Ready to spend your days pondering numerous ocean vistas, getting lost under miles of towering redwood forests, settling your grumbling stomach with food straight from the farm, and losing track of time as you belt your favorite road trip jams? You don’t need to travel across the globe to reach a road trip destination like New Zealand. Instead, a four-day San Francisco to Portland road trip is sure to tick all the boxes.
While San Francisco and Portland are two well-known and heavily visited cities along America’s West Coast, the stretch in between is where the magic truly lies. Here you can reconnect with nature, wander small towns, and meet the locals who embrace the slower pace of life.
There’s no better way to embrace this magnificent part of the country than on a 4-day road trip, complete with mind-blowing hikes, quirky towns, and delicious food. Deciding which roads to take and where to stop can be overwhelming, so we’ve put together a San Francisco to Portland road trip that ticks off the best of the hidden gems and must-sees.
Day 1: San Francisco to Mendocino
Today is finally the day your incredible San Francisco to Portland road trip begins. You’ll want to be up bright and early today to avoid traffic and ensure you get a full day ahead of you for exploring. Plus, driving over the Golden Gate Bridge as dawn breaks is a memory you won’t soon forget.
Point Reyes – About an hour north of San Francisco is your first stop, Point Reyes. Here, expansive rocky headlines and open grasslands meet reminiscent of the rugged coastlines of a Portugal road trip. A must-stop is the ever-so picturesque Point Reyes Lighthouse, and you can either admire the lighthouse from the observation deck or walk down 313 steps to the base of the lighthouse.
For those looking to explore further, the 5-mile long Laguna Trail Coastal Loop will fascinate your senses with incredible coastal views and unique wildlife. Or, a shorter option, the 1.9-mile Chimney Rock Trail is just as spectacular and great for all ages. By now your stomach is sure to be grumbling, so enjoy a stop at Bovine Bakery for a house-baked buttermilk scone or a ham & cheese croissant.
Healdsburg – While you could spend all day in Point Reyes, the road is calling, so you’ll hop back on US-101 and soon be in wine country. Another hour away is the charming town of Healdsburg, an ideal spot to sample wine and enjoy one of the town’s many farm-to-table restaurants.
Mendocino – After a relaxing lunch, your road trip continues up US-101 until you come across CA-128 and once again meet the coastline. Before you know it, you’ll arrive in Mendocino, your home for the first night.
This small but lively village is one of a kind, and you’ll fall in love with its spectacular views overlooking the Pacific Ocean. If you have time before dinner, be sure to stroll through downtown Mendocino and admire the Victorian architecture. When hunger strikes, enjoy dinner in Cafe Beaujolais’ restored farmhouse or dine on fresh seafood in Trillium Cafe’s gorgeous garden.
Where to stay? A top pick is Little River Inn which has both budget options and more luxury options complete with ocean views, steam showers, jacuzzis, and more.
Day 2: Mendocino to Crescent City
Today is all about the Redwood forests, so once again you’ll want to wake up early to take full advantage of the daylight hours and hit the road while it’s quiet and peaceful.
Fort Bragg – Your first stop is only 15 minutes down the road and a great spot to grab a quick breakfast and coffee. Right on the main drag you’ll come across Headlands Coffeehouse. Order a bagel or breakfast sandwich to go and then head over to Glass Beach to enjoy an excellent breakfast with a view. You may even spot Gray Whales migrating up or down the coast.
Avenue of the Giants – Settle in for a longer drive as you get back on US-101 and then take a scenic ‘detour’ through the Avenue of the Giants. A must-do is The Shrine Drive Through Tree where you can, yes, drive right through a tree. Next up, stop for a 2.4-mile hike along the Drury – Chaney Loop Trail or the shorter 0.6 Grieg-French-Bell Grove Trail to see the towering giants in all their glory.
Arcata – As you continue up US-101, you’ll come across Arcata, just on the other side of Eureka. This small town has an authentic hipster vibe, making it a great spot to grab some fresh food and wander around the main plaza. The Wildflower Cafe & Bakery is a favorite amongst locals and serves up delicious vegetarian burritos and sandwiches.
Redwoods National and State Parks – Continue up the coast and you’ll soon reach Redwoods National and State Parks. Depending on how much time you have before sunset, you have a few options for stunning hikes to tackle. Known as the best redwoods hike in the world, the James Irvine Trail is a must-do. While the entire trail is 10-miles in length, simply walk in for as long as you’d like to see the giant redwoods continuing for as far as the eye can see.
Note: If you’d like to conquer a longer hike, we’d recommend skipping the hikes in the Avenue of the Giants, grabbing a sandwich to go at Wildflower Cafe & Baker, and spending the late morning and early afternoon here.
Crescent City – As nighttime kicks in, you’ll be reaching Crescent City. After checking into your accommodation, head to SeaQuak Brewing for a delicious pizza or burger and craft beer.
Where to Stay: Lighthouse Inn – this centrally located Inn is great for the budget and a cozy place to call home for the night. Plus, a great continental breakfast means you can be on the road the next morning fed and ready for more adventure.
Day 3: Crescent City to Eugene
After taking advantage of the continental breakfast, hop back on the road again and head up US-199. Before long, you’ll cross the state border and be in Oregon.
Grants Pass – A little less than 2 hours from Crescent City you’ll come to the relaxed town of Grants Pass. Located along the Rogue River, this town is the perfect blend of wineries, a neat historic downtown, and plenty of opportunities to admire the nature around. A favorite for many is rafting down the Rogue River or enjoying the river from above as you walk across the Pedestrian Bridge at Reinhart Park.
Umpqua National Forest – If you didn’t partake in one of the many activities in Grants Pass, you’ll have time to visit this stunning part of southern Oregon – just be sure to grab yourself a picnic lunch before leaving town. Take an exit onto 138 at Roseburg, and from here you’ll have seemingly endless options of hikes. Two to check out include the 1.5 miles out and back Susan Creek Falls Trail featuring a 60-foot waterfall and the short and easy 1-mile Fall Creek Trail perfect for families.
Eugene – Hop back in your vehicle and make the final drive of the day to Eugene. This hipster city is packed full of art and green spaces and has a wonderful vibe. You’ll want to arrive early enough in the evening to watch the sun sink behind the endless forests surrounding town and wander the quaint streets. Then, when hunger strikes, you’ll have options galore for dining. A few to check out include Bon Mi, Noodle Bowl, The Vintage, or Jameson Bar if you want to enjoy drinks well into the night.
Where to stay: Plan ahead and book one of the many Airbnb’s on offer or to enjoy for yourself the strange that comes with Eugene, try the Graduate Eugene. If you have time, be sure to head up to their TopGolf Swing Suite to practice your swing.
Day 4: Eugene to Portland
It’s your final day on the road and we’ve saved the shortest drive for last.
Eugene – Yes, you read that right. Instead of hitting the road straight away, start your morning off with a hike up Spencer’s Butte. This 1.7-mile loop trail will give you great views of the surroundings, and as you’ll be able to complete the loop within an hour, you’ll be back down in time to enjoy breakfast after. If you’re feeling indulgent, head to Off The Waffle Downtown for perhaps one of the best waffles you’ll have in your life.
Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway – If you’re ready to explore by two wheels, a ride along the nation’s first bike route is a must. While the entire trail is 134 miles long, it’s easy enough to rent bikes in Albany and enjoy a portion of it. Rent a bike for one, two, or three hours and simply go until you’re ready to turn around.
Silver Falls State Park – For those who prefer to stick to two feet, a hike along the Trail of Ten Falls won’t disappoint. In fact, on this 8-mile hike you’ll get to walk above, behind, and next to ten waterfalls.
Willamette Valley Wine Tasting – As your road trip nears its end, why not have one final hurrah and treat yourself to a late lunch and wine tour in Willamette Valley. Home to two-thirds of all Oregon wineries and vineyards, all you have to do is drive until you find one that calls to you. Or, if you’re more into beer, you’ll find plenty of craft breweries in the region too.
Portland – You have arrived! Depending on your plans, you’ll either have to end your trip tonight for your travel home, or if you have time, it’s well worth checking into a hotel for at least two nights and enjoying the sights around this endearing city. Check out below for some of our favorite tips to make the most out of your time in Portland.
Things to do in San Francisco
Whether or not you’ve been to San Francisco before, it’s always a good idea to spend a day or two in the city before embarking on your San Francisco to Portland road trip. You’ll always find new restaurants to try, new places to explore, and quirky shops well worth checking out.
If it’s your first time in the city, you can’t miss checking out the renowned Golden Gate Bridge. You’ll be driving over it soon enough (if you haven’t already). However, it’s impossible to see the full beauty of the bridge while you’re on it, so take time to find a lookout and marvel at its beauty – no matter what the weather is doing.
Another favorite thing to do in San Francisco includes taking a ferry to Alcatraz Island, a former maximum-security prison steeped in history. For something more light-hearted, watch the California sea lions bask in the sun on Pier 39, ride one of the Cable Cars up San Francisco’s steep streets and stretch your legs as you wander Golden Gate Park, which is actually larger than Central Park.
When hunger strikes, head to the Ferry Building Marketplace, Ghirardelli Square, or keep your eye out for one of the many microbreweries dotted around the city.
Things to do in Portland, Oregon
It’s impossible to get away from the fact that Portland is a quirky city, but in the best way possible. With the motto ‘Keep Portland Weird embraced by all, around every corner you’ll find eccentric shops, inventive food pairings, and thought-provoking arts and crafts on display.
If you only have a few hours to explore Portland, simply put on your best pair of walking shoes and wander to your heart’s desire. It’s impossible to keep track of time as you sample the delicious food trucks and meander in and out of the many shops.
For those who have a full day to explore, be sure to check out Mississippi Neighborhood for delicious farm-to-table restaurants, Powell’s City of Books which houses nearly 1 million books, and the 4.5 acres Rose Test Garden with 550 varieties of roses.
Other favorites include the Portland Saturday Market (if you’re in Portland on a Saturday) and Forest Park for 80 miles of trails to explore. If you have another day, be sure to book one of the many craft beer bike tours or food tours that’ll showcase the best beer and food of Portland. It’s the perfect way to end your San Francisco to Portland road trip.
If this four-day San Francisco to Portland Road trip sounds like your cup of tea, be sure to share this itinerary with your road trip buddies and let the adventure begin. Looking for other grand options? Check out our Boston to Maine road trip!