This Road Trip From Portland To San Francisco Is Full Of Coastal Views And The Best Stops

While road trips are seeped into American culture no matter where you go, it seems that road trips in the western part of the country most often find themselves on bucket lists. From the "Mighty 5" national parks in Utah to underrated beaches in California, the West has beautiful scenery and iconic landmarks often explored with the help of famous highways.

Portland, Oregon, is on the state's border with Washington. While not quite on the iconic rocky Pacific coastline, it makes for the perfect beginning of a west coast road trip. Portland's eclectic draws include the Lan Su Chinese Garden, which as the name suggests, is modeled after gardens in China. At night, lanterns light up the gardens as well. Elsewhere in Portland, get something fun to read at the famous Powell's City of Books, or learn about the rail industry at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. Just west of the city center is the Wildwood Trail. A hike through this wooded path takes you past the Witch's Castle, an abandoned stone house perfect for a spooky tall tale.

Find sandy beaches around Coos Bay, Oregon

Oregon's capital city of Salem is smaller than Portland, but has plenty of history and fun places to eat. The Willamette Heritage Center covers the history of the Oregon Trail, the Kalapuya tribes, the area's industrial history, and includes wooden-framed houses from the mid-1800s. Nearby is the Sassy Onion, serving classic American food with some Mexican and Asian influence, but the restaurant is well-known for its French toast. In keeping with historic themes, Archive Coffee and Bar is a café by day and a cocktail bar by night and is decorated with mismatched antiques.

After passing through Salem and Albany, use Highway 20 to reach the famous Highway 101. As you head south on the 101, a stop at Coos Bay, Oregon, makes for a relaxing break from driving. The Pacific Coast has plenty of rocky outcroppings into the water, and Coos Bay has sandy beaches, too. On what is referred to as the North Spit, you'll find these sandy beaches and campsites. Combine the two at Horsfall Beach Campground. Check their website for availability.

Walk among redwoods in Northern California

Some of Northern California's Highway 101 highlights are the state's massive redwood trees, which are the tallest in the world. North of Klamath are the Trees of Mystery. The Redwood Canopy Trail at the Trees of Mystery bring you up to multiple platforms joined by bridges, allowing for up-close and high-up views of the redwood trees. Trees of Mystery is easy to spot from the 101 due to its huge statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the blue ox.

More well-known places to see redwoods are the Redwood National and State Parks. You can simply drive through the area on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, accessible from the 101. While these parks are famous for their redwood trees, flowers like California poppies and forget-me-nots call the parks home, too. Different flowers bloom during different seasons. Whenever you visit, remember that nature organizations are always working to preserve the plants and endangered animals, like the California Condor. Contribute to their efforts by being sure to leave no trace of your stay.

Explore Eureka, California's Victorian Old Town

The Northern California city of Eureka — which means discovery — lives up to its name with beautiful scenery and historic streets. On C Street in Eureka's Old Town, look for the Madaket, the Humboldt Bay Harbor Cruise ship. This ship takes visitors out on the water from the middle of May through the beginning of October. With the company's cruise options, you can learn about the history of the area, its wildlife, or sip a cocktail. Elsewhere in Eureka's Old Town, visit the Clarke Historical Museum to see exhibits on the city's Indigenous and Victorian history all in a building that dates back to 1911.

On the peninsula jutting out from just north of Eureka, there are plenty of sandy beaches. Head to Samoa Beach or further south to Samoa Dunes Recreation Area. The North Jetty features more rocky terrain with the waves occasionally crashing against them. The North Jetty also marks the entrance to Humboldt Bay, which extends up to Eureka.

Visit the pristine beaches on Bodega Head peninsula

Highway 101 begins to veer inland south of Eureka, California. The 101 does lead to San Francisco, but if you want to stay along the coast, Highway 101 meets with the coastal Highway 1 in Leggett, California. Follow Highway 1 to Bodega Bay for coastal hiking opportunities among rocky and sandy beaches. Head to the Bodega Head peninsula for the Bodega Head Trail, with nearby parking lots (watch out for potholes). If you visit from January through May, you might spot whales in the distance.

If you choose to stay on the 101, you will get close to Clear Lake, California's largest freshwater lake. From Hopland, head east on Highway 175 for less than one hour to get to the lake and see the vast views of the lush green countryside along the way. On the shores is Clear Lake State Park, a peaceful location for swimming and camping. However, keep in mind that the campsites do not have electricity or water hookup capabilities. There are cabins that do have electricity, but you have to bring your own bedding. For a unique lodging option, book the vintage Airstream RV at Peace and Plenty Farm. Though the RV's interior is modern, a stay here is still reminiscent of California in the 1960s.

Get views of the Golden Gate Bridge before entering San Francisco

If you took the scenic route on Highway 1, you will reconnect with Highway 101 just before San Francisco. The first monumental part of San Francisco you will encounter on this route is the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Before crossing the bridge itself, stop at this recreation area for sweeping views of one of San Francisco's most famous landmarks. The peninsula on the southern side of the Golden Gate Bridge features other major attractions like Lands End Lookout and Golden Gate Park. One aspect of this park that makes it unique is the Bison Paddock. It may sound strange, but small groups of bison have been at the park since 1899.

Also on the southern side of the Golden Gate Bridge is San Francisco's Chinatown. This busy section of narrow streets is full of Chinese cuisine and history. The Chinese Historical Society of America Museum aims to educate visitors on the work and experiences of Chinese Americans. Be sure to try some Chinese sweets at Good Mong Kok Bakery as the perfect reward for conquering an iconic road trip.