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Sea lions at home at Pier 39 in San Francisco

California

Dazzling Scenery Awaits in San Francisco and Yosemite National Park

By: Jessica Kraft

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  • States:
    California

With a wealth of panoramic views, colorful neighborhoods and natural attractions, San Francisco, California, and Yosemite National Park – just a few hours away – offer an ideal pairing of urban excitement and outdoor serenity.

Whether it's a stroll through San Francisco's iconic Fisherman's Wharf or a hike among Yosemite's giant sequoia trees, there is plenty to do in both places over a five-day period.

Explore San Francisco's Neighborhoods

Any trip to San Francisco would be incomplete without a visit to Alcatraz Island, which originally served as a fort during the American Civil War and later as a federal penitentiary for nearly 30 years. The national park site is accessible by ferry from Pier 33.

Before or after Alcatraz, grab a seafood lunch in the waterfront neighborhood of Fisherman's Wharf as you watch the sea lions play. Rent a bicycle and ride over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge into the waterfront town of Sausalito. The area offers stunning views of both San Francisco and the Bay. After returning to San Francisco, go shopping in the Marina District, which features some of the city's trendiest boutiques.

On your second day, explore the Mission District for Latino culture and food. If it's a clear day, take an urban hike along the California Coastal Trail from the Golden Gate Bridge to Sutro Bath Houses, the ruins of a former swimming pool complex. The two- to four-hour hike passes through several beaches and the Sea Cliff neighborhood.

Afterward, grab a bite and a local beer at the Park Chalet or dine at the upscale Cliff House. End the day by hopping on a bus and visiting the Union Square District, where you can catch a jazz show at Biscuits & Blues or watch a play at the American Conservatory Theater.

Take a ferry ride to explore the infamous former federal prison, Alcatraz

Take a ferry ride to explore the infamous former federal prison, Alcatraz
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Getting From San Francisco to Yosemite

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Yosemite National Park is a three- to four-hour drive from San Francisco's by car. It's helpful to have a car when visiting Yosemite, especially if you are not staying within the park. To access Yosemite via public transportation, take an Amtrak bus from San Francisco Ferry Building to Emeryville, where you will transfer to the Amtrak train to Merced. From there, you will take the YARTS bus to Yosemite. Starline Tours, Extranomical and Yosemite-Tours.com also offer one- to three-day tours from San Francisco.

Shopping and attractions on Yosemite Mountain

Shopping and attractions on Yosemite Mountainin
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Take in the Views at Yosemite National Park

If you're interested in backpacking in Yosemite National Park, secure a wilderness permit at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and hike the Pohono Trail from Tunnel View to Crocker Point. The eight-kilometer hike grants iconic views of dramatic rock formations called Half Dome and El Capitan. There are also plenty of day hikes with trailheads accessible from Yosemite Valley, including Lower Yosemite Falls, a moderately easy 1.6-kilometer walk, and the eight-kilometer Mirror Lake Loop.

During summer months, follow up a day of hiking by renting a raft from the Curry Village Recreation Center and taking a lazy float down the Merced River. No matter the season, be sure to visit Ansel Adams Gallery, which showcases the work of the famed U.S. photographer known for black-and-white images of Yosemite and the western USA. End your trip in Yosemite by driving to Glacier Point at sunset to watch a pink glow envelope the valley.

Consider making your trip at Yosemite a multiday adventure. The park and surrounding areas offer more than 3,500 accommodation options from hotels to rustic camping spots to vacation rentals.

Must-See Spots

San Francisco

City Lights Booksellers & Publisher, 261 Columbus Ave.: Independent bookstore in operation since 1953.

Hog Island Oyster Bar, 1 Ferry Building: Waterfront restaurant featuring local seafood and craft beer.

Paxton Gate, 824 Valencia St.: Funky boutique selling vintage taxidermy and collectibles.

Taqueria Cancun, 2288 Mission St.: Affordable spot in the Mission District for authentic Mexican food.

Vesuvio Café, 255 Columbus Ave.: Iconic cafe once frequented by Beat poets.

Yosemite

Curry Village Gift and Grocery, 9010 Curry Village Drive: One-stop store for souvenirs, groceries and camping supplies.

Mountain Room Restaurant & Lounge, 9600 Yosemite Lodge Drive: Upscale dining with views of Yosemite Falls.

The Village Sport Shop, 9007 Village Drive: All kinds of climbing and outdoor gear.

Whoa Nellie Deli, 22 Vista Point Road: Casual breakfast and lunch spot near Yosemite's eastern entrance.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
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