help us plan a route from Vancouver to San Francisco
March 25, 2014 1:18 PM   Subscribe

the other half and I are planning a road trip from Vancouver to San Francisco in early May and we're looking for some advice on route planning and potential stops (and stopovers.)

We're thinking about going down the coast on the way there and taking the I-5 on the way home, probably stopping in Portland both ways. Due to vagaries of rental car agreements, smasuch has to do all the driving, and by his own estimation tops out at about 6-7 hours/day.

I'm not sure what other information might be useful, so I'll try and keep an eye on the thread (without thread sitting, though.)

thanks, folks!
posted by heeeraldo to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Absolutely take highway 101 down and I-5 back. You'll be able to enjoy the coast when you are still excited about the trip and take the interstate back when you are tired of being on the road. The hwy 101 drive is just amazing.

Some Oregon coast stuff: Astoria, Cannon Beach, Cape Perpetua (and Thor's Well), White Wolf Sanctuary, Newport (including the Oregon Coast Aquarium), Oregon Dunes.

If you've never been to Crater Lake, it's worth a stop on your way back on I-5, though a little out of the way, and weather depending (park may or may not be open).
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:30 PM on March 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Take the coast route.
It is the most gorgeous drive ever.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:38 PM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you want an affordable motel in San Francisco in a good neighborhood, with free parking, I can whole heartedly recommend the Nob Hill Motor Inn. Park the car and use public transportation while in the city.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:40 PM on March 25, 2014

I did a version of this trip last summer (it was one-way, and I took the train from Vancouver to Seattle, then drove from Seattle to SF). This was the question I asked when I was still in the trip-planning process with some very helpful hints on Oregon/northern California in particular, and here is an answer that I gave after the trip which provides a very useful link if you want to do any hiking in the redwoods and a list of my personal favorite redwood parks (which are Jedediah Smith, Prairie Creek and Humboldt.)

On my trip, which was in mid-July, I hit up the Columbia River Gorge/Multnomah Falls, Mt. St. Helens, Crater Lake, and the redwood forests. I'm thinking May might be a bit early for Mt. St. Helens and Crater Lake, but if you can handle it climactically I would highly recommend both of them. I'd concur with Lutoslawski's suggestion to do 101 southbound and the 5 northbound.

Conversely I can dis-recommend Crescent City, which is a convenient base for redwood exploration but otherwise one of the least appealing California coastal towns I have ever been to.

Have so much fun! This is such a gorgeous part of North America.
posted by andrewesque at 1:48 PM on March 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also it's unclear to me how much time you will be spending in the cities vs. in the outdoors, but if you will be in Seattle for some time I also recommend renting kayaks from the Agua Verde Paddle Club. Very reasonable rates with some good deals if you go on weekday mornings. I paddled to and through the Washington Park Arboretum and exploring the gardens by boat was pretty awesome (and a different way of experiencing a park.)
posted by andrewesque at 1:52 PM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ashland, OR is about six or seven hours from SF. Adorable small town with good restaurants, a beautiful park, a well stocked co-op, and a theatre festival most of the year (and a reconstruction of the Globe they do Shakespeare in). It's in the right place to stop between SF and Crater Lake, and you'll drive past Mt. Shasta on the way.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:57 PM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

California 1 instead of US-101 in California. (Well, you have to pick up CA-1 from US-101 somewhere south of Crescent City, but CA-1 is actually the more coastal route.) US-101 in the other states.
posted by tckma at 2:20 PM on March 25, 2014

Did a one way trip like this last year. Arcata was a nice stopover. Definitely make the detour to go to Crater Lake.
posted by Gotanda at 3:00 PM on March 25, 2014

tckma: "California 1 instead of US-101 in California. (Well, you have to pick up CA-1 from US-101 somewhere south of Crescent City, but CA-1 is actually the more coastal route.) US-101 in the other states."

This is really only true from Eureka to SF, which is a LONG stretch of windy two lane road. But if you have the time it's beautiful. 101 from Eureka to SF, while inland, is a great drive too.

I5 sucks but it's definitely the fastest way back through California.
posted by Big_B at 3:45 PM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ehh, depending on how much time you have, do 101 the whole way down through Oregon and skip Portland on the way down; that's like a 4 hour detour. Stop in Astoria instead on the way down for the afternoon and evening. I've always felt like Astoria was Portland's little brother, and in the last couple years it's become a nice little get-away from the city. Theres quite a lot of good food options there, nice quaint town and you get to make all of goonies references if thats your thing.

I'd check out the shipwreck, because it's awesome, crash at the Commodore, and totally grab some beer from Fort George.

Its totally a small coast town, but it packs alot of good into the downtown. It's a really nice stopover.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:54 PM on March 25, 2014

*and that 4 hour detour into and back out of Portland really isn't that interesting. It's kind of pretty on the coast range, but there's not really all that much from Portland to the coast except a couple decent wineries (depending on your route) and a lot of depressed old logging towns.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:56 PM on March 25, 2014

Best answer: As you drive through Bellingham, get off I-5 at exit 250 (Fairhaven) and take Chuckanut Drive along the coast. Sooooo beautiful! And a short little detour. Once it flattens out, around Bow, head back inland to I-5. If you want really specific directions, let me know.

I can also give advice on Bellingham, taking an alternative route through the islands, and the Olympic Peninsula, but I'm guessing those will take too long for you (although you don't say how long your trip is). I personally love taking ferries so would find a way to zigzag around and take a couple if I were doing this trip and had time. Nice places to see: La Conner, Deception Pass State Park, Coupeville, Port Townsend, Poulsbo, Gig Harbor.

Seconding stopping in Ashland and driving along the Oregon Coast.

This month's Sunset Magazine has a nice article on Eugene, OR.
posted by Capri at 4:17 PM on March 25, 2014

Oregon locations:

A little out of the way, but Crater Lake is spectacular in the winter. Just drive in the south entrance from Medford. If needed, showshoe rentals are available.

Shore Acres State Park
near Bandon. A beautiful well tended garden and some history awaits…

North of Coos Bay rent some ATV's and head out onto the sand dunes at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Have a blast.

Stop at Mo's in downtown Newport and enjoy some famous Clam Chowder. Then head to Depoe Bay. The shops are cool and watching the boats come into the worlds smallest navigable harbor is fun.

In Lincoln City you can be on the beach standing in the 'D' River and look West and see the ocean, look East and see Devils Lake. From low tide at 440 feet to highest tide at 120 feet it is the worlds shortest river.

Head north to Tillamook and go to the Cheese Factory and get some yummy ice cream. Sorry that is just me, get some of their famous cheese while you are there.

Stopping at Canon Beach can be fun. Astoria is always nice. The victorian style houses, the Clatsop Column, the Lewis & Clark history and if you are lucky some tall sailing ships will be in in port.
posted by Leenie at 4:32 PM on March 25, 2014

California 1 instead of US-101 in California. This is a CRAZY drive; gorgeous, but tiny winding roads along cliff edges in many places. Take that into consideration when planning your route.
posted by epersonae at 4:48 PM on March 25, 2014

Best answer: You don't say what you're interested in or what you've already seen, whether you've done the route before, etc.

In San Francisco, walk the Golden Gate Bridge and drive up the Marin Headlands on the north side for an amazing view. Visit Ocean Beach if it isn't foggy or cold. Stop in the Mission District for a burrito and beer. Go to Twin Peaks. Take the San Francisco City Guides Chinatown Tour if you can. See the Ferry Building and TCHO chocolate factory. Go to the Top of the Mark for drinks (touristy, but wonderful view). Go to the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. Don't waste time at Pier 39 or Fisherman's Wharf. Everyone goes there and no one knows why. Do see Ghirardelli Square and have an ice cream, if it isn't cold out.

If you haven't been to Yosemite, you should really go. It about 3 1/2 hours east of San Francisco. Exploring Yosemite Valley can easily be done as an overnight. The waterfalls should be flowing really well in May. My suggestion is to drive to Yosemite on your way back and then go back up Highway 99 to I-5 to get home.

If you do go to Yosemite, you're going to drive through Sacramento about 3 1/2 hours into your way back. Sacramento has a poor national reputation, blah blah blah. All of that is old and undeserved. Stop in Midtown Sacramento and have lunch at Zocalo (Mexican), Mulvaney's (new American), LowBrau (Sausage and Beer) or Tank House (BBQ). Eat outside, because the weather will be perfect. Have gelato at Divine Gelateria and chocolates at Ginger Elizabeth. If you have time, the State Capitol is a beautiful building in a lovely park and and has an interesting tour. All of this is within about 10 blocks.

I'm not going to tell you to go out of your way, but if you're going to Yosemite and driving north, or going to Lake Tahoe at all, Midtown Sacramento is a great place to stop for a meal, a dessert and a beer.
posted by cnc at 10:51 AM on March 26, 2014

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