7 Beautiful Stops on a Seattle to San Diego Road Trip

seattle to san diego road trip
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Are you looking for a longer drive from Seattle that has some of the best stops on the West Coast? You’ll love doing a Seattle to San Diego road trip – imagine cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway, windows down, playing your favorite songs. This journey takes you through a mix of big cities, small towns, and scenic views in between.

I’ve been all over the country but love driving down the West Coast the most. I’ve done different stretches of this trip multiple times, whether driving from Washington to Oregon or going down to California. You’ll love every part of the drive from Seattle to San Diego, from hiking through the Redwoods to relaxing on the beach and staring at the Pacific Ocean.

I’m about to spill all the details—my top tips, the best stops, and a detailed itinerary to make this road trip a blast. Whether you’re a road trip rookie or a seasoned pro, I’ve got you covered. Get ready to fill up on gas, grab your favorite snacks, and hit the play button on that playlist.

Tips for a Seattle to San Diego Road Trip

seattle waterfront

If there’s one thing about road trips, it’s that they can be challenging to plan if you don’t know where to start. Luckily for you, I’ve got some helpful tips and tricks that will let you kickstart your road trip planning on the absolute best foot. Let’s dive right in.

How Long Is the Road Trip From Seattle to San Diego?

If you’re looking for the quickest route, I’d suggest taking the roughly 1,250-mile journey along the I-5 S. In normal traffic conditions, the trip is around 20 hours and 20 minutes long, one way, depending on traffic and how fast you drive.

That said, what’s the point of a road trip if you aren’t making the most of the scenery? The quick route still has some beautiful sites, but nothing beats the Pacific Coast route. This route is significantly longer than the short route, reaching around 1,585 miles along the Pacific Coast highway. This particular drive can bring your journey up to 32 hours.

Remember that these times don’t include the number of stops or breaks you’ll need to take. So, setting aside four to five days for your Seattle to San Diego road trip is the way to go. It lets you enjoy plenty of stops along the route and make the absolute most of your journey.

Read next: Looking for another road trip idea starting in Seattle? Why not consider a fun Seattle to Los Angeles road trip?

Can You Drive From Seattle to San Diego in One Day?

The answer is yes, but it is not recommended. The direct trip from Seattle to San Diego can take upwards of 20 hours, and that’s taking the shortest route via the I-5 S. It also depends on the number of stops and breaks you take. Plus, you’ll need a second driver in the car with you to take turns behind the wheel.

When’s the Best Time To Do a Seattle to San Diego Road Trip?

An ideal time for any road trip, and not necessarily just one along the Pacific Coast, is the warmer months of spring (March – May) and summer (June – August). This way, you’ll get the perks of pleasant weather, with highs reaching around 77°F (25°C) in both Seattle and San Diego.

The spring and summer months are best for making use of iconic Pacific Coast nature spots, including beaches, hiking trails, and lush forests. That said, you’ll find that the highway is pretty crowded during the summer in particular, so I’d suggest holding off your trip if the traffic isn’t something you can manage.

But don’t worry — you can embark on this Seattle to San Diego road trip at any time of year, even in the cooler months. Fall (September – November) and winter (December – February) aren’t as busy, so you’d avoid a ton of traffic. Outdoor activities are still on the cards, too, so at the end of the day, your choice comes down to preference.

What To Pack for a Seattle to San Diego Road Trip

A good family road trip checklist is vital for any long drive. So, the smart thing to do is to plan what to pack. Lucky for you, I’ve compiled some packing essentials to include on your trip from Seattle to San Diego:

  • Water bottle: It’s essential to stay hydrated on long car rides, so a water bottle is a must.
  • Sunscreen: In warmer months, you’ll need to protect your skin from the harsh rays of the sun, so definitely invest in a good, high-SPF sunscreen.
  • Comfortable walking shoes: You’ll be making a lot of stops on your road trip, which means a lot of walking. I’d recommend investing in a perfect pair of shoes.
  • Camera: Whether you’re taking photos of your family or of the stunning landscapes along your trip, you’ll want a great-quality camera to capture those memories.
  • Cooler box: I’d say getting a cooler is a no-brainer. You’ll be able to keep your drinks cold throughout your trip.

Once you’ve got all your essentials lined-up, you’ll need to know how to properly organize your car for a road trip. Don’t worry — I’ve got you covered.

Seattle to San Diego Road Map

Take a look at this map of the route and what your Seattle to San Diego road trip might look like.

7 Stops on a Seattle to San Diego Road Trip

San Diego

The journey along the Pacific Coast between Seattle and San Diego has no shortage of places to see and things to do, so it’s honestly difficult to decide where to go. I’ve saved you the trouble and picked out some of the best spots just for you. 

Here are seven stops to check out on your road trip, providing a fabulous blend of natural beauty, activities, and excitement in some of the greatest towns and cities.

1. Seattle, WA

Seattle

The Emerald City, the City of Bridges — whatever you want to call it, Seattle is the perfect starting point for the road trip of your dreams. It’s the largest city in Washington State, and there are plenty of things to do and see to keep you enthralled before starting your trip.

There are plenty of obvious places to visit, like the Space Needle, the Pacific Science Center, the Seattle Art Museum, and Olympic Sculpture Park. These locales are an absolute must, and just to immerse yourself even more, try catching a ride on the Seattle Monorail

If you aren’t the type to spend all your time in museums, why not take a trip to some of the city’s best shopping hotspots? Pioneer Square has gorgeous Romanesque-style architecture, supermarkets, and boutique stores. If you’re feeling peckish, the square has some great restaurants, like Luigi’s Italian Eatery & Cantina, to grab a quick bite. 

The moral of the story — Seattle is massive and could take a couple of days to explore on its own, so definitely consider revisiting.

Another fun drive is going on a Seattle to Vegas road trip, that goes through four states.

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2. Newport, OR

Newport, Oregon, around 305 miles (5 hours) away, is a special destination that doesn’t quite get the recognition it deserves. This city is a sea-lover’s paradise, boasting stunning coastline views, beaches, and marine-based activities. 

Starting off, you can take a quick drive across the Yaquina Bay Bridge, taking in the views of the brilliant blue waters from the harbor. If you’re willing, you can walk across it and use the opportunity to catch some epic photos of the stunning architecture. After that, visiting the Newport Historic Bayfront is a must. You can try some great seafood restaurants and markets or even get souvenirs.

Nature lovers should check out the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Seal Rock State Park, or the Devil’s Punchbowl rock formation. For indoor activities on your Seattle to San Diego road trip, seeing the Hatfield Marine Science Center or Oregon Coast Aquarium is a good shout.

3. Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, OR

Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor OR

The next spot is a 190-mile (3 hours, 51 minutes) drive down and is a total paradise for outdoorsy types. The Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor is a linear state park that stretches 12 miles along the coast of Oregon. I have to admit, if you don’t enjoy hiking, you’ll be missing out on some of the park’s better spots.

You could spend hours here and not get bored, trying your hand at fishing, catching some sun at the beach, or trekking some of the corridor’s best hiking trails. Don’t forget your camera, too, as the viewpoints are to die for.

I’d suggest taking a peek at some key locations in the park, like House Rock Viewpoint, Cape Ferrelo Viewpoint, Arch Rock, Natural Bridge, and Whaleshead Beach. Each spot sports stunning views and its own unique charm that you don’t want to miss.

If you want a shorter drive, you can do a Seattle to San Francisco road trip instead.

4. Redwood National State Park, CA

Redwood National and State Parks (California)

Redwood National State Park is one of the most flocked to and talked about state parks along the Pacific Coast, so how could I not include it in this list?

After a good breakfast, drive the 25 miles (30 minutes) and spend the rest of your day getting active and trying some hiking trails through looming redwood forests. Not a fan of walking? You can also rent out some bicycles or take a scenic drive to get a glimpse of the beauty of the natural landscape. 

What’s more is if you’re going on a road trip with a dog, you’ll be able to bring them since the park is pet-friendly. Your pup can accompany you to any designated camping areas, trails, picnic areas, and beaches — as long as they’re leashed.

Make sure to reserve your rental car ahead of time! I love using Discover Cars for my trips.

You can also go on a Yellowstone road trip from Seattle if you want more parks.

5. San Francisco, CA

Seattle to San Francisco Road Trip Itinerary

Next up, around 311 miles (5 hours, 43 minutes) away, is the Golden City — one of the most incredible stops on your trip. I can’t stress enough how busy and full of life San Francisco is. Apart from the more obvious places you need to check out, like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, or PIER 39, there’s plenty to explore.

I’d suggest riding on the iconic cable cars in San Fran before heading out to local restaurants to get some grub. Maybe some seafood from Fisherman’s Wharf or a whopper of a burrito from the Mission District. Local breweries are also great for some drinks.

For the rest of the time, you can visit museums and movie filming locations or perhaps the Aquarium of the Bay or San Francisco Zoo. Seriously, you’ll never run out of things to do on your Seattle to San Diego road trip.

6. Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles Road Trip

If you thought San Francisco was busy, just wait until you visit LA – the city of Angels and the land of Hollywood stars. The trip from San Francisco to LA is a bit longer, at 383 miles (6 hours).

LA screams glamor and stardom; so many things you can do or see are unsurprisingly centered around Hollywood. You can start with a Hollywood sign walking tour or walk along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Other iconic locales include Madame Tussauds or the Grammy Museum

You can also try out a Sony Pictures Studio or a celebrity home sightseeing tour. LA is known for its theme parks, most famously Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain.

You could also keep to the coast and visit Santa Monica Beach and Pier, Venice Beach, or Long Beach. Honestly, you’ll never run out of things to get up to.

Looking for more options? Check out the San Francisco to Sequoia National Park road trip or the Joshua Tree road trip from San Francisco.

7. San Diego, CA

La Jolla

After another 120 miles (1 hour, 44 minutes), you’ll arrive at your destination and reap the rewards of your driving efforts. San Diego is known for its stunning beaches, family attractions, and mouthwatering food. 

Now, what exactly can you get up to once you’re there? You can’t go wrong with visiting San Diego’s Little Italy. This neighborhood has some fantastic Italian restaurants, bakeries, and bars. That said, you can find great restaurants across the city that aren’t Italian if you need some variety.

The choices of where to go can be overwhelming, so let’s look at some highlights.

Here are some San Diego must-sees:

  • San Diego Zoo – The iconic zoo is found in the lush Balboa Park.
  • Cabrillo National Monument – A monument on the Point Loma peninsula overlooking the city. Get those captions for Instagram ready, because this is the perfect place for photos.
  • Petco Park – Catch a baseball game or try top-class food and snacks from this impressive stadium’s various restaurants and stalls.
  • Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá – A stunning, Spanish-inspired church overlooking the Old Town.
  • La Jolla Cove – A quaint, underrated seaside village just 20 minutes from downtown San Diego.

I’ve been using Roadtrippers for years to help me plan out my trips and find fun stops along the way. Use my code “BTR5QTP” for $5 off when you sign up!

4-Day Seattle to San Diego Drive Itinerary

downtown seattle

This four-day itinerary is handy if you’re taking my recommended route along the Pacific Coast Highway. It gives you plenty of time to take breaks from driving and admire stunning stops along the way. Plus, it’s easily adjustable to add another day or two.

Day 1: Seattle, WA to Newport, OR

Travel Distance: 5 hours (305 miles)

Make sure to take in the sights of the Emerald City before embarking on your road trip. Check out the Space Needle or visit Kerry Park for an early morning stroll before breakfast. Once you’ve got a good, hearty meal in your system, you can start your drive toward Newport along the I-5 S.

Driving along the coast, you can stop by a few lovely places to recharge, like Astoria, Cannon Beach, or Pacific City. This will allow you to have some snacks, refuel, or simply take a break from driving.

Once you cross into Newport on the Yaquina Bay Bridge, check in to your hotel and spend the rest of your time exploring this seaside paradise. A local seafood restaurant like Georgie’s Beachside Grill is perfect for dinner and ending a long day of travel and exploration.

Where to Stay: La Quinta by Wyndham Newport offers comfy rooms, stunning views, and proximity to the Hatfield Marine Science Center or South Beach State Park (Rates start at $175 per night).

Day 2: Newport, OR to Crescent City, CA

Travel Distance: 4 hours and 45 minutes (231 miles)

To get to Crescent City, you can take the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq Veterans Memorial Highway on US-101.

Between Newport and your next stop, one of the best places to visit is the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. You could easily spend a couple of hours there, just hiking and taking in the scenery, perhaps having a picnic for lunch. From there, you can travel to Crescent City to get to your hotel.

I’d recommend Crescent City for those who don’t want to sleep in Redwood National State Park itself but still want to be a decent distance away to visit it. You could, however, opt for staying in the park overnight if you’d prefer.

Where to Stay: The quaint Hiouchi Motel is great for a quick recharge, providing cozy bedrooms, all the necessary amenities, and gorgeous natural landscapes (Rates start at $110 per night).

Day 3: Crescent City, CA to San Francisco, CA

Travel Distance: 6 hours and 18 minutes (355 miles)

The next stint from Crescent City to San Francisco is a little bit longer, so set aside some time for stops along the way for refueling or road trip snacks

You can start your morning with a tasty breakfast and a quick hike through Redwood National State Park if you didn’t get a chance the previous day. Once you’re all set, you can start along US-101 S (for the shortest route) toward your next destination.

I’d recommend making minimal stops and getting to San Francisco as soon as possible since there’s so much to explore and do once you’re there. Trust me, you’ll need all the time you can get.

Once in San Francisco, explore to your heart’s content. Visit places like the Golden Gate Bridge or Golden State Park. Riding a cable car is a treat, and you can grab some late lunch or dinner once all that is done. 

Don’t forget that the nightlife is phenomenal if you don’t mind staying awake during the late hours for some partying and drinks.

Where to Stay: Hyatt Centric Fisherman’s Wharf is right by the iconic Fisherman’s Wharf area, with phenomenal decor and amenities, perfect for a relaxing night in San Francisco (Rates start at $122 per night).

Day 4: San Francisco, CA to San Diego, CA

Travel Distance: 7 hours and 20 minutes (502 miles)

After waking up bright and early for a San Fran breakfast, you can get ready for the final (and longest) stint of your road trip along I-5 S out of San Francisco

Stopping in Los Angeles is highly recommended before you reach San Diego, and you might want to consider extending your itinerary to cater for a full day here. Take in the sights of the Hollywood sign, spend time at Universal Studios, or maybe shop on Rodeo Drive (if you feel like splurging). From there, continue on to San Diego.

Once you cross that threshold to San Diego, congrats! Your road trip is just about done, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to rest. Whether you visit the beach, the world-famous San Diego Zoo, or simply grab some dinner at some amazing restaurants, there’s never a moment to waste.

Want a shorter trip? I also have an itinerary just for the drive from San Francisco to San Diego.

Where to Stay: If you want a mix of high-end contemporary designs and comfort while you’re in the city, consider booking at Homewood Suites by Hilton San Diego (Rates start at $213 per night).

You’ll love all these stops on a Seattle to San Diego road trip!

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