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Seattle to San Francisco - June/July - with children

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Hi there,

We want to travel from Seattle to San Francisco. At present we are planning the following:

Fly into Seattle from Bozeman
2+ days in Seattle
Perhaps leave on the night train from Seattle to Portland
2 days in Portland and Columbia Gorge & Mount Hood / Multnomah falls
2 days exploring the Oregon coast
1 day in Redwoods
1 day to Mendocino
1 day to San Francisco - fly back to Sydney that night.

We have previously been to San Francisco, so feel we do not need to visit again. We will be traveling with 2 children; aged 5 and 8 (the 8 year old has very mild Cerebral Palsy).

Could you please advise on towns to stay
1) while exploring the Oregon coast and
Sights and towns we would like to see/visit while in this area include: Ecola State Park, Suislaw River Bridge, Florence, Oregon caves, Ashland, Cannon Beach and Yachats. Please advise if this is do-able in 2 days or if you recommend 3 days to do it.

2) in Redwoods?
We would like to stop and do some sightseeing in Klamath at the County Museum and Fort Klamath (if possible)
Does this route allow us to pass through the Avenue of the Giants?

On route to San Francisco, we would also like to stop at Fort Ross State Historic Park.

Please advise
1) if we have enough time to do all the things we think we might want to do, or how many days it may require.
2) if there is anything else you think we should rather see / do.
3) any other advice.

Thanks in advance!

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    Looks like your first post; welcome to Fodor's!

    I'll make a couple of general comments on your plans...

    First, you'll want to refrain from too much zigzagging. For example, including Ashland and the Oregon Caves in a driving plan that includes both the Oregon coast and the redwoods is impractical; there really aren't any roads through the mountains between the Rogue Valley (Ashland, Medford, Grants Pass) and the coast. So your plan would require a very long and time-consuming zigzag - coast to interior and back - that would take most of a day, and you really don't have a day to spare.

    Second, in a number of towns along the Oregon and CA Hwy 1 coasts, such as Cannon Beach, Yachats, and Mendocino - and probably more - there's a trend to requiring minimum stays of two or more nights in the summer. This would obviously complicate your plans.

    So given there are four of you including two kids, I'd frankly look at ways to simplify the route to allow more time in fewer places rather than hurrying from one sight to the next.

    Now of course if you can simply add nights to your schedule, then the sky's the limit. Your post suggests that's possible, but without knowing that, I'll just propose the following. Note this reflects my own preferences, based on more times driving this route than I can actually remember. Others will have different views and priorities.

    To me, here are the highlights and "don't-miss" elements, and why I'm suggesting them.

    Here's an outline map - https://goo.gl/maps/LoUbvdjp4Tq . Note this begins in Portland and doesn't address the Seattle time or travel to Portland. Whether you drive or take the train between the two cities, it sounds like Portland is where the serious road trip starts.

    (I would really do the numbers on a car all the way from Seattle to SF as opposed to a full examination of train and local logistics like taxis etc. plus car; with four people the car the whole way might be cheaper.)

    This route includes the Columbia Gorge and Mt. Hood, but then bypasses the northern and much of the central Oregon coast by using the high-speed I-5 freeway south through the Willamette Valley and out to the coast at Florence.

    Why? Because - in my view - this still achieves most of your goals - dramatic coastal scenery, the Oregon dunes, interesting small towns... but it gets you away from the very popular northern/central coast area where you're likely to encounter the multi-night requirements.

    Part of my thinking also has to do with how much scenic coast is enough. This is very subjective, but here's a question: Do you live in Sydney or someplace else in Australia? If so, do you have any occasion to travel to Victoria and drive the Great Ocean Road west from Melbourne?

    Which picture is from the Oregon coast and which from the GOR? http://gardyloo.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/sep3-032as.jpg and http://gardyloo.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/20130116_27a.jpg

    My obvious point is that there's a lot of similarity there. Is there enough to make it okay for you to skip some of the Oregon coast and use those days seeing things that don't have an Aussie equivalent?

    If it were me, and it's not, I'd look at the following:

    The Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood offer an enormous range of sights and activities - glacier covered mountain, high waterfalls, mountain lakes... in a very kid-friendly environment. I don't know about your kids, but when mine was 5 or 8, great scenery was a "okay, what's next?" kind of experience. The Gorge offers a very wide range of activities that don't involve looking out the car windows.

    The redwoods are unique. More time in the redwoods would let you take the kids to the kitschy but really fun Trees of Mystery on the road between Crescent City and Eureka, or romp around the Founders Grove along the Avenue of the Giants, and so on.

    So my suggested itinerary would be something like this, using the map above:

    1 Seattle
    2 Seattle
    3 Columbia Gorge
    4 Columbia Gorge
    5 Florence
    6 Brookings
    7 Arcata
    8 Arcata
    9 Mendocino
    10 San Francisco

    By my count this is one more day than you've planned. Is your flight out of SF already booked? It includes two nights in the Gorge and two in the Eureka/Arcata area in the redwood country. (I would personally pick Arcata instead of smaller places like Trinidad or Ferndale, as you'll have a wider and more kid-friendly selection of accommodations and food options. The latter should include a meal at the Samoa Cookhouse, a fun place for families.)

    This would give you a couple of days to explore the redwood country - Trees of Mystery, Avenue of the Giants, etc. - or if the weather's good, just a day to hang out.

    If you had extra days, I'd probably add them to the Columbia Gorge - visit Herman the Sturgeon and feed the baby fish at the Bonneville hatchery, go to a U-pick berry farm or two in the Hood River Valley, things like that.

    Sorry this is so long, but this region is obviously something of a passion of mine.

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    How to do this trip and see more without a one way rental:
    Fly from Montana (maybe not Bozeman) to Sacramento CA.
    Rent a car at SAC and drive north on I-5 to Medford. Spend a night in Medford OR before going to see Crater Lake NP ending the day in Bend OR.
    Spend a day in the Bend area before heading to Hood River via US97, US26 and Oregon route 35.
    See the Columbia Gorge, the waterfalls and Mount Hood. Spend a day in Portland and then drive up to Seattle.
    From Seattle (maybe 1 day) head for Astoria avoiding Portland.
    There are many towns that are great on the Oregon coast.
    You may want to visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium south of Newport.
    After seeing the Avenue of the Giants, come back to Sacramento by way of Napa. Turn in the car at Sacramento and take the Yolo bus into downtown Sacramento. Spend at least 4 hours in Sacramento before taking a train to San Francisco.
    They will hold your luggage at the Amtrak station in Sacramento while you walk around the city. See the state capitol grounds.
    The Capitol Corridor train will take you to Emeryville with a connecting bus into San Francisco.

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    Hi there,

    Thank you for the feedback. It is my first post, though I have been reading a lot of your replies trying to research this road trip.

    We are flying into Seattle from Bozeman, as we will be visiting family in Bozeman before going on the road trip and Seattle is one of the few destinations you can fly to directly from Bozeman. Though, the plan was always to do a road trip between Seattle and San Francisco.

    That said though, until a couple of days ago, we were planning to do the trip in reverse, but figured that it might be better due to jet lag to swap it around. My husband was planning to have a meeting in Portland thus the rush to make up time by bypassing sightseeing on our way to Seattle.

    Point taken on beautiful coast lines and scenery that the kids can enjoy too - perhaps we could rather consider doing the Great Ocean Road at some point, as I do believe it is beautiful.

    If there are any other places / true American experiences you think might be good to see with children on route from Seattle to Portland, I would welcome suggestions.

    We were also thinking of dropping into Fort Ross State Historic Park on route to San Francisco.

    At present the only part of our holiday that has been booked are our flights into and out of the USA - a total of 3 weeks. So, adding a couple of days to our road trip is easy enough.

    Thanks for all the help so far!

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    ignore, ignore, ignore tom's post . . . He is a total train geek plus thinks everyone MUST visit Crater Lake. ;)

    Travel along the coast will be much lower than you may think. It will be tough to squeeze Seattle, Portland, the Gorge, Oregon coast, Redwoods, Mendocino, Fort Ross, ending in San Francisco . . . in just nine days. And I would never EVER leave Mendocino the same day I had a flight out of SFO..

    With just 9 days and needing to be in Seattle and Portland I would EITHER, visit Seattle, Portland the Columbia River Gorge and maybe a teensy bit of the Oregon coast, then fly from Portland to SFO and fly home. OR - after Seattle and Portland, fly down to either SFO or SMF and spend the 5-ish days you have left exploring the coast/Ft Ross/Mendocino/Redwoods, drive down to SFO and fly home.

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    Oh -- meant to add, IF you did just the northern loop, you would have time (just) to squeeze in Crater Lake and make tom very happy. :) But the rim road around the lake might still be closed due to snow.

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    The problem with the west coast is that there's so much to see that it comes down to picking and choosing between phenomenal alternatives.

    I'm going to think out loud for a minute and throw out a possible top-to-bottom alternative which will either (a) simplify things or (b) confuse the hell out of you. No charge. ;-)

    Fly from Bozeman to Seattle for a couple of days tops. Ride a ferry, maybe do a day trip to the snow at Mt. Rainier. Then fly to San Francisco, get a car, and do the bulk of your road trip there, including:

    Drive to the Monterey Bay area (2 hours from SFO) via either the Big Basin or Henry Cowell state parks. Take the kids to the waterfront amusement park in Santa Cruz and to the aquarium in Monterey. Visit the beautiful Spanish mission in Carmel and visit incomparable Point Lobos State Park between Carmel and Big Sur. Then head east to Yosemite. You won't be able to find lodgings inside the national park at this point, but even a couple of hours in the valley is very rewarding, and you'll be seeing while the waterfalls are still in full flow (they dry out and sometimes disappear altogether by the end of the summer.)

    Then spend some days driving along CA Hwy 49 through the wonderful gold rush country along the western foothills of the Sierras. This is a string of picturesque and wonderfully historic small towns, including the museum town of Columbia. Ride a stagecoach, pan for gold... it's a wonderful area for kids, and things are close enough to each other that you can spend more time out of the car than in it.

    Then back to SF and off to the antipodes. Map - https://goo.gl/maps/ZkshipEgqu42

    You'll get fabulous coastal scenery at Point Lobos and along the Big Sur coast. Note that Hwy 1 is closed south of Pfeiffer State Park, but there's still plenty of terrific scenery north of there, e.g. http://gardyloo.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/20130119_61H1a.jpg

    By picking up and dropping the car at SFO airport, the savings you'd achieve v. a one-way car hire from Portland or Seattle to SF will go most of the way to offsetting the cost of the flight. (One way flights are running around US$106 around your dates.)

    This is a real departure from your current thinking, but with kids I think it might offer more opportunities to mix kid-friendly activities and sights into an interesting and varied itinerary. The weather will be better (June is still not yet summer in Seattle and the Pacific NW coast) and the distances won't be nearly as long.

    Anyway, just a thought.

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    Sorry, didn't mention that Big Basin and Cowell state parks are full of redwood trees in beautiful groves. You could also google Calaveras Big Trees State Park in the gold rush country - giant sequoia trees that are nothing short of awesome.

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    Ah right. So just fly from Bozeman to PDX. There are two nonstops per day, then fly from PDX to SFO. Swap two days in the Columbia Gorge for the Seattle days - a fair exchange.

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    After all the feedback, I had a re-look at our initial plan and realised that perhaps we were a bit over-ambitious to do this road trip with the children - and that essentially we would be spending a lot of time driving around instead of exploring different aspects.

    Gardyloo - I thank you and seriously considered your "thinking out loud moment" and felt that even though we would love to see this part of the country still - especially Big Sur and Yosemite - we had our heart sets on going more north and exploring the Columbia River Scenic Highway and Seattle. Also, my husband no longer needs to attend a meeting in Portland.

    So, re-jigging the whole holiday, we were thinking flying directly from Bozeman to Portland and going to Mount Hood and Columbia Gorge via the Columbia River Scenic highway, then either driving or taking a train - perhaps a train as the kids will enjoy a different experience and it gives us time to just take it all in.

    While in Seattle, we would like to go to the Museum of Flight / Boeing factory tour, going on the State Ferry to San Juan, Pike Place Market, the Seattle Public Library and generally just walking around and taking in Seattle.

    Could you please let me know if you would recommend any of the following attractions: Experience Music Project Museum, Burke Museum of National History and Culture, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Pacific Science Center, Museum of History and Industry and Seattle Children's Theatre?

    We would like to see whales while we are there, if possible, what would be the best way to go about this?

    Day trips under consideration are: Mt Rainier (how easy is it to hike to the Ice Caves?), Olympic National Park and Hoh Rain Forest and Mount St. Helens. Is there anything you think we should prioritise? Or not do? Or consider?

    And to muddle things... would you recommend we spend less time in and around Seattle and travel to Vancouver? As mentioned before we have about 10 / 11 days.

    Are there any websites you can recommend to look for accommodation?

    Thanks in advance!

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    I think the amended plan is solid. I assume you're talking about the train from Portland to Seattle, right? And are you still flying home out of San Francisco?

    With 10-11 days you're still going to have to do some serious editing and some destinations might need to be dropped.

    Let me touch on some of your destinations/activities. The order might be a bit scattered, sorry.

    Columbia Gorge: 2-3 days should handle it, including a day trip on Mount Hood.

    Mount Rainier: This has been an especially snowy winter in the Cascades and I don't know how easy access will be off the main visitor center areas. Usually on July 1 the snow is still 4-6 feet deep on many of the trails around the Paradise visitor center; this year I'd imagine it would be deeper. Plus we say locally that summer begins on the 5th of July, which in the mountains means you're as likely to be socked in as not. So I'd probably use Mt. Hood as a stand-in for Rainier. Timberline Lodge is only an hour or so from Hood River, so much easier than the ~3 hours it takes to go from Seattle to Paradise on Mt. Rainier.

    San Juan Islands: This is not a day trip from Seattle or really not even a single overnight. From Seattle it's pretty much a half-day commitment just to get there, counting 90+ minutes drive to the ferry terminal, a wait for the ferry, then the trip itself.

    Olympic NP: The same story but even more extreme. You really need a 3-day commitment for Olympic NP as the various sights like the Hoh forest, Pacific beaches, Lake Crescent and Hurricane Ridge, are quite far from one another, with the drive between them pretty blah for the most part.

    If your aim is to limit time spent in the car, those areas (Rainier, San Juans, Olympic NP) aren't going to work in your favor very well. Mt. St. Helens is the same story - long drives to and from a scenic - but potentially cloudy - overlook. Most kids (I suspect, not knowing yours but knowing mime) would be getting antsy long before you get there.

    Seattle sights: All you mentioned are fine. The Pike Place market is hellishly crowded by 10:30 AM (typical visitors plus cruise passengers - thousands daily.) Note the Museum of Flight and the Boeing factory tour are 30 miles apart - the MoF is in south Seattle, the Boeing tour is in Everett, 25 miles north of town.

    Vancouver: I'm inclined to suggest that you might want to focus more on Vancouver than Seattle. My own view, but I think Vancouver is a more kid-friendly destination than Seattle. (All three cities - Portland, Seattle and Vancouver - are terrific for kids, but IMO Vancouver has a slight edge.)

    The Granville Island market, while not as big as Pike Place, has a lot going for it and isn't quite as crowded as Pike Place; Stanley Park (right in downtown Vancouver) is spectacular and has the terrific Vancouver aquarium for the kids. There are nice beaches to run around - on English Bay downtown, or a couple of great beaches-with-views southwest of downtown (google Kitsilano and Spanish Banks beaches.) There are performances of Shakespeare plays and some kid-friendly shows at the great Bard on the Beach festival, in tents facing the city skyline. And so on.

    This is getting lengthy and probably confusing, so let me just throw out a couple of ideas.

    1. Combine 3 days in the Portland area/Gorge with two out on the coast. Head down the Columbia from Portland to Cape Disappointment at the river's (awesome) mouth and let the kids play on the sand at Waikiki Beach, and visit one of the lighthouses. Visit nearby Long Beach WA, or cross to the Oregon side and visit Seaside, OR - two salt-water-taffy-penny-arcade sorts of places, and visit the marvelous beach at Cannon Beach. You really shouldn't miss the "other side" of the Pacific while you're in the area.

    2. Limit the Seattle area to two or three full days. Visit the Museum of Flight, walk around, maybe take a ferry to Bainbridge Island and back as foot passengers. Combine the Boeing tour (and note kids must be 4 feet/122 cm tall to go on it) with a day in Mukilteo, a cute waterfront town close to the Everett Plant with a fun driftwood-covered beach, pretty little lighthouse, and good fish-and-chips take away. (In fact, look at the adjacent Silver Cloud Hotel as a possible overnight spot - way cheaper than the cost of lodging in Seattle, which will stop your heart in the summer.)

    3. Spend the rest of your time in and around Vancouver. Take one of the days to drive up to Whistler - one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Visit Lynn Canyon north of the city - a great suspension bridge that's free compared to the nearby touristy and pricey Capilano Bridge. Visit the fishing port town of Steveston (used in the "Once Upon a Time" TV series. Hit the parks, the Punjabi market, eat incredible dim sum in suburban Richmond....

    I hope this doesn't simply add more confusion. The aim is to exchange days in the car for days doing fun things, but as you can see it's still a blizzard of choices.

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