On the Road in the American West: Seattle to San Francisco

Florence Oregon, one stop on a great road trip from Seattle to San Francisco.
Florence Oregon, one stop on a great road trip from Seattle to San Francisco.

The Fantastic 5-Day Trip: Seattle to San Francisco (and back) Edition

By Jason Goetz

So, you’ve got a long weekend off and you’re determined to kick back, relax, and enjoy some sun. Work has been drudgery and you’ve eaten the same oven-baked frozen lasagna for the last four nights because you haven’t had time to go on a grocery run.

Time to take a few days to yourself to recalibrate and get back on track. Unfortunately for you, the Seattle weather looks as though it’s going to be dismal for the foreseeable future so you check plane ticket prices to determine whether you can jet somewhere for a break from the clouds and rain. You’re dismayed to find that plane ticket prices are astronomical (and that’s not even for a seat with some leg room).

So, what do you do? Escape via car to San Francisco for some well-deserved R&R of course. Follow this fun and adventurous road trip itinerary for an excursion that’s just as much about the journey as it is about the destination.

The iconic red bridge that goes to Marin County from San Francisco.
The iconic red bridge that goes to Marin County from San Francisco.

Day 1: Seattle to Florence, Oregon (6.5 hours)

Hit the ground running by stocking up on road-ready snacks, inviting a few friends, and preparing a playlist that adds to the scenic beauty you’ll experience along your route. This first stretch along I-5 South will take you through Portland, Salem, and Eugene before you switch over to OR 126 W and arrive in Florence, Oregon.

If you get antsy along the way, take a break at the Columbia River Gorge near Portland to stretch your legs and enjoy some nature. We recommend you get on the road early so that when you arrive in Florence you have the afternoon to explore its historic bridges, walk along its rocky tidal areas, spend time shopping along the riverfront, or touring the river line in a dune buggy near the Heceta Head Lighthouse.

There are plenty of places to eat in Florence, but if you’re looking for a one of a kind dining experience, check out the Waterfront Depot Restaurant. Situated along the Suislaw River, Waterfront serves elevated American cuisine and craft cocktails out of its classic, wood-paneled dining room. They do get busy and recommend reservations, so if you miss your chance or crave something a little more casual, stop in at Mari’s Kitchen at Maple Street Grille for a friendly bite in a comfy setting.

After you’ve had your fill, kick back and rest at one of Florence’s many bed and breakfasts, including the Edwin K or The Blue Heron. The bed and breakfast community is thriving in Oregon, and the Oregon Bed and Breakfast guild has compiled a list of every bed and breakfast in the area, which can be found here for some easy browsing.

Downtown San Francisco.
Downtown San Francisco.

Day 2: Florence to Chico, California (7 hours)

The real destination today is actually Wolf Creek Park, a recreational area that features a lake and a spacious area to run around and catch some rays. Before you leave Florence, pick up some lunch supplies at the local co-op and kick it picnic style when you arrive at Wolf Creek.

As you near Glendale after about four hours, stop at Wolf Creek Park on Lake Livingston for a dip in some refreshing lake water to break up the drive and enjoy some sun for a few hours. When you’re ready to continue, make your way towards Chico for a night exploring the Butte Creek Ecological Reserve or eating at Broadway Heights California Cuisine, where they serve a fantastic chicken parmesan and cater to a variety of food preferences.

Day 3: Chico to San Francisco (3.5 hours)

Today, you’ve only got three and a half hours on the road before you hit San Francisco, so turn on a comedy podcast and enjoy the shorter leg of this trip. You’ll have an entire day to explore the city, and with so many great deals in San Francisco, you’ll have plenty to do.

Whether you decide to explore Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze or the city’s Secret Tilted Staircase, there’s something for everyone in your group to love. San Francisco is known for its wide array of food and dining options, from street vendors to more upscale cuisine like MKT Restaurant and Bar that will provide you the fuel you need to explore the city’s roaring nightlife. If you’re looking for a cheaper place to stay, try one of San Francisco’s many hostels or check in to the Seaside Inn,

which boasts friendly staff and beautiful interior design. We recommend that after dinner, you park near your hotel and travel via Lyft to your evening destination, of which there are many. See what’s going on at the Oakland Metro, where you’ll find everything from opera performances, to wild rap battles, to troves of burlesque performers depending on the night.

Return Days 4 & 5: San Francisco to Coos Bay, Oregon Coos Bay to Seattle

For your return route, we recommend staying a night in Coos Bay, Oregon to break up the fifteen-hour drive with a relaxing night near the coastline. Coos Bay breaks the trip into halves, so you’ll be driving about eight hours each day. After those hours in the car, rubbing your toes along the sandy beaches at Coos Bay will be all you need to regenerate energy for your final leg home.

Jayson Goetz is a writer from Phoenix, Arizona who is passionate about traveling on a budget. He loves sharing his experiences and tips in hopes of helping people travel the world.