The mighty west coast road trip. It’s a rite of passage for both Americans and those visiting the USA.
A trip to the United States isn’t truly complete without it. If you’re a nature lover with a fondness for sweeping coastal landscapes, ruggedly mountainous national parks, vibrant cities and laid-back seaside towns, I’d definitely add this to your list of ‘must-dos’.
Despite just completing a cross-country drive from New York to Los Angeles, my sister was keen to see as much of the west coast as possible during her visit to the USA. And I was eager to show off the ‘best coast’ in all its glory.
So we planned an epic journey from Los Angeles to Seattle.
Two sisters, three weeks, three states, one car. A lot of tunes.
While it will take a while for me to reflect on the craziness of the trip, I thought I’d kick things off with a highlights reel. It really was a whirlwind adventure that reaffirmed how spectacularly beautiful and diverse America is.
In keeping with tradition, we planted ourselves in Santa Monica for a brief two day stay. Renting a private Airbnb room in Ocean Park gave us access to a more local vibe than previous pier-centric stays. Neighbourhood coffee shops, Tuesday evening’s Food Truck Lot, and affirmation-inspired eats at Cafe Gratitude revealed a quieter side to the tourist center. I also finally visited the Venice canals!
Mediterranean white stucco buildings packed against the dramatic backdrop of mountains and oceanfront show off the city’s Spanish colonial influences. Our two days included plenty of beach time, a visit to The Mission, and dining at The Public Market and Funk Zone.
Driving California’s Central Coast
From the seal rookery at Carpinteria Bluffs to the salt water taffy shops lining Pismo Beach, the central coast is your quintessential California. The highlight for me was a morning trail ride in Refugio Canyon, approx. 20 miles north of Santa Barbara. Groups are kept wonderfully small on the trail, so it was just Hailee, myself, our guide and our trusty steeds – and these incredible views!
Sequoia National Park
Splurging on a lodge room within the national park paid off big time. Being close to the action, we made the most of our two days here as we walked among the giant trees, hiked up giant rocks, and saw bears (from afar, my preferred viewing option).
Can you see the people dwarfed by this tree? Insanely huge!
Yosemite National Park
We spent four nights exploring this spectacular national park and only scratched the surface on the beauty of Yosemite’s 1100+ square miles. I’d poured over photographs of Yosemite for years, but nothing comes close to seeing it with my own eyes. Surrounded by huge granite cliffs and roaring waterfalls, I can only describe as surreal and other-worldly. We camped, explored and went on several hikes that totally kicked my arse. Worth it.
A recovery weekend after the energy blaster that was Yosemite. We dived into hippie culture in Haight-Ashbury, devoured delicious Mexican food and street art in The Mission, and made it to Alcatraz – which has a fascinating history as not only a prison but both a military outpost and the center of political protests over land ownership.
Northern Cali’s Pacific Coast Highway
Driving the northern Pacific Coast Highway was a new experience for me (in 2013 I drove south from San Francisco to Los Angeles). The roads are more narrow and windy than the southern route, which makes for a slower trip. However, this is compensated by the fact there is far less tourist traffic. The scenery is just as beautiful as the more famous stretch of road, and many say, even better.
Redwoods National Park
With such limited time to explore this area, I was grateful that there are a lot of short walks available to experience the redwoods. I had wondered if I would enjoy seeing this park after already experiencing the magnitude of the giant Sequoias. Alas, the coastal redwoods are very impressive!
The rewarding wild-card of the trip. Built in as a rest stop to break up two massive driving days, we struck gold in this small town in the form of Cambodian food, a café-cum-motorcycle-store breakfast, charming waterfront and fascinating Victorian homes. Pictured here is the Carson Mansion.
Crater Lake National Park
The deepest lake in America was snow-packed when we visited, so we were limited to a few short walks rather than proper hiking or driving around the rim. Regardless, there were no limitations to taking in the beauty!
Beer-filled outdoor adventures catapulted this Oregon city to the top of my favourite US destinations. We kayaked, we hiked, we ate copious amounts of food truck goodies. There’s a captivating energy to this small city – a highlight was hiking the tough trails in Smith Rock State Park, just a 40 minute drive from the city limits.
It was all about the food in the City of Roses. With Tom joining us for the Memorial Day long weekend, we ate and ate and ate. Safe to say, my second visit to the city was as delicious as my first.
While we returned to past favourites (Multnomah Whiskey Library) we also tested out some new venues, with a sun-soaked brunch on the patio at Veritable Quandary taking the gold medal.
Mount St Helens
Mount St Helens is a relatively short detour off the highway between Portland and Seattle. How could we not check it out?
Before visiting, I knew very little about this volcano that famously erupted in 1980. Its devastating impact can be seen clearly to this day, with recovering vegetation only in its infancy. It was fascinating to see the earliest stages of rivers carved in the earth from recent winter snow melts.
A super brief stop to collect my parents from SeaTac as they embark on three months of travel around Alaska, Western Canada and mainland USA. It’s safe to say North America is being invaded by Recklesses! (just don’t tell Trump). The rest of the week was spent catching up and recuperating in back home here in Anacortes – which you’ll be hearing about soon!
In the coming weeks I’ll cover each of these west coast road trip destinations in more detail, with plenty of information and tips about how you can travel on a budget, without sacrificing your experience.
Is a west coast road trip on your bucket list?
What are your favourite road trip destinations? Tell me below!
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