The Best Northern California Family Road Trip

This summer our first family road trip was to Northern California. We started in San Jose and made a triangle to Lake Tahoe and then to Yosemite National Park. We found a deal on Southwest for $59 one way flight to San Jose so we had no choice but to go. ๐Ÿ™‚

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

  • Drive to San Jose
  • Fly Home

Day 1

We landed in San Jose about 12pm. We flew into San Jose instead of San Francisco because I found $59 dollar one way tickets on Southwest. We used Budget for our rental car. The car rental process at the airport took about 1 hour. We decided to make a pit stop at Half Moon Bay to see the beach before heading to the city. We found the greatest tip for Half Moon Bay. The Ritz Carlton has a few free parking spots for the coastal trail. When you pull up to the gate just say you are there for the coastal trail and they give you a pass to park in a garage. You can walk the grounds and go to a beautiful beach that is way less crowded than the public beach. After the beach we headed to the city. Our Airbnb was in the perfect location. It was across the street from Delores Park. This park has amazing views of the city. There were tons of people relaxing and spending the beautiful sunny day at the park. We then headed for Baker Beach. There are awesome views of the Golden Gate Bridge here. On our drive to dinner we stopped by Battery Spencer for another amazing view of the bridge. We ended the day at Burma Superstar. We only wait about 30 minutes for a table. We ordered the tea leaf salad, coconut rice, fiery chicken with vegetables, and nan Pia dok. Everything was delicious. FYI: Make sure ALL belongings are out of your car in the city. The only thing we would leave is the car seat. We saw multiple cars broken into even at busy stops.

Baker Beach, San Francisco
Baker Beach

Day 2

Tartine Bakery was our first stop for breakfast. It is only about 3 blocks from the Airbnb. We ordered a morning bun, croissant, and strawberry bread pudding. All were delicious. We brought our food to go to Delores Park so the girls could play. We headed to the Painted Ladies next. There is a great park right next to this site too. Sometimes I feel like we just move park to park around cities, but its how we can keep the girls entertained. We drove down Lombard Street a couple times because the girls thought it was a roller coaster. Then headed to lunch at Ichiraku Ramen. We ordered gyoza and Red Garlic Ramen. I have never eaten ramen before. After eating it, I prefer pho over ramen but everyone else loved it. After lunch, we took the ferry to Sausalito and back. This is a great way to see amazing views of the city, Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz. We did not go to Alacatraz this time with the girls, but my husband and I have been before and I highly recommend it. Before the ferry ride we strolled though the Ferry Building Marketplace. There are tons of different shops and restaurants and snacks. After the ferry ride we headed to Bi Rite Creamery for a sweet treat. Really good ice cream. It is across the street from Delores Park. After we headed to Bernal Heights Park for sunset. This park has amazing views of the city and the popular swing. We have some amazing pictures from here. We ended the night with dinner at La Taqueria. Very well known place. We ordered the pork super burrito and chips and guac. We split everything between the 4 of us. The frescas are delicious as well.

Bernal Heights Park Swing, San Francisco
Bernal Heights Park

Day 3

We headed to Lake Tahoe. It was about a 3 hour drive. We stopped at Target on the way to get food for camping. We camped at Meeks Bay Resort. It was a perfect small campground. Most of the sites had water views. The best sites are site 1T or 6T for the best water view. The beach is beautiful. One of the most beautiful places I have ever been too. There are clean showers and bathrooms at this campground. There are many state parks along Lake Tahoe that you can camp at. I booked this trip pretty last minute so everything was already booked, but this campground ended up being great. We drove to Emerald Bay. It has amazing views, a huge waterfall, and a beach you can walk down to. We were in Lake Tahoe in early June and it dropped to the 30s at night. We needed all of our winter clothes for this part of the trip.

Meeks Bay, Lake Tahoe
Meeks Bay

Day 4

We spent most of the morning at Meeks Bay Beach. We did a drive around the lake. It took about 3 hours. We stopped in Nevada at Sand Harbor State Park. We went in the late afternoon around 4ish and the parking lot was starting to clear. It is $10 to get in the park. This park has the giant boulders in the water. Amazing views here. We ate in South Lake Tahoe because we are cold weather wimps and did not want to cook in the 30 degree weather. We stopped at Cold Water Brewery and Grill. This place is pretty pricey but it was good. The girls got chicken tenders and we orders the fish tacos. Both were good.

Sand Harbor State Park, Lake Tahoe
Sand Harbor State Park

Day 5

We headed to Yosemite National Park. From Lake Tahoe you can usually take Tioga Pass in the summer but California had a late snowstorm so this road was still blocked. Tioga Pass would have taken us about 3 hours but going around takes about 5 hours. I could not get reservations anywhere in or around Yosemite prior to the trip. Everything was sold out. There are first come first serve campgrounds on Tioga Pass but they were still closed. There are also first come first serve campgrounds in Stanislaus National Forest. This was our plan. All of these campgrounds are at least 1 hour from Yosemite Valley. Camp 4 now has an online lottery. You pay $10 the day before and hope your name is chosen. We won the Yosemite Lottery! We stayed in Camp 4 right in the middle of Yosemite Valley. It is a walk in site. There are 6 people to every site so our family of 4 shared the site with 2 others. You can pretty much park here and take the shuttle to almost everything in the park except Glacier Point. The first day we took the short walk to Bridalveil Falls. Huge, amazing waterfall. Highly trafficked hike. There were people everywhere. Bring a rain coat especially in spring because you will get wet. After, we drove to Glacier point. It takes about 45 minutes. We were here for sunset and it was unreal. The views and colors were amazing. Also tons of people here.

Glacier Point Yosemite National Park
Glacier Point

Day 6

We stopped to get the girls the junior ranger book from the gift shop. The girls love it and it gives kids something to do while you walk around the park. We walked to Lower Yosemite Falls. Very heavy traffic on this walk. All the falls at this time were very powerful during our trip due to all the recent snow. After we took the shuttle to a ranger program. They had a set up to see the climbers on El Capitan. This is really cool. There was a 10 year old girl climbing with her dad on the day we were there. At night you can all the climber’s lights on the side of the mountain. It is really cool. After this we hiked through Cook’s Meadow Trail in Yosemite Valley. Easy walk especially for kids and has great views of the park.

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Falls from Cook’s Meadow Trail

Day 7

It was about a 3 hour drive back to San Jose airport.

Emerald Bay Lake Tahoe
Emerald Bay

This amazing Northern California road trip was so fun for our family. It is a great road trip for anyone. My husband and I have also been to Yosemite without children. I highly recommend hiking Cloud’s Rest if you can. It is a difficult 14 miles but completely worth it. The views are amazing. See pictures in post here.

Get $40 off your first Airbnb here.

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