Plan your trip backward: Reserve lodging in Yosemite National Park first; newly available listings can pop up on the park's website. Next book your beds in Lee Vining ― it's a fun base camp for Mono Lake, but rooms fill quickly. Then nail down accommodations for the rest of your trip.
May weather can vary wildly, from drizzly or breezy in San Francisco to sunny 70s or cold thunderstorms in Yosemite. Our route crosses four mountain passes, two of which are closed until snowmelt; Yosemite's 9,945-foot Tioga Pass usually opens by Memorial Day (May 31 this year), as does the road to Glacier Point, but call the park switchboard to check (209/372-0209). To avoid the worst of the crowds in Napa Valley and Yosemite, stop there midweek.
INFO: California Travel & Tourism Commission (800/462-2543). For statewide road reports, call the Caltrans Highway Information Network (916/445-1534). San Francisco | Top Admire the views on the Coastal Trail in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (415/561-4700) on your way to the Legion of Honor (closed Mon; 415/863-3330). And soak up some seafaring history at the San Francisco Maritime N.H.P. (415/447-5000). INFO: S.F. Convention & Visitors Bureau (415/391-2000) LODGING AND DINING • Argonaut Hotel History meets luxury on the waterfront. 252 rooms from $169. 495 Jefferson St.; 800/790-1415 or 415/563-0800. • Hotel Bohème A North Beach hideaway. 15 rooms from $164. 444 Columbus Ave.; 415/433-9111. • Hog Island Oyster Company It's owned by an oyster farm, so the main course is fresh. $$; call for hours. Ferry Building, the Embarcadero at Market St.; 415/391-7117. • Molinari Delicatessen This classic deli is noted for Chiantis and imported cheeses. Closed Sun. 373 Columbus; 415/421-2337. • Taylor's Automatic Refresher Burgers and shakes in a sleek diner setting. $; lunch and dinner daily. Ferry Building, the Embarcadero at Market St.; 415/318-3413. Napa Valley | Top State 29 cuts through the Napa Valley; on the east side, the Silverado Trail leads to some of the valley's oldest wineries, like Regusci Winery (707/254-0403) and one of the newest, Darioush (707/257-2345). Also check the schedule at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts (closed Tue; 707/259-1600). INFO: Napa Valley Conference and Visitors Bureau (707/226-7459) LODGING AND DINING • El Bonita Motel An art deco deal. 41 rooms from $120 (from $135 after May 21). 195 Main St., St. Helena; 800/541-3284. • Villagio Inn & Spa Tuscany comes to Napa. 112 rooms from $210. 6481 Washington St., Yountville; 707/944-8877. • Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen Chef Cindy Pawlcyn offers comfort food with a twist (wild mushroom tamales). $$; lunch and dinner daily. 1327 Railroad Ave., St. Helena; 707/963-1200. • Père Jeanty Country French is spiced with flavors of Italy in dishes like lapin aux olives. $$$; lunch and dinner daily. 6725 Washington St., Yountville; 707/945-1000. Gold Country | Top California's best backroad drive ― State 49 ― bisects the region. In Coloma, pause at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park (530/622-3470). And don't miss Placerville Hardware (530/622-1151) or Boeger Winery (530/622-8094). INFO: El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce (530/621-5885) Lake Tahoe | Top Water sports heat up in midsummer. Hiking, boating, and fishing are highlights now. D.L. Bliss State Park (530/525-7277) offers the 4 1/2-mile Rubicon Trail. INFO: For North Shore lodging, contact the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association (888/434-1262). For South Shore, contact the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority (530/544-5050). LODGING AND DINING • Camp Richardson Resort & Marina A Tahoe classic, with a shoreside location, campsites, and cottages. 61 units (75 after Jun 18) from $75. 1900 Jameson Beach Rd., South Lake Tahoe; 800/544-1801, or 530/541-1801. • Marriott's Timber Lodge at Lake Tahoe Spacious and family-friendly. 137 suites from $225. 4100 Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe; www.marriott.com or 800/845-5279. • Fire + Ice Improvisational Grill An upscale grill in the new Heavenly Village at Lake Tahoe. $$$; lunch and dinner daily. 4100 Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe; 530/542-6650. Mono Lake | Top Mark Twain called Mono Lake a "silent, sailless sea," but its shallow waters lure flocks of birds. Take a hike or a canoe tour led by the Mono Lake Committee Information Center & Bookstore in Lee Vining (760/647-6595). INFO: Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center (760/873-2408) LODGING AND DINING IN LEE VINING • Best Western Lakeview Lodge A pleasant motel convenient to Mono Lake. 44 rooms from $100. 30 Main St. (U.S. 395); 760/647-6543. • The Mono Inn Dinner at this 1920s gem can include a tour of the Ansel Adams Gallery. $$$; open for dinner May 5-Oct 31. On U.S. 395 4 miles north of Lee Vining; 760/647-6581. • Nicely's Restaurant A local favorite for big breakfasts. $; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. At U.S. 395 and Fourth St.; 760/647-6477. • Tioga Gas Mart/Tioga Toomey's Whoa Nellie Deli Lobster taquitos at the nicest gas station we've ever seen. $. Off State 120 at U.S. 395; 760/647-1088. Yosemite | Top Spring is a great time to visit, when waterfalls are gushing and wildflowers are blooming. Get oriented on a narrated tour (209/372-1240). INFO: For campground reservations, 800/436-7275. For general information, www.nps.gov/yose or 209/372-0200. For lodging and bus-tour reservations, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite (209/372-1240 or 559/252-4848). LODGING AND DINING IN/NEAR YOSEMITE • The Ahwahnee Have an elegant meal in the dining room ($$$; note the evening dress code), or stay overnight. 99 rooms and 24 cottages from $371. In Yosemite Valley; www.yosemitepark.com or 559/252-4848. • Apple Tree Inn A resort by the park's southern gate. 53 rooms from $129 ($159 after May 29). 1110 State 41, Fish Camp; 888/683-5111. • Wawona Hotel A lovely alternative to the Ahwahnee. 104 rooms from $116. In Yosemite National Park near the south entrance; 559/252-4848.