Family Road Trip - Road Trip Vancouver to San Francisco

West Coast Road Trip Vancouver to San Francisco

A road trip from Vancouver to San Francisco promises a memorable journey with the family that takes you through iconic cities, breathtaking national parks, and stunning ocean views, especially if you take the longer Pacific Coast Highway Route.

Follow the Pacific coast from Vancouver, located in Western Canada, to San Francisco in Northern California for an unforgettable adventure. To assist with your trip planning, explore the information below for attractions you don’t want to miss, useful tips, and exciting activities to enjoy along the route.

Canada Family Road Trip planning tips

How Long Do I Need For The Vancouver To San Francisco Road Trip?

The distance from Vancouver to San Francisco is approximately 800 miles (1,285 kilometers) if taking the inland route on I-5. The journey takes about 16 hours of driving time, depending on how often you stop along the way and if you encounter any traffic. Be prepared that this route does include some tolls.

This drive is best split into 3 days of driving with 5 hours each day. This way, you can have plenty of time to explore lots of unique attractions along the route.

An alternate option is taking the longer coastal route on 101/Highway 1, allowing you to explore Olympic National Park, Oregon Coast, and the Redwoods.

US Highway 101, known as the Pacific Coast Highway, is one of the most scenic roads in the world. The route along the coastline is less busy than the shooter route. The coastal route takes up to 23 hours and is 1,165 miles (1,875 kilometers). 

We suggest you take 10-14 days to truly experience and explore the areas between Vancouver and San Francisco, as the worst feeling on a road trip is being rushed.

Best Time Of Year To Go From Vancouver To San Francisco by Car

Road trips can be quite an exciting journey, especially if you have nice weather, so the best time to visit the west coast of North America is in the Spring until Fall, so from May to October.

Be prepared that San Francisco and Vancouver often have rain, mist, and cooler temperatures than other parts of North America, even in the summer.

The best weather all year is in July-August; however, this is the high tourist season, so the cost of lodging and attractions are often much higher, and places are much busier. Unfortunately, June can often be gloomy, wet, and cool, with lots of fog, making it hard to see landmarks clearly.

If you have the flexibility in your schedule, early September is a great time to embark on a road trip along the US West Coast from Canada. This season boasts less traffic and delightful warm temperatures, making it an optimal travel period.

What Do I Need To Cross The Canada/USA Border? 

Overall, a road trip from Vancouver to San Francisco can be an incredible way to explore the natural beauty and unique culture of the West Coast.  It is important that no matter if you choose the inland or coastal route, you bring a passport and any documentation you need as you must cross the border into the United States.

USA Road Trip Vancouver to San Francisco - What do I need to cross the border 

It is easiest to cross the border if you are driving your own vehicle rather than renting as it can become complicated bringing vehicles across border crossings and lead to delays. As a general rule, when crossing the border into the United States by car, you will need the following:

  1. A valid passport or other acceptable travel documents.
  2. A visa: If you are a Canadian citizen, you generally do not need a visa to enter the United States for tourism or business purposes for stays up to 180 days. 
  3. Proof of vehicle registration and insurance: You may be asked to provide documentation
  4. Answer Questions: Border Patrol will ask a few questions about your trip, such as where you’re going, how long you plan to stay, and what you will be doing while in the United States. It is important to answer these questions truthfully and provide any necessary documentation to support your answers.

If you wish to hire a car (rent), your best option is to take a bus from Vancouver to Seattle, of the Amtrak Cascades, and then get a car from there instead of dealing with the hassles of cross-border car rentals.

Why Road Trip To San Francisco Rather Than Fly?

While flying can be convenient, road trips are fun and offer so many benefits, such as going at your own pace, affordability and flexibility for families, a sense of adventure, and, the best part, the most beautiful scenic drives.

A road trip from Vancouver to San Fran will allow you to see rugged mountains, vast forests, and oceans that you would miss from a plane window. 

A family road trip offers a unique and rewarding travel experience that allows you to explore the beauty of the West Coast in a more immersive way that creates lifelong memories.

Best Stops on a Drive from Vancouver to San Francisco

These are all our favorite mustn’t-miss stops you should include on your drive from Vancouver to San Francisco.

Peace Arch Park, BC/WA

Explore the rich history of Canada and the United States as the Peace Arch Park allows guests to truly understand the peaceful relationship between the two countries. The park straddles the border of both countries and is a landmark park that can be found at the Douglas Border Crossing between Surrey, British Columbia, and Blaine, Washington.

USA Road Trip Vancouver to San Francisco - Peace Arch Park

The park is home to over 60 acres of beautiful land, where you can visit historical monuments from the War of 1812, the Peace Arch, which can be seen from far away, gardens, picnic areas, walking trails, and lastly, the World Friendship Bell that represents peace and unity between countries.

Seattle, WA

Head south from Vancouver and enjoy the views of mountainous terrain and forests out your window until you arrive in Seattle. Once you arrive in Seattle, you will enjoy the variety of family-friendly activities that will keep the kids busy and entertained and give you an opportunity to take a rest from driving. 

USA Road Trip Vancouver to San Francisco - Space Needle

Popular attractions for kids include the Space Needle, which is 605 feet tall and offers an elevator ride to an observation deck that allows 360-degree views of Seattle, Mount Rainier, Puget Sound, and the Olympic and Cascade Mountains. If you’re hungry, stop at the Space Needle Restaurant, which rotates every 45 minutes to give you different views throughout your meal. Lastly, kids will enjoy learning more about the Space Needle through interactive displays and exhibits.

Pike Place Market is a historic farmers market that has existed since 1907 and offers a wide variety of produce, seafood, crafts, and local handmade goods that are perfect for souvenirs. Pike Place Fishmongers have a historic reputation for fish-throwing from one vendor to another, which is quite a sight to see.

If you are looking for interactive, hands-on exhibits, then check out the Pacific Science Centre for science demonstrations and laser shows, or go visit the Museum of Pop Culture to learn more about music, movies, and pop culture in engaging displays that even kids will enjoy!

Olympic National Park, WA

The national park has a rich history as it is home to several indigenous communities and contains multiple historic sites, all while offering beautiful scenic views of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and is one of the most northern located national parks in the United States.

USA Road Trip Vancouver to San Francisco - Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is home to over 1,400 miles of diverse ecosystems, including the vibrant and lush Hoh Rain Forest, which has beautiful, unique flora and fauna views in this thriving moist environment.

Another unique area of the park is the mountainous area of Hurricane Ridge which offers panoramic views of glacier-capped mountains and the entire Olympic Mountain Range – this makes for a beautiful hike. 

Don’t forget to visit the old-growth forests or the rocky Beaches at Ruby Beach and Rialto Beach that allow visitors to stroll along the beach, search for creatures in tide pools, and simply just listen to the waves crashing against the rocks.

This serene park offers so many beautiful natural locations that it is a must-see along your road trip route.

Willapa National Wildlife Refuge

Visitors will enjoy viewing the diverse range of habitats, including tidal marshes, sand dunes, and old forests that are home to over 250 species of migrating birds, fish, and numerous animals, including bears, otters, and Elk. Kids will enjoy learning more about the history, ecology, and wildlife through educational programs and exhibits in the visitor center.

USA Road Trip Vancouver to San Francisco - Willapa National Wildlife Refuge

Located in Washington State, the goal of this wildlife refuge is to conserve habitats for the species located in the park. Willapa National Wildlife Refuge is over 16,000 acres in size and offers visitors a variety of recreation opportunities. While visiting the Wildlife Refuge you can enjoy wildlife sightings, bird watching, hiking, or fishing while enjoying the natural beauty of the area.

The Willapa National Wildlife Refuge property has several cultural and historic sites, including a World War II-era radar station and a historic lighthouse that dates back to 1858. Guided tours of the lighthouse are available during the summer months.

Long Beach

Plan to spend the day and enjoy the long stretches of sandy beaches that Long Beach has to offer to visitors. Located on the western edge of the Olympic Peninsula, Long Beach has fantastic swimming, sunbathing, and kite flying and even has many local stores to purchase kites.  This family-friendly destination has beaches, outdoor activities, museums, and much more to entertain the whole family.

USA Road Trip Vancouver to San Francisco - Long Beach

Long Beach holds a yearly kite festival in August and is home to the World Kite Museum. The area is also popular for clam digging, especially if you’re looking for the famous razor clam.

Located nearby are several state parks, such as Cape Disappointment State Park and Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, which offer scenic views along hiking trails while learning about the area’s rich history.

Coos Bay

Located on the southern coast of Oregon, Coos Bay is a must-see spot for Pacific Northwest visitors as it offers many adventurous activities. You can learn more about the history and culture by visiting the Coos Historical and Maritime Museum, which explains the history of indigenous heritage and the past of fishing and timber industries in the area.

USA Road Trip Vancouver to San Francisco - Coos Bay

For those who enjoy fishing, you should head to the harbor to either take a tour of the harbor or to get adventurous and go deep-sea fishing. For those who enjoy adventure, you will want to check out the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area which allows visitors to experience sand dunes while riding ATV, horseback, or dune buggies.

If you want to relax, you will want to check out one of these beautiful nearby beaches with amazing swimming, sand castle building, sunbathing, and sunsets. Nearby beaches include Sunset Bay State Park, Cape Arago State Park, and Bastendorff Beach.

Oregon Coast Aquarium

Families will love learning about the diversity of marine life found along the Pacific Northwest coast at the Oregon Coast Aquarium located in Newport, Oregon along the coast. Visitors will enjoy learning more about sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, fish, and octopuses.

You can explore the aquarium, check out the educational programs, or explore behind-the-scenes tours, or enjoy the interactive exhibits as a family. 

USA Road Trip Vancouver to San Francisco - Oregon Coast Aquarium

A must-see exhibit is the Passages of the Deep tunnel exhibit which allows guests to walk through an underwater tunnel while being surrounded by sharks, rays, and other marine life. You also won’t want to miss the Coastal Waters or Rocky Shores exhibit, as guests will learn all about the conservation and preservation of marine animals and their habitats.

Siuslaw National Forest

Enjoy a journey through Siuslaw National Forest, which boasts 634,000 acres of forests, beaches, rivers, lakes, streams, sand dunes, tide pools, and ocean vistas along the Oregon coastline. There are numerous activities to enjoy in the Siuslaw National Forest, including hiking, cycling, camping, fishing, picnicking, horseback riding, off-roading, and more… making it an outdoor enthusiast’s dream location. 

USA Road Trip Vancouver to San Francisco - Siuslaw National Forest

This vast area is home to a variety of wildlife and features the highest peak in the Oregon Coast Range, Mary’s Peak, which stands at 4097 feet (1249 meters). This is a prominent feature in the Siuslaw National Forest, offering panoramic views of forest, mountains, and coastlines. 

Mary’s Peak has a variety of different trails for visitors to explore, from easy to advanced, ensuring that everyone can enjoy the view. At the summit of Mary’s Peak, there is a restroom, observation tower, and picnic tables allowing guests to take a rest and refuel for the trip back down.

Redwood National & State Parks, OR, WA

This is a must-see destination for nature lovers or those looking to enjoy the peaceful, quiet environment of the iconic redwood forest, home to some of the world’s tallest trees. Redwood National & State Parks is located on the north coast of California, has trees as large as 380 feet tall, and covers an area of almost 140,000 acres.

USA Road Trip Vancouver to San Francisco - Redwood National Park

Visitors to the park will enjoy viewing wildlife, hiking through the forest, camping, and fishing.  Kids will enjoy checking out the Junior Ranger programs, campfire talks, and guided hikes offered by the visitor center. 

You will not want to miss checking out the narrow canyon with walls covered in ferns called Fern Canyon or visiting the largest redwoods in the park in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Golden Gate Bridge

As you reach your end destination, check out the iconic Golden Gate Bridge landmark that spans 4,200 feet and has a length of almost 9,000 feet.

USA Road Trip Vancouver to San Francisco - Golden Gate Bridge

This magnificent bridge connects San Francisco to Marin County, California, across the Golden Gate strait. Visitors can either walk, bike, or drive across this popular tourist attraction.

Interested in a West Coast Road Trip?

If you’re interested in planning a West Coast Road Trip, check out the following US Road trips:

Or, if you are exploring further on the Canadian side;

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