Seattle to San Francisco
We plan to make the drive down from Seattle to San Francisco a rather effective one, with a good combination of narrow and winding seaside roads and more hi-speed and less scenic express highways.
The big question here is when and where to do what! The pacific northwest coast is known for its beautiful scenery, yet - being from Norway, the land of the fjords, we might be somewhat familiar with the view..?
A possible route goes from Seattle to Portland, then out to Lincoln City on the central Oregon coast and further down the coast to Eureka, California. Then we’ll follow the 101 inland past the Humboldt Redwoods State Park and all the way past Santa Rosa to San Francisco. Then we’ll miss out on the Shoreline Highway (CA-1), but we’ll hopefully catch up on the Californian shores on our trip from San Fran to LA.
Here are some of the things we might take a look at on our way south:
- Lincoln City - Cape Perpetu - Florence
- Some of the most spectacular vista spots along the Pacific West Coast are supposedly along the Oregon Central Coast between Lincoln City and Florence. With Spouting Horns that shoot geysers above the seawall at high tide, more tell-all-names like Cape Foulweather and Devil’s Punch Bowl, the 125-year-old lighthouse in Yaquina Head, and just south of Yachats is Cape Perpetu, with a view of 150 miles of coastline. According to our Rough guide to the USA, Lincoln City is the ugliest town on the Oregon coast, but we hope to get a little further down the coast before we have to stop for the night.
- Oregon Dunes
- Further south is the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, a unique area of windswept sand with sand dunes towering to 500 feet above sea level - making it the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America. They’re located along the 101 just north of Coos bay, and might be explored with rental all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). Looks fun, but we probably won’t have time for this…
- Avenue of the Giants
- State Route 254, more commonly known as the Avenue of the Giants, is a 32-mile (52 km) scenic road that runs through Humboldt Redwoods State Park south of Eureka, California on the old Highway 101, which parallels the Freeway 101. The “Giants” refer to the extremely tall Coast Redwood trees, and the trip offers the chance to drive through one of them (or three?), visit a tree house and see the 950 years old, 250ft tall Immortal Tree.
Drive Thru Tree, Avenue of the Giants, courtesy of the superash
As always, feel free to leave a comment if there is anything you think we ought to see on our way!
AZBuck on the RoadtripAmerica-forum wrote:
My first impression is that, unfortunately, your planned itinerary for those two days between Seattle and San Francisco is a bit unrealistic. The on-line mapping routines are notorious for underestimating the time required to drive between two distant points, particularly since they do not take into account stops to enjoy the incredible scenery you will be driving through, slow downs for traffic or small towns, food and rest stops, gas stops, etc. When I did that drive in reverse (north out of San Francisco) it took me a very full, 14 hour day to get as far as Grant’s Pass. What I’d do instead of trying to see the Oregon coast - beautiful, but out of the way - is to start out down I-5 to Olympia, WA, and then use US-101, WA-8 and US-12 to get to the Washington coast at Aberdeen. From there, WA-105 and US-101 will allow you to explore the Pacific Northwest coast a bit, including the mouth of the Columbia River. Just south of Seaside, OR, US-26 will take you back inland to join I-5 at Portland so that you can cover some ground southbound. The Willamette valley is scenic in its own right, but should still let you get well into southern Oregon or even northern California and set you up for your second day’s drive through the redwoods and down US-101 into the Bay Area.
We are planning a trip in July from Seattle to San Francisco. We want to see the most scenic areas. We are in no rush and would like to see as much as possible of the beautiful areas. What would you suggest and which route should we take?
Hi Dez, and sorry for my late reply.
Still, there’s plenty of time until July, so I’ll give it a shot =)
First: You’ll find a summary of our trip down the coast from Seattle to San Francisco here on the blog (find the links in the right column), but as you can tell: we didn’t spend that many days on this part of the trip, and there’s definitely a lot more to be seen.
You’ll find valuable tips from people far more familiar with the area than me all over the net, so I’ll make a short list of possible “must sees” - and then point you to what turned out to be our fondest memory from this area.
I would strongly suggest that you..
- follow the coast south, and take detours into the country
- stop at random places along the coastline. Step out of the car. Be amazed!
- check out Lincoln City (we didn’t, but were told we should have)
- visit the Hecata Head lighthouse
- drive down through the Avenue of the Giants
- you should probably spend some time in the “wine valleys” - Napa/Sonoma (we didn’t).
I would also seriously consider continuing further south beyond SanFran - to experience the Big Sur (drive down one day, experience the sunset in San Louis Obispo/Pismo beach, stay the night in Solvang (or relive the movie “Sideways” at The Days Inn in Buellton), then drive back up the next day.
But, as promised, here’s what stands out as our most special experience from this area - five years later:
As we described in this post, we totally misread the map when heading for the Avenue of the Giants, and ended up on a big detour into the mountains. It was a bit scary at the time, as we had no idea how long this detour would last AND we had not stocked up for a possible vehicle breakdown in the middle of nowhere. Actually, we only had a tiny bottle of water and half a box of Pringles between us. But the scenery! Wow!
The lesson we learned: Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten track! The entire area is full of hidden gems, so explore right and left!
And my very last tip: Spend some time with Google Maps before you go! It’s a great way to check out possible sights in advance - and perhaps discover a hidden treasure or two.