The long drive from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon can take you along the Pacific Highway, through ancient forests and along the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains - all amazing choices meaning you can take different routes on the way and when you come back.
The 635-mile road trip from San Francisco to Portland will take 10 hours to drive before taking stops into account. Longer routes along the Pacific Coast Highway or the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades are 900 and 820 miles long taking 17 to 18 hours.
Keep reading to learn all about the best routes, places to stop and things to see along the way.
How far is it from San Francisco to Portland and how long will the road trip take?
The direct route from San Francisco to Portland is approximately 635 miles and will take around ten hours to drive before accounting for rest, gas or overnight stops.
Given the distance involved, you probably don't want to spend an entire day sat in a car so even if you're picking the fastest route, allow at least 3 days to explore some of the National Parks and sights along the way.
If you have time on your hands, driving from San Francisco to Portland through the mountains will take 17 hours and following the Pacific Coast Highway will take a whopping 18 hours on the road.
Both have endless amazing places to stop and explore so you'd really want to allocate a minimum of 5 days if you're taking one of the longer routes.
Best road trip route from San Francisco to Portland
Although Google and your GPS will try to convince you otherwise, there are a few amazing alternative routes for driving from San Francisco to Portland.
Whether you want to hug the jagged coastline, spend time hiking in the forests among giant sequoias or explore the fresh mountain air of the Sierra Nevada, there is a route for you.
If you're not doing a one-way drive, you may want to take different routes on the way up from San Francisco to Portland and a different one coming back to make the most of the amazing nature and sights along the way.
|Direct Route |
|635 miles||10 hours|
|Pacific Coast Highway |
(Highway 1 and US-101)
|820 miles||18 hours|
|Mountain Route |
(Sierra Nevada & Cascades)
|900 miles||17 hours|
Direct Route (via I-5)
If you're wanting to get from San Francisco to Portland faster, but still want to hit the road rather than taking a flight, you may want to opt for the direct route along the I-5.
Take the I-80 out of San Francisco towards Sacramento and then the I-505 north to join the I-5. The rest of the route is very simple - follow the I-5 north for the next 8+ hours and eventually it'll bring you right into the heart of Portland.
Much of this route through California will not be particularly pleasing on the eye but once you pass Redding, and when you enter Oregon, the scenery will definitely improve so you'll still get to drive through some beautiful forests and mountains along the way.
Even though this is the faster route, you'll still want to take time as it's a lot of driving to do in one day.
I'd take at least 3 days to explore the nature as you head into Oregon as it would be a real shame to drive through so many amazing forests and past stunning mountains without donning the hiking boots for at least a few hours.
Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1 and US-101)
If you thought that the Pacific Coast Highway is the road that finishes in San Francisco after running up the Californian coastline, you are very much mistaken.
Southern California attracts huge numbers of visitors who want to explore the famous beaches, relax in San Diego and mingle in Los Angeles, but surprisingly few continue the coastline drive north from San Francisco.
Yet this might just be the best part of the whole route. After crossing the Golden Gate Bridge (no toll going north!), follow Highway 1 through Muir Woods towards Point Reyes.
Continuing along the coast, there are too many amazing sights to mention - you've got the Sonoma coastline, Gualala, Mendocino and the Glass Beach in Fort Bragg.
The redwood forests get seriously tall in Leggett and you can then see the tallest tree in the world in Redwood National Park further up the coast.
Beautiful State Parks and National Forests come one after another as you drive along US-101 until, ignoring signs for Portland, you come to the world famous Cannon Beach with its giant rocks standing just off the beach.
Portland is just over an hour's drive inland from there.
Mountain Route (along Sierra Nevada and the Cascades)
The Mountain Route will take some time but it will follow the length of the Sierra Nevada mountain range through northern California before following the Cascades all the way to Portland.
If you love scenic roads, stunning National Parks and that unique feeling of exploring the mountains, this route is a phenomenal option - just remember that some of these roads close for the winter season, so this is definitely one for the summer months.
Yes - you'll need a fair bit of time to do this drive. Account for at least 17 hours on the road before adding in any stops - if you want to see the sights along the way, do some hiking and relax, I'd recommend devoting at least 4 to 5 days for the journey.
Follow the I-80 out of San Francisco to Sacramento and then US-50 on from there through the Eldorado National Forest to Lake Tahoe.
Loop around the west shore of Lake Tahoe along Highway 89 and keep following it north to the I-80. After a couple of miles along the I-80 headed east, head back off the interstate back onto Highway 89 going north.
As you make your way up Sierra Nevada, Highway 89 will merge with Routes 70, 36 and 44, but keep following it as it becomes the Lassen Peak Highway passing right through the Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Keep following Highway 89 north through Lassen National Forest, then Highway 299 and Route 235 towards Modoc National Forest right at the northern tip of the Sierra Nevada.
Highways 139, 140 US-97 and 62 will take you through one of the most scenic parts of this drive - you'll pass the Lava Bends National Monument, Tule Lake and cross into Oregon through Klamath heading up to Crater Lake National Park.
After exploring the stunning scenery, follow US-97 and US-26 through Bend, Oregon and right past Mount Hood as you approach Portland.
Best places to stop between San Francisco and Portland
Although there are endless amazing spots to stop on the road trip from San Francisco to Portland and even more options when you consider the 3 different routes, here are a few good places to stop for the night and break up your drive.
Unwind on the Sonoma Coast
If you decide to take the longest route along the Pacific Coast Highway, you will be driving the Sonoma Coast about 3 hours into your journey.
The Sonoma County stretches all the way from San Pablo Bay to Gualala and this is a perfect place to spend the first night once you've got out of San Francisco and made some ground on day 1 of the road trip.
The hotel offers luxurious rooms, endless hiking routes and perfect views of the ocean stretching towards the horizon.
This boutique resort is definitely on the expensive side, but you can spend a couple of nights here and feel a million dollars as you continue on your route north - a great way to start the road trip.
Explore the outdoors near Bend, Oregon
For those heading up along the Cascade mountains the Deschutes National Forest as you approach Bend is a great place to spend some time.
Bend, Oregon is just a little further up the road and this area is becoming more popular with visitors looking for spending time hiking, skiing, mountain biking, fishing, playing golf or trying out pretty much any other outdoors activity possible.
Sunriver Resort is a luxurious hotel set along a river in the foothills of the Cascades. A perfect spa, great outdoor pool and a golf course with snow-capped mountains for a backdrop all make it the perfect place to stay.
Whether you want to ride horses through wild country, relax to the sound of a crackling log fire or just stroll through the local forests, there's something for everyone.
Things to see on a road trip from San Francisco to Portland
The road trip route from San Francisco to Portland is jampacked with incredible sights and activities. You can easily add extra nights in the overnight stops to get even more out of this beautiful part of America. You can also opt to cut down the drive times by adding more overnight stops in between.
It would take me forever to list every individual stop, therefore I have created a list of the top ten things to do between San Francisco and Portland.
- San Francisco – Visit the iconic Lombard Street and Alcatraz, and be sure to walk across Golden Gate Bridge before you driver over.
- Point Reyes National Seashore - Barely outside San Francisco, this is a stunning coastline with jaw-dropping views.
- Sonoma and Napa Valleys - Very early on in the journey are two of America's best known wine regions in neighbor valleys.
- Sacramento – The quaint capital of California has a huge collection of museums, bars and restaurants to check out.
- Lake Tahoe – Relax on the shores of the gorgeous Lake Tahoe, try out some paddle boarding or other water activities on the lake.
- Glass Beach - A small part of the beach near Fort Bragg where a large number of colorful pieces of glass washed up onshore.
- Lassen Volcanic National Park - the scenery and hiking are amazing and the Lassen Park Highway is one amazing driving road.
- Gualala - Relaxed coastal community with white sand beaches and dunes in Mendocino.
- Redwood National Park - Home of the world's tallest trees along California's northern coastline.
- Northern California National Forests - Six Rivers, Klamath, Shasta-Trinity, Modoc and Lassen sit at the juncture of the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades.
- Crater Lake – The pristine Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the whole USA and is also in one of the most beautiful settings.
- Umpqua and Deschutes National Forests - mountains, forests, waterfalls, lava beds and caves to be discovered in Oregon.
- Eugene - Take a stroll around Fifth Street market to grab yourself a bargain or check out the boutique and charismatic cafes.
- Newport, Oregon - the charming town where life definitely happens in the slow lane is well worth a stop.
- Cannon Beach – This coastal city is home to sweeping views of the roaring Pacific Ocean. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the cute little Puffins.
- Portland – Take some relaxing time to explore the city's gardens and public parks.
Best time to go on a road trip from San Francisco to Portland
The best time to go on a road trip from San Francisco to Portland is from July to September. The weather is warm and pleasant, making for great hiking and exploration along the way and when you get to Portland itself.
The winter season gets cold and very wet in Portland with daily highs averaging in the mid-40s through December and January and if you're wanting to explore some of the amazing nature along the way, the temperatures in the forests and mountains will drop below freezing.
Early Summer suffers from the May Gray and June Gloom effect of thick fog and mist descending onto coastal areas in the mornings. Although it will usually clear up by the afternoon, it would be a shame to not enjoy the great views if you're driving along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Beware that if you're planning to do the drive any time from late fall to spring, many of the roads through the mountains and some of the sights along the way will be closed and not accessible.
You can still make the trip along the I-5 or via the coast, but the conditions there won't be great either.
If you want to avoid the summer crowds, going just after Labor Day will probably the absolute best option when the weather is still gorgeous, but the visitor numbers and prices drop.
Average temperature and rainfall in Portland, Oregon
If you're planning to spend some time in Portland, the summer months are definitely the best time to go. The weather is warm and dry, making the conditions perfect for exploring the city. Check my in-depth guide for the best time to visit Portland for more details.
|January||46.9 °F / 8.3 °C ||6.14 in / 156 mm |
|February||50.8 °F / 10.4 °C ||4.63 in / 118 mm |
|March||56.0 °F / 13.3 °C ||4.50 in / 114 mm |
|April||60.8 °F / 16.0 °C ||3.40 in / 86 mm |
|May||67.4 °F / 19.7 °C ||2.55 in / 65 mm |
|June||72.9 °F / 22.7 °C ||1.69 in / 43 mm |
|July||79.6 °F / 26.4 °C ||0.59 in / 15 mm |
|August||80.1 °F / 26.7 °C ||0.71 in / 18 mm |
|September||74.6 °F / 23.7 °C ||1.54 in / 39 mm |
|October||62.9 °F / 17.2 °C ||3.42 in / 87 mm |
|November||52.0 °F / 11.1 °C ||6.74 in / 171 mm |
|December||45.1 °F / 7.3 °C ||6.94 in / 176 mm |