Driving the Oregon Coast to San Francisco

AAA member Nate Williams returns to the West Coast to complete his bucket-list trip.
Cliffs and surf

On my 48 States in 48 Days tour in 2020, I had penciled in the coast of Oregon. My plan was to stay in Newport, Ore., drive down the coast to Redwood National Park in California and then over to Redding, Calif., for the night.

But three days before I got to Oregon, I became concerned about forest fires, specifically about one near Redding. I called the hotel I had booked, and the front desk clerk told me, “according to a firefighter staying here, the fire is moving away from town.” Not wanting to be stuck in a fire, or even take a room from an evacuee or firefighter, I changed my route.

In October 2021, I decided to complete the portion of the trip I missed in 2020. I flew from Boston to Seattle, changed planes, and then flew to Portland, Ore. If I were to do it again, I would just fly to Seattle and drive to Oregon from there. By the time I changed planes in Seattle, I could have been in Oregon and also seen the Washington coast along the way.

The Oregon Coast

In Portland, I picked up a one-way rental car and headed to Seaside, Ore., a cute little coastal town not far from Washington. One thing I couldn’t do previously, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was hang out and talk to people at dinner. I got the chance to this time at a little restaurant in Seaside. The Red Sox were in the playoffs and I got to watch a game. Baseball is a good sport to watch while you wait for your dinner: There is never any hurry or clock to worry about.

I had nine different stops on my list, the highlight being the little town of Cannon Beach. I had been to Cannon Beach once before, in 1999, when I had a weekend free on a business trip. I always thought it was a cool town. Back then, I went to a state park and started talking with a guy who was going surfing. He said he expected more surfers that day, and because of safety, he didn’t want to go in the water without someone being there. He asked me if I could stay and watch him for a while. I declined, saying I had places to be – which I really didn’t. I have felt bad about that ever since.

On this trip, I stopped at the same state park. When I pulled up to the same spot, two surfers were getting their gear on. I told them the story from 1999, and the woman absolved me of my guilt, saying I didn’t need to watch them.

The rest of the day I wound my way down U.S. Route 101, stopping at beaches, overlooks, lighthouses and the Sea Lions Cave – but all the sea lions left in August to go feed, and wouldn’t be back until May.

I spent the night in the little town of Reedsport, Ore.

Masks were still required inside almost everywhere in Oregon, and the compliance was very good.

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Redwood National and State Parks

My first stop the next day was over an hour away. So, I took off in the dark, and when the sun came up, I stopped at Cape Blanco Lighthouse in Oregon, then continued down the coast. Much of the trip was along the ocean and view after view was amazing.

Shortly after crossing into California, I stopped at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in Crescent City, picked up a map and got advice on where to stop and see the redwoods. I got off at the recommended stop and walked through Big Tree Wayside on a half-mile walk. Later I stopped at Lady Bird Johnson Grove, named for the former first lady because of her environmental efforts.

After the park, I stopped in Eureka for lunch at an all-you-can-eat barbecue place. There were some big eaters there, but I stopped at a half-chicken and kept heading south. At one point I saw a sign for the “famous drive-through tree.” Thinking it was something I should see, I made the detour. I don’t think it’s the same tree I have seen in pictures. My little rental car just squeezed through. But I guess it was worth the $10 to know I drove through a tree. From there, I headed to the coast on Route 1. It was a fun drive on an amazing winding road with hairpin turns and switchbacks. I stopped for the night at the coastal town of Fort Bragg. The northern California coast is just an extension of the beauty seen in Oregon.

Interior California to the Doorstep of Yosemite National Park

I didn’t have a lot of sites to see the next day. It was all about getting over to the east side of Yosemite National Park to get ready for the final day of my trip. The drive had a little bit of everything.

Going east from the coast, I went back over the mountains to find tight turns, logging trucks and impressive forests. After that, I was in agriculture country, surrounded by what looked like almond and olive trees. Continuing east, it was over the Sierra Nevadas though the area impacted by the Caldor Fire, south of Lake Tahoe. From there, I looped through Nevada for more high plains. There was some recent fire damage and even some snow on the side of the road. I stopped for the night in the small town of Lee Vining east of Yosemite National Park.

My mask report for California is all over the place. In Fort Bragg, all the places had mask mandates. Then I stopped for coffee at a convenience store about an hour away. Even though the sign said masks were required, nobody inside was wearing one. I asked the clerk, and she said the manager did not require them. Further east, I stopped in Folsom, near the state capital of Sacramento, to meet an old friend for lunch. There were lots of upscale restaurants and shops and no mask requirements in sight. In Lee Vining, it was back to mask requirements everywhere. I couldn’t figure it out, so I just walked around with my mask in my pocket and tried to do what I thought was right.

El Capitan
El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite

The next day I was able to check off one of the places big on my must-see list.

First, I grabbed breakfast at a little cafe near my hotel. Then I drove through Yosemite National Park from east to west, ending up at the base of El Capitan. Fortunately, a friend recommended I bring binoculars. I was standing at the base, where I heard climbers but didn’t see them. Using the binoculars, I was able to find them about halfway up the face. I didn’t have time to see all the sites in the park, but the drive took about three hours so I got a good feel for the park.

I ended my trip in San Francisco, where I met friends from grade school and junior high for dinner, a good end to a good trip.

I still have the excited feeling to see something new every day when I travel through this country. When that feeling ends, I guess it’s time to stop traveling.

Nate Williams is a AAA member from Massachusetts. We welcome member stories. Click here to submit yours.

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2 Thoughts on “Driving the Oregon Coast to San Francisco

  1. Thanks for this! My wife and I are headed out that way in a couple of months and your tips and choices were helpful to read!

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