Last weekend the beau and I spent two nights camping at Big Basin with a few friends. The two of us left mid-day Friday and made great time, getting to the campsite in under two hours even with a stop for gas and snacks. We set up our tent, went for a walk and got the fire going, so that when our friends arrived around dusk we could get straight to grilling.
If you follow the directions on the website, which are the same as what most navigation systems will give you from San Francisco to Big Basin, you'll wind up on a one-lane, windy road from the 280 through Saratoga and on up to Big Basin. Don't do that. There are two better options - exit 280 at Woodside and take the 35 down to the 9. This will get you out of some of the windy mess but not entirely. Here's the route we took and thought was the best option - 280 to 85 to 17, the same way you'd go as if you were going all the way into Santa Cruz. Exit Bear Creek Road and go left. Follow that until you reach Boulder Creek, and make a left on the 9 South into town. Drive a couple blocks down and just after Johnnie's Market, you'll turn right on Big Basin Way. That takes you right up to the park. I'd also suggest doing your grocery shopping at Johnnie's Market. We ended up buying our wood there too, which seems pricy at $15 a box (6 pieces to a box) but the roadside stands cost more in the long run because they give you smaller pieces of soft wood that burns more quickly.
The campgrounds have quarter-operated hot showers; $1.25 for 10 minutes. The bathrooms are clean with flushing toilets and have toilet paper. If you want to set up multiple tents on your site, avoid the sites designated for RVs because they tend to have a small area around the fire pit and picnic table for one tent but the rest of the site will be sloped and have more trees and shrubs. Also avoid a site near the tent cabins, as it tends to be a bit loud (read- lots of kids).
For a good afternoon hike, try Sequoia Trail with a stop at Sempervirens Falls, a small waterfall about half way into the five-mile hike. It's pretty but not too remote, and the trail is wide enough to be comfortable for a casual hike. There is also a 12-mile hike to a bigger waterfall but I haven't done it myself. The front office sells trail maps for $5 each.