How to Plan an Amazing Seattle to San Francisco Road Trip
Seattle and San Francisco are the two cities in the world that we have, collectively, called home. I (Matt) grew up in Seattle, and lived there for 15+ years before relocating to San Francisco, where I met Alysha, who grew up in the Bay Area. We lived in San Francisco for almost a decade before quitting our jobs and leaving the city on our year long worldwide adventure. Today, we split time between San Francisco and Seattle.
I have regularly done the Seattle to San Francisco drive (and the San Francisco to Seattle drive, too), including one time where I did it all in one day…solo. I don’t recommend that. Not even a little.
In the guide below, we’ll give you our favorite stops to make on a Seattle to San Francisco road trip, along with logistics and sample itineraries to help you plan the perfect adventure.
We basically spent a full two months on this route last summer, and it was every bit as memorable, beautiful, and amazing as you might imagine. Though, obviously, you probably didn’t quit your job to adventure in your converted Honda Odyssey, so there’s that.
To help you plan your trip, we’re putting our heads together, along with all of our personal experience, to curate the best stops along the way to give you the information you need to plan an unforgettable trip down the west coast.
The first thing we want to get out of the way is that your experience is largely going to be dictated by the amount of time you have. If you only have three days, you’re obviously not going to be able to hit some of the far flung destinations like Crater Lake and Bend.
We’re assuming that you’re treating your road trip from Seattle to San Francisco as a vacation, and budgeting a week or more so that you can see the best of the west coast along the way.
One other note – we’re also assuming you want to spend time in Seattle and San Francisco too. If you don’t, either because you’ve already been or you’re just simply not interested, spend that time somewhere else instead.
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.
Where to Fly In and Out Of?
If you don’t already live in the Seattle area, then you can fly in and rent a car to take the Seattle to San Francisco drive.
If you’re coming from somewhere too far away to drive to Seattle, then you’ll want to fly into Seattle Tacoma Int’l Airport (SEA).
At the end of the journey, you can fly out of San Francisco International Airport (SFO) or Oakland International Airport (OAK).
We recommend avoiding flying out of San Jose (SJO), which is two hours south of San Francisco, because roads to get there are prone to heavy traffic that will make it an even longer journey.
How Many Days to Spend on This Road Trip?
We’ve made this trip in one straight shot in just 12 hours when taking I-5. In fact, Matt recently did this drive alone. And we don’t recommend it. Doing this drive in record time isn’t going to be a fun one. Believe us.
Instead, we suggest spending AT LEAST 7-10 days. The guide below is written with a two week trip in mind.
This route has a total of 24 hours of driving – split up between 10-14 days when you follow our recommendations below. That could be more time than you have. If that’s a few too many days, then we recommend heading down the I-5 corridor through Oregon instead, skipping Bend and Crater Lake, which are further inland.
You can choose from the stops below based on how much time you have to spend – think of it as a “choose your own adventure” sort of thing (used to LOVE those Goosebumps books!). Except the authors have strong perspectives on what adventures you should choose.
The Best Route for Your Seattle to San Francisco Drive
Once you’ve figured out the number of days you are going to take for this trip, you’ll have some decisions to make about the best route for you. Here’s what we recommend.
Driving Through Washington
There’s really only one choice here. Drive down the I-5 corridor, making stops at Mt. Rainier and Mt. Saint Helens. We’d recommend Rainier if you only have time to visit one. You could also go the coastal route, but it’s a bit out of the way if you’ve only got 3-5 days.
Driving Through Oregon
This is where you have a few options.
You can drive straight down I-5, stopping in Portland and Eugene, which is the fastest route. Both are cool cities, and you could do a day trip into the beautiful wilderness just outside either city’s limits. This is your best bet if you only have 3-5 days, since you’re on I-5 basically the whole way (and there’s plenty to do and see along the way).
You could also drive down the coast, which is gorgeous, and would be our choice if you’re making the trip outside of the summer months.
Last, but certainly not least (the opposite, in fact) is to head inland and hit Mt. Hood, Bend, and Crater Lake, which will take significantly more time than the other two options. During the summer, the inland route through the Hood River, Bend, and Crater Lake have some of the best hikes and gorgeous scenery we have ever seen. This is our pick for a summer road trip.
If you’re planning on doing this drive in the winter, avoid snow and tricky road conditions by going the coastal route on the famous Highway 101, which is amazing in its own right.
Driving Through California
The central route down I-5, while definitely the quickest, is BORING. Instead, whatever route you decide to take in Oregon, we definitely recommend cutting over to the gorgeous California coast to meet up with Highway 101 and the iconic Highway 1 to end your road trip with a bang.
Sample Road Trip Itineraries
Here are a couple of ways to do this road trip based on your interests and number of days.
If you’re driving from San Francisco to Seattle, the opposite direction that this guide is written for, then all you need to do is reverse the order of stops. Then you’ll have the perfect San Francisco to Seattle road trip itinerary.
A 5 Day Straight Shot
With limited time – between three and five days – you’re going to want to stick to I-5. It’s the most direct route. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to have a great time, though! The only thing to watch out for weather-wise is snow on the Siskyou Pass and the rest of southern Oregon in the winter months. Otherwise, this route is pretty accessible year-round.
If you’ve got 3-4 days, sleep in Portland on night one, Redding on night two, and finish the drive to San Francisco on day three. With a fourth day, we’d add Rainier (with a stop in Eugene between Portland and Redding).
Day 1: Drive from Seattle to Mt. Rainier as early as possible (if you’re flying in, you’ll want to book an early flight!). Do the Skyline Trail (6 miles, moderately difficult), one of the best hikes in Washington State, to get up close and personal with the Mountain (note that you won’t be able to do this in the winter, but it’s still worth visiting Rainier). Visit some of the numerous waterfalls – namely Myrtle and Christine. Sleep in Ashford just outside the park entrance at Paradise Village.
Day 2: Drive from Mt. Rainier to Portland, stopping at Mt. St. Helens to check out Johnston Ridge, which gives you an amazing view of the volcano and destruction it wrought on the surrounding landscape. Arrive in Portland and stay either Kex, the Hotel Grand Stark, or the Jupiter NEXT Hotel (read our full guide on the best places to stay in Portland for more of our recommendations – we’ve been to Portland numerous times and are planning on relocating there at some point in the near future). Get out and explore Portland, particularly the areas east of the river along Hawthorne and Division St.
Day 3: Drive from Portland to Eugene, stopping at Silver Falls State Park to do the Trail of the Ten Falls (truly spectacular) and then refueling in Salem, the capital of Oregon, at Bigwig Donuts (100% gluten free donut holes, fried to order). Continue to Eugene, where you should try the wild fermented, locally harvested cider at Wildcraft Cider and head up to Skinner Butte for a nice view of Eugene. Check out the 5th St. Public Market for a combination of shopping, eating, and drinking with local vendors. Sleep at the Graduate Hotel or the Inn at the Fifth, both in downtown Eugene.
Day 4: Eugene to Ashland. Ashland is a cool little town known for hosting the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. If it’s on (or even if it’s not), you should stop in Ashland. Get coffee at Noble Coffee Roasters, and lunch in Ashland (and catch a show, if that’s your thing) before heading over the Siskyou Pass into California. Drive all the way to Redding, get dinner at In-n-Out Burger, and stay at the Americana Hotel in downtown Redding.
Day 5: Home Stretch! This is the worst driving day because there’s not much to see along the way from Redding to San Francisco. It’s only 3 hours though, and you can stop in Berkeley or Oakland on your way into the city if you’re looking for somewhere to grab lunch.
A 7 Day Coastal Adventure
This coastal adventure is a perfect year-round itinerary. It’ll be a little wet in the winter, but it’s still passable (unlike some of the roads in central Washington and Oregon, which can get a wee bit sketchy).
Day 1: Fly into Seattle and pick up your rental car (or, leave from Seattle if you live here!). Head out to the Olympic Peninsula by taking the Bainbridge Island Ferry. Drive to Port Angeles, with a stop at Nourish Sequim along the way for a delicious (and gluten free) lunch. Head up to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park and hike Hurricane Hill for spectacular views over the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Range. Spend the night at either the Olympic Lodge or a vacation rental along the shores of Lake Sutherland.
Day 2: Drive the Pacific Coast of Olympic National Park, making three stops along the way. First, at Lake Crescent to hike to Marymere Falls. Second at Rialto Beach to do the hike out to Hole in the Wall (one of our favorite hikes in Olympic National Park). Third stop is the Hoh Rainforest, which is a spectacular example of the temperate rainforests that call this part of the country home. Continue along 101 South, stopping at Ruby Beach and Kalaloch, before doing the short walk in the Quinault Rainforest and spending the night at either Kalaloch Lodge on the coast, or Lake Quinault Lodge on the shores of, you guessed it, Lake Quinault.
Day 3: Continue south along the coast of Washington, crossing into Oregon after a quick stop at Cape Disappointment. Stop in Astoria to check out the Astoria Column and Fort Stevens State Park, then make your way to Ecola State Park for great views of Cannon Beach. Spend the afternoon in Cannon Beach, spending some time on the beach near Haystack Rock and then eat lunch at Public Coast Brewing. Continue south, heading to Tillamook Creamery for ice cream and a fun cheese-making tour. The hike out to Cascade Head near Lincoln City is worth it if you have the time, otherwise continue on to spend the night in Newport at the wonderful Inn at Nye Beach.
Day 4: Get an early start and make a beeline for the California border. Drive through Cape Perpetua (stop at Thor’s Well and the scenic overlook), Heceta Head Lighthouse, and finally to Samuel H Boardman Scenic Corridor. Make quick stops at Cape Ferelo and Natural Bridges, then cross over into California, where you’ll immediately be confronted with redwoods – some of the biggest and best in the state! Head to Redwood National and State Parks and explore Stout Memorial Grove, Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway, and Fern Canyon. Spend the night in Trinidad, California, at either View Crest Lodge or Emerald Forest Cabins.
Day 5: If you missed any of the redwoods above, double back and make sure to catch them. Then, head out to Patricks Point State Park and Trinidad State Beach to get your first taste of the rugged northern California coast. Hike the short and sweet Trinidad Head Trail for amazing coastal views. Continue south, stopping in Humboldt Redwoods State Park to drive the Avenue of the Giants, one of the most scenic drives in all of California. From here, drive to Mendocino (not the most interesting drive, to be honest). Spend the afternoon and evening in Mendocino, exploring Fort Bragg and the town of Mendocino. Sleep at the Blue Door Inns, which looks amazing.
Day 6: Continue your coastal journey by heading to Point Reyes National Seashore, another one of our favorite spots in California (and 30 minutes from where Alysha grew up). The drive will take a few hours, but it’s gorgeous. You’ll follow the coastline past sweeping sand beaches (stop at Jenner Beach!). Head out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, Cypress Grove, and do a portion of the Tomales Point Trail. Post-activity, eat some fresh, local oysters at Hog Island and some local cheese at Cowgirl Creamery. Spend the night at the Olema House.
Day 7: Congrats! You made it! Finish the drive into San Francisco, stopping in the Marin Headlands at the Golden Gate Bridge to hike down to Kirby Cove and marvel at the beauty of the bridge before driving into the city and to the airport to drop off your rental car (or to your final stop, wherever that might be).
The Best Stops to Make on a Seattle to San Francisco Road Trip
Driving down from Seattle to San Francisco will give you a plethora of stunning natural landscapes to explore.
Here are our top picks for where to stop along the way with some of our favorite places to eat, drink, stay, and play for each.
Matt grew up in Seattle, lived there for 15+ years including six in the city itself, and we return several times a year to visit family and spend time in the Pacific Northwest during the beautiful summer months. We know the city like the back of our hands, and hope we can give you some of the inside knowledge you need to make your trip to Seattle a memorable one.
Here are our picks for where to eat, drink, stay, and play while you’re in Seattle.
What to Do in Seattle
Here are a few of our favorite things to do in Seattle.
Pike Place Market: Probably the most famous attraction in Seattle, Pike Place Market lives up to the hype and then some. Though I can’t say the same for the also-famous but largely uninspired gum wall, which is downright disgusting if you really stop to think about it. Anyway, walk through the market and check out the vendors selling everything from candied nuts to flowers, and of course, the flying salmon. Stop by Rachel’s Ginger Beer, Beecher’s Cheese (their flagship cheese is one of my top three all time favorites), and Elleno’s Frozen Greek Yogurt while you’re there. To go a level deeper, take this awesome guided tour of Pike Place with a Local Chef.
Discovery Park: Get yourself ready for some longer hikes with an easy stroll out to the western edge of Seattle, where you’ll find yourself face-to-face with the Pacific Ocean. The lighthouse is pretty cool, and is definitely worth the price of admission, which is simply a three mile round trip hike to get to it. If you’re lucky, you may spot the local bald eagles.
Explore Capitol Hill: Our favorite! “Cap Hill” as we locals call it, is home to the best selection of food, drinks, and coffee in the city. It’s packed full of interesting spots to stop in, whether you’re looking for vegan ice cream or a unique boutique selling who knows what. Our favorite stops are Espresso Vivace and Victrola Coffee for some of the best coffee in Seattle. Frankie and Jo’s and Molly Moons for awesome local ice cream (Frankie and Jo’s is 100% gluten free and vegan!). Elliott Bay Books for the best local bookstore in Seattle. Capitol Cider for a huge selection of Pacific Northwest ciders and a 100% gluten free kitchen.
The Underground Tour: A little quirky and offbeat, kind of like Seattle, the Underground Tour is worth doing while you’re in Pioneer Square. The tour guides are funny, and you get to learn about the history of Seattle from a slightly different perspective.
Seattle Center: I actually don’t really recommend you go up to the top of the Space Needle. The views are cool (check out Kerry Park nearby for the best views in Seattle), but it’s expensive and kind of uninspiring. Seattle Center has some cool attractions though. The MoPop is a must for music and culture lovers, with tons of unique and fascinating exhibits about music and pop culture you won’t find anywhere else in the world. The Chihuly Glass and Garden is a one-of-a-kind art installation featuring hand blown glass in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The Pacific Science Center is a great stop for kids, with interactive exhibits that make for a perfect rainy day activity in Seattle.
Where to Eat and Drink in Seattle
Here are a few of our favorite restaurants in Seattle, in no particular order.
- Lola: Awesome Mediterranean Food from celebrity award-winning chef Tom Douglas, who is basically a Seattle hero.
- Bok-a-Bok: Fried chicken (in a gluten free fryer).
- Toulouse Petit: Great New Orleans style cajun-creole food. NOT GLUTEN FREE. Not even a little bit, really.
- La Carta de Oaxaca: Tasty Oaxacan-style food in Ballard. They have a sister-restaurant in Queen Anne called El Mezcalito.
- Noi Thai: The best Thai food in Seattle, hands down!
For dessert, ice cream is your best bet. There are three awesome places to find ice cream in Seattle.
- Molly Moons: A Seattle institution, they have several locations around the city. They do all sorts of good things in the community, and have handmade ice cream and waffle cones. Delicious. And super allergy friendly.
- Frankie and Jo’s: 100% gluten free and plant-based ice cream – and waffle cones – in Cap Hill and Ballard. It’s one of our favorites.
- Salt & Straw: A Portland transplant – we’d go to Molly Moons in Seattle and save Salt & Straw for when you’re in Portland in a few days.
If you’re craving a drink, here are a few of our favorite bars in Seattle.
- For fancy cocktails: Bathtub Gin Co. (don’t miss the library!), Tavern Law, or Canon.
- For beer: First, gluten free people should head straight to Ghostfish Brewing, a 100% gluten free brewery in Seattle. For non-gluten free beer, I’m not the best person to ask, but friends love Cloudburst Brewing and Fremont Brewing. Here’s a guide to the best breweries in Seattle from someone who can actually, you know, drink the beer.
- For cider: Schilling Cider is our favorite, with 30+ taps of cider – both their own ciders and guest taps – for you to choose from. Seattle Cider has a taproom that shares space with their sister beer company in SoDo just south of downtown, which is a good compromise for beer and cider lovers.
- For a fun night out: Unicorn (and Narwhal) in Capitol Hill.
Looking for the best coffee in a city known for amazing coffee? We’ve got you covered with our guide to the best coffee in Seattle (according to three self-proclaimed coffee snobs).
Make sure to go to La Marzocco Cafe and Espresso Vivace at the very least.
Where to Stay in Seattle
In our opinion, the two best areas to stay in Seattle are Belltown and Capitol Hill (though we also like South Lake Union).
Belltown is close to Pike Place Market and the Space Needle, while Capitol Hill is still central, but full of some of the best bars, restaurants, and cafes in Seattle, which is perfect for foodies like us whose travel philosophy basically boils down to “eat-walk-eat.”
Here are some options for where to stay in Seattle whether you prefer staying in hotels or in an Airbnb.
Psst! We have a whole guide to the best places to stay in Seattle to help you find the perfect neighborhood and place to stay. Read that for the details behind the picks below!
Hotels in Seattle
The two best hotels in Seattle are actually in South Lake Union, which happens to be between Belltown and Capitol Hill. CitizenM Seattle is one of the best value hotels in Seattle. It’s a no frills option, with great value rooms with modern amenities. All the rooms are the same, so there’s no presidential suite or choices between “deluxe” and “superior” rooms. The Moxy Hotel is the other choice here – it’s a stylish option that’s super central to all the sights in Seattle.
Looking for more cool hotels? Read our guide to the coolest hotels in Seattle to find the perfect hotel for your style and budget.
Airbnb in Seattle
We usually prefer Airbnb for stays longer than a day or two, and Seattle has some awesome Airbnb options. We love this stylish Airbnb in Capitol Hill, which is perfect for traveling couples. This industrial-chic Airbnb in South Lake Union is a close second for the next time we’re looking for a place to stay in Seattle. Groups and families should look at this two bedroom gem in the heart of Capitol Hill.
Read Next: The 19 Best Airbnbs in Seattle
Mt. Rainier National Park (the Paradise Side)
Drive time: 2.5 hours / 107 miles
The Paradise side of Mt. Rainier National Park is jaw-droppingly beautiful. It’s on the south side of Mount Rainier, around 5,400 feet above sea level, featuring colorful wildflower meadows in late summer, evergreen groves, and massive glaciers.
Here are some excellent hikes you can go on while visiting the best national park in Washington (and one of the best on the west coast).
- Hike the Skyline Trail: This 5.5 mile trail is the most popular trail in the park and features views of waterfalls, meadows, and glaciers. It’s one of our favorite hikes in the world, and easily makes our list of the best hikes in Washington State.
- Reflection Lakes Viewpoint: The 5 mile trail from Narada Falls eventually takes you to the Reflection Lakes viewpoint, which provides dramatic views of the Tatoosh Range, while also providing a view of the cascading Paradise River.
- Myrtle Falls: This is, by far, one of the most gorgeous waterfalls we have ever seen. And it’s only a couple of steps away from the parking lot! The cascading falls has Mt. Rainier as its backdrop, making for an impressive sight.
Planning a Trip to Mount Rainier National Park? You won’t want to miss our detailed guides to visiting Mount Rainier that are all based on our own personal experience exploring the park.
- All the Best Things to Do in Mount Rainier National Park
- How to Plan an Unforgettable Day Trip to Mount Rainier From Seattle
- Where to Stay near Mount Rainier National Park: A Complete Guide
- The Best Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park: A Helpful Hiking Guide
- Hiking the Skyline Trail: Is This the Best Hike in the Entire State?
- Hiking to Towering Comet Falls in Mount Rainier National Park
Drive time: 3 hours / 160 miles
No Seattle to San Francisco road trip would be complete without making a stop in the weird and lovable city of Portland.
There’s way more to do here then you’ll have time for, so we will just touch on a few things you can check off while you’re in town.
What to Do in Portland
Here are some of our favorite things to do in Portland.
- International Rose Test Garden: Stop and smell a massive amount of breathtaking roses at the International Rose Test Garden. Great views of Portland and Mt. Hood (on a clear day) too!
- Explore Downtown Portland: There’s A LOT to do in downtown Portland. However, we recommend making a beeline towards Powell’s Books, which is the best independent bookstore on the West Coast. Cacao and MadeHerePDX are worth a stop too.
- Portland Saturday Market: The Portland Saturday Market: Held every Saturday from March to December, is a spectacle. It’s one of the biggest markets focusing on art in the country, and it’s a great example of what makes Portland so special. Or weird. Same idea. Hundreds of stalls from independent artists ranging from watercolor painting, to photography, to jewelry, pack the streets along the river on Saturday mornings. Another must-do in Portland.
- The PSU Farmers Market: Another must-see for foodies in Portland is the PSU Farmers Market, which is also on Saturday mornings (8:30am – 2pm) down at Portland State University’s Campus. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk from Downtown.
Where to Eat and Drink in Portland
We think the best way to do Portland is to eat and drink your way through the city. Our travel philosophy, in general, is “eat-walk-drink-walk-eat-repeat.” And Portland is an amazing place to do that.
- Coffee: For coffee, head to Coava or Heart Coffee, which are two of our favorites in the city. Stumptown Coffee, a Portland original, is also worth a stop in the bottom floor of the Ace Hotel.
- Donuts: For donuts, which are a must-try in Portland, a city full of artisanal donut shops, enjoy delicious donuts at Pips Original (sadly not gluten-free, but they offer chai flights, need we say more?), Blue Star (also not gluten-free), or Petunia’s (100% gluten-free!).
- Food Carts: Hit up the food carts at Prost (don’t miss DesiPDX). Because you have to eat at a food cart in Portland. When in Rome, am I right?
- Ice Cream: Grab some frozen delights at Salt and Straw Ice Cream or Little Chickpea, the latter is 100% gluten AND dairy free.
Where to Stay in Portland
First of all, we have a whole guide on where to stay in Portland. Read that if you want the details beyond some of our recommendations.
Hotels: The Hoxton and the Society Hotel (we’ve stayed there) are our top hotel picks in Portland. The Hoxton is a super stylish hotel that is one of our favorite hotel chains in the world. The Society is the best value hotel in Portland, with options from dorm rooms to suites, so you can pick an option that works for your style and budget.
Read our guide to the 14 coolest hotels in Portland for more awesome hotels in Portland.
Airbnb: We’ve stayed in a bunch of Airbnbs in Portland on our numerous trips over the years. We loved this modern guesthouse right off of Hawthorne Blvd (the best street in Portland) and this cozy apartment in the hip Alberta Arts District, which is a cool spot to base yourself.
- 3 Days in Portland, Oregon: Plan a Perfect Weekend in Portland
- Gluten Free Portland: A Travel Guide for Gluten Free Foodies
- The Best Day Trips from Portland, Oregon
Hood River & Columbia River Gorge
Drive time: 1 hour / 65 miles
The mighty Hood River and stunning Columbia River Gorge are a must-see on your way down to Bend. Here are our favorite places to visit at these locations.
Hood River also makes a great overnight stay, with plenty to do and see to occupy a day of your time. It’s a good stopping point on the way down to Bend from Portland.
You’ll want to stay in a hotel, since you’ll only be in town for a night, and it should probably be the Society Hotel in Bingen, the sister hotel to the one in Portland (which we’ve stayed at and loved). It’s just outside of downtown Hood River, on the Washington side.
Hood River Hotel is a close second. The advantage of staying there is that it’s right in the middle of downtown.
Here are some of our favorite things to do in Hood River.
- All the waterfalls! There are some really impressive waterfalls to see in the Columbia River Gorge. Multnomah Falls is definitely the most unique and famous, but Latourell Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are also worth a stop.
- Hiking in the Columbia River Gorge: In addition to the numerous gorgeous waterfalls, the Columbia River Gorge is home to some of the best hikes in Oregon. Dog Mountain, which is actually in Washington, is worth a stop in wildflower season (permits required – find them here). Stop by Rowena Crest, which has a short little hike that is worth doing, for a beautiful view of the Gorge with the winding road below.
- Wine tasting: At Cathedral Ridge Winery or Hiyu Wine Farm, you’ll get to sample some of the locally-produced Oregon wines nearby the Hood River.
- Drive the Fruit Loop: Drive the Fruit Loop in the Hood River Valley, making a stop at Draper Girls Country Farm, where you can have a classic U-Pick experience (We were last there just before cherry season!). You can also visit Hood River Lavender and sniff your way through the expansive lavender fields.
Drive time: 3 hours / 153 miles
Bend is situated amid the snow-covered Cascade Mountains and high desert plateaus. This has become a popular destination for the outdoorsy adventurer types out there. Here’s what we recommend doing when you stop here during your road trip.
- Hike Misery Ridge at Smith Rock State Park: Hiking Misery Ridge isn’t a miserable experience as the name may suggest. In fact, it’s an awesome one that provides you with stunning views in all directions onto the rocky landscape. Just make sure to go early to beat the heat.
- Explore the craft beer scene: If you’re gluten-free but still want to get your sophisticated craft drink on, then don’t miss Tumalo Cider Company.
- Explore the nearby mountains: Get a taste of the mountains in the area by hiking to Tumalo Falls or on the Green Lakes Trail in Deschutes National Forest.
Crater Lake National Park
Drive time: 2 hours / 90 miles
Crater Lake National Park is an extraordinary park that has a dormant volcano as its crown jewel. Within the cone of that volcano, called Mount Mazama, is a stunningly blue body of water called Crater Lake.
After the volcano erupted around 8,000 years ago, the collapsed summit eventually stored enough water to create the lake. Today, an island called Wizard Island juts up from beneath the surface of the water.
Here’s what we suggest doing in this stunning national park, which you can pretty easily tackle in a full day.
- Drive the Crater Rim: You can circumnavigate the stunning lake by driving the scenic Rim Drive. This is a very popular destination, so for the best experience we recommend getting there before everyone else arrives (before 10 AM). Check for seasonal road closures – a majority of the park is closed in the winter.
- Hike Mount Scott: You can also hike up to the highest point in the park, which is at Mount Scott on the eastern side of Crater Lake.
- Catch sunset over the lake: You can make two terrific choices for seeing the glorious sunset here, either at Garfield Peak or the Watchman Observation Station.
Northern California Coast
Drive time (to Eureka): 5 hours / 245 miles
The Northern California Coast is considered to be one of the most scenic areas in the entire country, and for many reasons. There are picturesque coastal towns, wildflowers galore during the spring, cool ocean breezes in the summer (definitely expect fog too), serene beaches, and towering redwoods that will leave you in awe. Here are our favorite things to do on the Northern California Coast.
Stop at Redwoods National and State Parks: Seeing the redwoods is a must when you’re in Northern California. The tallest trees on the planet are on full display in the Redwoods National and State Parks. Hike Fern Canyon if you want to go through a narrow canyon whose walls are entirely lined with ferns and moss. You can also hike Trillium Falls to see beautiful trillium flowers dotting the groundcover, as well as impressive redwoods and a small waterfall. Finally, you can drive down Howland Hill Road, which is mostly unpaved but well-maintained road traversing a magnificent redwood forest.
Drive the Avenue of the Giants: The Avenue of the Giants in the Humboldt Redwoods is a 31-mile forest drive that is considered to be the best drive through redwoods in the world. This is the one where you can drive your car through actual living redwoods!
Eureka: The small city of Eureka is a charming coastal stop with some delicious beer and cider to try at Lost Coast Brewing and Humboldt Cider.
Trinidad: Hike the Trinidad Head trail to enjoy stunning 360-degree panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. You can also enjoy a lazy beach stroll down Trinidad State Beach, or soak in the breezy coastal views at Patrick’s Point State Park.
Drive time: 3 hours / 145 miles
Mendocino is a largely unspoiled area of California that has beaches, valleys, and forests. It’s a beautiful place to visit while on your road trip.
Glass Beach and Fort Bragg: Glass Beach is an unusual beach with tons of tiny colorful glass pieces amid the pebbles on the beach. You can also visit the town of Fort Bragg, which has plenty of experiences to offer, both adventure-wise and when it comes to eating and drinking.
Walk the Mendocino Headlands: The Mendocino Headlands State Park on the south side of the town of Mendocino features a great number of easy trails that take you near rugged coastlines, hidden away beaches, and spectacular sea arches.
Stop at the Good Life Cafe: If you’re going to be in Mendocino in the morning, stop over at the Good Life Cafe for breakfast and a cup of coffee.
Alexander Valley Wine Region: Take a drive through the Alexander Valley Wine Region to enjoy some of the tastiest (and most affordable) wines in California. Navarro Vineyards and Roederer Estate are our favorites.
Drive time: 3 hours / 155 miles
You made it to San Francisco! We have lived, collectively, in exactly three cities. Seattle is one (Matt lived there for 15+ years), San Francisco is the second (we met and lived there for juuuust shy of a decade), and Alysha also lived in Santa Barbara in college.
This is another city we know REALLY well, and we have all sorts of thoughts, tips, and tricks that only locals would know to help you plan an amazing few days in San Francisco.
Read Next: 4 Days in San Francisco: A Complete City Guide from a Local
What to Do in San Francisco
There’s so much to do and see in San Francisco that you can’t possibly tackle it all in just a few days in the city. Here are some of our favorite things to do.
- The Ferry Building Farmers Market: If you happen to be in town on a Saturday morning, make sure to stop at the Ferry Building for the best farmers market in the city. And if it’s not Saturday, it’s still worth a stop. Inside the Ferry Building, head to Dandelion Chocolate, Heath Ceramics, Blue Bottle Coffee, Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream, and Cowgirl Creamery.
- Hike Lands End: The four mile urban hike from Ocean Beach around the point called Lands End to the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the best in the country. You’ll have views of the Golden Gate Bridge in front of you the entire way through.
- Explore Golden Gate Park: Golden Gate Park, which runs from the center of the city out to the western edge along the ocean, is massive. There’s a ton of things to do and see – our favorites would be the Academy of Sciences (go on Thursday nights for an adult-only party at Nightlife!), the Botanical Garden in the spring and early summer, and the Japanese Tea Garden. The De Young (an art museum) and the bison paddock are also worth a visit.
- Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge: Did you know you can walk across this California icon? The only problem is that about 70% of the time it’s foggy, windy, and cold. And it can change on a dime. If you happen to be in town on one of the nice days – usually in early fall – it’s an unforgettable experience.
- Picnic at Dolores Park: Dolores Park in the Mission neighborhood is one of our favorites, along with just about every San Francisco resident. It’s home to the best people-watching in the city, and a nice view of downtown San Francisco from the southwestern edge on the hill. Grab picnic supplies from Bi-Rite Market nearby, or just head to Tartine Bakery (not gluten free) and Bi-Rite ice cream for a treat to enjoy at the park.
Wait, where’s Fisherman’s Wharf on this list? It’s super touristy, and kind of overrated and boring in general. Sure, it’s cool to see the sea lions at Pier 39, but we think you can find better things to do with your time in San Francisco. If you must, head there to check out the sea lions, grab chowder and a bread bowl at Boudin’s Bakery (DEF NOT GLUTEN FREE), and move on.
Where to Eat and Drink in San Francisco
Here are our favorite places to eat in San Francisco, a city full of amazing food spots.
- Tony’s Pizza: Award-winning Neapolitan pizza, with a perpetual long line and gluten free pizza. Put your name in and head to nearby 15 Romolo for cocktails while you wait.
- Nopalito: Awesome Mexican food – including plenty of gluten free options – and a great list of cocktails and mezcal. The totopos con chile are magical.
- Burma Love: Ever had Burmese food? We hadn’t. This is the Mission neighborhood location of Burma Superstar, which was right near my house when I first moved to San Francisco, and introduced me to the wide world of delicious Burmese food that I didn’t know I had been missing.
- Firefly SF: Cozy little date night spot (with gluten free options) in Noe Valley, which is a cute little neighborhood at the south end of the Mission. Think candlelit dinner with fried chicken. Yum.
- ROAM Burger: One of our favorite fast-casual burger joints ever. They have locations on Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights, and in the Marina.
- Alysha screams for ice cream! The two best spots to get ice cream in San Francisco are Bi-Rite Ice Cream and Humphrey Slocombe. Also, if you happened to miss trying Salt & Straw in Portland, you must make it to one of their San Francisco locations before you wrap up your trip.
And our favorite spots to drink, whether you’re looking for a flight of craft beer or a $20 cocktail (we’re joking… kind of).
- For fancy cocktails: First and foremost is Bourbon and Branch (and Wilson & Wilson), the ultimate speakeasy cocktail experience that involves a secret password and knocking on an unmarked door. You need a reservation. Other great spots would be ABV, Trick Dog, or Pacific Cocktail Haven.
- Fun tiki bars: Pagan Idol, Smuggler’s Cove, or the Tonga Room.
- For beer: Monk’s Kettle in the Mission (they also have a great cider selection), 21st Amendment, and Anchor Brewing (they have a cool brewery tour too). Here’s a guide to SF’s best breweries.
- For cider: There’s only one choice, and it’s Upcider, which is a few blocks from where we used to live and is one of our favorite spots in San Francisco.
Read Next: A Local’s Guide to the Best Gluten Free Restaurants in San Francisco
Where to Stay in San Francisco
We have a whole guide on the best places to stay in San Francisco that is well worth a read if you’re looking for more detail from people who ACTUALLY lived in the city for almost a decade.
Here is a quick rundown of our favorite areas and places to stay.
Overall, we think you should choose either the Mission District or Hayes Valley if you have a car. Parking is a nightmare in Nob Hill, which is the neighborhood we used to call home, so I’d recommend avoiding that area.
You should also know going in that San Francisco is generally an expensive place to visit – expect to pay over $100 a night to stay in the city, and usually much more than that. San Francisco hotels are surprisingly expensive considering how many of them there are. Our favorites would be Beck’s Motor Lodge (close to the Mission) and Hotel Kabuki (in Japantown). Don’t miss our guide to the coolest hotels in San Francisco for more suggestions.
If you’re on a budget, check out the Found Hotel. It’s like the Society Hotel in Portland in that they have room options that have dorms and shared bathrooms so that you can save a little money in one of the most expensive cities in the country. It’s in Union Square, which honestly kinda sucks, but it’s affordable and stylish.
More Time? Other Stops on the Drive from Seattle to San Francisco
If you have more time, here are some other places to stop along the way from Seattle to San Francisco.
Mt. Saint Helens (West Side)
The western side of Mt. Saint Helens provides some surreal views of this active volcano, as well as some intriguing natural formations. Here are our top three choices for adventures around Mt. Saint Helens.
- Johnston Ridge Observatory: Hiking up to this viewpoint will lend you views of the crater, lava dome, and blast zone of Mt. Saint Helens.
- Hike to Harry’s Ridge: This 8.2-mile hike provides extraordinary panoramic views of the side of Mt. Saint Helens that blew off during the catastrophic volcanic eruption in 1980. The picture above is from the top of the hike.
- Explore Coldwater Lake: This lake was created by the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980, making it incredibly unique to visit and see.
We wouldn’t recommend spending the night here – instead, continue south to Portland for the night, which is just a couple of hours south.
A somewhat sleepy, somewhat rowdy college town, home of the University of Oregon, Eugene is quirky, creative, and a fun weekend getaway from Portland. Here are some fun things to do in Eugene.
- Jazzy Ladies Cafe: 100% gluten free brunch – with chicken and waffles!
- Wildcraft Cider: Funky, no-sugar-added artisanal ciders in a rustic space with outdoor seating, which is particularly enjoyable in the summer.
- 5th Street Public Market: A cool collection of shops, including Pendleton blankets, to browse, along with food and drink vendors.
- Hike to Spencer Butte: It’s an easy 1.7 mile hike just outside of town with views over the surrounding valley.
Stay at the Graduate Hotel, a college-themed boutique hotel in the center of Eugene. You won’t regret it. Last time, we stayed at this Treehouse on Airbnb, which was also fantastic, but you probably want a hotel given you’ll only be in town for one night, and the Airbnb cleaning fee will make it more expensive.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes is a long peninsula just north of San Francisco with unforgettable views of the Pacific Ocean and unique wildlife viewing opportunities (Elk!). Here are our favorite things to do in Point Reyes National Seashore
- Hike to Tomales Point: If you want to get your fix of endless coastal views, then taking a hike to Tomales Point will definitely deliver. Also, keep your eye out for resident elk. On our last visit we also spotted coyotes and a fox!
- Explore the town of Point Reyes: The small coastal town of Point Reyes Station is a charming place to visit. While there, don’t miss Bovine Bakery (definitely not gluten-free!) and Cowgirl Creamery (book a tour in advance or just grab some cheese to go).
- Drive to Limantour Beach and Drakes Beach: Limantour Beach has trails through wetlands and sprawling views of towering cliffs. Drakes Beach is a remote beach that offers scenic views on unusual land formations that are worth seeing.
- Oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co: If you want to enjoy fresh oysters caught right nearby in Tomales Bay, then head over to Hog Island Oyster Co.
- Heidrun Meadery: Try a glass or tasting of mead, which is fermented from honey from local bees, at Heidrun. It is dry and bubbly like champagne, just how we like it.
There you have it – a complete guide to planning a road trip from Seattle to San Francisco.
Want more awesome west coast travel guides to inspire your next trip, and empower you with all the information you need to plan it? Here are some of our favorites.
Hi, first of all thank you so so much for this amazing post. We’re going to California in mid October, and thought since we’re already flying in from outside US, maybe we should do our long wished-for seattle-SF trip. However a bit unsure about the timing, how is it in mid October there? What’s the weather like and is there any concerns doing it that late? (we’re probably gonna do a 10-14 day trip).
Thank you again.
Hey Pontus! So sorry for the late reply – I totally missed this. Hopefully you’ve found the answer you needed elsewhere, but for anyone else wondering what the weather is going to be like in mid-October, you’re likely going to get some great fall color, though the weather could be more unpredictable, with rain or even snow. It totally depends on the year. Still, totally doable in October. Early November is when the weather really starts to turn.
Came across this article and this looks amazing.
I was planning a similar trip and I think I’m just going to follow your itinerary to a T!
I did have a concern though, I’m likely doing 2 weeks from October 28th to Nov 11th 2022. How’s the weather like for a Road Trip and visiting alot of these spots then? Would it be too cold in Washington/Oregon?
Thanks in advance!
As you get into November, it’s going to get more unpredictable. You might end up with more rain and snow, which isn’t necessarily a deal breaker if you’re prepared for it (pack a good rain jacket and waterproof shoes / boots!).
I’d start in Washington and move south in hopes that you get the last pieces of good weather in the Northwest, but it’s hard to say what you’re going to get at that time of year.
Oh! And roads at Mount Rainier NP close sometime in early November, which is another reason to start in Washington if you’re planning on going to Rainier.