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Pacific Coast Highway San Francisco to Seattle

My wife and I are planning a 7 day PCH trip from San Francisco (we'll actually start in Mendocino) to terminate in Portland or Seattle in late May 2021. I'd love a suggested itinerary, glorious natural beauty, charming towns, romantic lodging (under $200 per night), and can't miss restaurants, etc. Thanks for your help!

Posted by
5657 posts

If you travel north to south you will be in the travel lane closest to the ocean and pulling off into scenic overlooks is a right turn in without having to cross on-coming traffic.

Posted by
2317 posts

If you travel north to south you will be in the travel lane closest to the ocean and pulling off into scenic overlooks is a right turn in without having to cross on-coming traffic.

What a great suggestion, Edgar! I would leave you a tip if I could!

Posted by
5 posts

A work commitment in Sacramento immediately proceeding our trip dictates my south to north travel. I also prefer not to drive in the lane closest to the edge of the cliff...makes me too nervous!

Posted by
21243 posts

The road along the coast is great sightseeing but it is very curvy with lots of ups and downs so it is very slow going. The views are terrific so you cannot be in a hurry. You do have to pay attention to driving. And there is a huge difference between Seattle and Portland as an end.

Posted by
577 posts

About one hour south of Mendocino is the Little River Inn. We've stayed there twice. It's across the street from the ocean and I think all of the rooms have ocean views. It has an excellent restaurant. I assume you will drive through the redwoods and will spend at least one night in that area. I suggest Ferndale as the stopping point. Renovated Victorian homes and buildings converted to B&Bs. If you have time I would drive the Lost Cost. It is stunning. It will take an entire day and is accessed from Ferndale. Another stopping point is Trinidad Head north of Ferndale. Nice hike overlooking the ocean. It's hard to go wrong along the Oregon coast. Just about anywhere is worth stopping and staying. One unusual location is Neskowin where a winter storm uncovered the stumps of an ancient petrified forest. There's a nice cafe there, the Hawk Creek Cafe. The Proposal Rock Inn in Neskowin is a condo hotel. Not particularly quaint and charming but it gets the job done.

Edit to add: As you head further north and if you are into all things dairy, stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. It's a little hokey but the ice cream is great. Alternatively stop at one of the local grocery stores and get one of Tillamook's "special" flavors. They aren't available anywhere else and there are some truly awesome ones. Closer to Portland is Cannon Beach, a former artist colony turned tourist mecca. It's a little touristy but there are some nice art galleries, good restaurants and a number of very nice hotels. We stay at the Ocean Lodge. Ocean front rooms with balconies. Next door is the Stephanie Inn which is said to have an excellent restaurant (the wine list is out of my price range).

Posted by
12368 posts

I suggest you end your trip at Portland rather than continuing up to Seattle. Highway 101 in Washington goes inland rather than hugging the coast for most of its length, and it is not at all scenic. You go through lots of logged-over land. And the towns, such as Aberdeen and Hoquiam, are logging towns, not tourist towns. You can access beaches in Olympic National Park by leaving 101, but there is no lodging close, so these would be short stops for a walk on the beach. After the gorgeous beaches of the Oregon coast, you might find these redundant. And right now access to several of the Olympic beaches is unavailable because the road crosses tribal land, which is closed to visitors. No one knows if this will change by next May.

Limiting your trip to the California coast, the Redwoods, and the Oregon coast will make for a wonderfully scenic trip. Say 3 nights in California and three in Oregon along the coast.

From Mendocino, head up highway 101 to where it turns inland and joins 101, which you will follow all the way to Astoria in Oregon if you so choose. Just a bit north of the junction of 1 and 101, you will find the Benbow Inn, an historic inn that meets your criteria of "romantic lodging." You can explore the famed Avenue of the Giants from here.

https://benbowinn.com

Then, unless you like the Lost Coast suggestion above, continue up 101 past Eureka and Arcata (a college town) to the little hamlet of Trinidad. Spend 2 nights here to explore the Redwoods around here, such as Newton Drury Parkway. You can hike beautiful Fern Canyon and explore Gold Beach if you don't mind the narrow road in.

Trinidad has nice lodging options, some with ocean views. We like the cabins at Viewcrest Lodge, but I have seen good recommendations for nice B and B's there too, if that is more your style. Consult TripAdvisor reviews to pick one if no one comes forward with Trinidad lodging recommendations.

https://www.viewcrestlodge.com

I cannot help with the Oregon coast lodging as we either camp there or stay with friends in Manzanita.

Posted by
10344 posts

Lola makes great points, and especially her 1st paragraph should be read carefully and followed.

Posted by
7613 posts

Where is home and how do you plan to get there from the end of the coastal drive?

If you are flying home, Seattle will have more choices than Portland.

For what you are looking for, the Oregon coast is better than the Washington coast.

Posted by
5657 posts

A lot of good advice. With only a week, I would concur on departing from PDX and saving Washington of an other visit. (The San Juan Islands and Puget Sound are worth a week in itself.) However, if departing flights from SEA are preferred, However, if SEA is the preferred departure airport, SEA is only about a 3 hour drive from Portland via I-5 outside of commute hours.

Redwood NP - Leave Hwy 101 and take the scenic parkway: https://www.nps.gov/thingstodo/drivenbdparkway.htm

RE: You can hike beautiful Fern Canyon... Redwood National and State Park is worth a day of exploring and Fern Canyon is worth a day of exploring, more if on foot. The hike to Fern Canyon from the Prairie Creek Visitor's Center is a" journey is the destination" walk, it is a half day plus walk: https://www.visitredwoods.com/listing/hike-to-fern-canyon-james-irvine-trail/476/ . While one can drive to Fern Canyon, a high clearance vehicle would be highly recommended as the rough road fords several streams. Also note that the foot bridges may not be in place in May. https://www.nps.gov/places/ferncanyon.htm

Also, people driving low-clearance vehicles often get stuck when
trying to cross two streams on the way to the Fern Canyon parking
area.

The Monterey Aquarium can't be beat, but the Newport Aquarium is a great second and worth a stop. https://aquarium.org/

For roads less traveled, consider Oregon Coast Bike Route alternative sections (drive slow and watch for southbound bikes):
https://bikeportland.org/2013/09/24/the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-on-the-oregon-coast-bike-route-94151

By far the best parts of the Oregon Coast Bike Route are the sections
off the highway. Once you leave that well-worn thoroughfare you’re
treated to the splendors of the Oregon Coast undiluted by exhaust,
loud engines, or inconsiderate drivers. Memorable sections where we
left the roar of Highway 101 behind included: Three Capes Scenic Route
south of Tillamook which took us from Netarts Bay through Cape Lookout
State Park and then Pacific City;

Otter Crest Loop near Cape Foulweater; https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/oregon/otter-crest-loop-or/

Posted by
403 posts

“Special Tillamook flavors”!!??

Well now I’ll have to take this drive as well.

Posted by
5 posts

We live north of Tampa Fl. on the Gulf Coast. I've never been north of San Francisco so your collective counsel has been immensely helpful. Thank you!

Posted by
4775 posts

I take it that you're going to rent a car in SF or Mendocino and drop it off in either Portland or Seattle. Much as I love parts of the Washington coast and Olympic Peninsula, I have to agree with others that the best scenery will be between SF and the Columbia River. The only reason to come into Washington would be that you have a better flight option from SeaTac than from PDX, one worth a lot of extra, and mostly not very scenic, driving to get to.

If that's the case, cross into Washington from Astoria and stay on 101 past the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, South Bend, and Raymond. Then, a few miles past the little hamlet of Artic, turn right onto 107 to Montesano, where you pick up 8 going east toward beautiful historic Olympia. That will take you to I-5, go north toward Seattle and take exit 154 (route 518) to SeaTac Airport. Leave plenty of time for this drive, that stretch of I-5 has some of the worst congestion in the US. The rural two-lane stretches of 101 between Astoria and Montesano can also be slow if you get stuck behind a truck or RV.

If PDX is your end point, then the most efficient ways to get there would be turning inland from Reedsport or Florence or Lincoln City, but you'd miss a lot of great coastal scenery. I'd recommend staying on 101 right up to Astoria, then turning southeast on 30 to follow the Columbia upstream.

And definitely plan to return to Washington for another week or more. We need the sales tax revenue! ;-)

Posted by
145 posts

For salmon lovers, I recall a roadside smoked salmon stand on the coastal route 101 near Klamath. Variety of flavors and quite yummy, I was wishing we had picked up more.

Posted by
687 posts

Here are some more ideas for your trip along the Oregon Coast, from south to north:

Gold Beach - take a jet boat ride up the Rogue River.

Bandon has a world famous golf course.

Light houses are all along the way.

The sand dunes south of Florence offer dune buggy rides.

Take the Three Capes (Kiwanda, Lookout, Meares) Scenic Route.

Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach.

Lewis & Clark National Historic Park near Astoria; Lewis & Clark wintered here in 180?.

Fort Stevens on the NW tip of Oregon. The fort’s claim to fame is that it was fired on in WWII.

Oregon’s current Covid restrictions are fairly strict, but who knows what May, 2021 will be like. You have more options than time, so good luck.

Posted by
774 posts

I've hesitated to reply to this for a couple of reasons. This drive has multiple extensive threads already (just search) and second, almost everything listed is going to be closed, restricted, or out of business. COVID has made a major impact on this already, and it's not going to be any better, or even recovered, come spring. In fact, unless things change drastically you won't be able to leave California, because the whole State's being shut down this weekend. Hotels we used to recommend probably won't survive another 5-6 months without income. 80% of the places to eat are already on the critical list. I really wouldn't plan on State parks being open, since the last time they tried that in CA it caused a major upswing in virus patients.

So I guess the real question is, to co-opt Dirty Harry, "Do you feel lucky?".

Yes, I know there's a vaccine (actually multiple ones, which is scary on it's own), but as someone who's a bit conservative about what I get stuck into my flesh I'm going to wait until they have been proven effective and the rates of infection fall down to the levels of smallpox, measles, and other proven remedies before I throw caution to the wind and start traveling again. My bet is it'll be 2-3 years before all the "normal" services are open along the Coast. At least you can count on the head shops being open.

Posted by
510 posts

If you get a chance, stop in Bandon and see if they have one of their circle walks. We did that this summer and it was a great experience. Bandon is a lovely town. https://www.sandypathbandon.com/

We also enjoyed Cannon Beach and Seaside.

I am a native Oregonian (now living in CA) and had never driven the full length of the coast highway and found lots of little gems.

As far as lodging, we enjoyed the Best Western at Face Rock in Bandon. The rooms were nice and they have their own private beach.

Posted by
1554 posts

Good advice so far. Be sure to pack layers and a water repellant coat. For sure skip Washington, you'll fill seven days with northern CA and Oregon coast. My native Oregonian advice (from South to North 101):

  • Shore Acres State Park
  • Heceta Head lighthouse
  • Cape Perpetua scenic area
  • Yachats (Yachats brewery, Bread and Roses bakery)
  • Sylvia Beach hotel in Newport (all rooms are literary themed) and eat at Local Ocean
  • Pelican Brewery in Pacific City to watch the dory boats come in
  • Cape Lookout (hike and view)
  • Tillamook creamery
  • Ecola State Park
  • Manzanita
  • Astoria for Bowpicker seafood and Buoy beer (they have a plexiglass floor to view the sea lions)

Note that all of our beaches are public, but some access is limited through private property – just make note of access signs, they're obvious. Also Dungeness crab is the local specialty; you can't go wrong ordering it. And FWIW, we don't allow self-serve gas in most cases (yeah, we know).

Posted by
5657 posts

A Newport restaurant that we enjoyed in the past is the Canyon Way Bookstore & Restaurant. Yes, a restaurant in a bookstore so you can browse while waiting to be seated. It's been a few years but the Yelp review is still good: https://www.yelp.com/biz/canyon-way-bookstore-and-restaurant-newport

But a point of caution in these Covid-19 times. Looking at the Google Maps location for the Canyon Way restaurant, Google is showing very limited days and hours (Monday to Wednesday 11AM - 3PM). The caution here is that operating days and hours and takeout vs sit down are likely to change as the Covid situation changes.

https://govstatus.egov.com/OR-OHA-COVID-19

To fight the rapid spread of COVID-19, the governors of Oregon,
Washington and California issued travel advisories urging visitors
entering their states or returning home from travel outside these
states to self-quarantine. The advisories urge against non-essential
out-of-state travel, ask people to self-quarantine for 14 days after
arriving from another state or country, and encourage residents to
stay local.

Of course, we are all hoping that things will be better by next May.

Posted by
30 posts

I'm assuming you have plans for Sacramento to Mendocino. If not, consider taking SR128 through Napa Valley all the way to Mendocino. Depending on stops (there are several wineries along the way :)) that could take some travel time. Stay on SR128 after crossing 101 for good coast range and redwood scenery. Boonville is a fun stop for the Anderson Valley Brewery. Be aware locals speak a language called Boont. Weekend traffic through the Napa Valley is heavy. Happy travels and be safe.

Posted by
3156 posts

One word of caution from the voice of experience. The various state highway agencies use the months of May - October for maintenance work. This can result in numerous slow downs and even waiting periods along the road. The year we did it, it took us most of a day to get from Seattle to Florence OR. At that point, we realized we would not be likely to accomplish our required arrival in the Bay Area in the next day, so cut over to Highway 5 for speed.

I would think that these days you can find out where work is being done and plan accordingly.