Roadtrippin’ from San Francisco to Las Vegas

Where You Should Stop When Driving from San Fran to Sin City

Why go to one place when you can visit a whole bunch? Road trips are about the journey, not the destination. That being said, as far as destinations go, Las Vegas is pretty hard to beat—which is part of the reason why driving there from San Francisco might not be such a crazy idea after all, especially if you find the right people to go with you! 

The drive from San Fran to Las Vegas is around ten hours on its own. Why not take the long way there—or, to be more accurate, the longer way? Make the most out of your trip to Vegas by adding a few (or all) of these stops to your road trip itinerary! 

Blue Park 

📍 Yerba Buena Island

The Best Views of Downtown San Francisco 

Yerba Buena Island Nimitz Lane | Yerba Buena Island |
You’ll recognize the view from this secluded area almost immediately—it’s an iconic shot of the Bay Bridge and the cityscape behind it. Image courtesy of @sfgate on Instagram

Don’t be so hasty to leave town! Before you get to the other side of the San Francisco Bay, consider stopping at Yerba Buena Island’s Blue Park, a little-known park that’s around 45 minutes from Downtown San Fran. 

Stop here on Nimitz Lane to snap a quick photo of Golden Gate City behind you. It probably won’t be a long visit, but since you’re going by anyway, it’s definitely worth it. Take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the city skyline before leaving it all in the rearview mirror. 

“Blue Park is on the south shore of Yerba Buena Island. This is the photo point shot or ‘money shot,’ if you wish, of bazillions of photos of San Francisco . . . it's probably one of the most photo-friendly parts of San Francisco.” -Greg D. on Yelp

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve

📍 Mono County

Natural Wonder Formed by Eastern Sierra Streams

US-395 | Lee Vining |
With origins that date back more than one million years, Mono Lake is one of the oldest lakes in North America. Image courtesy of @travelingness8 on Instagram

Tufa towers are calcium-carbonate formations that result from interactions between freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. Over the many years that Mono Lake has existed, a concentrated number of tufa towers have formed due to the salts and minerals that have made their way into the lake from Eastern Sierra streams. As the freshwater from the lake evaporates, the salts layer, building up the towers. 

If the weather is warm enough, you can even swim in the lake, which is more than twice as salty as the ocean at this point. Because the water is so salty, it’s denser than the water that you’re used to swimming in, meaning you’ll float more easily. The water is even rumored to have healing properties. But winter travelers need not worry, as Mono Lake is just as breathtaking in the winter, especially when the tofu towers are adorned with snow.  

“One of the most amazing places on Earth. Otherworldly . . .   Highly recommend. You will be overwhelmed by the beauty.” -Cheri C. on Yelp

Forestiere Underground Gardens

📍 Fresno

A California State Landmark That’s Over 110 Years Old!

5021 West Shaw Avenue | Fresno |
In 1901, Baldassare Forestiere emigrated from Sicily to the United States, where he would eventually build this subterranean masterpiece. Image courtesy of @karenjgwillis on Instagram

Constructed entirely by hand, Forestiere Underground Gardens aren’t just a one-of-a-kind point of interest—they’re a work of art. This collection of rooms, passages, and gardens will astound you with its complexity and show you the true meaning of dedication. Orange, lemon, and grapefruit trees are just some of the plants that can be found growing from beneath the earth’s surface, within the confines of this unique open-air museum in Fresno. 

Modeled after the ancient catacombs, Forestiere Underground Gardens contains vaults, arches, and courtyards that you can explore at a temperature that’s anywhere from 10 to 30 degrees cooler than the surface. Because of its historic significance, tours of the Underground Gardens are guided and an hour long. 

“Loved this tour . . . Mr. Forestiere was amazing and to see what he built was an incredible experience. Come see it for yourself. The underground areas keep things cool so it wasn't too bad even on a day that was 100 degrees out.” -Dalia F. on Yelp

General Sherman Tree

📍 Sequoia National Park 

The World’s Largest Living Tree

Sherman Tree Trail | Giant Forest |
General Sherman Tree stands at 275 feet tall and has a diameter of over 36 feet at its base. Image courtesy of @onelittleindn on Instagram

The world’s largest tree (measured by volume), this humble giant towers over all who visit it at the north end of Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park. Whether you want to venture through a greater portion of the park or just make the half-mile hike down to the Sherman Tree, this king sequoia is worth seeing. 

If you’re looking to do a little walking, try Big Trees Trail (one-mile loop) or Congress Trail (two-mile loop) to see more of the park’s enormous trees. Of course, there are dozens of other trails that you can take if you’re feeling more adventurous. Keep in mind that the Sherman Tree is an extremely popular destination, so the trail leading up to the tree and the area surrounding it can get quite crowded—and if you want to take your picture with it, you’ll probably have to wait in line. 

“The trail from the parking lot to General Sherman Tree is less than a mile, paved, and all downhill . . . Overall, I was amazed by the General Sherman Tree. The sheer size of General Sherman Tree is worth seeing with your own eyes.” -Mel C. on Yelp

Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch

📍 Oro Grande

Quirky Roadside Attraction on Route 66

24266 National Trails Highway | Oro Grande |
Unfortunately, Elmer Long, the man behind this beloved pitstop, died in June of 2019. However, you can still see the incredible art that he created, thanks to his family who continues to manage the site. Image courtesy of California Through My Lens

Open from sunrise to sunset on Route 66, Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch is proof that anything can be made into art. Just north of Oro Grande, this assorted display features repurposed glass, metal, and other materials and items that most people would be inclined to just throw away. 

You won’t be able to believe your eyes as you wander through Elmer’s hand-made “trees” consisting of glass bottles and metal pipes. Bottle Tree Ranch has achieved local and international fame as a must-see road trip destination when driving through Southern California. 

“...Truly a cool, eclectic, and fun little stop if you're road-tripping through this area of the map . . . This place will definitely bring a smile to your face as you enter the gate and wind through the dirt paths of bottle trees and antiques.” -Renee C. on Yelp

Mojave National Preserve

📍 Kelso 

Sprawling, Scenic Desert with Hiking and Camping

90942 Kelso Cima Road | Kelso |
Before European settlers confiscated the land, the Mojave Desert was home to the Chemehuevi, Hopi, and Navajo peoples, who used the Mojave trail as their main trading route. Image courtesy of @eurowings on Instagram

From the Kelso Dunes and Joshua tree forests to mountains and volcanic fields, Mojave National Preserve is a diverse geological space with stunning landscapes and desert wildlife. Climb vast dunes, hike the rugged terrain, and be sure to photograph your journey through the natural beauty that you discover throughout Mojave National Preserve. 

If you want, you can even spend the night camped out beneath the desert sky at one of the Preserve’s campgrounds. But fair warning—because it’s the desert, the temperatures do get pretty extreme out here, reaching highs of 100-plus degrees Fahrenheit and lows of 20. 

“The Mojave has a different kind of beauty—a starkness that is captivating and manages to show you something different at every turn. Get off the beaten path and travel the less-travelled roads. You will be amazed at what you have just under your fingertips.” -Liz T. on Yelp

Calico Ghost Town

📍 San Bernardino County

Old West Mining Town with Tours, Attractions, and a Museum

36600 Ghost Town Road | Yermo |
To get to this old-timey attraction, take the Ghost Town Road exit off of I-15. The park is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily (except on Christmas Day). Image courtesy of California Through My Lens

Step straight into an Old Western movie when you stop at Calico Ghost Town, a former mining town that dates back to 1881 with the start of the biggest silver strike that California has ever seen. When the value of silver depleted in the 1890s, the miners left Calico, leaving a “ghost town” in their wake. The land was purchased by Walter Knott—of Knott’s Berry Farm—in the 1950s and transformed it into a historic attraction with shops, restaurants, and camping. 

Calico Ghost Town includes six different attractions: the Lucky Lane Museum, Maggie Mine, Calico Odessa Railroad, the Mystery Shack Tour, Gold Panning, and Ghost Tours. Learn about the history of the area in fun and interactive ways when you take a look at old documents and photographs, go for a tour aboard an old-fashioned train, pan for “gold,” and more. 

“Good family detour off the 15 Freeway . . . This place is big, lots of parking, souvenir shop, museum, ghost trail, a train with a caboose, and a restaurant, all on-site. “ -Gina T. on Yelp

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area 

📍 Las Vegas 

Red Sandstone Canyons West of Vegas 

1000 Scenic Loop Drive | Las Vegas |
Don’t head to the Strip right away—make one last detour to this iconic national park before (finally) making your way to Vegas. Image courtesy of Pinterest

Red Rocks Canyon lies on the outskirts of Las Vegas, just a few miles west of the city. Whether you view the canyon from your car as you take the 13-mile drive through the park or you do a little hiking on one of Red Rock’s many trails, you’re sure to fall red-over-heels in love with the picturesque, vibrant landscapes that you’ll find at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.  

The Aztec sandstone that makes up Red Rocks gets its red color from built-up iron oxide, creating a rust-like effect on some of the rocks. Almost two million years old, Red Rocks Canyon has undergone many, many years of evolution, and dinosaur tracks have even been found in some parts of the formation. Today, you’ll find desert plants and wildlife scattered throughout the park. 

“This is a beautiful state park with a lot of hiking, biking, and wildlife. They also a great drive through the park called the ‘loop’ where you can walk, drive or bike and get amazing views.” -Jess L. on Yelp

Take the Road Less-Traveled to Vegas 

While San Francisco and Las Vegas certainly hold more than their fair share of places to see and things to do, you might be surprised by just how much lies between the two cities. From well-known national parks to obscure stops along the highway, your road trip from San Fran to Sin City is sure to be filled with adventure, discovery, and, of course, memories.

Albion Skeldon

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