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6 Days in Northern California

by marissak Online Now Mar 21, 2013 at 1:54 PM

Hello! My boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Northern California, arriving in San Francisco early Monday, May 28th (landing 10:30am), and flying out on a red eye Saturday, June 1 at 11pm. This is what we are thinking for an itinerary:
Monday - spend the afternoon and evening in SF and sleep with a friend in Oakland.
Tuesday - leave early and head to Napa for the morning and on to Tahoe to arrive in late afternoon
Wednesday - spend the day in Tahoe
Thursday - leave early and drive to Yosemite, sleep there Thurs night
Friday - leave early and drive to Big Sur, sleep in hotel or camp there
Saturday- drive up the coast, stopping in Monterey, etc. and arrive back in SF in the evening for our flight home.
Our questions are: 1) is this overly ambitious? too much time in the car to really enjoy anything? and, 2) What is the best approach to driving from Tahoe to Yosemite in late May and does that route even make sense?
Thank you for any advice!!!

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11 Answers
  • blueskyjohn's Profile Photo

    Re: 6 Days in Northern California

    by blueskyjohn Online Now Mar 21, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    It's a bit overly ambitious.The Big Sur/Monterey portion from Yosemite would be too much time in the car. Its sounds like your just driving to Big Sur to sleep then drive up the coast. Use the days to explore South Lake Tahoe or Yosemite. If driving on the coast is a main goals, you may consider just driving back toward San Jose, then down the coast to Monterey/Carmel.

    I did the same route from South Lake Tahoe to Yosemite. We took Route 89 out of South Lake Tahoe to Route 395 south. Route 89 has a lot of twists and turns and takes a little time but it's a beautiful drive.

    I wish we had more time in Tahoe. May is a great time of year to be there.

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  • yvr's Profile Photo

    by yvr Online Now Mar 21, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    Too many miles for the time you are spending in California. Approximately total miles of nearly 800 miles. Either pick the bay area to visit or go directly to Lake Tahoe and then to Yosemite to visit. You don't say exactly where in Lake Tahoe you will be but the shortest distance between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite is using CA 88 and CA 49 via Sonora. Your plan is way to ambitious, you won't have much time to visit these places, and by the time you get home you will be warn out and need a vacation. Enjoy your trip.

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  • Re: 6 Days in Northern California

    by rene82 Online Now Mar 21, 2013 at 3:04 PM

    I like to cram a lot into road trips, but even I think this is too much. I think you would benefit by cutting out at least one destination. Yosemite needs at least a full day, otherwise I think it is not worth the drive. It is a tough choice of what to cut out, so you'll have to prioritize what you really want to see. To me, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite are your "main" destinations with the others being shorter side trips. With this in mind, I would personally take one of two approaches on it:
    1) Cut out one of your "main" destinations (my preference would be cutting Lake Tahoe and keeping Yosemite) allowing you to still see a bunch of other destinations in kind of a drive-by fashion. Possible itinerary would be:
    Tues: drive to Yosemite
    Wed: full day in Yosemite
    Thurs: drive to Big Sur
    Friday: drive up coast to SF with some short stops along the way
    Sat: day trip to Napa from SF, or maybe skip Napa and spend more time making your way up the coast
    2) cut out the side trips and focus on Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. A possible itinerary would be:
    Tues: drive to Lake Tahoe (you could go through Napa, maybe stop at one winery, but not much else)
    Wed: full day in Tahoe
    Thurs: drive to Yosemite
    Fri: full day in Yosemite
    Sat: drive back to SF

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  • Re: 6 Days in Northern California

    by marissak Online Now Mar 21, 2013 at 3:13 PM

    Thank you both for your speedy replies! Driving the coast, and doing Monterey/Carmel is definitely a priority, so BlueSkyJohn - were you suggesting just keeping the plan as is, but not going as far south as Big Sur? Would this all work better if we were to cut out Yosemite, and drive directly from Tahoe to maybe Monterey?

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  • Re: 6 Days in Northern California

    by marissak Online Now Mar 21, 2013 at 3:18 PM

    Thanks Rene82, good suggestions.. looks like we have some prioritizing to do :)

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  • TooTallFinn24's Profile Photo

    Re: 6 Days in Northern California

    by TooTallFinn24 Online Now Mar 21, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    So approaching this another way are you comfortable spending a good 20 hours driving between places in a car on a five day trip? Most of the trip getting to the places you have identified is on roads such as US 50, I-80 and a few state highways that aren't that scenic.

    Since part of your trip takes place over Memorial Day be advised that this one of the busiest weeks and weekends of the year in Tahoe, Yosemite and Monterey. So driving time to some of these destinations may be longer.

    I agree with the comment about the routing from Tahoe to Yosemite. I would only add if you decide to go to Yosemite via Tahoe stay on 49 all the way to Groveland, and then enter the park there. It is one of the more scenic entrances that I think you will enjoy.

    Some of the most beautiful ocean scenery in the world awaits you at Big Sur. Most of the spots at the state park camping sites will be taken by now but there are two hostels in the Monterey- Salinas area that are clean and very cheap.

    Unless you have a great desire to see Lake Tahoe I would recommend scratching it from your list and focusing on Yosemite and Big Sur, Definitely it would be nice to have more time to spend in each place but these areas are so magnificent in their own right that this trip might serve as an intro to places that you want to come back to.

    Again your trip is doable if you don't mind excessive car time but I think you would spend so much time driving that you would both return back east exhausted.

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  • blueskyjohn's Profile Photo

    Re: 6 Days in Northern California

    by blueskyjohn Online Now Mar 21, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    To enjoy what you have going, yes, cut out Big Sur. Also to save some time and enjoy mountains and coast, cut out Yosemite. I say this because Yosemite can get crowded with people and traffic. A beautiful park, but if you want mountains and coast, one has to go.

    Still a lot of driving but spend an extra day in South Lake Tahoe, just pass through Napa (unless you really want to do some wine tasting), back to the coast via san jose then south to monterey and carmel. If you spend two days here, you can do a day trip down the coast to Big Sur if you want but there is a great coastal drive from Monterey to carmel 17 mile drive "Monterey" - Monterey by blueskyjohn

    The bottom line one or two of your stops should be put off to another trip so you can enjoy yourself without running crazy.  With all your selections so far, you can't go wrong with either Tahoe (less crowded) ot Yosemite (iconic scenery).

    I for one don't mind driving but prefer working from a base and taking long day trips. I think your going to have a great time!

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  • Agraichen's Profile Photo

    Re: 6 Days in Northern California

    by Agraichen Online Now Mar 21, 2013 at 3:38 PM

    Some good suggestions so far. As mentioned your idea is a bit ambitious unless you plan to spend the entire time in a car.

    What do you plan to do / see in each place? This may dictate how much time to spend. You'll not see much of SF in an afternoon/evening unless you plan to get to Oakland quite late at night. Monday traffic and the bridge construction make east bound traffic even outside of commute hours longer than "normal."

    Unless you already have reservations, I'd skip Yosemite unless you plan to just drive in and drive out to find a place to stay. Even the camp grounds are typically booked months in advance.

    Napa is only an hour from Oakland, but most wineries and places to visit are north of Napa which could take another hour. I'd spend the day touring the Silverado Trail and stay in Yountville or Callistoga then head to Tahoe the next day. Road logistics will eat up quite a bit of time getting from Napa over Hwy 12 (or other routes) to Hwy 80 to get to Tahoe (4-6 hours unless there's traffic).

    Consider just seeing a bit of San Francisco, perhaps a day in Napa County or Sonoma, then if Monterey/Big Sur is in the plan, that's 3-4 hours south depending on traffic. But again May is a great month to travel down there and you'd be best to book a room in advance. Also check the race schedule for Laguna Seca (Hmm... Mazda Raceway I believe it's called now) and if there's a race on either weekend (arrival or departure) forget about going to Monterey as most hotels will either already be booked or prices doubled.

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  • Beausoleil's Profile Photo

    Re: 6 Days in Northern California

    by Beausoleil Online Now Mar 21, 2013 at 4:03 PM

    Whatever your choices, better book ASAP because it is Memorial Day weekend and everyone will be going where you're going.

    I would definitely cut something and, for me, it would be Tahoe. The traffic getting there is going to be a nightmare. It goes through our town and we avoid the road at all costs on major holidays. Why not limit the trip to San Francisco, Big Sur and Napa? Plenty to do and it will be crowded but you won't be driving as far. Tahoe and Yosemite would be a great future trip . . . preferably not on a holiday and with enough lead time to book rooms ahead.

    Just a thought. Whatever you do, enjoy your trip.

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  • Court94403's Profile Photo

    Re: 6 Days in Northern California

    by Court94403 Online Now Mar 21, 2013 at 9:50 PM

    Hi, I agree a little bit too ambitious for the days you have here. The longest legs of your trip are Tahoe to Yosemite and Yosemite to Big Sur which are both over 4 hours. I would skip Tahoe and Yosemite, concentrate on the Central Coast. Big Sur, Monterey, Carmel etc. I agree with Beausoleil, Tahoe and Yosemite on a holiday weekend?.........there will be lots of traffic. You want to be able to enjoy your short visit, I am a Northern California/Bay Area native and the traffic here can be unpredictable.
    Hope this helps.
    Good Luck and have a great time.

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  • Merode1's Profile Photo

    Re: 6 Days in Northern California

    by Merode1 Online Now Mar 23, 2013 at 8:18 AM

    I agree very ambitious. I would like to recommend doing the coast with Monterrey Bay aquarium and Carmel then on to Hearst Castle. The drive is beautiful.

    Also, why not fit in Muir Woods? it's so close to SF and there is nothing more California than a redwood forest.

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