Tucked near the mouth of the mighty Columbia River, where Lewis and Clark ended their historic expedition after reaching the nearby Pacific Ocean, is the quaint fishing community of Astoria, Oregon. Sometimes referred to as “Little San Francisco” thanks to the small towns hilly streets and abundance of Victorian-style homes, there’s no better place to end a road trip that starts in the real San Francisco.
While plane tickets aren’t necessarily expensive from LAX or SFO (San Francisco’s airport) to PDX (Portland, Oregon’s airport – about a 90-minute car ride from Astoria) the drive is one any adventure-lover won’t want to miss. Located just 723-miles and a 12ish hour car ride apart, the road trip between San Fran and Astoria can be done within 2 days, but can easily be extended thanks to all of the sites to see and things to do in between. Whether you’re driving a car, van or camper, this road trip is sure to satisfy your traveling desires. Drive along the Pacific Coast Highway (Pacific Highway 101) the entire time for stunning coastal views, or take a couple of detours and check out some of Northern California and Oregon’s stunning natural beauty. Whatever you do, this road trip is sure to not disappoint.
If you’re not a native to San Francisco, we would recommend checking out some of the city highlights. Some personal (and tourist) favorites are the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, the Castro Theater and Alcatraz. If you are traveling in a sleeper van or RV, you can park at the Golden Gate Bridge Overlook in San Francisco for free! It gets pretty crowded with tourists but is a great option if you don’t plan on staying in hotels or camp along the way. We could write an entire page on things to do in this city alone so we’ll leave what you do here up to you and focus on all of the epic stops you need to make on your way to beautiful Astoria, Oregon.
Where To Go From San Fran?
Where you go from San Francisco depends on what you want to see. Upon your departure, you can stay on Pacific Highway 101 and literally drive all the way to Astoria, and even Washington State, without veering off. Now, this may sound most appealing to you due to the shorter travel time and abundance of coastal views, but there are some hidden gems located just off the beaten path we’ll discuss throughout. From San Fran, you can continue about 3-hours straight to Mendocino for stunning, secluded beaches and winter whale watching, or the spring wildflower bloom. Mendocino is an incredibly small town but has some epic hiking trails and sunsets we highly recommend checking out. Alternatively, we suggest branching out and heading to California’s Wine Country before heading back to the coast. Can’t choose? Depending on how much time you have, you can easily hit both the Mendocino coastline and Wine Country while only adding a couple of hours to your total driving time.
From Mendocino (or Wine Country depending on how you route your trip) we recommend checking out both Mount Shasta and Lassen Volcanic National Park. Depending on how much time you have before you want to arrive in Oregon, we suggest budgeting in an entire day to check out this scenic area. Pack a bathing suit because you’ll (probably) want to dip your feet in one of the many bodies of water. Don’t be alarmed by the stench, this area is full of bubbling mud pots and steaming sulphuric vents give off a strong smell of stinky sulfur throughout. Sulphur Works, Emerald Lake, Bumpass Hell Trail Hike, Castle Lake Road, and Burney Falls are amongst some of our favorite stops. Castle Lake Road offers stunning views of the mountain and the city beneath that you won’t want to miss.
Trip Must See Places
Next on our list of road trip must-sees is the Redwood forest. Commonly referred to as the Redwood National Park, the area is actually made up of a few state and national parks covering protected forests, beaches, and grasslands along the Northern California coast. We suggest doing some research and checking out the areas that seem most interesting or easily accessible to you. While they each have unique characteristics, the scenery is the same – giant redwoods everywhere. Plan accordingly and bring a picnic to enjoy while you’re exploring as there are no restaurants or stores in the area. As always, do your part and leave no human trace behind as this is a protected area and should be respected as it is home to and protects just 35% of the last 5% of old-growth redwood trees in California.
Tired of trees? Even if you’re not, Crater Lake can’t be missed. If you go anywhere we suggest on this road trip Crater Lake just might be the most important to hit! Crater Lake National Park is home to Crater Lake – the deepest lake in the entire United States and one of the most pristine on earth. The park is technically open all year round, but depending on the season, some of the trails, roads, etc. are closed due to snow and other environmental factors. The best way to check the lake out is to drive around the perimeter of the lake on Lake Drive. To ensure you can access and drive along Lake Drive we recommend coming through here sometime between July and September. Any view of Crater Lake is incredible so if you’re coming through at another time just be sure to plan ahead and keep weather, and how it affects different areas within the park, in mind.
From Crater Lake, you can continue on to the Southern Oregon Coast a couple of ways. Stick along the coast for a 6+ hour drive to Coos Bay, or opt-in for the shorter drive that doesn’t travel along the coast. This is one of the couple times we’ll suggest skipping the Pacific Highway route and taking the shorter, less scenic route. There’s not much to see on the southern Oregon Coast other than ocean and beach views which will be in abundance the rest of your trip. Coos Bay is the highlight of this region so however, you choose to get there is up to you. Once you’re in Coos Bay the best way to take advantage of the area and the sights it has to offer is to travel on the Cape Arago Beach Loop which takes you through three Oregon State Parks and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, rocky headlands, serene beaches, and sea lions at play. Depending on how much time you have there are multiple state parks to check out, one of our favorites being Cape Arago Beach Loop where steep hiking trails lead you to tide pools you can check out during low tide.
Beyond Coos Bay, you’ll stay on the Pacific Coast Highway all the way until you reach Lincoln City and Newport. We’re not going to write much about these places as they pale in comparison to some upcoming Oregon coastal towns, but they are worth mentioning. Lincoln City is home to some beautiful, secluded beaches and the Chinook Winds Casino. Newport is also characterized by secluded beaches and the famous Oregon Coast Aquarium. They are good pit stops to stretch your legs and grab some food, but we wouldn’t recommend spending more than a day here without doing your research first. Again, not because they are bad areas, just because the North Oregon Coast is home to some gems we favor more than any other region on the coast. If you want a taste of the big city life in Oregon, stop by Portland on your way to Astoria. San Francisco to Portland is another popular trip for those looking to experience Oregon but we’ll save that guide for another time.
After hours in the car, you are finally getting close to your final destination of Astoria, Oregon. Our next recommended stop is Cannon Beach. This is one of the smaller towns on the coast (their population hovers around 1,000 permanent residents) we like to refer to this place like the Hamptons of the Oregon Coast. Many of the shingled beach houses are rentals or second-time homes owned by people around the world. Quickly becoming a popular hub for Hollywood’s elite, this area is characterized by upscale spas, lodging, restaurants, and boutiques. With that being said, it is one of the most popular vacation spots along the coast and is extremely family-friendly. One of our favorite features is the famous Haystack Rock. Staying true to its name, Haystack Rock is just that – a rock. What makes it cool is its huge size and abundance of marine and wildlife. Here you can view the Tufted Puffin population that lives on the rock between April and August. Additionally, there are some epic tide pools with colorful, active wildlife to view during low tide. As always, be respectful of restricted areas and leave no trace of humans behind. Due to the small size of Cannon Beach, many of the town’s best amenities are located near haystack rock and the beach. If you are interested in visiting Portland while you’re in Oregon, Cannon Beach to PDX is a quick90-minute drive and makes for the perfect day trip.
About 10-miles or 15 minutes north of Cannon Beach is the picturesque beach town of Seaside. Build a campfire, hop in the ocean, rent a “surry,” or check out one of their classic beaches themed shops or restaurants. The possibilities in Seaside are pretty much endless, and always family-friendly. Stroll through downtown and end at the turnaround where their version of a boardwalk (The Prom) and the beach is easily accessible for all to enjoy. Visit during the clamming season and gain access to one of the most concentrated populations of razor clams in the world or check out one of the oldest aquariums on the entire West Coast. In the center of the “Turn Around” checkout the statue commemorating where the Lewis and Clark expedition saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time and, if you’re into history, the dozens of other historical sites scattered around. Checkout numerous historic monuments in the area, or one of the many scenic state parks. Between Cannon Beach, Seaside and Astoria there is no shortage of trails to be hiked, and trees and views to be seen.
Finally, you have arrived in beautiful Astoria, Oregon. If you’re traveling with younger kids you might want to spend a few days in Seaside, or lodge there and make a day trip to Astoria. Conveniently located just 20 minutes north of Seaside, you could stay in either town and still access the other easily. Thanks to the small towns and populations in this area, traveling between Cannon Beach, Seaside, and Astoria can easily be accomplished within 45 minutes no matter where you start. Due to their close proximity, Astoria is surrounded by multiple scenic and historic sites like their neighbors to the south. In Astoria, you won’t be able to miss the mighty Columbia River as it slices between Astoria and Washington State. Oregon and Washington are connected here by the Megler Bridge – the longest continuous Truss Bridge in North America. On a clear da,y you can see the mouth of the Columbia River where it meets the Pacific Ocean. Dubbed the “Pacifics Graveyard” this area is so dangerous Astoria is home to Bar Pilots – people whose sole purpose is to guide boats over the famously deadly bar. The Astoria Column and one of the multiple craft breweries are also must-sees when in the area.
We’re sure we missed more than a few notable stops on our San Francisco to Astoria road trip itinerary but with such an amazing stretch its hard to fit it all in! The scenic Pacific Coast Highway is the perfect way to experience this region of the West Coast and the beautiful Pacific Northwest and offers easy access to some of the most amazing, and scenic, spots in not only the U.S. but the entire world. Whether you drive straight through or make some detours, this road trip is sure to not disappoint. So pack your bags, hop in the car, and make your way up the coast – Oregon is waiting to amaze you.
Interested in taking a road trip elsewhere in Oregon? Check out Oregon’s regions and let us know where you want to head next!