Driving from San Francisco to Seattle: how do we plan a pleasant 4-day trip up the west coast?
June 18, 2006 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Driving from San Francisco to Seattle: how do we plan a pleasant 4-day trip up the west coast?

(I've pretty much copied this previous AskMeFi question (because it captures our intent so well), but have updated it to reference the locations we're interested in)

We're east coasters who haven't seen much of the northwest; We'll be out visiting friends in San Francisco and thought from there we'd spend 4 days driving up to Seattle, then fly back from there. I'd like to do this with a minimum of hassle and a maximum of enjoyment.

- Leave San Francisco early on Friday, get to Seattle anytime on Monday
- Drive at least part of the trip on US101
- Locate nice/interesting (either the hotel or the town) places to stay for $200 a night or less

Specific questions:
- Is this even possible in 4 days, while taking the time to hike, see the redwoods, drive a bit on US101, and enjoy ourselves along the way?

Places we're thinking of stopping/staying along the way:
* Eureka -- seems like it's on the way; not sure where to stay or what to do there
* Klamath -- would love to squeeze in some hiking and fishing, and see the redwoods; it would be neat and cheesy to see the big paul bunyan statue at trees of mystery
* Portland -- or somewhere in the vicinity. maybe further inland? it seems like there are a ton of great state parks and nature to see in the portland area -- what are the best sites to see that won't take us too far out of the way, and are enjoyable with only a short amount of time to spend there?
posted by paulrockNJ to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My suggestion is for the last leg. Rather than entering seattle via I-5, branch off and arrange things so you come in via the bainbridge island ferry. Leave your car and hang out on the front deck until the boat has almost docked before hurrying down to your car.
posted by Good Brain at 11:38 AM on June 18, 2006

Hmm. I think you need to do some triage. Given what you want, you can do one or maybe two of the things you want, certainly not all of them. So:

101 is beautiful and VERY VERY SLOW. You could make the whole drive in 4 reasonable days, but you will do not much besides driving and having lunch in little towns along the way. Depending on the time of year, thius could be quite pleasant, I suppose.

You can do the whole trip on I5 (that's 'eye-five') in one 16 hour day, leaving yourself more time to explore spots along the way. Portland is one of the U.S.'s best small cities- if you want to explore the area, food, shops, etc, then consider blasting up the interstate, spending a couple days in Portland, and then wandering up to Seattle.

Or, drive to Redwood N.P., spend a day there, then drive NE towards Grants Pass and I5, get to Seattle. The Redwoods are spectacular, the drive gorgeous. I love the stretch between Crescent City and GP.
posted by carterk at 12:14 PM on June 18, 2006

San Francisco to Seattle is about two 8-hour driving days, as I recall. So you'll have basically two days' worth of sightseeing.

101 North is a good way to go out of SF... you wind through Marin and Sonoma Counties. Sonoma has some good wineries, and if you want to peel off to the east, Napa County has some VERY prestigious wineries. There are also a few in the area around Ukiah, as well.

However, ideally, you may never get to Ukiah. It's a nice little town, but you're missing one of the best drives anywhere in the country.

Just north of Cloverdale, Route 128 heads out to the west:

Google Map linkage.

This is a bit of a pain to get to from the freeway, you have to backtrack a little... when they bypassed Cloverdale with 101 (it used to run through town) they didn't make it easy to get onto 128.

Once you're on 128, just drive. It's a very twisty-turny road for the first twenty miles or so... if you're prone to motion sickness, take a Dramamine before you leave.

You will pass through Boonville, the home of Boontling, which I believe is the only home-grown language in the entire country... they use words like 'Buckey Walter' for a telephone and 'Beeson tree' for a saddle. It's barely a living language anymore, but you can still stop in for a horn of zeese (cup of coffee) at the center of this tiny place.

Now the drive gets really good. You will pass through some of the tallest trees on earth... in fact, a short distance to the south, ARE the tallest trees on earth. (I don't recommend you actually go see them, as they don't tell you which one it is... so while you may see the tallest tree anywhere, you won't know which it was.)

You'll most likely have one of two types of weather; foggy or sunny. Each is a very different flavor. An afternoon drive on a sunny day is just stunning, as the rays of light come in through the immense trees. A morning drive, which tends to be foggy, is sort of mysterious and quiet. These are trees big beyond imagination, and in some cases older than civilization. If you can, stop and walk off the road awhile and just sit and enjoy the quiet. A redwood forest just isn't like anything else. California vegetation is entirely safe, with he exception of poison oak (there's a lot around the redwoods, so learn what it looks like -- easy to avoid), and no bothersome insects beyond mosquitos. (Those are also very common, so pack repellent.)

After communing with nature awhile... and don't rush, you're in the best part ... drive onward, to the coast, and wend your way along Highway 1 for awhile. There are numerous beaches, though none are particularly special in this area. Be careful driving here. Highway 1 is one of the most dangerous roads in California. It has both high speeds and sharp turns. Pay VERY close attention to the speed signs going around curves. (The residents will hate it when you do that, but ignore them.) You'll pass through Mendocino, which is a picturesque little tourist trap.

Our family would always end up in Fort Bragg, which is a pretty good-sized place, and we'd always stop at Clare's Pies. Clare was old ten years ago, so she has probably passed away, but if she's still around, you MUST have some of her pie. There's a Safeway on the right hand side as you drive into Fort Bragg. As of ten years ago, if you crossed their parking lot to the next block, you'd exit looking almost straight at Clare's, in a little brown building.

I'm not too familiar with the coast road from there.... it looks from the map like you'd want to head north a bit further, catch Highway 20, and head back in to Willits. Highway 1 is lovely, but it's hard to spend a whole day driving it... it'll leave you absolutely worn out. 101 is a much easier corridor heading north.

That's my recommendation.... that'll take you about a half a day.

On preview: 101 tended to be slow up to Santa Rosa when I was last there, but it was fine after that, and smoking fast north of Cloverdale. It may have changed, but there's NO WAY it would take four days to drive.
posted by Malor at 12:38 PM on June 18, 2006 [3 favorites]

One more thought, after rereading carterk's comment: both Portland and Seattle are really neat. If you could swing some extra time, you'd really appreciate having it. You could easily spend two weeks going up the coast, and have a BLAST. There's a lot of neat little things to see.
posted by Malor at 12:41 PM on June 18, 2006

For day 1, Arcata is nicer than Eureka; stop there instead. On the way up you'll have time to see some Redwoods, enjoy the coast a bit, etc. For day 2 I'd try to plan around Crater Lake. For day 3 Portland is a great town with lots of good brewpubs, mellow life, etc, but if you want the nature experience maybe skip it? Other good things in the area; Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, the Olympic National Forest, etc.
posted by Nelson at 12:41 PM on June 18, 2006

SF to Arcata is almost exactly 5 hours on 101. If you take 128 out to the coast that taeks about an hour but is really a gorgeous drive and you can cut back further up. When planning check closely to see if the roads you intend to take are paved or not. If you go up as far as the Mattole River on the coast and try to cut back to 101 it will take 2-3 hours, at that point your best bet is to continue to Fortuna (which is a cool town and worth seeing) and hence to Arcata. There are redwoods around Humboldt Bay, or you can head out to the dunes near Samoa which are worth seeing Arcata is definitely the palce to stay in Humboldt, and if you like sushi, don't miss Tomas in the Arcata Hotel right in the square.
posted by fshgrl at 1:35 PM on June 18, 2006

Having done the trip you describe many times I would definitely second everyone who says stay off of I 5 until you get to Grants Pass. Once you're through Portland head back to the coast and come up on 101 in Washington to Port Angeles for a night. Continue on 101 to 104 for the Kingston ferry. This takes about 3 hours drive and ferry cruise into Seattle.
posted by ptm at 3:33 PM on June 18, 2006

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