El Portal is a small community along the Merced River which is mostly notable for providing good lodging options for visitors to Yosemite National Park. Being outside of the National Park, El Portal is not subject to strict Park limitations on development, so a number of large motels have been constructed.
Yosemite Valley is a 20 minute drive from El Portal along a relatively flat road, which makes El Portal convenient while providing cheaper lodging than the Park itself. Visitors looking for even cheaper lodging could drive further to Mariposa. Masochistic penny-pinchers drive as far as Merced.
From Yosemite, take State Route 140 west from Yosemite Valley. El Portal begins immediately after leave the Park.
YART bus system connects El Portal to Merced, Mariposa, and Yosemite.
The nearest Amtrak station is in Merced where you can catch a YART bus to El Portal.
El Portal is in the narrow Merced River canyon. So there are three things to see in El Portal: the river, the walls of the canyon, and the traffic along Route 140.
Spring white-water rafting offers Class II through Class IV, depending on the snow melt and part of the season.
Hike Hites Cove, starting at Savage's Trading Post in the open (non-fire) season.
Fish the Merced River (with permits available at the El Portal Market).
The larger motels have gift shops in case you forgot to get something while in Yosemite. They also sell the usual stuff that travellers often forget to pack.
Yosemite View Lodge offers two restaurants and a bar, along with a large convience store, selling a variety of packaged foods. There is a pizza and pasta place, as well as an American (Steak and Fish) dining room.
Yosemite Cedar Lodge offers two restaurants (but one is closed during the off season), and a bar. The bar is 50's themed.
There are bars at both Yosemite View Lodge and Cedar Lodge.