12 Unforgettable Stops on a Portland to San Francisco Road Trip

portland to san francisco road trip
This post may contain affiliate links, including for the Amazon Associates program, which means I may make a small commission at no expense to you.

There are plenty of things to do when exploring Portland, but sometimes it’s nice to get out of the city. Oregon has some beautiful places to visit along its coastline, and it’s even better to make it a scenic drive by going on a Portland to San Francisco road trip.

I used to only drive from Seattle to Portland, but I didn’t realize how much I was missing out on by not going further. That’s why I started going on yearly road trips along the coastline each summer so I could explore more areas further south. I love nothing more than going to new towns in Oregon and California each year to see what they have to offer.

I wrote this article so I could share one of my favorite drives with you so you can recreate the same trip. Here are some tips to consider before going on a Portland to San Francisco drive, the best places to stop, as well as a sample itinerary to follow.

Tips for a Portland to San Francisco Road Trip

marissa redwoods

Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when planning your Portland to San Francisco trip.

Best Time to Visit San Francisco

This is a debatable topic as the best time to visit any city honestly depends on what you want to see and experience.

If you’re seeking to watch mesmerizing whales breach along the shores of San Francisco, then visiting between December and May is your best bet. Winter in Portland is a nice time to get out of the city anyways, as it can be a bit gloomy.

If you follow the whale migrations, then you’ll be able to see them in San Francisco just before moving north for whale watching in Seattle.

You can also do this during Oregon in the spring when it’s a bit warmer out.

However, December to May is bitterly cold (and windy, as I’ve learned from past visits), so visiting from September to November is a fantastic idea if you want warmer weather. Fall in Portland actually has some of the warmest temperatures in San Francisco, with highs of 70°F (21°C) and lows of 52°F (11°C).

You’ll also miss the crowds of people that visit in summer in Portland, and there is little to no rain during these months. I’ve also found this is an excellent time to enjoy the colors of the changing season, which paints the city shades of red and orange.

What is the Portland to San Francisco Drive Time?

Driving from Portland to San Francisco isn’t exactly a day trip from Portland (unless you don’t like resting). If you travel on the most direct route, It’ll take around 10 hours and 30 minutes to complete.

So it is possible to plan a Sonoma weekend getaway from Portland, but you may be exhausted from the drive before you even start enjoying the vacation.

There’s an entire coastline to explore, so spending a few days on this massive adventure from Portland to San Francisco is a great idea. I recommend designating anywhere from 3 to 5 days for your travels to see all the fantastic sights along the way. This is the perfect long weekend getaway from Portland to go on.

I’ve traveled all over the west coast, and I feel that this part of the country is overlooked too often, which is a shame because it’s a beautiful area.

I love using Roadtrippers for all my road trips because they show you all the fun stops to make along the way. You can get $5 off if you sign up with my code BTR5QTP.

What is the Portland to San Francisco Road Trip Distance?

With a journey time of close to 11 hours, this marathon drive covers quite a distance. In fact, the distance from Portland to San Francisco for the most direct route is roughly 635 miles one way, but that’s not the scenic or exciting way to enjoy a road trip to San Francisco.

If you travel along the coast, the distance will be around 750 miles. It’s well worth the extra mileage, though, as you’ll see some unforgettable sights, and it’s the route I recommend, having done it multiple times.

How Long Do You Need in San Francisco?

How long you spend in San Francisco depends on how much extra time you can add to your road trip from San Francisco to Portland. For many visitors, three days in the Golden City is plenty of time to explore all the main attractions in and around the city.

You’ll see everything San Francisco offers, from the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to the unique Wave Organ in the San Francisco marina.

What to Pack For a Portland to San Francisco Road Trip

Before heading off on your Portland to San Francisco drive, here are a few essentials you’ll want to pack:

  • Roadside emergency kit — It’s always helpful to have the right tools if you puncture a tire. Let’s hope you don’t need to use it, though.
  • Polarized sunglasses — Keep the sun at bay while driving with quality UV protection sunglasses.
  • Water bottle — Driving can take a lot out of you; the last thing you want is to be dehydrated. Ensure this doesn’t happen by carrying a high-quality hydro flask.
  • Picnic blanket — With so many national parks to see during your road trip, an impromptu picnic is always a great idea.
  • America The Beautiful Pass — Speaking of national parks, you’ll be able to see them all with this fantastic travel pass.

Tip: Read my ultimate road trip packing list for a more in-depth guide. 

Portland to San Francisco Road Trip Map

Here’s a map to make it easier to see where you’ll be going.

12 Unforgettable Stops on a Portland to San Francisco Road Trip

Time to get into the fun stuff! Rather than going the direct route along I-5 South, I’ll take you down the more scenic Portland to San Francisco coastal route along US 101. This way, you’ll be able to explore the wondrous coastal towns and landmarks of Oregon and California.

You could also do this trip backward if you’re coming from California and go on a San Francisco to Portland road trip.

By the end, you may even add a LA to San Francisco road trip and experience the Pacific coastline to the fullest.

1. Tillamook State Forest

tillamook state forest

This is the largest forest-based learning center in the region, and its interactive exhibits and glorious hiking trails make it well worth the visit.

One of my favorite parts is climbing a 40-foot replica of a forest fire lookout tower for unparalleled views of the surrounding landscape. If you want to experience the majestic forest on a walk, tackle the easy 0.5-mile out-and-back University Falls Trail.

There’s no better place to go in the forest than the 250-foot tall suspension bridge between Wilson River Trail and the Jones Creek Campground. Although the hike may be a bit long, snapping some glorious photos will capture your memories of the forest forever.

2. Tillamook Creamery

tillamook creamery

A visit to this part of the state isn’t complete without a visit to the Tillamook Creamery. I heard about this for years but didn’t actually make it there until I did my Crater Lake day trip last summer. This is a staple of Tillamook’s heritage but also has the modern charms that make it such an inviting space.

You can join a free walking tour of the building from its Grand Entrance to the viewing gallery, where you can watch cheesemaking. I’m not always into factory tours, but considering I’ve been having Tillamook cheese for years, I really did enjoy seeing the entire process on my Portland to San Francisco road trip.

They also have a restaurant where you can try all things cheese, as well as the very popular ice cream that always has a line. It’s a fun thing for kids to do too, as my little ones liked driving on the play dairy truck and, of course, finding souvenirs in the gift shop for me to buy for them.

Want to extend your trip? Here’s how to decide to visit Seattle vs. Portland.

3. Cape Kiwanda

cape kiwanda

Time for some more outdoor exploring, and Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area is the perfect place for this. You’ll love driving from Portland to San Francisco along the coast with how many views there are. I highly recommend enduring the thigh-burning hike up the 250-foot dune on the north side of Pacific City Beach.

At the top, you’ll enjoy dramatic views of the monolith Haystack Rock that juts out of the Pacific Ocean. Below, the rough waves crash against the shore while the flat McPhillips Beach rests to the north.

While this is impressive, there’s more, as the sandstone caves and cliffs between McPhillips Beach and Cape Kiwanda are also worth exploring. 

4. Siuslaw National Forest

Siuslaw National Forest has one of the most unique blends of soft dunes and vibrant forest, making it a must-see destination in the Pacific Northwest. This is by far one of my favorite stops on an Oregon Coast road trip due to how much there is to do in the area.

One of the first sights to take in is Thor’s Well. This ominous sinkhole can be seen from the viewing deck just off US 101, but I recommend taking the short hike down to see it closer up. I felt mesmerized as I watched it fill up, explode with water, and repeat over and over.

You can also stop and admire the Pacific Ocean from points like Neptune State Scenic Viewpoint or the Heceta Head Lighthouse. Despite all this, the main event is yet to come, as the Oregon Dunes Day Use Area is near the southern region of the forest.

5. Bandon

bandon oregon

There’s so much to do in Bandon that you could easily spend a few days here on your Portland to San Francisco road trip. However, you won’t have that long, so I’ll narrow it down to the city’s top sights.

Visit the 40-foot-tall Coquille Lighthouse at the Coquille river mouth. Another fantastic activity is visiting the Washed Ashore Gallery, a non-profit community art project that collects washed-up trash to make art. It saves the environment and creates some stunning artwork.

If you get the chance, it’s worth joining the Circles in the Sand group to create a mesmerizing labyrinth on Face Rock Wayside Beach. 

If you have beachside activities in mind, visiting the Bullards Beach State Park is worth a thought. You can walk along 4.3 miles of pristine beach and admire sea lions as they tan on the park’s rocky outcrop. That’s one thing I love about Oregon – there are so many beaches to explore that you’ll never run out.

6. Crescent City

crescent city

Crossing the border of Oregon and California, you’ll want to spend some time in the picturesque region of Crescent City. 

Go to the B Street Pier (extending 990 feet into the ocean), where you can admire the Battery Point Lighthouse in all its glory. If you visit during low tide, you’ll even be able to walk to the flower-covered hills of this red-roofed lighthouse. I recommend timing your visit here with either sunrise or sunset for stunning photos.

You can also walk along Pebble Beach along the city’s north shore, which appears to extend for eternity. If you’ve got some extra time, it’s going along Howland Hill Road in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. It’s a scenic drive that’ll prepare you for this list’s next destination.

7. Redwood National and State Parks


There are some stunning national parks across America, but finding a collection as majestic as the Redwood National and State Parks will be hard to beat. These trees are giant and something you’ll want to see in person. This is a string of parks that occupy 138,999 acres of protected wildlife, so you know there’s plenty to see here.

The Grove of Titans is a boardwalk trail that provides a magical stroll through dense rainforests. The Damnation Creek Trail is the perfect place to admire redwoods and rocky tidepools, while Elk Meadow is a great place to stop and admire Roosevelt elks.

However, an adventure through these forests is never complete until you’ve walked amongst Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Tip – have a picnic at Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park if you’re doing well on time on your Portland to San Francisco road trip.

8. Carson Mansion and Eureka

pinc lady mansion eureka

Eureka is a historic town that’s fun to stop in, and the breathtaking Carson Mansion is no exception. 

This elaborate Victorian house lies within Old Town Eureka and has been here since its completion in 1885. It certainly doesn’t hold back on grandeur with its wide porch, enigmatic stained glass windows, and emphasis on small details.

The owner of the Carson Mansion also constructed the Pinc Lady Mansion for his son, which you can see just across the street.

However, Eureka is more than the mansions. I recommend visiting Samoa Beach near the North Jetty to see what I mean. For a unique activity, visit the Kinetic Museum Eureka, where you can learn about the marvelous moving artworks of the annual Kinetic Grand Championship.

9. Avenue of the Giants

avenue of the giants

The stretch between Eureka and Mendocino has one of the prettiest scenic drives you’ll ever find. This 31-mile drive will take you through a forest of towering redwoods with a couple of picture-worthy landmarks, so have your camera ready to go.

The Founder’s Grove Trail is a short 0.5-mile loop trail that’ll take you past some of the most recognizable landmarks. You’ll see the Founders tree – try and wrap your arms around the trunk; it’s pretty hard (as you’ve probably seen on Instagram) — as well as the Dyerville Giant.

You’ll also be able to enjoy a smooth and meandering road as you approach the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree. It costs $10 to pass through, but you’ll have plenty of time to snap the perfect photo of your journey through the natural hole of this redwood. 

10. Chandelier Tree Drive-Thru

Chandelier Tree Drive-Thru
Image via Flickr: Jessica Merz

Driving through a tree once is cool, but how about doing it again? No, I don’t mean the same tree either because 40 miles from Shrine Drive-Thru Tree is the bigger and better Chandelier Tree. This is a must-see on your Portland to San Francisco road trip.

There’s a $15 entrance fee, but it’s for more than just the opportunity to drive through a living coastal redwood. You’ll also be able to use the fantastic picnic tables set up throughout the park and admire the large sculptures.  

There’s even a gift shop so you can always remember this unique experience. What more could you ask for?

11. Fort Bragg and Mendocino

glass beach fort bragg

On your way through to Mendocino, there’s one stop you absolutely have to make. In Fort Bragg, Glass Beach is a truly unique part of the world. Brilliant shades of glass paint the coastline in color and make for a short stop you can’t miss.

Note: As tempting as it may be, taking any glass from this protected coast is illegal, so just don’t.

Mendocino may small, but it’s one of the best destinations in California if you’re looking for delicious coastal cuisine.

I recommend stopping at restaurants like Cafe Beaujolais or FLOW Restaurant and Lounge. Simply put, grabbing a bite at each top place is a great way to explore the town.

12. Sonoma Wine Country

The last destination on your Portland to San Francisco road trip should be the glorious Sonoma Wine Region. I first visited here years ago and actually liked it a lot better than Napa Valley. It’s not as crowded, which means you don’t have to wait for tastings, and you can actually talk to the winemakers (something I love doing).

Here’s a list of my favorite Sonoma wineries, and to make your life easier, they’re in order from closest to Santa Rosa to nearest to San Francisco.

  • Emeritus Vineyards — Discover the art of deep root farming that gives this vineyard’s pinot noir its complex and varied flavor.
  • Hamel Family Wines — Once you enter the Gould Evans-designed tasting room with 18-foot-high windows, you’ll realize you’re in paradise.
  • Gundlach Bundschu — This sixth-generation vineyard serves up a fantastic variety of wines from pinot noir to gewürztraminer. You can’t go wrong with olive trees for shade and pondside views.
  • Scribe Winery — The fourth-generation winemakers at Scribe know what they’re doing, as you can taste everything from chardonnay to the unique sylvaner.
  • Three Sticks — You’ll feel inspired as the interior has a modern touch while the classic Spanish architecture that blessed California remains. You’re not just here for the architecture, though. You’re here for a rare experience, as this vineyard only produces 4,000 cases yearly. Most cases sell out before leaving Sonoma, so making the most of the experience is a must.

Note: You can only visit the vineyards on this list by appointment, so you’ll need to plan your time to see each one.

Alternatively, you can drive to San Francisco and join a Sonoma wine tour.

If you want to extend your trip at this point, you could continue on a road trip to San Diego.

You can also have a shorter trip by going on a drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

The Ultimate Portland to San Francisco Road Trip Itinerary

oregon sand dunes

To help plan your road trip, here’s my personal recommendation for a day-by-day itinerary of what to see along the way to make sure you see all the best stops. You can also do this in the opposite order to go on a drive from San Francisco to Portland.

Day 1: Leave Portland and Explore Tillamook and Cape Kiwanda

Leave Portland in the morning and head to Tillamook, an hour and 20-minute drive. Spend the day exploring the forest and creamery before hitting the road for the second leg of the day’s driving.

It’ll take half an hour to drive to Cape Kiwanda, where you can explore the scenic reserve in the afternoon and settle down for the day before a long drive on day two. This is one of the more scenic parts of a road trip around the Pacific Northwest.

Where to Stay in Cape Kiwanda

  • Surf and Sand Inn — For a budget-friendly option, the simple yet elegant rooms at Surf and Sand Inn may be right up your alley. They are also in the heart of Pacific City, which is only a 5-minute drive from the Cape Kiwanda coastline.
  • Inn at Cape Kiwanda This is the perfect luxury accommodation on the doorstep of the Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area. With views of the beach and spacious rooms, this pet-friendly option is one the best in town.

Day 2: Explore Siuslaw National Forest and Stay at Bandon

Get an early start and drive two and a half hours to Siuslaw National Forest, where you’ll spend the morning. It’s then another two-hour and a 40-minute drive to Bandon Beach, where a breathtaking coastline awaits.

On day three, you’ll spend the night in Bandon Beach before exploring more Redwood Forests.

Where to Stay in Bandon Beach

  • Best Western Inn — For a mid-range lodging with all the bells and whistles of a 5-star hotel, book a room at the Best Western Inn. You can enjoy the hot tub after a long day of driving and a hearty complimentary breakfast before you leave the next morning.
  • Table Rock Motel — Look no further than Table Rock Motel for a fantastic stay along Bandon Beach. The rooms have unique finishings, from colorful fans to bespoke flower paintings, while the tea and coffee maker means you can start your day on the right foot.

Day 3: Discover the Redwood Forests and Stay in Eureka

You’ll need to drive for two hours along the Pacific coastline to reach Crescent City, where you can spend the morning exploring the town. It’s then an hour’s drive to the Redwood National and State Parks, where you can explore midday and early afternoon.

The final stretch of driving for the day is a 45-minute trip to Eureka, where you’ll spend the night. Don’t forget to explore the city and Carson Mansion.

Where to Stay in Eureka

  • Hydrangea Inn — Stay in a classic Victorian home with parquet flooring and a magical spiraling staircase. This luxury inn is true to its name, with a picturesque hydrangea-filled garden you’ll love walking through.
  • Eureka Inn — For an opulent stay on a budget, book a room in the classic Tudor building at Eureka Inn. Every room is spacious, with a deep wooden interior with brilliant red carpets that will make you feel like royalty.

Day 4: Enjoy the Scenic Drive to Mendocino

Day four is all about admiring the scenery from the car along the Avenue of the Giants. You’ll pass through the Chandelier Tree Drive-Thru. It will take around three hours to complete this scenic drive before you arrive in Fort Bragg.

Spend the rest of the day exploring Fort Bragg and Mendocino (10 miles away) before the final day of driving.

Where to Stay in Mendocino

  • Agate Cove Inn — This accommodation brings beach living to the fore with gorgeous views and elegantly furnished rooms. The simple white interior lets you completely relax, while the special diet menus serve delicious food for everyone.
  • Headlands Inn — This lodging’s Victorian architecture pairs perfectly with the manicured garden you could spend hours walking through. The rooms have everything from extra seating to an office desk. However, you’ll want to spend most of your time in the dining room feasting on their delectable dishes.

Day 5: Explore Sonoma County and Arrive in San Francisco

You’ll start the final day of driving off with a two-hour trip to Santa Rosa, where adventure awaits. You’ll then want to spend the day stopping off at the top wineries in Sonoma county, an experience that can take up the entire day.

From there, it’s an hour’s drive to San Francisco, your final destination along this epic road trip.

If you want to continue on, you can do a shorter Big Sur day trip.

Alternatively, you could go on a San Francisco to LA drive to see more parts of California.

Where to Stay in San Francisco

  • Citizen M — For a stay as lively as Union Square, book a room at Citizen M. This hotel loves color, as you’ll see splashes of blues, reds, and everything in between in the main hall and restaurant. However, step into your room, and the soft combination of white linen and walls allows the city views to take center stage.
  • Club Donatello — A sophisticated stay awaits at Club Donatello. Everything here shouts luxury, from the marble bathrooms to the world-class restaurant on-site. It’s also in Union Square, so you’re never far from all the best activities in San Francisco.

Now get to planning so you can go on your own Portland to San Francisco road trip!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.