Sun, Vineyards, and Peaks: The San Francisco Loop

See the California heights by striking the Yosemite- and Tahoe-blessed interior before a taste of the decadent in a Napa-Sonoma home stretch.
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San Francisco
The Gateway to Familial Adventure: San Francisco, your start and end point  (Brand X Pictures)

Welcome to the California of your mind: wave-crushing beachfront, the soaring spires of the Golden Gate Bridge, grape-rich valleys brimming with perfectly aged wine, the outdoor splendors of Yosemite and Tahoe.

Days 1-2: San Francisco to Yosemite National Park (194 Miles)
It's a four-hour drive of just less than 200 miles from San Francisco to Yosemite, so take some time to enjoy the City by the Bay before hitting the road. Highlights include 1,017-acre Golden Gate Park, stretching three miles inland from the sea and containing the Conservatory of Flowers, a bison paddock, a restored old-fashioned windmill, horseback riding, golf, polo, tennis, archery, and an old, restored merry-go-round. Another option would be to grab a meal at Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, The Cannery, or Pier 39, all areas strung along the waterfront that bustle with shops, restaurants, art galleries, and a lively street-performing scene.

When you've had your fill of city life, gun it east through Modesto to the monumental landscape of 750,000-acre, 1,200-square-mile Yosemite (209.372.0200;, a study in contrasts with urbane SF if ever there was one. Immortalized in the images of photographer Ansel Adams, the view of Half Dome from atop 3,214-foot Glacier Point is the icon that perhaps most clearly defines the term "mountain" for many of us. The waterfall-washed domes and mountains rise from the western slope of the Sierras in the center of the state, anchoring California's alpine character against its coastal side. Although most visitors have long concentrated activities in the Yosemite Valley, site of Yosemite Village, the valley contains only seven of the park's 1,189 square miles. One hundred ninety-six miles of roads and 840 of trails access this paradise of untrammeled wilderness, open year-round except for the Tioga Pass, which is closed in winter.

With a day and half or so in the park, you can choose from a number of guided or independent activities, including wilderness hiking, camping, horseback riding, and fishing. Ranger-guided walking tours are frequently offered, while an open-air tram gives two-hour valley tours all summer. Note that named scenic locales are far apart, so plan accordingly—and allow for traffic jams in summer.

The choice spot to camp in an RV is at Yosemite's Lower Pines Campground (800.436.7275;, a 60-site area near Curry Village at an altitude of 4,000 feet. It's open longer than any of the other park campgrounds, from mid March to late October, and offers swimming access, terrific proximity to many hiking trailheads, and a convenient location within 1.5 miles of the various services at Yosemite Village. Meanwhile, front- and backcountry campsites abound throughout the park, plus there's always the classic 1927 Ahwahnee Lodge (559.253.5635; if you're looking for that quintessential national-park experience.

Published: 1 Mar 2006 | Last Updated: 7 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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