Seattle to San Francisco road trip is one of the best ways to explore three different states while traveling through various climate zones. From the cold and foggy State of Washington to sunny California – this almost 1000-mile road trip offers many exciting ways to explore the West Coast and its natural beauty.
Seattle to San Francisco drive time is approximately 13 hours, driving distance from Seattle to San Francisco is around 800 miles via direct highway. However, our proposed itinerary has been designed to enable visiting all the cool attractions along the way, especially small charming towns along the coastline. By the way, if you enjoy road trips, have a look at our 2-day Route 66 Las Vegas to Grand Canyon itinerary.
The proposed itinerary for 7-day Seattle to San Francisco road trip
Day 1 Mount Rainier National Park, WA
Day 2 Portland, OR
Day 3 Tillamook, OR and Three Capes Scenic Drive
Day 4 Newport and Yachats, OR
Day 5 Toketee Falls and Crater Lake, OR
Day 6 Crescent City and Redwoods National Park, OR
Day 7 Avenue of the Giants and Mendocino, CA
Day 1 of scenic drive from Seattle to San Francisco – Mount Rainier National Park
Visiting Mount Rainier National Park is optional but very much advisable, especially in summer. Mount Rainier National Park is one of the most spectacular national parks in Washington, with stunning Mount Rainier being the highlight of this park.
Start off early and head to the park before everyone else arrives. Paradise is located just 2h 30 min from Seattle and is a great base for a day hike in the mountains. The trails starting in Paradise intersect with several waterfalls along the way.
Skyline Trail is one of the best day hikes from Paradise. It can be done in 3-5 hours, depending on your skills and physical shape. If you don’t feel like walking so much, you can easily hike just the part of the trail, for example up until Panorama Point. It is recommended to wear boots, but you will be fine with sneakers too. There is a good chance to see lots of wildlife, including marmots and bears! Of course, you will be rewarded with magnificent views of Mt. Rainier throughout your hike. TIP: hike counter-clockwise, this way you will meet fewer crowds along the way.
Once you are finished with the hike, relax and have lunch at Paradise Inn lunch room. For more information about local wildlife, visit Wilderness Information Center as well as Henry M Jackson Visitor Center. Hit the road and head south to Portland for the next fun day.
Day 2 Portland
Portland is the largest city in Oregon. The city is known for being eco-friendly with numerous parks, bike paths, and outdoor areas. Due to many cold months, Portland has great coffee culture as well as numerous microbreweries. We recommend spending one full day here, so book 2 nights.
Where to stay in Portland?
If you are looking for centrally located hotels, we recommend looking into The Society Hotel 3* or Washington Plaza – Portland. Otherwise, Evergreen Inn & Suites Portland offer good rates, although you might have to drive in order to see the main attractions. SureStay Hotel by Best Western Portland City Center is a good deal in terms of price and location (only 2 km from the city center).
Things to do in Portland
When it comes to visiting museums, everyone’s taste is different. Therefore, we will list the 3 best museums and let you decide which one you’d like to visit first thing in the morning.
Portland Art Museum is one of the oldest art museums on the west coast with a large collection of Native American and Asian art.
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry – science and technology museum features large-screen theatre, planetarium, and exhibition halls with a variety of hands-on permanent exhibits. We highly recommend taking the submarine tour. This museum is especially great for families with kids.
Oregon Maritime Museum gives you a chance to visit historic steam-powered sternwheel ship-assist tugboat. Guided tours take you through the entire boat and tell you about its past.
Lunch at Mother’s Bistro & Bar
With its varied menu and lots to choose from for any taste, Mother’s Bistro & Bar is a perfect place for a tasty lunch or dinner while in Portland. All the portions are very generous so you can split starters and dessert. French press coffee and Belgian waffles will melt in your mouth!
Walk in a park in Portland
Japanese Garden in Portland is believed to be the most authentic Japanese Garden outside of Japan! If you enjoy quiet walks and being alone with nature, this park may be for you! Make sure to join free tours offered several times daily.
Washington Park is highly rated among both locals and visitors – A great retreat in a busy city. Make sure to check out the rose garden if it’s open and the Zoo. Once you are done walking, head back to the city for a dinner and finish the day in Portland at one of the numerous restaurants.
Day 3 Tillamook, Oregon
Try to make an early start, as today we are driving west, towards the ocean. Long road trips can get boring, so consider printing out these 100 fun Questions for a Road trip. The small-town Tillamook is a spectacular stop on our Seattle to San Francisco road trip and the starting point of the seaside route. However, there are things to do and to explore in Tillamook itself!
Tillamook cheese factory
Tillamook cheese factory, or creamery, is a must-stop for all fans of a farmer and natural dairy products! Visit the creamery to find out why their products are so delicious, peek inside the making and packing of the cheese and finally taste the samples. If cheese alone doesn’t satisfy your appetite, have a look at the ice cream counter, taste wood fire pizza or local yogurt.
Tillamook Naval Air Museum
Another museum worth visiting in Tillamook is the Naval Air Museum. Housed in a former US Navy blimp hangar, built in 1942. The museum used to be one of the top US private World War II aircraft collections. However, most of the aircraft were moved to other museums over the years, leaving a modest collection of 25 airplanes. The place is not a must-visit unless you are an aviation fan.
Three Arch Rocks
After the tour and quick cheese bites, head to Oceanside to admire the scenic Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge – three large and six small rocky islands located about a half-mile offshore. Despite its small size, the place is known as the home of the largest colony of breeding tufted puffins, the largest common murre colony south of Alaska and pupping site for the threatened Steller sea lion.
Have lunch at one of Oceanside cafes before you continue to the next adventure – Three Capes Scenic Drive.
Three Capes Scenic Drive
The Three Capes Scenic Drive takes us south from Oceanside on our drive from Seattle to San Francisco on 101. Drive past Netarts all the way to Cape Lookout. There is a possibility to hike to the tip of the cape but bear in mind it is an almost 5-mile hike! If you are not up for the challenge, consider stopping at Cape Lookout Viewpoint for some great photos of the ocean.
Cape Kiwanda is our next stop, with its beautiful dunes and rocks. Take your time and enjoy the waves crashing into the rocks. This is a great beach to watch the sunset! Spend the night in Pacific city or drive further south to Lincoln City (23 miles) for more affordable options, such as America’s Best Inn Lincoln City 3* or Westshore Oceanfront 3*.
Day 4 Newport, Oregon
Newport is a great mix of attractions, interesting museums, seaside beauty, and delicious food. Before we head to Newport, there is an interesting stop along the way that you should visit – Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area.
Devils Punchbowl is a rock formation in the shape of a bowl that roars when the waves enter it and crash into rocks (especially during winter storms). The place is perfect for whale watching and great photo opportunities.
Newport Historic Bayfront
The so-called old town, the heart of Newport, almost Victorian docking area. Historic Bayfront is a must-visit for shopping, strolling through the streets, sea lion watching and of course, amazing seafood! Tip – go to Mo’s Seafood and Chowder for the best crab in town!
Oregon Coast Aquarium
Get close to harbor seals, sea lions, seabirds, sharks, turtles in this amazing, 25-year-old aquarium. The best thing is that you can get in the water accompanied by professional divers to get an even closer look. However, please note that if you are interested in seeing seals, there is a good opportunity to spot them at low tide at the Yaquina bay tide pools. Sea lions can be spotted at the docks, too.
Yachats, Oregon – perfect stop along the Seattle to San Francisco via 101
Yachats’ other name is the gem of the Oregon coast, and there is a good reason for that. Yachats shore is rough and rugged shores due to volcano lava flows forming black basalt rock. Visit the Cape Perpetua for scenic views of the ocean. If you are up for a short hike, head to Ya’Xaik Trail (1.15 mile long). The trail is well maintained and quite easy.
Depending on how many days you have at hand for your Seattle to San Francisco road trip itinerary, there is an interesting detour option to spend the night in Eugene, Oregon and explore Toketee Falls / Crater Lake the next day. If you can’t afford to lose one day getting off the coastal route (in case you are doing Seattle to San Francisco road trip 5 days), simply skip the two below stops and head straight to Crescent City, Oregon.
Day 5 Toketee Falls / Crater Lake
Make an early start for a roughly 2-hour drive to Toketee Falls. Visiting the Falls requires a 1.3 km hike, including some stairs to climb. Once you have taken the pictures, continue your trip to Crater lake (another 2-hour drive). The lake was formed in a 2,148-foot (655 m) deep caldera around 7,700 years ago and is only filled with snow and rainfall.
Crater lake is the deepest lake in the United States – 594m at its deepest point. Fun fact: Oregon residents, who wish to support Crater Lake national park, can order Crater lake license plates for their vehicles at some extra fee!
There is a circular road going around the lake, so you can drive to various Overlook points and take memorable photos. If you get hungry, Rim Village Café will offer hot drinks and snacks. Try to leave early, as there will be a 4-hour journey to Crescent City – our final stop for the day. As usual, here are some budget-friendly options, for example, Pacific Inn. Slightly better one: Best Western Plus Northwoods Inn 3*.
Day 6 Crescent City / Redwoods National Park
Crescent City is all about outdoors and nature activities. No wonder – there are so many great options to choose from – scenic beaches, hikes among giant redwoods, fishing, surfing, horseback riding, whale watching. We recommend spending the time at the Redwoods National Park – the most famous local attraction and home of the world’s tallest trees.
In the morning, head to Stout Grove – loop trail that shows you some of the best tall redwood trees the Jedidiah Smith State Park has to offer. The trail is very easy and quite short, so be there early before everyone else arrives.
Lady Bird Johnson Grove is a must-see spot if you have limited time. This 1200 feet above sea level trail is often “in the clouds” but nevertheless very scenic and bright! On your way back to the coast, visit Kuchel Visitor Center for very detailed information about redwoods and nice exhibits as well as meet knowledgeable rangers.
Once you have satisfied your curiosity, have lunch and continue your southbound journey to Klamath Tour Thru Tree – massive redwood tree with a drive-thru tunnel carved out of its trunk. The best part about the Redwoods National Park is the possibility to drive through the park rather than taking long walks. Enjoy the ride all the way until you reach our next stop – Eureka, CA.
If it’s not too late, have a look at Carson Mansion. The beautiful Victorian Mansion has a haunted house look. Sadly, it’s a private club so visitors are not allowed inside but good photo ops are just in front of the building. Spend the rest of the day exploring the old town for more classic architecture or visit Sequoia Park Zoo.
When you get hungry, have a look at Sea Grill for a wide selection of premium seafood, Brick & Fire for wood-fired oven pizzas or Humboldt Smokehouse for delicious BBQ. Spend the night in one of Eureka’s cozy guesthouses, such as Rodeway Inn Humboldt Bay, Clarion Hotel By Humboldt Bay 3* or Red Lion Hotel Eureka 3*.
Day 7 of the drive from Seattle to San Francisco along the coast – Avenue of the Giants
Today is the final day of our trip – the day we cross the Golden Gate Bridge into The City by the Bay. However, there is an almost 5-hour journey before we reach city borders.
Avenue of the Giants is a 31-mile portion of old Highway 101 running through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We have already seen many redwoods along the way, so this time it is totally up to you whether you’d like to make many stops or simply drive through.
For all wine lovers, there is a fantastic stop along the way – Briceland Vineyards Winery. Make a short detour to meet friendly owners and taste their wines while being educated about each wine and how to drink them.
Keep driving south until you reach Fort Bragg. This place is particularly known for its Glass beach which is sadly almost gone due to numerous visitors taking pieces of this beach back home with them. For more sea glass you may want to visit the Sea Glass Museum.
Pay a visit to Point Arena Lighthouse dating back to 1908 and enjoy the view of the rugged coastline. Mendocino is designated as a Historic Preservation District with lots of historic mansions and other attractions as well as homely diners and cute inns. Take your time and have lunch, as we are about to take a long ride straight to Golden Gate viewpoint – a must-see stop just before the sunset!
Settle in for the night, as we have a full day to explore this beautiful city tomorrow! San Francisco is not a cheap city, so picking a nice and budget-friendly place to stay me be difficult. Tip: Good hotels for the relatively acceptable price can be found near the International Airport, for example, Hotel 1550 – SFO Airport West and Bayhill Inn.
Staying near the airport has some advantages – you can return the rental car at the airport and visit all SF attractions via Uber or public transport AND you will be staying close to the Airport for your return flight.
Top 5 Things to do in San Francisco
Spend a fun day exploring the neighborhood, watch the fishermen unload their catch and sample fresh seafood at one of the numerous waterfront restaurants. If all of this sounds too familiar (didn’t we already see those things in Newport, Oregon?), then simply enjoy the San Francisco vibe, buy some local souvenirs or plan your next adventure.
Catch a ferry from Pier 33 to what once was the most secure prison on the west coast! The Alcatraz Island served as a military fortification and a lighthouse before it was turned into a prison. some of the most notorious criminals spent their time here. Today, this is an open museum, and anybody can come and visit.
San Francisco Cable Car
The best way to experience a true San Francisco is by taking a local cable car – he world’s last manually operated cable car system! Beware that the line to get on one of those can reach up to 2 hours!
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is like New York Central Park but is 20% larger. This park is a perfect getaway from the busy city streets. Renting a bike will be a good idea as the park is huge!
SF Chinatown is one of the best areas for walking around. Enjoy the colorful streets, shops and traditional restaurants, find out how the fortune cookies are made and shop for unusual souvenirs.
Are you interested in doing another road trip from San Francisco? Get some ideas from our USA West Coast Road Trip.