After driving up the middle of California and Oregon to Bend, we thought it would be cooler (temperature-wise, it’s pretty hot in the middle of July), taking the coastal route Highway (US 101) home to the Bay Area. Coastal Oregon and northern California are known for their rugged shorelines, hikes on beaches, and of course, the Redwoods!
Here are a couple of things you should consider when taking a road trip in coastal Oregon & Northern California during summer.
- Expect there to be fog at the coast in summer. We are taking this route home to avoid the 100⁰ + days in the central and eastern areas of the state. From what I understand, the hot air inland pulls the marine layer in from the coast; that’s why there is fog. You have a much better chance of having a sunny day at the seaside in fall, winter, or spring than in the summer.
- You see more of the coast when driving north to south on the west coast. Here in the US, we drive on the right side of the road. Driving southbound puts you on the coast side of the road if you are on the west coast. This makes it easier to pull off when you see something interesting. You won’t be crossing traffic.
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Coastal Oregon And Northern California Road Trip – Bend to Coos Bay
Leaving Bend, you have two choices to get to the Oregon coast. You can go south down US 97 and then cut across the state on Oregon Hwy 58. Or head north on US 20, and cut across on Oregon Hwy 126. Either way, you head towards Eugene. Not wanting to backtrack, we chose the northern route. This drive takes you north from Bend through Sisters, OR.
If you haven’t already visited this artsy community with a main street lined with Old West facades, now may be the time! Sisters is a good place for breakfast. You can dine in at the Cotton Wood Café for a plate of old-fashioned buttermilk pancakes. Or, if you don’t have time for a leisurely breakfast, you can make a quick stop at Sisters Coffee for your favorite cup of java and a Classic Sandwich to go. Either way, your tummy will be happy.
Now you are ready to tackle the long drive to Eugene. The road through the Willamette Forrest (Oregon 126 W) is a two-lane highway. You will see a few small towns on the way. And by small, I mean the kind where if you blink, you miss the town. But mostly, you follow the McKenzie River as it winds its way out of the mountains across the state.
Skirting Around Eugene And Heading To The Coast Of Oregon
You don’t get into Eugene proper as you will take I-5 south just before you get to the city. We did not eat in Sisters, choosing to have a coffee and protein bar as we drove. By the time we hit I-5, I was pretty hungry and looking for food. The highway gods were on my side and produced a giant billboard saying, “Stop at Creswell Bakery.” Actually, there were a few of these billboards. With no other suggestions for food, we head into Cresswell.
Wow! This is the place to go. As you can see by the long lines out the door, everyone stops here. The Cresswell Bakery prides itself on being “hyper-local.” It is a fantastic bakery but also serves breakfast and lunch, all made from scratch. My meat pie was to die for. Appetites sated its time to head onwards to the coast. After all, you can’t have a Pacific Coast road trip in the middle of Oregon.
Just south of Cresswell, turn west following Oregon HWY 38. You are still driving on a two-lane road, and they call this the Umpqua Highway. Why, you ask? Because it follows the Umpqua river to the ocean.
Just before you see the coast, Oregon HWY 38 meets US 101, the Pacific Coast Highway, and we head south. We miss the turnoff after Winchester Bay to the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park. Fortunately, there is a second access road, and we can backtrack. I am a big fan of lighthouses.
The Umpqua Lighthouse is a good place for your first stop on the coast. You have a lighthouse, guiding ships since 1857, a museum gift shop that serves terrific clam chowder, and, of course, the all-important clean bathrooms—all of this and a fantastic view of the Pacific Ocean. If you are making this trip in an RV, a lovely park is available just north of the lighthouse.
Final Leg Of Day 1 – On To Coos Bay
Back in the car, we head south on US 101 for Coos Bay. We know nothing about Coos Bay except that it seems to be the biggest town in the area. This is why we chose to end day one of our road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway here.
The Red Lion is a hotel chain that usually has a reasonable level of standards. Not knowing the reputation of the other hotels in the area, my husband booked us here. The hotel is enormous but has definitely seen better days. When we pulled in, there were very few cars in the rather massive parking lot.
The interior of our room was reasonably clean. The furnishings were dated, and I didn’t even want to sit on the couch. There was a pervasive smell of mildew in the room, though I did not see any signs of mold, and I checked everything. This is not a hotel I recommend.
We were looking for a place for dinner. This was the day after the 4th of July, and almost nothing was open. After driving through town twice, we ended up at the only open restaurant we could find, The Boat Fish & Chips. We were surprised to find the food and service here outstanding. If you are in Coos Bay and hungry for fish & chips type of dining, I recommend stopping by.
So, if you don’t need to be in Coos Bay for a specific reason, I recommend heading down the highway a bit to Bandon.
This tiny hamlet is more in keeping with what you might be looking for in a coastal town—hotels with a view of the water, more restaurant offerings, and a more attractive town overall. Check out the Best Western Inn at Face Rock or the Inn at Old Town. Both hotels are close to “Old Town” Bandon with restaurants and the beach within walking distance.
Coos Bay to Fortuna – The Ocean and the Redwoods
It’s an early start for day two of our road trip, and we will be covering a lot of coastal Oregon and Northern California today. Still heading south on US 101, our first planned stop is Cape Blanco Lighthouse and State Park. As we are driving down the highway, though, a sign catches our eye. “West Coast Game Park and Safari”; this is the first time we’d heard about this spot.
Unfortunately, we are too early; the park doesn’t open until 10:00 am. But the signs say this is Oregon’s largest totally self-supporting wildlife attraction. West Coast Game Park looks like it would be an excellent stop for families and anyone who likes to interact with animals. We make a note to come back.
Cape Blanco – The Westernmost Point In Oregon
About 55 miles from Coos Bay is Cape Blanco State Park, our first actual stop today. There are many things to do at the park. RV site with hook-ups, regular tent camping, and four reservable cabins that are pet-friendly are available. Horse camping and equestrian trails if you are a horse lover. You’ll find hiking trails of all sorts, and of course, beachcombing.
But we are heading to the end of the road where Cape Blanco Lighthouse has been guarding the coast and keeping ships safe since 1870.
The fully operational lighthouse has the highest focal plane above the sea (256 feet) of any Oregon Lighthouse. It is generally open for tours from April through October. However, check the website I linked to above for details on times.
It’s said that the lighthouse is a favorite location for whale watching has spectacular views. That’s probably all true, but today the lighthouse is shrouded in heavy fog. I’m a San Francisco girl and quite used to fog, so this is no problem for me. But we won’t be seeing any whales from here today.
Also on Cape Blanco is Hughes House. Built in 1898 by ranchers Patrick and Jane Hughes, this historic 3,000-square foot farmhouse retains its Victorian charm. It is available for tours while the lighthouse is open. Stop by and see how the early Oregonians lived at the turn of the last century.
Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
Continuing down the Pacific Coast Highway about 55 miles further south brings you to the stunning Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor. This 12-mile stretch of the highway runs along the coast, offering up stops with breathtaking views of rocky outcroppings, smooth, sandy beaches, and forests that take on a primordial feel in the fog. For the casual traveler, this might be the most fantastic scenery on the Pacific Coast.
Arch Rock is at Harris Beach Marine Gardens just before Brookings. Here you can enjoy California sea lions and Harbor seals or tide pooling at the rich marine gardens. Picnic tables are available if you brought your lunch along. And the stop provides reasonably clean bathrooms. If you are just making a quick stop, it’s a short walk out to the viewpoint where you can see the rock from which the park got its name.
When you get back on the Highway after Arch Rock, be prepared to pull out again. A little more than a mile south is the turn-off for Natural Bridges.
A wooden deck is set up to view the “natural bridges that are a ways below you in the ocean. From the viewing deck, you can access the boardwalk and stairs down to Patrick Creek.
We only walked about 1/3 of the way down as the path is narrow and slippery, especially when wet. If you are prepared with the right shoes for the hike, the close-up view of the natural bridges formed by the water flowing out from Patrick Creek to the Pacific is worth the trek.
If you are done driving for the day, and this is a romantic getaway, head for the Tu Tu’ Tun Lodge in Gold Beach. This cozy lodge on the Rogue River offers accommodations to meet your desired level of luxury. Dinner on-site is a four-course prix fixe meal offering up the best of the Oregon coast.
But we are headed onward to Cali and the Redwoods!
Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park
It’s just a short drive (35 miles) from Natural Bridges to Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park. But we get held up a bit as a few local residents (Elk) decide to cross the highway. After a few minutes, where everyone, still in their cars, is trying to get the best shot of the herd, we are on our way again.
California redwoods are the tallest trees in the world. And the trees in the Jedediah Smith Redwood Forest are the oldest and tallest ones left. These redwood groves are some of the most scenic in existence.
The huge redwood trees can weigh up to 500 tons, grow higher than a 25 story skyscraper, and live for over 2,000 years. But redwoods have shallow roots, often only 6 feet deep, leaving them susceptible to damage.
You should not just drive through the park. Stop and get out of your car. The experience you get “forest bathing” in a grove of redwoods is phenomenal.
One of the good things about traveling by car in summer is that you don’t usually have inclement weather. One of the bad things is road work. We have to cut out time in the redwoods short, as we’ve been notified that at 3:00 pm, Cal Trans is shutting down US 101 to repair the road that was damaged in a landslide this past winter.
Checking our GPS we see that Howland Hill Road passes through the center of the park. This is an unpaved road but will get you back to highway 101.
Fortuna to the Bay Area
We are staying in Fortuna for the second night of our coastal Oregon and northern California road trip. We chose Fortuna because of its proximity to US 101, literally on the highway. Same reason we picked the Comfort Inn for our hotel, easy access. This hotel also sits on the west bank of the Eel River, a nice bonus.
Our room is clean and comfortable (no pun intended) and best of all, right across the parking lot is a fantastic pub. The Eel River Brewing Company is definitely the place to go for lunch or dinner.
There is not much to do or see in Fortuna, so many people choose to stay in Ferndale, a town about five miles west of 101, when they visit the Redwoods. This quaint town was founded back in 1852, right after California became a state, and retains the charming architecture of the late 1900s. The entire town is actually on the National Register of Historic Places.
The main street of Ferndale is resplendent with building after building in the Italiante and Gothic Revival style and Eastlake and Queen Anne homes housing shops, art galleries, and B&B’s. And the Ferndale Historic Cemetery is one of the most photographed cemeteries in California. So, it’s no wonder many movies like “Salem’s Lot,” and “Outbreak” have been filmed here.
The Final Leg Of The Road Trip
It’s on this last part of the Pacific Coast road trip, where you come to the “Avenue of the Giants.” On the eastern edge of Humboldt Redwoods State Park, about 30 miles south of Fortuna, is CA 254, mainly parallel to US 101. Driving along this road puts you right in the middle of the beautiful redwoods aptly named; this truly is the Avenue of the Giants.
At Legget, you have a choice to make. You can stay on US 101, which will remain inland as you head into Mendocino County. Or take the turnoff for CA Highway 1 that leads out to the coast. We choose to stay on US 101. CA 1 from here to the Bay Area is a road trip everyone should take, but that’s not for us today.
For the first part of this drive, you are still in a forested area. But as you get further south, the trees give way to rolling hills and eventually vineyards. Mendocino county is the north end of California’s wine country. Here you will find Parducci Wine Cellars, Nelson Family Vineyards, and the Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery, just to name a few. If you are an oenophile, you will have no trouble finding a great vintage to quench your thirst.
Is A Road Trip To Coastal Oregon And Northern California In Your Plans?
Road trips are part of Americana we all enjoy. There is no better way to learn about your state or country than driving through the towns and parks and following the rivers and mountains. We did this drive in just three days. But there is so much to see along the way that this could easily be a week-long trip. A Drive along the coast in Oregon and Northern California is full of adventure and fun and a trip everyone should make at least once.