San Francisco to Seattle

The Concept

Back in 2014, my friend and I did an awesome coastal drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The majestic green hills meeting the dark coastal waters created breathtaking vistas. I’ve wanted to “complete” that coastal drive for a couple years. Now I had the chance. We wanted to drive from San Francisco to Seattle with two days in each big city, stopping in Portland along the way. Being obsessed with food, I also wanted to eat at as many great restaurants as possible while conserving money for future trips.

Flight

I used a fully flexible booking schedule to find the lowest price flights from Philadelphia to San Francisco ($125) and Seattle to Philadelphia ($131). First look at SkyScanner to see which airlines are carrying the lowest fares for the year. Go directly to the airline website, in this case Frontier, to double check dates and fares. These were the lowest I could find for the year for the itinerary I had planned. The lowest total price I could find using Kayak’s “Hacker Fare” for similar dates was $307. Savings of $45. If you wantonly booked the flight with United’s lowest fares you’d pay $427.

The catch: A 12 hour layover in Denver. I spent it hiking in the Rockies with a longtime friend, enjoyed Eggs Benedict at Denver’s top breakfast joint, learned about the Masters in Marketing from students at the University of Denver, and talked commercial trucking with my friendly Uber driver (it was $4 a ride all day in commemoration of Uber’s 4th anniversary in Denver.)

Car

Because we planned a one-way trip, renting a car at low cost was tricky. Many companies don’t like to offer one-way rental. I love Hotwire for car rentals, but the costs kept coming out high ($400+ for 6 days.) I needed a flexible location search that Hotwire doesn’t offer. I built one. After booking and canceling two options, we settled on the lowest price at $247 for 6 days, one way. Here’s how:

The problem:

Car rental search engines are not flexible with locations, so you’re not optimizing for cost.

Solution:

Using Import.io, a web data extraction automation tool,  I automated a Hotwire.com search for every location (found using the ZIP Radius tool) within 20 miles of San Francisco to every location 20 miles from Seattle. This comes out to about 500 unique Hotwire searches. The lowest combination was from suburban Albany,Ca to suburban Kirkland, Wa (home to Costco HQ.) This saved us several hundred dollars. We used Uber to get us back into the city centers, which came out far cheaper than the cost of renting from downtown or airport locations. The rental car locations with the lowest one-way prices turned out to be Hertz Local Edition with pickup and dropoff midday.

Food

As mentioned in a previous post, I have a 60k dataset with most restaurants in the US. I used the Advanced Filter feature in Excel to sort the best places within the area we’d be traveling: San Francisco-Eureka-Portland-Seattle and all the towns in between. This was done manually, as I couldn’t find a way to populate town names based on a non-radial area. Then we imported the filtered results into a sequenced map using Google MyMaps. We also added popular cliff jumping spots from this worldwide public map. My Yelp page has more detailed reviews of the trip gustatory profile. This region has an incredible diversity of food!

Housing

Because we didn’t know where we’d be each night (purposefully), lodging was done on an ad hoc basis. We found hotels last minute comparing prices on the mobiles apps provided by Trivago and Booking.com. Surprisingly, Booking.com came out lower twice. The other nights were spent in private rooms provided by Airbnb. Hotel costs were generally around $70/night and AirBnb rooms around $50/night.

We’ve never done the Airbnb private room option. It was a bit odd staying as a stranger with someone we weren’t acquainted with. I trust it because it’s crowd-verified. But, it was weird. The Airbnb places at which we stayed in Berkely, Ca were more like popup, unlicensed hostels. We booked, they sent us a code, and we stayed in our rooms without ever meeting anyone.

Takeaways

  • The Pacific Northwest is a lush, majestic place with many cultural influences and wild character.
  • Portland wasn’t nearly as hip as people make it out to be. It feels like a typical American mid-sized city (e.g. Charlotte, Wilmington, Winston Salem, Orlando, etc.) The downtown area is very clean, culinarily forward, and teeming with happy young people.
  • Northern California (i.e. Humboldt & Mendocino County) is super grungy. And yet, beautiful in it’s organic simplicity.
  • The Columbia River Gorge is visual ecstasy. Towering mountainsides painted with the green of vertical Oregon pines. The deep blue Columbia powerfully winding it’s way through the cracks in the greenery. We also got to see wild Salmon fighting the currents to find their spawning grounds. Raw beauty.
  • It doesn’t always rain in Seattle. We got 3 perfectly clear days.
  • The Blue Jays don’t play in Seattle very often. When they do, every Canadian west of Calgary comes to see them.