Seattle To San Francisco
The Pacific Coast Highway
This trip was done by car in July, just to be sure of nice weather. We started by flying into Seattle SeaTac airport with SAS from Oslo via Copenhagen and directly to Seattle. It could with no problems be done by motorbike, maybe with one extra stop on the way.
We started off with 3 nights in Seattle, the promised land of grunge and all our favourite music. We spent 5 nights on the road between Seattle and San Francisco on the epic Highway 1 through Oregon and North California. Ending with 3 nights in San Francisco.
For us, Seattle is a near mythical city. The birthplace of grunge, our favourite bands, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Temple Of The Dog, Nirvana, Mad Season, Alice In Chains, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, The Sonics, Heart, I could go on for a bit here. Our favourite 90s movie Singles by Cameron Crowe. So we had some expectations to that city and just to feel some of the spirit of the 90s, just having a coffee in this legendary place would suffice. Check out our playlist of grunge at the bottom of this page!
We chose to go in July, just because we knew that the north west is known for rain, and more rain. And wouldn’t you know it, we landed smack bang in the middle of a heat wave! In Seattle we had 30 Celsius (around 90F) for the whole stay.
We stayed at the Ace Hotel Seattle that had a good location in Belltown with plenty of restaurants, bars and coffee shops around. Just up the street and around the corner you have Mamas Mexican Kitchen, where the members of both Pearl Jam and Soundgarden had numerous tacos after rehearsal in the basement of The Forge just behind the building. Also The Lava lounge and the Rabbit Hole on the same street are awesome. A great neighbourhood to stay.
What to do in Seattle?
Well, you could go to Pike Place Market like most people do, and see the fish getting tossed, or have a mediocre coffee at the world’s first Starbucks. What we did, and what every person visiting Seattle should do, is first of all go to Museum Of Pop Culture which is a very cool building with mind blowing content. When we visited there was (surprise, surprise) an exhibition on grunge, with all the cool stuff from Kurt Cobain’s cardigan, to guitars, flyers and drums from that era. The museum has an ever changing exhibition, from Star Wars to Minecraft. It’s a highly recommended first stop for all when coming to Seattle. And the Space Needle is right next to it too. If you can beat the queue, go, we did not, and did not go.
If you are a music buff, THIS is the tour: Stalking Seattle.
We spent half a day with Charity Drewery in her people carrier, seeing all the major spots for music nerds coming to Seattle. Concert venues, many not there anymore, rehearsal spaces, photo spots for albums, Kurt Cobain’s last home, where the Singles movie was shot (among many locations, the house itself), all the time blasting grunge music from her stereo. Charity was part of the scene, and still is, keeping the flame alive for the people that are no longer with us, from Andy to Kurt and Chris. Epic way to see the city.
We of course took the bus to Gas Works Park, also used in the Singles Movie. The Fremont Sunday market is just up the road, and if you’re walking look out for the troll under the bridge. A legacy from the Scandinavian fishers who settled in the area. The Fremont market is a great day out to shop for trinkets, or just eat great street food.
Just to cut more stories short, we loved Seattle, and we only explored a little bit of it!
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.
San Francisco is a great city, we like it a lot, and there are so many bars, restaurants and great places to see and visit. As usual, we have only scratched the surface of a world city, we did not even get to see a baseball or football game. If you visit, make sure that you choose what you would like to see in advance, but also make time to “get lost” on one of the many hills and local neighbourhoods in central SF. We love to get lost, it’s when you see a city for what it’s truly like.
For film buffs, SF is the location of classics like Bullitt (ultimate car chase down Lombard street), 48Hrs, The Rock, Dirty Harry and Vertigo. There are locations galore, most famous is probably Lombard Street, the winding floral street featured in many movies, but mostly from Bullitt. See them before you go and get exited!
Number one on most people’s list is still Alcatraz. I’ve been there 3 times, and every time it blew me away. Perhaps the best audio tour in the world, stories told by both inmates and wardens. It will give you goose bumps. My advice is to book WELL in advance, and also go on the first tour of the day, then you will have a little time almost alone before the throngs of people arrive. There is only one official place to get tickets, and that’s here.
After you get back on land, you could of course go to the hugely touristy Fisherman’s Wharf (it’s not very good, or pretty, or much to see) walk through it, and that’s it. You could also step off the boat and turn right for a delish gourmet diner experience at Fog City.
When in SF you will have to walk up and down a few hills, it is hilly, but that’s what makes the city so different. If you feel like a good view of the city, go to Coit Tower.
If you feel like getting lost, just walk up Russian Hill and take in the neighbourhood vibe.
Cow Hollow on the other side of the hill is a more upscale place, but plenty of shops and restaurants, and hardly a tourist in site.
When in SF you probably want to take the cable car, get in line. Be EARLY and get the streetcar from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s the best route.
Also, take one of the cool old trams from downtown to Castro. Castro is the gayest place on earth, read up on how SF became so gay, and see the film Milk with Sean Penn before you go.
From here it’s only a short hop with a bus, a very convenient transport mode in SF, to Haight-Asbury. Mostly known for the hippie movement, the bands who lived there, and a whole social movement in the 60s. It’s still a cool place, with colourful buildings, but again has become a bit touristy the later years. Still gems are to be found if you look for them.
The oldest Chinatown, and the largest Chinese enclave outside of Asia can be found in San Francisco centred on Grant avenue and Stockton Street. Go see it, it’s coolest in the evenings with all the lights and lanterns, and get some crispy duck or wontons.
I am a bit torn when it comes to SF, in some places it’s very cool and has a lot of fine neighbourhoods and areas, but it also has a rampant homeless problem downtown and in some of the parks. I have been to SF several times, but the last time, 3 years ago, the problem was palpable. I will not go into reasons for this, or how to solve it, that’s a bigger discussion. But as a visitor, you should know that you will encounter a lot of homeless persons, young and old, and in greater numbers that most towns in the US. The area of Golden Gate Park towards Haight Asbury and the area south west of Union Square are best avoided.