Help us fill in the blanks on our road trip from Seattle to San Francisco
July 25, 2011 10:28 AM   Subscribe

West Coast Road Trip! Mr. desjardins and I are flying into Seattle in early September, renting a car and driving to San Francisco. What do we do in between? We want places to stay and things to do. Amazing scenery is a priority.

We want to car camp most of the way and do some light hiking. We'd like to see the ocean AND the mountains and take lots of pictures. Recommendation for a kayak rental place would be great, too. mr. desjardins is very outdoorsy and can handle the backwoods. It's just me and him, no kids or pets.

I'd like to get a sense of Seattle and Portland, but we're not terribly interested in spending lots of time in cities; I've seen SF a bunch of times and done all the touristy things. I have never been to Washington or Oregon and the mr. has only been to Yakima. We've driven up Hwy 1 from SF to Fort Ross so we know what we're getting into as far as driving on the coast. What's the weather like that time of year? Bugs?

Here's our very loose itinerary. The only thing we've already booked is the airfare, so we're flexible on everything else:

Friday, September 2 - fly into SeaTac late at night, stay at hotel near airport
Saturday - pick up rental car, then spend the day in Seattle (doing what?). Camp somewhere in the general area?
Sunday - Might visit friends in Bremerton, drive to ??, camp
Monday (Labor Day) - camp somewhere??, drive to Portland?
Tuesday - Spend day in Portland (doing what?)
Wednesday - Leave Portland, drive to ??, camp
Thursday - camp ??
Friday - ??, drive to SF, stay in or near San Francisco
Saturday, September 10 - drop off rental car, fly back from San Francisco (SFO)
posted by desjardins to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
The obvious choice in Oregon would be Crater Lake; you'll have to go inland from I-5, but it's not too bad to hook back up with it in Weed. (Just a tip: if you do go to Crater Lake, make sure you do the drive from Klamath Falls to Weed during the day. I've done it at night, and it's terrifying, between the heavy truck traffic and the deer.)

From Weed, you can head down I-5 to Redding, then take Highway 299 out to Eureka on the coast. The one problem is that at that point you'll probably be spending all your time in the car, given your schedule. It'll be gorgeous, though.
posted by asterix at 10:44 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've done the drive from San Diego to Seattle a couple of times. I will caution you that trying to get to the mountains, the coast, and to the WA peninsula (Bremerton) may eat up a LOT of time. I also recall underestimating how much longer it would take to drive along the coast. It's windy and slow, so take that into account.

Seattle in one day: I'd go to Pike's Place Market first and load up on delicious local goodies for your car ride.

A few highlights for me:
* Once across the sound on your Bremerton adventure you'll find good kayaking places. Had a great day at Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park once. Sorry, can't remember the outfitter. That park is gorgeous, the Hoh Rain Forest especially so, but again we're talking 4 hours' drive from Seattle (and now you're far from highways too).
* Mt. Rainier
* Cannon Beach / Haystack Rock
* Crater Lake National Park
* Redwood State Park (near Crescent City, CA)

And for silly food things:
* Tillamook Cheese Factory
* Rogue Creamery off of I-5
* Getting a big cone of Umpua ice cream from Sherm's Thunderbird in Roseburg, OR (OK, we're kind of dairy nuts I guess)
posted by rouftop at 10:50 AM on July 25, 2011

If you can swing it, I recommend camping at Patrick's Point on Thursday. It'll take you ~7 hours to get to SF from there, but it's some of the most beautiful country in Humboldt County. Rugged coastlines + redwoods = breathtaking.
posted by smirkette at 10:52 AM on July 25, 2011


I'll third Crater Lake - that's a must-see for Oregon.
posted by Gori Girl at 10:53 AM on July 25, 2011

You don't need a car to explore seattle. Stay downtown and once you're done sightseeing, save a few bucks by picking up the rental downtown as opposed to the airport.

For me the "don't miss" are the Oregon Coast and N. California Redwoods.

Your schedule is tight with the city visits. I'd forgo Seattle for Portland.

You might try camping around Cougar, WA near Mt. St. Helens.

After Portland head to the coast on HWY 18.

Yachats is a great little town. Lots of camping on the OR coast.

Camp in N. California in Redwood NP or Redwood SP along the Avenue of the giants.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:54 AM on July 25, 2011

Getting a big cone of Umpua ice cream from Sherm's Thunderbird in Roseburg, OR (OK, we're kind of dairy nuts I guess)

!!! That's where I grew up and I stop at Sherm's for Umpqua ice cream every time I go back to visit. There's also a lot of really excellent hiking in the area--the Umpqua National Forest/North Umpqua Trail are great, though I guess I wouldn't say they're really must-see Oregon places.

Crater Lake is pretty amazing. If you stay on the coast somewhere, try to get down to a rocky beachy area at low tide to see the tide pools (anemones!). I think the last time we took a visitor sight-seeing on the coast, we went to Yachats (pronounced "Yaw-hots"), Sea Lion Caves, and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. We wanted to go to the cheese factory, too, but ran out of time.
posted by Vibrissa at 11:06 AM on July 25, 2011


If you decide to skip the Oregon coast (which, don't get me wrong, is beautiful, but if for some reason you did), then let me highly recommend driving east on 84 and then heading south on 97, if only so you can stop at various bits of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument; the Painted Hills unit is amazing, and Sheep Rock ain't nothing to sneeze at either.

Down the road apiece: Mt Shasta!

Also, see my comment here for links to local brewpubs from Ft Bragg to SF. If beer is your thing.

Weather should be awesome, at least once you get to CA - September here is our summer. There may be coastal fog, because what can you do, but it's the time of year least likely to be socked in all day every day. Bugs should not be a problem on the coast. (Different story at Crater Lake, where I was attacked by the biggest, meanest mosquitoes I've ever encountered. This was in a fairly sheltered parking area - getting out into the breeze helped).
posted by rtha at 11:17 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Oregon Coast is gorgeous (but can be crowded and have lots of traffic.)

Stop at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse.
posted by vespabelle at 11:31 AM on July 25, 2011

If you hit Portland on a clear day and don't mind a curvy drive that's a little off of your path go to the top of Larch Mountain. Directions. $5 to park there and walk the quarter mile or so to one of the best viewpoints I've seen anywhere. See six mountains, including the giant view of Mt. Hood. Look down into the Gorge. Don't climb the fences, the drop is considerable and deadly.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:46 AM on July 25, 2011

Your schedule is tight with the city visits. I'd forgo Seattle for Portland.

Second that. I grew up in Seattle, and it's home for me... but I still like Portland more. If you must be in that general area, consider Snoqualamie Falls. A drive out there will take you over the Evergreen Point Bridge.
posted by Hylas at 11:56 AM on July 25, 2011

Stop off in Forks? Fun if you're a Twlight fan. And if you're not, there's always mocking those who are... ;)

Definitely the Tillamook factory. And send me some of that horseradish cheddar! :3

Olympic National Park (WA) is great if you like tromping around the woods. You could spend a couple days just exploring there, easily. And the scenery is unforgettable.

and nthing Crater Lake.
posted by xedrik at 12:15 PM on July 25, 2011

Spots between Portland and SF covered in an earlier AskMe. I'd recommend the coastal route, and making sure that you detour off to see the Avenue of the Giants in northern California (an achievable drive from Portland that will leave you enough light to set up camp in the area Wednesday).

Sounds like you know what you're getting into with highway 1, but remember that this drive puts you on the outside lane and on the cliff's edge. There's a kayak rental place in Pt. Reyes Station that can outfit you and tell you where to go. It's on the main drag next to the service station. Alternately, if you feel like paddling arounbd Richardson Bay (less serene, but closer to civilization), SeaTrek's got a number of local trips available.

Turn right at the last exit before the Golden Gate and camp at Fort Cronkhite. It may be a little windy, but the views are spectacular.
posted by Graygorey at 12:22 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you're interested in wine, you could drive to Portland via Prosser and tour some wineries in that general area. Then from there, drive through the Columbia Gorge to Portland.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 12:27 PM on July 25, 2011

I've gone between WA & CA about a zillion times, although not in a while. Hwy 1 is MADNESS but gorgeous; 101 will get you a lot of the nice scenery without the crazy roads.
posted by epersonae at 12:31 PM on July 25, 2011

Reading comprehension fail, just saw that you've already done that stretch.

Also, early September in WA/OR is usually gorgeous, some mosquitoes depending on where you go. We often take a mini-vacation locally around that time of year.
posted by epersonae at 12:35 PM on July 25, 2011

We've had a nice time at Battle Ground Lake state park, not far north of Portland.
posted by epersonae at 12:42 PM on July 25, 2011

I'd recommend spending most of a day visiting Mt St Helens on the way down from Seattle to Portland. It's an absolutely beautiful drive on an excellent road from I5, and there's as much hiking as you want from the visitor center at the end of the road overlooking the blast zone.

Then dinner in Portland, and camping either in the Columbia River Gorge, or around Scappoose, which is a small country town on the Columbia River about 30 minutes drive west of Portland. There is a kayak rental place there that I've used before. You can spend a leisurely morning paddling on the Columbia, before going back to Portland. (Book now if you want to camp in the Gorge on Labor Day weekend.)
posted by monotreme at 12:52 PM on July 25, 2011

Crater Lake is pretty amazing.
But to me, the most amazing thing on your route is Redwood National Park.
posted by Flood at 12:54 PM on July 25, 2011

If you end up on Interstate 5 at the Oregon-California border, the Columbia Hotel in Ashland is a gem. You could fit in a play at the unique and outstanding Shakespeare Festival.
posted by Danf at 1:20 PM on July 25, 2011

My favorite thing in downtown Seattle is the Crumpet Shoppe. It's near the entrance to the Pike Place Market, which you should see anyway, and is near the museum, the Science Center, Pioneer Square and all that crap as well. If you go there, tell them that Kele says 'hi'.

The REI in Seattle has a massive indoor climbing wall which is free for members, and there's a cute little structure near Husky Stadium for bouldering around on as well. It's also free. Plenty of places to rent kayaks near the university as well. Gasworks Park near Fremont has lovely views of the city, a giant sundial on top of a hill (For which you are the needle. It's fun), and hosts free shows in the summer. If you like Indian food, check out Cedar's on 50th and Brooklyn in the University District. That place is divine.

If you're headed over to Bremerton, you might want to consider just hugging the coast all the way down. Roosevelt Beach on the Olympic Peninsula is pretty neat (there's a decommissioned Navy base over there that has turned into some sort of kite-flying nirvana. Go figure), and the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic national Park is worth a look, too.

On the Oregon Coast Bandon, Coos Bay, and places like that are very picturesque, and you'll have a few lighthouses to amble about should you choose to do so. You should shoot in to check out Portland, though. Cute town with lot's of fun places to check out. Don't miss Powells Bookstore if you like used books. I like the Cellar Bar as well, 'cause it's underground. That may just be my thing, though.

In Northern California, Trinidad is one of my favorite places. The State park nearby (Jeffrey State Park I think?) is lovely, with access to the beach and the woods both, but it can get pretty crowded. Heading south, you can stop by Arcada, the home of Humbolt State University. Quaint little place, but covered in hippies. Moving south you'll eventually arrive at Point Reyes, near SF, which has plenty to recommend it: artists, creameries, a biker bar, and Point Reyes State park for hiking. There are a couple of places to rent horses to ride through the state park as well, which I've found exciting when I've done it.

Just north of the city are the Marin Headlands, which I've always found interesting. It's a decommissioned artillery installation that still has these MASSIVE gun emplacements you can crawl around on. Great views of the city and the Pacific Ocean, and there's a Marine Mammal research institute there as well, which is nice.

No matter what you do, you'll have a good time. Sound like a fun trip.
posted by Pecinpah at 1:41 PM on July 25, 2011

Do you have any interest in surfing? You could pick up a quality lesson in Cannon Beach (Cannon Beach Surf is a great shop) or Newport.

Astoria is a lot of fun and very scenic (they filmed The Goonies there). The hike up to Astoria Column is pretty short and easy, but the view is spectacular.
posted by gurple at 2:20 PM on July 25, 2011

If you time the tides right, Hug Point State Park, off Hwy 101 just south of Arch Cape, Oregon is incredible. At low tides (+1 ft or lower) you can walk around the north point of the normal beach area into an incredible private cove with waterfall, caves, tide pools, and a historical path carved into the rock to allow stagecoach access. Here's a google search for images.
posted by rube goldberg at 4:03 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jedediah Smith State Park on 199 near Crescent City, CA is absolutely a gem. Hoary ancient scary redwoods. There's camping in the park and nearby.

If you take everyone's advice and go to Crater Lake, it is a pretty natural swoop back west to Grant's Pass to pick up 199. The lower third travels along the Smith River, which is a lovely milky green color due to the serpentine rocks that form the riverbed. In September it's likely to be hot, and you might also appreciate the opportunity to pop in to the river for a dip.
posted by janell at 4:41 PM on July 25, 2011

If you haven't booked the car rental yet: The one time I needed a car rental with a different drop-off city than the pick-up city on the West Coast, the only car rental company I found that had a reasonable one-way fee was Fox Rent a Car It was something like $120.
posted by ShooBoo at 4:43 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you decide to come to the Northen CA Coast Trinidad is a beautiful coastal town and you can kayak the bay. I was on Humbodl Bay yesterday in a kayak and it was very, very nice. The water is almost warm. does tours in the area.

Patricks Point and Prairie Creek are both beautiful campgrounds and an added bonus is the whale that has decided to hang out in the Klamath River.

My fav place to eat, Larapin's is also in Trinidad.

I believe that the coast from Cresent City to Trinidad is the most beautiful part of the CA coast. You have redwood forest all the way to the sea, Elk, now a whale, very little people and maybe if your lucky, sunshine without too much wind.

Enjoy your trip.
posted by cairnoflore at 5:14 PM on July 25, 2011

On Highway 101 in Hopland is the Real Goods Solar Living Institute. It has a ton of interesting and clever solar-powered installations on the site, and an interesting little shop with a ton of books. Even if you're not into that sort of thing it's a really nice spot to take a break from driving.
posted by clorox at 6:40 PM on July 25, 2011

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