drive from san francisco to las vegas road trip

Drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas: 4 Road Trip Itineraries 2023

  • There are two route options for the drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas: the scenic route (10 hours, 561 miles via Yosemite) or the direct route (8.5 hours, 570 miles via I-5 and I-15).
  • The notable stops on the scenic route are Yosemite National Park, Mammoth Lakes, and Death Valley National Park, while the direct route has fewer interesting stops.
  • The scenic route is not an option in the winter due to the Tioga Pass closure, but Highway 99 is open year-round.

Do you need to drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas? Then this post is written for you.

Planning the itinerary for your San Francisco to Las Vegas drive can be a daunting task, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the area. 

We decided to make this in-depth guide for your road trip to Las Vegas from San Francisco to help make things easier for you. 

In this post, you will find everything you need to plan your drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas:

Table of Contents show

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Distance from San Francisco to Las Vegas by car

San Francisco is  570 miles away from Las Vegas via I-5 and I-15, and it would take 8 hours and 45 minutes of driving time to get there. 

You can take other routes, but this direct route is the fastest and most straightforward way of getting there.

San Francisco to Las Vegas Road Trip Itinerary

view of a street lined with buildings
las vegas strip at night
  • Direct Route: 8.5 hours, 570 miles (via I-5 and I-15)
  • Scenic Route: 10 hours, 561 miles (via Yosemite)

There are two routes that we recommend for your San Francisco to Las Vegas road trip. 

The first one is a scenic route filled with amazing views of the mountains, valleys, and lakes around the area. 

The scenic route is 1.5 hours longer than the direct one, but this is the itinerary to do if you want to drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas via Yosemite

You’ll be able to stop by lots of pullouts and vista points with breathtaking views, beautiful pristine lakes, and famous national parks and other historical sites.

The second route is the fastest way to get from San Francisco to Las Vegas and is perfect for those who want the least amount of drive time even though it’s not the most scenic.

The direct route is only an 8.5-hour drive to Las Vegas. 

And while it’s not as scenic as the first route, we recommend this for those short on time or traveling during the wintertime, as Tioga Pass closes from November until May. 

We also included other alternative routes for you to consider, with lots of notable stops, including national parks, famous photo spots, museums, and historical sites that anyone of any age will surely enjoy.

Driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas Quick Snapshot

Direct RouteScenic Route
Air Castle Museum (Merced)Yosemite National Park
Fossil Discovery Center of Madera (Madera)Mono Lake
Forestiere Underground Gardens (Fresno)June Lake Loop
California Living Museum (Bakersfield)Mammoth Lakes
Barstow (Historic Route 66)Convict Lake
Mojave National PreserveLake Crowley
Bonnie & Clyde’s Death CarLone Pine
Seven Magic MountainsDeath Valley National Park
Rhyolite Ghost Town

Drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas – Scenic Route

  • Drive Time & Distance: 10 hours, 561 miles

If you’re looking for a scenic drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas, this route is about 561 miles long and would take about ten hours of drive time. 

We’ve included 11 of the best stops along this route and the best places to stop for gas, food, and coffee.

In this jam-packed itinerary, you’ll be able to stop by historical sites and the best natural wonders between San Francisco and Las Vegas. 

From iconic national parks and scenic lakes to ghost towns and unique trails, this incredibly scenic route will keep you entertained throughout your trip. 

You’ll be driving through Tioga Pass on this route, where you’ll find many pullouts with fantastic views. 

If you want to drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas via Death Valley, then this is the route to take.

Tioga Pass is closed during winter, and the road conditions can be tough on some parts of Highway 395, so make sure to take the direct route instead.

Best Places to Stop Between San Francisco and Las Vegas – Scenic Route

  • Stops for Gas: Oakdale, Groveland, Lee Vining, Bishop, Lone Pine
  • Stops for Food and Coffee: Groveland, Lee Vining, Mammoth Lakes, Bishop, Lone Pine, Death Valley

Yosemite National Park 

yosemite

The first stop on your road trip is Yosemite National Park, one of the best places to visit on your way to Las Vegas. 

Yosemite Valley is a destination in itself where you can spend multiple days exploring the area.

However, unless you’re visiting Yosemite in the shoulder season, we don’t recommend exploring the valley floor unless you have the time to spare.

The park will be extremely busy, and it will be tricky to get in and out of the valley.

Instead, we suggest stopping by Olmsted Point to see amazing views of Half Dome, Tenaya Lake, and Clouds Rest.

You can also stop by Tuolomne Grove to see the giant redwoods, which are very impressive. 

Tuolumne Meadows is perfect for a short scenic hike, while Tenaya Lake is a beautiful lake to check out. 

These stops can be visited quickly since they’re off the highway. 

Local Tip: Unless you have a National Park Pass, you will still need to pay the entrance fee, so save some time and get your pass online

Mono Lake

rock formations on a lake

Mono Lake is a beautiful saline soda lake just a 32-minute drive from Tuolumne Meadows. 

This is one of the oldest lakes in the western hemisphere and is home to trillions of brine shrimp and millions of birds. 

You’ll also find the world-famous tufa towers here, the beautiful and unusual rock formations that serve as habitats to Osprey, owls, and alkali flies.

This is a quick free stop that is cool to check out, go for a short walk and take some pictures.

Local Tip: You can stop by the Mono Lake Visitor Center to read more about the tufas, plus there are also restrooms you can use. 

Lee Vining 

Located on the southwest shore of Mono Lake is the small town of Lee Vining. It’s about a three-minute drive and 1.8 miles away from the lake. 

While there’s not much to see here, it’s the perfect place to stop for gas and provisions before continuing your trip.

June Lake Loop

road with mountain backdrop

Surrounded by a majestic mountainous backdrop, the June Lake Loop consists of a chain of four beautiful mountain lakes along a horseshoe-shaped canyon. 

These four lakes are June Lake, Gull Lake, Silver Lake, and Grant Lake. 

You can stop by June Lake Beach for a quick picnic and dip your toes in the sand.

The view from the end of June Lake at Oh Ridge is one of the most photogenic areas in this loop. 

You can also swing by June Lake Brewing to grab some beers to load up in your ice chest.

Mammoth Lakes

vertical piles rock formation

Just 20 miles south of June Lake Loop is the town of Mammoth Lakes, one of the most scenic places in the Eastern Sierras. 

Known for its crystal clear mountain lakes and famous ski resort, this is one of the best places to visit on your road trip to Las Vegas from San Francisco. 

We also recommend stopping by the Devil’s Postpile, one of the best examples of columnar basalt worldwide, which is around 30 minutes away from Mammoth Lakes.

If you decide to break up your road trip and stay at Mammoth, make sure to check out the hot springs in the area, where you can even camp on-site.

Convict Lake

lake with granite mountain in the backdrop

About 40 minutes from Mammoth Lakes is Convict Lake, which got its name after a group of convicts who escaped from prison came here to take refuge in 1971, resulting in a shootout with a posse who went after them.

It’s a beautiful lake known for its shimmering translucent waters and the large mountains surrounding it, making it a beautiful place to stop and enjoy the scenery. 

It’s one of the deepest lakes in the region and a popular trout fishing and hiking spot. There’s also a 2.5-mile-long trail around the lake with beautiful mountain views.

Lake Crowley

white rock columns by the water

Lake Crowley is a reservoir created in 1941 when the City of Los Angeles built the Long Valley Dam. 

It’s about 10.3 miles from Convict Lake and has 45 miles of shoreline, making it a popular spot for fishing, boating, and seasonal watersports. 

The best thing to see at this spot is the Lake Crowley Stone Columns. You can drive there with a high clearance vehicle or hike about 4 miles round trip to get close to the columns.

The hike is a bit steep, sandy, and exposed so make sure to bring a bottle of water and lather on some sunscreen.

Although the mysterious columns are not always accessible due to the water levels, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Bishop 

Bishop is a small city located 42 minutes away from Lake Crowley. 

There’s not much to see here, but this is a great place to stop for gas and provisions before heading to your next destination.

Lone Pine

rock arch with mountain range in the background

The next stop on this itinerary is Lone Pine, which is 55 minutes away from Bishop. 

Located between the eastern peaks of the Sierra Nevada and the Inyo Mountains, this is where you’ll find the famous Alabama Hills, a beautiful landscape with different rock formations and eroded hills. 

The picturesque mountains surrounding it make for a breathtaking background, and you’ll find a lot of natural arches here that are perfect for quick photo ops. 

One of the most famous photo spots here is the Mobius Arch Loop Trail, which attracts photographers from all over the country. 

Death Valley National Park 

sand dunes

With captivating peaks and stunning dunes and canyons, Death Valley National Park is one of California’s most picturesque places. 

Even though this is the driest and hottest national park in America, this desert valley has a lot of hiking trails that have incredible views of the park’s landscape.

Make sure to visit the famous Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, where you’ll find three types of dunes and Mesquite trees. 

Stop by the iconic Zabriskie Point, an elevated vista with spectacular views that make it the perfect place for sunrise and sunset views.

If you have more time, check out other famous spots like the Mosaic Canyon, Badwater Basin, and Artist’s Palette. The park’s entrance fee is $30 per vehicle.

Rhyolite Ghost Town

Rhyolite is a ghost town just one hour away from Death Valley National Park. 

It was once a booming town after high-grade and valuable gold ore was discovered here in 1905, but the financial panic of 1907, unfortunately, caused its downfall. 

Presently, you can still find remnants of the town’s glory days and the one-of-a-kind Goldwell Open air museum with seven sculptures created by a group of well-known Belgian artists. 

Aside from the sculpture park, Rhyolite Labyrinth is also a must-visit and a popular photo spot. 

San Francisco to Las Vegas Drive – Direct Route

  • Drive Time & Distance: 8:22 hours, 570 miles (via I-5), 8:45 hours, 580 miles (via 99 S)

If you want the fastest route for your drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas, the direct route via I-5 and 99 S will get you there in less than nine hours

For this itinerary, we recommend driving via 99 South instead of I-5.

Even though taking the I-5 is the most direct route and will be 15 minutes faster, there is nothing to see in between. 

While taking the 99 S route is not that scenic, there are still many stops worth checking out.

In this itinerary, you’ll be stopping by many interesting, historical, and unique places you and your family will enjoy. 

From aviation and fossil museums to underground gardens and art installations, this route has plenty to offer.

Best Places to Visit Between San Francisco and Las Vegas – Direct Route 

road in desert
  • Stops for Gas: Fresno, Bakersfield, Barstow
  • Stops for Food and Coffee: Fresno, Bakersfield, Barstow

Castle Air Museum (Merced)

Castle Air Museum is one of the largest aerospace museums in the western United States that displays vintage aircraft. 

If you’re a military aircraft enthusiast, you will definitely enjoy your visit here. 

This museum has more than 50 aircraft, including an Air Force 1 that Reagan and Clinton used. 

There’s an entrance fee to the museum that includes a guided tour. 

Because this museum is outdoors, make sure to come on a cool and clear day to enjoy and explore this museum fully.

Fossil Discovery Center of Madera (Madera)

Just 40 minutes away from Castle Air Museum is the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera, which kids will enjoy. 

This is the site of one of the largest middle-Pleistocene fossil excavations in North America. 

From the center, you’ll see views of the current landfill operations and the paleontology dig that’s right beside it.

There are plenty of exhibits inside, including fossils, local rocks and minerals, and artifacts from the Yokuts, a local Native American tribe. 

There’s also the Mock Dig area where kids can excavate 22 replicas of some of the fossils found in this area.

Forestiere Underground Gardens (Fresno)

The Forestiere Underground Gardens is a great stop that both history buffs and nature enthusiasts would love. 

Not only will you see trees and vines growing in this underground garden, but you’ll also be walking through hand-built underground rooms and passageways with stone-built walls and arches. 

You’ll also see the underground home of Baldassare Forestiere, a Sicilian self-taught artist who created this historical landmark.

There’s no entrance fee here, but a guided tour is required because the rooms, passageways, and underground courtyards can confuse newcomers.  

You can book their tours online, and the prices range from $11 to $21.

Sun-Maid Raisins Store (Kingsburg) 

The Sun-Maid Raisins Store is a short and unique stop you can make in Kingsburg before heading to your next destination. 

Contrary to its name, this is a great place to stop for snacks and not just raisins. You’ll also find the world’s largest raisin box in this store.

Bakersfield 

From Kingsburg, the drive to the small town of Bakersfield will take about 1:40 minutes, and this is a great place to stop for gas and provisions

If you’re traveling with kids, don’t forget to stop by the California Living Museum.

Kids can ride the scenic Central California Children’s Railroad around the museum grounds, visit the ten-foot aquatic touch tank, or mingle with reptiles and domestic and farm animals. 

Barstow (Route 66)

old white building in the desert

After leaving Bakersfield, you’ll reach Barstow after about 2:40 hours of driving. This historic town was used as a mining center in the late 1800s. 

It is also a fascinating place to visit because the historic Route 66 runs right through its main street. 

This town has several historic local hotels and restaurants like the first Del Taco restaurant and Rosita’s Restaurant.

After exploring the main street, make sure also to check out the Route 66 Mother Road Museum, which contains a collection of historic photographs and artifacts. 

A short 20-minute drive from the museum is the Calico Ghost Town, which is another fun stop to make while you’re in the area.

Mojave National Preserve

dark cave with skylight

Mojave National Preserve, just 55 minutes from Barstow, is one of the country’s most beautiful and diverse national parks

You’ll find dunes, canyons, mountains, volcanic cinder cones, former military mines and outposts, forests, and wildflowers inside this park.

One of the most popular and must-visit spots inside this park is the Mojave Desert Lava Tube

This is one of the few lava tubes to check out in California and is an excellent place for a quick hike. 

You can also check out Kelso Dunes and Mitchell Caverns if you have more time. Just make sure to plan ahead, as the cavern can only be visited through a guided tour.

Bonnie & Clyde’s Death Car 

You’ll be able to see Bonnie and Clyde’s iconic car up close inside the Primm Valley Resort and Casino

You’ll also find Clyde’s blood-spattered and torn shirt and other memorabilia surrounding the car. This is a short and fun stop for fans of the infamous duo.

Seven Magic Mountains

stacks of colorful rocks

The final stop of this road trip from Las Vegas to San Francisco is the famous Seven Magic Mountains, just ten miles south of Las Vegas. 

This is an art installation by the internationally renowned Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone which consists of seven colorful stacked boulders that are more than 30 feet tall. 

This is an excellent place to stop for a quick photo op to check out these colorful towers. 

There is no entrance free, and no reservations are required, but it can sometimes get pretty crowded.

San Francisco and Las Vegas Road Trip: Best Places to Eat and Drink

Depending on road conditions, the drive from SF to Vegas takes anywhere between eight to eleven hours, so we compiled our top picks of the best places to eat and drink on the way there

You can choose between all of these restaurants based on your preferences. 

Most of them are quick detours, so you will be able to find them quickly, and you’ll be back on the road in no time.

Scenic Route: San Francisco to Las Vegas via Yosemite and Death Valley

road with views of yosemite

Groveland

About 2.5 hours from SF, this town just outside of Yosemite is a good stop to get some food.

  • Iron Door Saloon – This historic restaurant is one of the oldest saloons in America and is known for its savory dishes like buffalo and bison burgers.
  • Mountain Sage – The perfect stop for a pick-me-up before hitting the road, this coffee shop serves high-quality coffee and delicious baked goods. 

Lee Vining

  • Mono Cone – This burger joint is one of the best in the area and is famous for its mouthwatering burgers, milkshakes, and ice cream.

Lake Crowley

  • Tom’s Place – This adorable cafe near the Mammoth Lakes serves savory food and great coffee. This prime rib steak is a must-try!

Bishop

  • Eric Schat’s Bakery – This famous bakery is known for its delicious sandwiches, like turkey and mule kick sandwiches, pot pies, and pull-apart bread.
  • Looney Bean One of the best coffee shops in the area, it has tons of delicious drinks like the Dirty Hippie, spiced chai latte, and vanilla latte. 
  • Black Sheep Coffee Roasters – If you’re craving espresso and espresso drinks or looking to buy coffee beans, this place is highly recommended and raved about.

Lone Pine

  • Tacos Los Hermanos Food Truck – If you’re looking for a quick stop for lunch, this food truck is famous for its delicious meaty, juicy tacos. 
  • Alabama Hills and Bakery – This cafe and bakery are known for their delicious pastries, and their breakfast burrito and chicken fried steak are crowd favorites.

Death Valley

  • Stovepipe Wells General Store – One of the very few stores in this area, it has an excellent selection of drinks and snacks for your road trip.

Direct Route via 99 S: Road Trip to Las Vegas from San Francisco 

Fresno

  • Triangle Drive-in (W Belmont Ave) – This small fast food joint serves delicious and juicy burgers, chili dogs, and sandwiches at an affordable price.
  • Valparaiso Cafe & Roastery – Perfect for a quick energy boost, this cafe and roastery have excellent pour-over coffee and interesting drinks that you can choose from.

Bakersfield

  • Porkchop & Bubba’s BBQ – Famous for their award-winning BBQ, this restaurant also serves delicious sandwiches and savory BBQ sauces, like the raspberry chipotle sauce, that you can also purchase.
  • Rosemary’s Family Creamery – This place has a fantastic selection of delicious ice cream and sundaes. Make sure to try their famous caramel sauce.
  • In-N-Out – If you want something easy and delicious, then this stop is for you.

Barstow

  • Jenny’s Mexican Grill Steak & Mariscos – This restaurant serves hearty Mexican food at an affordable price. Make sure to try their huevos rancheros, Asada burritos, and Menudo.
  • Roy’s Cafe – Head to this small family-owned diner for filling meals and hot coffee. Their french toast, sandwiches, burritos, and street tacos are amazing.

Other Routes for a San Francisco to Las Vegas Drive

road with view of the mountains

San Francisco to Las Vegas via Death Valley

  • Drive Time & Distance: 10:45, 663 miles

If you’re going on your road trip during wintertime and Tioga Pass is closed, this is an excellent alternative itinerary. 

This route starts from SF and passes through the I-5 south to Highway 14 to 190 east (Death Valley) and Red Rock Canyon

The entire drive would take about 10:45 hours and a driving distance of 663 miles.

While this route is not as scenic as driving through Tioga Pass, there are still lots of fun and breathtaking stops that you can take along the way.  

If you’re planning on exploring Death Valley and Red Rock Canyon, the wintertime is a great time to explore those two desert parks. 

From San Francisco, you can also stop by Kettleman, Bakersfield, Tehachapi, Ridgecrest, Ballarat Ghost Town, Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek, and Pahrump before heading to Las Vegas. 

Kettleman and Bakersfield are great places to stop for gas and provisions and stretch your legs. 

SF to Las Vegas via Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park

  • Drive Time & Distance: 12.5 hours, 700 miles

If you’re planning on visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park and don’t mind the long drive, this route is the best choice for you. 

This is the longest route on this list, taking 12.5 hours and 700 miles to get from San Francisco to Las Vegas.

From San Francisco, you’ll pass by Merced, Madera, Fresno, and Kingsburg before reaching Kings Canyon. 

The drive on General’s Highway to Sequoia National Park has steep, narrow, and winding roads

If you want to avoid this section, you can skip Sequoia National Park and just drive on King’s Canyon scenic byway from Fresno to the end of the road at King’s Canyon instead.

After leaving Kings Canyon, you can also stop by Bakersfield, Tehachapi, and Barstow before reaching Las Vegas. 

You can also stop by the places we recommended on the direct route via 99 South.

Local Tip: Avoid paying the entrance fee at Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park and get yourself an annual National Park Pass for under $80.

Best time to do a Road Trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas

The best time to do a San Francisco to Las Vegas road trip depends on your preferred route. 

If you want to do a scenic drive via Yosemite, avoid the wintertime because Tioga Pass is closed. 

If you’re planning to see Death Valley and Red Rock Canyon, avoid the summertime, as it gets scorching in the desert. The direct route via 99 South is open all year round.

Las Vegas to San Francisco Drive

If you’re driving from Las Vegas to San Francisco, you can simply reverse the itineraries on this list. 

Just be mindful of the weather and possible road closures along the way. 

As we mentioned earlier, Tioga Pass is closed in winter, so it’s best to avoid that route and take 99 South instead if you’re driving during those months.

San Francisco to Las Vegas Road Trip Essentials 

Other Road Trips from San Francisco

After spending some time exploring the City by the Bay and staying at amazing suites with skyline views, it’s time to explore other parts of the coast.

There a plenty of other fun road trips from San Francisco to choose from, depending on what you’re looking for.

If you want to stay on the coast, you can drive to the town of Monterey and go whale watching.

Further down south along the Pacific Coast Highway, you can also drive to Big Sur for more epic views of the ocean.

Another option is to do a road trip to Lake Tahoe for a relaxing weekend getaway by staying at a lakeside resort.

FAQs: Drive San Francisco to Las Vegas

How far is San Francisco to Las Vegas?

The distance between San Francisco and Las Vegas is 570 miles, and takes 8 hours and 45 minutes of drive time.

Is it safe to drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas?

Yes, it is definitely safe to drive to Las Vegas from San Francisco. The roads are clear and well-paved with plenty of beautiful places to stop in between. 

Is driving to Vegas cheaper than flying?

Driving to Vegas is definitely cheaper than flying, but the travel time is twice as long, and you’d be driving for more than eight hours. 

However, you have to factor in how much it will cost you for gas, especially if you’re also renting a car

If you plan ahead of time, you can score some good flight deals to Vegas from SFO for less than $120 round trip. 

What is halfway between San Francisco and Las Vegas?

Bakersfield is the town that is halfway between San Francisco and Las Vegas. It’s a good place to stop for gas and provisions or take a short break to stretch your legs. 

You will find local cafes and restaurants, but other than that, there isn’t much else to do in the area.  

Wrap-Up: San Francisco to Las Vegas Drive

Your itinerary for your drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas can make or break your trip, depending on how well you plan and prepare for it. 

Road trips are fun, so make sure to use our guide and check out all the fantastic stops and restaurants we’ve included so you can have a hassle-free road trip that you’ll remember for years to come.

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