The Best Road Trip in Northern California: San Francisco to Redwood National Park

Northern California Coastline at sunset

California is easily one of the most scenic parts of the United States. From Big Sur to Lake Tahoe to wine country, there’s a never-ending list of beautiful places to visit. But the Northern California coast is one of the most underrated parts of the state. 

The drive along the Pacific Coast from San Francisco to Redwood National Park makes for an epic, must-do road trip in Northern California. This route takes you along the historic Pacific Coast Highway past beaches and the rugged coastline up to the lush redwood forests, with plenty of amazing stops along the way.

This guide covers the ultimate Northern California Road trip route, including:

  • Detailed route and road trip map
  • Best time to travel from San Francisco to Redwoods
  • How to get around Northern California
  • Where to stay along the road trip route
  • What to pack for a successful trip
  • 50+ epic stops between San Francisco and Redwood National Park
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Looking for more ideas for your Northern California road trip? Check out these guides:

Planning a trip to Redwood National Park? Don’t miss your copy of this free, printable guide to all of Redwood’s best campsites – the only way to stay inside the park!

Overview of Route from San Francisco to Redwoods National Park

This road trip starts and ends in San Francisco, taking you up the coast to the Redwoods along the way. You’ll pass plenty of scenic coastal towns, redwood forests, and even stop in wine country on your return trip!

On the trip up to Redwood National Park, you’ll follow historic Highway 1, also called the Pacific Coast Highway. This is the most scenic drive in the entire state and the perfect way to start your road trip. On the return trip, you can take the faster route, Highway 101, and pass through Sonoma County, one of the best wine regions in the United States.

  • Start: San Francisco
  • Stop #1: Marin Headlands & Mount Tamalpais State Park
  • Stop #2: Point Reyes National Seashore
  • Stop #3: Bodega Bay
  • Stop #4: Jenner
  • Stop #5: Mendocino
  • Stop #6: Fort Bragg
  • Stop #7: Humboldt Redwoods State Park
  • Stop #8: The Lost Coast
  • Stop #9: Eureka, Trinidad, & Crescent City
  • Stop #10: Redwood National & State Parks
  • Stop #11: Sonoma County
  • End: San Francisco

While you could take the quick route from San Francisco to Redwood National Park up Highway 101, I highly recommend taking more time and exploring the scenic route. It adds several hours of driving time but is truly some of the best scenery in the state.

Fastest Route to Redwoods on Highway 101
Scenic Route to Redwoods on Highway 1

How Long is the Drive from Redwoods to San Francisco?

This San Francisco to Redwoods road trip could take you anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on how much time you want to spend exploring the destinations along the route.

I recommend spending a minimum of 3 to 4 days on your road trip from San Francisco to the redwood forest. This gives you some time to explore Highway 1 and the highlights of Redwood National Park.

For the ultimate experience, plan to spend 2 weeks road tripping in Northern California. This gives you plenty of time to see all that California’s underrated northern coast has to offer.

RouteMileageDrive Time (No Stops)
Scenic Route (Hwy 1)~350 miles8.5 hours
Fast Route (Hwy 101)~315 miles5.5 hours

Depending on how much time you have, I recommend reading this post and picking the spots that sound most interesting to you! Just don’t miss Point Reyes, Mendocino, and Redwood National & State Parks!

Getting From San Francisco to the Redwoods

If you’re flying into San Francisco to start your road trip, you’ll have two airports to choose from. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is located about 20 minutes south of San Francisco. Oakland International Airport (OAK) is located across the bay, about 30 minutes from San Francisco. 

I like to use Skyscanner to compare flight prices to multiple airports and find the best price. Once you find the perfect flight itinerary for you, Skyscanner redirects you to book with the airline directly so you don’t miss out on any frequent flyer points! Search flights on Skyscanner now.

Renting a Car to Drive from SF to Redwood National Park

No matter the airport you fly into, you’ll need to rent a car. For this road trip route, you don’t need an AWD vehicle. That said, on longer trips with more luggage, I recommend opting for a slightly larger vehicle like a compact SUV. 

I like to use Rentalcars.com to find the best deals on rental cars. It allows you to search across multiple rental companies to find the lowest price. You’ll find all the major retailers like Avis, Hertz, and Enterprise, plus budget companies like Budget, Sixt, Dollar, Thrifty, and more. Search rental car prices with Rentalcars.com now.

Budget Tip

If you plan on spending a few days in San Francisco before heading up to Redwood National Park, you can save some money by waiting to rent a car until later. San Francisco is easy to get around with public transportation or Uber/Lyft. There are plenty of rental car locations within the city (or it’s only a short drive back to the airport rental car locations).

Toll Roads Along the North California Road Trip Route

While you won’t find many toll roads in Northern California, you will have to drive across toll roads to start and end your trip. Both the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco charge tolls. 

This means that you won’t need to pay tolls to exit San Francisco, but you will need to pay tolls on your way back into San Francisco. The toll booths accept FasTrak (a small device that sticks to your windshield) or will mail you a bill using your license plate registration – there’s no stopping at the toll plaza these days!

If you’re renting a car, check with your rental company about toll charges when you pick up the car. The rental company may rent you a FasTrak or pass through the charges. Just make sure to confirm the fee for the rental car company to pass through the charges (sometimes they charge a hefty fee for this).

It will truly depend on the rental car company you go with if it makes sense to rent a FasTrak device or to simply add the tolls to your final rental bill. The Bay Bridge toll is $6 and the Golden Gate Bridge toll is $7.70. You’ll most likely only drive across the bridges back into the city one time on your return trip. Given that, it will most likely be cheaper to just pay the toll to the rental car company, but I’ll let you do the math for your situation.

Coastal view on San Francisco road trip

Where to Stay on the Road Trip to Northern California

There’s no shortage of excellent places to stay between San Francisco and Redwood National Park. Depending on how many days you’re taking on your road trip, you can pick from a wide array of hotels, cabins, or campgrounds along the way. Here are a few of my favorite picks.

Best Places to Stay in San Francisco:

Best Places to Stay Between San Francisco & Redwood:

Best Places to Stay near Redwood National Park:

Keep reading for more recommendations on the best places to stay in each destination along the route!

Tent amongst redwood trees in campground

Camping Between San Francisco and Redwood National Park

If you’re planning on camping along the road trip, there’s plenty of options too. One of my favorite ways to look for campgrounds on a road trip is using The Dyrt. This site searches a wide array of campgrounds along your route, from free, dispersed camping sites to national and state park campgrounds. Check out The Dyrt here.

Some of my favorite parks for camping along the Northern California Coast include:

  • Mount Tamalpais State Park
  • Samuel P. Taylor State Park
  • Sonoma Coast State Park
  • Salt Point State Park
  • Russian Gulch State Park
  • Patrick’s Point State Park

In Redwood National & State Parks, you have several camping options as well. All 4 of the park’s campgrounds are reservable through Reserve California.

  • Jedediah Smith Campground
  • Mill Creek Campground
  • Elk Prairie Campground
  • Gold Bluffs Beach Campground

Planning a trip to Redwood National Park? Don’t miss your copy of this free, printable guide to all of Redwood’s best campsites – the only way to stay inside the park!

Packing List for Northern California Road Trips

This coastal trip provides cool temperatures and epic views, but much of the drive is remote and outside of cell coverage. Stay prepared to road trip north California by packing layers and essential safety gear for your road trip:

  • Lightweight Hiking Shoes – If you stop for a hike on the beach or along any of the trails in Redwood, you’ll want lightweight shoes with solid traction. I like the Altra Lone Peak 4.5 Trail Runners for short hikes.
  • The 10 Essentials – If you’re heading out on one of the many hikes in the area, be sure to bring along the 10 hiking essentials that keep you safe on the trail. For more on the 10 essentials, check out my hiking gear guide.
  • Waterproof Rain Jacket – Even if you’re visiting in the drier summer months, it’s still a good idea to prepare for rain. REI makes high-quality yet affordable rain jackets – I have the REI XeroDry GTX.
  • Road Trip Essentials – For any road trip, be sure to pack all the essentials, like license and registration, an emergency roadside kit, and road trip planning apps. Check out my detailed road trip packing list for more ideas.
  • Binoculars – There’s plenty of wildlife to see on this road trip, from whales migrating in the Pacific Ocean to the Roosevelt elk in Redwood National Park. It’s always important to give wildlife plenty of space, so bring along a pair of binoculars to get a closer view! I have this inexpensive pair of compact binoculars from Amazon.
Overlook of California Coast on road trip

Best Time to Visit San Francisco Redwoods & Road Trip Northern California

Thanks to the nearby Pacific Ocean, this entire road trip route stays pretty mild all year long. You can expect daytime temperatures between 50 to 70 degrees most days of the year.

In the summer, rain is rare – typically only a few days per month. Summer also brings low-hanging fog from the Pacific Ocean. This fog provides the redwoods throughout the area with much-need moisture for growth. In the winter, rain is more common, reminiscent of Pacific Northwest weather. 

As far as crowds, summer is the busiest season thanks to the dry weather. But unlike other parts of California (looking at you Big Sur and LA), the Northern California coast is rarely jam packed with tourists. If you prefer complete solitude, visit during the winter months instead – you may have the roads and trails all to yourself!

All in all, this road trip is great any time of year thanks to the coastal breeze (just don’t forget your rain jacket in the winter months!).

Road Trip Stops from San Francisco to Redwood Forest

Ready to head out on your ultimate Northern California road trip adventure? This route follows Highway 1 up the coast, a slower, but more scenic route compared to Highway 101.

Keep reading to learn more about all the must-see stops along the route, including:

  • Best Things to Do
  • Where to Stay
  • What to Eat & Drink

San Francisco

Recommended Time: 2-3 days

San Francisco city streets

This road trip starts in San Francisco, the City by the Bay. Located within 30 minutes of two major airports, you’ll have plenty of flight options to arrive in San Francisco and start your road trip. 

Perhaps I’m biased since I call this wonderful city my home, but San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the US. From excellent food to unique neighborhoods to landmark attractions, there’s no shortage of activities to keep you occupied while you’re here!

If this is your first trip to San Francisco, I highly recommend spending at least 2 to 3 days here. This will give you time to explore the most popular tourist destinations and some of the off-the-beaten-path spots too.

San Francisco has some quintessential tourist attractions you just have to visit on your first trip, like the sea lions at Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Lombard Street. While this area of town is overcrowded and a tourist trap, you have to visit at least once!

Lombard Street in San Francisco
Lombard Street
Alcatraz Island in San Francisco
Alcatraz Island

My favorite touristy things to do as a local are taking a tour of Alcatraz Island and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field. You absolutely can’t miss these experiences – they’re what make San Francisco great! 

There’s no shortage of museums and parks here either. Be sure to check out all that Golden Gate Park has to offer, like the San Francisco Botanical Garden or the California Academy of Sciences.

If you’re looking to enjoy San Francisco like a local, spend your time in The Mission. I spent my first 2 years in San Francisco living in the Mission and it’s still one of my favorite places to visit. The neighborhood is filled with grungy cocktail bars, excellent food and Hispanic culture, and one of the city’s best parks. 

Whether you spend your time in the Mission relaxing at Dolores Park or exploring the shops, restaurants, and bars on Valencia Street, you’re getting a true San Francisco local experience.

Skyline from Dolores Park in San Francisco
Dolores Park

Best Things to Do

  • Get the quintessential tourist experience at Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square (Fisherman’s Wharf)
  • See the sea lions at Pier 39 (Fisherman’s Wharf)
  • See the Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field or Baker Beach (Presidio)
  • Hike the Lands End Trail (Richmond)
  • Take the ferry to tour Alcatraz (Embarcadero)
  • Explore the Saturday Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building (Embarcadero)
  • Explore the shops and restaurants on Valencia Street (Mission)
  • Relax like a local at Dolores Park (Mission)
  • See the street art at Balmy Alley or Clarion Alley (Mission)
  • Walk down Lombard Street (Russian Hill)
  • See the skyline from Twin Peaks (Twin Peaks)
  • Explore Golden Gate Park at the San Francisco Botanical Garden and California Academy of Sciences (Golden Gate Park)

Where to Stay

Where to Eat & Drink

Marin County & Redwoods Near SF

Recommended Time: Half Day to Full Day

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
Battery Spencer

Just across the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll find Marin County. This area is home to some of the best hiking and natural beauty in the Bay Area. As you head out of San Francisco on your road trip, don’t miss a few of these must-see stops and hikes along the way.

You’ll come to the Marin Headlands first, a gorgeous, mountainous area overlooking San Francisco, the Pacific Ocean, and the Bay. Just across the bridge, Battery Spencer provides one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge

Down the road is Point Bonita Lighthouse, a historic lighthouse built in 1855. A short trail leads out to the lighthouse overlooking the sea. There’s no shortage of beaches in coastal Marin County either. My personal favorite is Black Sands Beach, named for the unique mineral-rich sand that covers the beach.

Redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods

A visit to Marin County is incomplete without a trip to the area’s best parks. Get your first taste of the California redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument, one of the best places to see redwoods near San Francisco. A short walk along the Muir Woods Trail is the perfect leg stretch.

Psst…. Because Muir Woods is so popular, you’ll need to make a parking reservation in advance. You can do that here.

Bolinas Ridge sunset in Mt. Tamalpais State Park
Bolinas Ridge at Sunset

Mt. Tamalpais State Park is home to the highest peak in Marin County. From the East Peak of Mount Tamalpais, you have 360-degree views of the entire Bay Area, including San Francisco! If you want to stretch your legs, take a hike on the Dipsea, Steep Ravine, and Matt Davis Loop. If you want to explore Mt. Tam (as us locals call it) by car, drive up to East Peak or take in the ocean views from Bolinas Ridge.

Best Things to Do

  • See the Golden Gate Bridge from Hawk Hill or Battery Spencer (Marin Headlands)
  • See Point Bonita Lighthouse (Marin Headlands)
  • Explore the Marin Beaches. I recommend Black Sands Beach or Stinson Beach (Marin Headlands)
  • Get your first taste of redwoods along the Muir Woods Trail in Muir Woods National Monument (Marin Headlands)
  • Explore Mount Tamalpais State Park. The best trails include the Dipsea, Steep Ravine, and Matt Davis Loop or the Cataract Falls trail). Catch the sunset from East Peak or from Bolinas Ridge along Ridgecrest Boulevard (Mount Tamalpais)

Point Reyes & Bodega Bay

Recommended Time: Half Day

Bay view at Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore

After exploring the Marin Headlands and Mt. Tamalpais, continue along the scenic Highway 1 to Point Reyes National Seashore. This park is known for its biodiversity, home to more than 1,500 species of plants and animals. 

Some of my favorite Bay Area hikes are in Point Reyes. Explore one of California’s two tide falls on the hike to Alamere Falls or see Tule Elk in their natural habitat on the Tomales Point Trail. Don’t miss the Point Reyes Lighthouse or the Cypress Tree Tunnel on your visit to Point Reyes National Seashore!

Read More: Ultimate Guide to Alamere Falls in Point Reyes

Alamere Falls as seen from the beach
Alamere Falls
Tule Elk on Tomales Point Trail

Just outside the national seashore lies the town of Point Reyes Station. This tiny town is home to some great foodie destinations too. Taste some of the Bay Area’s best cheese at Cowgirl Creamery and try some fresh pastries at Bovine Bakery.

Tomales Bay is a narrow inlet between the Point Reyes peninsula and the mainland. This area is one of the best spots for oysters in all of Northern California! Head to Hog Island Oyster Company for some of the freshest oysters around (they harvest and clean the oysters on-site!).

View of Tomales Bay from Hog Island Oyster Company
View of Tomales Bay from Hog Island Oyster Company

A bit up the coast, you’ll find the bayside town of Bodega Bay. A small, local park juts out into the Pacific Ocean at Bodega Head, making it a great location to whale watch in the spring. There’s no shortage of seafood in Bodega Bay either – don’t miss the clam chowder at Spud Point Crab Company!

Best Things to Do

  • Hike to Alamere Falls in Point Reyes National Seashore (Point Reyes)
  • Hike the Tomales Point Trail in Point Reyes to see the Tule Elk Reserve (Point Reyes)
  • See the Point Reyes Lighthouse (Point Reyes)
  • Photograph the Cypress Tree Tunnel and the Point Reyes Shipwreck (Point Reyes)
  • Shop the Point Reyes Station Farmers Market on Saturdays (Point Reyes)
  • Whale Watching at Bodega Head from March to June (Bodega Bay) 
  • Visit Arched Rock Beach (Bodega Bay) 

Where to Stay

Where to Eat & Drink

Read More: Ultimate Guide to Alamere Falls in Point Reyes National Seashore

Jenner, Timber Cove, & Sea Ranch

Recommended Time: Half Day

Ocean views in Jenner, California
Coastline in Jenner

As you head north along the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll reach an often overlooked area of the Northern coast. The area between Point Reyes and Mendocino doesn’t get as much attention as its neighboring destinations, but it’s not to be missed.

Jenner is the coastal gateway to wine country. The scenic Highway 116 takes you inland to hippie towns like Guerneville and one of California’s best wine regions – Sonoma County. Don’t miss one of the best coastal California vineyards, Fort Ross Vineyards, during your time in Jenner.

Trees along the coastline in Salt Point State Park
Salt Point State Park

Further north towards Mendocino, there are several state parks and beaches worth visiting. Take a hike on the Salt Point Trail in Salt Point State Park for a chance to spot some seals sunbathing on the rocks. You’ll have another opportunity to see the seals in Gualala Point Regional Park too!

In Sea Ranch, a planned coastal community, you can see a coastal waterfall at Stengel Beach. For a unique road trip stop, visit the Sea Ranch Chapel, famous for its funky design and beautiful stained glass.

Visit another beautiful lighthouse in Point Arena. If you’re looking for a unique place to stay, you can even book a room in the old Point Arena Lighthouse keeper’s quarters!

Best Things to Do

  • Hike the Salt Point Trail in Salt Point State Park (Jenner)
  • Rent kayaks from Watertreks Eco-Tours (Jenner)
  • Sip wine with excellent coastal views at Fort Ross Vineyards (Jenner)
  • See the unique design and stained glass of Sea Ranch Chapel (Sea Ranch)
  • See the waterfall at Stengel Beach (Sea Ranch)
  • See the view of Greenwood State Beach from Highway 1 (Elk)
  • Spot harbor seals in Gualala Point Regional Park (Gualala)
  • Stop at Point Arena Lighthouse (Point Arena)

Where to Stay

  • Timber Cove Resort for a luxury stay overlooking the Pacific (Jenner)
  • Jenner Inn for a more budget-friendly stay where the Russian River meets the ocean (Jenner)

Where to Eat & Drink

Mendocino & Fort Bragg

Recommended Time: Half Day or 1 Full Day

Coastline along downtown Mendocino
Downtown Mendocino

Mendocino is one of the most popular towns along California’s northern coast. Surrounded by several state parks and plenty of natural beauty, Mendocino is an essential weekend trip from San Francisco and a must-see on this Northern California road trip.

In downtown Mendocino, you can take a stroll down Main Street, stopping to explore the many shops, art galleries, restaurants, and bars in the quaint town. Mendocino Headlands State Park wraps around Mendocino, providing unprecedented ocean views only steps from downtown. Don’t miss walking along the Point Mendocino Trail

Just south of town you’ll find one of the most popular state parks in the area: Van Damme State Park. Filled with hikes to coastal views and lush forests, this park is the perfect place for a quick afternoon hike. The most popular trail in the park, the Pygmy Forest Trail, takes you on a boardwalk through a forest of centuries-old miniature trees.

Cliff edges at Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse

On your drive from Mendocino to the next coastal town, Fort Bragg, there’s plenty of excellent side trips, including Russian Gulch State Park, Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, and Noyo Headlands Park.

Even smaller than Mendocino, Fort Bragg is a must-visit on this trip. Its most popular attraction is Glass Beach, famous for the large amounts of sea glass found here. The sea glass is actually trash that has been eroded by the ocean over the years, giving it a smooth and sleek appearance. Today, it’s part of MacKerricher State Park and it’s illegal to collect glass from the beach.

Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, California
Glass Beach

One of the more unique things to do in Fort Bragg is taking a ride on the Skunk Train. This historic railway takes you through old-growth redwoods in the Noyo River Canyon outside of town. There’s even an open-air Observation Car for an immersive experience!

Best Things to Do

  • Hike the Pygmy Forest Trail in Van Damme State Park (Mendocino)
  • Explore Main Street in Downtown Mendocino (Mendocino)
  • Visit the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (Mendocino)
  • See the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse (Mendocino)
  • Hike the Point Mendocino Trail in Mendocino Headlands State Park (Mendocino)
  • Hike the Fern Canyon & Waterfall Loop in Russian Gulch State Park (Mendocino)
  • Overlook the ocean at Noyo Headlands Park (Fort Bragg)
  • Find sea glass at Glass Beach (Fort Bragg)
  • Take a train ride on the scenic, famous Skunk Train (Fort Bragg)

Where to Stay

Where to Eat

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Recommended Time: Half Day

Redwoods in Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Heading north from Fort Bragg, Highway 1 heads inland, joining with Highway 101 in Leggett. You’re now in the heart of the redwood country. While not technically a part of the Redwood National & State Park alliance, Humboldt Redwoods State Park is one of the best places in the state to see redwoods up close.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park is home to the largest old-growth redwood forest left on earth. Over a third of the redwoods found here are old-growth, potentially over 2,000 years old. 

The best thing to do in Humboldt Redwoods State Park is Avenue of the Giants. This popular drive takes you on the historic Highway 101 route (which now runs parallel to today’s Highway 101) through a massive redwood grove. 

The 31-mile scenic drive starts off of Highway 101. At the start of the drive, you can pick up a self-guided auto tour map from the information stand. There’s no shortage of scenic stops along Avenue of the Giants. Don’t miss seeing the Dyerville Giant, a massive fallen redwood tree, and the Founder’s Grove Loop.

Avenue of the Giant in Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Avenue of the Giants

Because of its accessibility, Avenue of the Giants is often crowded. To escape the crowds, consider exploring the Rockefeller Loop instead. This old-growth redwood grove is located off Mattole Road in Humboldt Redwoods.

A popular tourist attraction in the area is driving through a giant redwood tree. You won’t find any drive-thru trees in the state or national parks though as it can damage the tree and is against park practices. Instead, you’ll need to visit private properties like the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree in Leggett or the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree just outside Humboldt Redwoods.

Best Things to Do

Lost Coast

Recommended Time: Half Day

Pacific Ocean along the Lost Coast in California
Lost Coast

Remember how Highway 1, the famous coastal highway, cuts inland in Leggett? This is due to the rugged mountains in the King Range National Conservation Area. Steeper and more dangerous than even the coastal mountains in Big Sur, roads were unable to be built and much of the coastline in this area remains untouched today.

The Lost Coast is a 75-mile stretch of coast between Rockport and Eureka. This stretch of land is one of the largest remaining undeveloped coastlines in the United States. Because it’s difficult to get to, many visitors choose to skip the Lost Coast. But if you have the time and the desire to get away from crowds, it’s worth the visit.

There are two main access roads into the Lost Coast: Briceland Road (which turns into Shelter Cove Road) or Mattole Road. At the end of Briceland Road, you’ll find the tiny coastal town of Shelter Cove. This town is famous for its Black Sand Beach. Similar to the beach near San Francisco, this beach has black sand caused by the heavy dark minerals and iron in the sand.

Black sand and a rocky shoreline at Black Sands Beach near Shelter Cove, CA
Black Sand Beach

Mattole Road starts in Ferndale (a historic Victorian town), winds through the Lost Coast, and ends in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The drive passes through small towns like Petrolia and provides ultra-scenic coastal views.

Budget at least half a day for this scenic drive through the Lost Coast. Want to know more about the Lost Coast? I have an entire guide on taking a Lost Coast Road Trip!

Read More: Best Lost Coast Road Trip Route

Best Things to Do

  • Walk and shop along Ferndale’s Main Street
  • Stop in at the Golden Gait Mercantile in Ferndale
  • Drive the ultra-scenic Mattole Road through the secluded Lost Coast
  • Stop at Shelter Cove to see Black Sand Beach on the Lost Coast

Where to Stay

Where to Eat

Eureka & Trinidad

Recommended Time: Half Day

Old-Victorian Carson Mansion in Eureka, California
Carson Mansion in Eureka

Old Town Eureka is filled with Victorian charm, quaint shops, and some delicious restaurants. As the largest coastal town between San Francisco and Portland, this is where you’ll find more hotels and restaurants than any other town on this road trip route.

After the Gold Rush surge in the mid to late 1800s, Eureka experienced lots of growth. Today, you’ll find plenty of historic Victorian-style homes scattered throughout the old part of town. The best example of Victorian architecture in town is the Carson Mansion

You can experience Eureka’s local history and culture with a visit to the Clark History Museum or with a cruise on the M.V. Madaket.

To the north, you’ll find the smaller beach towns of Trinidad and Arcata. These towns are home to some of the most scenic beaches and parks in the area, including Moonstone Beach, College Cove Beach, Trinidad State Beach, and Patrick’s Point State Park.

Rocky shoreline in Patricks Point State Park
Rocky Point in Patrick’s Point State Park

Eureka and Trinidad are considered gateway towns to nearby Redwood National and State Parks. From Trinidad, it’s only a 20-minute drive to Kuchel Visitor Center. Since there aren’t any hotels inside the parks, Eureka, Trinidad, and nearby Klamath make for great places to stay when visiting the redwoods.

Best Things to Do

  • Walk around Old Town Eureka (Eureka)
  • Visit the Carson Mansion (Eureka)
  • Learn about the area in the Clarke History Museum (Eureka)
  • Take a harbor cruise on the M.V. Madaket (Eureka)
  • Explore Moonstone Beach and College Cove Beach (Trinidad)
  • Walk around and relax in the Arcata Main Plaza (Arcata)
  • Rent sea kayaks and paddleboards from Kayak Trinidad (Trinidad)
  • Hike Trinidad Head Loop at Trinidad State Beach (Trinidad)
  • Visit Agate Beach, Rocky Point, Wedding Rock, and Mussels Beach in Patrick’s Point State Park (Trinidad)

Where to Stay

Where to Eat

Redwood National & State Parks

Recommended Time: 2-3 days

Tall Trees GroveKlamath River Overlook in Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park is known for its giant coastal redwood trees and is the perfect end to this road trip from San Francisco to Redwood National Park. The National Park Service has an alliance with 3 California state parks to form the joint Redwood National and State Parks. Together these parks protect over 40,000 acres of old-growth redwoods.

The 4 parks that makeup Redwood National and State Parks are:

  • Redwood National Park
  • Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
  • Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
  • Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Planning a trip to Redwood National Park? Don’t miss your copy of this free, printable guide to all of Redwood’s best campsites – the only way to stay inside the park!

Lady Bird Johnson GroveKlamath River Overlook in Redwood National Park
Lady Bird Johnson Grove

There are dozens of hikes that take you through redwood forests and to coastal overlooks in the parks. If you’re only in Redwood for a day or two, don’t miss the Fern Canyon Trail, Tall Trees Grove, Lady Bird Johnson Grove, and Stout Grove.

Unlike many national parks, some of the best sites in the park can be seen from the car! Must-see scenic drives include Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway and Howland Hill Road.

Best Things to Do

  • Hike the Fern Canyon Trail (Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park)
  • Drive the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway (Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park)
  • See Big Tree Wayside on the Cathedral Loop Trail (Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park)
  • Hike Trillium Falls Trail (Redwood National Park)
  • Hike through the Lady Bird Johnson Grove (Redwood National Park)
  • Hike Tall Trees Grove – you can get a permit here (Redwood National Park)
  • Hike the Stout Grove Trail (Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park)
  • Drive the Howland Hill Road (Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park)
  • See the Trees of Mystery, take the tram, and see the Paul Bunyan Statue (Klamath)
  • See Battery Point Lighthouse, California’s northernmost lighthouse (Crescent City)

Where to Stay

There are also 4 campgrounds inside Redwood National Park. Camping is the only way to stay inside the park boundaries. All campgrounds have basic amenities like restrooms with showers, food lockers, and fire pits.

  • Jedediah Smith Campground
    • Park: Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
    • Open: All year
  • Mill Creek Campground
    • Park: Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
    • Open: May to September
  • Elk Prairie Campground
    • Park: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
    • Open: All year
  • Gold Bluffs Beach Campground
    • Park: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
    • Open: All year

Planning a trip to Redwood National Park? Don’t miss your copy of this free, printable guide to all of Redwood’s best campsites – the only way to stay inside the park!

Sonoma County Wine Country

Recommended Time: Half Day to 2 Days

Grapes at a vineyard

As you return from the Redwood forest to San Francisco, you can take the Highway 101 route instead of coastal Highway 1. This route saves you time and has the added benefit of taking you through wine country!

Napa Valley gets plenty of attention as California’s best wine region, but personally, I’ve found it to be expensive and overrated. Instead, I prefer wine tasting in Sonoma County. Neighbors with Napa County, the wine country is just as good. The wineries are less expensive and more relaxed. 

Many of the wineries in Sonoma County are only a short detour off Highway 101, making for the perfect side trip or a longer addition to your road trip.

If you like white wines, don’t miss a visit to Matanzas Creek Winery and Kendall-Jackson Winery. Both offer excellent selections of Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs and have relaxing outdoor patios for tastings. Korbel Champagne Cellars also does sparkling wine tastings!

If you prefer red wines, specifically Zinfandels, Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley is for you! Some of the best peppery Zins are made in this area. Don’t miss tastings at Bella Vineyards & Wine Cave (you can tour the cave!) and Mazzocco Winery (I’m a member here and the wines are excellent!).

Beach along Russian River
Russian River

But Sonoma County has lots more to offer than just wines. One of the premier outdoorsy attractions is the Russian River. For a relaxing escape, rent a tube and float the Russian River and stop by Johnson’s Beach.

Best Things to Do

  • Visit Kendall-Jackson Estate & Winery to try chardonnays and pinot noirs
  • Visit Bella Vineyards & Wine Cave to try zinfandels and take a tour
  • Visit Matanzas Creek Winery to try chardonnays and sauvignon blancs
  • Visit Korbel Champagne Cellars for sparkling wines
  • Rent a tube and float the Russian River
  • Explore the redwoods in Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
  • Relax at Johnson’s Beach along the Russian River

Where to Stay

Where to Eat

Road Trip Ideas to Extend Your Redwood National Park Road Trip

Looking to make a bucket list adventure out of your road trip? Here’s some more ideas if you want to extend your trip:

Valley View in Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

Frequently Asked Questions About Getting to Redwoods from San Francisco

How far is Redwood National Park from San Francisco?

Redwood National Park is roughly 315 miles from San Francisco. On the fastest route via Highway 101, that’s about 6 to 7 hours of driving. Alternatively, you can take the slightly longer scenic route along Highway 1 with 9 to 10 hours of driving.

How much time do you need to visit Redwood National Park?

To experience the best of Redwood National Park, plan to spend around 2 to 3 days in the park. This allows you to see the best hikes, viewpoints, and scenic drives and fully experience the beauty of the redwood forest.

What is the best month to visit the redwood forest?

The best time to visit the redwoods is during the summer from June to September. The summer is much drier with limited rain. While winters are fairly warm, they tend to be rainier. That said, winter is a great time to visit to avoid crowds.

Are there redwoods close to San Francisco?

There are several places to see redwood trees near San Francisco. The closest redwood forest is in Muir Woods National Monument. Other opportunities to spot redwoods include Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and Redwood National and State Parks.

Final Thoughts on San Francisco to the Redwood Forest: Best of Road Trips Northern California

This road trip from San Francisco to Redwood National Park covers the most scenic spots along the Northern California coast. The best Northern California road trip itinerary is:

  • Start: San Francisco
  • Stop #1: Marin Headlands & Mount Tamalpais State Park
  • Stop #2: Point Reyes National Seashore
  • Stop #3: Bodega Bay
  • Stop #4: Jenner
  • Stop #5: Mendocino
  • Stop #6: Fort Bragg
  • Stop #7: Humboldt Redwoods State Park
  • Stop #8: The Lost Coast
  • Stop #9: Eureka, Trinidad, & Crescent City
  • Stop #10: Redwood National & State Parks
  • Stop #11: Sonoma County
  • End: San Francisco

Don’t forget to pack hiking gear and road trip essentials for your trip!

Planning a trip to Redwood National Park? Don’t miss your copy of this free, printable guide to all of Redwood’s best campsites – the only way to stay inside the park!

Looking for more ideas for your Northern California road trip? Check out these guides:

Want to share your thoughts, tips, and advice with me and other readers? Have questions about your trip? Head down to the comments section below!

This post may include some affiliate links, where I earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase, all at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products or brands that I use. Any income helps me continue sharing national park tips and itineraries for free.

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