This is a five hour drive from SF through Yosemite National Park to Mono Lake and beyond.
Leave the SF Bay Area around 10:00 am on East 580. I always aim for 10:00 and leave at noon! It’s good to be flexible on departure times. Slow downs on 580 start 2ish. (OGGTip: bail if it looks like you’re leaving after 3:00. You add an hour or so by going in rush hour. I’m usually going out for at least a couple weeks, so a 24 hour delay in departure isn’t terrible. But I’m a traffic wimp!)
Stay on rt. 120 to Manteca, then through Yosemite Tuolumne Meadows… in 5 hours you are in Lee Vining after a stunning drive climbing over 9900 feet above sea level (then down to 6000ish).
Just before connecting to 395, stop at the Mobile station on the right for gas and fill up your water tanks and jugs with some of the best water almost anywhere. The water fill stations in the parking area are tapped into the good stuff as it runs off of the High Sierra. The food there is pretty good, live music on Thursday nights.
Then continue on rt. 120 out past the crater and tufas (come back tomorrow and check them out). You’re driving in the Mono Lake Rec Area (BLM Land!) then the Inyo National Forest. There is camping everywhere in Inyo. My favorite spots are down the dirt roads after Sage Hen Summit.
If you have a few bucks (≈$50), book a campsite at Benton Hot Springs. Each campsite has its own hot tub and it’s some of the oldest water on the planet! The ‘no music’ rule makes the vibe very mellow! Benton is an hour past Lee Vining. It’s excellent as a place to stop by on the way back to the Bay Area. As is, I’m usually headed out or coming back from Utah/Arizona.