A northwest road trip between San Francisco, California to Portland, Oregon was something my husband and I dreamed of for years. During the San Francisco to Portland road trip primary appeal was the stunning landscape with unparalleled views of cliffs, the ocean, beaches, and mountains along the State Route 1 and Pacific Coast Highway, U.S. 101. Not surprisingly, as soon as we mapped out the route, we discovered there was an endless list of sights we would love to see.
Since our journey took place over the July 4th holiday, we could put together eight days to travel. Based on our interests along the way, we added detours and several stops. We visited a cave, hiked in the Redwood National Forest, stopped in quaint little towns, checked out lighthouses, tried sandboarding, and got covered with sand during a dune buggy ride.
The straight drive between the Golden City and Portland – about 650 miles – could be done in about ten hours, but there was no reason to whip through it. We drove for five days and spent the last three days at our final destination, Portland. This trip offered plenty of educational and outdoor experiences for the three of us. Would you like to know what they were? Read on.
Arriving in San Francisco
We landed in San Francisco a day before we started the road trip. While we were in the Golden City, we stayed at the Grand Hyatt, conveniently located in Union Square in the heart of downtown.
Still at the airport in San Francisco, we got the rental car, which we returned the day we flew home, from Portland. The coastline between San Francisco and Cannon Beach (the last city we visited on the coast before heading inland to Portland) is as beautiful as can be. The four-day drive to Cannon Beach was an attraction as we viewed isolated beaches, evergreen forests, curvy roads framed by giant trees, and rugged cliffs with breathtaking views of the Pacific. We stopped to appreciate the scenery more times than I can list here. Each viewpoint, listed below or not, confirmed the beauty of the northwest coast. The trip was more than we expected.
The distance driven each day varied depending on how much time we stayed at each site.
Note: Our initial plan was to spend the night in Cannon Beach and from there drive to Portland the next morning. There was no hotel available because it was the July 4th holiday. Instead, we stayed in Seaside, nine miles north of Cannon Beach.
Northwest road trip: Day 1
San Francisco to Arcata, CA
Distance driven: approximately 280 miles
Hotel: Hampton Inn, Arcata, CA
We left San Francisco at 7:00 am. After driving through rolling streets and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, we stopped at Lighthouse Restaurant in Sausalito, for breakfast. Charged up with coffee, omelets, and fruits, we immediately headed off the State Route 1. The real adventure was about to begin.
Muir Beach Lookout
About nine miles from Sausalito, we made our first stop at Muir Beach Lookout. A five-minute walk from the parking lot led us to scenery that took my breath away. The cliffside viewpoint, located 489 feet above sea level, offered a broad view of the Pacific Ocean. We learned that in the 1900s Muir Beach Overlook was used as a military station. From there, soldiers could watch, communicate, and defend the coastline from any invading battleships and aircraft near San Francisco.
Point Arena Lighthouse
The Point Arena Lighthouse offers more than just spectacular views of the bluffs or the tower itself. Besides being the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast with 149 steps to the top, the sight is also home to a small museum, gift shop, and lodging accommodation at the historic “Keeper’s Houses” on the property.
In the museum, displays give an insight into the Point Arena Lighthouse history. Reopened in 1908, the lighthouse was built to replace the original construction in 1870, destroyed by the 1906 earthquake. Point Arena Lighthouse is still active. For more information about hours, tours, and ticket prices, click here.
Avenue of the Giants
Avenue of the Giants is a dramatic 31-mile scenic drive on state route CA-254 that runs parallel to the new Freeway 101. Framed by a dense wall of giant redwoods, this narrow corridor in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park is an attraction alone, as it stretches and curves between massive trees. The Avenue of Giants was peaceful, quiet, and breathtaking. Although there are several hiking trails and groves to explore in the area, we drove through it making only a few stops for pictures.
Northwest road trip: Day 2
Arcata to Klamath, CA
Distance driven: approximately 56 miles
Hotel: The Historic Requa Inn
Redwood National and State Park
Visiting the Redwood National and State Park was the only item on our agenda for the day. Four parks make up this 133,000-acre United Nations-recognized World Heritage Site: Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek Redwood, Del Norte Coast Redwood, and Jedidiah Smith State Parks. Redwood National Park alone has more than 200 miles of trails. With no shortage of paths to explore, the hardest part was to choose which one to follow. According to our stamina and how much time we had, we picked what best suited our conditions.
Lady Bird Johnson Trail
This easy one-mile loop is known as one of the most popular trails in Redwood National Park. Starting adjacent to the parking lot, we crossed the footbridge over Bald Hills Road and slowly walked through the massive redwood forest. This trail, featuring terrific scenery and giant trees, was just a sample of what was coming next.
Lost Man Creek Trail
Located in the Redwood National Park, the Lost Man Creek Trail starts at the Lost Man Creek Picnic Area off Highway 101. Rather than a single-track trail, this wide logging road winds through the valley where we encountered a dense, shady, and lush grove of old-growth redwoods.
We hiked only the first mile of the trail. The section was pleasant, peaceful, and easy to explore. Nobody was there except us, so the silence was incredible. It was interrupted only by the crunch of gravel under our hiking shoes and our own voices. Beauty enhanced when beams of light broke through the foliage above, followed by the soothing sound of water under a couple of bridges built over the Lost Man Creek.
The trail also has an interesting history. In 1982, Redwood National Park was dedicated as an internationally recognized World Heritage Site. The dedication ceremony occurred along this trail. Speakers pointed out the importance of this ecosystem for all nations of the world.
Prairie Creek Trail
Of our three hikes, Prairie Creek Trail was by far our favorite. Prairie Creek Redwood State Park is home to the second largest remaining untouched, old-growth redwood forest left in the world. The Coastal Redwoods are the world’s tallest trees. Offering more than 70 miles of trails to explore, we made sure to stop at the Visitor Center and talk with a knowledgeable ranger who recommended the Prairie Creek Trail.
Leaving from the Visitor Center, we headed north at the Prairie Creek Trail towards Zigzag Trail #1. Shortly before Corkscrew Tree, we turned right, crossed Newton B Drury Parkway, and walked south on Foothill Trail. Cathedral Trees Trail came next, followed by Rhododendron Trail, which took us back to the Visitor Center. At our slow pace, it took us about three hours to finish the loop.
We saw meadows, creeks, and bridges. At each turn, there was a surprise. We often stopped, listened, and looked up and down. The variety of life was everywhere. Moss covered the ground and new trunks sprouted from dormant bulks. Wildflowers bloomed on unexpected places, while ferns grew on trunks 200 feet above the forest floor. Oh, and the towering redwood trees! They were the tallest trees I have ever seen. The trunks grew so wide that they seemed like a wall in front of us. We felt like tiny creatures hiding in the world of giants.
The Big Tree, estimated to be 1500 years old, was, by itself, an astonishing attraction. Featuring 286 feet in height, 23.7 feet in diameter, and 74.5 feet in circumference, it majestically stands encircled by other mammoth trees.
Staying at The Historic Requa Inn
A couple of months prior to our trip we had booked the hotels. Staying at ordinary lodging for most of the nights, The Historic Requa Inn stood out for its uniqueness. Nestled at the mouth of Klamath River where the Redwoods meet the sea, this 13-room place had old-school character.
Reminding me of my grandmother’s old house, the interior was comfortable and adorned with lovely nostalgic objects, bookcases, and a bowl of fruits for the guests. Each bedroom, with its own bathroom, was differently furnished and decorated. Our room had a river view which added more charm to our visit.
Dinner and breakfast (not included in the price) were pretty yummy! Asked to be at the restaurant at 6:45, we shared a table with four other guests who were traveling on the West Coast as well. The four-course dinner was made using fresh, locally grown or caught ingredients. The next morning, while we enjoyed breakfast, we looked out over the quiet, fog-blanketed lake.
To be continued…