15 Stunning Stops on a Seattle to San Francisco Road Trip

San Francisco
This post may contain affiliate links, including for the Amazon Associates program, which means I may make a small commission at no expense to you.

When you’re looking for an amazing adventure on the West Coast, you’ll want to go on a Seattle to San Francisco road trip! This drive takes you down the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway, where you’ll explore the stunning coastline, towering redwoods, and small coastal towns. As one of my favorite drives on this side of the country, I highly recommend putting this drive on your bucket list.

I’ve done this Seattle to San Francisco drive several times, and whether I’m driving down the Oregon coast or exploring the northern California coast, I always get excited to go on this road trip. I may be a little biased, being from the West Coast, but it’s hard to argue that the views of the Pacific Ocean aren’t incredible.

Whether you have three or five days to spare, I’ve got you covered with the best places to stop. From charming coastal towns to hidden hiking trails, I’ll spill all my favorite spots so you can experience the magic of the West Coast for yourself. I’m positive this will be one of the best drives you’ve ever been on!

Tips for a Seattle to San Francisco Drive

seattle to san francisco drive me

Before I dive straight into the top stops and ultimate itinerary for your road trip, you may have some questions. So to put your mind at ease, here are the answers to the most asked questions about road trips from Seattle to San Francisco.

Can You Drive From Seattle to San Francisco in a Day?

If you’re a superhuman, then you can definitely drive from Seattle to San Francisco in a day. However, I don’t recommend this at all, as you’ll be extremely tired and see nothing along the way. The Seattle to San Francisco drive time is 13 hours, assuming there’s no traffic or stopping for anything (which won’t happen if we’re being realistic).

The last thing you want is to not enjoy the drive through this breathtaking part of the country by driving from Seattle to San Francisco in one day. I recommend spreading the journey over three days if you travel along the I-5 and five days if you take the Pacific Route along US-101.

You’ll also want to have some trivia for car rides ready to go to entertain your passengers for the drive.

How Far is the Seattle to San Francisco Drive?

You can take two main routes on a Seattle to San Francisco road trip, each with differing lengths. 

The quicker, more direct route along the I-5 is still a hefty 807-mile drive. On your way to San Francisco, you’ll pass through iconic cities such as Portland, Eugene, Redding, and Santa Rosa. Exploring places like Mount Hood National Park, Willamette National Forest, and the Shasta Trinity National Forest should definitely be on your list of to-dos during the trip.

The more scenic but slightly longer option is the Pacific route around the US-101, which is a 976-mile drive. You’ll pass through quaint towns that line the coast while seeing some of the best Redwood forests in America.

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!

Where to Fly Into and Out of for Your Road Trip

What makes a road trip so unique? For starters, you can enjoy the journey from either direction, so you may choose to do a San Francisco to Seattle road trip or vice versa.

If you’re planning this journey but live on the other side of the world, you may want to fly into either of these fantastic cities. If you’re flying into Seattle, you’ll want to catch a plane to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), 12 miles from the city center.

On the other hand, if you’re traveling from San Francisco, you’ll want to fly to the San Francisco Internal Airport (SFO), 12 miles from downtown. You could also fly into the San Jose International Airport, which is a bit further south but is always less crowded, in my experience.

Whichever city you decide to fly in or out of, renting a car from one airport and driving it to the other is easy. When booking your rental car, you can do this using the alternative pick-up and drop-off option. I did this on my drive from LA to Joshua Tree, and it was worth it.

Tip: For flights and car rentals, try booking them as early as possible to get the best deals. Also, take the tourist season (aka summer in Seattle and San Francisco) into consideration, as this can affect the pricing.

Seattle to San Francisco Road Trip Map

Here’s a map of your Seattle to San Francisco drive so you can see where you’re going.

15 Stops on a Seattle to San Francisco Road Trip

A road trip along America’s Pacific coastline was made to make multiple stops. To make the most of your journey from Seattle to San Francisco, here are some of the best destinations for an unforgettable drive.

1. Mount Rainier National Park

mount rainier

Mount Rainier National Park is an 89-mile drive (1 hour and 40 minutes) from Seattle and should be on everyone’s road trip bucket list. You’ll most likely enter at the Nisqually entrance (southwest side) and can expect to pay an entrance fee of $30 per vehicle.

Visiting an active volcano is daunting, but it’ll all be worthwhile once you admire the 26 glaciers along the mountainside. Here are some of the top sights worth stopping by in the southwestern region of the park:

  • Paradise — It’s the most popular region of the park for a reason, as you can enjoy some fantastic hikes throughout the park’s southern area. Some of these include the mesmerizing Skyline Trail or visiting Christine Falls Bridge.
  • Longmire — This is the park’s historic district, where the Longmire Museum awaits.
  • Viewpoints — Some of the top viewpoints include Ricksecker Point, Myrtle Falls, and Martha Falls.

Want to go north? Head out on a Seattle road trip from Vancouver.

2. Portland

Portland Theater Downtown

After a day of exploration, spending time in the culturally rich city of Portland is a no-brainer. It’s a 139-mile drive (2 hours and 30 minutes) from Mount Rainier National Park and has plenty for you to see.

From eating to your heart’s content Downtown to exploring the literary maze at Powell’s City of Books, you’ll always have fun things to do here. There are also some historic gems, like Pittock Mansion or the Shanghai Tunnels under Portland’s Chinatown.

You can snap some sunset photos (have your road trip quotes for Instagram ready so you can post them!) at the White Stag Sign before crossing the Willamette River to enjoy live music at Revolution Hall. There are tons of fun activities and attractions, so try to time your day accordingly and visit your favorite sites throughout the city.

Since it’s a big city, it’s also an ideal place to stock up on road trip food for kids and yourself, so everyone stays satiated.

You may also want to check your family road trip checklist before continuing on.

Need a shorter trip? You’ll love this Portland to San Francisco itinerary, or you can go on a Portland road trip from Seattle!

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

3. Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach

Let the coastal journey begin with a 79-mile drive (1 hour and 30 minutes) to Cannon Beach from Portland. This quaint town is known for its long stretches of soft sand beaches and the mighty Haystack Rock that dominates its coast.

You can walk along Cannon Beach and feel the sand under your feet. If you visit Ecola Point Viewpoint, you can enjoy sweeping views of the beach, Tillamook Lighthouse, and Haystack Rock.

If you get to the beach early in the morning between April and August, you may even see local tufted puffins in action near Haystack Rock.

You can also head on a Cannon Beach to Seattle road trip from here.

4. Tillamook

tillamook

An hour and 15 minutes later and 52 miles from Cannon Beach, you’ll find the incandescent Tillamook State Forest. While Tillamook State Forest has plenty of fantastic hikes, the best is probably the 2.1-mile-long out-and-back Cedar Butte Trail.

It’s a moderately challenging hike, where you’ll trek through dense forest with towering Cedar trees before reaching the summit. At the top, you can admire unforgettable forest views.

Other sites worth visiting in the park include Jordan’s Creek and the majestic Bridge Creek Falls.

Once you’ve had your fill of outdoor adventure, you’ll want to head over to Tillamook Creamery. This was a random stop I made on my last Seattle to San Francisco road trip, but I’m glad I did. We eat a lot of Tillamook cheese, so it was so fun to see the giant factory and watch all the different stages of the cheesemaking process.

You can also grab a scoop of their legendary ice cream, or you can visit the gift shop for some fun souvenirs (I still drink out of my Tillamook coffee mug every morning!).

Get your free road trip packing list here!

* indicates required

5. Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area

cape kiwanda

It’s a short 34-mile drive (one hour) from Tillamook State Forest to Cape Kiwanda, where the unique landscape is sure to stir things up. This glorious natural area rests between the stunning beaches of McPhillips and Pacific City, both of which are worth spending some time at.

What you’ll really want to do, though, is the 250-foot hike up the sand dune in Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area. It may be a grueling climb that results in screaming calves, but the views are worth the effort.

You’ll get fantastic views of Chief Kiwanda Rock which dominates the coast’s scenery. If you visit from March to May, you may even catch a glimpse of humpback whales or gray whales from this amazing vantage point.

6. Neskowin Ghost Forest and Lincoln City

Neskowin Creek
Image via Flickr: Kirt Edblom

The Neskowin Ghost Forest is only 10.7 miles from Cape Kiwanda and is a shortstop you must make. South of the Neskowin Creek, an effervescent forest was once teeming with life amongst its towering trees.

This was until around 1,900 years ago when a massive gathering of mud, muck, and sand killed the entire forest. Although dead, remnants of this once-vast forest are still visible as the stumps of these magnificent trees protrude from the beach. It’s a unique site and one you shouldn’t pass up.

After a visit to the beach, it’s a 12.5-mile drive to Lincoln City. Here are some of the best things to do in this coastal oasis: 

  • Hunt for one of 3,000 glass orbs hidden along Lincoln City Beach.
  • Explore Road’s End Recreation Site and Cascade Head to the north.
  • Have a feast at Kyllo’s Seafood and Grill.

7. Siuslaw National Forest

Another day marks another fantastic site worth seeing, and the Siuslaw National Forest is an absolute must. The entrance to the park is a 40-mile drive (an hour) from Lincoln City and marks the start of an unforgettable seaside journey.

Throughout the scenic 56-mile drive on your Seattle to San Francisco road trip, there are some majestic sights and short hikes to tackle. Here are some of the best things you’ll see along the way:

  • Thor’s Well — Hear the roar and feel the power of the ocean as water spews 20 feet in the air at Thor’s Well.
  • Neptunes State Scenic Viewpoint — This iconic spot offers the best views of Cummins Creek and the Pacific Ocean below. 
  • Heceta Head Lighthouse — Bring out the artist in you as you and snap some fantastic photos at the Heceta Head Lighthouse, which was first lit in 1894.
  • Oregon Dunes — For the unique combination of forest and sand dunes in one place, visit the Oregon Dunes at the southernmost point of the park.

Extra Activity: If you’re doing well on time, it’s worth hiking the 3.7-mile out-and-back Kentucky Falls Trail. You’ll find it between Heceta Head and the Oregon Dunes.

8. Bandon

bandon oregon

It’s a 51-mile drive from Siuslaw National Forest’s southern entrance to the vibrant city of Bandon. This is a small town with a lot of heart and stunning coastal viewpoints. 

You’ll definitely want to go along Beach Loop Road to see beautiful sights. Along the road, you’ll pass viewing decks of famous landmarks along Bandon Beach, such as The Castle, Wizards Hat, Cathedral Rock, and Coquille Lighthouse.

Once you’ve had your coastal fill, how about dining in true Oregon fashion at Tony’s Crab Shack? Now that you’re sufficiently stuffed, the Washed Ashore Gallery awaits.

If you want to take a detour, this is a great point to head east to go on a Crater Lake road trip to explore Oregon’s only national park.

For a longer trip, go on a Seattle to Las Vegas drive to see four different states.

9. Crescent City

crescent city redwoods

You’ll cross the county boulders from Oregon to California on the 109-mile trip (2 hours) from Bandon to Crescent City. 

An undeniably popular place to visit near Crescent City is Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. You’ll be able to stand in awe of the giants that grow within these woods, and there’s no better place for it than the half a mile Stout Grove loop trail. Another popular spot in the park is the Boy Scout Tree, with its impressive 28-foot wide trunk.

It’s more than just the park you can explore in Crescent City. Stroll along the B Street Pier for majestic views of the flower-lined Battery Point Lighthouse

You can also enjoy a craft beer at SeaQuake Brewing or learn about the art of cheesemaking at the Rumiano Cheese Company. What’s there not to love about Crescent City?

Looking for more California road trip ideas? You’ll love the Los Angeles to San Francisco drive.

10. Redwood National and State Parks

redwoods california

The Redwood National and State Parks start with Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, only 5 miles from Crescent City. You’ll cruise along the 70-mile California Coastal Trail and admire some fantastic scenery.

Here are some of the top things you’ll see along the way:

  • Admire the coastal views from Crescent Beach Overlook.
  • Walk through berry tree arches and along the rocky shores on the 1.5-mile trail at Endert’s Beach.
  • Admire a massive sandbar at the Klamath River Overlook.
  • Immerse yourself in prehistoric land on a half a mile walk through Fern Canyon.
  • Be in awe at the sight of wild elk in Elk Prairie on Newton B Drury Drive.
  • Walk across arched bridges and amongst towering Redwoods on the 1.5-mile-long Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail.

Want to go on a guided tour? You’ll love having a local educate you on this area.

11. Eureka

eureka

Eureka is 42 miles (47 minutes) from the southern entrance to the Redwood National and State Parks. I hope you’re ready for some astounding history because Eureka is jam-packed with monuments and sites you’ll never forget.

Explore the beautifully kept Victorian-style Carson Mansion before wandering down to Eureka’s Historic Old Town. Here, you can visit the Clarke Historical Museum, which showcases the history of Native American ancestry, specifically the Wiyat peoples. 

You can also enjoy a gentle stroll along the boardwalk near Humboldt Bay on your Seattle to San Francisco road trip. It’s one of the most photogenic parts of town. Once you’ve filled up on all things history, head over to Lost Coast Brewery, one of the first microbreweries in California.

12. Avenue of the Giants

Avenue of the Giants
Image via Flickr: Redwood Coast

It’s a short 32-mile from Eureka to the start of the Avenue of the Giants Scenic Drive. This is 31 miles of breathtaking road and a humbling experience for all as you drive amongst these 800 to 1,500-year-old trees.

Make the most of your drive and admire these top stops along the way:

  • Founder’s Grove — enjoy a half a mile hike through this unique piece of forest, where you snap photos with the 2,000-year-old Dyerville Giant and the iconic Founder’s Tree.
  • California Federation of Women’s Clubs Grove — I know it’s a long name, but there’s no better place to snap a photo of yourself walking along a tree-lined road than here.
  • Shrine Drive-Thru Tree — If your car is small enough, driving through a Redwood tree is worth the $10 fee. I mean, how many chances will you get to do that?

Want more? You can continue your trip by driving from San Francisco to Yosemite.

13. Fort Bragg

fort bragg

It’s 87 miles to Fort Bragg from Avenue of the Giants, and you’ll be back at the coast after exploring the mesmerizing Redwood forests of California. 

To jumpstart your time in Fort Bragg, visiting the radiant Glass Beach is a fantastic idea. That’s right, it’s a beach covered in different colored glass, which you can walk on, but it’s illegal to take the smooth shards of glass.

It’s also worth visiting the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. You’ll be able to see something in every season, as rhododendrons bloom in spring, heritage roses appear in summer, and dahlias flower in fall.

Downtown Fort Bragg has majestic murals and fantastic dining spots, like Eggheads Restaurant. Who knows, Fort Bragg may even be the most memorable part of your road trip.

Tip: For an excellent photo opportunity, visit the Pudding Creek Trestle at sunset.

Love national parks? Head out on the drive from San Francisco to Joshua Tree.

14. Santa Rosa

santa rosa

Santa Rosa is a 117-mile drive (2 hours and 30 minutes) from Fort Bragg and is one of the liveliest stops on your epic Seattle to San Francisco road trip. While the city is a bubbling pot of everything California offers, its access to the best Sonoma Valley wineries is second to none.

Here’s a short list of the best you’ll want to visit that are close to Santa Rosa:

  • Carol Shelton Wines — Discover the diverse world of Carol Shelton’s wine-making ability. Taste everything from a full Zinfandel to a punchy Rosé. Address: 3354-B Coffey Ln, Santa Rosa
  • Old World Winery — Visit a place where sustainability meets luxury. Sip Chardonnay or Pinot Noir from hundred-year-old organic vines. Address: 850 River Rd, Fulton
  • D’Argenzio Winery — With only 3,000 cases produced a year, tasting the exclusive blends at D’Argenzio is a unique experience. You can try anything from Sagrantino to Petite Sirah; the choice is yours. Address: 1301 Cleveland Ave, Santa Rosa

I love visiting Sonoma because there’s much more to do than wine taste – in fact, you can go kayaking on the Russian River, biking around wine country, or horseback riding (all of which I did last time I was there!).

Want to see a national park? You’ll love this San Francisco to Sequoia National Park drive.

15. Downtown San Francisco

San Francisco

Last but certainly not least, I present you with the bustling area of downtown San Francisco, 55 miles (an hour and 10 minutes) from Santa Rosa. I’m sure you’ve already got plenty of ideas for your time in San Francisco, from riding the famous cable cars to exploring Union Square.

That said, here are some of the top attractions throughout downtown that you should consider seeing:

  • Wind your way down the eight hairpin bends of Lombard Street.
  • Explore one of the oldest Chinatown centers in America on a guided walking tour.
  • Snap some Instagram-worthy photos of the Painted Ladies when having lunch in Alamo Park.
  • Discover San Francisco’s unique history on a nighttime ghost and true crime tour.

When you’re done, extend the fun and head out on a road trip from California to Arizona, or keep going south to drive from San Francisco to San Diego, drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco, or go on a San Francisco to Las Vegas road trip.

Seattle to San Francisco Road Trip Itinerary: 3 Days Along the I-5

seattle to san francisco road trip

If it’s the fast route to San Francisco from Seattle you’re looking for, you’ll want to take I-5. It may be less scenic, but there’s still plenty to see.

Day 1: Seattle to Eugene

Travel Distance: 4 hours and 30 minutes (283 miles)

There are only so many hours in the day, so trying to cram as much as possible is a tough ask. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, as you can easily spend two hours in the morning at Mount Rainier National Park. Similar to driving to Glacier National Park from Seattle, I recommend as much time at these beautiful national parks as your schedule allows.

Remember that you won’t be able to explore the long hikes in Mount Rainier, so visiting the top viewpoints in the region is a good idea. I recommend picking either the Paradise side or the Sunrise side, as you won’t have time for both (it’s almost 1.5 hours just to drive between the two of them).

From there, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive (147 miles) to Columbia River Gorge. Portland is then a short drive across the river, where you can spend midday enjoying the sights and sounds of the city.

Willamette Valley is another hour’s drive (48 miles) and offers some majestic views before continuing. It’s a further hour and 10-minute drive (67 miles) to Eugene, the first night stop on this three-day itinerary.

Where to Stay: Graduate Eugene provides 4-star accommodation less than a five-minute walk from the Eugene Historic District. (Rates start at around $135 per night)

Want to go on a longer trip? Check out the Seattle to San Diego drive.

Day 2: Eugene to Redding

Travel Distance: 5 hours and 10 minutes (315 miles)

Although some will recommend visiting Crater Lake on your way through, this is a pretty hefty detour that can add two hours of travel. Rather drive three hours (197 miles) to Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, where you can enjoy a range of fantastic hikes.

You can spend the late morning and midday exploring sights like the Lava Beds before hitting the road again. It’s just over an hour and a half drive (106 miles) to Mount Shasta, an incredible snow-capped region of California.

You can then make a further stop at Shasta Lake on your way to Redding, your next night stop.

Where to Stay: Hope Inn Redding is a beautiful 4-star lodging located 1.6 miles from the Peppertree Natural Area Park. (Rates start at around $155 per night)

Day 3: Redding to San Francisco

Travel Distance: 3 hours and 20 minutes (217 miles)

You can see plenty on the final day, like exploring Sacramento’s Historic District, two and a half hours (162 miles) from Redding. You can wander the city’s vibrant streets in the morning before driving an hour and a half (69 miles) to Sonoma Valley.

This is where you’ll find all the best wineries in the region, and you can spend the entire early afternoon hopping from one to the next. Complete your trip by taking US-101 for just over an hour (44 miles) and passing over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Where to Stay: Club Donatello is a fantastic 4-star hotel buried in the heart of Union Square. (Rates start at around $161 per night)

Keep the fun going with a drive to Big Sur from San Francisco, or extend it to go on a drive from San Francisco to Joshua Tree.

Seattle to San Francisco Road Trip Itinerary: 5 Days Along the Pacific Route

Seattle to San Francisco Road Trip Itinerary

For a slightly longer and action-packed Seattle to San Francisco road trip, consider this 5-day itinerary. It’s an extremely scenic option (similar to a drive from Los Angeles to Yosemite), as you can admire the Pacific Coast along US-101.

Day 1: Seattle to Portland

Travel Distance: 2 hours and 50 minutes (175 miles)

Spend the morning in Mount Rainier National Park (can you tell I love this park by how many times I’ve recommended it?). It’s an hour and 50-minute drive (89 miles) from Seattle and the perfect way to kick off an excellent road trip.

You’ll then want to drive two and a half hours (139 miles) to Portland, with a stop at the Columbia River Gorge. You can then spend the rest of the day exploring the city and mingling with locals.

Where to Stay: If you seek luxury, look no further than Hotel Lucia, a 4-star stay in the popular Southwest Broadway District. (Rates start at around $124 per night)

Day 2: Portland to Lincoln City

Travel Distance: 3 hours and 10 minutes (164 miles)

Start day two by exploring Cannon Beach, an hour-and-a-half drive (79 miles) from Portland. The next stop is Tillamook State Forest, a further hour and 15-minute drive (53 miles) from Cannon Beach.

By midday, you’ll have driven another hour (35 miles) to Cape Kiwanda before traveling to the Neskowin Ghost Forest. This is only a 17-minute drive (10 miles) from Cape Kiwanda, with the remainder of the driving for the day taking up 20 more minutes (12 miles) to Lincoln City.

Where to Stay: The Surfland Hotel is the perfect 4-star accommodation if you want the best views of Lincoln City Beach. (Rates start at around $99 per night)

Day 3: Lincoln City to Crescent City

Travel Distance: 5 hours and 15 minutes (256 miles)

There’s plenty of driving on day three as you go along the scenic route through Siuslaw National Forest. Remember to snap some memorable photos as you drive for just over three hours (147 miles) to the town of Bandon.

You can spend midday here eating lunch and relaxing before taking on the next leg. It’s a further two hours of driving (109 miles) to Crescent City, the final destination for day three. You can then admire the historical monuments and landscapes of Crescent City for the rest of the day.

Where to Stay: The 3-star Best Western Plus Northwoods Inn is a great option in the city center. (Rates start at around $125 per night)

Day 4: Crescent City to Fort Bragg

Travel Distance: 4 hours and 30 minutes (217 miles)

Kickstart the day with the unforgettably scenic drive from Crescent City to Eureka through the Redwood National and State Parks. It’s an hour and 40-minute drive (84 miles) and well worth the extra stops at viewpoints.

Explore this Californian town before traveling along Avenue of the Giants for three hours (133 miles). You can spend the rest of the day exploring Fort Bragg and Glass Beach.

Where to Stay: North Cliff Hotel is a gorgeous 4-star hotel only 1.6 miles from Glass Beach. (Rates start at around $208 per night)

Day 5: Fort Bragg to San Francisco

Travel Distance: 4 hours and 20 minutes (228 miles)

The last day of this epic itinerary is a two-and-a-half hour (117 miles) drive to Santa Rosa. You’ll have the entire morning to explore the city and venture to the best wineries in the region.

Once you’re ready for the last bit of driving, it’s just over an hour (54 miles) drive to San Francisco, where the best downtown attractions await.

Where to Stay: Book a room at the trendy 4-star CitizenM Hotel in Union Square for quick access to the city’s best areas. (Rates start at around $154 per night)

A Seattle to San Francisco road trip is a must-do for any traveler looking for an unforgettable adventure on the West Coast. You’ll love going on this drive, from beautiful coastline views to exploring hikes in giant redwoods.

4 thoughts on “15 Stunning Stops on a Seattle to San Francisco Road Trip

  1. Lynn Huckaby says:

    Thank you SOOO much for these Itinerary suggestions! VERY Nice!!
    Please send the trip from Seattle to San Francisco, and the Portland to San Francisco both 5-day and 3-day trips to include the Red Wood Forest and recommended places to stay.

  2. Donna Dwan De Belen says:

    hi thanks for this informative post! May I ask for suggestions on where to stay for a night or two along the way from Seattle to SFO? Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *