Location: 70 miles (112 km) to Yosemite entrance; 78 miles (125 km) to Yosemite Valley; via Route 140
population 76,000; elevation 150 feet (45 meters)
Merced is an agricultural city in California's Central Valley. Though it feels worlds apart from Yosemite, it's only 70 miles away via highway 140.
Pro: Merced is home to what may be the largest freestanding grave in California, thanks to the peculiar posthumous wishes of George Hicks Fancher (1828-1900). Watch for the 70-foot (20-meter) obelisk beside the road shortly after you leave town on your way to Yosemite.
Con: It's hard to really capture the Yosemite experience when you're spending your nights in the Central Valley, and 70 miles is a long drive to make twice a day.