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 the strict Park limitations on development, so a number of large motels have been constructed.
Yosemite Valley is just a 20 minute drive from El Portal along a relatively flat road, which makes El Portal very convenient while providing cheaper lodging that the Park itself. Visitors looking for even cheaper lodging could consider driving 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.
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.
The large lodging complexes have restaurants.