Road trip from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park

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A road trip from San Francisco to Yosemite and back

My husband Luis and I spend a week in San Francisco and did a road trip to Yosemite National Park. In this post I want to give you an overview of what we did, how we organized the trip, how much we paid, and share some pictures with you.

The Trailer

Do you remember the trailer I posted a few weeks back? No? No problem, check it out here:

Planning the Trip

Let’s start out with some information on our trip-planning for our city tour and road trip.


Our flight needed to leave Newark, NJ (EWR) to go either to Los Angeles (LAX) (where we had a seminar May 15-17, 2015) or to San Francisco (SFO) and return to EWR. We started checking flights in February when we first knew the seminars dates. I checked with multiple websites, including Priceline Flights and others. We ended up booking the flight EWR-SFO-LAX-EWR on March 8th with United on their website because we were able to use frequent flyer miles (remember to sign-up for these programs!) for part of the flight. The flight SFO-LAX cost us $152.20 for 2 people – a good deal. The return-trip sucked a bit because we could not find a direct flight with frequent flyer miles…
So our final trip was the following:

  • EWR-SFO Fri May 8, 7:46 AM – 11:05 AM
  • SFO-LAX Thr May 14, 4:59 PM – 6:25 PM
  • LAX-EWR Sun May 17, 11:56 PM – 5:05 AM to Huston, TX (IAH) and 8:53 AM – 1:29 PM to EWR
  • Total cost: $152.20 plus 50.000 Miles (2 round-trips super saver) plus $22.40 security fee.


Next up was parking our car at the airport. Parking directly at the terminal is quite expensive and we found the Website Airport Parking Reservations. They offer a list of parking lots outside of the airport area with shuttles dropping you off at your terminal. The website is not only good for EWR but for almost any airport!!! We have two two favorite lots, the Renaissance and a the Valet Parking. I booked the parking spot on March 28th for May 8 to the 18 and it cost us $86.10, that is less than 7$ per day! The Renaissance shuttle leaves every 15 minutes and drops you off right at your airline. Don’t book too late, on holidays some lots may fill up but during normal times you can find deals up to one day before leaving.

Save On Airport Parking

Rental car

This one you need to book early and keep rechecking every so often, at least that has become our strategy. As soon as we had our flights (though I checked a few days earlier, too), I reserved several cars. Why several? Because we were unsure of our itinerary at that point AND we book several and make sure we can cancel them without penalties. We like “room” in our car, especially on a road trip, and we drive minivans at home so our initial reservation included:

  • A minivan from Budget $350 booked over USAA
  • A Ford Escape from Budget $237 booked over USAA
  • A Jeep Cherokee Sport from Fox $208 over Priceline

Smaller cars were cheaper. Because my husband served in the Navy we are members of USAA and they offer rentals with insurance and the spouse never pays as second driver, for younger family members, they waive the insurance for under 25 year olds with their rental car partners. Ask your host family if they are with USAA and you may be able to benefit, too.
I rechecked the rental car prices on April 27th – twice for Orlando and Los Angeles I found cheaper deals 1-2 weeks out, rented those and cancelled the more expensive ones. A few days before we left we had finalized our itinerary and decided on the minivan from Budget through USAA and I cancelled the other two cars.

Lowest rate, Great Value


  • I booked our seminar-hotel in February when we knew that we would be in the Hilton at LAX. I found the same deal through Priceline Hotels but did book over the Hilton member website (sign-up for hotel memerships, too). Our king-bed room cost $129 per night, not cheap but the seminar was going from early till late, so the three nights cost us a total of $447.29.
  • For San Francisco we were lucky, our friends who we first met in February, took us in and their home was on Telegraph Hill – awesome location. So there was no cost associated here. If we had not stayed with them we probably would have used Airbnb.
  • Yosemite National Park was a tough one because we booked only a few days before wanting to be there. Priceline Hotels offers places around and outside of the park. We ended up booking the Housekeeping Tent over for $106 per day for three days (11-13 May).

Our Itinerary

  • Our road trip travel-route originally included SFO, Healdsburg, Yosemite NP, Lake Tahoe, and the Sequoia National Forest but we focused on SFO and Yosemite NP.
  • We arrived on May 8th in SFO, picked-up the rental car and drove to our friends where we stayed until Monday morning the 11th. Drive from SFO into the city was about 30 min and you can tell the navigation not to use any toll-roads.
  • On Monday we drove out to Yosemite, about 4 hours and 20 min for 190 miles  on our road trip, again you can drive out of the city without paying any tolls. It took us longer because we stopped for food (there is a Costco on Route 120 near Manteca) and gas (on Route 120, Crane Flat Gas Station and shop just before the park entrance, they have firewood, too). At the park entrance you can either buy a single park ticket (Yosemite NP $30 per vehicle), a season pass for the one park (Yosemite NP $60), or a season pass for all national parks (called “America the Beautiful”, $80, two names can be written on it, valid for a normal car and all its passengers). We decided on the “America the Beautiful” pass because we may visit other parks in the coming year. We arrived at the Housekeeping Tents, took our stuff out and got acquainted with the area. We were glad that we took some food with us, including salad-bowels from Costco, because we did not feel like driving around that night anymore. We brought our sleeping bags, some airplane blankets, and rented the bedding-set from the campsite – we still froze that night!!! It may be really nice a few weeks later but 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit is just a bit too cold. We also had to get used to the bear boxes (where you put your food in) and there were plenty of animals and weird noised at night 🙂 With sunrise we got up and started to take pictures, drove around the park (its a loop in the park), and went to the Ahwahnee Lodge for breakfast, not the cheapest but we had a nice view inside the hotel and were able to walk around a bit. We then drove around the park a bit more and jumped out at selected locations for short hikes but in general we were not happy about spending another night in the cold with an announcement of snow in the short term forecast. We decided to leave early and they only charged us for the one night – very nice, thank you!!! So we drove off back to San Francisco, this time we took route 140 out of Yosemite, along the river a much nicer view but still a good 5 hour drive. We were thankful that our friends took us back in and spend another day sightseeing and eating 🙂

What to eat

  • Caffe Greco in SF – Breakfast with filled croissants and a good Italian cappuccino
  • Anchor Oyster Bar in SF – Great seafood place
  • Swirl on Castro in SF – Have some wine and take a bottle to the restaurants around with you
  • Fable in SF – Very nice little place, we had a great breakfast in the backyard
  • Pacific Catch in SF – Great sushi, salad and fish
  • Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite NP
  • Cheese Plus in SF – Small shop with awesome sandwiches
  • Da Flora in SF – Small cute restaurant with a daily special menu

Take the road less traveled and choose from hundreds of destinations at

And finally … the pictures



This was the second trip to San Francisco – I will post another itinerary with pictures from the first road trip soon.

Do you have questions about our trip? Feel free to post them in the comments!

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