California 10 Day Itinerary – San Francisco, Lake Tahoe and Northern California Parks

Best California National Park

Southern California seems to get all the attention.  What is there to do in Northern California?  If you love the great outdoors rather than the big city, Northern California is for you. With destinations including Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Mt Shasta, Lassen Volcanic Park, Mendocino,  and the towering redwoods along the wild and scenic north coast, Northern California offers everything from great hiking to camping, great coastal towns and once in a lifetime views. This California 10 day itinerary will cover all of these amazing sites.

I’ve included the daily driving mileage and driving time to give you an idea of how much driving is involved in this ten day Northern California itinerary.

Total mileage for this 1o day California itinerary – 1225 miles (1970 kilometers)

Total driving time for this 10 day California itinerary – approx. 24 hours

1. San Francisco

Stay 1 day

Spend your first day seeing the magnificent city by the bay.  Some of the most popular attractions  include Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, the cable cars, and Golden Gate Park.

Possible lodging – Grand Hyatt San Francisco

2. Yosemite National Park (170 miles, approx. 3 hour drive depending on traffic in San Francisco)

Stay 2 days

Nothing prepares you for that first view of Yosemite Valley—the soaring monoliths and cascading waterfalls seem almost surreal in their beauty and size, a giant’s version of paradise.  Things to see include the fabulous Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and El Capitan!

On your way out of the park, stop to marvel at Olmsted Point from the Tioga Rd viewpoint, and take in the dazzling views from the sandy shores of Tenaya Lake. Wind up your trip with a wander around the Sierra Nevada’s biggest alpine meadow at Tuolumne Meadows. Late June to mid-August are the best times to try to catch the wildflowers in the meadows depending on the elevation.

Possible lodging – Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite (book early as Yosemite will sell out far in advance!)

3. Lake Tahoe (205 miles, 4.5 hour drive)

Stay 1 day

Lake Tahoe has to be on any nature lovers’ California 10 day itinerary. Blue as a topaz and circled by majestic peaks, this High Sierra gem straddling the California-Nevada border is a year round resort. Winter and springtime snow lets you carve it up at world-class alpine resorts. Summer brings out the water toys—sailboats, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and almost anything that floats. Fall paints the hills with golden aspen leaves.

There’s never a bad time to visit Lake Tahoe. Celebrate summer in the Sierra with a hike to Emerald Bay State Park or spend some time at Pope Beach. Discover Tahoe winters via skiing and holiday fun at the Heavenly Village and Ski Resort. Off season is a great time to avoid the crowds, visit Lake Tahoe in the spring to hit the slopes in sunglasses and a t-shirt, or come in the fall when the mountains show spectacular colors and hiking is at its best.

Possible lodging – The Lodge at Edgewood Tahoe

4. Lassen Volcanic National Park (186 mile, 3.5 hour drive)

Lassen Volcanic Park

Stay 2 days

Steaming sulphur vents, splattering mud pots, boiling springs—these lively features show that the earth is not quiet in this fascinating park in the state’s wild northeast corner.  Tour the park on the first day, and on the second day visit the spectacular Burney Falls at the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park (45 minute drive)

Possible lodging – Best Western Rose Quartz Inn

5. Mt Shasta (90 miles, 2 hour drive)

Mt Shasta

Stay 1 day

Topping out at 14,179 feet/4,322 meters high, this magnificent volcano seems to scrape the turquoise-blue sky. Luckily, you don’t have to climb to the peak to enjoy this alpine paradise. Easy hiking paths loop through wildflower-filled meadows and into cool forests. One of the best trails, a easy two-mile path along the McCloud River on the mountains south, leads to a trio of waterfalls—all beautiful, though Middle Falls is the real head-turner.

Possible lodging – The Inn at Mt Shasta

6. Redwood National and State Parks (233 miles, 4.5 hour drive)

Stay 2 days

This World Heritage Site protects nearly half of the world’s tallest trees. This spectacular network of national and state parks has dozens of soft paths letting you walk among soaring coast redwoods, which grow over 350 feet/107 meters high. Learn more about the region, and get great tips from knowledgeable rangers, by starting your visit with a stop at the outstanding Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center,

After viewing the spectacular redwoods on the first day, drive to the lively seaport town of Eureka on the second day.

Possible lodging – Viewcrest Lodge

7. Mendocino (145 miles, 3 hour drive)

Stay 1 day

With fewer than 1,000 year-round residents and this remote location, Mendocino offers tranquility in a spectacular North Coast setting. Mendocino’s dramatic location is a natural magnet for artists, and you can often see them, easels propped and paint palettes out, capturing the scene on their canvases.

Possible lodging – Mendocino Hotel and Garden Suites

8. Muir Woods National Monument (149 miles, 3 hour drive)

Tucked into an ocean-facing fold of Mount Tamalpais, the signature peak just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, Muir Woods National Monument protects the last stand of uncut old-growth coast redwoods in the Bay Area, where loggers had all but denuded the region by the late 1800s.  This is an extremely popular park and there is limited parking so get there early!

After visiting the park drive to a hotel near the San Francisco airport to catch you flight out the next day.

Possible lodging – San Francisco Airport Marriott

9. Fly out of  San Francisco Airport  (30 miles, 1 hour drive depending on San Francisco traffic)

Tip – To quickly find more details on any of the attractions in this itinerary see the clickable attractions on our California map

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