California is full of amazing places to visit, and this road trip from San Diego to Napa Valley is no exception. On this sunny drive, you will get to work on your tan at famous sandy beaches and visit world-renowned national parks as you head to the beautiful Californian wine country.
The 690-mile road trip from San Diego to Napa Valley will take 12 hours and 40 minutes to drive. Highlights on the way are Los Angeles, Malibu, Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park.
This drive will take you through the most beautiful parts of California. Read on below to learn more about our recommended routes, best places to stay along the way, top highlights, and the best seasons to travel.
How to drive from San Diego to Napa Valley
The map below shows two great route options for your road trip from San Diego to Napa Valley. Click on the star icons for headline details, and scroll down for much more information below.
* Always remember that drive times can be impacted by traffic, closures, weather and other conditions. It's best to double-check while planning and before starting out on your trip.
|Pacific Coast Route
|12 hours 40 minutes
|Yosemite National Park Route
|12 hours 30 minutes
How far is Napa Valley from San Diego, and how long will the road trip take?
If you were to drive directly from San Diego to Napa Valley with only getting to the destination as fast as possible in mind, your journey will take about 9 hours and span 530 miles. However, this is hardly a road trip since you would be missing out on the amazing Californian sights en route!
The Pacific Coast Route offers a breathtaking journey along the California coast, starting in Los Angeles and driving through San Francisco. This scenic route spans 690 miles and can be driven in about 12 hours and 40 minutes without stops.
Alternatively, the Yosemite National Park Route provides a more inland experience, taking you through the mighty Sierra Nevada Mountains. This route also covers 705 miles and can be completed in about 12 hours and 30 minutes of driving.
There is so much to see on this road trip from San Diego to Napa Valley on the Pacific Coast or inland, so we recommend taking a leisurely 4-5 days to complete the drive.
Best road trip route from San Diego to Napa Valley
While both routes on this San Diego to Napa Valley road trip showcase the stunning diversity of California's landscapes, they offer distinct experiences, each with its own unique vibe and attractions.
The Pacific Coast Route, traveling along the Pacific Coast Highway, is an iconic American journey. This route has a blend of natural beauty and urban charm.
You will get to visit Los Angeles on both routes, but if you are following the Pacific Coast Route, you'll travel through a variety of costal landscapes, from the picturesque town of Santa Barbara to the rugged and breathtaking coastline of Big Sur.
The route offers awe-inspiring views of the vast, blue Pacific. Each beach town along the way, like Pismo Beach and Santa Cruz, has its own unique allure, with natural highlights and fun adventures.
The Yosemite National Park Route will take you inland and through the massive Sierra Nevada Mountains. This route is a paradise if you love forests, mountains, and desert landscapes.
Starting from Los Angeles, this route takes you through areas like Bakersfield, where you can explore a variety of museums. You will also get to make a stop at the beautiful Sequoia National Park.
Pacific Coast Route
Beginning your journey in San Diego, take Interstate 5 (I-5) northward. As you approach Orange County, consider a detour to Niguel Botanical Preserve, nestled near Laguna Niguel, for a serene natural escape. Further along I-5, you can take a detour to Huntington State Beach.
Once you reach Los Angeles, navigate through the city's streets to visit the LA Natural History Museum and the Griffith Observatory on your way to the coast.
Transitioning to the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, you'll reach El Matador Beach, known for its striking rock formations and ocean vistas. Continuing northwest, merge onto US-101 and drive to Santa Barbara.
Further up the coast, you'll reach Pismo Beach. Continue on to San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles and head to the Big Sur region, a stretch of coastline renowned for its dramatic scenery. Keep in mind that this section of the road is prone to landslides and can be closed, in which case you might need to make a diversion.
Next up you will drive through Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey and Santa Cruz. As you approach San Francisco, the iconic San Francisco Cable Cars provide a unique city experience. You can make a quick detour on the Golden Gate Bridge if you have some extra time.
Concluding this coastal journey, head north to Napa Valley via I-80, where you can indulge in the region's famed wineries.
Yosemite National Park Route
Heading out of San Diego, you will follow the same directions as the Pacific Coast Route until you reach Los Angeles, and then head inland on I-5.
Proceeding northwest, switch to CA-99 north to Bakersfield. Here, Buck Owens' Crystal Palace offers a unique blend of music history and dining. You will soon get to visit the famous Sequoia National Park. After your visit, head towards Fresno.
Continuing on, Fresno awaits with its Fresno Art Museum, showcasing diverse art collections. From here, you will drive to Oakhurst, where you can explore the charming mountain town and its proximity to Yosemite.
Use the South Entrance to drive into Yosemite National Park, one of the highlights of this route. Here, you can explore iconic spots like Inspiration Point.
Leaving Yosemite, head west and drive through Modesto. You can make a detour to San Francisco if you'd like, or continue north on the interstate across Benicia-Martinez Bridge. From here, you will soon reach your destination in Napa Valley.
Best places to stop between San Diego and Napa Valley
With so much to see and do on this road trip from San Diego to Napa Valley, you'll want to stop and rest at one of the amazing destinations below. This way, you'll get to experience the best of this amazing state.
An oceanside paradise in Monterey
On the Pacific Coast Route, we recommend a stopover in Monterey, a jewel of the California coast, for an overnight stay. This beach town is approximately 9 hours and 15 minutes along the route from San Diego.
Monterey County is known for its stunning natural beauty, abundant wildlife, and outdoor activities.
In Monterey, the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium and the historic Old Fisherman's Wharf are must-visit attractions. Don't forget to make a drive south along the beautiful coastline near Big Sur.
For your stay, we recommend staying at the luxurious Spindrift Inn. Located in the heart of Cannery Row, the inn offers a serene beachfront setting, ideal for relaxation and rejuvenation.
The floor-to-ceiling windows in the rooms provide a stunning view of McAbee Beach and the rich marine life of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Near the Spindrift Inn, the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History is located just 1.2 miles away. Additionally, the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, 2.1 miles from the hotel, is a magical spot to visit.
At the beautiful inn, you can enjoy a complimentary continental breakfast every morning. In the evening, you can unwind at Angel's Share lounge located downstairs, which offers barrel-aged bottle cocktails.
Take in the stunning views of Yosemite National Park
For an overnight stop along the Yosemite National Park Route, we highly recommend Oakhurst as your destination. Located about 8 hours from San Diego, Oakhurst is the perfect gateway to Yosemite National Park, famous for its stunning granite cliffs and ancient sequoia groves.
Among Yosemite's must-see attractions are the majestic Yosemite Falls and the challenging but rewarding hike to Eagle Peak. At sunset, don't miss the colorful sunlight reflections on El Capitan and Half Dome.
You will need a comfortable place to base yourself at while exploring the national park and Sierra Sky Ranch, Ascend Hotel Collection is an ideal choice. The hotel is nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, just 10 miles from Yosemite's South Entrance.
This boutique hotel is set in a converted mountain ranch house, where most guest rooms and suites open onto a wide veranda, offering a perfect spot to immerse in the surrounding beauty.
The hotel features a peaceful library ideal for relaxation, and a spacious Great Room adorned with beamed ceilings, two stone fireplaces, knotty pine walls, vintage western furniture, and a grand piano; we couldn't have spelled out "cozy" better if we tried!
In the vicinity of Sierra Sky Ranch, you can visit the Fresno Flats Historical Village and Park, located just 4.3 miles away. For outdoor enthusiasts, the Lewis Creek South Trail Trailhead, 2.5 miles from the hotel.
Where to stay when you reach Napa Valley
Napa Valley is famous for its vineyards and world-class wines. This picturesque region is a favorite for romantic excursions and relaxing weekend getaways.
Key attractions in the area include the Napa Valley Wine Train, offering a unique journey through the heart of the wine country, and the Oxbow Public Market, known for its local artisanal food and wine.
For your stay, you cannot go wrong with the beautiful and highly-rated Setting Inn. Perfectly positioned between the culinary delights of Yountville and downtown Napa, The Setting Inn provides an ideal base for exploring the wine country.
Each morning, you can indulge in hand-delivered pastries from the nearby Bouchon Bakery. The inn offers stunning private vineyard views, with the added comfort of a fireplace in each room.
Additionally, every guest over 21 is offered an exclusive tasting of The Setting Wines, allowing for a truly immersive Wine Country experience.
Things to see on a road trip from San Diego to Napa Valley
The journey from San Diego to Napa Valley is full of amazing sights and experiences. To help you plan your ultimate road trip, we've included our favorite highlights below.
- Museum of Making Music - This museum celebrates the rich history of music, showcasing a vast collection of instruments and interactive exhibits that chronicle its evolution.
- LEGOLAND California - This interactive theme park in Carlsbad is designed specifically for families with children aged 2-12, offering creative Lego-themed rides, shows, and attractions.
- Niguel Botanical Preserve - Situated in the heart of Laguna Niguel, this preserve features over 2,000 plant species in a picturesque 18-acre garden, offering a tranquil escape amidst nature.
- Pacific Marine Mammal Center - A rescue and rehabilitation facility in Laguna Beach, this center is dedicated to the care of marine mammals and offers educational exhibits about marine life conservation.
- Huntington State Beach - Known for its long stretch of pristine coastline, Huntington State Beach is a popular destination for surfing, swimming, and sunbathing, with excellent facilities and fire rings for beach bonfires.
- The Queen Mary - Docked in Long Beach, The Queen Mary is a historic ocean liner turned hotel and museum, offering unique accommodations, tours, and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.
- LA Natural History Museum - Located in the heart of Los Angeles, this museum boasts an extensive collection of natural and cultural artifacts, including dinosaur fossils and a renowned butterfly pavilion.
- Griffith Observatory - Perched atop Mount Hollywood, Griffith Observatory offers spectacular views of Los Angeles and the cosmos, featuring exhibits on space and science, and a famous planetarium.
Pacific Coast Route
- El Matador Beach - El Matador Beach, known for its striking rock formations and secluded coves, is one of Malibu's most picturesque beaches, perfect for photography, picnicking, and sunset views.
- Santa Barbara Zoo - Nestled on the Pacific coast, the Santa Barbara Zoo is a charming, family-friendly destination, home to over 500 animals in a lush, garden-like setting.
- Dinosaur Caves Park - This oceanfront park in Pismo Beach offers stunning cliffside views, a unique play area with dinosaur-themed features, and walking paths perfect for scenic strolls.
- Franklin Hot Springs - Franklin Hot Springs in Paso Robles offers a relaxing experience with its mineral-rich waters, perfect for soaking and rejuvenation in a rustic setting.
- Grand Pacific House Museum - This historic museum in Monterey showcases the rich maritime and cultural history of the Pacific Coast, featuring a collection of artifacts and exhibits in a beautifully preserved 19th-century building.
- Filoli Historic House and Garden - Filoli, set in the scenic Woodside countryside, offers a glimpse into early 20th-century luxury with its magnificent historic house and beautifully maintained English Renaissance gardens.
- San Francisco Cable Cars - An iconic symbol of San Francisco, the historic cable cars offer a unique way to explore the city's steep streets, providing a nostalgic ride with stunning urban views.
- Berkeley Rose Garden - The Berkeley Rose Garden, a terraced amphitheater garden in Berkeley, features over 3,000 rose bushes and 250 varieties, offering panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay.
- Six Flags Discovery Kingdom - Located in Vallejo, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom combines thrilling roller coasters, wildlife exhibits, and family-friendly shows, making it an exciting destination for all ages.
Yosemite National Park Route
- Santa Monica History Museum - This museum in Santa Monica offers a deep dive into the city's rich history, featuring exhibits on local culture, architecture, and the famous Santa Monica Pier.
- Buck Owens' Crystal Palace - A landmark in Bakersfield, Buck Owens' Crystal Palace is a music venue, museum, and restaurant celebrating the legacy of country music star Buck Owens and the Bakersfield Sound.
- Fresno Art Museum - This museum in Fresno showcases a diverse collection of contemporary and modern art, with a focus on works by Californian artists and various cultural exhibitions.
- Visalia Fox Theater - A historic theater in downtown Visalia, the Fox Theater offers a range of cultural performances, concerts, and film screenings in a beautifully restored 1930s setting.
- Millerton Lake - Millerton Lake State Recreation Area, near Fresno, offers outdoor activities like boating, fishing, swimming, and hiking, with picturesque views of the Sierra Nevada foothills.
- Pioneer Yosemite History Center - Situated in Yosemite National Park, this open-air museum presents the history of the park through preserved buildings, artifacts, and educational exhibits.
- Inspiration Point - Overlooking Yosemite Valley, Inspiration Point offers one of the most breathtaking views in Yosemite National Park, capturing iconic landmarks like El Capitan and Half Dome.
- Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum - This museum in Groveland provides insights into the local history and the impact of the Gold Rush, along with exhibits on the natural and cultural history of the Yosemite region.
- Railtown 1897 State Historic Park - Located in Sonora, this state historic park preserves a historic railroad yard and offers steam train rides, giving visitors a glimpse into California's railroad heritage.
- Jelly Belly Factory Tour - The Jelly Belly Factory Tour in Fairfield provides a behind-the-scenes look at candy making, with tastings and interactive exhibits about the famous Jelly Belly jelly beans.
Best time to go on a road trip from San Diego to Napa Valley
No matter when you travel, the road trip from San Diego to Napa Valley will be full of adventures and fun. However, each season has its own charms.
Spring in Napa Valley is delightful, with temperatures ranging from the mid-60s to the low 70s Fahrenheit, making it perfect for outdoor wine tastings and vineyard tours.
As the landscapes bloom, a journey along the Pacific Coast Route in spring is especially beautiful.
If you take the Yosemite National Park Route, you might get to participate in the Cowboy Festival in May, adding a unique cultural touch to your journey. Upon reaching Napa Valley in May, you can see the BottleRock Napa Valley, a music, wine, and culinary festival.
Summer brings sunny weather as you might expect, with Napa Valley temperatures typically reaching the high 80s to low 90s Fahrenheit. If traveling along the Yosemite National Park Route in June, you can time your visit with the festive atmosphere of LA Pride.
The Pacific Coast Route in the fall is a visual treat. Plus, you'll get to see the Monterey Jazz Festival in September or Fleet Week San Francisco in October.
In the fall, Napa Valley sees a dip in temperatures, ranging from the mid-60s to mid-70s Fahrenheit, perfect for witnessing the grape harvest and autumnal colors of the vineyards. The Napa Valley Film Festival in November is a fantastic event for film enthusiasts.
Winter in Napa Valley is cooler, with temperatures typically in the 50s to low 60s Fahrenheit. When taking the Yosemite National Park Route, be aware that Tioga Pass and the nearby entrance will be closed because of weather conditions.