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The Ultimate Road Trip: Driving from Seattle to San Francisco!

Updated: Jan 6

Seattle Washington
Seattle Washington

The ultimate road trip from Seattle to San Francisco offers a journey of discovery and adventure, unveiling the Pacific Northwest's breathtaking landscapes and vibrant cities. Begin your journey in Seattle, where you can explore the iconic Space Needle and Pike Place Market. Visit Mount Rainier, and Mount Saint Helens along the way before Venturing south towards Portland, known for its quirky culture and outstanding food scene. Further southwest is the Pacific Coast Highway where you'll encounter the many beautiful beaches before reaching the majestic Redwood National in Northern California. Your road trip ends in San Francisco, a city famed for its Golden Gate Bridge, vibrant neighborhoods, and rich history. This route encapsulates the very best of the West Coast, promising an unforgettable experience. This blog post will help you cover it all along your journey with me over the next 11 days.

Cruise Critic

A few things to be aware of while doing this road trip.

Arcadia Beach State Park, Arch Cape Oregon
Arcadia Beach State Park, Arch Cape Oregon

  • Plan Ahead- look at the routes (101 and 1 in particular) road closures can happen due to bad weather, or road collapses which are common on the Pacific Coast highway.

  • Book hotels in advance- Cannon Beach, Bandon and Fort Bragg are very popular so advanced booking is necessary.

  • Ask a travel advisor or planner for help (like me). Travel advisors have tons of knowledge and can help with advice or even more.

  • If you can squeeze in extra days off work and budget allows, do it for this vacation. You will have hundreds of overlooks you will want to stop at and cute little towns along the way. As many days as possible are required for this trip.

  • Roads will be curvy this route, make sure you are prepared for this. If you tend to get car sick, bring meds. If you are scared of these types of roads, you will also need to be prepared. I managed through it with my best friend, but there were times especially during major wind and rain I was clutching the steering wheel. You will run into several twists and turns on the road that warn you to drive only 10 or 15 MPH.

  • Summer is the busy season due to better weather, so prices are more expensive, and accommodations sell out more quickly. But in summer you could still see Snow at Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helens., but likely will not be driving in it.


Hilton Honors

Day 1 of Road trip

Pike Place Market in Seattle Washington
Pike Place Market in Seattle Washington

Seattle Washington, the starting point of your road trip, is a city brimming with exciting attractions. The Space Needle, an iconic symbol of Seattle, offers panoramic views of the city and beyond. Just a stone's throw away, you will find Chihuly Garden and Glass, an exhibit showcasing the stunning glasswork of Dale Chihuly. Pike Place Market is a must-visit for food lovers, filled with fresh produce, artisanal products, and the original Starbucks store. Don't forget the Museum of Pop Culture, an institution dedicated to contemporary popular culture. Lastly, a visit to Seattle Art Museum will allow you to appreciate a diverse collection of artworks from around the globe. These attractions encapsulate the spirit of Seattle, ensuring a memorable start to your journey. If your journey allows you to, spend a few days here, there are a lot of places to check out.


RentalCars.com

Day 2 of Road Trip

Mount Rainer National Park Entrance
Mount Rainer National Park Entrance

When leaving Seattle and heading south, consider a detour to Mount Rainier National Park. This iconic peak is a must-see for nature lovers. Towering at over 14,000 feet, Mount Rainier is the highest mountain of the Cascade Range and one of the most active volcanoes in the U.S. Here, you can immerse yourself in the breathtaking alpine scenery, hike along picturesque trails dotted with wildflowers, or participate in a guided glacier tour. Remember to carry a warm jacket, even in the summer, as temperatures at the summit can be quite chilly. Also, entry to the park is only good for the summer, opening up in May, so be aware of this. This detour adds a touch of wild, unspoiled beauty to your road trip, plus you will likely see wildlife (Roosevelt Elks) You will pass though country roads and small towns along the way. There is a wonderful roadside attraction on the way full of large yard ornaments, and for a donation you can walk the area and look at all the wondrous works of art that have been created.


Mount Saint Helens
Mount Saint Helens

After your visit to Mount Rainier is complete, travel on those country roads some more to see Mount Saint Helens. Just a short detour from your route lies Mount Saint Helens, a volcano known worldwide for its devastating eruption in 1980. Even after decades, this natural wonder continues to captivate with its raw beauty and compelling history. Begin at the Johnston Ridge Observatory, where you can learn about the eruption's impact and recovery through interactive exhibits. From there, you're treated to panoramic views of the mountain, the gaping crater, and the surrounding landscape that was forged by nature's most potent forces. If you're up for it, hiking trails of varying difficulties offer a closer look at the area's flora and fauna, many of which have made a remarkable comeback since the eruption.


Snowy walk at Mount Saint Helens in May
Snowy walk at Mount Saint Helens in May

During my visit as we drove up to the Observatory, you will notice more and more snow, so if you are planning on hiking, visit during the summer, because mid-April I was still standing in knee deep snow, but it is a magnificent view. Visiting Mount Saint Helens adds a touch of adventure and education to your road trip, making it an essential stop on your West Coast journey. As a little side note, at the end of this night we stayed in the city of Kelso, Washington, a great city with tons of hotel options. With just a quick stop at these Mountains you will be doing lots of driving. If you want to add days to your trip to spend more time, I would highly suggest it.




ticketmaster

Day 3 of Road Trip

Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls

Before you reach the heart of Portland, another enchanting detour awaits you: Multnomah Falls. Situated along the Columbia River Gorge, this awe-inspiring waterfall is a true spectacle of nature. Plunging over 600 feet, it is the highest waterfall in the state of Oregon, characterized by a distinctive two-tiered drop. A brief hike up the paved trail takes you to Benson Bridge, which offers a stunning close-up view of the falls and an unparalleled photo opportunity. Whether you're an outdoor enthusiast or a casual tourist, the sheer beauty and serenity of Multnomah Falls make it a rewarding addition to your road trip itinerary.



Street View of Portland Oregon
Street view of Portland Oregon

Portland Oregon, lovingly referred to as "the City of Roses", offers a cornucopia of attractions befitting every type of traveler. Food enthusiasts revel in the city's thriving culinary scene, sampling delicacies from food carts, microbreweries, and farm-to-table restaurants. Powell's City of Books, a multi-story book lovers' paradise, is an emblem of Portland's vibrant literary culture. The city's commitment to nature and sustainability shines through its numerous urban parks, the most iconic being the International Rose Test Garden and Forest Park. Fans of quirkiness will appreciate the charm of the peculiar Voodoo Doughnut shop, and the Keep Portland Weird mural. Each corner of Portland brims with unique character, making it a must-visit destination.


Haystack Rock Cannon Beach Oregon
Haystack Rock Cannon Beach Oregon

Continuing your journey southwest from Portland, the Oregon Coast awaits, revealing an enchanting blend of rugged cliffs, pristine beaches, and charming coastal towns. In the north, Cannon Beach captivates visitors with its iconic Haystack Rock and thriving arts scene. Cannon Beach may be familiar, just think back to the movie The Goonies. Also, during the summer, you have a good chance of seeing Puffins. Cannon Beach takes their Puffin watching seriously and can usually be spotted nesting on the big rock. Walk the quaint little shopping district and eat some great food while in the area.





airalo

Day 4 of Road Trip

overlook at Cape Meares
overlook at Cape Meares

After leaving Cannon Beach, continue your journey south to Rockaway Beach, Oregon. There are so many areas to check out with wonderful overlooks and views, you could honestly spend several days in this area and not see it all. Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the mountains, this tranquil coastal town is known for its seven-mile sandy beach and magnificent ocean views. Spend the day exploring Twin Rocks, the iconic sea stacks that rise majestically from the ocean, or take a leisurely stroll along the beach, keeping an eye out for treasures washed ashore. The town's charming shops and restaurants offer a warm welcome to visitors, as does the historic Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad. The train ride provides an immersive, nostalgic journey through the town's landscapes, offering a unique perspective on Rockaway Beach's natural beauty. Cape Meares and the Tillamook Cheese (the house that cheese built!) and located south of and you can tour if you like.


Devils Punch Bowl
Devils Punch Bowl

Moving further south, you arrive at the vibrant Lincoln City. This coastal gem is renowned for its seven miles of sandy beach, an ideal spot for kite flying, beachcombing, and breathtaking sunsets. Lincoln City is also home to the Jennifer Sears Glass Art Studio, where you can experience the ancient art of glassblowing firsthand. Between Lincoln City and Newport make a stop at the Devils Punch Bowl for an interesting view of how the ocean has carved the rocks.


Next stop on your journey is Newport, a town steeped in maritime heritage. Here, the spectacular Yaquina Head Lighthouse stands guard over the Pacific, a beacon of history and stunning vistas. Don't forget to visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium to marvel at the rich biodiversity of marine life that calls the Oregon coast home. As you venture further south, don't miss the opportunity to appreciate the breathtaking views at Cape Perpetua, Thor's Well and the Sea Lion Cave.


Travel up

Day 5 of Road Trip

Sea Lion Cave near Florence Oregon
Sea Lion Cave near Florence Oregon

Next you reach the picturesque town of Florence, but before you get there you will pass Cape Perpetua, Thor's Well and the Sea Lion Cave which I highly recommend. The renowned Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is in Florence, Florence offers a unique landscape of towering sand dunes, where you can indulge in thrilling activities such as dune buggy rides and sandboarding. The town's historic Old Town district is a hub of specialty shops, art galleries, and waterfront dining, offering a captivating blend of old-world charm and modern allure.




Continuing your journey along the coast, you'll find yourself in Coos Bay, the largest city on the Oregon Coast. This vibrant seaside town boasts a rich maritime history and a thriving arts community. Be sure to visit the Coos Art Museum, which features works from Pacific Northwest artists. For those seeking natural beauty, the Shore Acres State Park offers stunning ocean views, a lush botanical garden, and trails that wind through a diverse landscape.

Face Rock and others in Bandon Oregon
Face Rock and others in Bandon Oregon

Further down the coast lies the charming town of Bandon. Known for its dramatic landscapes, Bandon's coastline is a spectacle of towering sea stacks scattered along the beach. Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for birdwatchers. The town is also renowned for its world-class golf courses, like the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, and for its historic lighthouse. The Old Town Bandon, with its quaint shops and seafood restaurants, exudes a rustic charm that invites visitors to slow down and savor the coastal lifestyle.

Carmel Limo

Day 6 of Road Trip

Crazy weather day near Gold Beach
Crazy weather day near Gold Beach

As you near the California border, you'll encounter Gold Beach - the final Oregonian destination on this coastal journey. Famed for its miles of sandy beaches from which the town derives its name, Gold Beach offers a tranquil retreat where the Rogue River meets the Pacific Ocean. Known for its fantastic sport fishing opportunities, the town also houses the stunning Otter Point State Recreation Site, a place of ethereal beauty shaped by wind and waves. The southern Oregon Coast, encapsulated by the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, offers a more secluded experience with its serene beaches and dramatic sea stacks. Exploring the Oregon Coast is a feast for the senses; it's a chapter of your Western Road trip that you won't want to rush.


Leaving the Oregon coast, you now set course southwards, crossing the state line into California and making your first stop at Crescent City. Home to the iconic Battery Point Lighthouse and the stunning Redwood National and State Parks, Crescent City is a harbor town that offers a touch of rustic Californian charm and a gateway to nature's majesty.

Rexing

Day 7 of Road Trip

Cresent City California Elk
Cresent City California Elk

Just an hour south of Crescent City, Eureka welcomes you with its stunning Victorian architecture and the vibrant Old Town district. The city is a fantastic place to stop for the night, offering an array of comfortable lodging options. One of Eureka's main attractions is the Historic Carson Mansion, a beautiful example of Queen Anne style architecture, now serving as a private club. You can also explore the Sequoia Park Zoo, one of the country's oldest zoos, located in a lush, 67-acre forest. For dining, the city's seafood restaurants are a must-visit, offering fresh catches from the Pacific. Eureka, with its rich history and coastal charm, is a great place to pause your journey, rest, and soak in the local culture.


LifeSight

Day 8 of Road Trip

Driving car through a Redwood Tree
Driving car through a Redwood Tree

Following your exploration of Eureka California, the next destination to look forward to on your West Coast Road Trip is the serene Humboldt Redwoods State Park, in Northern California. This nature's gem is home to the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world. As you walk amidst these ancient, towering trees along the famed Avenue of the Giants, you can't help but be humbled by their magnificence and timeless presence. Whether you choose to hike, camp, or simply enjoy a picnic amidst the greenery, the park promises a rejuvenating retreat. Moreover, bird enthusiasts will appreciate the rich variety of avifauna, boasting over 100 species. As the sun dips, the park's clear skies offer excellent opportunities for stargazing. Indeed, a visit to the Humboldt Redwoods State Park is not simply a stopover, but a chance to reconnect with nature and experience the awe-inspiring wealth of Earth's biodiversity.



Day 9 of Road Trip

Fort Bragg Sunset
Fort Bragg Sunset

Fort Bragg California is a must see stop, visit the Glass Beach and explore the rocky cliffs where you are guaranteed to have a beautiful sunset and watch some lazy sea lions basking in the sun. MacKerricher State Park is a great park to visit the glass beach also.




Viator

Next on your route is the picturesque town of Mendocino, California. With its quaint Victorian homes, art galleries, and wine tasting rooms, Mendocino offers a delightful fusion of history, culture, and nature. Don't miss the Mendocino Headlands State Park where the rugged coastline meets a symphony of crashing waves, offering a spectacle of natural beauty. The park's trails are perfect for leisurely walks, and if you're lucky, you might even spot migrating whales.


If you stay on the coastal highway south of Mendocino it will continue on a windy curvy road, taking you through beautiful vistas and overlooks but also some scary moments on the drive. Make a stop in Bodega Bay. This is a famous little place where in 1963 Alfred Hitchcock released the movie, The Birds. Loosely based on a short story of a series of bird attacks in Bodega Bay. Also, Bodega Bay is known to be a point on the red triangle, a shark infested area.


Day 10-11 of Road Trip

Driving Golden Gate Bridge
Driving Golden Gate Bridge

Finally, your road trip will lead you to the bustling city of San Francisco. A myriad of attractions await to dazzle visitors. Start with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, a marvel of modern engineering offering panoramic views of the city and the Pacific. Just a stone's throw away is the Golden Gate Park, home to the de Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, and the tranquil Japanese Tea Garden. Explore Fisherman's Wharf, renowned for its seafood, shops, and the sea lions at Pier 39. Don't miss Alcatraz Island, a historic prison turned museum, providing a fascinating look into America's past. If time permits, delve into the city's vibrant arts scene in the Mission District or soak up the unique, bohemian charm of Haight-Ashbury.


Sea Lions at Pier 39
Sea Lions at Pier 39

After 11 incredible days, our adventurous road trip comes to an end. As we trace the path we've taken, from the majestic Pacific Northwest to the vibrant Californian coast, we're left with a tapestry of memories that weave together breathtaking natural beauty, rich historical landmarks, and charming coastal towns. It has been a journey of discovery, of moments savored and places explored. Each destination has left an indelible mark, adding unique threads to the rich tapestry of the journey. As we leave behind the open road, I hope this journey has been as enriching for you as it has been for me. Until our next adventure, keep the spirit of exploration alive and treasure the memories we've made along this unforgettable coastal road trip.

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