The Southern California coast is undoubtedly one of the most beloved road trip routes in the U.S. and possibly the world. But the West Coast has so much more to offer. A Portland to San Francisco road trip is the ideal opportunity to take in all the Pacific’s lesser-known treasures, along with two of its most eclectic and enchanting big cities.
From ancient forests to striking coastlines and dramatic mountain ranges to charming small towns, the journey is as enjoyable as the destination on a Portland to San Francisco drive. Here’s what you need to know to make the most of this adventure.
Planning a Portland to San Francisco Drive
The route from Oregon to California has been well-trodden since pioneer days, and some legs of the journey retain their Wild West, old-world wonder. But that’s not to say you’ll have to fend off any bobcats or be wary of being in the wrong saloon at the wrong time.
This stretch of the I-5 freeway and the network of highways and roads that stem from it are mostly fairly well-maintained, and you’ll find ample places to stop for provisions, i.e., gas and food, along the way.
Just off the I-5 are several small cities, including Eugene and Redding, while you’ll find several quaint small towns along the coastal highway. State and national parks will likely make up the bulk of your Oregon to California road trip itinerary, and most of these contain campgrounds as well as at least one more sophisticated accommodation nearby.
If you need to rent a car for your road trip then booking through RentalCars.com will allow you to find a great deal from major car rental companies. If you’re combining this trip with other routes along the West Coast such as from Portland to Seattle or San Francisco to San Diego and want to book an RV or campervan, then Outdoorsy provides a number of options.
How Far is San Francisco from Portland?
The distance from Portland to San Francisco is 635 miles (1022 kilometres), and there are a few different routes you can choose from.
Probably the most-traveled route between the two cities is Interstate 5 South. With no stops and a blessing from the traffic gods, you could complete the trip in a little over 10 hours.
While I don’t recommend taking I-5 the entire way (you’d miss all the good stuff!), you can use it as a baseline from which to venture off on one or more of the several regional highways.
For example, you can travel on US-26 and US-97 S from Portland for a while before getting back on I-5 S. This option takes a little over 11 hours and consists of 656 miles. On this route, you’ll pass through stops including Crater Lake National Park, Bend, OR, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Burney Falls, and the Redwoods.
Another option is to take U.S. Route 26, Sunset Highway, to Highway 101 S before getting on I-5 S. You’ll travel along the stunning Oregon Coast, passing several quaint towns and the small colorful city of Eugene, OR. Then, upon entering California, the highway winds past some of the state’s most enticing natural attractions, including beaches and wine country. This route takes about 12 hours.
By American standards, a 10-hour Portland to San Francisco drive time isn’t all that much. But where’s the fun in going straight from point A to point B? Road trips are all about adventure, and there’s plenty to be had on a Portland to San Francisco road trip.
To make the most of your journey, you’ll want to plan to spend at least four to five days. But a week is ideal for a couple of reasons.
First, allocating a week for this drive gives you a little bit of wiggle room in case of bad weather. Granted, if wind and rain aren’t your things, then this might not be the trip for you. But even us seasoned Pacific Northwesterners aren’t always keen on being out and about in the midst of an unrelenting gale or downpour. Of course, you might get lucky and have sunshine the whole time, but why risk it?
Secondly, no one likes to feel rushed. Freedom and flexibility are two of the best features of a road trip. By planning a week-long journey, you’ll have time to linger somewhere you really love or take an impromptu detour.
Best Portland to San Francisco Road Trip Stops
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach, with its famous Haystack Rock, is about an hour and a half northwest of Portland. It might seem odd to go north when your ultimate destination is south, but if you have the time, it’s well worth the detour for one of the state’s most scenic and popular attractions.
The beach itself is stunning, containing miles of sandy shoreline. And its main attraction, Haystack Rock is a 235ft sea stack resembling a shark’s fin. In case you’re wondering, yes, there are sharks in the Oregon Coast Pacific Ocean, but it’s improbable you’ll meet any.
Aside from its Insta-worthy aesthetic, Haystack Rock is also home to tufted puffins, which nest on top of the formation in season, and myriad creatures who live within its caves.
From the north end of the beach, you can access trails within Ecola State Park and hike up to Clark’s Point of View for sweeping coastal views. Or, head south to Arcadia Beach, which features tide pools, or Hug Point State Recreation Site and its tide pools teeming with life.
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is about an hour east of Portland on Interstate 84 E and truly a sight to behold on any Portland to San Francisco road trip.
The Columbia River flows from the Pacific Ocean into Oregon and through the Cascades and Eastern Washington into British Columbia and the Rocky Mountains. Here at the gorge, the river cuts through the mountains at the boundary line with Washington, showcasing its power and splendor.
Hiking or biking through the gorge, you’ll find numerous waterfalls, including the famous Multnomah Falls, the tallest cascade in Oregon, and Punchbowl Falls.
Mt Hood, Oregon
Many iconic shots of Portland include in the background the state’s largest and most picturesque mountain, Mt. Hood. This dormant, 11,239ft volcano towers over the city and the Columbia River at its base.
Surrounded by a lush forest and snow-capped for much of the year, Mt Hood is the ideal spot for winter sports in Oregon and houses six ski areas. If snow sports aren’t your cup of tea, take a hike on one of the trails, including the Salmon River Trail or Mirror Lake Trail, for stunning views and an immersive, serene experience.
For a quintessential taste of the Northwest, be sure to pick up some fresh-picked huckleberry products and smoked salmon from a local shop. You can also handpick some of the tart, tiny berries in season in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness nestled in the mountain’s shadow.
Mt. Hood makes for an excellent stop when driving from Portland to Bend – the next stop on this road trip!
If you’ve decided to keep east for this leg of your Portland to San Francisco road trip, stop by the small city of Bend, Oregon. Once a part of the Oregon Trail, these days, Bend is more well-known for its Bend Ale Trail and craft breweries, including Crux Fermentation Project and Deschutes Brewing.
Nestled in the shadow of the Cascades with lush forests to the west and high desert to the east, Bend also offers some beautiful views to pair with your pints. The Mountain Air Trampoline Park, Tumalo Creek Park, and Paulina Lake Hot Springs also offer excellent opportunities to enjoy Bend’s outdoor offerings.
Eugene, Oregon, is kind of like a miniature Portland. Home to the University of Oregon and resting on the Willamette River banks, Eugene is home to an eclectic mixture of students, outdoor enthusiasts, hippies, and creatives.
Its nickname “TrackTown USA” should give you some hint about what it’s best known for, though. The small city hosts two out of the three largest professional track and field meets in the nation.
But if you’re not into hurdles and sprints, no worries. There are also countless hiking trails and nature paths for those that prefer a slower pace. Stop by Hendricks Park to see a broad array of the Pacific Northwest’s most beautiful native plants: rhododendrons in their natural habitat, or Alton Baker Park, which includes a 237-acre Whilamut Natural Area.
The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is also worth a stop if you’re an art buff. Besides its detailed brick and iron exterior, the museum boasts an extensive collection of Asian and American art and some European pieces.
Crater Lake, Oregon
Crater Lake is a striking reminder that much of the Cascade Mountain range contains 20 major volcanos. The deep blue lake, along with the staggering lava cliffs surrounding it and Wizard Island’s crags shooting up from its depths, is actually the caldera of Mount Mazama, an extinct volcano.
If your road trip from Portland to San Francisco is in the warmer months, ride along the Rim Driver, which encircles the lake, to get a different perspective. You can also pre-book a boat trip, including a tour of Wizard Island, or hike down the steep Cleetwood Cove Trail to access the lake.
Redwood National and State Parks, California
This is one stop you can’t miss on your Portland to San Francisco drive. Redwood National Park is another of the west coast’s remarkable testaments to Mother Nature’s mind-blowing magic.
Within the 139,000-acre park complex, you’ll find an incredible landscape consisting of prairies, rivers, and old-growth forests, home to endangered species like the northern spotted owl. It also includes a beautiful stretch of coastline populated with sea lions.
Even if you don’t have time to explore much, it’s worth a stop to see the massive Redwoods, some of the tallest trees on earth, up close.
The Big Tree Trail, which embarks just outside the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Visitor Information Center near the park entrance, is one of the more popular routes. There are also several other trails and stops along the road through the park. Grab a brochure at the information center to see what interests you.
Fort Bragg, California
After the Redwoods, it’s time to head back to the coast and one of California’s most stunning shores: the Mendocino Coast. Fort Bragg, not to be confused with the immense North Carolina military installation, is a must.
Here, within MacKerricher State Park, home to harbor seals and a broad array of bird species, you’ll find the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, which shelters an extensive assortment of native plants, and the aptly named Glass Beach.
Glass Beach’s shores are the stuff photographers’ dreams are made of, pebbled with a cornucopia of colorful glass stones. How the glass got there is not so pretty a picture. It came from a time when it was commonplace to dump garbage off the shores of the state’s north coast. Fortunately, the state is now doing more to preserve both the Pacific Ocean and its coastlines.
Wine Country, California
Besides San Francisco and the Redwood Forest, Wine Country is probably Northern California’s most famous tourist attraction and a must on any San Francisco to Portland drive.
Napa Valley is the most famous territory. Its three dozen grape varieties and signature Cabernet Sauvignon have been tasted by everyone from Hollywood celebrities to Silicon Valley moguls and international elites.
But Sonoma County, about three hours south of Fort Bragg, is almost equally popular and offers a slightly more laid-back experience. It’s also home to the enchanting Coppola Winery, owned by director Francis Ford Coppola. Here, you’ll find a delightful blend of fantastic wines and intriguing movie memorabilia amidst a characteristically Coppola aesthetic.
Whether you choose to visit Sonoma or Napa, you’re sure to taste some great wines!
For a quiet, somewhat less touristy time in Wine Country, consider stopping by Healdsburg about 45 minutes north of Sonoma and an hour and a half north of the Golden Gate Bridge. The small town offers old-world charm, farm-to-table cuisine, and, of course, ample wine tasting opportunities.
Point Reyes National Seashore, California
Further down the California Coast in Marin County, make one last stop for a moment of serenity in nature before heading to your final destination. About 30 miles outside San Francisco, the area’s crowning jewel is the picturesque Point Reyes, with its famous National Seashore and Point Reyes Lighthouse.
Here, you’ll find stunning views and ample opportunities for outdoor adventure, including hiking and kayaking, before you head into the big city. Along with a thriving elephant seal population along the sea cliffs, you can observe deer and elk in their natural habitat at the nearby Tule Elk Reserve.
Where to Stay on a Portland to San Francisco Road Trip
If you’re planning on breaking this road trip into a couple of nights, then we would recommend planning to stop for a night or two in Bend, Oregon and then again in the town of Crescent City, California, which is the gateway to the Redwood National and State Parks. If you’re wondering where to stay in these places, have a look at these recommendations.
Hampton Inn & Suites — This is a great option if you’re looking for the consistency and reliability that a chain hotel can provide. Located in a great area for exploring Bend, they have a number of clean and comfortable rooms available and a number of amenities to make sure you have a great stay. Click here to see their availability
Oxford Hotel — This is a lovely, locally-run boutique hotel is a great option if you’re searching for a unique stay in Bend. This eco-friendly lodging has a number of quaint rooms available, a great location and includes breakfast sourced from local farmers each morning. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental — If a hotel isn’t your cup of tea, there are lots of houses and quaint cottages to rent in Bend, as well. If this is more your speed, there are countless options to choose from, including this historic Belle Millhouse within walking distance of the city centre! Click here to find the best private rentals in Bend!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels in Bend!
Crescent City, California
Lighthouse Inn — This inn is a great place to base yourself in Crescent City. Centrally located, they have a number of clean, comfortable and spacious rooms on offer and they include a great continental breakfast in the room rate each morning. Click here to see their availability
Travelodge Crescent City — If you’re looking for a basic, consistent chain hotel in Crescent City, then this one is a solid option. Situated in a great location for exploring the city and it’s surrounding area, they have a number of great rooms to choose from and also offer an option to include breakfast each morning. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels in Crescent City!
San Francisco, California
Orchard Hotel — This is a lovely boutique hotel in the heart of San Francisco and perfect if you’re looking for a bit of charm on your trip. Situated within easy walking distance of Union Square, you can easily visit all of the city’s main attractions and there are a range of great rooms to make your stay fantastic. There is also breakfast included each morning. Click here to see their availability
Axiom Hotel — If you’re on the hunt for a bit of luxury in San Francisco, then look no further than this chic hotel. Located right off Union Square, this hotel has the ideal location for easily exploring all that this city has to offer. They have a range of plush, modern rooms on offer and numerous other amenities to ensure that your stay is a great one! Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels in San Francisco!
The Society Hotel — Located in central Portland, this is a lovely boutique hotel for exploring this hip Oregon city. They have a range of stylish and comfortable rooms available and also a restaurant on site to ensure that you never have to wonder where to eat! Click here to see their availability
Kimpton Riverplace Hotel — If you’re after a luxury stay in Portland, then this plush hotel is a fantastic choice for your. Located on the banks of the Willamette River, this hotel is situated within easy reach of the city’s top attractions. They have a range of luxe rooms to choose from and a number of other great amenities on offer. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental — If you would rather have a feeling of “home” when staying in Portland, a private apartment or house rental in the Oregon city may be a good option for you. There are tons of options to choose from that will suit any travel style, including this quaint cottage within easy reach of all of the city’s attractions! Click here to find the best private rentals in Portland!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels in Portland!
There is so much to see on a Portland to San Francisco road trip that it is a shame to rush through it! Take your time to make a few (or all!) of these stops and you’re sure not to be disappointed!
Are you planning on driving from Portland to San Francisco? Have any questions about this road trip? Let us know in the comments!