Here’s the best route for your San Francisco to Seattle road trip.
While people simply love to drive through the golden coasts of California, along the Pacific Coast Highway, you might be surprised to learn that this is not the most popular route to make a road trip on the West Coast. The title for the best route goes to the San Francisco to Seattle drive – there are some incredible places to stop.
If you’re planning a west coast USA road trip, then add this to my San Francisco to LA route and you’ll be all the way down the coast. Or, the San Francisco to Seattle drive is stunning in itself.
– First stop on the San Francisco to Seattle Road Trip: San Fran!
There’s something beautiful about seeing the scenery slowly change and turn greener while you reach colder parts of the USA, and any road trippers who love to be in touch with nature and a little history will get a kick out of this trip.
For those who aren’t looking to hit the Interstate-5 to save time, these nearly 800 miles that separate both cities have some real hidden treasures you can’t miss. So, keep reading to find out the 10 best stops on a San Francisco to Seattle road trip.
Your San Francisco to Seattle Road Trip
I’ll start by listing some of the great things to see on a SF to Seattle road trip, before delving into what to bring on your San Francisco to Seattle road trip, and then answering a few FAQ and itinerary tips. Just want to make sure you have everything you need!
1. San Francisco, California
First stop on your San Francisco to Seattle road trip is of course, the almighty San Francisco. In San Francisco you can go down to Fisherman’s Wharf and see the Pier and the seals, walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and head out to Alcatraz.
Union Square, Lombard Street and Chinatown are all great places to hang out before you drive from Sfo to Seattle too. I’d say at least three days to explore San Fran, and to make the most of these San Francisco vegan restaurants as recommended by The Nomadic Vegan.
San Francisco to Seattle road trip planner
Here’s your map of the San Francisco to Seattle road trip
2. Sonoma, California
Your San Francisco to Seattle road trip starts off with the right foot by paying a visit to the gorgeous region of Sonoma. Located a little north of San Francisco, Sonoma is composed of small and picturesque towns such as Healdsburg, Guerneville (the best option to a night of party) and Forestville.
Sonoma is also a wine-region with great farm-to-table food options to pick from. So on your San Francisco to Seattle drive we advise you to get to this stop early to check out one of the many small tasting rooms, and maybe later fill your tank at a fine restaurant.
Obviously you don’t want to drink and drive, so you can choose from one of many small inns or cabins in the area to spend the night before you move on.
3. Napa Valley, California
Napa Valley is almost an obligated stop on a San Francisco to Seattle road trip. This internationally famous wine region holds some of the best vineyards and exclusive tasting rooms in the country, and the world.
Are you undecided about which vineyard to visit for a production or cave tour?
The most recommended options are the Alpha Omega, Silver Oak, Nickel and Nickel, Chateau Montelena, Heitz, Merryvale and Shraumsberg grounds.
– The vineyards are one of the highlights of the San Francisco to Seattle drive
Sure, Napa Valley might be famous for its wine; but there’s something else that makes this place worth visiting and staying in for a couple of days: the cuisine.
The Napa region holds some of the best restaurants and eateries in the country, from affordable spots to Michelin Star restaurants where you need to make reservations months before your visit. You might want to put some planning into this.
4. Mendocino, California
You’re a third of the way through your San Francisco to Seattle drive when you get to Mendocino, California. This coastal town was built entirely with redwood in the 1800s, which make for its rustic appearance along with the old water towers that now hold cosy restaurants and B&Bs.
Probably the best thing you’ll find in this picturesque town is art and everything about it: several artists live in Mendocino, and they have private galleries which you can explore in search for the perfect piece for your house.
There are also several unique shops to get something special you won’t find somewhere else.
Another can’t-miss in this town is the Headlands State Park, where if you visit in winter you could spot whales breaching offshore.
5. Fort Bragg, California
About 170 miles in on your San Francisco to Seattle road trip you’ll reach the beautiful and calm city of Fort Bragg.
While this town is all about nature, public beaches and open parks, the most notable attraction in Fort Bragg is Glass Beach, that owes its name to the sea glass that can be found all over the place as a result of old glass bottles that eroded into the sand.
If you want to keep exploring the California coasts on this part of your trip, keep walking through the Noyo Headlands Park (this is where Glass Beach is located), and breathe in the Pacific Ocean breeze.
For gastronomy fans, a can’t miss spot is the Eggheads restaurant, a ‘Wizard of Oz’ themed restaurant with great options to have breakfast.
6. Shasta Lake, California
On this part of the San Francisco to Seattle drive you’ll part ways with the beautiful coastline of California. Shasta Lake is a beautiful spot to visit and a very popular one in the state for nature lovers.
Shasta Lake is gorgeous and shockingly big, this lake was ‘formed’ by the Shasta Dam and it’s popular because it resembles an oddly shaped hand. Just like the perfect postcard to send your relatives, Shasta Lake is surrounded by enormous mountains filled with bushy trees, and it sits below a breathtakingly blue sky.
Like any good lake, you can engage in activities such as boating, fishing, water skiing and even camping in the site. This is the last Californian stop of the road trip so you better enjoy it!
7. Crater Lake, Oregon
And just like that we’ve skipped state lines in our San Francisco to Seattle road trip!
Visiting the Crater Lake National Park is a can’t-miss stop for you. The Crater Lake, which is the deepest lake in the United States, was formed when a super volcano erupted about 7,000 years ago.
– An absolute highlight of the San Francisco to Seattle drive: Crater Lake
The Crater Lake has an outstanding deep blue colour because it has no inlet or outlet of water like most lakes. Whether you visit this spot in winter or summer there’ll be a fun activity for you to do on your trip from Sfo to Seattle.
On the hottest months of the year you can take a boat ride to Wizard Island, right in the middle of the lake, and go hiking. However, on winter, you can visit the tranquil waters and engage in some country skiing and shoe snowing. No wonder it’s one of the best places to visit in Oregon!
If you have the time to delve deeper there are some great places to see along the Oregon Coast too.
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8. Willamette Valley, Oregon
California might be the most known state to make wine, but it’s not the only one!
If you want to visit a more affordable wine region in the US, it’s undoubtedly Willamette Valley. This region has more than 1,300 wineries and vineyards where you can enjoy delicious wine such as the awarded Pinot Noir. Some of the most popular wineries in Willamette Valley are the Alloro Vineyard, the Durant Vineyards and the Eyrie Vineyards, where the Pinot Noir that’s ‘better than the French one’ is made.
– Bit of greenery on your San Francisco to Seattle road trip? The Willamette Valley
As fun as wine sounds, this is not all there’s to see at Willamette Valley. Make sure to check out the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, where you’ll learn more about aviation and see The Spruce Goose – the largest wooden airplane ever made by Howard Hughes.
9. Portland, Oregon
Getting closer to our destination, a great stop in every San Francisco to Seattle drive is Portland, in Oregon. When you get there, you’ll be greeted by Mount Hood and the Columbia Gorge filled with waterfalls.
Portland is a very affordable option that’s filled with activities such as open-air markets, independent bookstores and grabbing a bite in one of its more than 500 food carts with the widest variety of cuisines.
If you want a good way to check out the outstanding Victorian architecture of the city or some of its many murals, rent a bike and roll around town enjoying the view. At the end of the day, Portland is worth staying the night so you can visit one of the many local pubs around.
It’s a great place to spend a few days – if you have time.
10. Cannon Beach, Oregon
Driving west of Portland you’ll get to Cannon Beach, a small town that’s worth visiting especially in the summer. Cannon Beach is the best viewing spot of the Haystack Rock during sunset, a sea stalk of enormous proportions.
To extend your visit here dip in and do some surfing, watch the tide pools from afar or have a warm bonfire at dusk. We should warn you that the waters at Cannon Beach are cold almost every day and at any point of the day, but that doesn’t seem to discourage tourists from enjoying a nice swim.
When nighttime falls, Cannon Beach has a nice pier where you can get lunch or even great dinner one of its many cosy spots. A great little spot on this road trip itinerary.
11. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Almost at our last stop in this long San Francisco to Seattle road trip!
The almighty Mount Rainier is only 85 miles southeast of Seattle. Mount Rainier is the highest peak of the Pacific Northwest and the most recognised landmark in Washington state.
Mount Rainier is actually an active volcano that last erupted in 1894 and has 25 breathtaking glaciers that occupy 10% of the park’s total surface. This park has two main areas called Sunrise and Paradise where many hiking trails can be walked by tourists.
Enjoy some of the best and most varied sceneries that include alpine forests, waterfalls and flower-carpeted meadows. If you enjoy extreme activities or you simply enjoy being in the outside, Mount Rainier National Park is a must.
And so we arrive to the end of the San Francisco to Seattle drive!
This road trip is surely filled with the best landscapes found in the United States, and some of the most unique activities you’ll remember forever. So, get your backpack ready and fill your tank because we assure you this route has a little something for everyone in your travel party.
What to bring on your San Francisco to Seattle road trip
The weather in the Pacific Northwest can be kind of unpredictable. I’d definitely recommend packing a rain jacket and warm trousers, along with your summer clothes. Bring snacks for the journey, an umbrella, and of course, do not forget your camera!
FA Questions about the road trip from San Francisco to Seattle
How long does it take to drive from San Francisco to Seattle?
The San Francisco to Seattle drive time is around 13 hours if you just drive straight down the I-5N. Do that though and you’ll miss out on all these great things to see along the route.
How far is Seattle from San Francisco by car?
If you road trip San Francisco to Seattle you’ll cover at least 807 miles – that’s if you do the aforementioned route and go straight down the I-5N. Do this road trip and you’ll probably do around double that. Life is all about the journey, not the destination!
Where to stay on the San Francisco to Seattle drive?
There are some great places to stay between San Francisco and Seattle. I’d definitely recommend staying in some Airbnbs along the way – you can find some really unique ones if you spend some time looking. This way you get to check out some cool properties too.
What is halfway between Seattle and San Francisco?
This San Francisco to Seattle road trip planner puts Crater Lake at halfway between the two. This is an excellent spot to take stock of what you’ve seen, and the amazing sites still to come.
What shall I do in San Francisco?
There are so many great things to do in San Francisco – you’ll totally be spoilt for choice!
Of course the essentials like Golden Gate Bridge and Pier 39 should be top of your list, but my insider recommendation would be to head to the Castro. This is what’s known as the gay area of the city and has a great nightlife. Spent many a boozey night here.
What shall I do in Seattle?
So, you’ve done your road trip to Seattle from San Francisco and you need ideas for things to do in Seattle?
– Ok, I’d recommend Pike Place Market for a fascinating look at one of the coolest markets in the world.
– Go and eat at the Space Needle – a 605-foot observation deck and rotating restaurant – for your final night.
– And then go visit the Olympic Sculpture Park to see a really beautiful part of the city.
Or, this video does an amazing job at showing you more of the city…
Driving from San Francisco to Seattle
I hope this San Francisco to Seattle road trip blog has helped you plan your trip. Please do let me know if you have any questions below – always happy to help!