What's worth seeing between San Francisco and Portland?
May 9, 2011 7:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm taking a week-long vacation with my significant other wherein we drive from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon (or possibly vice versa). The only place on the west coast I've been is Los Angeles. What must we see in that week-long trip?

This includes attractions in both SF and Portland. My only real list is that I would like to see the Monterey Bay Aquarium and if I can fit it, I'd like to go to 826 Valencia / Pirate Supply Store. I know very little about Portland, but it looks like a handsome city.

We both enjoy interesting museums, coffee shops, scenic vistas, restaurants. We prefer small towns to large and historical curiosities more than shiny prepackaged experiences.

Thanks for any help!
posted by TeslaNick to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Stop by Davis if you like small towns. It's about 15 minutes west of Sacramento toward San Francisco on 80. It's a college town with as many bikes as people. We have the bicycle hall of fame (along with a bike museum), but it is only open twice a week (during the farmer's market). Otherwise, you can peer in the windows and still see a fair number of bicycles. My favorite coffee shop in town is Delta of Venus. Many people also like Mishka's, but that's more of a homework place than a place to go be social. If you want to eat fancy deserts, there's Ciocolat. We have no scenic vistas, but we do have an impressive bicycle infrastructure and history. Here are some rides you can go on if you bring or borrow bikes. For restaurants, you'll have to check the Davis Wiki. Depending on when you're passing through town, I may have a couch if y'all need one.
posted by aniola at 7:37 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

What's your route? Jacksonville, OR is a darling little historic town with a sort of "old west" feel and a few excellent restaurants. It is home to a music festival called Britt Fest that features real, actual famous musicians.
posted by Knowyournuts at 7:44 AM on May 9, 2011

Monterey Bay Aquarium is about three hours south from San Francisco. It's well worth a visit, but it's the opposite direction from Portland.

If you do decide to go to MBA you should also visit the Mission San Juan Bautista. The mission and its environs take you back 150 years. You can do both the aquarium and the mission in a day trip from SF, but time your visit to San Juan to arrive at least an hour before the 5pm closing - maybe mission first then aquarium second.
posted by anadem at 8:04 AM on May 9, 2011

Big Sur. If you decide to stop there overnight, the Big Sur Lodge is lovely, or at least it was when I was there about a twelve years ago.

In Portland, Powells for books. Many, many books!
posted by Georgina at 8:14 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Avoid taking highway 5. It's fast, but for the most part it's not very pretty. Take highway 1, which will connect to highway 101 at Leggett, if you've got the time. Otherwise, take 101.

Detouring off the 101 and following coastal highway 1 means that you'll see some truly charming towns in Marin and Sonoma counties. It cuts through the Point Reyes National Seashore, which is some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet and home to excellent restaurants and artisan cheesemakers. I'd recommend it as a good place to stop for lunch or supplies.

There's a stretch of highway 101 that passes through some old growth redwoods. It's worth stopping the car in Humboldt County and exploring a little bit of the Avenue of the Giants. It's nice that there's no extra driving required if you plan on taking the coastal route.

Once you hit Oregon, there's a lot of scenery, but towns are widely spaced. Gold Beach is a good place to stop for the night, and if you've got the means, there's a really wonderful lodge a few miles inland from there - Tu Tu' Tun.

There are a number of bridges along Oregon's coast that span good-sized rivers and offer opportunities for photos or scenic stops. Humbug Mountain State Park is a pleasant little spot, warmer than just about anywhere on the Oregon portion of the drive. Get out and stretch there.

Stay on 101 through Tillamook. Buy more cheese there.

And yes, go to Powell's. And the rose test garden. Tromp around the Pearl District. Plan to eat a lot of delicious things. Have fun.
posted by Graygorey at 8:32 AM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Depending on when you go, you should go to Crater Lake. It's unreal.

Between SF and PDX are numerous breweries with brewpubs: Lagunitas, Bear Republic, North Coast, Mendocino Brewing Company, Anderson Valley Brewing....I know I'm forgetting a bunch; these are all in California.

For another scenic vista, drive up to the top of Conzelman Road in the Marin Headlands, overlooking the Golden Gate. If there's no fog, that is. Have fun!
posted by rtha at 8:54 AM on May 9, 2011

Take time to explore Northern California - visit Redwoods National Park, camp in the redwoods right next to the beach, visit the Plaza in Arcata, take a dip in the rivers. Then in Oregon, head up the Columbia River Gorge and check out all the waterfalls and gorges there. Check out Alberta St. in Portland and the Grilled Cheese Grill, host to the world's best schoolbus mural ever.
posted by speedgraphic at 9:09 AM on May 9, 2011

My favorite coffee place in Portland (there are about a million) is Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Be sure to stop by Potato Champion to get some poutine.

I hear Ashland is really nice, and depending on when you're going there's the famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 9:24 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

There really aren't a lot of "shiny prepackaged experiences" between San Francisco and Portland, though Mendocino in "wine walk" mode comes close. The 101/1 route will get you more towns, food and scenery, while Highway 5 will take you to Mt. Shasta, which has aliens living inside of it.
posted by rhizome at 9:54 AM on May 9, 2011

Trying staying at a McMenamin's. They've taken historical buildings and turned them into funky hotels with movie theaters, disc golf courses, galleries and brewpubs. Several locations in oregon and washington, including Bend, a great town in its own right.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:22 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, be aware that you can't pump your own gas in Oregon.
posted by Graygorey at 10:29 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Eureka is a fun town, and the Lost Coast Brewery is a very friendly hangout. Say hi to Jenny and ask about her tattoos!
posted by Chris4d at 10:53 AM on May 9, 2011

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is definitely worth seeing, but as anadem pointed out, it's a 3-hour drive in the opposite direction from Portland. You'd spend at least a day and a half getting there and back and seeing the Aquarium. There's also a nice little aquarium in Newport, OR, which is on Highway 1, on the coast. They have puffins! If I were you, I'd save the Monterey Aquarium for a subsequent trip, when you can spend more time in the Monterey Bay area.

I'd suggest heading up 101 out of SF. At least until Santa Rosa, you'll have your choice of cutting over to coastal towns or heading inland to the wine country. (You'll be in Sonoma County.) From there, 101 heads up into Redwood Country/the Lost Coast/the North Coast. All are worth seeing. It's a long way from Point A to Point B up there because, besides 101, there aren't really any major highways. But the drives are gorgeous, and the little towns are too. Mendocino/Ft. Bragg, Eureka/Arcata, Redwood National Park, and the little town of Crescent City are all options before you leave CA. (Crescent City is a working-class town, and not at all touristy. There's not a lot to see there, but they have some great beaches, especially if you're interested in finding agates.)

You could then head up the Oregon Coast to Tillamook (the cheese factory tour is interesting) before heading over to Portland. Fun trip!
posted by mudpuppie at 2:50 PM on May 9, 2011

If you find yourselves on the 5:

My wife and I traditionally stop at a bizarrely named grocery store called Sherm's Thunderbird in Roseburg, OR. They have an ice cream stand with all of Umpqua Ice Cream's flavors. Four years ago, it was something like 3 scoops for $1.50... and 7 scoops on a single cone was maybe $3? :-)

You'll also pass the Rogue Creamery which has amazing bleu cheeses.

As for the coast, a stop by Haystack Rock is unreal and beautiful. In the summer they have biologists around to give impromptu tours; the rock is covered with knots of orange and maroon sea stars. Go midweek if possible.
posted by rouftop at 4:46 PM on May 9, 2011

Yeah, Monterey is in the wrong direction, but totally lovely. If you stay overnight, I highly recommend the Jabberwock Inn. It's fantastic, and walking distance to downtown. The innkeepers are great.

Even if you're not a golf fan, I would also recommend driving through the Pebble Beach golf course. The landscape is kind of weird, like if trees could grow on the moon. On an overcast day, it's spectacular.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:53 PM on May 9, 2011

Be aware that taking highway 1 up the coast will be a wandering drive, whereas interstate 5 is pretty straight but is a lot of flat and maybe uninteresting stretches. Though I live 'on the 5' in Redding, I would recommend the coastal drive for a fun tour. If you do come through Redding, check out the world famous Sundial Bridge. We also have a church designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Take a poke around Dunsmuir near Mt. Shasta, and if you have time there take a walk along the railroad tracks to spectacular Mossbrae Falls.

That three-year-old article about not being able to pump your own gas in Oregon is, I believe, now inaccurate.
posted by attercoppe at 7:10 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Repeating myself:
If you go up 101 (and you should - the redwoods are amazing), stop in Orick and visit The Palms for lunch and pie. Or just pie. Or pie for lunch, with a slice of pie.
There are lots of places to see redwoods along 101. (Muir Woods is lovely, but also full of tourists and kind of flat.) As mentioned above, Avenue of the Giants or Humboldt Redwoods State Park might be better bets, depending on your route.
posted by kristi at 10:51 AM on May 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all your awesome suggestions! I'm transcribing them to a list and cross checking with a map.
posted by TeslaNick at 7:01 AM on May 11, 2011

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