pacific coast 101
June 13, 2009 4:02 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are going on a road trip in about a week along the Pacific Coast Highway (101) from San Francisco to Seattle. What are some not-to-miss places along the way?

We have three and a half days to get from San Francisco to Seattle. I realize we may not be able to drive along the entire length of the highway and keep to that time schedule, but I'd like to know both great spots to check out along the way, and prettiest stretches of the highway so I can plan a route.

My wife and I both love nature and national parks, forests, caves, and the like, and had planned on seeing a lot of that (including hopefully Redwood National Forest) along the way. I'm realizing now, in my web searching, that there is quite a lot to choose from as far as places to visit along the way, so suggestions would be very welcome!
posted by i less than three nsima to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Hearst Castle is a must.
posted by cameronfromedinburgh at 4:24 AM on June 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

One touristy place I always used to love going to as a kid and even as recently as last summer the Sea Lion Caves. It's right on 101, hard to miss.
posted by mediocre at 4:34 AM on June 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Why 101 and not 1? It was years ago, but we really enjoyed Red Rock Beach (near SF) and St. Orres Inn in Gualala, the lighthouses, etc. Note: Hearst Castle is on the road to LA.
posted by RichardS at 4:45 AM on June 13, 2009

Sea Lion Caves!

Yakina Head Lighthouse!

The tidepools at Cape Perpetua, and the view from atop it.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:04 AM on June 13, 2009

I just did this exact trip about 3 years ago - it is great you will love it.

Highlights for me were Hearst Castle was the best.
Also Redwood Nat'l Park is just incredible. Do some hiking there, it is awesome.
Next I would say Big Sur. I particularly liked the waterfall a Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park.

posted by Flood at 5:34 AM on June 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't think the West Coasters have woken up yet. Pending relevant suggestions, I'm going to favorite this question in the meantime.
posted by Monstrous Moonshine at 5:55 AM on June 13, 2009

Best answer: +1 to hikes in the redwoods. There are actually several state and national parks in the area, not just Redwood National Park. The last time I was out that way, I enjoyed a hike at Fern Canyon and at Lady Bird Johnson Grove. Of course, there are many, many hikes of varying degrees of difficulty and remoteness, and I found rangers at the visitor centers to be very helpful.

Avenue of the Giants is an amazingly scenic bypass off of 101 just a little south of Eureka, CA.

There's also an interesting lighthouse in Crescent City, CA. Not much else of interest in that town, though.
posted by timing at 7:17 AM on June 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

You're not going to hit Hearst Castle, Santa Cruz Boardwalk, or Big Sur heading north from San Francisco. Those are all south.

I'm barely awake, so I need to think a bit more before offering any good suggestions on what to see...
posted by JenMarie at 7:19 AM on June 13, 2009

from San Francisco to Seattle.

seconding JenMarie's clarification that this is a journey NORTH from SF.

One thing I think you'll find once you're in Oregon is that the drive itself is its own reward. Open ocean, beaches, cliffs - just don't forget to turn occasionally.

Also, it's been many years since I was there but Lincoln City used to be a pretty cheap place to stay the night ... and that's a room right on the beach.
posted by philip-random at 7:41 AM on June 13, 2009

Cannon Beach, Oregon.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:09 AM on June 13, 2009

If you have time, the Lost Coast region is wonderful. The dirt roads through the forest from Briceland to Honeydew are magic, or failing that drive Mattole Road (not dirt, but slow) west from Humboldt Redwoods SP out by Cape Mendocino and north up to Fernbridge.
posted by anadem at 8:14 AM on June 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

I just did this drive. Well, most of it: I cut over early to highway 1 to go to Mendocino, CA and went back inland in Newport, OR. It's beautiful. The Northern California portion is nearly empty, very wild. It's more developed in Oregon. You're talking about 950 miles in three days, which is a lot for a vacation but comfortably doable. Most of 101 itself is pretty easy driving, particularly once you get to Oregon. I don't particularly recommend CA-128 to the coast or Highway 1 unless you have a lot of time, the roads are narrow and twisty. But beautiful, and Mendocino is a great little town.

One fun thing to do on the 101 drive in California is the byway of Avenue of the Giants. Easy way to get into the redwoods a bit while still mostly just driving through. Much better to spend at least an hour hiking in the forest, of course, and there are plenty of options along the way in California.

Oregon has a zillion coastal parks: open beaches, forest walks, tide pools, etc. Cape Perpetua is one of the more scenic. The Oregon Sand Dunes parks are very famous. I've never been in, but driving by it seemed the main attraction was driving an ATV around. If you want to see several Oregon parks there's a variety of passes you can buy for broad access, but if you only have three days it's not much.

For towns as places to stop for the night, or eat.. Eureka, CA is a shithole. Arcata, CA is a little nicer, I stayed there, but the downtown has been overrun by crusty hippies and the Arcata Hotel is a bit dumpier than I'd hoped. Crescent City, CA looked better than I expected, I may go back there some day. Gold Beach OR, Bandon OR, and Florence OR are all big enough to offer various dining and hotel options. Coos Bay, OR has no charm, big industrial town, but it's like a mini Bay Area around there with lots of water recreation. Newport, OR is a nice little summer beach community, if you like books and stuff the Sylvia Beach Hotel was wonderfuly quirky and communal, I had a great dinner and a nice overnight.

I can't really help you north of Newport, although I have fond earlier memories of Lincoln City, Manzanita, Cannon Beach, and Seaside. I also want to explore Astoria, OR some day; some interesting history there.
posted by Nelson at 8:45 AM on June 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Hey, my family and I are driving the same route right now (I'm writing this from a hotel in Coos Bay, Oregon). Came in here to second Avenue of the Giants, as well as the other scenic alternate north of Eureka in Redwood National Park. Make sure to obey all speed limits in Oregon (30 mph in most beach towns), and do watch out for elks (we saw a ton, several on the road, too). Driving up 101 is a pleasure by itself. If you are renting a car for the one-way trip, I highly recommend getting something low and sporty for maximum fun: lots of sharp curves and hills. And the elks.
posted by halogen at 9:12 AM on June 13, 2009

If roadside kitsch is your thing, the Trees of Mystery in Klamath, CA, and Prehistoric Gardens in Port Orford, OR are must-sees. I had fond memories of them as a child and enjoyed visiting them again as an adult.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 10:16 AM on June 13, 2009

manzanita and cannon beach - seaside is fun if you skip the other 2 and just want sort of a touristy, beachy sort of day. but cannon beach and manzanita are far prettier.
posted by nadawi at 12:30 PM on June 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

oh - and a timed drive + 101 + summer - remember that the roads are LOUSY with RVs and people who don't know how to drive them.
posted by nadawi at 12:32 PM on June 13, 2009

I'll second Fern Canyon and the Lost Coast (if you're on a tight scale you should skip the Lost Coast until you have more time to really enjoy it). Gold Bluffs Beach (Fern Canyon) has excellent campsites with flushing bathrooms and showers.
posted by wherever, whatever at 1:31 PM on June 13, 2009

Best answer: I'll second the Sea Lion Caves (smelly and loud but awesome) and, if you like roadside attractions, the Prehistoric Gardens (colorful dinosaur statues in a small rainforest).

Also, the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport is a large, wonderful, well-kept-up aquarium; I like its current exhibition, "Oddwater." It has an AAA discount. (It's much better than the Seaside Aquarium in Seaside, Oregon, which is tiny and dark and dank, though there you can feed seals if you'd like.) Also right off 101 is the Tillamook Cheese Factory, a cheerfully decadent tourist stop where you can get a free factory tour and purchase various cheese blocks and ice-cream cones.

Cannon Beach and Astoria are nice beach towns too. Enjoy the trip!
posted by lisa g at 2:57 PM on June 13, 2009

(I meant to say "coastal towns" rather than "beach towns" -- Cannon Beach is a beach town, but Astoria isn't. It's more of an historic small riverfront city.)
posted by lisa g at 3:02 PM on June 13, 2009

Does your drive up the 101 include going around the Washington Coast, to Port Townsend, then taking SR20 and then the I-5 to Seattle? Because then I would recommend a stop at Kalaloch and its wonderful beaches. Sea stacks. Beautiful coves.

visit Forks and La Push if you are into Twilight, these locations and surroundings are very well described in the series of books

And don't forget the Olympic forest. Stop at the lodge at Lake Crescent as well.
posted by seawallrunner at 3:14 PM on June 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Chiming in for many of the Oregon sites. Near Florence, OR, go to Honeyman State Park for sand dunes. I LOVE the sand dunes, not for ATVs (yech :P) but for running down (it's kind of like flying...if you're a kid). Also cool, because the current large sand dune is covering the restroom from the 1960s park. IMO, Sea Lion Caves is good if you've never seen many sea lions before, but otherwise, very touristy and skippable. North from Florence, you can visit the Heceta Head Lighthouse. It's beautiful, still has one of the keeper's houses (now a B&B), and there are tours! Slightly north is Cape Perpetua, which is probably the top thing I would recommend since you have limited time. You can hike to the top of the overlook if you're feeling ambitious, but mostly people drive. After enjoying the view (if it's clear, you can see Heceta Head), walk around the top to get to the stone shelter built by the CCC during the Depression and used as a lookout during WWII. Another attraction here is the Giant Spruce, which you can get to from the Cape Perpetua campground. Finally, hike down to the ocean to Devil's Churn. Yachats is just north, and is an adorable coastal town. This is my favorite section of coast, but Newport is also nice, and the Newport Aquarium is very fun. Also in Newport is the Hatfield Marine Science Center. It's associated with Oregon State University and has several very good, informative exhibits.

Aaah, I think my love of Oregon is showing... One last suggestion: Eat at Mo's. Pretty solid seafood (though I'm sure you can find better), but decently-priced, and awesome chowder. Oh how I miss it. Locations in many of the seaside towns in Oregon.
posted by dormouse at 4:31 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you're into beach combing: Glass Beach in Ft. Bragg is a must-stop. Ft. Bragg/Mendocino would be a good first night's stop. Bonus points: MendoBistro in Ft. Bragg is a very good restaurant that's only a little bit expensive, not crazy-expensive, like most other Mendocino restaurants.

And there's a very good agate beach in Crescent City.

Seconding the aquarium in Newport. They have puffins!
posted by mudpuppie at 10:52 AM on June 15, 2009

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