Life moves on, the world changes, for better or for worst. I like to think better, but then again, I am a glass half full kinda gal. So after a good 2 1/2 decades the iconic Highway 1/101 from San Diego, CA to Portland, OR, beckoned me. This is where we get to the part of "for better or for worst". Saddened I am at a huge swath of this scenic drive which has turned seedy and dilapidated. Which is why, if you have 2-3 weeks to spare, I highly recommend taking this drive.... BUT I would also recommend beginning in San Francisco and just skipping the coastal portion from San Diego to Santa Maria. Though there are a number of charming locations here and there, La Jolla for one, with limited time these are best kept to day trips.
Starting off, 3-4 days: Pick up your rental vehicle from San Francisco and head South. This drive is meant for a convertible from May - October...but will certainly work during the rest of the year as well, just be prepared for rain. San Francisco itself is a whole couple of weeks of adventure and we will have to cover this incredible city another time. From the airport head South on Hwy 101 and then cut over heading West towards Los Gatos which will take you over the mountains to Santa Cruz and Hwy 1. Though you won't be hugging the ocean during this portion of the trip, you will still have some lovely vistas. Once you arrive into Monterrey, these views change to non stop Pacific Ocean glory all the way to Morro Bay. ( Disclaimer: a huge chunk of Hwy 1 has been covered by a mile long mud slide, shutting down this portion of the road indefinitely, which means you will not be able to make it along the coast to Morro bay. Should this be the case, either go inland, or skip this Southern portion of the trip and simply turn around and head back to the Carmel area). Technically this drive should only take 4 hours or so, I believe half a week is a much better way to experience the views, the beaches, the adorable towns.
Back North towards the mighty Redwoods, 4-8 days: Head inland from Carmel to Hwy 101 or stay on Hwy 1 (see a fun side drive here) towards San Francisco, however you choose, you will be rewarded with stunning scenery and both routes will take you over the Golden Gate Bridge. Once you have crossed, follow signs for Point Reyes National Park, which will take you on a curvaceous, over the mountains, route to incredible vistas and oodles of instagrammable photo opportunities. Adorable B & B's dot the area; wine tasting, hiking, antiquing....rent a bicycle, ride a horse on the beach, look for seals, watch for deer. Stay on route 1, which will mostly hug the ocean giving you plenty of opportunity to explore beaches, hike magnificent trails and wander adorable off the beaten track communities, most of which have wineries, breweries, antiquing and talented artists to keep you amused.
Fort Bragg will just about end the Pacific Ocean portion for awhile, and will take you inland to the Redwoods and eventually back to the sea upon arrival into Eureka, 2-4 days: If the love of being in a convertible hasn't kicked in yet, perhaps when the ceiling of thousand foot trees covers you, it will. This forest is simply stunning. Take short hikes, take long hikes, swim in a river, have a picnic next to a lake. Don't forget to visit with Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox and watch for other critters alongside the road. You are deep in Elk Country now. Eureka to Crescent City will take you between forest and ocean, the crowds will have dropped off as you head into Oregon. Highway 1 and 101 will merge. Be sure to take any side roads which appear to hug the ocean, you will be rewarded to private beaches and more stunning views.
Brookings to Portland 3-5 days: Once you arrive in Oregon you will be met with a number of differences from the California portion of the trip; guaranteed Elk sightings, cheaper petrol (and they pump it for you here!) and no sales tax when you find that perfectly restored Triumph! Whether you'd like to try sand boarding for the first time, go deep sea fishing or lounge in a kayak exploring tranquil lakes, the Oregon Coast has it all for you. Oregon has made all of their beaches public, so they are easily accessible. I always recommend shopping and staying at locally owned, which is super easy to do here. Southern Oregon is pretty far off the track for many potential visitors, so the vibe here is much more laid back- small town. It won't be until you hit Florence that traffic really starts picking up. You could do this in a day, as it should only take about 8 hours, but that would be no fun at all. Once again, take the side roads which keep to the ocean...be sure to wander the many parks and trails. From rocky beaches to sandy ones, you will find tidal pools brimming with starfish and endless miles of secluded beaches. Have a bonfire, roast marshmallows, listen to the surf as the sun goes down. Heaven.
Depending on time, you can take a day to explore Portland, a haven for foodies, then return your car to the airport and fly out. Should your schedule allow for a drive back to San Francisco, it will take about 10 hours. Certainly doable in a day, but more advisable to take two as Interstate 5 through the Mount Shasta region is quite extraordinary. More on this region later, so stay tuned! Happy driving!