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Itinerary Advice: SF-Portland-SF Loop, Late June

Planning a nine-day loop road trip from San Francisco, CA to the Portland, Oregon area, and back to San Francisco in June.

- We arrive in SF approx. 6 pm on Day 1 and fly home the evening of Day 9
- Plan to spend Day 2 at Redwood National Forest Park
- Tentatively planning to be in Portland Day 4 and 5
- Are interested in trying unique types of lodging (tiny houses, yurts, camp cabins)
- Balancing between seeing great sights and not being overly ambitious
- Goal is to get as far north as Fort Stevens and Astoria
- Pipe dream: getting to Vancouver and San Juan Island

Would appreciate your advice:
- Which part of the coast is worth budgeting time for vs. driving Rt 5
- Recommendations for first-timer itinerary

We value great views, nature walks, and wildlife, unique and authentic local experiences, history.

Many thanks!

Posted by
2971 posts

I would drive up the coast the whole way, and return down I-5.

Day 1 up Highway 1 to Mendocino. Day 2 drive on up (connect to 101) to the redwoods. Be sure to take the Fern Canyon hike (turn off at Orick but stop at the visitor center to get a map and directions).

At the bottom of the page use the link for a 2-day itinerary in the redwoods for more things to do. There is also a search function for lodging on that page---you can select for cabins and cottages. Look for something around Orick or Trinidad.

After Crescent City you have a junction with a choice to stay on the coast through Oregon or head to Grants Pass for I-5. Stay on the coast as the Oregon coast is spectacular. I don't know a town to suggest for an overnight as we usually camp or stay with friends, but maybe someone else has a suggestion.

This will have you reaching Portland on Day 4. You could visit Astoria from there on Day 6-7 and have days 8 and 9 to drive back south. We like to stay in Mount Shasta City (just south of Weed) when we drive I-5.

Posted by
3521 posts

There is a stretch of the CA coast, roughly from Pt. Reyes to Mendocino, that is VERY challenging driving. You may want to do it, but be prepared. Definitely use Hwy 5 in one direction.
Pt. Reyes Nat'l Seashore has great trails, including one along the San Andreas fault, which explains the geology and history. There's also a reconstruction of a Miwok Indian village in the park. Very good visitor center.
Florence OR is a nice coastal town. There is a state park there with astonishiingly huge white sand dunes. You might also want to do a day trip up the Columbia River Gorge from Portland.
Give up the notion that you can fit in Vancouver and San Juan Island. Too much car time.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you so much for your suggestions!

Sasha, Rosalyn and khbuzzard: It looks like our plans are falling in with a combination of your suggestions. My husband and I sketched out an option.
Day 1: Arrive SF, drive to Medocino, possibly further towards Redwood National Forest Park (one night)
Day 2: Drive to Redwood Forest (one night)
Day 3: Drive to Yachats/Cape Perpetua/Florence (one night, probably a campground cabin)
Day 4: Drive to Portland (two nights) - we have a reservation at the Tiny House Hotel
Day 5: Day trip to Astoria and Ft. Stevens, return to Portland for night
Day 6: Columbia River Gorge & Mt Hood, stay at Mt. Hood (one night)
Day 7: Drive 1/2 way down to SF, see Crater Lake, stay Mt. Shasta City
Day 8: Finish drive down to SF
Day 9: Depart evening

This has us back tracking a bit around Portland. We also have some time left in the itinerary; we know we'll find places we haven't heard of that we want to explore... Maybe we'll stay overnight in Astoria.

Posted by
2526 posts

I'd suggest at least visiting, if not staying overnight, the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. Soak in the history and appreciate the architectural features.

Posted by
5828 posts

Have you considered flying into PDX (or SEA) and returning from SFO with a one-way rental car?

The conventional thinking on biking the Oregon coast is riding north to south. While tailwinds aren't to relevant to automobile driving, given that we drive on the right here in the West, touring north to south puts you on the side of the road closer to the ocean. Your passenger will be better able to enjoy the ocean scenery driving southbound.

And yes, do not drive distracted on California Highway 1. Portions do not have guard rails and driving off the road would be a recovery situation.

If you do drive I-5 (when you've seen one beach you've seen them all), consider diverting to Crater Lake NP. Southbound from Roseburg divert to OR 138 to the Pumice Desert north entrance of CLNP. drive south to the south exiting from the Annie Springs south entrance. Drive east on OR 62 to Klamath Falls, then south on OR 97 to reconnect to I-5 at Weed, CA. Crater Lake is Oregon's first and only National Park. OR 97 is an introduction to the western edge of Oregon's "high desert".

Posted by
3521 posts

I just had a thought about driving Highway 5. The places to stop for lunch in the CA section are far between and not too great. We usually exit at Williams, a little town in the Sacramento Valley. there is a restraint/deli, Granzella's, that is really quite good.

Posted by
15450 posts

Southbound on 97, I'd try to fit in a 1-2 hour visit to the High Desert Museum in Bend.

Posted by
10328 posts


Looking at your Day 7 to drive from Mt Hood to Shasta, CA with a visit to Crater Lake in between makes for almost 500 miles of driving. It leaves you little time other than to stop and shoot a few pictures of Crater Lake and hit the road. There is a trail from the rim to the water which you might enjoy.

I would suggest you make the Medford area your destination for the night, rather than Shasta. That gives you more time at Crater Lake and an easily manageable drive to SF the next day.

I think the northbound trip along the coast and I-5 s/b ( after Crater Lake) makes the best sense. If your schedule slips earlier on your trip, its easier to go s/b I-5 expeditiously, than down Hwy 101 along the coast.

Posted by
5828 posts

If you do decide to take I-5 southbound, and want to experience Oregon's high desert OR 97 route consider the following from Eugene:
East on OR 126 McKenzie Pass Highway towards Sisters

After McKenzie Bridge (and before Belknap Springs) take OR 242 (Old McKenzie Pass Road) East towards Sisters:

Whether by car, motorcycle, bike or foot, the McKenzie Highway is one
of the most picturesque scenic byways Oregon offers. ODOT crews are
working hard to clear the pass for vehicles. Check out this video with
aerial views of our progress.

Hopefully the road will be plowed by your trip. It's the slow but scenic road over the Cascades. Watch for bikes.

After Sisters, South on OR 97 to OR 230 West to the Crater Lake NP north entrance.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you all for such thoughtful and helpful suggestions (i.e. routes, stops and how to pace ourselves).

Edgar: Great idea! We thought of it just after we'd booked our tickets into SFO. We looked into changing our tickets, but would be $400 increase. It was a "missing the forest for the trees" moment. Next time we plan to travel one way. We do plan to visit Crater Lake. Sounds great!

Posted by
341 posts

I would not underestimate the travel time on the coastal roads of California and Oregon. They are mainly two lanes, curvy, slow, and probably take twice as long as you would expect - even without stopping.

Your initial post says arriving at SFO around 6:00 pm. Just with driving time, picking up rental car, getting through San Francisco, you probably couldn't make Mendocino before 10:00 pm. Not knowing where you are coming from, how familiar you are with driving on narrow, two lane roads, or how much you want to stop, you might take a good hard look at your itinerary.

If you want to go to Fort Stevens and Astoria, you might consider going there via the coastal route and then go inland to Portland and thus avoid backtracking. Also, if you do a stay at Hood River or up at Timberline Lodge, you probably should avoid going back into Portland, and instead, heading directly south to Bend, Crater Lake.

You really don't have a lot of time for side trips, or hikes, etc. You are covering a lot of miles in a very short period of time. Travel will be slow on the coast route; small towns, construction, etc.

Good luck!

Posted by
15450 posts

Don't feel too bad about not planning a one-way drive. The drop-off charge from state to state can be stiff and you'll get to different parts of Oregon ☺

To save a few dollars, look at renting from a site near but not at SFO. Last year I saved by renting from Hertz in San Bruno (through Travelocity) and avoided the steepish airport fees, with no extra charge for drop-off at SFO.

Posted by
533 posts

Another option for cutting down on driving time would be to drive in one direction and take the train in the other. If you've never taken an overnight trip on Amtrak before, I'd say it definitely qualifies as unique accommodation. The train leaves Portland in the early afternoon and arrives in the SF area the next morning.

For a trip this June, you'd want to get your tickets ASAP, especially if you want to reserve a sleeper (which I recommend).

Posted by
1943 posts

Great advice already - and it's very true that the drive time on the Oregon coast in late June is going to take much longer than the map implies - speed limits in towns are 25-30 mph and there is plenty of motor home traffic. If you're wanting a yurt in a coastal campground, good luck finding one. Most are reserved months ahead of time. Check immediately for midweek openings. Along the way up the south coast, some of my favorite things: Shore Acres State Park (near Coos Bay), the dunes in Florence, Hobbit Trail (just south of Florence), Cape Perpetua, the Bread and Roses bakery in Yachats (yah-hots). Just north of Reedsport and inland a smidge is a wonderful elk viewing area on the Umpqua River (Dean Creek Elk viewing area).

I love Astoria and have plenty of suggestions, but it's going to add a big chunk of travel to your time and it's not actually on the coast (it's on the Columbia River, inland, but near the coast). For your short itinerary, you might consider cutting over mid way up coast (Lincoln City) to get to PDX - a good chunk of 101 highway north of Lincoln City is inland (not on coast) and not as scenic. Cutting over would allow you to make a stop in Oregon wine country (in Dundee, right on highway 99W, you can visit Dobbes Estate and Argyle, two pretty fine wineries). Your pipe dream to Vancouver/San Juans is a dream for sure unless you want to spend the entire trip inside a car.

I agree with the suggestion to stay at Mt. Hood, or better yet, Bend and head to Crater Lake from there. Be advised that it's entirely possible there will still be a lot of snow at the park even at the end of June. Check this page for current conditions. If you end up going through Medford as suggested, there are a couple of treehouse rental places near the Oregon Caves - totally unique!

PM me if you want more ideas or info - I'm a 6th gen. Oregonian and just LOVE to help people find out why we can't move away from here.

Posted by
3387 posts

A really nice place to stay between SF and Mendocino is a tiny place called Gualala...there's an inn called St. Orres that is quite unique. We've stayed there a few times and really enjoyed it. You can stay in the main building or one of the cabins or cottages on the property. The beach there is deserted and beautiful!
Definitely drive up highway 1 as far as you can - the 5 is not scenic at all and is basically an artery to get you from point A to point B. Maybe take that on your way back.
The scenery along highway 1 can't be can follow it up the coast for most of the way, except for a part where you have to merge with highway 101, all the way up into Oregon. Everything from Marin County up to Oregon is spectacular. Other towns I like along the way are Sea Ranch (really interesting church there), Fort Ross (an old Russian outpost from the fur trading days), Ferndale, Arcata (really nice little place!!), and the various redwood forests along the way.

Posted by
244 posts

With just 9 days you will be on the road the entire time. Since you have already booked your flight round trip from SFO. Why don't you drive SF to Portland or Seattle then catch a cheap flight back to SFO on Southwest. Spend the night in SF before your flight home. You can spend more time on the coast. This would give you enough time to see the San Juan Islands. Take the ferry from Seattle. I would much rather see the San Juan Islands vs driving home on I-5!

Posted by
2971 posts

A one-way drive will add considerably to the cost of the car rental. Then add the cost of the flight back to SFO.

Posted by
5828 posts

Note that one-way car rental drop-off fees can depend on the direction. I have paid minimal to no drop-off surcharges driving a rental from Medford Rogue Valley International Airport (MFR) to San Francisco International (SFO). On the other hand, I have paid a $100 surcharge picking up at SFO or OAK and returning to MFR.

Posted by
5828 posts

Note that one-way car rental drop-off fees can depend on the direction. I have paid minimal to no drop-off surcharges driving a rental from Medford Rogue Valley International Airport (MFR) to San Francisco International (SFO). On the other hand, I have paid a $100 surcharge picking up at SFO or OAK and returning to MFR.

Just tested out a 24 hour one-way Hertz full size rental weekend 24 June pick up. SFO to PDX = $286 total while PDS to SFO = $165 total cost. Cheaper to drive to California.

Posted by
2971 posts

I don't think prices for a 24-hour rental are representative of what they would pay for nine days.

I have seen horror stories about one-way rental prices between SFO and LAX for a 4-day drive. But there may be exceptions for their route to Portland.. They should check the actual dates.

Posted by
2971 posts

Hertz says $1043 for a 9-day rental one-way northbound, for either compact or intermediate.

Southbound is $750 compact and $780 intermediate.

Roundtrip from SFO is $464 compact or $750 intermediate ( but will cost more in gas for the longer drive).

Posted by
5828 posts

The reason for testing the 24 hour rental alternatives is to determine the delta associated with the one-way direction. Of course if you have very specific dates and durations, is pretty basic to check the specifics dates/durations. My observation is that often one direction tends to have larger surcharges than the opposite direction.

My other observation is that at times, rental car companies will not offer one-way rentals at any price. Last year I found that I could not get a one way rental from OAK (Oakland Airport) at any cost from any rental agency, but could get a one-way rental from Hertz's downtown Oakland rental station. (I waited too long. I didn't like the quoted price for the one-way rental, spent a couple of days thinking about ite, then found the one-way to be not available from OAK when I decided to go forward).

In the past, I've used one way, one day rentals to depart from major hubs (SFO, OAK, PDX) as an alternative to departing from our local regional airport.