A Motorcycle and 4 Days in California – Santa Cruz, Yosemite, Death Valley Ride

You’re near San Francisco, you have a motorcycle, 4 days of freedom and you want to get a combination of legendary California roads, inexpensive travel and views that your passenger will get to admire if you happen to have one riding pillion. I do this trip at least once/year and it’s my favorite way to spend four days on the motorbike. This route is not passable in the winter (Yosemite) and it’s dangerous and brutal in the summer (Death Valley) so it’s best done around May or October.

At a View Point leading into Yosemite

Overview: This is a pretty inexpensive 4 day, 3 night riding trip in hotel/motels that are around, or under $100/night. The roads are often twisty, the views are majestic and when on the eastern side of Yosemite the traffic is minimal and quite friendly to those on the motorcycle.

  • Day One – Yosemite – San FranJose to Lee Vining, CA
  • Day Two – Death Valley – Lee Vining to Shoshone Village
  • Day Three – Death Valley a different way – Shoshone Village to Taft, CA
  • Day Four – Pacific Coast Highway – Taft, CA to San FranJose

San FranJose is my cute way of saying anywhere an hour or so from San Francisco. A great starting point is the legendary Alice’s Restaurant in Woodside. You’ll get a great meal and coffee at a motorcycle hang out and you’ll get to start on some fun mountain roads before hitting the highway pavement that gets you to Yosemite which can be a bit of a bore.


Day One Destination

Lee Vining, CA, El Mono Motel


You may share a bathroom here, but you’ll have an exc ellent cup of coffee when you wake up for sure

To get to your first evening’s stay in Lee Vining you’ll ride through Yosemite taking Tioga Pass (Rte. 120) or perhaps some other route based on road closures. Road closures happen frequently so do check the conditions before heading out.

Waypoint Tip – Groveland, CA is a good stop to get gas before heading into Yosemite.

Overnight Stay in Lee Vining – There are several places to stay in Lee Vining all having that hotel/motel feel priced at around $100. I prefer El Mono Motel because it’s a little cheaper when you book a shared bathroom than the others and they have a really good coffee shop. The shared bathrooms are individual showers/bathrooms along a hallway for that a few of the rooms share. I’ve also had very pleasant evenings at Lake View Lodge and Murphey’s Motel. Lake View Lodge gets bonus points for being the only one of the three that you can book through google and the major travel apps like Travelocity, Expedia, Etc…


Day Two Destination

Shoshone Village, CA

With a population under 40 people you’re likely to meet more than 10% of the people who live here.

Your second day of riding will start with completing the remainder of Rte 120 into Benton, CA and then heading south toward and through Death Valley. Rte 120 from Lee Vining into Benton is a real gem of a road. There are very few vehicles and the terrain goes from forest to another planet at the blink of an eye and hit elevations over 8000 feet.

Food Tip – Stop in Lone Pine at Alabama Hills Cafe & Bakery. This is a little breakfast/brunch place that will be your best breakfast of the trip

Things to do in Shoshone Village – Well, not much. The name of the restaurant, Crowbar, sounds promising as I was in the mood for interesting people who were drinking more than they should. But it turned out to be a clean environment serving fresh and well cooked food. There is a bar side to the establishment that showed the signs of day’s passed where there was a pool table and some good old school debauchery but it seems that type of fun has long since left the building.


Day Three Destination

Taft, CA

This is the least interesting stay of your trip

Your third day of riding is all about taking some extra time on your trip back through Death Valley. I like going back through Death Velley on Rte 178 through Ashford Junction and Badwater. As for the destination in Taft, truth be told I’d like to find a replacement for that stop so if you have an idea please leave a comment. I stayed at the Best Western Plus Inn and it was nice and clean. The front desk staff was super nice as well. I strolled into town for a meal at The Bank Sports Lounge and it was a fine place for a beer and some food.


Day Four Destination

Home!

This day is about riding the Pacific Coast Highway

Well, it’s your final day of riding and you get to enjoy the famous Pacific Coast Highway. This is a road you’re supposed to ride if you live in CA or if you’re visiting. The ocean is on your left the entire way, mountains and cliffs are everywhere and you are forced watch the road and avoid getting hypnotized by the views or risk riding straight into the ocean.


Summary – There you have your inexpensive way to spend four awesome days riding some of the best roads in California. If you want some more information leave a comment and I’ll be happy to reply with any GPS tracks that may help you.

Gear List for the Trip:

  • Motorcycle – R1200GS with Vario Cases
  • Saddle – Touratech Dri-Ride Motorcyle Seat (Fantastic Seat!)
  • BMW Navigator VI
  • Necessities of money and clothes
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