The drive to Pinnacles National Park from San Jose (less than 2 hours) is worth its weight in gold. The drive itself isn't anything special, but the destination makes up for that, and then some. The rock pinnacles that give this park its name are truly spectacular, and hiking on the trails that wind along and between these sheer rocks is an unforgettable experience. 

Highlights

  • Visit one of California's lesser known National Parks
  • Hike along sheer cliffs while California Condors circle overhead
  • Learn about the geologic forces that pushed these cliffs 200 miles northward


From San Jose, drive south on highway 101 in the direction of Los Angeles. We recommend Fifth St. Coffee Roasting Co. in Gilroy for a coffee stop, but there are plenty of Starbucks sprinkled along the route as well. 

From Gilroy, continue to follow 101 to Soledad, where you'll exit the highway. Follow directions to Pinnacles National Park and enjoy the increasingly scenic environment as you approach. You'll pay an entrance fee and can stop at the museum for some history, or continue straight to the trails. 

Looking for more day trip ideas? Check out kimkim's top 10 day trips in the Bay Area

Kids enjoying the Pinnacles

Pinnacles has a nice variety of trails. Most hikes start off on easy wide trails that become narrower and steeper as you approach the rocks. Keep an eye out for rock climbers who ascend the sheer spires, while California Condors circle overhead. 

The Balconies Cave Trail packs a lot of  what Pinnacles has to offer in a 2.6 mile hike. You'll hike along steep cliffs and through a spectacular cave. There are longer hikes as well, up to about 9 miles. See a list of hikes at the official park website.

After you've enjoyed Pinnacles, you can head back the same way you came, or add an adventurous side trip by driving around the unpaved road along the North border of the park, leading to route 25 that will take you back to Gilroy and San Jose. This adds about 30 minutes to your trip. 

If you're up for a small detour on the way back to stop for dinner we recommend Jardines de San Juan in San Juan Bautista (see this day trip for more info).

View detailed route map

Map