Last Updated on September 14, 2022 by Snezana Grcak
Thanks to our awesome guide, traveling through California and planning a road trip from San Diego to Yosemite National Park has never been easier. We will help you pick the best route, explore popular attractions, and discover gorgeous natural sites along the way and in Yosemite. In addition to mountains, lakes, cliffs, and hiking trails, our travel itinerary includes popular entertainment options, town landmarks, and locals’ favorite restaurants. Any nature enthusiast will enjoy the adventure with our cool tips, but we recommend extending your trip as much as possible for the most spectacular experience.
Drive From San Diego to Yosemite
Yosemite National Park is placed in California’s Sierra Nevada, around 400 miles from San Diego. The driving distance and time depend on the route you decide to take and the stops you take along the way. Here are the two main routes:
- Take Interstate 5, switch to California Highway 99 before Bakersfield, and then use Highway 41 from Fresno to Yosemite. This one is our go-to route.
- Take Interstate 15, switch to I-215 (for Riverside/San Bernardino), get back to I-15 after San Bernandino, and then continue onto US-395 for about 285 miles before turning to SR 120.
Although you can do the drive in one day, it’s better if you split the journey into two days and check out some fantastic places en route.
Best Stops Along the Way
Our team singled out the most exciting and beautiful attractions for your San Diego to Yosemite National Park road trip. All these stops are along the above-listed first route.
The City of Angels offers much more than the famous Hollywood neighborhood, although we do recommend the Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood. The Shuttle Fare team singled out our favorite places; check them out to find something interesting for you.
- The Broad features over 2,000 works of art and the iconic Infinity Mirror Rooms installation. Find tickets and parking here.
- Griffith Observatory offers magnificent views of the cosmos and the city alike. Click here to plan your visit.
- The Museum of Jurassic Technology is incredible, but don’t read about it; just go and enjoy the surprise. Be sure to schedule your visit here.
- The Getty Center complex comprises a museum, auditorium, conservation, and beautiful gardens. Its permanent art collection is undoubtedly worth checking out. Discover admission and parking fees.
- Olvera Street, the oldest street in LA, is the center of Mexican-American culture with lots of small shops, some restaurants, and a plaza that hosts live shows.
- Koreatown offers an authentic and unique slice of Korean culture. Take a walk around the neighborhood, and don’t hesitate to visit a real KBBQ where you cook at the table, such as Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong. We also recommend The Prince, one of the coolest places to grab a drink or bite in the area.
- Downtown’s bar scene is the best, with quite a few rooftop bars without a cover fee, including The Upstairs at Ace Hotel, Broken Shaker, and Perch LA. You can check them out just for the views, but we suggest having a couple of drinks, too. Other bars with excellent cocktails include Seven Grand, The Slipper Clutch, and Golden Gopher.
Those who want to check out these places should stay in a hotel in the suburbs or near the airport; they are usually more affordable.
If you decide to take the other route to avoid driving through bustling LA, we suggest visiting San Bernardino National Forest. Whatever route your choose, we suggest taking another one on your way back.
Sequoia National Forest
Ideal for nature lovers, Sequoia National Forest offers a ton of stuff to do and see. In addition to the stunning scenery, visitors can enjoy hiking, camping, and animal watching. The huge sequoias are magnificent, and you can even walk inside some trees or climb them. The forest is perfect for both single adventurers and families with kids.
Whether you want to relax, learn, or have lunch, make a stop in Fresno; it offers something for everybody. Here are our favorite places in the city:
- Forestiere Underground Gardens, a short drive northwest of the city center, is truly a hidden gem with an amazing history. It’s the #1 city attraction.
- Fresno Discovery Center has cool hands-on exhibits, educational displays, and an indoor play area for kids.
- Arte Américas and Fresno Art Museum are the go-to places for art enthusiasts seeking cultural education.
- Fresno Chaffee Zoo in Roeding Park houses nearly 200 species and features many exciting exhibits. Both locals and tourists love it.
- Fresno County Blossom Trail is a must if you’re traveling between mid-February and mid-March. The magnificent trail starts at Simonian Farms on South Clovis Avenue and is suitable for drivers and bikers.
Tioga-Sequoia Beer Garden is both a city attraction and a great place to grab a beer. If you’re a wine lover, we highly recommend visiting Moravia Wines, ideal for wine tasting and family picnicking. Fresno also offers fantastic eateries, especially if you like tacos, Asian food, or Mediterranean meals. Here are the locals’ recommendations:
- La Elegante and El Primo Mejor for tacos;
- B&K Asian Kitchen and Saibaidee for delicious SE Asian food;
- AJ’s Armenian and Phoenician Garden for Mediterranean cuisine;
- The Annex Kitchen, Anesso, and Black Pepper for fine dining.
This artificial lake is a smooth 15-mile drive north of Fresno and houses eagles, badgers, cottontail rabbits, and mule deer. Millerton Lake offers hiking and camping opportunities, as well as activities like fishing, swimming, or boating. So, it’s an awesome choice for both relaxation and fun outdoor activities.
National Park Passes
All visitors who plan to arrive by September 30th between 6 AM and 4 PM need to make a reservation. The following prices apply year-round; they cover three days between mid-May and the end of September or seven days from October to mid-May.
|Vehicle||7-Day Fee (October–May)|
|Non-commercial car, RV, or van with up to 15 passengers||$35|
Frequent visitors can purchase the Yosemite Annual Pass for only $70. Reservations are also required for all campgrounds; click here for additional information.
Things To See & Do in Yosemite
The 1,189-square-mile park is home to many lakes, ponds, and streams. Also, of the 7,000 plant species found in California, more than 20% are in Yosemite National Park. We singled out the best spots and trails that will allow you to truly enjoy the park’s astonishing nature.
- Glacier Point is a popular attraction in Yosemite. If you’re an experienced hiker, hit the Mist Trail, then Panorama Trail to Glacier Point, and then down the Four Mile Trail before taking a shuttle back to the starting point. In total, it’s about 13 miles, but the views are definitely worth the long hike.
- The Yosemite Falls Trail offers breathtaking views of the content’s highest waterfall, which peaks during spring. Use the free Valleywide Shuttle and hop off at station #7 to get to the trailhead.
- Non-hikers should visit Tunnel View, which offers magnificent vistas of Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridalveil Fall around the year. It’s on State Highway 41, and you can park the car nearby.
- We suggest you check out at least one Yosemite Lake. Our picks are Tenaya Lake and Cathedral Lakes, both stunning and surrounded by hiking trails.
- Summer travelers who love water sports must go to the Merced River’s main fork, which is ideal for fishing, rafting, and swimming. On its north side, visitors will find campsites with toilets, tables, and barbecue grills.
Best Time for Your Road Trip
Although the park is available all year long, most visitors go to Yosemite in the spring or summer. While those who want to see the waterfalls must come in May or June, the best time for travelers who’d like to avoid the annoying crowds is between October and April. And, if you travel during winter, note that some roads and trails may be closed due to snow and severe weather.
The Shuttle Fare team also covered the trip from Sacramento to Yosemite National Park, as well as other popular routes. Look into our travel guides for extra information.