The Ultimate Road Trip from San Francisco to Portland

December 23 2021, 8:57pm

From the peaks of volcanic summits to the scenic coastal beaches, the Pacific Northwest captivates travelers who set off on an adventure through the region. A road trip from San Francisco to Oregon is a popular route to experience the iconic Pacific Coast Highway, see landmarks like Mt. Hood volcano and Crater Lake, and even explore beneath the canopy of the tallest trees in the world.

san francisco alcatraz

Get ready to cover over 600-miles of Pacific Northwest territory. Views of the ever-changing landscapes are sure to make the drive enjoyable in between attractions. As you’re planning your trip, I’ve got the perfect attractions to add to your bucket list. Including these stops along your San Francisco to Oregon road trip will make it one of the most epic trips you’ve ever taken! And if you’re looking to do a Portland to San Francisco road trip, this itinerary also works in the reverse.

San Francisco to Fort Bragg – approximately 190 miles

The first leg of your San Francisco to Oregon road trip takes you to Fort Bragg. This section of the journey covers less than 200 miles, and you can arrive in 3-4 hours. But, there are several must-visit attractions along the way. There will be plenty of sights along this trip to experience the region’s diverse landscapes, so take some time to get your last bit of city life before leaving San Francisco.

San Francisco

Check out some of San Francisco’s iconic landmarks to mark the start of your road trip. The Golden Gate Bridge is a must-see, with the best viewpoints coming from Golden Gate Park and Baker Beach. Then, go for a ride along the winding road of Lombard Street or climb to the hilltop at Alamo Square Park for views of the famous Painted Ladies rowhouses.

One of the most popular things to do in San Francisco is visiting the Fisherman’s Wharf. Situated on the pier, this area is always bustling with tourist activities like shopping, dining, and scenic views of the bay.

napa valley wineries

Napa Valley

Just an hour north of San Francisco is Napa Valley, one of the most famous wine regions in the world and a must-visit during a road trip from Portland to San Francisco. The cityscapes of ‘The Golden City’ quickly transform into the rolling verdant hillsides of the valley covered with world-class wineries and vineyards.

Napa Valley is known for its wine tours. While there are tours that take you to specific locations, look up a few of the top wineries to stop by for yourself during the road trip. Domaine Carneros is a French-inspired winery that offers tastings on its outdoor patio for views overlooking the manicured vineyards. Or stop by Castello di Amorosa, a 13th-century castle providing a tour of the building and grounds before tasting Italian-style wines.

fort bragg glass beach

Glass Beach

After some time in Napa Valley, you’ll start to make your way towards the Northern California coast road trip section. Fort Bragg is famous for its Glass Beach. Look closely at the beach, and you’ll notice that those pieces in the sand aren’t colorful rocks but instead glass! Ocean pollution created this unique sea glass that’s now protected within the MacKerricher State Park. Just remember only to take pictures, not the glass.

Fort Braggs also has the Sea Glass Museum with exhibitions dedicated to glass collected at the beach and even jewelry made from it.

Fort Bragg to Eureka – approximately 95 miles

Traveling between Fort Bragg and Eureka is the first part of your road trip to Oregon when you’ll get to experience the iconic Pacific Coast Highway. It’s one of the most famous road trips in the US that follows US Route 101 and the popular Northern California coast road trip route. With scenic views of the Pacific Ocean on one side coastal gems on the other, you’ll quickly see why it’s a favorite for road trippers.

Little Black Sands Beach

The North California coast is lined with incredible beaches. You won’t be short on options for finding a place to get great views and relax for a bit on the beach, but how about discovering one of the most unique in the area: Little Black Sands Beach.

The distinct black-colored sand at Little Black Sands Beach is a natural phenomenon. There are hiking trails along the coast or enjoy views from the beach. It’s one of the best places to see the sunset.

Just a short distance from the beach is the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse. This lighthouse was originally built and operated nearby at Cape Mendocino, marking California’s westernmost point. It’s now located near Shelter Cover as a historical landmark offering picturesque views from the lighthouse grounds overlooking the coastline.

redwood forests

Humboldt Redwood Forest

The Northern California coast road trip route will lead you to the oldest trees in the world inside the Humboldt Redwood Forest, dating back over one thousand years. Drive the Avenue of the Giants to witness breathtaking trees towering over you the entire route.

Avenue of the Giants stretches for approximately 30 miles between Phillipsville to Pepperwood. It’s where you’ll discover Founders Tree, one of the tallest trees in the world at over 325-feet high and over 12-feet wide! And what’s a road trip through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park without going through the Shrine drive-through tree.

Humbolt Bay National Wildlife Refuge

As you approach Eureka, you’ll run directly into Humbolt Bay. Unfortunately, its days as one of the US’s largest shipyards are gone, but the remaining wetlands create the ideal environment for wildlife.

The area around the bay is designated as the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. At any time of year, you can see hundreds of species of migratory birds stopping by at the bay. There are hiking trails to go birdwatching and keep an eye out for seals, otters, and other marine life.

Eureka to Crater Lake National Park – approximately 250 miles

After leaving Eureka, you’ll be on your last part of the trip in California before crossing into Oregon. Luckily, the journey from Eureka to Crater Lake National Park gives you a bit more time to enjoy the Pacific Coast Highway before detouring inland towards one of Oregon’s most famous landmarks. So get ready to encounter some of the most incredible natural sights above and below the surface.

Redwood National Park

If you were impressed by the Humboldt National Forest, wait until you arrive at the Redwood National Park. This national park consists of numerous parks and groves to protect over 100,000-acres of coastal redwoods, the tallest trees in the world.

Explore more than 200-miles of trails through these old-growth forests where you’ll discover the tallest tree in the world—Hyperion reaching a height of nearly 380-ft. 

Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve

You’ve now arrived in Oregon! And as fun as it was driving through Northern California, some would say the adventure is just beginning in Oregon. One of the first popular attractions you’ll reach is the Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve. This intricate cave network takes you into the depths of the Siskiyou Mountains.

Visitors can take cave tours of the marble caves developed naturally near the mountains. An expert guide will accompany you as you navigate the inside of the caves to see marble walls, stalactites, and other unique rock formations. Be sure to bring a jacket because it gets cool inside the caves.

If you have time after the cave tour, go for a trek on the nature trails, which leads to waterfalls, streams, and other beautiful nature sights.

crater lake oregon

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake is a must-see landmark during your San Francisco to Oregon road trip. It’s the deepest lake in the US, with depths up to 1,943-ft. But the unique thing about this lake is that it’s located in the mouth of a dormant volcano!

Precipitation from rain and snowfall filled the volcano crater for over 250 years. This fresh water source gives the lake a beautiful blue color that’s some of the cleanest water you’ll ever see.

Road trippers can take advantage of the 33-mile scenic drive around the crater rim with stop-offs at over 30 overlooks. If you’re feeling adventurous, go for a hike or swim in the cool waters of the lake.

Crater Lake National Park to Bend – approximately 90 miles

Once you’re ready to leave Crater Lake National Park, it’s pretty much a straight shot to Bend driving on US-97 N. But take my advice: the scenic route is much more fun on a road trip!

This 90-miles distance features some of the best natural landmarks in Oregon.

Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Head north from Crater Lake National Park towards Newberry National Volcanic Monument. You’ll be greeted by a vast area of natural landscapes covered in lakes and flowing lava. If you’ve never been to an active volcano before, your San Francisco to Oregon road trip is the perfect time.

Hike to the summit of Paulina Peak, where you’ll stand nearly 8,000-feet above sea level and have views of surrounding lava fields and neighboring mountain ranges. Then, take the pet-friendly trails to other popular landmarks in the park like Paulina Lake and Paulina Falls.

tumalo falls deschutes

Deschutes National Forest

Any time of year is great for visiting Deschutes National Forest. It will be one of your favorite stops during your road trip. You’ve come a long way up to this point, so it’s an excellent time to enjoy the popular recreational activities in the forest.

Deschutes National Forest protects 1.8-million acres of Central Oregon forests extending 100-miles alongside the Cascade range. Take the Pacific Crest Trail, hike to Tumalo Falls, ascend to the Broken Top summit,  or discover your own hidden gems tucked within the forest.

Visitors can enjoy several outdoor activities when the weather is nice—hiking, swimming, and kayaking are all favorite things to do in Deschutes National Forest.

Bend

Arriving in Bend will be a welcome change of scenery from the natural landscapes you’ve been driving through. But nature is never too far away in this city established in the shadows of the Cascade Mountain Range. 

Bend is a fun city to explore. Check out Drake Park, which hugs the Deschutes River in the heart of town which frequently hosts events and festivals. Or learn about the history of the area dating back to prehistoric times at the Deschutes Historical Museum. Next, get out of town to enjoy popular nature activities like hiking up Pilot Butte for panoramic views or cycling the Deschutes River Trail.

smith rock oregon

Bend to Portland – approximately 160 miles

As you gear up for your last leg of your San Francisco to Oregon road trip, the journey from Bend to Portland will cover a lot of ground that features incredible sites that you’ll definitely want to add to your itinerary.

Smith Rock State Park

Shortly after departing Bend, you’ll reach Smith Rock State Park. No need to go to the Grand Canyon because you’ll have plenty of canyon overlooks and hiking trails in this park. The large canyon of the High Desert was carved out by the Crooked River, creating an incredible landscape full of unique rock formations and vegetation.

Smith Rock State Park is a premier rock-climbing destination with more than a thousand climbing routes in the park. But for those who just want to enjoy the sights, drive past notable landmarks like the Monkey Face rock formation and take in panoramic views of the canyon atop Crooked River High Bridge.

mt hood

Mt. Hood

Right outside of Portland is the monumental Mt. Hood—its elevation of over 11,000-ft makes it the highest point in Oregon. But this is no mountain that you’re looking at. It’s an active volcano!

Mt. Hood emerges above the Mt. Hood National Forest. Its summit is easily accessible by driving, or you can choose to make the hike. Temperatures quickly change as you approach the snow-capped peak, but the views are well worth the trip.

Explore the nature trails within the national forest for excellent viewpoints of the volcano or sightseeing waterfalls, wildlife, and more.

portland oregon

Portland

Portland is the last stop (or the first if you’re planning an Oregon to California road trip), but many would say we’ve saved the best for last. Portland is one of the most exciting cities in the Pacific Northwest, known for massive urban parks, Japanese cultural influences, and microbreweries.

Washington Park is over 400 acres of green space and is home to the Oregon Zoo and Portland Japanese Garden. Powell’s Bookstore earns the title for the world’s largest independent bookstore, which covers an entire city block. Grab a bite to eat at a food truck to enjoy in Pioneer Courthouse Square or taste the delicious ice cream flavors made locally at the Tillamook Creamery. 

For those summer day road trips, add in a final trip to the sandy shoreline of Cannon Beach, where the waters are very refreshing on sunny days.

It’s always surprising how much you get to see during your San Francisco to Oregon Road Trip. So take your time to make stops at the popular attractions to make your trip that much more memorable. And feel free to spend a night in one of the city stops or camping outdoors. This route offers the perfect balance of nature and sightseeing cities.

Let me know some of the places you’d like to visit on a road trip from San Francisco to Oregon.

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