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This was a great trip – stunning coastline, well-paced from a driving perspective, no crowds, great food. Perfect for people who like redwoods and dramatic rocky beaches. Our nine-day itinerary – oriented around a wedding and a bit pressed for time – was aggressive; I’d give it a few extra days to enjoy Bend and break up the long drive home. Live map view here.

Day 1 (Bay Area to Mendocino) 

The drive from the Bay Area to Mendocino on the back roads takes about four hours.

We had lunch at **River’s End in Jenner: very old fashioned, with great view. Pricy and average food, but it’s a nice experience. **Franny’s Cup and Saucer (Pt. Arena) is a more casual alternate; an especially good bakery, good for a lunch snack or breakfast treat.

Mendocino, our first stop, is beautiful, in a cold and wind-swept way, not a “sunny beach” experience at all. You’ll find art galleries, interesting historical sites (logging, fishing, hunting), very damp but spectacular hikes, and excellent seafood. It’s also the “Napa is too touristy for me” wine tasting option, popular with Bay Area folks. We stayed at **MacCallum House, which was cute and convenient, friendly staff. Stick with rooms 7-12; the rooms in the main house all smell like the restaurant.

Dinner was at **Cafe Beaujolais: very good, local/fancy, a tad formal, in Mendocino itself. ***Ledford House (Albion) would be an even better option – we had a memorable meal here during mushroom foraging season that focused entirely on that ingredient, with great diversity

Nearby Elk is especially gorgeous if you’d like an even more remote setting, with stunning cliffside beaches. We’ve wanted to stay at Harbor House.

If you have the time, give Mendocino an extra day, or two! There’s lots to see and do. Tips here.

An alternate place to stay if you’d like to get further North – the *Benbow Historic Inn. Some people love it, we found it a little dated and loud (close to the road). But it would work as a replacement for Mendocino.

Day 2 (Mendocino to Klamath)

It’s a longer drive than Google thinks – probably more like 5.5 hours. Going much farther would have been pushing it.

The drive from Mendocino up to 101 is amazing, in great condition and with spectacular views (excepting Ft. Bragg, which is rather grim). Just as you hit 101, make a quick turn towards Leggett and drive through a redwood tree at **Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree Park (just 1/2 mile out of the way). It’s completely silly and fun.

From there, drive alongside 101 is the **Avenue of the Giants. While I find Muir Woods more impressive, this is worthwhile, and gets even better after the first 10 miles or so. Watch out though – we tried and failed to find decent food along this entire route, very limited options!

Ferndale was a little out of the way, but not horribly so. It’s a beautiful, well-preserved Victorian showpiece of a town. On our visit, it was so dead it felt like a movie set. If you do make it, don’t miss the cemetery, which has great views and is quite interesting. **Curley’s Full Circle was surprisingly good, on Ferndale’s Main Street.

Continuing north, the scenic qualities dip as you pass through Eureka and Arcata. Do take two minutes to drive by the impressive Carson Mansion, aka the Ingomar Club, 143 M Street, Eureka. Regarded as one of the premier examples of Queen Anne style architecture in the United States, the house is “considered the most grand Victorian home in America.” Not open to the public.

Another historic site in Eureka is the Samoa Cookhouse (dating back to 1893, the “oldest cookhouse in the West”), if your drive coincides with lunch time.

After Arcata, more beautiful roads and opportunities for elk sightings.

We stayed at the **Requa Inn (451 Requa Road, Klamath), which was awesomely quaint. Very B&B, for the social and retired, but still fun and very charming. We slept very well, to the tune of sea lions. Has a decent restaurant (and nowhere else nearby to eat). (2023 update – it looks like they only serve breakfast; worth doing some research to find a dinner option.)

The **Klamath River Overlook was a beautiful short hike, with great views from the bluff.

Full North Coast notes here.

Day 8 of our trip covered the Oregon Caves National Monument – you could also choose to approach it from the West, as a detour before continuing on up the Oregon Coast.

Days 3-4 (Klamath to Rogue River)

Heading out of Klamath, don’t miss **Trees of Mystery: Paul Bunyan and his ox! We skipped the tour but the statues in the parking lot are pretty cool.

Our day ended on the Rogue River at the ***Tu Tu’ Tun Lodge, which is wonderful, one of the most charming and relaxing places I’ve stayed. Stay at least 2 nights. It’s very high-end, serves breakfast and a fancy dinner every night. Lovely setting, fancy rooms, has a variety of games, pool, river activities.

Day 5 (Gold Beach to McMinnville)

Continuing the 1950s style tourism burst, we loved **Prehistoric Gardens in Port Orford. Dinosaur statues!

Perhaps more for children, the **Game Park Safari (Bandon) was a manageable size. The larger animal habitats were a bit sad; the petting zoo was clearly the star.

Florence has an especially cute old town, with Victorian architecture and lots of restaurants. We had a fine meal at **Bridgewater Fish House on Bay Street.

After lunch, more novelty sites just outside of Florence – 

**Darlingtonia State Botanical Wayside: A roadside preservation five miles north of Florence showcases one of southern Oregon’s rarest curiosities: the native carnivorous Darlingtonia, or the pitcher plant. This was an entertaining walk, worth a stop.

The **Sea Lion Caves are on top of a natural grotto, almost 300 feet beneath the earth (reached via an elevator) – home to a number of wild sea lions. Sea Lions aren’t usually there in the summer, but it’s a pretty spot on the coast and we saw a whale instead!

The stop for the night was the hipster-central McMinnville, which I was not particularly impressed with – aside from a truly amazing museum and a very good meal. It’s just really tiny and college oriented. The surrounding countryside is stunning, however. I’d recommend wine tasting in the region and staying somewhere a little less “hip”.

We stayed at the *McMenamins Hotel Oregon, which was dingy. There are some wonderful McMenamins, not a slight on the chain, but this is not the location to seek out.

Dinner at **Thistle was amazing – seriously. It won best restaurant in Oregon in 2011 and I hope it has kept the quality up.

***Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum may be the best air and space museum in the world. The Spruce Goose! A water park! We loved it and could have spent a second day. 

Other options along the route that looked appealing – Hecta Lighthouse B&B next to the sea lion caves, Surftides Hotel in Lincoln City, Restaurant Beck in Depoe Bay, the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport.

Day 6-7 (Bend)

Bend is charming – an outdoorsy high desert paradise packed with brewpubs, antique stores, and cheerful fleece-wearing families. I’ve spent a lot of time in Sunriver, the large vacation community south of town, and as a child in nearby Black Butte. Bring your bike, skis, canoe, and hiking boots – year round it’s a sunny place filled with outdoor activities. On this trip, we went to a wedding, but managed to fit in a few nice walks.

  • I love the **High Desert Museum – stuffed animals, interesting exhibits on the area, a nice walking path around the grounds. Another must-do.
  • We haven’t skied yet on Mt. Bachelor (a crime), but it’s reported to be world-class. 
  • *Petersen Rock Garden in Redmond is rather sad, we drove by and it needs some love. Skip!
  • **Newberry National Volcanic Monument, home of the Lava Butte lookout, is a very worthwhile stop. Walk through the volcanic rocks, great views of the surrounding countryside.
  • It’s hard to find a bad bike ride or trail around sunriver, but one of my particular favorites is the **Benham Falls East Trail.
  • The **Lava River Cave is a family-friendly cave exploration, well worth the time (arrange in advance, access is limited)

In Bend itself, **McMenamins Old St. Francis School is the popular place to stay, with bedrooms in the old classrooms and a tile-lined turkish bath swimming area.

The **Old Mill District is a nicely redone shopping area on the river, with a range of restaurants. We usually opt for **Anthony’s (burgers, good drink menu).

Full Bend notes here. There’s a lot to do, this would be a great 3-4 day stop.

Day 8 (Bend to Cave Junction)

This was a pretty high desert, to wine country, to deep forest and mountains drive. 

  • ***Crater Lake! It’s never quite on the way, but take the time for the detour! It’s really stunning, a uniquely blue experience. There are many pleasant hikes in the area, and a classic WBA-era lodge and gift shop.
  • Off the 62 – **Rogue Gorge Wayside. Pleasant stroll, geologically interesting and quite pretty
  • **Rogue River Lodge – we had a wonderful Sunday brunch – they also serve dinner every night. Probably not the best place to stay, remodeled in a 1990s sort of way, but good food.

Applegate Wine Country is an up-and-coming wine region, in former farming areas. Pretty country. This was our first pass through, on a future visit I’d make Jacksonville a base – it’s a very pretty, well-preserved mining town (McCully House Inn looked appealing). Steer clear of Medford. It’s not Napa yet, but it makes for pretty driving and a nice day. Wine we tried was not great, but it’s cheap. Dessert wines were okay.

We stopped for a tasting at **Red Lily Vineyards: the service needs some work but it’s a lovely setting. They have food and you can do tastings by the river.

Our stop for the night – ***Oregon Caves National Monument, in Cave Junction, was very worth it, an interesting tour and a great drive. We enjoyed the **Chateau on the Caves – a time warp of a place. Not fancy, but fancy in 1950s terms. The restaurant in particular is a real throwback. It worked out very well to arrive for dinner and do the first tour in the morning (9 am), which was not crowded at all.

Day 9 (Cave Junction via backroads to the Bay Area)

Our last day was far more adventurous than planned! We look back roads through Happy Camp for a more scenic drive – straight into a major wildfire. In a normal situation, however, Highway 96 through the Klamath National Forest is a spectacular road.

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