SF to Portland or Portland to Seattle? Roadtrip filter.
May 25, 2016 9:26 AM   Subscribe

My best friend (also a MeFite) and I are going to do a west coast road trip for the last week of July. We'll arrive Sunday evening and need to fly home to the east coast on Friday. So we have four full non-air travel days. Would you recommend travelling from SF to Portland or Portland to Seattle?

Neither of us have ever been to Portland or Seattle, but we've both been to SF. (We want to take 101, so the whole Seattle to SF distance is too much time in the car.)

We're interested in beautiful drives; swimming in rivers, oceans, and lakes; and tasty food and beer.

Main Question: is there a clear reason we should do one or the other?
Side Question: are there any recommendations about what we should do on the route you suggest?

I've seen these questions and will consider their recommendations, but was interested in advice about which stretch to pick.
Help me plan my Pacific Northwest vacation
Diners Drive-Ins and Dives from SF to Portland
California (and Oregon) roadtrip help, please!
Pacific Northwest road trip
Better late than never!
posted by mercredi to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The drive from SF to PDX is pretty long, even longer if you take 101, and there's not a ton along the way, save some nice coast towns in Oregon. I think you'd eat up a lot of your time driving to and from SF.

PDX to Seattle is only a few hours, and it's beautiful with lots of cool nature along the way. You can easily eat up four days in either city hiking and drinking beer.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:49 AM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think the Oregon Coast is the most impressive thing in the area. Plus Redwoods.

You can get from Portland to Seattle in 4 hours, so it's not really an apples-to-apples comparison. The Washington Coast isn't that impressive, compared to Oregon. Olympic National Park is my backyard, but I would recommend the Redwoods and Oregon Coast first.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:49 AM on May 25, 2016

I recently did both of these drives. Here is some data.

Portland to Seattle options:
Mount St. Helens
If you want you can divert to the Olympis peninsula and visit the rain forest and the parks and the naval base and hit some ferries
Otherwise pretty boring

Portland to SF options:
Giant redwoods
Drive thru safari
Big sur
Some crazy aerospace museum (what am I thinking of?)
Giant redwoods (either Oregon or Marin County)
Jelly Belly Factory (near SF)
posted by bq at 10:22 AM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you're more interested in the drive than the destination. If that's the case, I'd do SF to Portland. Portland and Seattle are both great cities, but the drive between them is fairly boring no matter which way you go.

The beer scene in Portland is also much better than Seattle, and the food cart scene is fantastic too. So you'd have a very nice scenic drive between SF and Portland with some interesting stops, then you end in Portland for beer and food.
posted by Automocar at 10:48 AM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Definitely San Francisco to Portland for the scenery. There are a few recent Asks with some recommendations on sites along the way. From portland to SeaTac (Seattle's airport) is about 3 hours, so keep that in mind if you need a cheaper flight or something non stop. You can end in portland, but get a flight out of SeaTac if you need to.
posted by hydra77 at 10:53 AM on May 25, 2016

Best answer: I've done both of these and I love Portland-SF, but I will second the statement that you will spend a lot of time on the road for this option, and should pick your must-see destinations in advance. Since you sound into the drive, I'm not going to go into the urban recommendations for either city, but here are my idiosyncratic recommendations:

For Oregon, I can only speak to the southern Oregon coast west of Eugene; I can't remember the names of any places, but loved whale watching from the cliffs (year-round whales!). There's also great beer to be found all over the area. Humboldt County, California has six lovely rivers to swim in; some truly magical hikes; the glorious Redwoods National/State Park, which the highway goes right through; and good beer and food for such a rural area. Moving further south, you'll get to Mendocino (so much fancy food, I can't even) and Sonoma counties, which will both be much warmer than southern Oregon and Humboldt in the summer. You might like a fancy meal at Boon in Guerneville, along the Russian River and near some dramatic, relatively un-touristy sights like Goat Rock Beach and the town of Bodega Bay, where The Birds was shot. Finally, you get to Marin County and the beautiful Point Reyes National Seashore, home to famous oysters and delicious cheese.
posted by a sourceless light at 11:04 AM on May 25, 2016

Did SF to Portland a few years ago. I live in coast and redwood territory (Sonoma County), we still stopped at coast and redwoods along the way. We are also not zoo people, but game parks give the animals room to roam and so we're more cool with that scene and there are a number of amazing ones along the way. Also saw some amazing huge glass pieces being blown in Grants Pass, dropped in to Jerry Work's furniture shop in Kerby, lots of amazing coast.

It's a long trek, but pretty spectacular.
posted by straw at 11:18 AM on May 25, 2016

Best answer: Google maps suggests that Portland to SF is 16 hours along Hwy 101, which I would suggest. We just did a road trip along 101 in Oregon and it was amazing. I would highly suggest driving north to south though, if you're able to end in SF. I say this because driving south, the ocean is on your right and there are a ton of spectacular pull-over view points etc that are all going to be easier to quickly pull over on the right. If you are cool with ~4 hours a day of driving, which will be broken up by multiple stop points, I would definitely do it.

Awesome things we just did on our trip (I posted a q about a month ago which might help you too)

- Ecola State Park (easy hike from the highway)
- Pelican Pub in Pacific City (right on the beach! Cheap tasting tray of beers!)
- the aquarium in Newport
- I forget where in southern Oregon but there is a roadside garden with dinosaur statues that was awesome
- whale watching in Depoe Bay
-TILLAMOOK (cheese, ice cream, yass)
- Otter Rock area is gorgeous

Basically 90% of the Oregon coast drive was us saying "wowwww" as we rounded a curve. It is a lot of driving, but you feel like you're in a car commercial.
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:34 AM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you don't take 101, San Francisco to Portland is a ten-hour drive, while Seattle to Portland is a three-hour drive. Taking the coastal highway could easily double that time. That doesn't leave you much room to get out of the car and see stuff.

I'd do either Seattle to Portland with a stop at Mount Saint Helens, or San Diego to San Francisco, depending on how much time you want to spend in the car.
posted by yarntheory at 11:35 AM on May 25, 2016

My boyfriend and I took a bus from Portland to Seattle (and a train back) last year. It was not that interesting between the two, though we loved Portland and enjoyed Seattle OK. Thus, I would recommend SF to Portland, since both cities are amazing and you're more likely to see some good scenery.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:41 PM on May 25, 2016

Just so you have realistic expectations, you might find some rivers and lakes to swim in on this trip, but not the ocean. I moved to Portland from New England about 15 years ago and it kind of blew my mind that beaches out here are for walking on, not for swimming. The water is really cold, even in July, and the coast climate often stays pretty windy, foggy and cool. I'm sure there are some hearty souls that do it, but I once considered myself a cold-water lover and I find it so cold that it hurts just to wade up to my ankles.

As for the route--a lot of the 101 in Washington is inland (you also go through Aberdeen, the most depressing town I've ever been). If you followed the 101 all the way up and around the Olympic Peninsula, you would get to see a bit of Olympic National Park, but it's really not as accessible for a day trip or a drive-through with stops like the Redwoods are. Some of the towns on the northern and eastern side of the peninsula are supposed to be great though.

The Oregon coast and the Northern California coast are beautiful and you can see most of it on the 101. There are some charming towns (I love Yachats and Astoria; Newport and tiny Manzanita are good too), and the Redwoods are amazing. I vote for the southern route!
posted by janerica at 2:23 PM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Portland to Seattle! Save the gas money, go to cheaper cities, you have both already been to SF, and there's plenty to do in the Pacific Northwest.
posted by aniola at 3:24 PM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

If the drive, specifically the coastal part, is the most important thing, then SF to Portland is better. Napa, Redwoods, epic coastal views with a hip city at the endpoint. this route is long, and will eat up most of those 4 days, especially at the height of summer roadtrip season, but in terms of bang for your buck, it can't be beat.

the other side of the coin is that Portland and Sea are a mere 4.5 hrs apart along a boring interstate, but one that allows ample opportunities for daytrips to places like mt st helens and mt rainier, or the columbia gorge.
I say 4.5 hrs because it's summer, and bottleneck traffic jams are hard to avoid unless you are a local ( and even then it's nigh on impossible) or travel at 2am
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:46 PM on May 25, 2016

So I set off once to drive Portland to SF on 101 (Seattle to SF, but took I-5 to Portland). It's amazing, BUT, for the amount of work that drive is for that long, it was too much. Like driving around Oahu, it seems like a good idea until it's too late to turn back.

I'd say instead, drive Portland to SF on 5, but with diversions to the Oregon coast and the highway 1 North of SF.
posted by ctmf at 8:01 PM on May 25, 2016

Best answer: I think the decision here is really dependent on how much small highway driving you're used to doing. I'm not particularly familiar with the Portland to Seattle drive, but it's so short that you're going to need lots of stops or detours to use up four days travel time, even traveling 101 and up into Olympic National Park. In contrast, I grew up in Humboldt & Del Norte counties (in CA on the OR border), so the five hour drive between SF and Humboldt was a pretty regular-ish trip for me (similarly, I now do the four-to-five hour drive from SF to Yosemite for weekend trips all the time). For someone who lives in Rhode Island and rarely travels out of state, on the other hand, the length of the drive you're looking at from SF to Portland would seem a lot longer.

If you're comfortable with five to six hours of driving time each day and are okay with a bit of driving time on Friday (the day you fly out), here's the SF-Portland route I'd recommend. It's heavy on the scenery (ocean/beach, rivers, redwood trees, one absolutely amazing lake), with some good food & beer options along the way (use Yelp!!!), and very light on the city options.

What you're getting on this route:
- Beautiful start to the drive with Stinson Beach & Point Reyes National Seashore. Good eating in the town of Point Reyes (brunch?) and up into Tomales Bay (FRESH oysters! good local cheese)
- Continue along 1 for more beautiful ocean views (if trying to cut time, you could leave 1 here and just go along 101 the rest of the trip)
- Artsy town of Mendocino with lots of little cafes and gorgeous ocean views, and excellent brewery in Fort Bragg (note that there are other excellent breweries along 101 in Mendocino County, if you chose to go inland after Tomales Bay)
- Humboldt & Del Norte Counties - amazing redwood trees (take the Avenue of the Giants detour in south Humboldt), good breweries (Eel River, Lost Coast, Mad River), good food in the college town of Arcata
- Head inland at Crescent City just before the OR border in order to get to Crater Lake, which is a one-of-a-kind sort of gorgeousness. The water is always cold, but you can still hike down to the lake's edge and jump in. The towns of Grants Pass & Medford along the way have decent food/beer options, although Ashland might be better pickings if you want to make the detour.
- Head back west to get more of the coast - the OR coast is pretty in a different way from the CA coast. Lots of cute coastal towns that are just lovely to drive through.
- Continue along the OR coast to the Tillamook Cheese Factory (free fresh cheese curds!), and finish off with Cannon Beach, which I think is just the prettiest beach in all of OR.
- Head back inland to OR for your flight.

If there's a bit too much driving time for your preferences, taking out some or all of the Highway 1 driving in CA, taking out the Crater Lake detour, and/or giving up the Oregon Coast drive time would all reduce the time traveled. Do not drive on Highway 5 in CA/OR unless you want a boring drive for faster travel time (there's like... Mount Shasta, and that's it). Highway 101 is always faster than Highway 1 in CA. The cut across the coastal range to get to Highway 5 from Highway 101 in CA isn't worth it, time & scenery-wise, but could be worth it in OR if you've seen enough coastal views.
posted by Jaclyn at 9:21 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all amazing, helpful answers. I think we're looking for more road trip than city, so we'll probably go the Portland to San Francisco route. (I appreciate the tip about driving south to facilitate quick ocean stops! A++). I'll update with a trip report in August.
posted by mercredi at 7:57 AM on May 26, 2016

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