Are you ready for an epic Portland to San Francisco road trip? This journey is all about stunning landscapes, cool roadside attractions, and the thrill of the open road. Whether you’re a seasoned road warrior or just dipping your toes into the whole road trip thing, we’ve got you covered.
This guide is packed with handy tips for your road trip from Portland to San Francisco based on my own drive last summer. I’ll let you in on 15 awesome pit stops that’ll turn the drive into an adventure itself. You’ll witness everything, from the stunning beaches on the Oregon Coast to the towering redwoods of Northern California, and end up right in the heart of San Francisco.
Not sure how to put this all together? In addition to listing the stops, I have 3, 5, and 7-day itineraries for a drive from Portland to San Francisco. I’ve made sure you’ll get to experience a blend of the famous sights and local hangouts for an authentic feel of the route.
So, are you ready to roll from the City of Roses to the Golden City? There are tons of unforgettable experiences waiting for you on the way. So grab a coffee, jump in the car, and let’s hit the road from Portland to San Francisco!
Tips for a Portland to San Francisco Road Trip
Organizing your car and planning a route for a road trip can be tricky, especially if you don’t know where to start. Luckily for you, I’ve found the answers to some of the frequently asked questions about a road trip from Portland to San Francisco.
Can You Drive from Portland to San Francisco in a Day?
A road trip from Portland to San Francisco will take around 10 hours of driving. This does not factor in pit stops, which I highly recommend as a fun (and necessary) break from driving. These are fantastic ways to make the most of your adventure.
The shortest route for a Portland to San Francisco road trip is via I-5, and it’s possible to do this drive in one day, although where’s the fun in that? So I recommend spending at least two days on this road trip.
However, the best option is to spread it across four to seven days for the best experience. This way, you can stop at various national parks and picturesque coastal towns along the way and get the most superb views.
How Far is the Portland to San Francisco Drive?
Portland and San Francisco are around 635 miles away at the minimum in terms of driving. This is the quickest way to get to San Francisco from Portland – along I- 5, but I’m betting you’re not here for that.
For a more scenic route from Portland to San Francisco, follow Highway 101 along Oregon and California’s Pacific Coast. You’ll exit out of Portland on the I-5, traveling south until you reach Albany.
From here, you’ll head west on Highway 26 until you reach the coast and merge with Highway 101. You’ll head south towards San Francisco for around 600 miles on Highway 101, so besides the gorgeous natural beauty, it’s also not too hard to navigate.
What’s better, you’ll have a chance to stop at numerous beaches, Redwoods National and State Parks, the Avenue of the Giants, Mendocino, Napa Valley, and more.
Where to Fly Into and Out of for Your Portland to San Francisco Road Trip?
What’s advantageous about a road trip is that you can start it from either destination. If you’re flying into either city, you’re probably wondering what’s best. If you want to start from Portland, I recommend flying into Portland International Airport (PDX), roughly 12 miles from the city center.
If you want to start from San Francisco, I recommend landing at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), as it’s around 13 miles from downtown.
15 Terrific Stops on a Portland to San Francisco Road Trip
Want to make the most of your Portland to San Francisco road trip? Consider adding a few of these spots and natural landmarks to your itinerary.
1. Cannon Beach, OR
Cannon Beach is a picturesque coastal town on the Oregon Coast, around 79 miles (90 minutes) from Portland. It’s mostly known for expansive stretches of beaches and the iconic Haystack Rock.
This 235-foot-tall rock formation is home to adorable tufted puffins and an immense array of marine life, so it’s perfect for nature lovers and as a break from driving. It’s also close to Ecola State Park, perfect for hiking, or Arcadia Beach, which has lovely tidal pools.
What’s more, the town is home to a thriving art scene, charming boutiques, seafood restaurants, and cozy cafes. This makes it perfect for a breakfast or brunch stop along your road trip.
2. Tillamook, OR
The next fantastic stop on the road trip is the enchanting city of Tillamook, around 40 miles (55 minutes) from Cannon Beach. It’s most famously known for the Tillamook Cheese Factory, which makes some of the best cheese in the area.
Stop by here and take a self-guided tour of the factory. It’s an insightful way to see the cheese-making process, and the best part is that you can taste some of their cheese and ice cream.
It’s also close to Tillamook State Forest, which spans over 364,000 acres and has numerous picturesque hiking trails. Besides this, Tillamook also offers various cultural attractions and some of the best scenic views along the Oregon Coast.
Make sure to reserve your rental car ahead of time! I love using Discover Cars for my trips.
3. Newport, OR
After trying some delicious dairy in Tillamook, you’ll drive around 68 miles (90 minutes) until you reach the coastal city of Newport. This lovely city is home to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, which is a delightful way to experience the marine life of the Pacific Ocean.
It’s home to sharks, sea otters, sea lions, and vibrant fish, which you can marvel at all day. Some of its amazing features include fascinating exhibits like Passages of the Deep, a tunnel filled with aquatic life.
Other fantastic sites to visit on your Portland to San Francisco road trip are the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, Nye Beach, South Beach State Park, and Hatfield Marine Science Center.
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4. Siuslaw National Forest, OR
From Newport, you’ll head down the Oregon Coast on your Portland to San Francisco drive for roughly 30 miles (roughly 50 minutes) until you arrive at Siuslaw National Forest. This is a definite must-see in Oregon, as it’s made up of several diverse ecosystems – making it an idyllic scenic drive.
Along the way, you’ll have some fantastic stopping points, so here are a few of my faves:
- Heceta Head Lighthouse – This historic landmark is one of Oregon’s most photographed lighthouses, and I get why. The dramatic backdrops and iconic shape make for the perfect snapshot.
- Cape Perpetua Scenic Area – Get some of the best views of the Pacific Ocean here. What’s more, you can explore its many tidal pools and see water spew out at Thor’s Well.
- Oregon Dunes – Looking for an exhilarating activity? Go sandboarding or hiking in these incredible dunes, or enjoy a dune buggy ride.
Keep heading south to go on a road trip from San Francisco to Yosemite.
5. Sea Lion Caves, OR
Just 31 miles (56 minutes) from Siuslaw National Forest is the Sea Lion Caves, home to a large colony of wild Steller sea lions. This cave was formed over 25 million years ago and is the US’s largest sea grotto.
You’ll be able to see the sea lions year-round, both in the caves and on the rocky ledges outside, as there’s an elevator that takes you down and various lookouts too. You’ll also be able to spot whales, seals, and various seabirds in the cave.
It’s also open all year, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, so no matter when you’re doing this road trip, you’ll be able to see these magnificent creatures.
Make sure to reserve your rental car ahead of time! I love using Discover Cars for my trips.
6. Florence, OR
Another great spot close by is the fabulous Florence, just 10 miles (roughly 10 minutes) from the Sea Lion Caves. It’s a charming coastal town that is home to some gorgeous hidden gems – making it a fantastic stop on your drive down. You’ll love exploring all the beaches and flying kites (my kids loved this activity!).
It’s also a great area if traveling cross country with a dog, and you need to get them some exercise.
One spot to explore is the historic Old Town, along the Siuslaw River, where the pioneers settled in the 1900s. You can explore more of this history at the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum, which is full of artifacts and exhibits showcasing the region’s pioneer heritage.
Want something to relax your soul? Visit the Darlingtonia State Natural Site, which is home to the rare cobra lily and other endemic plants.
This is a pretty large town, so it’s an ideal place to stock up on your road trip snacks for kids (there’s a Safeway in town we stopped at to refuel).
7. Humbug Mountain State Park, OR
You’ll need to drive another 105 miles (and roughly 2 hours) to reach Humbug Mountain State Park. This is a grand spot along Highway 101 for nature lovers and hikers, with the 1,765-foot-tall Humbug Mountain. Hiking to the summit is a moderately challenging activity, as it’s a 4.4-mile loop trail and takes around 3 hours.
That said, it’s definitely worth it, as you can get some of the best Pacific Ocean views and the surrounding mountains. What’s more, you can also camp here year-round, whether with an RV or tent, as campsites have electricity, water, and toilets.
8. Redwood National and State Parks, CA
This next stop will be the first one past the California border, as you drive 72 miles (1 hour and 20 minutes) to the Redwood National and State Parks. It’s home to some of the world’s oldest trees, which makes visiting here a humbling and moving experience.
Even better, you can explore all this natural beauty from the comfort of your car on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. I highly recommend keeping the windows open, both to hear the forest’s sounds and to breathe in some of the cleanest air in California.
If you prefer to explore the park on foot, you can go on several hiking trails, like Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Trail, and Tall Trees Grove.
9. Eureka, CA
From Redwood National and State Parks, you’ll drive for 40 miles (roughly 40 minutes) until you reach the idyllic port city of Eureka. It’s well known for its exquisite Victorian houses, which is one of the top reasons why you should stop here.
One of the best examples of this architecture is the Carson Mansion, which has an iconic exterior and features redwood, stained glass, and plasterwork inside. Unfortunately, this building has no tours, but you’re welcome to appreciate it from the sidewalk.
End the visit by strolling along the Eureka Boardwalk, taking in panoramic views of Humboldt Bay, and grabbing a great seafood dish at one of Eureka’s fantastic restaurants.
Need another trip idea? You’ll love driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas.
10. Avenue of the Giants, CA
The next stop along Highway 101, roughly 47 miles (and 50 minutes) from Eureka, is the Avenue of the Giants. This is a 31-mile scenic drive among the redwoods, so need I to say any more about why this is worthy of a stop on your road trip?
Okay, so it’s not really a stop, as you’ll be parallel to Highway 101 on this part of the Portland to San Francisco road trip. It’s so enchanting as you drive past trees that are up to 1,500 years old. Interestingly, there’s even a tree you can drive through (though not with an RV). You’ll need $10 to drive through the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree, but that’s nothing for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
11. Fort Bragg, CA
Just 87 miles (2 hours) from Avenue of the Giants is Fort Bragg, a delightful coastal city. It’s home to the iconic Glass Beach, which is covered in colorful sea glass – now, how’s that for unique? Just be aware that you can’t take any sea glass to preserve its beauty.
Besides that, it’s also got the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, which span over 47 acres and feature rhododendrons and dahlias. You can also take a ride on the Skunk Train, which passes through redwood forests and across the Noyo River.
Another brilliant feature of this area is that it’s close to natural landmarks, such as MacKerricher State Park and Pudding Creek Trestle. So, consider staying here on one of the nights on the road trip.
12. Mendocino, CA
You won’t need to drive far before you reach the next stop from Fort Bragg. In fact, Mendocino is just 10 miles (15 minutes) from the previous city. It’s just as delightful due to the city’s charming architecture and natural surroundings.
One delightful place to visit in the city is the Mendocino Art Center, where you can see incredible local talent or even take a painting class. Keen for more cultural experiences? Head to the Mendocino Theater Company, where you can catch a play.
The fun doesn’t end here, as the city’s also close to Russian Gulch State Park. This park is home to a 36-foot waterfall and the Devil’s Punch Bowl, a natural blowhole.
13. Fort Ross State Historic Park, CA
From Mendocino, you’ll drive for 75 miles (just under 2 hours) until you reach Fort Ross State Historic Park. This park is a must-visit for history lovers, as you’ll be able to see a Russian-era fort built around 1836. Even better, you can experience what life was like back in the 19th century at their family camp.
This will have to be arranged before arrival; however, it’s truly a fantastic experience and costs around $40 per person for a single-day program. Fort Ross is not just for history buffs, as it has 20 miles of hiking trails, several beaches, and redwood forests.
14. Santa Rosa, CA
It wouldn’t be a Pacific Route road trip without a stop in California’s Napa Valley. It’s worth adding that driving to Napa Valley from Fort Ross is a bit of a detour, so I suggest visiting Santa Rosa instead. It’s roughly 45 miles (75 minutes) from Fort Ross and home to some of the most delightful wineries.
It may be hard to choose where to go, but here are some of my faves:
- Matanzas Creek Winery – Enjoy tasting Chardonnay, Sav Blanc, and Merlot while surrounded by lavender fields and stunning gardens.
- Martinelli Winery – This 450-acre wine estate offers a wide range of tastings and a vineyard tour; plus, they’ve been making wine since the 1880s, so you know it’s good.
- Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens – From their farm-to-table food pairings to their stunning gardens, this delightful wine estate is perfect for an afternoon of wine tasting.
P.S.: If you prefer beer to wine, I highly recommend this Santa Rosa breweries bike tour to experience some of Sonoma County’s best beers.
15. Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
The last stop before San Fran and just 37 miles (45 minutes) from Santa Rosa is the delightful Point Reyes National Seashore. It contains around 80 miles of shoreline, with dramatic cliffside views, the Point Reyes Lighthouse, and over 150 miles of hiking trails.
This is a gorgeous part of Northern California to visit, and what’s more, it also has lovely beaches, such as Limantour Beach and Drake’s Beach, where you can swim, go scavenger hunting for shells, or even stroll along the sand.
Tip: A great idea for lunch is to have a picnic with fresh produce and beverages from along the Pacific Route and Napa Valley. That’s because Point Reyes has three fabulous picnic areas dotted throughout the park.
Want to extend your trip? Head out on a San Francisco to San Diego drive!
5-Day Itinerary for Portland to San Francisco Road Trip
Sure, heading down the I-5 is a faster alternative to driving along the Pacific Route, but my best bet is you’re looking for scenic views and interesting stops. For this, consider this 5-day itinerary along US-101.
Day 1: Portland to Newport
Mileage: 141 miles
Driving time: 3 hours
Exploring Oregon starts with this 3-hour drive from Portland to Newport. You’ll drive along Highway 26 until you reach Cannon Beach (around 79 miles), a perfect spot to grab breakfast.
If you don’t feel like stopping so soon, don’t stress, as there are a lot of alternatives along the way. These include Tillamook, Pacific City, and Lincoln City, which are all full of personalities and great eateries.
Once you get to Newport, you can grab a drink at Rogue Ales Brewery, making delightful craft beers. They also serve delicious bar food, fish and chips, and burgers.
Where to Stay:
- Inn at Nye Beach – Just minutes away from Nye Beach, this hotel is perfect for an overnight stay. (rates start at around $199 per night)
- Elizabeth Oceanfront Suites – It features Pacific Ocean views and grab-and-go breakfasts and is ideal for a road trip. (rates start at around $183 per night)
- The Landing at Newport Condominium Hotel – Across the harbor from the Oregon Coast Aquarium, this hotel is centrally located; and convenient for sightseers. (rates start at around $195 per night)
Day 2: Newport to Humbug Mountain State Park
Mileage: 155 miles
Driving time: 3 hours, 10 minutes
From Newport, you’ll continue to drive down Highway 101, passing Siuslaw National Forest, Sea Lion Caves, and Oregon Dunes. What’s great about this is all these spots don’t cause major detours in your trip, as they’re close to the highway.
Florence is a charming seaside town and a terrific stop for breakfast (or lunch if you’re a late starter). Other idyllic spots are North Bend, Coos Bay, and Port Orford if you want to drive a bit more.
Just before you get to the park, you’ll come across Bandon, which is a great spot to stay overnight.
Where to Stay:
- Lighthouse Cove Inn – Featuring spacious rooms and great breakfast options, it’s perfect for a good sleep. (rates start at around $129 per night)
- Best Western Inn at Face Rock – This 3-star inn has modern amenities and beachfront access. (rates start at around $171 per night)
- Camping at Humbug Mountain State Park – There are 96 campsites to choose from; just remember to book in advance on the Oregon State Parks website.
Day 3: Humbug Mountain State Park to Eureka
Mileage: 160 miles
Driving time: 3 hours
Next, you’ll head out of Oregon, but stay on Highway 101, driving into California’s border after passing through the city of Brookings. You will come across Redwood National and State Parks not far from here, where I highly recommend stopping.
You can explore the park’s extensive network of trails or take a ranger-led tour. One thing I advise is to pack a lunch. While there are places to stop along the way, you’ll want to spend most of your time in the redwoods, as they are so stunning.
It’s a 40-minute drive from the park to Eureka, so I recommend spending midday in Redwood National and State Parks and the afternoon in Eureka. That’s because you’ll want to see the delightful Victorian architecture and stroll through the city.
Where to Stay:
- Hydrangea Inn – with a gorgeous garden and comfy furniture, you’ll feel at home in this 5-star inn. (rates start at around $235 per night)
- Eureka Inn – Stay in this 3-star historic inn where Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan once slept. (rates start at around $125 per night)
Day 4: Eureka to Mendocino
Mileage: 143 miles
Driving time: 3 hours
Day 4 starts with a bang, as after 40 miles (and minutes), you’ll be at the Avenue of the Giants, one of California’s best scenic drives. Drive through the redwood forests at ease before continuing on Highway 101 for 87 miles to the delightful Fort Bragg.
This is a delightful spot to stop for a midday break, as you can see the spectacle that is Glass Beach. What’s more, Fort Bragg has delicious, freshly-caught seafood, so grab some lunch.
From here, it’s only a 10-mile drive to Mendocino, which makes this day quite relaxed. At Mendocino, catch a play or visit some of its art galleries to see the city’s cultural scene.
Where to Stay:
- Mendocino Hotel & Garden – This rustic hotel has all you need, from balcony views to comfy four-poster beds. (rates start at around $116 per night)
- Hill House Inn – With Victorian-style decor, fireplaces, and spacious rooms, you’ll feel relaxed here. (rates start at around $134 per night)
Day 5: Mendocino to San Francisco
Mileage: 154 miles
Driving time: 3 hours
It may be the last day of the road trip, but it’s definitely not the least fun. That’s because day 5 consists of opportunities for wine tasting, exploring, and getting some of the best views. After a 75-mile drive from Mendocino, you’ll reach Fort Ross State Historic Park, where you can do anything, from hiking to reenacting 19th-century life.
Then, you’ll drive for another 45 miles before reaching Santa Rosa, a delightful city in Wine Country. Here, you can taste some of California’s best wine; just make sure to spit it out if you’re the designated driver.
It’s 37 miles from Santa Rosa to Point Reyes National Seashore, which has exquisite views and an iconic lighthouse. Now, it’s just 36 miles from San Francisco, so before you know it, you’ll cross the Golden Gate Bridge and marvel at the city.
Where to Stay:
- Hyatt Regency Downtown SOMA – This is one of the classiest hotels in San Fran, from its marble finishes to the muted tones. And that’s not even getting into its location. (rates start at around $161 per night)
- Hotel Caza Fisherman’s Wharf – With stunning views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate, you’ll never want to leave. (rates start at around $152 per night)
Suggested Itineraries for a 3- and 7-Day Adventure
While the above itinerary is perfect for a Pacific Coast road trip, I understand that you might want to spend more (or less) time on the road trip. This way, you could even do a Seattle to San Francisco road trip.
3-Day Road Trip Itinerary
From Portland, you’ll still head down Highway 101, although you’ll have to be more selective with your stops. But I recommend staying in Florence on night one, after exploring Siuslaw and Newport.
On day two, you’ll drive to Fort Bragg after a day of exploring redwood forests and charming towns. Lastly, you’ll finish the trip with a bang, venturing along the Pacific Route, the delightful Mendocino, and whatever spot most piques your interest.
Sure, it will be more intensive in terms of mileage, so consider swapping drivers every three hours. You’ll end it in San Francisco, in style, as it’s packed full of attractions.
From here, you can do a quick Big Sur road trip from San Francisco.
7-Day Road Trip Itinerary
If you want more time to explore Oregon and Northern California, consider this itinerary. It includes all of the spots on the 5-day itinerary, with more space in between. From Portland, you’ll drive to Tillamook, where you can eat some delightful dairy. From Tillamook, you’ll drive along the coast to Newport, exploring the city and eating seafood.
Next, you’ll drive to Florence on day 3, exploring Siuslaw National Forest and the Sea Lion Caves on the way. After Florence, you’ll head to your first Californian stop, Eureka. That’s before experiencing the wildlife of Humbug Mountain and Redwood National Park.
On day 4, you’ll drive through redwoods at the Avenue of the Giants before shacking up in Fort Bragg. Next, you’ll be able to explore all the goodness of coastal cities like Fort Bragg and Mendocino on day 5.
On day 6, you’ll have the opportunity to dive back into time at Fort Ross State Historic Park before heading into Napa Valley’s Santa Rosa. Here, you can go on wine-tasting tours, as you won’t need to drive much more.
You’ll end the road trip with a three-hour drive from Santa Rosa to San Francisco on day 7, but not before visiting Point Reyes National Seashore for its abundance of marine life and picturesque views.
No matter how long you take to get there, you’ll love going on a Portland to San Francisco road trip.