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The whole world has seemingly heard of Southern California. Places like Los Angeles are constantly in movies, news and popular culture, but what do you know about Northern California? Have you spent much time there? If you have, you are probably aware of just how beautiful it is! Regardless, I’m going to give you some great ideas of where to go! I haven’t set this up to be a typical San Francisco to Oregon road trip itinerary in terms of what to do each day of your trip, but rather a list of really amazing places that you should be sure to visit during your road trip.
Have you ever seen some of the amazing roadside attractions in Northern California or made the drive up the Oregon Coast? Oh my gosh, there is nothing better, my friends! Visiting even a few of the places on this San Francisco to Oregon road trip itinerary will refresh your soul! From seeing giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox images alongside the road to Chowder Day Bodega Bay to taking the most amazing McArthur-Burney Memorial State Park photos, this will be a trip to remember forever!
San Francisco to Oregon Road Trip Itinerary
Northern California really is a great place to visit, with everything from beaches to wine country to quirky roadside attractions. With so many amazing destinations in one state, it can be tough to decide which place you want to visit first! The west coast in general is simply a beautiful place to visit, but the places that I have listed below in this San Francisco to Oregon road trip itinerary are, in my opinion, some of the best places.
Many of the things you see about California road trips focus on just the I-5 corridor or just Hwy 1, but in reality all of Northern California has something beautiful and unique to offer. This list below covers a whole lot of ground in California and I certainly don’t think you could see them all in just a few days, but if you have a week or two for an epic Oregon/California road trip or you can break it out into a few separate long weekend trips, then hold on to your seats and check out these awesome destinations!
Pack up the family and get ready to make some memories, my friends. Oh and be sure to bring your camera or charge up your phone because you are going to want to take photos. Prepare yourself for views of soaring cliffs along Highway 1 as you head south towards Big Sur, landmarks like Alcatraz Island or Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, gorgeous forest views as you hike among giant sequoias at Yosemite National Park or glide through the sky on the Trees of Mystery Sky Trail and more. Are you ready? Buckle up!
Redwood National Park
Love the forest? You are going to want to visit California’s famous Redwood Forest. Muir Woods and Jedediah State Park are both amazing options for enjoying the serenity of the redwoods. Did you know that some of the redwood trees in the Bay Area are nearly 1,000 years old?! Their majestic nature draws you in and brings upon a calmness that only nature can provide.
I highly recommend slowing down and taking it all in. Staring up at the trees, some of which are more than 250 feet tall, it’s easy to see how small we are in the grand scheme of things. These are quite literally the tallest trees in the world. You don’t want to miss how glorious they really are.
Muir Woods gets busier with tourists because of its location, so if you are looking to avoid the heavy crowds, try and make it out to Jedediah State Park.
Muir Woods is adjacent to Golden Gate Park, just a few miles north of San Francisco. If you are planning a day or two in the San Francisco area, this is a great time to visit!
If you have little ones, don’t worry! Both parks have stroller-accessible, kid-friendly hikes available.
Sequoias at Yosemite
Want to see even more amazing trees? Visit Yosemite’s Giant Grove of Sequoias. As with all National Parks, you should check the status of the park before heading out. Depending on the time of year, you might find that some or all of the park is closed due to road conditions or reasons.
Keep in mind that Yosemite is one of the most popular national parks in the country and the crowds can get a little intense. It takes a little planning, but you can avoid crowds at Yosemite.
Trees of Mystery
Remember those quirky stops I mentioned? Trees of Mystery is one of the places and oh my gosh is it worht the stop! This is where you’ll see that giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statue. Also be sure to hop on the Trees of Mystery Skytrail where you can glide among the giant trees and get photo opps at an alititude of over 700 feet.
How do you feel about caves? With more than 800 caves created by flows of lava more than 10,000 years ago, Lava Beds National Monument is a must-see attraction in Northern California. For the history buffs, the monument also includes historic battlefields and campsites.
Plan ahead and add camping and caving to your trip’s itinerary!
Fort Bragg is so much more than many expect it to be. A beautiful, historic town that offers great opportunities for activities like kayaking, hiking, biking or simply walking along the beautiful beach. If you have not visited Fort Bragg before, you may not know that in 1906 an earthquake severely damaged Fort Bragg. Fire ravaged the town and most buildings were destroyed, however some buildings are still standing to this day.
Fort Bragg is one of those unique places that make you feel like you are taking a step back in time. Many visitors as well as locals have said that there is a wonderful spirit of community here that you don’t find in many other places.
In addition to all of the activities we already talked about, Fort Bragg also has surfing opportunities, tidepools to see and I highly recommend checking out Glass Beach.
Bodie State Park
Speaking of taking a step back in time, Bodie Historic State Park is the perfect opportunity to do just that. Though it is located more towards Central California than the northern portion, if you’re driving in, it’s worth a stop. In 1859, William Waterman Bodey discovered gold near what is now referred to as Bodie Bluff. In 1861, a mill was established and the town started to grow. An estimated 10,000 people had landed in Bodie by 1880.
A town literally frozen in time, Bodie has been a State Historic Park since the 1960s. Bodie does not restore the buildings from the 1800s, they simply preserve them.
Print this fun Bodie word search for the kids to work on before your visit.
The mesmerizing turquoise waters of Lake Tahoe are world-renowned. With so much to do, it’s difficult to choose between hiking the trails, chilling on the lake, or taking all of the pictures! Make sure you have plenty of storage on your phone though, because there will be many! It’s easy to spend a full day, weekend or even a week in Lake Tahoe alone. It is such a beautiful place.
Have you heard of the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion? It’s a mansion, which was built in 1903 out of mostly locally resourced materials, that is located in Sugar Pine Point State Park (one of many state parks in the area). You can take a guided tour of this mansion (it takes roughly an hour) and feel like you are stepping back in time!
Bring your own bike (or rent one) to enjoy the bike trails that run along the highway. If you’re looking for a serene trip, it’s less crowded in the winter but it’s also cold! Take your pick. Another of my favorite things to do in Lake Tahoe is to simply walk around the town. It’s a picturesque place that never gets old!
Another good place to stop during your trip to Lake Tahoe is the Balancing Rock Trail in D.L. Bliss State Park. The trail is about half of a mile long, and it takes you to Balancing Rock (stacked boulders) and down to a beautiful stream. I don’t know if it’s just me, but the rocks kinda look like a dinosaur.
If your style leans more toward bright lights and crowds, check out the Hard Rock Hotel. My daughter, who is a huge music fan LOVED it here and did not want to leave.
Highway 1 really deserves its own post entirely. You can make a week (or more) out of the trip up this coastal highway. If you’ve never had the opportunity to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, it’s a MUST for any Bucket List. This scenic drive allows you an opportunity to see some of the most beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean than you could even imagine. It is hands down the best way to experience the Oregon and California coast line.
Be prepared: you might notice damp, windy weather year round along many parts of. Some parts of the route have no (or very poor) cell phone service.
Should you head up the coast, or down the coast? If it were up to me, I’d drive north inland and south down the coast. That’s how you’ll get the best views. Or do both! Driving north up the highway allows you a great chance to see more of the quaint towns along the coastline. Be sure and schedule in some time to visit some of these coastal towns and beautiful beaches while you are at it. You won’t regret it!
Depending on when you visit, you may want to pack a jacket or coat. The weather can get chilly, especially if you’re from warmer states (or even Southern California). Another item to pack: binoculars! There are so many breathtaking views, I guarantee you’re going to wish you had binoculars, especially when you’re trying to spot whales, seals, and other wildlife!
Don’t forget your camera, obviously, as well as hiking shoes. And dress in layers, because the temperature changes frequently. When the sun comes out, it can warm up quickly.
Burney Falls is located close to Mount Shasta in the McArthur-Burney Memorial State Park. If you love waterfalls, this is a stop that you must add to your list! These falls are quite stunning and were actually named “the eighth wonder of the world” by President Theodore Roosevelt. The best time to visit Burney Falls is during the spring or early summer months when the snowmelt is at its peak.
I had wanted to visit Burney Falls for years and was so excited when I finally got the opportunity to visit during a road trip last year. As we were nearing the park I was suprised to learn just how close it was to Mt. Shasta and Shasta Lake. We have friends that are at that lake regularly and I was surprised to learn that they had never taken the time to visit the falls while there.
If you are a film junkie, you must plan a stop at Bodega Bay. Just north of the bay, caused by erosion, you’ll see sea stacks overlooking the coast. Old Hollywood fun fact: Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film, “The Birds”, was shot here.
History buffs love this hunting base, built in 1812. Russians owned and operated Fort Ross from 1812 to 1841. It is now a State Historic Park with trails, beaches, a book shop, and a museum. There’s plenty to keep everyone interested here. A 30-minute walk up to Fort Ross Road will land you in the orchard. You can scuba dive a shipwreck, or walk across the San Andreas Fault. Talk about a great spot for a photo opp!
Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park truly is one of the most amazing places in all of the country. This lake was formed by the eruption and collapse of an ancient volcano and is the deepest lake in the entire country. If you love scenic views, mountains and forest, this is the perfect place to visit.
While you may not hear much about the Willamette Valley in Oregon, it is definitely worth visiting if you get the chance! The Willamette Valley is basically located from Eugene, Oregon to north of Salem. There is nothing like the evergreen forests, beautiful lakes, waterfall hikes and more that you will find here. Here is a list of some of my favorite places in the Willamette Valley that I feel deserve a visit:
- Silver Creek Falls – A state park with over 24 miles of trails and 10 waterfalls. 4 of these waterfalls have trails that actually allow you to walk behind the waterfall. It’s quite an experience.
- Endless Opportunity for Wine Tasting – We all know that Napa Valley is great for wine, but visitors are often suprised to learn just how many wonderful vineyards there are and winerys call the Willamette Valley their home.
- Oregon’s Capitol – If you are a lover of history and government, be sure to check out Oregon’s Golden Man.
- Covered Bridge Tour – There are literally dozens of historical covered bridges in the Willamette Valley. These are typically located in small towns around the area, so be sure and look for one while you are visiting.
- Endless Lakes – the Willamette Valley is home to many beautiful lakes worth visiting!
There are simply too many great places to mention when discussing the Oregon Coast. I have had many trips to the Oregon Coast and I’m not sure I could say I have a single favorite place, rather I have many! Here are some of the best stops along the way:
- Yaquina Head Lighthouse – This lighthouse is a must stop while you are in Newport. It’s a beautiful, historical place!
- Tillamook Cheese Factory – Love Tillamook Cheese? You can tour the Tillamook Cheese Factory for FREE and it’s actually really cool. There is also a great restaurant in the factory that is perfect for lunch.
- Haystack Rock – Haystack Rock is one of the most recognizable places along the Oregon Coast! The thing about it is that there are actually 2 Haystack Rocks in Oregon. One in Cannon Beach and one in Pacific City. They are both beautiful and well worth the visit.
- Hug Falls – I lived in Oregon for 35+ years before I learned that this place existed. A waterfall right on the beach!
Central Oregon is among my favorite places to be. The area is quite big though and honestly, there is just too much cool stuff here to even begin to figure out my favorites, but I will list out some of the best places we have been in the area:
- Smith Rock
- Sunriver – So much fun stuff to do inside of this great resort community. We like to get together as a family with my husband’s family and rent a house together.
- Painted Hills – One of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life. I would avoid this one in the summer though, it gets HOT!
- Newberry National Volcanic Monument – Awesome walking trails and beautiful scenery.
- Mt. Bachelor
- Sisters (the cutest little western town!)
- Cascade Lakes – Central Oregon is home to some seriously beautiful lakes
Oregon in general is a great place to visit. If you are looking for more ideas, check out this post.
Have you ever planned a San Francisco to Oregon road trip itinerary before? What would you add to this list? What great places am I missing?