A Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip is a once in a lifetime trip. Riding along the highway that hugs the magnificent cliffs of the Pacific Ocean. Buckle up it’s time to hit the road for our Northern Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip from Seattle to the Redwoods in California.
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Where is the Northern Pacific Coast Highway?
The Pacific Coast Highway runs through three states stretching from Olympia, Washington in the north, to San Diego, California, and the border of Mexico on the South. The PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) runs along only two highways:
– US 101 in Washington, Oregon, and part of Northern California
– California Highway 1 for the majority of California, to the Mexico border.
– The total distance of the Pacific Coast Highway is 1,675 miles.
For the Northern Pacific Coast Highway, the distance from Seattle to the Redwoods is 540 miles. I would recommend spending at least a week on this road trip.
If you’d like to take in the full Pacific Coast Highway you will need a lot of time. To enjoy it you would need about two-full-weeks. But you don’t have to do this road trip all at once, break it up, and do just the Northern Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip from the California Redwoods to Seattle, Washington, or Seattle to the Redwoods.
Where to Start on the Northern Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip?
Since we are focusing on just the northern half of the Pacific Coast Highway, you will most likely be leaving from Seattle or Portland. From there you will head south first along the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 101).
Doing the entire Pacific Coast Highway at one time is awesome if you have the time, but if you don’t have the time you can just start here! I recommend you start from north to south because the Pacific Coast will always be on your right side. Making it easy to pull over to take in the views or maybe see some whales along the way.
Should I take my own car or rent a car?
This is a great question and one that is difficult to debate. In the short term, you would save money to take your own car. However, in the long term, the wear and tear on your car will add up.
When going on a long road trip, I recommend renting a car to save your own car the wear and tear. Just think of all the miles you will be putting on your tires alone. I suggest checking out Rentalcars.com to find the best rates and find a car that makes sense for your road trip.
What should I pack for my road trip?
Before you head out on your road trip, don’t forget a thing on this Road Trip Essential Check-list. This list features the best gear you need to pack along for your next road trip. You’ll find an awesome cooler that plugs into your car and games to entertain the kids so you never have to hear “are we there yet again”.
Highway 101 Washington to California Road Trip
Starting Point: Seattle, Washington
For those of you from Seattle feel free to jump down below, but for those that are not or have never been to Seattle, you will need to take some time here. Seattle is one of my favorite cities in the USA. Part of that is because I have family that lives there, but the other reason is the mix of city and nature. It is a beautiful city sitting on the banks of Puget Sound.
Flying into Seattle is easy from almost every major airport in the United State, and also internationally. Coming from Aisa, Seattle makes for a great place to start a USA tour. If we don’t count this as part of the road trip day you will need at least 2-3 days to explore Seattle. Here are some of the top attractions and things that you should do while in Seattle.
- Pikes Place Market & Fish Throwing
- Gum Wall
- Space Needle
1. Olympia, Washington
Technically Seattle is not part of the Pacific Coast Highway but it is only an hour north of Olympia and if you were to fly in, Seattle is most likely the airport that you would fly in to.
Did you know that Olympia is the state capital of Washington? This is a good place to take a quick stop and stretch the legs and snap a couple of pictures of the capitol building.
If you are traveling with kids. Olympia has one of the best Children’s Museums in the USA. It is very hands-on and interactive. We planned on stopping here for an hour or two and ended up staying for four hours because the kids and adults were having such a great time.
Olympia – Pacific Coast Highway Stop:
- Hands-On Children’s Museum. The cost is $15 for kids and adults. Babies under 18 months old are free. Discounts for Seniors, Military, and First Responders.
- Washington State Capital Building – Free to stroll the ground and Free guided tour. The White Dome atop the capital is the largest masonry dome in North America.
From Olympia, you will head to Highway 101. You’ll be heading south towards Astoria, Washington.
Olympia to Astoria Notable stops along the way
- Olympic National Park – Located on the Olympic Peninsula.
- Port Angeles
- Hoh Rainforest -Yes there is a rainforest in the United States. It qualifies as a rainforest due to the amount of rain it gets each year.
- Aberdeen – Might be best known as the hometown of the famous lead singer of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain. You can still find Kurt’s house next to the Kurt Cobain Memorial Park
- Address: 1210 E 1st St., Aberdeen, WA
Oregon Coast Road Trip – Pacific Coast Highway Stops
Astoria, Oregon – Home of The Goonies
Once you drive over the Colombia River bridge you have officially crossed the state line. For some crossing, this steel truss bridge might be scary or nerve-racking. This bridge is 4 miles long and is the longest truss bridge in North America.
Another pop culture location on the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip is the now cult classic movie, The Goonies. This 1980’s, Steven Spielberg’s movie quickly became a favorite for millions of Americans. If you have never heard of it, google it, or ask your parents. For those of us that remember it or are even “Cult” fans, you’ll want to see some of the places the movie was filmed.
Goonies Self Guided Tour
- Mikey Walsh’s House – 368 38th St., Astoria.
- Data’s House – 344 38th St., Astoria.
- Oregon Film Museum at the Clatsop County Jail
- Lower Columbia Bowl – 826 Marine Drive, Astoria.
From Astoria, you now have 2 options. Stay on the 101 and head to the coast, or go inland a bit for a couple of days in Portland. If you have time pop over to Portland for a couple of days and then head back to Cannon Beach and Highway 101.
Seaside & Cannon Beach
From Astoria, you will be on Highway 101, and continuing the Pacific Coast Highway road trip. Another awesome Pacific Coast Highway stop in Seaside Oregon. This is a great name for this town found on the “Seaside.” It is picturesque and has become quite the resort town and very popular for travelers. Many people will opt to stay in Seaside over Cannon Beach because of the number of hotels and vacation rental accommodations.
Seaside is known for its beautiful beaches and there are plenty to choose from. Arcadia Beach State Recreation Area is more of a secluded beach with no restaurants. You will need to pack a snack if you stay most of the day. But you won’t be disappointed if you are looking to avoid crowds.
Don’t miss the Seaside Promenade. You’ll want to get out and stretch your legs and walk along “The Prom.” Maybe even opt for renting a bike and ride along the promenade and through Seaside. Here are a few other places to stop in Seaside.
Seaside- Pacific Coast Highway Stops:
- Tillamook Head Hike: a stunning rock formation located in the Ecola State Park.
- Ecola State Park: A hidden gem on this road trip. $ 5.00-day use fee
- Lewis & Clark Statue: Located at the turnaround. This was the stopping point for the Lewis and Clark expedition before heading back.
- Learn more of the Lewis and Clark history by stopping at the Salt Cairn.
Located just 13 miles south of Seaside, Oregon on the Pacific Coast Highway is the famous Cannon Beach. This might be Oregon’s most notable beach. The Haystack rocks jetting out of the ocean make for some amazing views, and why not hang out on the beach and enjoy the warm sand.
Cannon Beach was named by National Geographic as one of the top 100 most beautiful beaches. The beaches are the crown jewel of Cannon Beach so if you choose to stop here, slow down and enjoy ocean views.
Cannon Beach- Pacific Coast Highway Stops:
- Arcadia Beach – 2 miles south of Cannon Beach. The beach has tide pools and beautiful rock formations.
- Hug Point – 3 miles south of Cannon Beach. At low tide you can walk around the point and find sea caves and a small waterfall.
Tillamook- Cheese Factory
Highway 101, shortly after Cannon beach heads inland towards the city of Tillamook. There are ways that you can stay along the Pacific Coast but Highway 101 returns back to the coast not long after Tillamook at Pacific City. So don’t worry, we are not veering off from our Pacific Coast Highway road trip at all.
You will recognize Tillamook for their delicious cheese, butter, or ice cream. The Tillamook factory is located in Tillamook and we recommend stopping here for a tour and lunch or dinner.
We stopped here on one of our road trips a couple of years ago with the kids. The tour was fun and interactive. It’s a self-guided tour that you can walk around the factory. Peek in through windows and see the process. There are signs and videos to help explain the process. You get to taste all different types of cheeses.
But I think everyone’s favorite part was the restaurant/food. The grilled cheese sandwiches were the best! Then pop over to the ice cream bar. Here you will find hundreds of different flavors of Tillamook ice cream.
Cost to tour the Tillamook Cheese Factory: Free!!!
- Hours: Summer Hours 8:00 am – 8:00 pm. Labor Day to June 8:00 am – 6:00 pm.
- Tour: Free, self-guided
- Best things to do at the Tillamook Cheese Factory
- Sample the cheeses
- The Cheese Factory Store/ – Find your favorite cheese or other Tillamook products like ice cream or yogurt.
- The Cheese Factory restaurant – Try one of the grilled cheese. May I recommend the “Gobbler” Grilled Turkey and Tillamook cheered on Sourdough bread. Then get a bowl of tomato soup with cheese curds.
- The Ice Cream Bar – They have flavors only available here to visitors to the factory.
Tillamook to Newport – Pacific Coast Highway
The Oregon Coast continues to just be awe-inspiring and it doesn’t stop after Tillamook. You could spend your entire road trip of the Pacific Coast Highway just on this next 60-80 miles of road. Here is where you will begin to drive along the coast with the coastal mountains to your left and the Pacific ocean, secluded beaches, and cliffs to your right.
Pacific Coast Highway Stops from Tillamook to Newport, Oregon
- Three Capes Scenic Drive: Cape Meares Lighthouse, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda. Cape Kiwand also has tide pools.
- Cape Kiwanda: One of the most recognizable beaches along the Oregon Coast after Cannon Beach. A lone Haystac Rock standing 90 feet higher than the Haystacks at Cannon beach.
- Whale Watching: One of the best places to view some whales are at Depot Bay. Here you will find a whale watching center. You can also hire a boat for a whale watching tour.
- Yaquina Head Lighthouse: Getting there you wind through the dense coastal forest before arriving at the cliffs and the lighthouse jetting over the coast.
- Devils Punch bowl: Between Depot Bay and Newport is another great stop. At low tide, you can hike down into the hole or go tide pooling; other times you can have a picnic while trying to spot whales off the coast. At high tide, Devils Punch bowl shots out water like a geyser when the waves crash in.
Newport Oregon – Pacific Coast Highway
Newport is a great place to stretch your legs or even spend the night. There are plenty of accommodations and lots of things to do. We took time at the Newport to visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium with the kids.
This aquarium sits on the coast it gives a real feel to the marine ecosystem. The hands-on exhibits were great for the kids to touch the sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and stingrays.
I would definitely recommend this aquarium if you have young kids or kids that are interested in marine biology. It is a great stop along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Where to stay in Newport, Oregon
If you left Seattle, Newport is the perfect stopping place along this Northern Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip. So where are the best places to stay in Newport?
I would highly suggest finding an Air Bnb in Newport. This is the perfect location to find a beach cottage at a great price. Check here for everything that is available!
If you’d prefer a hotel, The Inn at Nye Beach is in a great location and has the perfect beach cottage feel. You will never want to leave. Spend a night or two and enjoy this gorgeous seaside town.
Coos Bay is a great stop on the Pacific Coast Highway
After you have taken in the sights at Newport Beach, hop back in the car and head south on the Pacific Coast Highway. The next stop is a couple hours down the road.
This is the perfect place to stop for a picnic. We love this Wagan cooler that plugs into your car. It keeps our food and most importantly our drinks cold. I love it because we don’t have to stop for ice I don’t have to worry about ice melting all over my food.
Coos Bay is known for its tide pools that drain almost 825 square miles along Oregon’s southern rugged coast. This fun stop at Coos Bay also has a classic boardwalk that is fun to walk along. Spend a little while in the tide pools and see what kind of treasures you can find!
Crossing the state line
After you pass through Coos Bay and Charleston, you will continue down the Pacific Coast Highway and cross over to California. Somewhere between Coos Bay and the California border, you will most likely want to find a place to spend the night.
California’s Pacific Coast Highway
Now as you cross into California, you will feel like you are driving in a postcard. It is some of the most beautiful coast line in the world. The first place I recommend stopping on northern California’s Pacific Coast Highway road trip is the Redwood National Forest.
There is a lot to see in the Redwood National Park, I would suggest spending at least one night and 2 full days in the Park.
Redwood National Forest Stop
If you are into camping at all, I highly recommend camping in the Redwood National Forest. I am not a huge camper but I have camped quite a bit in my lifetime and this is the only campground that stands out. The large redwood trees provide ample shade so you’re never hot.
Then the pine needles that have fallen to the ground make the ground as soft as a mattress. Camping is awesome but it also means you need to pack and go prepared. You’ll find the ultimate camping packing list here.
Where to stay in the Redwood National Forest
There are 4 well-developed campgrounds in the Redwood National Forest. You will need reservations in advance so make sure to check their website here before heading out the door:
- Jedediah Smith- 86 campsites tents and RVs but no hookups. This campground does have hot showers and ADA facilities. You can find a list of the best campsites here.
- Mill Creek- This is one of the larger campgrounds and you have more space between you and other campers. It has over 100 campsites for tents and RVs up to 31 feet. But no RV hookups. There are bathrooms and showers. Find a map of the campsites here.
- Elk Prairie- By far the most centrally located campground this campground is a bit smaller and the campsites are closer together. There are showers and bathrooms available at this campground. Check out Redwoodhikes.com for a list of the best campsites.
- Gold Bluffs Beach- Dreams of camping on the beach come true at this campground. It is quite a bit smaller with just 26 campsites. So make sure to reserve your spot early. This campground also has solar showers and restrooms.
Hotels Near The Redwoods
If you’d prefer to stay in a hotel (I get it, camping takes a lot of packing). There are some great hotels very close to the park. There are no hotels within the park limits. Check out Trip Savvy’s Best Hotels Near Redwood National Park for some awesome options.
What to see in the Redwoods National Park
First off, just a few quick tips about this amazing Park.
- Pack a lunch, there are no restaurants inside the park
- This park can be very confusing, make sure to take a map anytime you go for a hike!
- Do some research about what you want to see before you head into the park.
- Make sure to pack your favorite hiking shoes!
End of the Northern Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
We have traveled from Seattle to The Redwood National Park. This road trip will amaze you. If you’d like to continue to head south on the Pacific Coast highway, continue to follow highway 101. It will go inland for a little while. Then you will connect to Highway 1 and continue down the beautiful California coast.
If this isn’t the best road trip for you, check out more of The Best Road Trips in the US here. From the east coast, midwest, to west coast this list covers it all.