Road Trip From San Francisco To Seattle – Most Scenic PNW Stopping Points

A road trip through the Pacific Northwest is a spectacular trip to take with your family. The combination of mountains, beaches, coastal cliffs, and forests come together to form an amazing scenic drive. 

For any traveler planning to drive from San Francisco to Seattle, you’ll want to do your research to make sure you’re able to visit all the best places between these two cities. 

Lucky for you, we’ve put together this guide for the ultimate road trip from San Francisco to Seattle to ensure that from the moment you cross the Golden Gate Bridge until you arrive in Washington, your drive will include all the wonders of the west coast!  

Distance From San Francisco To Seattle

It’s about 820 miles between San Francisco and Seattle direct on the I-5.

If you decide to take the Pacific Highway, which follows the shoreline the entire way, then the distance is closer to 940 miles.

How Long Is The Drive From San Francisco To Seattle? 

The shortest route to drive from San Francisco to Seattle follows I-5, which is a more inland drive. If you were to drive straight without making any stops, this route would take about 13 hours.

Along the Pacific Highway route on I-101, driving nonstop from San Francisco to Seattle would take about 20 hours. 

Of course, it’s no fun spending that much time sitting behind the wheel of a car, especially when there are so many places to stop and explore.

We’d recommend planning for at least a week to drive from San Francisco to Seattle. If you have more time, this road trip could easily become a two- or three-week experience! 

Driving Distances – Essential Stopping Points San Francisco to Seattle

Use this handy table to plot out your daily driving distances and ideal stopping points en route from San Fran to Seattle:

Driving RouteDistanceDrive Time (Est)Where to Stay Overnight
San Francisco to Sonoma44 miles55 minutesStay in Sonoma, CA
Sonoma to Fort Bragg131 miles2 hours 50 minutesStay in Fort Bragg, CA
Fort Bragg to Eureka133 miles3 hoursStay in Eureka, CA
Eureka to Prairie Creek48 miles55 minutesCamping in Redwoods, CA
Prairie Creek to Crescent City34 miles50 minutesStay in Crescent City, CA
Crescent City to Toketee Falls208 miles4 hoursCamping in Toketee, OR
Toketee Falls to Eugene197 miles2 hours 15 minutesStay in Eugene, OR
Eugene to Pacific City124 miles2 hours 15 minutesStay in Pacific City, OR
Pacific City to Portland96 miles1 hour 50 minutesStay in Portland, OR
Portland to Cannon Beach79 miles1 hour 25 minutesStay in Cannon Beach, OR
Cannon Beach to Mount Rainier NP188 miles3 hours 55 minutesCamping in Mount Rainier NP, WA
Mount Rainier to Port Angeles (Olympic NP)178 miles3 hours 45 minutesStay in Port Angeles, WA
Port Angeles to Seattle138 miles1 hours 35 minutesStay in Seattle, WA
Timings are estimated only without traffic

Best Time Of Year To Drive From San Francisco To Seattle

Spring through fall is the best season for a road trip from San Francisco to Seattle. 

Although summer is the most popular time of year for traveling along the Pacific Northwest, this time of year can become very hot (inland at least), and you’ll have to deal with more traffic and tourist crowds. 

Spring and fall are good options since the weather won’t be quite so warm, making it more comfortable to hike and explore, but increasing the chances of rain.

It’s possible to make the drive during the winter, but road conditions can sometimes be more challenging because of the rain and snow. The wind and damp conditions are also worse during this time of year, which can make it more difficult to enjoy outdoor activities – but not impossible. 

Best Stops On A San Francisco To Seattle Road Trip

In this run-down of the best stops to make while driving from San Francisco to Seattle, we’ve included places both on the shorter I-5 route and the Pacific Highway. 

Even if you decide to take the I-5 route for the most part, it’s easy to cut across to the coast and then return to the faster inland highway. The Pacific Northwest really is a mix and match of what suits you and how much time you have to spend!

You could always take the I-5 directly up to Seattle then meander your way back with a stop through the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park, then follow our Portland to San Francisco itinerary on your return, following the Oregon Coast.

Let’s jump into some of our favorite stopping points from northern California to Washington state.

Sonoma County, California

Known for its awesome wineries and farm-to-table restaurants, Sonoma County is a perfect first stop to make driving from San Francisco to Seattle along I-5. There are lots of charming little towns where you can go on wine tasting tours, check out local shops and bakeries, or just relax in the pleasant natural surroundings. With the kids, make sure to grab ice cream in Sonoma Plaza!

USA Road Trip from San Francisco to Seattle - Sonoma County

If you’re short on time, you can just stay for the afternoon to go on a wine tour and get lunch at a restaurant. Otherwise, the plethora of cute cabins and bed & breakfasts make it a nice spot to spend the night to enjoy the country landscape and laid-back vibes before continuing your journey north. 

Fort Bragg, California

Located on the Mendocino Coast of California, Fort Bragg is famous for its proximity to the redwoods and for its incredible Glass Beach. The quaint, historic downtown of Fort Bragg has lots of local artisan shops, nice bed & breakfasts, and fun museums for people of all ages. 

USA Road Trip from San Francisco to Seattle - Fort Bragg

Get out to explore some of the nearby parks and hiking trails which will take you to coastal waterfalls. MacKerricher State Park is particularly well-known for its scenic coastal cliffs, where you can watch the waves crash against the rocky shoreline. 

Other fun activities include horseback riding tours of the beaches or going out kayaking in some of the bays! Fort Bragg may be small, but it has a vast array of parks and recreational activities great for families, couples, or solo travelers alike. 

It’s definitely worth spending a night here as you drive from San Francisco to Seattle, or if you have more time, there’s plenty to occupy a few days of exploration. 

Eureka, California 

From Fort Bragg to Eureka, you’ll meet the end of the Pacific Coast Highway at Leggett, and join Highway 101 for much of the remainder of your journey along the coast.

A stop in at the Avenue of the Giants, one of the most incredible scenic drives in northern California, or at one of the famous drive-thru trees of California is a must on this leg of your drive!

The charming historic city of Eureka is known for its Victorian architecture and beautiful mansions. Sandwiched between the rugged northern California coast and the majestic redwood trees, the natural scenery is spectacular! 

USA Road Trip from San Francisco to Seattle - Eureka

Driving from San Francisco to Seattle, Eureka is a perfect place to spend a day or two seeing the Redwoods, kayaking in the largest bay north of San Francisco, and checking out the attractions downtown. 

Eureka has a large zoo (the oldest in California!) which is a perfect place to spend an afternoon with kids. Afterward, you can pick up souvenirs or local artisan crafts in the downtown market. 

There are lots of options for accommodation in Eureka, including small inns and bed & breakfasts located in some of the historic buildings, or a wide selection of chain hotels and motels if you’re going easy on your budget.

Redwood National & State Parks, California 

Any road trip in northern California would be incomplete without visiting the majestic redwoods! These iconic giants of California are some of the oldest and tallest trees in the world; some are thought to be over 2,000  years old. 

USA Road Trip from San Francisco to Seattle - Prairie Creek State Park

The forest is broken into four sections: Norte State Park, Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek State Park, and Jedediah Smith State Park. All of them are amazing to visit, and depending on where you plan on stopping on your drive from San Francisco to Seattle, some of the parks may be more convenient. 

As the main 101 Highway largely runs through the state parks, entrance to the national and state parks is free unless you plan on using the designated campgrounds, which require a reservation and a fee. 

Some of the top hiking destinations in the redwoods are Stout Grove, Lady Bird Johnson Grove, and other-worldly Fern Canyon (which was featured in Jurassic Park movies!). 

Crescent City, California

Considered one of the best gateway cities to visit, the Redwoods Crescent City combines a laid-back beach vibe with fun modern attractions. Crescent City has several beaches, including Crescent Beach, which offers a long stretch of sand perfect for evening strolls and sunset photographs. If you’re into surfing, you’ll want to check out the waves on Pebble Beach. 

USA Road Trip from San Francisco to Seattle - Crescent City

On hot summer afternoons, you can cool off by rafting or kayaking down the Smith River. This beautiful river offers peaceful scenery through canyons and redwood trees. 

Another popular activity is horseback riding tours of the beaches and forests. These guided tours are a great family activity to see the Californian coast in a unique way. 

Crescent City is the perfect place to break up your trip north before entering Oregon; you can decide from here whether to cross through Rouge Valley and join the more direct I-5 route from Grants Pass, or continue along the 101 through to Portland (we love the scenic coastal route but you’ll want to check out our next idea for an incredible inland stop!)

Toketee Falls, Oregon

Considered one of the most beautiful places in Oregon, the stunning waterfalls of Toketee Falls definitely call for a stop on your trip from San Francisco to Seattle. 

USA Road Trip from San Francisco to Seattle - Toketee Falls

It’s about a 4-hour drive from Crescent City or about 5 ½ hours from Eureka, making it a good first stop as you cross into Oregon. The park area itself feels quite isolated, and the nearest large city is Roseburg, which is about 1 hour away. 

The Toketee Falls Trails is the most popular trail, which is well maintained and fairly easy, but be prepared for some stairs along the route. In the end, you’ll be gifted a stunning view of the cascading waterfall from the lookout platform. 

Another popular attraction is the Umpqua Hot Springs, which are natural thermal pools where you can soak and splash around to relax during the afternoon. 

If time in your itinerary permits, you could add further to this side detour on your San Fran to Seattle road trip by visiting Crater Lake National Park, the deepest lake in the United States (the scenic Rim Drive is seasonally open in summer only due to heavy snowfall in the winter months).

Although accommodation within the national park is limited, it still makes for one of the most fabulous lake vacation destinations in the US for nature lovers.

Eugene, Oregon

Fun, family-friendly, and full of interesting activities, spending a few days in Eugene is a great way to experience the best of the Northwest coast of Oregon. 

USA Road Trip from San Francisco to Seattle - Eugene

With a scenic location on the Willamette River, Eugene has a fun combination of nature and modernity thanks to the University of Oregon and the fun shopping and dining options. Sports fans might want to check out what’s going on at Hayward Field, which is considered one of the best stadiums in the world! 

There are plenty of choices for outdoor activities, from biking around the city to hiking along the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail. Lined with pine and fir trees, this beautiful trail follows the McKenzie River, where you can see waterfalls and various lookout points. 

Within the city itself is the Pisgah Arboretum, which covers 209 acres and has over seven miles of trails. It’s a great place to see some of the natural wildflowers, trees, and shrubs of the Pacific Northwest. 

You could stay the night in Eugene, or push on through to our next stop on the Oregon Coast.

Pacific City, Oregon

Making your way back to the stunning Oregon Coastal route from San Francisco to Seattle, you’ll find the charming beach town of Pacific City, which is famous among surfers and nature enthusiasts.

Quaint houses line the long stretches of sand, and it’s easy to escape the rush of life among the sand dunes and the gentle sound of the ocean waves. Three are several fabulous coastal towns in Oregon you could say in, but Pacific City is one of our favorites for sheer variety of activities while still having a small town feel.

USA Road Trip from San Francisco to Seattle - Pacific City

As you might expect, beach activities are the most popular past-time here. From horseback rides along the sand to splashing in the tide pools, there’s something for people of all ages to enjoy. 

Late winter and early spring are considered the best times of year for whale watching as these massive ocean creatures make their annual migration along the coast. Other animals you might get to spot include seals and a large variety of seabirds. 

After a day of hiking in Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area or splashing in the surf, you’ll find a variety of great local restaurants, breweries, and shops in the town. 

Portland, Oregon

Oregon’s largest city is a must-visit destination during a San Francisco to Seattle road trip. With the scenic backdrop of Mount Hood and the convergence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, Portland is full of natural beauty and a vibrant cultural scene. 

USA Road Trip from San Francisco to Seattle - Portland

Check out the beautiful Washington Park, where you can visit the city’s iconic International Rose Test Garden and landscaped Japanese-style rock gardens. The large park is also home to the Oregon Zoo, where kids can enjoy watching sea lion shows or making friends at the petting zoo. 

Portland is famous for its coffee shops and local restaurants. There is also a multitude of bookstores, including the famous Powell’s City of Books. If plans for outdoor activities get canceled because of a rainy afternoon, what better way to pass the time than with a cup of steaming coffee? 

Other family-friendly indoor activities for rainy days include the Portland Art Museum and the Oregon Historical Society, which have a variety of fun exhibits people of all ages can enjoy. 

Cannon Beach, Oregon

About 1 hour west of Portland on the coast is the small town of Cannon Beach which is famous for its iconic coastline and the impressive Haystack Rock towering on the shore. 

USA Road Trip from San Francisco to Seattle - Cannon Beach

The views alone make Cannon Beach a good place to stop on your drive to Seattle. Plus, the photo opportunities couldn’t be better to capture the beautiful scenery of the Pacific.

If you have time, you can make your stop at Cannon Beach more of an adventure by hiking in Ecola State Park, which has stunning views of the shore. Cannon Beach is also one of the best places to watch the winter and spring whale migrations, with an estimated 18,000 gray whales passing by the beach! 

The town is known for its art galleries, including local glass blowers and bronze sculptors. It’s a great chance to pick up a unique souvenir to commemorate your trip from San Francisco to Seattle. 

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

About two hours south of Seattle is Mount Rainier National Park, one of the most famous parks in the Pacific Northwest and practically worthy of an entire trip in itself. 

The towering 14,410 ft Mount Rainier is the crowning jewel of the park and is actually an active volcano! 

USA Road Trip from San Francisco to Seattle - Mount Rainier National Park

Although the park is beautiful to visit at any time of year, spring is particularly stunning, thanks to the array of colorful wildflowers which cover the valleys and sides of the mountains. 

Options for hiking in Mount Rainier National Park are endless. You should definitely check out the famous Paradise region of the park, which easily lives up to its name thanks to the waterfalls and wildflowers. Many of the trails here are well-maintained and easy to hike which makes it a perfect spot for families. 

Any road trip to Mount Rainier wouldn’t be complete without visiting the famous overlook at Sunrise Point. The entire drive to reach the lookout is stunning, and you make your way along hairpin turns until the final bend, when Mount Rainier will be visible before you! It’s one of the most beautiful scenic drives in Washington.

Keep in mind that this parking area can become very crowded, so it’s often a good idea to visit early in the morning or late in the day so you don’t need to contend with so many tourists. 

Olympic National Park, Washington

When you’re driving to Seattle, a stop at Olympic National Park is almost mandatory. The driving distance between Seattle and Olympic National Park is about two hours, so it does add a bit of driving time to your trip, but the scenery alone is well worth it.

USA Road Trip from San Francisco to Seattle - Hurricane Ridge

The diverse landscape of Olympic National Park encompasses incredible forests like the Hoh Rain Forest, known for its fairytale scenery of lush green moss, and amazing mountain vistas like those found on Hurricane Ridge. 

Along the coast, you’ll find beach trails like Kalaloch Beach which is home to hundreds of marine species from porpoises to coastal birds. Get some photos of the puffins and maybe get lucky enough to spot some harbor seals swimming offshore! 

It would be easy to spend an entire week in Olympic National Park, but it is close enough to Seattle that you could do it as a day trip if you’re short on time. Otherwise, it’s not a bad idea to make reservations at one of the lodges or campsites to get a real park experience. 

Complete Your Journey in Seattle

Your journey from Olympic National Park to Seattle is less than 3 hours. You can tackle this by road finishing on the I-5, or head to Bainbridge island and take the ferry across Puget Sound for an iconic arrival into Downtown Seattle.

USA Olympic National Park - Puget Sound Ferry

Allow yourself several days for exploring all the best things to do in Seattle with kids before starting your homeward journey back Seattle to San Francisco.

Alternatively, if you’ve flown in for road tripping the west coast, its quite straightforward to do a one-way car hire from San Fran to Seattle. Do bare in mind, rental companies are likely to charge a one-way fee for doing this but we think it’s well worth it!

More Tips for Road Tripping from San Francisco to Seattle

  • Pack sturdy rain gear for your trip, no matter what time of year; this is the Pacific Northwest, after all! 
  • Whether you’re camping or staying at hotels, accommodation fills up quickly along the Pacific Coast Highway, so it’s best to book well in advance, especially in summer. 
  • When visiting parks, having a cooler along for snacks and drinks is helpful. In order to get out in nature, you’ll often need to venture away from where there are restaurants, plus a picnic on the beach or underneath the Redwoods feels more authentic anyway! 
  • Cellular service is fairly good along most parts of this trip, but it doesn’t hurt to download a map in advance just in case you hit the spot without much reception (especially important for the national park stops). 
  • Be mindful of road closures, particularly along Highway 1 and Highway 101; landslides and bushfires are not unknown to affect the routes we’ve outlines in this itinerary. Waze is a good road tripping app to check before you set out each day.
download your free road trip checklist click here button

© Family Road Trip

You might also like