Exploring the Pacific Northwest – San Francisco to Seattle

Exploring the Pacific Northwest – San Francisco to Seattle

June 27-July 13, 2022

After some welcome R&R in San Francisco, it was time to hit the road again. We would spend the next two weeks travelling north up the US west coast before crossing the border into Canada. We drove the coastal roads enjoying the increasingly rugged and wild scenery as we travelled up through Oregon into Washington. Now and then we made detours inland in order to visit Sonoma Valley, Portland, the beautiful Olympic Peninsula and our final destination in the US, Seattle. The direct route from San Francisco to Seattle is about 800 miles but we drove 1,723 miles on this leg of the trip as we zigzagged to and from the coast and drove the scenic routes whenever possible.

We left San Francisco via the Golden Gate bridge. Once over the bridge, we stopped at the view point to see San Francisco and the bridge from another angle. Only a few miles up the road was Sausalito; a lovely spot where we had a short stop so we could walk along the seafront with an ice cream and admire the views over the bay area (photo at the top of the page).

We headed up State Route 1 (aka the Pacific Highway) admiring the scenery; which was every bit as stunning as along Big Sur. Christy had recommended Nick’s Cove so we stopped there for lunch: six fresh oysters for Jo, a plate of french fries for Richard and a lovely, moody view of Tomales Bay.

View of Tomales Bay from our table at Nick’s Cove restaurant

We then headed inland towards Sonoma Valley. The road went through the very small, unincorporated community of Bodega (pop: 220) and we stopped to look at a couple of the buildings which featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’: St. Teresa of Avila Church and Potter Schoolhouse.

Sonoma Valley

After a lovely day on the road, we arrived at Christy and Scott’s house in Santa Rosa. They had kindly invited us to stay so this would be our home for the next two nights. Christy and Jo had worked together on a global dermatology project for the last few years. We had a wonderful time with enjoying long leisurely dinners on balmy evenings and sharing tales of global travels and adventures.

According to the Sonoma County website, the region has more than 425 wineries. With so much choice, Jo was pleased that Christy had planned a wonderful day for us and selected a couple to visit. We packed a picnic and headed off to Truett Hurst Winery where we spent a very relaxing couple of hours by a beautiful creek. Lucky for us, Richard doesn’t drink wine and so volunteered (or perhaps he was volunteered?) to be our chauffeur for the day. After a leisurely lunch with some lovely wine, we visited Dry Creek Vineyard (where Scott works) and had a wonderful tasting experience.

Sampling Sonoma Vineyard wines in the sunshine – tough day, really tough day!

We had to drag ourselves away from Christy and Scott’s hospitality and the beautiful and peaceful Sonoma Valley but the Pacific Northwest was calling. A little way up the coast we stopped for lunch in Mendocino. Mendocino is a sleepy but picturesque town and a lovely place for a wander and an al fresco lunch. It looked familiar as it was used to portray the fictional town of Cabot Cove for some of the external scenes in the classic crime drama series Murder She Wrote including the outside of Jessica Fletcher’s house.

Redwood Forests

Driving our car through the Chandelier Tree

After a brief drive up the coast from Mendocino, we turned inland to explore the redwood forests in some of the national and state parks. Our first encounter with the giant redwoods was, of course, a tourist attraction. The Chandelier Tree in Drive-Thru Tree Park is a tree you can – you’ve guessed it – drive through. This tourist attraction has a long history; the opening in the tree was cut in the late 1930s so that tourists driving the Redwood Highway who could drive through it. The tree is 84 metres tall with a two metre wide hole cut through it and estimated to be 2,400 years old.

It was difficult to find reasonable accommodation that night, in part because of the lack of mobile reception, and we ended up staying at the Northern Inn in a small place called Redway. Neither the place nor the motel had much to recommend them but the friendly bar next door, the Brass Rail Bar and Grill, did a reasonable burger and cold cider so we managed just fine.

The next day was all about admiring the redwoods up close so we drove along the 32 mile Avenue of the Giants. We stopped at a hiking spot in Humboldt Redwoods State Park for a walk through the redwoods to a river. The scale of the trees was incredible and we spent a lot of time looking up. We might have hugged a tree or two along the way!

There are three types of redwoods: Giant Sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), Dawn Redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostrobides) and the ones in this area, which are Coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens). These redwoods grow in the cool climate that makes up the coastal regions of northern California.

Then it was time for the Trees of Mystery. This nature attraction had some lovely trails taking us past some lovely examples of redwood trees including cathedral, candelabra and elephant trees. Both Richard and Jo walked along the canopy trail though Richard won’t be don’t that again! Jo also went on the SkyTrail gondola ride to view the trees from above. That night we stayed in Crescent City at the Lighthouse Inn. We had a quiet dinner at the lovely SeaQuake Brewing.

The Oregon Coast

Thrilling dune buggy experience on the Oregon Dunes

The next day it was time for a complete change of scene and scenery. We headed back to the coast, crossing from California to Oregon and from the forests to the wild Oregon coast. It was time for some more adventure sports; this time dune buggies courtesy of Spinreel. We’d driven dune buggies once before near Dubai and we knew how thrilling, fun and slightly terrifying it could be. This time, we were driving them over the dunes and along the beautiful Oregon coast. It was a bit overcast but that didn’t spoil our enjoyment. Luckily, we felt confident in the vehicles and we know our limits so we could really enjoy driving up the dunes and powering down them once over the crests.

It was late afternoon on Sunday 2nd July when we were out in the dunes; two days before US Independence Day and there was an excitement and tension in the air. Big groups were gathering on the dunes ready to party. It felt like it was all going to kick off as the sun set, people partied and drove fast and furiously over the dunes.

We stayed a couple of nights up the road in the small town of Reedsport. The town is not that pretty but it is on the picturesque Umpqua River and you can try your luck at seeing elk at the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area. We saw a few on our second attempt but there were too far away to take any decent photos. Highly recommended is dinner at the wonderful Big Fish Cafe; fantastic seafood and steaks; tasty cocktails; friendly service and a lovely view of the river. The Schooner Inn Cafe, also in Reedsport, and Crabby’s Bar and Grill, Winchester Bay, also deserve a mention.

On Monday 3rd July, we headed back inland and up to Portland for three nights. Then we drove back to the coast and northwards stopping at the Cannon Beach in North-West Oregon. An impressively long, sandy shore is dominated by the imposing Haystack Rock. We went for a little walk on the beach but it was a very grey, windy and slightly rainy day so we didn’t stay long before hopping back in the car and on our way.

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon

We stopped that night in the wonderful resort town of Seaside. Reminiscent of an old English seaside town, it had a 1920’s promenade and a lovely relaxed vibe. We stayed in a wonderful historic hotel, The Gilbert Inn. That evening we took a stroll checking out the beach and then walking along the main street looking in the windows of the art galleries and at the local historical monuments. We had a drink at Seaside Brewing, where Jo’s inner metalhead couldn’t resist buying herself the Brewery’s ‘Seaside Tendencies’ t-shirt.

After a good night’s sleep, we headed north to spend a few days exploring the Olympic Peninsula and then it was onto our last stop of the US leg of our road trip, Seattle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Cookie Consent with Real Cookie Banner