I have traveled in and around Yosemite Valley for years, since I grew up in the central valley less than two hours from the park entrance and patrolled the county as a deputy sheriff. The majority of people approach the park from the west, via Hwy 120, which lends itself to much congestion. If you are coming from the east don’t bother reading any further as you will find your way. However, if you are coming from the west and want to see some great spots and maybe miss some traffic, read on. No matter where you start from get yourself to Hwy 99, which runs directly up the middle of the State and find your way to Stockton (just south of Sacramento). In Stockton take the exit off Hwy 99 onto eastbound Hwy 88 (Waterloo Road) or near Lodi (just north of Stockton) take Hwy 12 (east, not west) over to Hwy 88. Stay on Hwy 88 for about 70 miles and see some of the best scenery of the high Sierra mountains in California. If you want to go to Lake Tahoe you can take the cut off at Hwy 89 (north) or for Yosemite take Hwy 89 south (little further on Hwy 88) toward Markleville. Stay on Hwy 89 until you hit Hwy 395 and then head south. You can stay on Hwy 395 to the town of Lee Vinning where Hwy 120 comes over from the Yosemite Valley. This is the east entrance to the park and not as heavily traveled. Before heading into the park you will probably want to spend the night on the Hwy 395 side somewhere. The best spots are in the town of Bishop. The Holiday Inn Express is good and the Whiskey Creek Grill has some really great food. Bad news is Bishop is about 60 miles south of the Hwy 120 turn off to the park entrance so you have to double back in the morning. If you are coming from Los Angeles you can hit Hwy 395 (north) by cutting over from Interstate Highway 5 by heading toward Lancaster and Palmdale.
With the exception of the congestion that becomes a bottleneck of traffic around the village, driving around certain portions of Yosemite valley can be a pleasant experience. The main road splits into one way roads which lead to "stop and gawk" sights such as El Capitan meadow or the slippery path up to Bridal Veil Falls, both of which are definite places to stop and check out the scenery.
Glacier Point Road is a 4 mile spur road that ascends 3000 plus feet above Yosemite Valley. From the top, the entire valley is visible along with Half Dome and numerous other peaks. A short paved trail leads to the overlook from the parking lot.
The roads leading into and through Yosemite are extemely steep and winding. While some people treat the park roads as if they were a race track, it can be dangerous to take these curves too fast. Be careful driving and make sure to put your car in lower gear when heading downhill.
When driving around the roads of Yosemite - you will invariably see lots of turn-outs - often with loads of cars and people lookng off into the distance. The natural respone is to look out your window and see what all the fuss is about. And when you do, you'll usually be floored - so much so that you may forget for a moment that you are actually driving a car! Often people will gaze up at the awesome face of El Capitan, and, after gasping for a moment, will decide they have to stop, and will come to their senses either heading straight towards the edge of the road or into the back of another motorist going throught this same process!
The solution: when you see a turnout - especially if there are people there - STOP - get out, and THEN see what they're looking at. It is Yosemite after all, so no doubt it will be awesome! Plus, this way you won't miss anything!
Okay, in California, the best way to get around is in a convertible! Pictured here is my Volkswagon Cabrio. The location of the photo is in front of the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, not far from where I live. The car was 4 days old, and just about to go on its first road trip, to Yosemite! For the entire trip, the only time the top was closed was when the car was parked for the evening.
Make sure to keep sunscreen, towels and bottles of water with you when you go on a long, convertible road-trip!