Best route from SoCal to Washington?
July 29, 2008 4:56 PM   Subscribe

I'll be driving from Los Angeles to the Seattle area in a few weeks. I don't want to endure the dreariness of I-5 all the way up, but I also don't want to spend too much time on the trip. Three days would probably be ideal; four would be acceptable. What route will provide the best balance of beauty/points of interest and expediency?

Routes that won't be too hard on my elderly and heavily-laden Civic are a bonus. Note: I've looked over previous threads on coastal roadtrips, but they're mostly more focused on sight-seeing than I'll have time for.
posted by fermion to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Hwy 101 splits the difference between the very winding coastal route of HWY 1 and the very boring Interstate 5. This time of year though 101 north of Mendocino county can become a crawl with one lane traffic and slow motor homes. I like Hwy5 north of Redding Ca - good road Mt Shasta etc. and once out of the central valley the temperature drops, which would be better for your car.
posted by pianomover at 5:36 PM on July 29, 2008

Well, it partly depends on what you've seen before!

But, assuming it's all new to you, I would recommend spending the extra time on the Central California Coast, taking the 101 north and then over to Cambria on the 46 to the 1, through Big Sur to Santa Cruz or even all the way to San Francisco before cutting east to the 5. North on the coast beyond that, there's a normalizing of the landscape, but Big Sur and its north and south neighboring areas are unique. The 101 isn't a slow freeway, and it's very pretty from Ventura to SLO. After that it gets a bit more dull.

If you get a morning start out of LA, you could make brief stops anywhere special, like Santa Barbara, Pismo,McWay Falls, or Carmel, Monterey, Santa Cruz, or Año Nuevo, and even if you don't stop, the scenery is consistently breathtaking. Even just the drive from the 101 to the 1 on the 46 is remarkably pretty. Yes, through Big Sur, the road is windy, and there are some grades, but nothing I wouldn't do in the Geo I used to drive. If you stayed on the 1 all the way to SF, you could have a beeeeeautiful ocean sunset somewhere around Half Moon Bay.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:59 PM on July 29, 2008

From the southern border of Oregon all the way to Seattle, I-5 is pretty much the only reasonable route. (Take I-205 around Portland.)

But if you really do want to be adventurous, you leave I-5 at Weed CA and get onto US 97 and follow it to I-82 in Washington, and from there, eventually take I-90 into Seattle.

What that does is take you up up through eastern Oregon instead of through the valley. The view is spectacular but the area is empty. About the only major town along it is Bend, Oregon, which is a great place.
posted by Class Goat at 6:31 PM on July 29, 2008

I hate to be a downer but if you only have three days you will probably need to take I-5. Hwy 101 is soooo much slower. Its nice if you have the time, but it sounds like you don't.
posted by itsamonkeytree at 6:58 PM on July 29, 2008

Mt. St. Helens is a cool, not overly long, detour.
posted by Mach5 at 8:51 PM on July 29, 2008

101 all the way up from Saratoga (or something like that). It was awesome. We did split off onto I5 at about Portland, due to wanting to be on the right side of the water.
posted by Netzapper at 9:16 PM on July 29, 2008

Leave L.A. on Ca. 14, north to US 395, all the way to Pendelton Ore. then on I 82 to I 90 . more scenic than the 5 .
posted by hortense at 9:47 PM on July 29, 2008

Response by poster: odinsdream, I know parts of the Pacific Coast Highway were shut down for a while, but the highway closures webpage doesn't show any blockages there anymore.

hortense, doesn't that vast expanse of Nevada get a bit dull? Mega bonus points for originality nonetheless.
posted by fermion at 10:26 PM on July 29, 2008

Ya know, I've been up the 395 from LA to Bodie and there's definitely enough scenery and stops to make it a good alternative to the 5, though getting back west seems like it can be a tricky proposition, depending on the time of year, weather, traffic and where on the 395 you happen to be. Manzanar, Mammoth Lakes, Minarets, Devil's Postpile, Mono Lake, Tuolumne Meadows, and Bodie are all very cool and not necessarily super time consuming stops.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:35 PM on July 29, 2008

Definitely take Hwy 97, which splits off just past Weed, CA. It's far from empty. Skirt around Klamath Lake and take Hwy 62 to Crater Lake--visit the lodge, hike along the rim, take the boat ride to Wizard Island. Just past LaPine, you have tons of optional side trips: Newberry Crater, Lava Lands Visitor Center (just off the highway, with trails through 3000-year old lava flows and interesting exhibits), the Cascades Lake Highway, which takes you on a very scenic drive to Mt. Bachelor, with excellent views of the south Cascades (the Three Sisters, Broken Top). The excellent High Desert Museum is also a nice stop, just after Sunriver Resort. Oh, and Lava River Cave is a great diversion--it's a mile-long lava tube with interesting features. You can rent lanterns at the entrance station. In Bend, head directly to Deschutes Brewery for a Black Butte Porter. From here, your venture can take you north on 97 along the Deschutes River, through the dry, high desert or over the Cascades to the Willamette Valley (Hwy 20). Hwy 20 will take you through the western-themed town of Sisters, past the 6500-foot cinder cone, Black Butte (with an optional stop at the lodge at Black Butte Ranch), then continue on over the scenic Santiam Pass (with too many optional hikes to mention) to the Willamette Valley, which’ll connect with I5. If you choose to venture northward from Bend on 97, you'll want to visit Smith Rocks, one of the world's premiere rock climbing areas; then continue northward (over the stomach-dropping bridge that spans the 300-foot deep Crooked River Gorge) to the mighty Columbia River. From here, you might want to head west on I-84 to Hood River (wind/kite surfing mecca and home to a few good microbrew pubs), then continue west to the touristic, yet beautiful Multnomah Falls. At this point, you'll want to take the Historic Columbia River Highway, which will lead you to the wonderfully quirky McMenamin’s Edgefield Lodge, a great place to stay…and indulge in microbrew and distilled spirits). The next morning, stumble westward through Portland (explore downtown if you’re interested in checking out urban planning at its finest) and sail on up I5. If you have time, head over to Mt. St. Helens —great visitor’s center with an optional trip to Johnston Ridge Observatory. Once you hit Olympia, you can continue northward another hour to Seattle, or, if you’re still not ready to end the trip, head west on Hwy 101 along oyster flats and nice diversions along the South Puget Sound to Shelton, up Hwy 3 to Bremerton, then take the car ferry to Seattle.
posted by prinado at 10:55 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend and I made this trip a few years ago (with our labrador). We left in the morning and drove up the 101 then made our way to Carmel where we spent a couple hours at the ocean. We then hopped back on the road and made it up to a bed and Breakfast for the night. Next morning we drove up, stopped in Shasta and then made our way to Salem. Stayed there for the night and stopped in Portland late afternoon and eventually made our way into Seattle around 8:00PM.

It was a great trip. I would suggest each of the stops I made (especially Shasta). If I could have had one more day I would have loved to have driven up the Oregon coast. I hear it is a beautiful drive if you have the time.
posted by sirhensley at 11:24 PM on July 29, 2008

" doesn't that vast expanse of Nevada get a bit dull?" you must mean east Oregon! the 395 in Nevada is Tahoe to Reno. look at zee map.
posted by hortense at 12:23 AM on July 30, 2008

You can´t actually see Lake Tahoe from 395.
posted by yohko at 11:15 AM on July 30, 2008

101 to SF isn't that slow. I used to drive that way all the time because I was by myself and the scenery kept me from dozing off. The slow bits were Santa Barbara, Salinas, and Morgan Hill to San Jose at commute times. Once you hit Northern California 5 is interesting, the Valley bit is always tedious. I like 395 too, but it's a much dryer landscape.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:52 PM on July 30, 2008

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