When it comes to planning a road trip, you can’t get more scenic and diverse than the West Coast. And what better cities to start and end in than San Francisco and Seattle? Don’t be intimidated by the long drive—there are plenty of amazing places to stop along the way.
With beaches, landmarks, state parks, and more, you definitely won’t be short on driving destinations to choose from when making the trip from San Fran to Seattle. From popular tourist attractions to lesser-known locales, we’re going to fill you in on some of the best road-trip stops in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington.
Remember the story of the ugly duckling? Well, that kind of what happened here, too: Glass Beach was once an unsightly trash dump that was littered with—among other types of garbage—glass bottles. Over time, however, the area was cleaned up, and the ocean transformed the leftover pieces of glass into a kaleidoscope of colors.
Because Glass Beach—which actually consists of multiple sites within and slightly outside of Fort Bragg’s MacKerricher State Park—has become such a heavily-visited spot, not as much sea glass remains, due to tourists taking “souvenirs” after visiting. In an effort to preserve the beaches, it is now illegal to remove any of the glass from the properties. But don’t worry—you can still take as many photos as you want!
“Glass Beach is beautiful. It's made of tiny glass pebbles of rainbow colors and soft sand. There is more sand than glass pebbles, but it's still a beautiful beach and the views are breathtaking.” -Choua T. on Yelp.
Built in the late nineteenth century, this three-story mansion in Old Town Eureka showcases a blend of architectural features stick-style and Queen Anne characteristics, as well as Gothic, Italian, and French influences. Once the home of the wealthy Willliam Carson, the mansion is now a local landmark and rumored to be the most-photographed Victorian house in America.
Though you are free to admire the mansion from the outside, only members of the Ingomar Club—a private social club that owns the property—are permitted access to the inside. While you’re in the area, make sure that you do a little exploring because there are other Victorian homes in this part of town, including the Pink Lady.
“A stunning masterpiece! . . . It seriously looks like something out of a storybook. I would have loved to have gone on a tour of the inside, but the view of the exterior alone is worth the stop.” -Shayla B. on Yelp.
When it comes to landscape, California is best known for two things: beaches and redwood trees. And if you make a stop at Crescent City, you can see both, as the town in Del Norte County has a famed crescent-shaped beach, and it’s also right by Redwood National State Park. Want to make your time in Crescent City extra special? Trying booking a horseback tour with Crescent Trail Rides!
Choose between a beach ride through Tolowa Dunes State Park or a redwood ride through Redwood National & State Parks. Either way, you’re guaranteed stunning scenery, extensive information about the area, and tons of fun!
“What an amazing tour. Lorie was extremely knowledgeable about everything we encountered on the trail. The horses were very gentle, so even an inexperienced rider like myself could enjoy the ride.” -John W. on Yelp.
Nearly eight thousand years ago, Mount Mazama erupted and created a volcanic crater in south-central Oregon, which gradually evolved into Crater Lake—a freshwater lake with a depth of 1,943 feet. It’s the deepest lake in the United States, and the ninth-deepest lake in the world. The clarity of the water is also noteworthy: It’s some of the clearest water found anywhere.
Located in the midst of the Cascade Mountain Range, Crater Lake isn’t just a geological wonder—it’s also home to some positively gorgeous views. During the warmer months, you can take a hike through the park, pack a picnic, and fill your lungs with some fresh Oregon air. Equally beautiful in the winter, Crater Lake is host to a plethora of cold-weather activities, including skiing and snowshoeing.
“Crater Lake is a park whose main feature is breathtaking beauty. This is a park to contemplate the majesty of nature. It's about the water, the volcanic cliffs, the landscape. The water. It's stunning.” -Robin S. on Yelp.
Formed by solidified lava, Lava River Cave is a lava tube that will take you below Earth’s surface and inside an extraordinary natural phenomenon. The hike through the cave is a mile long, and the initial descent will take you down 55 stairs into the lava tube.
Because it’s a subterranean cave, the average temperature of Lava River Cave is 42 degrees Fahrenheit, so you’re advised to bring some warm clothing—even if it’s hot outside. The cave is only open to visitors from May through September, but if you’re visiting during the winter you can explore some different areas of the surrounding Deschutes National Forest.
“A really cool, family-friendly lava tube. There are built-in steps and a railing for the first quarter of the cave, over the jagged rocks . . . Inside of the cave is cold—around 40 degrees. Long pants and a light jacket are necessary.” -Helen W. on Yelp.
In the decades following the end of World War II, Japanese gardens became a trend across the country as a symbol of peace and healing between Japan and the United States. Dedicated in 1961, the Portland Japanese Garden was designed by Professor Takuma Tono of Tokyo Agricultural University, and the garden was opened to the public in 1967.
Since then, the Portland Japanese Garden has not only retained its popularity among locals and visitors, but it has also expanded and evolved. Throughout its history, the garden has been praised by Japanese dignitaries that have visited the city, and open year-round, it remains a top must-see destination in Portland.
“Stunning Japanese garden built into a gorgeous foothill in Portland . . . The Japanese architecture is intricate and authentic. The bamboo fencing, water barriers, dry scapes, and the incredible Bonsais throughout the 12 acres will drain your phone’s battery while picture taking.” -Don P. on Yelp.
About two hours outside of Portland and four-to-five hours from Seattle, Astoria, Oregon, is a port city on the Columbia River that holds the honor of being the oldest city in Oregon. In 1926, Astoria built a 125-foot tall monument as a tribute to the Pacific Northwest and the pioneers settled there.
A series of murals decorate the Astoria Column and depict the development of the region. Inside the Column is a spiral staircase that visitors can climb for panoramic views of the area. (Throwing wooden gliders from the top of the Column is also a common way to celebrate reaching the top!) The Column is open from dusk to dawn, and the views from the top are particularly beautiful at sunrise and sunset.
“The Column is spectacular. The artwork that went into it is awesome. We managed to brave the climb all the way to the top. The view from above is really something else. It's really a breath of fresh air.” -Grace L. on Yelp.
With a boardwalk that’s almost a mile long, docks, a harbor house, picnic areas, a playground, and public art installations by local and regional artists, Percival Landing Park is the perfect place to go for a bayside stroll in Downtown Olympia. Built in 1978 and continually developed over the years, Percival Landing is a treasured Olympia landmark and a social center for the city.
Part of what makes Percival Landing so special is the sculptures that are on rotating display on the park’s plinths. Not only do these outdoor art pieces add personality to the park, but they also reflect the city’s appreciation for artists in the surrounding area.
“The park is a long boardwalk along the water with a variety of statues and art . . . There are trees, flowers and other landscaping along the walkway as well and some benches if you'd like to have a rest and enjoy the beautiful scenery along the harbor and watch the boats.” -Rose D. on Yelp.
Tacoma’s Museum of Glass is the West Coast’s largest and most active museum glass studio and was listed as one of the top ten tourist destinations in Washington state by USA Today in 2017. At the museum, you can admire the work of emerging artists and masters alike, and you can even witness live glassblowing.
Temporary exhibitions and permanent collections are both on display at the museum, and for an additional charge, you can participate in a glassblowing workshop. The MOG is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm and from 12 pm to 5 pm on Sundays.
“This museum has beautiful works of art all made from glass. At times I forget I'm in the Museum of Glass, as the artwork doesn't look like it's all from glass. They're all very intricate and detailed.” -Crystal H. on Yelp.
Road trips and the West Coast go hand-in-hand—there’s just so much to see and do! And while San Francisco and Seattle are travel destinations in their own right, you definitely don’t want to miss out on what’s in between. After all, what’s the rush? Now that you’ve seen some of what this road trip has to offer, it’s time to pack your bags, grab a few friends, and start driving!