Bay Area to Portland with Kids: Road Trip Via the Oregon Coast

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If you’re looking for fun, yet adventurous (in all the right, not scary ways), load up your car and point it toward Portland. For the last two years, we’ve taken a summer road trip to Portland, and while this year we’re heading south instead, Oregon holds a specially summer place in our hearts. This is part one – Silicon Valley to the Oregon Coast. Part two – Portland – follows tomorrow.

The Drive

Break it up. Sure, I drove from San Francisco to Seattle straight through during college, but let’s be honest, I’m much more tired now than I ever was in college. While heading up via I-5 is technically faster, it feels so much longer than the coastal route. I’d sacrifice the extra hour and go to Portland via the Oregon Coast.
If you must drive I-5, pick an overnight stop. We’ve stayed in Grants Pass, Oregon, and while the downtown area was fun and quaint, the motel near the interstate was anything but.
Driving the coast leaves plenty of options for stopping. We stop in Gold Beach to stay at a relative’s condo, but there are plenty of nice towns and places to stay along the ocean.

Pit Stops on the Way to Oregon

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We’re creatures of habit, always stopping at the drive-thru tree in Leggett, California, the Trees of Mystery with the giant talking Paul Bunyon near Klamath, California to stretch out legs for a few minutes,  and finally stopping in Eureka at Lost Coast Brewery for lunch. We leave the Bay Area early, but not too early, maybe 8 a.m. after a stop at Starbucks, and we make it to Gold Beach by 2 or 3 p.m., depending on how long we stop on the way and traffic.
Tip: Don’t miss the drive-thru tree. It’s only about $5 and takes about five minutes, plus they have clean bathrooms. Have one parent stand outside to take photos, while the other one drives through the tree with the kids. If you have a sunroof, open it and let the kids stand up, peeking out. Oh, and don’t forget to turn in your side view mirrors because it can be a tight fit for SUVs.

What to do on the southern Oregon Coast

The beach – which beach doesn’t matter because so many of them are the most open, flat, spacious beaches you can imagine. Our kids love running on these beaches because it feels like they can run forever and still be within sight of us. Two differences from California beaches: you can practically drive on the Oregon beaches (in fact, some you can), and the wind! It’s often so windy that it can be impossible to hear anything but the wind. Bring a sweatshirt, even in the deepest part of the summer.
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Jerry’s Rouge Jets – Absolutely take one of the Rogue River jet boat trips without a second of hesitation. And don’t take the short one, either, go for the 80 or 104 mile trip. It is unbelieveably fun. We bought our tickets in advance and got there earlier than requested, as you line up when you arrive, and they load in order, beginning with the front of the line. This meant we were in the front row for the whole trip. It’s worth getting there a little early to secure a front spot. As someone said, Jerry’s Rogue Jets is like Disney without the safety rails. It was beautiful, fun, and had the slight aspect of danger that made it awesome for all ages in our family. (The short 65-mile trip is very low danger, with the intensity building on the longer trips.)
For lunch, there are three choices – each their own stop – to choose from. We stopped at Lucas Lodge and it was amazing! It’s a real, down home fried chicken lunch served family style on a porch, and while I normally don’t eat fried chicken, I did that day and it was so good, as was everything else we were served.
Tip: Wear your hair back and a windbreaker or poncho. They have tarps to help keep you dry, but having your own jacket is easier.
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Fish for your own food at Tony’s Crab Shack! We read about this in Sunset magazine, and while it didn’t end with us catching our own crab dinner, we had loads of fun and left following a great outing, meal, and with a free fishing pole. We drove north of Gold Beach to Bandon where Tony’s rents everything you need to crab or fish right off the pier out back. We rented a crab ring and bought some raw chicken bait. While my son has always wanted to fish, at Tony’s we were the beneficiary of someone else’s kindness. A local man takes discarded or damaged fishing rods and restores them, bringing them to Tony’s and giving them away to children under 13 who want to fish. This was my son’s dream come true and the best souvenir he could imagine. We didn’t catch any fish that day, and while we caught many crab, none were big enough for us to keep. We caught them and tossed them back until we were ready to eat, which is when we returned to Tony’s and bought the fruits of someone else’s labor for dinner.
Tip: If you want to rent gear, the rentals are good for 24-hours, so there isn’t a hurry, but it’s good to check tides. Higher tides mean better crabbing, according to those who were around us that day.

Where to Eat

Tony’s Crab Shack – As mentioned above, we ate at Tony’s Crab Shack and it was fresh, casual, nice, and popular. Still, we were able to get a seat outside without a problem.
Sunset Family Pizza – This is the perfect family spot after a long day of driving or on the Rouge. It’s a casual pizza spot with cheap beer and a huge game room for the kids. We handed over a bunch of quarters and let the kids play while I nursed my beer and we had some kid-free time, all while the kids were safely in view.
Barnacle Bistro – It’s small and a little cramped, but family-friendly with good food. We had fish and chips, sandwiches, and fries. It’s the right level of casual – it’s relaxed, yet still a full service restaurant.
Saltwater – This looks and tastes like a hidden gem. The service was awesome and the food wasn’t anything less. Don’t overlook Saltwater.
Sadly, there isn’t a Starbucks or Peet’s around Gold Beach. We haven’t been able to find a cafe or coffee shop that opens early on any of our visits. Along 101, there are Dutch Bros. Coffee. Not as many as I’d like, but they are out there.


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