It has been a few years since we did this epic roadtrip along one of the most spectacular coastline roads in the world. We had done the more «famous» stretch of Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles but that is just a rump steak compared to the filet mignon that is the Pacific Coast Highway from Seattle to San Francisco. We did this trip at the beginning of July, so we could have the best weather possible, and as luck would have it, we started in a heat wave in Seattle.
Read about our Seattle adventure here.
Day 1: Seattle to Seaside
We rented a car from Avis in Seattle on a one-way rental to San Francisco, and it was cheaper to take a taxi back to the airport south of the city and getting the car there, than renting in the city centre. It also saves the hassle of navigating out of the city centre. Starting out we opted for not going via Aberdeen but driving down the main Interstate I5 down to Centralia and going right on Highway 4 at Longview towards the coast. Then going via Naselle on the 401 and this again meets the 101 at the very cool Astoria Bridge (worth the slight detour of not taking the 30 south of Longview to Astoria). You are now on the 101, the legendary Pacific Coast Highway, later becoming Highway 1 in northern California. You also cross into Oregon.
If you’re a movie buff, you need to stop for an hour or two in Astoria, it’s the location of the Goonies movie. And maybe the biggest and only claim to fame for that town. We kept on trucking. Our main destination for the day was Cannon Beach and a walk along the beach to Haystack Rock and The Needles. A nice walk, and some epic photo ops. Cannon Beach is very cosy, a bit upscale, with nice places to eat, but unfortunately there were no available places to stay, so we had to backtrack to Seaside for our night’s stay. Seaside is the opposite of Cannon Beach, a bit of worn-down English seaside resort was the vibe, not much to write home about.
Day 2: Seaside to Newport
Expect epic views, more epic views and maybe even more epic views. You get the picture here. The Oregon coast, and indeed it seems like the whole state of Oregon, is sparsely populated. The roads are near empty along the coast, and the vistas kept popping up behind every corner. Rockaway beach, Cape Kiwanda state natural area and many other stops along the way, my best suggestion is just to stop anywhere you feel like it. There are so many places that will take your breath away, so just stop, and take it all in. We stayed for the night at Newport, not that it’s a very spectacular place, but it seemed like a good days’ worth of driving, and we needed to rest. Beach and location of the hotel Hallmark Resort was stunning.
Day 3: Newport to Brookings
Be prepared for more vistas, beaches and views. The awesomeness continues. You will drive along the coast, and you will see beaches and sea. The Heceta Head Lighthouse is a nice stop, and a good place for lunch would be in Florence, a small nice town with a boardwalk along the Siuslaw river. The art deco Siuslaw River Bridge is a great photo op. The Waterfront Depot is a great place to eat.
After Florence you will encounter the Oregon dunes, a big area of sand dunes. You can hike them like we did and get a feel for how it would be to be lost in Sahara, we forgot to bring along enough water for our hike, rookie mistake. The dunes are breathtaking, an area of great natural beauty. If you feel more like adrenaline, there are plenty of off road tours. Explore this site to read more about hiking, and not hiking.
Along the coast in Bandon and the Bandon State Natural Area there is a great coastal path to walk for an hour or two.
In Port Orford, look out at the south edge of town for The Crazy Norwegians Fish and Chips shop, stop there for great local fish and chips, and buy the bumper sticker “In Cod We Trust”. Continue along the coast to Brookings. Why Brookings? Again, it seemed like we needed somewhere to stop and sleep, so we chose Brookings. The Spindrift Motor Inn was not bad, not great, but a room and a shower. Had one of the most epic sunsets in my life there.
Day 4: Brookings to Eureka
Not long after Brookings you cross into California, not much of a change, it’s still epic coastal driving. Its was the 4th of July, so we had decided to stay in a “bigger” town to experience that great day for the first time with locals, and see what it was all about. So, we ended up in Eureka, the entire city is a historic landmark. It’s the biggest city between Portland and San Fran, but still only about 30 000 people. There is a stunning Victorian old town, with hundreds of colourful buildings. We got a room at the beautiful Carter House highly recommended just for being nice and good people. Walk around Eureka to look at all the pretty Victorian houses, it’s truly a unique place. Stop by Humboldt Bay Provisions and get plenty of travel advice, great beer and not to forget the local oysters, and great pizza as well!
4th of July is an all-out family affair, lots of stuff going on, stalls, vendors, BBQs and singalongs. We had a blast mixing with the locals, Ørjan got his hair cut by a befuddled lady. We had oysters, beer and beef from the BBQ pits that were plentiful along the mainstreet of Eureka. The crowd was huge by evening, and the vibe was great. It was our first experience of the America national day, and it did not disappoint. It all ended with a big fireworks display by the sea.
Day 5: Eureka to Mendocino
The Lost Coast
Perhaps one of the finest detours we have ever taken. We stumbled upon this when reading up on Northern California. It’s a hidden gem of a road, and it’s a bit tricky to find. But when you do, it’s worth it. Drive south out of Eureka, down to Fernbridge and the 211 to Ferndale, once on Main Street it’s a bit tricky to find exactly where to take a right and continue the road that’s called both the 211, the Wildcat rd. and the Mattole rd., it will take you over the mountain to Capetown (not a big place). The road will again take you along the coast after tackling the mountain road, but this is truly the Lost Coast, and if you see more than two cars on the whole road, it’s considered busy. Drive to Petrolia and on to Honeydew (it has a small old convenience store by the bridge) and over the mountains again. If you are a sucker for the roads less travelled, this is the one road you need to go! The nice surprise when you cross the mountains, is that you suddenly are smack bang in the redwoods. Without the crowds! You will join the 101 just north of Weott and the visitor centre for the Humbolt Redwoods State Park, drive the 254 also called Avenue Of The Giants, due to the amount of giant redwoods along the road. Stop at your leisure to see and explore the redwoods, but if you’re like us, you would have stopped earlier when the crowds where less. Drive down to Leggett and take a right on Highway 1 down to the coast again. The coast is dotted with small villages where the people of San Fran like to hang out during the summer weekends. We chose Mendocino just because it came highly recommended, and it looked nice. We had luck and got a room at MacCallum House with a bathtub and nice views.
Day 6: Mendocino to San Francisco
On the way, again lots of vistas. Do the slight detour of visiting the Point Reyes Lighthouse.
Stinson Beach is the last point where you can eat and maybe swim at the beach, before you hit San Fran traffic. The Surfers Grill at the beach have great burgers. Drive via Muir Beach and Muir Woods on the way. You will be spit out into heavy traffic when you enter the 101 at Marin City. And just after the tunnel, when you see Golden Gate bridge in front of you, make sure you are in the right lane, and be prepared to take a swift right. Exit 442 Alexander Avenue will take you up to the right and Conzelman ave and up to the headlands overlooking Golden Gate and San Fran. One of the most epic vistas in the world. Once back down again you will join the hamsters in metal cages on their way over the Golden Gate to SF and beyond. After the toll booth be prepared to hold left and the 101 to Marino Blvd. to get to SF downtown. Since we don’t know where you are going in SF, we leave you to your satnav. Parking in SF is EXPENSIVE, so better drop off your car at a rental agency in SF central, and take a taxi to the airport, than parking it for 3-4 days.
If you have more days at your disposal we would for sure recommend to use a few more days for this stretch of epic coast. There were meny places we could have stayed for a day or two on the way but time did not permit us to do so. The Pacific Coast Highway from Seattle to SF is probably one of the most beautiful and scenic routes we have ever driven. Especially the Lost Coast was a hightlight among highlights. The horizons were endless and the views epic on the most epic drives of them all.
Read more about our quick guide to San Francisco here.