If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a foodie, or a nature lover, you can’t go wrong with San Francisco or Portland. There are tons of exciting things to do in both cities, both indoors and outdoors.
While these two charming cities are alike in many ways, they offer their allures in different flavors. And you’ll get a taste of this as you explore what each city has to offer.
For one, these two cities feature a diverse yet different landscape. Set in a beautiful natural setting, San Francisco offers views of the ocean, hills, and mountains. Portland doesn’t have the ocean, but it has serene lakes for you to discover as you venture off into its wilderness wonderlands.
And while they have a strong, multicultural food scene, tasting your way through each city is a different experience. But there is still much more to this. Get to know these two more below, and you’ll figure out which one to tick off your travel bucket list first.
Picture a hilly land peppered with sleek skyscrapers that overlook the glistening waters of the bay. In San Francisco, you don’t just get to imagine this, you can explore this scenic city. This city showcases the beauty and bounty of the natural wonders that cradle it through food, fun activities, and more. But there are still more reasons why the city is so well-loved.
What Makes San Francisco Unique?
Incredible Landmarks Known Far and Wide
Big cities in the United States have their famous landmarks, one that stands proudly as their proud symbol. New York has the Statue of Liberty, Los Angeles has the Hollywood sign, and Seattle has the Space Needle. For San Francisco? It has the most photographed bridge in the world, the stunning Golden Gate Bridge.
Get a good view of it from Baker Beach, Crissy Field, and several other viewpoints. Or you can visit this Art Deco masterpiece at the Welcome Center, which is open from 9 AM to 6 PM daily. Here, you can learn about its history or go on a free walking tour every Sunday and Thursday!
Although the Golden Gate Bridge is the city’s most popular landmark, it’s not the only one.
At the foot of the bridge lies Fort Point. This historic site was originally part of a defense system to protect San Francisco Bay. But it was never used.
Today, this first stands as an impressive example of architecture and masonry. And it features scenic hiking trails, verdant forested spots, a golf course, and more! Thus, you can take your stroll or biking trip from the bridge to the fort!
From the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll get to see another one of the city’s world-famous landmarks. Alcatraz Island has a long, fascinating history. It was once a fort, a military prison, and most famously, a maximum-security prison.
Alcatraz was the home of some of the USA’s most dangerous prisoners. It’s not in use today anymore though, and with a tour, you can explore the prison both day and night!
A Lasting Love Affair With Art and Culture
San Francisco has long been an incredible hub for creative experimentation. And in this lively and vibrant city, there are tons of ways to tickle your artistic senses.
Explore impressive collections of art at renowned museums. Or venture off outdoors and discover the city’s wealth of street and landscape art.
Get dazzled by live performances, whether you’re a fan of classic shows or avant-garde ones. Or let the city’s acclaimed music scene electrify you with gigs by headliners or budding local artists!
Marvel at over 33000 artworks, some of which by the likes of Picasso and Matisse, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Discover a world of art across various cultures and mediums at de Young Museum. And for stunning European masterpieces, head to the Legion of Honor.
Once you’ve gone to these must-visit museums, there are still tons of art spaces to discover. They come in the form of artist-run galleries. While others paint the city’s walls with all colors of the rainbow.
If you want to get a taste of the city’s vibrant street art scene, explore the mural-filled Mission District!
San Francisco inspires you more than just with visual art though.
The city knows how to dazzle those who have a penchant for classical performances. Hit two birds with one stone at the War Memorial Opera House. This is the home of the San Francisco opera, showcasing both classic and contemporary shows. Here, you’ll also find the San Francisco Ballet, one of the best of its kind in the world!
If you love Broadway shows, you’ll have tons of theatres to choose from in the city. Some of the best spots for Broadway shows are Orpheum Theater and Curran Theatre. If you’d rather watch some classic noir or indie films, make your way to the Balboa Theater.
Taste Your Way Through One of the USA’s Best Foodie Cities
If food is your love language, San Francisco knows the way to your heart. The city has a zinging food scene that reflects cultures from around the world and the natural wonders that surround it. Make sure to bring your stretchy pants on your visit as this culinary mecca will keep your tastebuds busy!
A driving force behind the city’s renowned food scene is its wealth of nature’s bounty. San Francisco has constant access to fresh ingredients, thanks to its local farms and artisanal sellers.
More than locally sourced ingredients, San Francisco has seafood aplenty. Surrounded by the rich waters of the Pacific and San Francisco Bay, this city is a paradise for seafood lovers.
To top it off, San Francisco’s food scene is as diverse as it can get. The city is a hub for multiculturalism, and it’s home to people from China, Mexico, Italy, and many more. And they all bought their mouthwatering, authentic dishes with them too.
Thus, San Francisco’s fresh ingredients get served in various ways across cuisines from around the world. This winning combination is why the city has long been a foodie paradise for tourists from far and wide. And on a trip to the city, you’ll see what the hype is all about.
Restaurants here range from upscale eats to humble, locally owned restaurants. So whatever your budget may be, you have a spot to dine in the city.
While you can get a plate of just about whatever you’re craving here, don’t forget to try some of the city’s most iconic dishes. And the best way to start this gastronomic adventure is with a hearty bowl of cioppino at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Seafood is the king here in San Francisco, and that’s why cioppino is the city’s signature dish. This dish gives you a taste of the city’s fresh Dungeness crabs, calamari, mussels, and more. But it also tells a story of San Francisco’s Italian-American heritage.
It’s Where Natural Beauty Meets Urban Vibrancy
Other than a feast for your tummy, San Francisco offers a feast for your eyes too. This charming, vibrant city is one of the USA’s most beautiful cities. And the stunning natural landscape it’s set in plays a big role in this.
In San Francisco, you can walk up a hill and get a panoramic view of the city and its natural wonders aplenty. Here, you’ll have the sparkling ocean, hills, mountains, and towering skyscrapers all in one view. And from there, you can take a short drive to a national treasure that features an old-growth forest.
With this blend of natural beauty and sleek monoliths, San Francisco is a picturesque paradise at every turn.
If you’re not convinced yet, here are some of the city’s most astonishing landmarks.
One of the most beautiful spots in San Francisco is the scenic park of Lands End. Here, you can hike on winding paths across rocky cliffs that overlook the ocean. Cypress and eucalyptus trees offer you shade as you marvel at the promontory, shore, and even the Golden Gate Bridge from afar.
From Lands End, you can visit the hauntingly beautiful ruins of Sutro Baths. Or, you can head out to the picture-worthy rock formations of Sal Rocks.
Head further into the city and you’ll find architectural masterpieces blended with lush greenery.
One of the most beloved and impressive views in the city is the Painted Ladies. These are a row of beautiful, pastel-colored Victorian and Edwardian houses. Nicknamed the “Postcard Row”, this landmark has graced TV shows and films and is one of the most photographed sites in the city.
Get a wonderful view of the Painted Ladies at the eastern hillside of Alamo Square. This green oasis is perfect for a picnic, especially because of the view it offers. Here, you’ll see the colorful houses with San Francisco’s sleek skyscrapers in the background in one frame!
Even the city’s roads and streets are scenic wonders, thanks to its hilly landscape. San Francisco’s most alluring street is also the most crooked in the world.
This is Lombard Street, a street that runs down a one-way hill like a snake. Along its eight hairpin turns, you’ll find small, green patches filled with flora of all kinds!
An Eclectic, Electrifying Nightlife
Although it’s not what the city is famous for, San Francisco knows how to cap off the day with a blast. The city has just about every kind of bar or nightclub you could think of. But not every thrilling after-dark fun here revolves around a good round of drinks.
In San Francisco, there’s a perfect neighborhood for you depending on your drink of choice.
If you love microbrews, head to the neighborhoods of Presidio and Richmond. If you want to sip on some wine, make your way to Financial District or Embarcadero. If cocktails are more your thing, there’s no better place to be than Union Square.
Other than your drink of choice, you can also pick a neighborhood based on the kind of venue you like.
Rub elbows with the local crowd at the many diver bars in Mission. Dance the night away at SoMa’s electrifying nightclubs. Or if you want a show as you down your drink, head to Civic Center for a wide variety of shows!
But why go to a bar or club for some drunken merrymaking if you can do so in a museum instead? Several museums in the city open their doors late at night, serving drinks, live music, and more! Some of the top spots include the California Academy of Sciences and the Asian Art Museum.
Would you rather spend the night without any alcohol? San Francisco’s night scene indulges you with an eclectic mix of after-dark activities!
See San Francisco from a different perspective on a sunset cruise. Enjoy the scenery and unwind as you cruise around the bay.
Mingle with the locals with some quintessential San Francisco gatherings. Skate with them through a waterfront route during the Midnight Rollers Friday Night Skate. Or bike with the crowd during Critical Mass SF!
If you’re seeking a different kind of thrill, get spooked with a night tour of Alcatraz. Or, you can meet the ghosts of San Francisco with the following tours:
- San Francisco Ghost Hunt
- SF Chinatown Ghost tours
- San Francisco Ghosts
A city of quirkiness, natural beauty, and endless entertainment, Portland is the kind of city that you’ll never forget. There’s always something intriguing to discover right around the corner here. And if you’re ready to fall for Portland’s charms, below are some reasons that may compel you to book a plane ticket to the city right now!
What Makes Portland Unique?
A Natural Wonderland That Blooms With Roses
Portland is the place to be to stop and smell the roses, both in the literal and figurative sense. Nicknamed the City of Roses, Portland is a whimsical paradise adorned with roses of all colors. But away from the rose gardens, you’ll discover the diverse natural wonders the city has.
Portland’s nickname began after the city became obsessed with roses. Locals would plant them everywhere, lining the streets with them, and filling the city with color.
There’s no better display of Portland’s love for roses than the Portland International Rose Test Garden. This 4.5 acre (1.8 ha) garden is home to over 600 rose varieties across over 10000 bushes. Although the garden is open to the public year-round, visit between May and September to see roses in full bloom.
Portland’s scenic open spaces aren’t limited to roses though. The city is in the heart of nature, and you’re always close to a wilderness wonderland here.
In and around the city, you’ll find natural playgrounds of all kinds. Majestic mountains, wetlands, serene lakes, and tons more are at your fingertips here.
Within the city’s limits lies a massive park of dense unspoiled forest. Get lost in nature at Forest Park, which features a plethora of biking and hiking trails for you to discover. And as long as your furry friend is on a leash, they can join the fun!
The Wildwood Trail is perfect for everyone, as it’s easy and only takes around 2 hours of hiking. If you want a bit more challenge, hop on the Forest Park Ridge Trail instead.
If you want stunning mountain views, Powell Butte Nature Park is the perfect place for you. Powell Butte is an extinct cinder-cone volcano that overlooks the city. In this park, you can discover sprawling lands of unspoiled woodlands and meadows on foot, on a bike, and even on a horse!
Get a Taste of Portland’s Renowned Food Scene
One of the best food scenes in the Pacific Northwest is right here in the charming city of Portland. There’s a feast for every palate and every budget here. And in a city that spoils you with options, it’ll be hard to pick where and what to eat here in Portland.
Portland’s food scene is hyper-local, fueled by the nearby farms of scenic Oregon and the Willamette Valley. All these wind their way through the city’s food scene, celebrating variety and diversity.
Dine at quaint food carts, acclaimed fine dining restaurants, and other endless choices. Get a taste of foreign cuisines, transporting you to a different country with your tastebuds. Whatever you’re craving, you’re never too far from a restaurant that’ll satiate your hunger.
In the quest to discover Portland through food, sampling the city’s iconic dishes are the way to go.
Grab a plate of delectable fresh clam chowder with smoked marrow bone at OX. Help yourself to some excellent fried chicken at Pine State Biscuits. Or munch on Voodoo Doughnut’s famous Maple Bacon bar!
Some of Portland’s most exciting eats aren’t in a restaurant though. You may find them along the streets or parking lots sprinkled throughout the city! Portland has a strong food-cart scene, and the city is home to over 500 of them.
You won’t just get the usual street food here. The chefs behind these food carts are some of the city’s most inventive culinary masterminds. You can get a bulgogi burrito, kimchi quesadilla, gyros on the size of your head, and more, from the food carts!
If you don’t want to spend the day wandering around the city to look for a food cart, head to 5th Avenue Food Cart Pod. You’ll get cuisines from around the world here, but with a Northwest twist!
A Zinging Craft Beer Scene and a Robust Coffee Culture
Whether you’re a coffeeholic or a beer connoisseur, Portland is your paradise. There’s a bottomless supply of both in the city, fueled by the many breweries and coffee shops of Portland. Head to any one of them, or attend the many tasting events that this beer and coffee-loving city has!
Portland’s craft beer scene has been thriving since the early 1980s. With fresh hops from the Willamette Valley and Bull Run water, innovative brews are aplenty in the city.
Portland is home to over 70 breweries in the city center, one of the most in any city in the world. And there are plenty more of these in the wider metro area for you to discover.
Being so dense with these, barhopping is a breeze in the city. Turn a couple of blocks and you’ll find yourself from one brewery to a brewpub to a pub! If you don’t want to walk, go on a beer tour like Pedalounge, which allows you to tour the city on a pedal-powered bar complete with stools!
Portland’s beer scene, like its food scene, caters to allergies too. At Ground Breaker, you can help yourself to a wide array of beer without worrying about what’s in it. No glutenous items go in here; they only use lentils, gluten-free oats, and more.
If coffee is your drink of choice, Portland spoils you with options too. The city’s coffee scene has long been thriving, even before Seattle’s Starbucks kickstarted the industry.
Here in Portland, locals don’t flock to big coffee chains to keep themselves caffeinated. Instead, they head to the city’s many local, boutique coffee shops.
Portland’s coffee scene is full of smaller coffee shops, so they can focus on quality rather than mass production. What’s unique about the coffee shops is that they don’t only offer coffee by one roaster. Instead, you’ll find them offering several roasters like you’re in a pub with several taps!
Uncover Portland’s Alluring Eccentric Charm
One of the best things about Portland is the unique vibe that you’ll feel once you step into the city. The slogan “Keep Portland Weird” perfectly captures this, as the city takes pride in its quirky and eccentric charm. This is what makes Portland stand out from the crowd, and this is why tourists find the city so lovable.
Portland is the home to the smallest park in the world to the most pinball machines per capita in the country. It’s where you can get married in a doughnut shop or get some drinks at a clown-themed bar.
There are tons of ways to uncover this side of the city. And no matter how you want to do this, you’ll have an unforgettable experience in Portland.
Portland has a wealth of quirky places that are strange, yet delightfully surprising.
Check out the smallest park in the world here, Mill Ends. At only 2 feet () in diameter, it’s almost the size of a plant pot, and there’s no room to do anything here. Though it’s still treated like a normal-sized park as events happen around it!
If you’re a fan of all things weird, head to the Freakybuttrue Pecularium. It’s a horror-themed museum and shop that features creepy oddities and isn’t for the squeamish. Paxton Gate is a similar store, which features framed insects, taxidermy, and fossils.
Other quirky spots in the city include Stark’s Vacuum Museum, an attraction dedicated to vacuuming. Imagine being in the Willy Wonka Factory with Candy Basket’s chocolate waterfall. Visit Elevator Street, the only vertical street in North America that connects the downtown area to McLoughlin.
Other than places, Portland also celebrates its playful charm through fun events!
Take part in the city’s tradition with Zoobomb as you ride a tiny bike down a big hill. Visit during August and you can watch the Adult Soapbox Derby when people race down the hill on a box car they’ve created. Or watch thousands of people cycle throughout the city with nothing but their birthday suits!
Which Is Better – Portland or San Francisco?
Whether Portland is better than San Francisco or vice versa depends on your likes. And for this, you have to focus on their strengths.
If you’re an outdoor lover, you can go to either city. Both have a wealth of hiking and biking trails, serene green oases, and more. But if you like hanging out by the shore, go for San Francisco instead.
If you’re a history lover or an architecture buff, San Francisco is an easy choice. The city is full of historical landmarks and architectural masterpieces. Portland doesn’t have many of these.
If you’re a beer or coffee lover, Portland is the destination for you. Portland is one of the best in the country for these, and it’ll spoil you with coffee shops and breweries.
If you love fun, unusual attractions that are hard to find elsewhere, Portland is the city for you. From the world’s smallest park to racing down a hill on tiny bikes, the city has a quirky culture like no other.
If you’re traveling on a budget though, it’s better to go to Portland. Here, you’ll spend around 143 USD a day. While in San Francisco, daily expenses are around 175 USD.
Portland to San Francisco by Train
Unfortunately, there are no direct trains between Portland and San Francisco. But train travel is still possible between the two. You just have to hop on a connecting train on Lake Merritt almost halfway through your journey.
A train ride from Portland to San Francisco covers a distance of 536 miles (862 km). This train ride often takes around 19 hours and 11 minutes to complete. But the fastest train services on this route can cut this down to around 18 hours and 58 minutes.
Train tickets on this route cost around often cost around 80 to 110 USD. But the lowest price can be only 75 USD. If you book tickets at least 27 days ahead of your trip, you can save around 26 USD for the tickets.
And if you want the best prices for train tickets, April is the cheapest month to travel. During this month, the average train ticket prices go down to 75 USD. But if you travel during the most expensive month, December, tickets can go up to 115 USD.
On most days, only one train travels between these two cities daily. And this train leaves Portland for San Francisco at around 2 PM.
Portland to San Francisco Drive
The drive from Portland to San Francisco covers a distance of 760 miles (1223 km). This has an estimated drive time of around 13 hours, but it can take around two days if you make stops on your trip.
Start your trip by driving south out of Portland on Interstate 5 to Albany. Once there, hop on Highway 20 to the west until you reach the coast. From there, you can drive south on Highway 101.
You’ll spend quite a long time on this highway as you cover 600 miles (966 km). This will take you to several popular landmarks along the way. This includes Siuslaw National Forest, Coos Bay, Cape Perpetua, and Gold Beach.
Once you reach California, stay on Highway 101. Along the way, you’ll pass by some of California’s famous redwood parks. This includes Jedidiah Smith Redwood State Park.
Keep driving until Highway 101 turns into the Pacific Coast Highway. This is one of the most popular and scenic routes in the country. This legendary highway is famous for the stunning coastal views it offers year-round.
Continue driving south on the Pacific Coast Highway. You’ll soon drive over the Golden Gate Bridge as you enter San Francisco!
San Francisco to Portland Drive Time
The drive time from San Francisco to Portland depends on the route you choose.
The shortest route is through Interstate 5 North. With only 635 miles (1022 km), the estimated driving time on this route is around 10 hours.
Another route is combining Interstate 5 North with the Dalles-California Highway. This route has a distance of 666 miles (1072 km) and a driving time of around 11 hours.
The longest route combines Interstate.5 N and California State Route 299. On this route, you’ll cover a distance of 679 miles (1093 km) and it’ll take around 11 hours of driving time too.
Keep in mind that these driving time estimates assume that you’re driving nonstop. This doesn’t factor in any delays due to traffic too. So you can expect your driving time to San Francisco to take longer.
San Francisco to Portland via Highway 1
A drive from San Francisco to Portland solely on Highway 1 throughout the trip isn’t possible. On your journey, you have to merge with Highway 101 a couple of times. And the drive on Highway 1 is quite short.
You’ll start your trip by exiting San Francisco through the Golden Gate Bridge on Highway 101. Once you’re in Manzanita, hop on Highway 1 and drive to Muir Beach.
On your drive on Highway 1, one of the first landmarks you’ll pass by is Mt. Tamalpais State Park. Continue your drive on the highway north, passing by several towns like Marshall and Nicks Cove. After passing by Fallon, you’ll turn west to Valley Ford and continue your drive.
Keep driving on Highway 1, going through Gualala and Fort Bragg.
Once you reach Leggett, you’ll hop on Highway 101 again. You’ll drive through several popular landmarks here like Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
When you reach Crescent City, you can head east and hop on Interstate 5 to Portland. Or you can continue on Highway 101 and pass by Siuslaw National Forest to the world-famous Cannon Beach. From Cannon Beach, hop on Highway 26, which is an hour’s drive away from Portland.
San Francisco to Portland via 101
Driving from San Francisco to Portland is a pretty straightforward journey north.
Make your way out of San Francisco through the Golden Gate Bridge and hop on Highway 101 right away. Once in Manzanita, you’ll cross the bridge and continue your drive North. Along the way, you’ll go through San Rafael, and Novato, until you reach Santa Rosa.
Simply drive through Santa Rosa on the highway until you pass by Leggett before reaching Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Continue your drive, passing by Eureka until you reach another redwood forest, the Redwood National and State Parks.
Continue your journey, driving through Crescent City, Coos Bay, and Dunes City. On this straight drive, you’ll soon reach the famous Cannon Beach. From there, you can hop on Highway 26 and reach Portland in around an hour.
San Francisco to Portland Drive via 101 – Time
The driving time from San Francisco to Portland on Highway 101 takes around 15 hours. Keep in mind that this estimated time assumes that you’re driving without taking any stops.
This trip is possible within one day but is not recommended. Thus, your total travel time from San Francisco to Portland can take around two days.
Driving From San Francisco to Portland in December
The weather conditions on the road are your main concern when driving from San Francisco to Portland in December.
If you’re driving on Interstate 5 to Portland, you’ll pass through several mountain passes. It may snow here, but it has to get really cold and wet before this happens.
With this, it may be better to go on a coastal drive between the two cities in December. There’s still a chance of heavy rain on the coast though.
Driving on Highway 101 on this trip is the safest choice. But if you plan to combine your drive with Highway 1, you have to be extra careful. Highway 1’s road is quite narrow and has a lot of curves.
But as long as you drive slowly, especially when it rains, this is a safe route to choose.
San Francisco to Portland Road Trip
When going on a road trip from San Francisco to Portland, you have three routes to choose from. The best among these three will depend on the scenery you want and the time you have for your trip.
The first option is the most direct route, driving through Interstate 5 throughout the trip. This route has a distance of 635 miles (1022 km) and it has an estimated driving time of 10 hours.
If you want to get to Portland right away, this is the best option for you. But it’s not as scenic as the others, especially if you’re still in California. Once you enter Oregon, you’ll have great views through forests and mountains.
The second route is perfect if you want views of the coast during your trip. This option combines a drive on Highway 1 and Highway 101. You’ll be covering 820 miles (1320 km) on this route, and it takes around 18 hours of driving time to complete.
The last option offers majestic views of the mountains as you’ll drive through the Sierra Nevada and Cascades. This option has a distance of 900 miles (1448 km). And it has a driving time of around 17 hours.
San Francisco to Portland Road Trip, 2 Days
If you only have two days to spare on your road trip, it’s best to go drive on the most direct route, Interstate 5. This route has an estimated driving time of 10 hours, but you wouldn’t want to spend the whole day in the car. In two days, you can explore the famous landmarks on this route and spend the night somewhere before you head to Portland!
The other routes, the coastal and the mountain routes, are too long for a two-day road trip. It’s recommended to allow at least 5 days on either of these longer routes.
Best Road Trip From San Francisco to Portland
The best road trip from San Francisco to Portland depends on what you want on your trip. If you need to be in Portland right away, take the fastest route, Interstate 5. This has a distance of around 635 miles (1022 km) and a driving time of only around 10 hours.
But if stunning scenery is your priority, then the best routes to take are the coastal or mountain routes. It just depends on what kind of views you want on your trip!
The coastal route follows the Pacific Coast Highway, and you’ll drive on Highway 1 and Highway 101. This route is one of the most scenic of its kind in the country. Thus, this is an easy choice for a wonderful road trip along the west coast.
But if you prefer mountain views, you can drive along the Sierra Nevada and Cascades instead. On this route, you’ll go through national parks that make you feel like you’re exploring the mountains. Along the way, you’ll go through some natural wonders, such as Lake Tahoe!