10 essential stopping points taking the coastal route through Oregon and Northern California
If you’re planning a family road trip from Portland to San Francisco, you need to check out our top recommendations for a one-of-a-kind journey along the most scenic coastal drive in the United States!
There are so many outstanding attractions and activities you don’t want to miss out on, especially when taking the time to go by car. The trip from Portland to San Francisco features some of the world’s most stunning and awe-inspiring views, from towering ancient redwood trees to rugged ocean coastlines.
With our recommendations, we would ideally advise taking the Pacific Coast Highway to experience the majestic and outstanding scenery of this side of the country – it will nearly double your journey time rather than driving direct, but we promise you won’t regret it!
- Distance from Portland to San Francisco
- Best Time of Year to Drive From Portland to San Fran
- 10 Best Stops on a Portland to San Francisco Road Trip
- San Francisco
- Your Journey Home – San Francisco to Portland
- More Tips for Road Tripping California
Take your time to stop by famous points of interest like the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree, made out of a 2,400-year-old coastal redwood tree, Thor’s Well “The Drain Pipe of the Pacific,” and Glass Beach, overflowing with vibrant pieces of glass stones.
Keep reading for more information on the best stops, routes, and other essential tips for the ultimate Portland to San Francisco drive!
Distance from Portland to San Francisco
How far is Portland from San Francisco?
The distance from Portland to San Francisco direct is 634 miles. The Portland to San Francisco drive time is almost 10 hours on the I-5 without any stops, which, let’s be honest, driving with kids in the car means pee stops are frequent and boredom will set in fast.
So, on your trip from Portland to San Fran, it may be better for the whole family to take your time and stop at some noteworthy points of pure American beauty. And what is better than a fun coastal road trip with the fam?
Taking the 101 along the Oregon Coast will add to the total time, making it about 18 hours and 850 miles total without stopping.
We strongly recommend taking more than one day to go from Portland to San Francisco, but doing this can make the trip much more enjoyable and memorable for everyone.
To bask in the morning lights of the West Coast on this scenic route, drive on Highway 1 (CA-1). This route is referred to as the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip. Yep, it’s even in the name! With fantastic ocean and coastline views, head to the tiny town of Legget, the scenic Highway 1, and US-101 trade places.
Though the two highways overlap in numerous sections along the drive, Highway 1 is one of the most iconic roads in America you need to drive at least once!
Best Time of Year to Drive From Portland to San Fran
The best time of year to drive from Portland to San Francisco is late spring to early fall. The weather in July and August is perfect for enjoying the scenic drive down the Oregon coast and the Pacific Coast Highway in California.
The winter and early spring months will be too cold to stop at the numerous attractions and bask in the great outdoors on your road trip. However, if you don’t mind a little cold, late-February to early May is the perfect time to witness all the plants come to life, and the hills overflow with wildflowers.
10 Best Stops on a Portland to San Francisco Road Trip
This Pacific Northwest road trip to California from Oregon on the scenic Pacific Coast Highway route features numerous highly sought-out attractions and activities that you and the family don’t want to miss out on. But, of course, there are more than a few tremendous picture-taking opportunities to snap a memory to remember the road trip, too!
Make sure to pack hiking shoes to explore the great outdoors, traverse among towering ancient redwood trees, and trek along the beach shore among lofty sea stacks. Refreshing your mindset among these natural wonders and adventuring the quaint historic coastal towns can be just what the family needs.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Portland to Cannon Beach – 80 miles / 1 hour 30 minutes
A small-town village named after a naval cannon that washed ashore from an 1840s shipwreck, centered perfectly by the sea’s coastline for picturesque views, Cannon Beach has been widely recognized for having the best beach in Oregon and is a great place to start your road trip along the Oregon Coast.
See the famous basalt sea stacks at Cannon Beach. View Haystack Rock, which rises to 235 feet tall on the beach shore. Haystack Rock really is one of the reasons why Canon Beach has become so well-loved. National Geographic rated Cannon Beach as one of the world’s top 100 most beautiful places. It has even been acted as a filming location for three iconic movies — The Goonies, Twilight, and Point Break.
But that’s not all Cannon Beach is known and loved for. The charming coastal town features more than a dozen art galleries and boasts optimal whale-watching opportunities from March to April, then again from December to January during seasonal whale migration periods.
Alternatively, if you hit Cannon Beach from April to July, you and the family can see the colony of puffins nesting by the sea stack!
Some Smaller Roadside Stops to Make
Time dependent, you’ll want to make time in your itinerary for:
- A beach walk in Ecola State Park
- Quaint shops in Manzanita and Nehalem Bay State Park
- Tillamook Creamery (think ice cream stop!)
- And PLENTY of dramatic photo stops – you definitely want to be passenger on this leg for the best views, or swap driver every few towns!
Pacific City, Oregon
Cannon Beach to Pacific City – 65 miles / 1 hour 35 minutes
Continuing along the 101, your next major stop is Pacific City. A quaint beach town with the captivating Cape Kiwanda as its headland, it’s one of our favorite places on the Oregon Coast.
A hot spot for surfers, anglers, and anyone looking to find peace within nature and away from the hustle and bustle of life. Pacific City’s long stretches of sandy beaches, towering sand dunes, and massive sea stacks offer impactful views for visitors and locals alike.
The Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area is an excellent stop for the family to stretch their legs. You can experience Pacific City by foot on the hiking trails, available in many varying levels of difficulty.
The tide pools on the shore are filled with crabs and sea stars, with wildlife watching opportunities for seals and whales, and the spectacular hidden sea caves too, making a trip through Cape Kiwanda’s State Natural Area incredibly rewarding.
Stop by for a meal surrounded by gorgeous beachfront views at the original birthplace of Pelican Brewing. Then, take the family on an unforgettable horseback ride along the coast and sand dunes with the team at Green Acres Beach & Trail Rides. All before heading back out on your scenic trip to San Francisco!
Some Further Stops to Consider Mid-Oregon Coast
Depending how long you have, these can either be road side/meal stops or allow yourself an extra night or two as you make your way through these stunning coastal stops and points of interest:
- Lincoln City
- Depoe Bay – very popular small coastal town in whale watching season, also look out for Devil’s Punchbowl
- Newport – one of the larger towns with its Historic Bayfront is a great meal stop, see the picturesque Yaquina Bay Bridge, the Oregon Coast Aquarium and Hatfield Science Center
- Yachats – Cape Perpetua Visitor Center and Thor’s Well
- Haceta Head lighthouse
- Sea Lion Caves
- Umpqua Lighthouse State Park
These attractions may look relatively close together on a map, but even a short stop at each will add time to your overall journey – try not to rush!
Pacific City to Bandon – 168 miles / 3 hours 35 minutes (without stops)
Heading to the southern section of the Oregon Coast, having the title of “Cranberry Capital of Oregon,” Bandon city is one of the top cranberry producers in the country. It is the home to swaths of sprawling cranberry fields that catch the eye. And that’s not all Bandon is known for!
The town hosts the world-famous Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and is touted to be where some of the best links golf courses in the country can be found. The beaches are awe-inspiring, with imposing sea stacks lodged in the ground offshore. During low tide, the beach caves are accessible to adventure, and the tidepools are home to barnacles, anemones, and other little marine creatures.
The historic district, Old Town Brandon, is brimming with shops, galleries, markets, and cafes to explore and find local goods. For a more historical turn, visit the Bandon Historical Society Museum. The museum defines the impactful history of the old town, including the Bandon Fire that eradicated hundreds of buildings in the town.
If you’re looking for a good half way point on your coastal journey, this is one of the best places to make an overnight stop. Try Bandon Inn in town, or campers seek out Bullards Beach State Campground at the mouth of Coquille River.
Crescent City, California
Bandon to Crescent City – 109 miles / 2 hours and 10 minutes
Home to the Redwood National & State Parks headquarters and the historic Battery Point Lighthouse, Crescent City is a one-of-a-kind town you and the family don’t want to skip!
The starting point for your California leg of the trip, you’ll soon leave the Pacific Ocean behind and find yourself surrounded by sky-high coastal redwoods.
The Redwood Highway is a 175-mile drive that traverses through groves of redwood trees between Crescent City and Legget, and we definitely recommend taking the drive through the famous Chandelier Tree when passing through Legget.
Crescent City’s downtown area is about five miles from Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, which is home to some of the most stunning redwood groves. Also, don’t pass up driving down the historic Howland Hill Road. Established in 1887, the road was used as a stagecoach route and passes through the park, where visitors can experience the peaceful beauty of nature’s solitude.
Afterwards, check out the Battery Point Lighthouse on a tiny island near Crescent City’s southwest shore. During low tide, the ocean recedes to expose a road that accesses the island. The Battery Point Lighthouse was in service for 160 years, protecting mariners from the deathly toll of the rocky coast.
Redwood National & State Parks
A collection of protected redwood groves, Redwood National and State Parks is a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve that extends along Northern California’s coast.
It comprises four sections: Del Norte State Park, Prairie Creek State Park, Redwood National Park, and Jedediah Smith State Park. The 101 will see you drifting through various sections of the national and state parks. It is the best route to take if you’d like to see a US national park from the comfort of your vehicle!
The park safeguards the tallest trees in the world, over 40 miles of coastline, sprawling prairies, wildlife, and much more! The tallest redwood tree at 379 feet tall in Redwood National Park is Hyperion which is believed to be the tallest tree in the world. These impressive trees live more than 2,000 years as they continue to grow to stretch towards the sky.
Prairie Creek State Park, California
Crescent City to Prairie Creek – 34 miles / 47 minutes
Part of the Redwood National and State Parks, Prairie Creek State Park is a natural wonder. Bring the RV, camper, or pitch tents to hitch up at the park’s campgrounds, Elk Prairie, Gold Bluffs Beach, and Meadow Cabin Colony, to stay the night or take a couple of days to settle down and bask in the majesty of the natural world.
Even if you choose not to stay or travel the park, you and the family can still experience the awe-inspiring perspectives of ancient redwoods on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. The ten-mile drive passes through the primeval redwood forests of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park with exceptional opportunities to catch sightings of wild Roosevelt Elk herds trekking through the woods.
Stop over to Fern Canyon, a canyon named after the bountiful ferns that stretch up the canyon’s 50-foot tall walls. The area of Fern Canyon was used as a film location for Jurassic Park II The Lost World.
Prairie Creek to Eureka – 48 miles / 55 minutes
The largest coastal city between Portland and San Francisco, Eureka, California, is a state historic landmark 90 miles south of the Oregon and California border. It makes another good break point for an overnight stay if you’re not intend on completing your Oregon to California drive in one hit!
Founded in 1850 as a town, Eureka is well-known for its refined Victorian architecture, California’s oldest zoo, Sequoia Park Zoo, and one of the world’s most photographed mansions, the Carson Mansion. The Carson Mansion is a large Victorian mansion that was the home to one of Northern California’s first major lumber barons, William Carson.
Stop by the market and cultural center for unique finds and a gift shop with souvenirs to take back home. Gawk over the numerous exceptional historic Victorian homes, including the “The Pink Lady,” officially named J. Milton Carson House. The 1889 historic home was constructed in Queen Anne architectural style to be presented as a lovely wedding gift.
Movie buffs in your car may also be interested in downloading “Map of The Movies” for exploring around Humboldt and Del Norte Counties. Many famous movies – including Jurassic Park, E.T. Star Wars and The Lost World – use these unique forested coast as their backdrop.
Avenue of the Giants, California
Eureka to Avenue of the Giants – 39 miles / 42 minutes
Considered the most exceptional forest drive in the world, the Avenue of the Giants is famed for its massive redwood trees. The 31-mile road parallels Highway 101 as a slower, more scenic alternative surrounded by Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This park is home to the largest remaining grove of virgin redwoods.
The Avenue of the Giants has numerous access points to memorial groves and hiking trails. There are posted trailheads and access roads dotting the length of the road. Taking time to stop at some or all these points of interest will be worth it.
Several small towns will be passed along the way, including Myers Flat, Redcret, and Pepperwood, each presenting a unique atmosphere, redwood memorabilia, and local shopping and dining options.
It’s possible to pop on and off the 101 at this point to enjoy sections of the Avenue of the Giants – those that suffer from motion sickness may see why you don’t want to drive the full length!
Avenue of the Giants to Leggett – 52 miles / 1 hour
Entering Legget, California, you need to hop off Highway 101 to Highway 1 to remain on the scenic route driving up the coast to San Francisco.
Legget is home to the Smithe Redwoods State Natural Reserve, home to a 60-foot waterfall. The reserve is residence to an old-growth lowland redwood grove and a deep swimming hole in Eel River, where swimming and fishing are popular.
Within Legget is the famous Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree. The Chandelier Tree is 276 feet tall and 16-foot diameter at breast height. The 2,400-year-old coastal redwood tree was carved a 6-foot wide by a 6-foot 9-inch high hole for cars to pass through. The tree is still alive, even with the massive hole in the center!
Fort Bragg, California
Leggett to Fort Bragg – 43 miles /1 hour 20 mins
Famous for Glass Beach, teeming with vibrantly colored natural glass stones (though they’re getting harder to spot these days), Fort Bragg, California, is the biggest city situated along California’s Mendocino Coast.
The world-famous Skunk Train is found in Fort Bragg. Since 1885, the historic Skunk Train has laid out a magical opportunity for passengers to hop on for a ride through the ancient redwood groves, across trestle bridges, and through tunnels to descend into the Noyo River Canyon.
Consider taking the family on a railbike tour up the train tracks for a more active option. This tour takes guests up the same route as the Skunk Train Pudding Creek Express for a more intimate and active experience through the Mendocino Redwoods.
Stop over to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. The sprawling 47 acres are decorated magnificently with natural features such as a thriving closed-cone pine forest, canyons layered with ferns, native flora, and breathtaking garden displays.
Important Note: It is illegal to remove any glass from Glass Beach!
- The start of Highway 1 from Leggett to the Pacific Ocean can be brutal on nausea sufferers; we’d only recommend side tripping to Fort Bragg if you plan a full day trip or staying on the Mendocino Coast
Fort Bragg to San Francisco – 164 miles / 3 hours 15 minutes
Rejoin the 101 after a picturesque drive through the Navarro River Redwoods State Park and end your journey crossing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
You’ve made it! There’s so much more top explore in San Francisco and the immediate surrounds, so pop over next to our family guide to San Francisco; here we cover:
- Top accommodation options for families in San Francisco
- 15 Fun Family Activities
- Easy day trip ideas
- Park your car/RV and get to know San Fran’s unique transport system
Up Next in California
If you want to continue your journey from San Francisco, you’ll also want to check out these California itinerary ideas to take your journey further:
- Make a day trip out to Napa Valley – or add it as a final stop before reaching San Francisco. Wine tasting is, of course, on the cards but there are more family-friendly things to do in Napa and Sonoma County than you may think!
- Head toward the mountains, essential stopping points from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park
- See what it’s like to experience Lake Tahoe in the Winter
- Continue your journey south from San Francisco to San Diego along the Pacific Coast Highway
- Then head from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park on an unforgettable road trip
Your Journey Home – San Francisco to Portland
If you are making this into a round trip, no need to completely retrace your steps. Having taken the coastal route down to San Fran, hugging the Pacific Ocean, why not turn this into a National and State Parks road trip through Central Oregon on the way back?
- First stop, Lassen Volcanic National Park – this is a through road in the summer months or head back via Redding.
- Continue your journey on the I-5 past the picturesque Shasta Lake and snow-capped Mount Shasta.
- Turn off the I-5 at Weed towards Klamath Falls, your gateway back into Oregon (sadly, no waterfalls to be found).
- You can make a side trip at this point to Medford or Grants Pass in Southern Oregon; excellent wine tasting territory and the Oregon Caves National Monument to explore, plus plenty of outdoor adventures on Rogue River.
- Visit Crater Lake National Park and complete the 33-mile Scenic Rim Drive (seasonal, summer only) to see the country’s deepest lake
- From here you can follow our Seattle to Crater Lake road trip itinerary in reverse
- You can cut back through Umpqua National Forest to finish on the I-5. On this route you’ll take in the state capital Salem, the Willamette Valley (more wine tasting!) and the stunning Silver Falls State Park.
- Alternatively, for a more scenic finish, stay on Route 97 to Bend, continue to Mt Hood and for the perfect picturesque finish to this amazing loop road trip, you could even add on the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
- If you’re continuing this drive further north into Washington, you’ll want to pop over next to our San Francisco to Seattle road trip itinerary.
More Tips for Road Tripping California
- As many of these points of interest are located on the coast or beneath the towering redwood trees, we recommend bringing a jacket or windbreaker just in case. The winds can be severe and chilly even if you plan on tackling this drive during the summer. Underneath the encompassing canopy of the redwood tree forests, temperatures are known to drop.
- Pack a road trip cooler, treats, and utensils (reusable tools are the way to go!). Picnicking is a big recommendation for this ultimate road trip. As you head up the coast, stop by grocery stores to restock and fill the cooler with more goodies. Whenever you and the family stop at any of the points of interest, let’s say, the Avenue of the Giants or any of our other recommendations, don’t miss out on enjoying a picnic with the family
- Download Waze on your phone to keep track of traffic, police cars, or redlight cameras. The app uses real-time data to account for construction, accidents, traffic jams, and speed traps for a safe and optimal route to reach your desired destination.
- Sections of this drive can be subject to adverse weather conditions and road closures in extreme weather; before you set out, check road conditions and highway information for Oregon and California.
- A parent’s lifesaver, we highly recommend downloading the app, Toilet Finder. This app is designed to help find public toilets. As this trip traverses long stretches of parks, reserves, and dotted small towns, this app is a must-have to prevent any “accidents.”
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