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May Road Trip SFO to SEA Itinerary Advice Needed

May Road Trip SFO to SEA Itinerary Advice Needed

Old Oct 31st, 2021, 10:18 AM
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May Road Trip SFO to SEA Itinerary Advice Needed

Hubby and I are starting to seriously plan a road trip for May 2022 and I could use some advice. We plan to fly into SFO and drive the coastal route to SEA (I know SEA isn't on the coast but we'll be going around the west and north sides of the Olympic Peninsula and ending up in SEA). We're thinking of going in early May, partly to avoid the summer crowds, partly to see wildflowers and waterfalls in full bloom, and partly in hopes of seeing whales migrating. It seems like the weather is iffy no matter when you go so we'll just deal with it. We enjoy scenery, wildlife, photography, exploring quaint towns, etc. We do not enjoy cities or hikes over a mile or two. We will spend a day in SFO since Hubby has never been, but we'll skip Portland and Seattle. We have family in the Seattle area and have been there many times.

We are retired so our time is flexible and limited only by costs of hotels, car rentals, food, and pet kennel. I'm aiming for a 12 to 14 day trip all together, with a day or so reserved for visiting family in SEA.

What I'd REALLY like to do is just go and find accommodations wherever we feel like stopping, but that's too scary for me. I will make sure to book places with good cancellation policies, though, just in case.

Here is my preliminary itinerary. I'm not sure if I've got the timing right on how long it'll take to get from one place to another, or whether places I'm thinking of spending the night are good choices.
  • Day 1: Fly into SFO. Pick up rental car, find Walmart or Target and get small cooler and picnic supplies, Check into hotel.
  • Day 2: Exolore SFO. Probably will do the hop-on-hop-off bus to take us to the highlights. Will also probably add the trip to Alcatraz. Spend second night in SFO.
  • Day 3: Drive to Mendocino, CA. Along the way explore Muir Woods, Pt. Reyes, and whatever else strikes our fancy. Spend night in Mendocino.
  • Day 4: Explore Mendocino area. Ft. Bragg's glass beach, the parks in the area, downtown Mendocino. Spend 2 night in Mendocino.
  • Day 5: Drive to Crescent City, CA. Explore the redwoods and Eureka. Spend night in Crescent City.
  • Day 6: Drive to Newport, OR. Explore Coos Bay and whatever else we find along the way. Spend night in Newport.
  • Day 7: Drive to Hood River, OR, by way of Astoria. Explore Astoria, the Columbia River Gorge, and whatever else. Spend night in Hood River.
  • Day 8: Drive WA coast to Quinault. Sightsee along the way (maybe more of the CRG if we didn't get to see much on Day 7). Spend night (hopefully) at Quinault Lodge.
  • Day 9: Explore area. Quinault Rainforest, Hoh Rainforest, beaches. Spend 2 night at Quinault.
  • Day 10: Drive to Woodinville (where family lives). Visit Hurricane Ridge, Port Angeles and whatever else we might like to see. Spend night in Woodinville.
  • Day 11: Visit with family. Second night in Woodinville.
  • Day 12: Fly home.
One question I have, and this would probably affect the itinerary, is where would be a good place to go whale watching?

Other than that, any comments on the plan? Like I said, we can add a day or 2 if we need to.

Thanks!
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Old Oct 31st, 2021, 12:02 PM
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Besides the quick comment to not stay in Crescent City, there are much better stops in the general area. But I''m afraid there really isn't enough time for this very ambitious itinerary in 12-ish days. Just the straight drive without any detours/stops best case would take 35 hours plus rest/meal stops (essentially 6 full days) and could take much longer with traffic/construction/etc. You plan four 2 day stops so you are really talking about squeezing 40-ish hours of driving into about 4 days. Just too much, too far, too little time.

ps: even adding 2 days wouldn't help that much.

Last edited by janisj; Oct 31st, 2021 at 12:05 PM.
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Old Oct 31st, 2021, 01:24 PM
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I don't think your schedule is very strenuous (3 to 5 hours driving a day). There are about 12 hours of daylight in May, so with two people it doesn't sound very difficult to me. It sounds like you are into outdoors, sightseeing and not hanging around hotels, shopping and restaurants. Just don't leave your valuables in your car when you stop for hikes.

SF to Mendocino, about 150 miles, 3 to 4 hours drive time,
Mendocino to Crescent City 225 miles, 5 hours drive time
Crescent City to Newport OR 230 miles, 5 hours drive time via the coast
Newport to Astoria, 130 miles, 3 hours
Astoria to Hood River 150 miles, 3 hours
Hood River to Quinault Lodge, 235 miles, 5 hours
Quinault to Woodinville, 190 miles, depending on route 3 to 5 hours


North of Newport is Depoe Bay for whale watch tours. There are many places to just look for them from the shore.

https://orwhalewatch.org/best-places/
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Old Oct 31st, 2021, 01:47 PM
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Tell us why you want to drive northbound on US 101. I always prefer driving southbound on the coastal route. It is all right turns instead of a left turn across traffic to get into a viewpoint.
Why not fly to PDX and then spend a night in Hood River and then head for the Washington coast to see what you want to see there?
Rental cars are a bit cheaper in Washington and Oregon than they are at SFO. Try to plan a circular route so that you don't pay a big drop fee.
South of Newport (across the big bridge), is the Oregon Coast Aquarium which is worth a stop.
On the north end of Tillamook is the Tillamook Cheese factory which has a new visitor center take a self guided tour and sample cheese and curds. They also have some great ice cream.
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Old Oct 31st, 2021, 01:54 PM
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SFO is the airport SF is the City, about a 20-30 minute drive north of the airport, just FYI.
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Old Oct 31st, 2021, 03:08 PM
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Thanks for the info. I was a little concerned that the Newport to Hood River drive was a bit too ambitious for one day. If we want to stop in Depoe Bay for a whale watching tour, maybe we’ll add a day and spend a night in the Astoria area.
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Old Oct 31st, 2021, 03:21 PM
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"SF to Mendocino, about 150 miles, 3 to 4 hours drive time, "

It is, if they just book straight up 101 / 128 to Mendocino. It isn't if they want to include Muir Woods and Pt Reyes as stated in the OP. Sure central SF direct to Mendocino is only about 3.5 hours. But SF > Muir Woods > Pt Reyes and up the coast to Mendocino is a 5.5 to 6 hour hour drive plus stops. If one includes places like Pt Arena, Ft Ross, etc -- you've got a a 6-ish hour drive plus probably 3 + hours worth of stops. Even if they just do Muir Woods/Pt Reyes then cut back inland to 101 it's nearly a 5 hour drive plus stops.

Same with several of the other travel days.
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Old Oct 31st, 2021, 03:27 PM
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Didn't see your latest post -- It isn't just the Oregon coast to Hood River day that's too ambitious IMO. As a pure road trip with few stops the plan is totally doable

I've done the whole coast both ways multiple times - road trips and sightseeing/exploration trips . . . just depends on what you want out of the trip.
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Old Oct 31st, 2021, 03:58 PM
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I agree with tomfuller, north to south is a better, and safer, drive. Be sure to check out Heceta Head Lighthouse on the way.


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Old Oct 31st, 2021, 06:08 PM
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SF Muir Woods Point Reyes Mendocino is a very long day. Reservations are necessary for Muir Woods, I believe. If the Pacific side of Point Reyes is the destination, that represents a considerable drive in and drive out to get back to highway 1 which is a long sinuous drive to Mendocino. I consider Muir Woods and Point Reyes as part of the immediate Bay area, which means that at least half a day is spent in the Bay area before continuing on to Mendocino.

Closest beach from Point Reyes Station, a 20 minute drive:


Drakes Beach is on the way to the lighthouse which is a 40 minute drive:

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Old Nov 1st, 2021, 09:39 AM
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One question I had was, "when in May?" The closer you get to Memorial Day the harder it's going to be to find accommodations.

Point Reyes and Muir Woods are nice enough, but your trip is going to include a lot of wild Pacific shoreline, and the redwood groves farther north (in Humboldt and Del Norte counties) will be more impressive and less crowded than Muir Woods. I'd be inclined to suggest that you head for Mendocino and maybe consider one less night in Mendocino (which can get very busy in the spring) which you could allocate later in the trip. Google Ferndale, CA and the "Lost Coast loop" as possible additions or substitutions. Ferndale would also be a good base from which to explore the Humboldt redwoods, including the "Avenue of the Giants."

Crescent City is okay but I'd look at Brookings, OR as an overnight destination instead; it's only 30-40 min. up the road from Crescent City. But I'd also look at Bandon, OR as a possible base for the south coast; it's the most attractive town on the southern Oregon coast; google "Bandon beach sunset." There's not a lot going for Coos Bay, sadly.

I confess I'm not a huge fan of the northern Oregon coast, aside from Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach. Astoria is interesting from an historic viewpoint, but IMO the big star is Cape Disappointment on the Washington side of the Columbia's (awesome) mouth. Just as a thought experiment, have a look at this possible alternative route, starting at Yachats ("ya-hots") and including Depoe Bay: https://goo.gl/maps/PLw1kFDPEPPkRPRa6

I'd try to add enough time to Hood River to explore the gorgeous Hood River Valley, magical in the spring, or maybe even enough time to visit eclectic Maryhill Museum, an hour east of Hood River. If it's not socked in (a risk in May) Timberline Lodge on the side of Mount Hood is an hour or so from Hood River, passing through orchard and vineyard country in between.

Of course whale watching off the Oregon coast is a crapshoot, but you might think about revising your timetable for the Olympic peninsula to include time for a whale watching trip out of picturesque Port Townsend. Puget Sound Express - Family-Run Whale Watching Tours. This will be on calmer inland waters rather then the open ocean. But you'll need to pay attention to the regulations - there are concerns of excessive human-whale interactions that are stressing the resident animals, so whale watching may be curtailed.

Back on the peninsula, IMO visiting the Hoh rain forest from a base at Lake Quinault is doable but the drive to and from is long and generally uninspiring (as are most drives around the periphery of Olympic National Park - lots of wet roads through second- or third-growth forest.) Although it's not going to win any beauty contests, you might think about spending a night in Forks, which would allow you to see both the Hoh forest and maybe one or more of the (spectacular) beaches around La Push, without having to backtrack to Lake Quinault.

Regardless, booking accommodations is going to be important, particularly along the Oregon coast and around Olympic NP - there aren't too many options and they fill up quickly. And many places set minimum stay requirements - 2 or 3 nights - once "high season" begins.

Just some random thoughts - happy planning!
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Old Nov 1st, 2021, 10:41 AM
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With 12 hours of daylight, two hours to get in and out of hotels (assuming you can do it quickly) that still leaves 5 to 7 hours of sightseeing time, including side trip driving. And that assumes you don't arrive or leave after dark (which can be dangerous if you are in unfamiliar, wet, and wildlife abundant territory).

I still maintain it isn't particularly strenuous when you have two people driving. And the OP is not interested in long hikes. You just have to sort out what sights you want to see each day, and then you can add in a few two-night stays with your extra days.

I agree I might skip Muir Woods because of the neeed to pay for parking reservations and there will be no shortage of redwoods farther north, although they may be wetter. However if it is clear, then the drive up to Mt Tam is worthwhile.
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Old Nov 1st, 2021, 01:36 PM
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This has all been great advice. I’m going to think about the timeline some more and will probably add a couple of days. We also decided to skip both Pt Reyes and Muir Woods since we’ve been there before and would rather spend the time on new places. I also forgot to include in my planning the fact that Hubby constantly stops to take pictures so I need to account for that time.

I was thinking of going in early May, like May 4, but we’re flexible. Would April be better? I’m hoping to avoid 2 weeks of solid rain but also don’t want things to be TOO crowded.

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Old Nov 1st, 2021, 02:51 PM
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IMO/IME May would be better - especially the farther north you go. Things/sites/places won't be 'crowded' at all for the most part . . . the territory is vast and holds a lot of people without crowding them together. But accommodations are more limited and will be busy so you'll want to prebook most everywhere.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2021, 10:39 AM
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Depoe Bay is great for whale watching. There is a resident pod that stays there year round which increases chance of seeing some. The harbor is small and is the one you see in the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest." Lunch or dinner at Tidal Raves is good- you would need a reservation to ensure space and ask for a window seat.
Places to stay along the way- in Yachats there are 3 motels in a row and all waterfront- the Adobe, the Fireside and the Overleaf. The Adobe has a restaurant, the Overleaf is the most expensive. There is a trail between the 3 of them so easy walk.
In Newport we have stayed at the Elizabeth St Inn - its walking distance to shops and restaurants at Nye Beach area. Also stayed at Looking Glass Inn in Newport. Its across the street from bay but nice vibes with lots of families out crabbing, fishing and bon fires on the beach.
My favorite beach is at Heceta Head- also called Devils Elbow. Its a nice little cove with a trail up to the lighthouse with great views- sometimes you see whales from there.
Enjoy your travels
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Old Nov 3rd, 2021, 11:14 AM
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It you want a special night- check out Whale Cove Inn just outside Depoe Bay. Its a boutique hotel, with a dining room and amazing views- hot tubs on some of the decks. I have never stayed there as its beyond my beach budget- but looks wonderful
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Old Nov 5th, 2021, 08:44 AM
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I basically did this trip, North to South, in July and would also recommend skipping Crescent City and Eureka, for that matter. Neither was particularly scenic and the hotel prices were outrageous - like $300+ for a Comfort Inn. Just my recent enough experience.
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