San Francisco/Bay area Distance: 195 mi / 314 km Time:4-5 hours Take I-580 east to I-205 east to Highway 120 east (Manteca) or Highway 140 east (Merced) into Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite provides great views all year long, but the crowds are lightest in the winter. Be aware that between November and May (maybe even longer) the roads at the higher elevations in the park are closed due to deep snow. Most of my valley views were taken with 12~24mm and 18~200mm zooms and I didn't miss a long tele. A polarizer was handy to cut through any haze and to intensify colors.
A short walk down the trail around Mirror Lake at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley takes you to this view.