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

Seattle to San Francisco Road Trip

Casey stops to take a picture along the coastline of Highway 101! If you're planning a Seattle to San Francisco Road Trip, the beautiful coastline views are a must-see!

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

The Seattle waterfront and space needle; our starting destination on our Seattle to San Francisco Road Trip.

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.  Mountains, rolling fields, pastures, and cattle - a view along the route of our Seattle to San Francisco road trip!A beautiful beach shot along the coast from our Seattle to San Francisco road trip! These views are breathtaking!

Car Rental

We started our drive in Seattle where we rented a car at Seattle’s International Airport. We had this Garmin (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.

This beautiful, lush, green forest along our Highway 101 route was just a sampling of the diverse and amazing views we encountered on our Seattle to San Francisco road trip.Slow and Steady

For the 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 takes a careful walk along shoreline rocks on the beach off Highway 101. This was one of our favorite parts of our Seattle to San Francisco road trip!

Look Out 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.  A breathtaking view along Highway 101 on our Seattle to San Francisco road trip.

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 halfway 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! 

Green hills and blue water along a rocky beach along Highway 101, from our Seattle to San Francisco road trip.More Advice

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 a 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.
Pacific Ocean views with waves, shoreline rocks, and sunset clouds along Highway 101 from our Seattle to San Francisco road trip.Pacific Coast beaches, draped in fog and white capped waves along Highway 101 - from our Seattle to San Francisco road trip.A beautiful mountainous coastline along Highway 101 on our Seattle to San Francisco road trip.

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. First, we entered California on Highway 101 then 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.

The Redwoods

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.

Casey and Mike under the giant Chandelier redwood tree - a memory from our Seattle to San Francisco road trip.Later 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!

Casey and Mike show just how large these giant redwood trees are! You can drive a car through!

Stunning coastal views were plenty during our Seattle to San Francisco road trip.Entering California! The California flag flies high alongside the American flag as we arrive in Cali during our Seattle to San Francisco road trip.Eventually, 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.

Entering San Francisco

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.  The historical Golden Gate bridge - a memory from our Seattle to San Francisco road trip.

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.  San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge - Seattle to San Francisco road trip.Seattle to San Francisco, and everything in between…. we heart you! Thank you for making our trip unforgettable!!

Other Random TipsHighway 101_ A Guide for a Seattle to San Francisco road trip.

Top Tips for your Ride

  • 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.
  • 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! (here’s the camera we use!)
  • Don’t count on the radio because the signal is very limited, bring music!
  • 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!
  • Wear layers! The temps will change all day long. I loved having this Patagonia jacket on hand.
  • 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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Bridget