A Day Trip to Yosemite from San Francisco


You read that right. A DAY TRIP to Yosemite! It’s completely possible if you live in the Bay Area, or even within 200 miles of Yosemite. Making it a one-day excursion made it feel like even more of an adventure – although people who actual go to climb El Capitan might disagree with my use of “adventure.”

The title says San Francisco, but I figured that was more relatable that where we actually left from in the East Bay – Livermore. Being in Livermore definitely cuts the drive time down a bit from San Francisco as a starting point. Starting in San Francisco is still achievable as a day-trip, though!

We took the 120 freeway as this is the shortest/fastest route. You can take the long, scenic route and go through the giant Sequoias in Mariposa, but that tacks on over an hour of drive time which we didn’t want to do for a day trip.

Half Dome from Yosemite Valley

We left around 8:30am. About 1.5 hours later than originally planned – oops. We made a few stops on the way because it’s about the journey, not the destination etc. etc. Bring snacks, water, and there is a Starbucks in Oakdale if you need a caffeine boost.

Our first stop was Iron Door Saloon in Groveland for some lunch! We had no clue what to expect from “California’s oldest operating saloon” and boy, were we surprised.

Firstly, I expected it to look like it does with very “manly” decor. What I didn’t expect was for “Let It Go” from Frozen to be BLASTING throughout the entire saloon! I walked in cracking up at the juxtaposition of the music with the decor. Turns out they have a Jukebox and there were some families in there. Baby Shark came on later.

I was shocked and thrilled to see that in this old saloon with dozens of dead things on the walls, they had multuple vegetarian/vegan options! I got a Beyond Burger and scarfed down the beer-battered fries.

You’re probably as curious about the dollar bills stuck to the ceiling as we were. We watched a few people toss up a dollar with a tack and a quarter to get it to stick to the ceiling. The bartender said each year they take down all the dollars and donate the money to local schools – incredible!

After going through the entrance and paying $35(!!) to get into Yosemite National Park, we stopped a few times along the side of the road to take in the views and shoot some photos. Don’t rush to get to the crowded valley – the stops along the way are just as beautiful!

This was our first scenic stop. There were a few we drove by before this one, but didn’t have time to stop as there were cars behind us. No one was here except dozens and dozens of grasshoppers which jumped out of the way every step we took!

I made the split second decision to pull over when I saw another pull-out next to the Merced River. If you can stop, this spot is amazing! It’s right after Artists’ Creek on the map heading towards Yosemite Valley. Again, no one else was stopped here and we had the whole river to ourselves to take photos and relax. If I had a swimsuit with me I would have hopped into the river!

Merced River Yosemite National Park

Because Yosemite is so breath-taking, I hadn’t been since I was a kid, and Kevin had never been, so we stopped quite a few times before actually getting to the valley floor. All the stops are what made this trip so fun! We had to pull over when we spotted Bridalveil Falls on the side of Cathedral Rocks.

Note tiny Kevin on the bottom left (of the right photo) for scale.

We went on a Friday so there weren’t too many people and there was plenty of parking along the road and in the parking lot.

We parked in the aforementioned parking lot and got out to walk around a bit and stare at the monstrous granite rocks all around us. From this parking lot, you can walk through Cook’s Meadow pictured below.

Yosemite Valley

We left this parking lot and kept following the road to the other side of Cook’s Meadow. From here, there is parking on the side of the road near the Yosemite Falls Trailhead. We parked here and walked across the road for some INCREDIBLE Half Dome views.

Kevin painted here while I sat on a rock and drooled over Half Dome. We wanted to take some photos here so I changed on the side of the busy road into my “travel dress” and we set up the tripod for some couple pics!

The background does not even look real! The light was changing quickly and coming and going through the trees, but Kevin managed to snap some golden hour photos of just me in the same spot. The traffic was really picking up on the side of the road just before sunset, but we were still some of the only people on this side of the road.

We headed out of Yosemite Valley ready to go home when Kevin spotted El Capitan from the passenger window. We pulled over once again to gasp at the massive rock we were looking at. I could not believe how grand El Capitan looked in person.

Note the car at the bottom of the photo for scale.

El Capitan Yosemite National Park

The view opposite of El Capitan is just as grand. I believe this is Cathedral Rocks East. We stood in the dry meadow here turning back and forth looking at the ginormous granite rocks surrounding us.

Cathedral Rocks East

We thought that was our last stop and we would shoot straight home from here. Of course, we pulled over at a turn-out again when we saw these burnt trees with orangey-pink hills peeking through.

Yosemite National Park

And we had to stop again when we saw a spot called “Rainbow Pools” on the map.

Our jaws dropped when we realized Rainbow Pools was not just a little pond, but actually a mini waterfall! It was dusk and the light was disappearing by the minute, but we stayed here for about 20 minutes taking photos. We could not believe what we were seeing – we had the whole place to ourselves!

In summary, Yosemite has so much to offer and it can’t all be seen in one day, but you can still see SO much. It was exhausting, but a great adventure! We were happy with doing it as a day-trip and I would do it again. Next time, I’ll definitely try to leave my house earlier.

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A Day Trip to Yosemite from San Francisco