Fun Family Road Trip From Portland To San Francisco 

If you’re working on 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 up the scenic coast! 

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. For example, 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. While, of course, 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, and Glass Beach, overflowing with vibrant natural made 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 is 634 miles. Making 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.

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?  

This will add to the total time, making it about 18 hours and 850 miles total without stopping. So we 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 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 

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.  

USA Road trip from Portland to San Francisco - Cannon Beach, Oregon

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 migrational periods. And if you hit Cannon Beach from April to July, you and the family can see the colony of puffins nesting by the sea stack!  

Pacific City, Oregon 

A quaint beach town with the captivating Cape Kiwanda as its headland, Pacific City, is 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.  

USA Road trip from Portland to San Francisco - Pacific City, Oregon

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!  

Bandon, Oregon 

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!  

USA Road trip from Portland to San Francisco - Bandon, Oregon

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.  

Crescent City, California 

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! 

Surrounded by sky-high coastal redwoods on the outskirts, the town is situated on the northern California ocean coastline near the Oregon border on Highway 101, which does join with the picturesque Redwood Highway.

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.  

USA Road trip from Portland to San Francisco - Crescent City, California

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.  

USA Road trip from Portland to San Francisco - Redwood National & State Parks, California

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

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. 

USA Road trip from Portland to San Francisco - Prairie Creek State Park, California

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

Eureka, California 

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. 

USA Road trip from Portland to San Francisco - Eureka, California

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 considerably 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 souvenirs to take back home. Gawk over 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. Then, walk around Eureka to gape over the numerous other exceptional historic Victorian homes before heading out!  

Avenue of the Giants, California

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. 

USA Road trip from Portland to San Francisco - Avenue of the Giants, California

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. 

Leggett, California  

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.  

USA Road trip from Portland to San Francisco - Leggett, California

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 

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.  

USA Road trip from Portland to San Francisco - Fort Bragg, California 

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!  

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 taking the Pacific Coast Highway during the summer. Underneath the encompassing canopy of the redwood tree forests, temperatures are known to drop. Therefore, it’s better to plan to bring a warming jacket so everyone can fully enjoy their time on this awesome scenic road trip from Portland to San Francisco.  
  • 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 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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