Travel Dates: Last 4-5 days of November 2010
The West Coast of the United States, from California up to Washington, has an amazing coastline that renders itself for a very scenic road trip. The best time to do this drive would either be in the summer, or mid-fall when the fall colors are at their peak. Make sure you take along jackets and layered clothing as well as swim suits and sunblock, for you'll encounter weather as diverse as the landscape and culture.
Here are some suggestions on routes and pit stops you can take along your journey up/down the coast.
View West Coast Road Trip in a larger map
- Starting from San Diego, head up north along Hwy 5 through Los Angeles/Orange County to the scenic Pacific Coast Hwy 1
- Ventura and Oxnard areas are the starting point of many kayaking + camping combo tours on the Channel Islands. It's a great experience, especially in the summer. We had a good time with South Wind Kayaks.
- Santa Barbara area produces some great wines if you'd like to go wine tasting. The Los Olivos Prominade has 20 different tasting rooms, and more actual wineries you can drive to easily in the area. Some good places to eat in Santa Barbara are WoodStocks Pizza, Silvergreens (good salads), The Palace Grill (great cajun food, delicious whiskey breadpudding souffle) and Pascucci's (good pastas).
- Slightly up north from Santa Barbara is the small Dutch village of Solvang. It looks and feels just like a Dutch village - quaint and nice for a short stroll.
- Continuing north, you'll get to Pismo Beach which has huge sand dunes that you can go ATV'ing on while soaking up the view of the Pacific ocean. It's great fun for the whole family!
- After getting a workout on the sanddunes, head to the many mineral springs in the San Luis Obispo area. Many are free or have a small fee to use the springs which will leave your skin feeling nice the next day, like Sycamore Springs or Avila Springs
- After soaking in the rejuvenating springs, head on over to Palazzo Giusepe's for good upscale Italian food, or to Firestone's Grill for some sandwiches.
- From there, mosey onwards on Hwy 1 towards Morro Bay and San Simeon to check out the opulence of the infamous Hearst Castle
- Make your way north entering the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where you can find more hot springs and a serene nature reserve apt for camping and biking in Big Sur.
- The artistic cultures of coastal towns of Carmel, Monterey, Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay have lots of activities going at any given time. Spend some leisurely time in these towns without the pressure of what to do next for a while
- From the San Francisco Bay Area, take Highway 101 (North) to the Scenic Hwy 1 (you can take a small detour through the famous vineyards of Napa Valley here before joining the rest of the trip too).
- Take Hwy 128 towards Mendocino and Fort Bragg to check out the quaint oceanside towns before joining Hwy 101 again.
- If there is still plenty of daylight, check out Avenue of the Giants along the way as you head north towards Eureka. Else, get yourself a nice log cabin and spend the night amidst the awesome giant redwoods in Avenue of the Giants.
DETOUR: Drive through Klamath National Forest to join Hwy 5 and continue driving towards Crater Lake National Park for a night or two of camping (take OR 234 E and then OR 62 E towards Crater Lake). Rejoin Hwy 101 for the rest of the route, or continue on Hwy 5 north towards Portland, Oregon)
- Drive through Redwood National Park (stopping to hike a few trails if you'd like)
- Go past Crescent City (not a great town to linger around in), crossing the California-Oregon border and spend a night in Brookings. The Best Western right on the beach is a great place to stay ($119 per night). There is also a farmers' market on Saturdays in the Harbor Village if you're interested in tasting some local food.
- Put your sunblock on and get ready for some great beaches next. First up, Pistol River Beach - a mixture of fine sand and washed up tree branches that create artistic sculptures on the very pretty beach.
- Further north, take a lunch break at Gold Beach after you've worked up some appetite hiking some of the many trails available right off the highway
- For some good old fun, try sand boarding or ATV'ing on the sand dunes that line up Florence's horizon. Then head east on Hwy 126 to join Hwy 5, heading north towards Portland, Oregon.
- You can easily spend an entire weekend in Portland doing a myriad of activities. It's a very lively town with eclectic people and very diverse cuisines and culture. The farmers' market on Saturdays is a great way to sample local art, food and culture. Portland's amazing food scene will have you yearning for more days in the city just to sample dishes from the numerous food carts, the infamous Voodoo donuts, and excellent restaurants like the Farm Cafe, Apizza Scholls and Santeria. Stay at The Viewpoint Inn, where they shot "Twilight", but also a beautiful place to have lunch/dinner if you can get reservations. It overlooks part of the Columbia River Gorge and is near the Lewis & Clark historic trail. Hiking trails with amazing vistas (like around Multnomah Falls) are abundant in and around Portland, so definitely take some time to lose yourself in nature's quietness.
- Make your way north on Hwy 5 for a relatively short drive towards Seattle. Amidst hanging out at Pike's Market Place, the waterfront wharf area, Space Needle, Snoqualmie Falls, the Troll under the bridge, Mt. Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park, you will have plenty of activities to occupy you over a long weekend!
Delicacies at Piroshky Piroshky, Pike Place, Seattle
If you're not tired from driving yet, you can choose to cross the US-Canada border from here to visit Vancouver as well, which has more sights to see and activities to do! Happy journey, drive safely and remember to buckle up!
For another perspective, here is an article on Jetsetter that talks about spending 72 hours off Highway 1, and a collection of sights crowdsourced by the travel magazine AFAR!
Many thanks to Cindy L and Kathleen M for contributing to this itinerary.