Highway 101 from Seattle to San Francisco

As I mentioned in yesterday’s San Francisco recap, we had a total BLAST exploring San Francisco… what a unique place! As much as we loved San Fran, getting there was just as gorgeous (if not even more so). I never thought I would say that the driving part of a trip could compete with the final destination…. that was until I experienced the Pacific West Coast via Highway 101. #WOW

insta-001Side note: I don’t think that my photos do these breathtaking views any justice, but I tried my best. And please pardon the layer of fog that looms in each photo and makes these pics appear slightly out of focus. Photographing in the fog ain’t easy and the struggle is very real in the PNW.

We drove from Seattle (recap here) to San Francisco via Highway 101 and I would HIGHLY recommend everyone takes this drive at some point or another. I honestly don’t think I have ever seen such amazing views. The two-day drive felt like a breeze because there was ALWAYS something interesting to look at. (or maybe it was because Matt was driving….). Either way, this leg of the trip ranks somewhere near the very top of my lifetime travels so far.  seattle-boats-waterIMG_5726IMG_5753

Play by Play

We started our drive in Seattle where we rented a car at Seattle’s International Airport. We had a Garment (for GPS), no real plan, and two full days to get us to California. When we first plugged in our directions, the GPS suggested that we take a route that was not along the coast until the last 50 miles of Day 1. This route was intriguing to us because the arrival time was almost 3 hours faster than the Highway 101 alternative, but we decided that this drive was once in a lifetime and we had to take the longer option if it meant we’d be driving the Oregon coast the entire day.

Man oh man were we grateful that we made the decision to take the longer, coastal drive. The amount of mileage was pretty similar for both routes, but the coastal route was extremely curvy and had lots of mountain driving, meaning a significantly lower speed limit than the alternative traditional highway driving. The drive was such a diverse collection of views– coastal, farms, mountains, beaches, dunes,  beach towns, small towns, wineries, you name it, we saw it.

IMG_5781For majority of the trip it was us and an open, meandering road. Since we weren’t in any rush, we were able to take advantage of the countless “viewpoints” along the drive (highly recommended). These viewpoints were scattered throughout the route and allowed us to pull over and enjoy the views. This is where most of these photos were taken. Usually these points were marked about 1/2 mile in advance, but many times they just popped up. #bealert

Advice: If you miss one of the viewpoints around a “view” you really loved, there is probably one or two more coming up that will allow you to check out that same spot. The really AMAZING views have at least 2 or 3 viewpoints to check out.  IMG_5802

After the first day of driving, we stopped and slept over in Bandon, OR. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that you HAVE to stay here, it just was about half way to our destination and made sense for our trip. We didn’t spend much any time in Bandon since we came in late, slept and got up and out before sunrise.
IMG_5819Advice: Catch a sunrise on your drive if you can! Amazing views + gorgeous colors + open road = #bucketlistmaterial 

I would definitely recommend catching a sunrise on your drive, as these views were well worth the early morning alarm clock. Matt and I grabbed coffee and took in these breathtaking views as the morning sun crept up on the horizon. The thin layer of fog added to the Pacific Northwest “feel” and the experience seemed surreal.
IMG_5816IMG_5838insta2-001Day 2 of driving was just as stunning as we entered California early in the morning and were able to enjoy the new views that Cali’s coast had to offer. A few miles into California on Highway 101, we were met with miles and miles and miles of enormous Redwood trees. I literally felt like we were in a movie driving through the Redwood Forests. The sun peeked into the forests, mixing with a thin layer of fog to create the most stunning and scenic views. Without seeing a car or truck for miles and miles, we felt like we were driving alone through these quiet yet iconic woods. Again, pretty surreal.

And just when we would start to get used to these forest views, the highway would meander back to the coast and greet you with more coastal views that left us Oohhh and aahhh, and then twist back to miles and miles of serene woods. Just amazing.

IMG_5859Later in the afternoon, we pulled off when we saw a sign advertising the opportunity to drive through a Redwood. How could we pass up that opportunity? For $5, we pulled off the highway and were able to drive through and take pictures in one of these enormous trees. <– Although it felt dorky and very touristy, this pit-stop was well worth 20 minutes of our time! #photoOp

IMG_5856

IMG_5787IMG_6085Eventually the Redwood Forests became more scarce and we were greeted by rolling hills of wineries (not pictured) and drought-ridden California hills. By this time, it was about 2:00 and we were ready to turn in our rental car and start exploring San Fran.

On the last leg of our trip, we were able to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge (so darn COOL!) and eventually made it to the San Francisco International Airport where we turned in our rental car and started our next adventure.  IMG_6066

The two day adventure was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity for us, and we are still so grateful for beautiful weather and safe travels. We had so much fun exploring this part of the country for the first time and can’t wait to go back someday.  IMG_5981Seattle to San Francisco, and everything in between…. we heart you! Thank you for making our trip unforgettable!!

Other Random Tips:

– Don’t wait to get coffee, gas or a snack! These towns do not come as often as we are used to, so don’t put off that pit-stop until it’s too late. No one wants a “hangry” passenger. #oops
– There were hardly any fast food restaurants or familiar stores along the route, but we did see 2 Goodwills, 2 Habitat for Humanity ReStores and several Thrift stores, I restrained myself since I was traveling with a suitcase. 
– Charge your camera!! 
– Bring music, or don’t…. but don’t count on the radio because the signal is very limited. 
– There were only a few stretches of driving that were a little nerve-wracking because of the drop-off. This was a lot less than I anticipated, which was a pleasant surprise. Drive slow.
– We were assigned a Toyota Prius, which was a tiny little car. However, this tiny little car only used ONE tank of gas for the entire two-day trip… another welcomed surprise!  
– ENJOY! Take it in!! You may never see views like this again, so if you want to stop 42 times… DO IT!

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  • Jillian

    Beautiful! San Francisco & Seattle are definitely on my travel list & you’ve inspired me to take the road trip between cities. So happy you enjoyed it!!

    • Awww, thanks lady! And you will LOVE it!! Next on my travel to do list: TEXAS. =) #seriouslythough

    • Diane

      I enjoyed your post. I’m going that route in July, can’t wait. I’m from Texas make sure you travel the panhandle to Amarillo. There is an awesome museum 20 miles south and Palo Duro Canyon. Keep posting your fun because I’m ready to hit the road.

    • Thanks for the advice, we definitely have to check that part of the country out!! And enjoy your road trip this summer, so excited for you!

  • Erin

    love love these tips!!!! i’ll save this for the future!

  • Summer Hogan

    Gorgeous!

  • Heather

    Just.STUNNING!

  • These look AMAZING! Definitely going to have to do this some time!

  • Katie

    Didn’t you just love how there were flowers at the bottom of every frame when taking the coastal mountain/ocean pics? We did the drive through Big Sur and there were little yellow flowers at the bottom of each picture we took. Gorgeous!

  • Lisa Muhs

    I am SO unbelievably jealous! OMG! So beautiful! thanks for sharing! I want to frame these pictures.

  • We did about 8-10 hours of driving each day and definitely did not anticipate that. Although the map says the mileage isn’t that far, because the roads are so “windy” the short distance takes MUCH longer. (worth it though, the views are jaw dropping!)

    And yes, you can stop very often at “unofficial” look out points (about every mile or so) or at any of the small towns you drive through along the way for gas/food.

    Hope that helps!! This trip is once in a lifetime and I HIGHLY recommend it. =) Happy travels.

  • Tomas Hernandez

    Holy Smokes this awesome sauce! I’m turning 30 this year and am planning on making trip the in August. I’m surprised the drive was only 2 days. I”m thinking mine will be a littler longer because I plan on camping a night or two in one of the national parks. Thanks for sharing! What an experience!

    • Happy to help Tomas! Hope you have a great trip for your birthday!

  • Kesani Devadas

    Thanks for this Bridget.. It’s exactly the type of advice I was looking forward to. I’m travelling from London to seattle in about a month and need to get to SF thereafter… I will be travelling solo… the pics you have taken are stunning and although i would love company to drive this route, I can’t pass up the opportunity to see this for myself!

    • So excited for you Kesani, and happy to help by sharing my experience. Have a wonderful trip! 🙂

  • Wow, that must be an amazing ride!! Yes, some parts on the cliffs were a tad windy but not overly obvious when riding in the car (more clear to the driver not the passenger). We also drove inland and not directly on the coast trying to get to highway 101 at the very start of the trip and the super curvy roads were more distracting than the wind (for us at least). So many tight curves through the hills, I could see how someone could feel carsick.

    Good luck and happy travels! I hope your daughter loves it!!

  • Anders Bjerring Høier

    Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences with Highway 101 between Seatle and San Francisco. We are a family from Denmark, who plan to make the trip in July 2017 from San Francisco to Seattle in a rented camper, and we plan to make several overnight stays on the way (campgrounds). Is there any particular places, that you would recomment for a overnight stay?

    • How exciting, I’m confident you will LOVE the trip. The entire route is SO breathtaking and amazing. Honestly, I don’t really have any recommendations on what towns to stop and stay in. There are plenty of towns throughout the journey so any of those small towns would be fine. Since you already have the camper, I’m sure anywhere you stay will be beautiful, especially if you find a campsite that’s right on the water!!

      Enjoy!! I hope you and your family have an unforgettable time.

    • Mary949

      There is an amazing campground in Brookings, Oregon, just north of the CA-OR border. Stay there. They even have yurts. Also Ashland is nice, and Florence, OR is a gem too. Gigantic sand dunes south of Florence are a special feature.

      In CA if you drive from SF to Mendocino, stay at van Damme State Park – it’s lovely and you can walk to the ocean from the campground.

    • Anders Bjerring Høier

      Thanks for the advices – we really appreciate them

  • Mary949

    roads in Oregon from the CA border up to Florence aren’t bad. From Mendocino to Eureka also. From SF to Bodega Bay is winding.

  • JTHE

    Hi 🙂 Your trip sounds amazing ! Myself and my boyfriend are thinking of doing this 🙂 I have to ask about the windy roads though – we’ve recently got back from a 2 week road trip in Colorado and a few of the mountain pass roads freaked us out a bit! Namely Trail Ridge Road (seemed a never ending windy drop off, lol) – does anyone know if the roads on this drive are more windy and dropping off than this? X

  • Thanawat N.

    Really enjoy your post.

  • Cecilia Cabrera

    We are frm Uruguay and we are going to Seattle with my husband in March 2017. We were planning to drive from Seattle to San Francisco and as we found this blog now ee are decided to follow your Steps! Thank you very much. We might make some changes. As from Seattle to Bandon is a bit too much for us. Any advice?

    • How fun!! So happy to hear you are taking this GORGEOUS adventure!! I think you will love it. I don’t think Seattle to Bandon is too far, but I do think it’s definitely a FULL DAYS drive. If you’re not looking for a full day’s drive then I would recommend rerouting to somewhere North of Bandon.