It’s about 10 hours by car from Portland to San Francisco, and you know what that means—road trip! You’ll be passing tons of amazing destinations on your way from Oregon to California, and no matter what kind of traveler you are, you’ll have plenty of options when it comes to choosing attractions and points of interest to stop at.
From parks and wildlife to art and history, these places will allow you to explore all sorts of passions that you might have—and maybe you’ll even discover a few new ones while you’re at it! Don’t know where to start with your road trip plans? Keep reading to see some of our West Coast favorites that fall between Portland and San Fran!
About 45 minutes south of Portland, you’ll find the city of Salem—but not the one made infamous by the 17th-century witch trials. Aside from being the state’s capital, Salem, Oregon, is an eclectic metropolis that makes for a fun detour on your way down from Portland. A riverside city with ample green space, some of Salem’s highlights include the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, the Willamette Heritage Center, the Bush House Museum, and, of course, the Oregon State Capitol Building. But if you’re looking for an outdoor spot to stretch your legs and get some fresh air, Riverfront Park simply can’t be beaten.
With 26 acres stretching alongside the Willamette River, Riverfront Park is an attraction-packed space that sits within walking distance of Downtown Salem. In addition to its traditional park features like grassy open areas, play equipment, picnic tables, and walking paths, Riverfront Park is also home to Salem’s Riverfront Carousel, Gilbert House Children’s Museum, an amphitheater, and Eco-Earth, a ceramic sculpture of the globe with a circumference that’s about 85 feet. Plus, Riverfront Park connects to two more parks, Minto-Brown Island Park and Wallace Marine Park, both of which are accessible via pedestrian bridges.
Sorry, dinosaur enthusiasts—you won’t find any prehistoric raptors at Cascades Raptor Center, but you will find one of the Pacific Northwest’s largest collections of native raptor species (AKA, birds of prey). Located on the outskirts of Eugene, Oregon, just around two hours from Portland, Cascades Raptor Center boasts a collection of nearly 50 feathered-predators that you can get an up-close look at when you tour the facility’s outdoor aviaries. Open to the public year-round, Cascades Raptor Center is an engaging educational experience that’s sure to captivate you with its inhabitants—and its admirable mission.
The center’s primary goal is to encourage connections between people and birds of prey in order to understand the value in preserving the PNW’s natural and cultural heritage. The facility doubles as an environmental education center and a wildlife hospital, where it rehabilitates and releases orphaned, sick, and injured birds, many of which have suffered the consequences of human encroachment and recklessness. Some of the residents at the center include bald and golden eagles, falcons, hawks, owls, vultures, and osprey. Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for students and seniors, and $6 for children ages two to twelve.
The Upper and Lower Table Rocks are around four-and-a-half hours from Portland and about 30 minutes north of the city of Medford. U-shaped mesas, the Table Rocks are comprised of 125-foot-thick andesite rock, remains of a lava flow that made it was through the Rogue River Valley almost 10 million years ago. You can hike to viewpoints on either of the rocks, but the hike up Upper Table Rock is considered an easier trek. From the top of the mesas, you’ll be able to see across the Rogue River to the Siskiyous and the Cascades.
The hike to Upper Table Rock is 2.8 miles and gains 720 feet, while the hike to Lower Table Rock, a more moderate trip, is 5.4 miles and gains 780 feet. Spring is the best time to hike Table Rocks, as this is the peak bloom season for the rocks’ rare and vibrant wildflowers. (Please note that flower-picking is prohibited and so are dogs, horses, and fires.) The trailheads to both rocks can be accessed from Interstate 5.
Ralph Starritt, a metal sculptor based in Yreka, is responsible for Priscella, Dragon Queen of the Sierras, the spectacular metal guardian that’s positioned along Interstate 5, about 10 minutes north of Yreka. Similarly, Starritt’s work can also be seen when leaving the city: Moo-Donna and her calf can be found “grazing” on the east side of the freeway. The sculptures signify the city’s boundaries, the first having been purchased by the local government and the second two having been donated by Starritt, whose studio and workshop are in Yreka.
As for the city of Yreka itself, the homey town has a few different parks, including Ringe Park, Yreka Community Gardens, Greenhorn Park, and Discovery Park. Of course, this is California that we’re talking about—if there’s one thing the state isn’t wanting for, it’s parks. To the north of Yreka, you have Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, and to the southeast, you’ll find Klamath National Forest. Basically, if you’re just passing through Yreka, stay on the lookout for the two whimsical metal art installations that border I-5, but if you want a quiet place to stay with plenty of opportunities for outdoor exploration, consider spending the night in one of the town’s hotels!
No matter how many waterfalls you see, something about the sight of natural, free-flowing water never ceases to be majestic. Hedge Creek Falls, about five minutes north of the city of Dunsmuir, offers drivers on I-5 a short respite from the road in the form of a brief trail that leads to the cascading waters. The waterfall flows into Hedge Creek, which in turn feeds into the Sacramento River. With a hike that’s only a little over a half-mile, the path to Hedge Creek Falls is slightly steep but not considered too strenuous by most visitors.
The cave behind the falls is used as a viewing platform, and Mt. Shasta can be seen in the distance. At a little over 30 feet, Hedge Creek Falls might not be the largest waterfall that you’ll ever see, but the surrounding area does provide the somewhat rare opportunity to not only see the waterfall up close but also to see it from behind. And around the falls, you’ll find picnic areas where you can enjoy some time outside before getting back in the car.
About three hours north of San Francisco in the city of Redding, Sundial Bridge boasts one of the biggest working sundials in the world. Crossing the Sacramento River in Redding’s Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Sundial Bridge functions as a downtown entrance to the city’s vast Sacramento River Trail system. The bridge, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, features steel, glass, and granite and is as visually stunning as it is conceptually bizarre. Free to the public, Sundial Bridge has a plaza on either end, and the north-side plaza allows visitors to sit right at the edge of the river.
But Sundial Bridge isn’t the only reason to visit Turtle Exploration Park. The park also has a museum, Paul Bunyan's Forest Camp, outdoor playgrounds, an aviary, and the McConnell Arboretum & Gardens. At Turtle Bay’s Museum, you’ll find an array of educational exhibits and activities, including art, a history gallery, and an aquarium. While Sundial Bridge does not cost admission, most of the park’s other attractions do.
Sacramento, California’s state capital, is only around one-and-a-half hours from San Francisco. And while it’s not quite as big as it’s neighbor to the southeast, Sacramento is still an energetic, entertaining city with a number of attractions that make it well worth a stop on your way down to the City by the Bay. Aside from the State Capitol Building (Downtown), you have the Crocker Art Museum (near Crocker Park), the California Museum (Downtown), the Sacramento Zoo, (William Land Park), and Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park (Midtown)—just to name a few. That being said, if you’re a history buff (or a train-lover), then the California State Railroad Museum is a must-see when passing through Sacramento.
Even if you’re not too into trains, this hands-on museum in the Old Sacramento Waterfront District approaches American history from an unconventional perspective. With rotating exhibits that focus on a variety of railway-related subjects and a vintage locomotive collection that spans from 1862 to 1944, the California State Railroad Museum looks at everything from social issues and historical events to artwork and California tourism.
Glashoff Sculpture Ranch lies about 20 minutes northwest of the city of Fairfield, which is around an hour from San Francisco. A collection of assemblage sculptures created from repurposed metal, this offbeat roadside attraction is sure to add some whimsy to your drive through Suisun Valley. Owned by the father-and-son metal-sculpting duo Phillip and Chad Glashoff, the outdoor gallery hosts art shows twice a year but is otherwise available for tours by appointment.
With pieces that range from amusing to political, the Glashoff Sculpture Ranch features the combined work of two generations. Phil Glashoff, the father, is self-taught, while his son, Chad, began sculpting at a young age and later pursued his talent in art school. Both of the Glashoffs have work that can be seen throughout the region, but the largest concentration of their work can be found at their ranch. Humor plays a defining role in many of the Glashoffs’ pieces, but the sheer craftsmanship and dedication that goes into each work are always present, no matter what shape, character, or object you’re looking at.
You probably don’t need us to tell you that San Francisco is a beautiful city—but, just in case you do: San Francisco is a beautiful city! And while SF definitely won’t leave you short on awesome places to see, you don’t want to miss out on the stops that you’ll come across while driving down from Portland, which is why the car ride from Oregon to California is a road trip opportunity that no traveler should pass up! With mountains, the ocean, forests, and just about every other type of topography that you can think of, the West Coast is a land that was made for adventure—so, go forth and take it all in. This is a trip you’ll never forget!