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


Side 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.

The Route

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

Car Rental

We started our drive in Seattle where we rented a car at Seattle’s International Airport. We had this Garment (the GPS was a lifesaver!), 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.

Worth the Time Investment

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. #bealertbridget-travel-beach-carmel-leather-jacket

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. <– Many people have weighed in on where to stay since I posted this recap, check out the comments on the bottom of this post for more details on where to stay along the route! 
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.

Day Two of Driving

Day 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_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:Highway 101_ A Roadtrip Guide from Seattle to San Francisco

– 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!

Other Posts you May Likecarmel-by-the-sea-beach-travel

A Weekend Guide To Carmel-by-the-Sea, California! Carmel is a town that is little more south on Highway 101 and it is hands down worth a visit. Clint Eastwood was once the mayor and it’s home of the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course.

-A San Francisco

-Tips for Visiting San Francisco and a vacation recap!

-Looking for more travel tips and guides? You can check out our “TRAVEL PAGE” here and see our guides for places like Chicago, Arizona, Sonoma, WacoALASKA and more!

Bridget Signature

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail to someone

Leave a Comment

  • 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


  • Heather


  • 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

    • Thanks so much for adding these suggestions — love them!! Enjoy your trip Anders. =)

  • 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.

  • If you don’t need to explore Seattle and San Fran during that time, I think Sunday through Wednesday is PLENTY!! If you have to add in Seattle and/or San Fran in that 4 day window, that probably isn’t enough time. Good luck, I hope you have SO much fun!!

  • pjacob

    We are planning to drive to SF the new years weekend. Where do you suggest we stay? We are planning to drive through the night so we reach SF by afternoon next day. We want to cover some of SF and may be Monterey, Carmel, Napa if possible.

    • Aw, how exciting! Anywhere on the coast would be gorgeous. Most of the towns are very small and there weren’t a ton of hotels options (especially large chain hotels) on the route so I would look at what’s available in the approximate area you want to drive to on Day 1 and choose that way. Sorry, I wish I could help more but it really depends on how far you want to drive each day.

      Good luck and enjoy! The route is BREATHTAKING and will make for the perfect start to the New Year. =)

    • pjacob

      We ended up staying in Montara a small gorgeous town near SF. Booked a beautiful house via AirBnb.

    • Thanks for sharing! Sounds amazing, so glad it worked out!!

  • Amy Kronbeck

    If you had to choose which half of the drive to take highway 101, would you pick the half closer to seattle or the half closer to san Francisco? We don’t have as much time but want to drive part of the way on highway 101.

    • Honestly, we LOVED both… equally. They were both breathtaking! The California half has more of the redwoods and some of the vineyards (Napa Valley area) but the Seattle half had more stunning cliffs and lots of gorgeous ocean views. Hope this helps (a little). It’s a win-win so whichever you choose, you made the right choice!!

  • RB

    Which rental car company did you use?

    • Honestly, I don’t remember which company we used. We used Expedia to compare prices from the car companies and went with the most economical one at the time. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help, but good luck with your trip!!

    • RB

      No problem, thank you 🙂

  • Tarryn Sutherland

    I am looking at doing the Seattle to San Fran drive over a little long period. Interested to know if there were other places you wish you would of gone. Also, we plan to get rid of our rental when we get to San Fran too, how did your San Fran adventure go, I’m curious about that part of the vacay for attractions and how you got around the city! Thanks!

    • How exciting, Tarryn! The trip was amazing and I’m confident you are going to love every minute of it. Honestly, there weren’t any specific places or towns we wish we could’ve stopped and explored but having extra days really take in the scenery will be well worth it! I would suggest taking your time and maybe stopping wherever there are Redwoods because it is amazing. Also, you could hit up Napa or Sonoma to enjoy wine country for a day or two before arriving in San Fran (it’s about an hour outside of San Fran).

      Dropping off the car worked out perfectly when we got to San Fran. We pretty much walked or biked everywhere in San Francisco (including over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito), which I HIGHLY recommend. http://thediyplaybook.com/2015/06/san-francisco.html

      Enjoy your trip, it’s going to be amazing!!! =)

  • Suzanna

    Any tips on Seattle or San Fran hotels? We have a week to do this trip in May

    • I wish I had some! I think we stayed at the Sheraton in SF, which was a good location but very expensive and nothing amazing. We stayed at a airBnB in Seattle, but we rented an entire house because we were with another couple. Good luck!! If you find any amazing deals or suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

  • It took at least one full day and a half because of the winding roads and speed limits (driving on the edge of a cliff = slow speed limits). I’m so excited for you guys, I hope you enjoy every minute!!! Take tons of pictures and really take in the scenery. What a fun anniversary trip! =)

  • How fun, I’m sure you are going to love it! The drive a day and a half (which included stopping and enjoying scenic views as much as we wanted and stopping to eat/get gas). We definitely did not feel rushed, but maybe account for at least 2 days if you really want to stop and explore some of the small towns on the route. I’m so excited for you, the route is AMAZING!!!

  • KeoniD

    We live in Seattle and are thinking of taking this trip with our son in a couple of months. We’ll have our own car. What did you do for hotels during the drive down? Is there a city or town about 1/2 way that you would recommend staying in overnight?

    • How fun! We stayed in the small town of Bandon, OR the first night, which was after a full day of driving. I’d say it was just a little more than half way through the drive. We were honestly only there to sleep, so I don’t know much about the town… only that it was right on the coast (gorgeous views) and allowed us to rest before getting up at sunrise to hit the road again. But anywhere around there would would do the same! Enjoy!!