you’ll find San Francisco offers a fantastic blend of outdoor experiences and cultural opportunities.
Then take one last look at this colorful city in your rearview mirror before you hit the open road to the Tri-Valley area, known as the “sunny side of the bay.” Don’t get so tangled up in the area’s vineyards that you neglect the valley’s amazing beer trail linking such towns as Livermore and Danville.
Continue east to Mariposa, the most southern end of the Gold Rush towns, where a charming downtown and an extraordinary gold nugget await you. Beyond lies Yosemite. One of our favorite park areas is Hetch Hetchy, an undervisited gem.
When you leave the park, head to Tuolumne County, another Gold Rush epicenter, where incredible state parks, gold panning and apple orchards await.
Road Trip Itinerary
Start: San Francisco, Calif.
See bison in Golden Gate Park, tour the famous Alcatraz prison, cruise in the bay, and meet sea life at the aquarium before heading to Yosemite.
Stop 1: Tri-Valley
Thirty-miles east of San Francisco, Tri-Valley enjoys an average of 264 days of sunshine a year. Sip on California wines or sample at 10 stops on the Beer Trail.
Stop 2: Hilmar Cheese Company
Tour the world’s largest cheese and whey factory. The Visitor Center offers free self-guided tours, guided tours, and free samples.
Stop 3: Mariposa County
Find a huge gold nugget, the largest alpaca farm in the state, and an olive oil tasting room on your visit to the charming historic county of Mariposa.
Want to avoid traffic and parking inside Yosemite? Park your car in Mariposa and take the YARTS bus into Yosemite Valley. From there, you can ride the shuttle to many attractions and trailheads in the park.
Stop 4: Yosemite National Park
Enter the park at the Arch Rock Entrance on Highway 140 and explore Glacier Point and Yosemite Valley before exiting out the Big Oak Flat Entrance on Highway 120. (Construction alert: Highway 120 is closed shortly after you enter the park as of Feb. 2017. Until this road reopens, please reroute through Highway 140.)
Download the GyPSy Guide app and feel like you’re touring with a local in your car. The app uses your phone or tablet’s location to play commentary about Yosemite attractions such as Half Dome and Tunnel View as you drive.
Expand your park experience: Take a private tour of the park with Yosemite Family Adventures. Do one of four classic tours, or go stargazing, fly fishing, or hiking with a Yosemite expert guide.
Stop 5: Hetch Hetchy and Evergreen Lodge
The Evergreen Lodge is a newly expanded historic resort with cabins and ready-to-sleep tents at Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy entrance. Take a hike past Hetch Hetchy’s waterfalls, do an Evergreen Yosemite tour or attend a workshop.
Read more about Evergreen Lodge.
Stop 6: Tuolumne County
More than half of Yosemite is in Tuolumne County along with apple orchards, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, Columbia State Historic Park, and amazing rafting with O.A.R.S.
Read our list of eight things to do in Tuolumne County.
Stay at the newest resort near the park, Rush Creek Lodge.
Stop 7: Oakdale, Calif.
Hailed the Cowboy Capitol of the World, turn off the main strip to explore the historic downtown of Oakdale. Start at the Cowboy Museum, then experience a rodeo. End the day at the H Bar B.
While in Oakdale, ride the Sierra DinnerTrain. A unique venue for dining and family excursions, the Sierra DinnerTrain hosts year-round experiences for train-lovers of all ages.