Top 11 West Coast USA Road Trips

Top 11 West Coast USA Road Trips

Top 11 West Coast USA Road Trips

The West Coast of the United States offers some of the best road trips in the world. Scenic natural attractions and culturally iconic cities characterize this entire part of the country.

From Washington’s Seattle and the Cascade Mountains to sunny weather and ocean views of San Diego in California, many standout destinations freeze why the West Coast is the best coast to visit. (West Coast USA Road Trips)

Many West Coast roadside attractions, areas like the redwoods around San Francisco, the ancient caldera known as Crater Lake, and the mighty Mount Rainier top the list of places to visit.

Whether it’s a 10-day, two-week, or months-long trip, plan to spend more time on the road than you expect. Attractions like active volcanoes, sterling beaches, and alpine lakes encourage a few extra days added to an itinerary.

Fun things to do on the West Coast in every direction. And each season brings new opportunities for travelers to enjoy sweeping landscapes that are sure to satisfy some wanderlust. Plan your trip with our Best West Coast USA Road Trips list.

  • Pacific Coast Highway: Where the Mountains Meet the Sea

Also known as California State Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the country’s most iconic road trip destinations. This modern engineering marvel is located 600 miles from California’s coastline.

It connects movie stars in Los Angeles to the postcard wonders of Big Sur before extending to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and ending in the redwood forests of Mendocino County.

The highway’s southern terminus is near the beaches of Dana Point in Orange County. The average journey length along the road ranges from five to seven days.

However, the recommended itinerary allows for a few weeks to explore the state’s parks, cities, and hundreds of places to visit along the way. At its inception, popular attractions include sweeping ocean views and whale-watching tours.

State Route 1 connects several major metropolitan areas along the coast for automobile touring and daily commuting.

Along with San Francisco and LA, the highway also connects other cultural centers, including Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and San Luis Obispo.

One of the most scenic stretches of highway can be found near Big Sur and the Bixby Bridge, where several pull-offs and vantage points provide a classic California photo opportunity.

Thirty miles north on the coast of Big Sur, the city of Monterey and its surrounding bay offer historical intrigue and one of the best aquariums in the country.

For intrepid explorers, Muir Woods, 10 miles north of Sausalito, is characterized by groves of incredible old-growth trees.

  • Touring Washington’s Cascade Loop

For a full taste of Washington’s cities, sights, and mountain splendor, the nearly 400-mile Cascade Loop has it all.

Starting in the culturally rich city of Seattle, travelers on the Cascade Loop can go in any direction for guaranteed fun things to do.

Heading north toward Anacortes, tourists on the Cascade Loop join the North Cascades Scenic Byway for 120 miles through some of the state’s most dramatic landscapes.

The North Cascades Scenic Byway is open seasonally between May and November and offers tours of many of North Cascades National Park’s best hiking trails and top campgrounds.

Among the many spectacular views, the aquamarine waters of Lake Diablo stand out, with a viewing platform that’s easily accessible from the highway.

Bookending the eastern end of the North Cascades Scenic Byway, the tourist-friendly Methow Valley welcomes visitors to scenic spots, including Mazama, Winthrop, and Twist.

The southern section of the Cascade Loop passes through more road trip destinations, including Wenatchee, Cashmere, and Leavenworth—one of Washington’s coolest small towns.

Leavenworth is a Bavarian-themed town with high alpine peaks and cultural festivals to match and a certain charm that converts tourists into residents each year.

After crossing Stevens Pass, the route ends in Seattle via US Route 2. This last section offers even more opportunities for hiking, skiing, and white water rafting along the way.

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  • Exploring Oregon Coast Highway 101

The stunning Oregon Coast stretches more than 360 miles from Astoria and the Columbia River to Brookings and the California border.

Historic shipwrecks, impressive sea stacks, and ever-changing tides line the entire expanse. And what is unique to the coastal location, every single inch is open to the public, nicknamed the “People’s Coast.”

Some of the top attractions on the Oregon Coast include Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach and Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport.

Towards the southern end of the state, Samuel H. The Boardman State Scenic Corridor offers some of the most stunning scenery along the coast.

Other places of particular interest include Cape Perpetua, Yachats, and the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area—a popular spot for off-highway vehicle riders and campers.

There are plenty of scenic spots in the drive that are worth stretching, sometimes every half a mile.

Summer reservations are recommended for campgrounds and resorts among the more popular tourist destinations on the northern Oregon coast, close to Portland and the Willamette Valley.

For a more bite-sized road trip along the Oregon coast, the Three Caps Scenic Drive can be done in a weekend. (West Coast USA Road Trips)

  1. Cruise Along the Columbia River Scenic Byway

Defining the border between Oregon and Washington, the Columbia River Gorge is home to many of Oregon’s best waterfalls and other beautiful roadside attractions.

The route follows the Columbia River before falling into the Pacific Ocean in the charming town of Astoria.

Most visitors begin their Columbia River road trip along the city streets and east side of Portland. With stunning waterfalls like the 620-foot Multnomah Falls and historical attractions, including the Vista House at Crown Point, a recommended city stop is Hood River.

This happening city has a growing collection of restaurants, galleries, and windsurfing rental companies. (West Coast USA Road Trips)

  • Circling the Olympic Peninsula Loop

No road cuts through the Olympic Peninsula in western Washington. Instead, the entire peninsula can be circumscribed with more than 300 highway miles and much to see along the way.

Among the diverse scenery are rain forests, snow-capped mountains, and boulder-strewn beaches.

Seattle and Olympia make great starting points for the Olympic Peninsula Loop, and cities like Port Angeles, Forks, and Hoodsport make great base camp destinations to explore the surrounding Olympic National Park.

For added add-on appeal, a ferry in Port Angeles takes visitors to the always seasonal Victoria, British Columbia. (West Coast USA Road Trips)

  1. Highway 395: South Lake Tahoe to Yosemite National Park

Shimmering alpine lakes, mountain peaks, and lush forests full of wildlife – California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains present one postcard image after another.

Highway 395 is the main route through the Sierra Nevada, connecting many iconic national parks, gateway cities, and opportunities for adventure.

A great place to start and stay, South Lake Tahoe is an alpine-infested community surrounded by natural attractions, including the sparkling Emerald Bay State Park.

In the summer you can enjoy hiking trails in the mountains or on the shores, or relax on the beach. In winter, pack your skis and visit some ski resorts around Lake Tahoe.

Heading south from Lake Tahoe, Highway 395 connects to Mammoth Lakes, a year-round destination for hiking, mountain biking, and downhill winter sports.

The small town of Lone Pine is also along the route and serves as the gateway to Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the United States.

For those exploring Yosemite Valley, heading west on Highway 120 (Tioga Pass) from Highway 395 leads to iconic national park areas, including Half-Dome, Tuolumne Meadows, several impressive hikes, and many of the area’s best campgrounds. (West Coast USA Road Trips)

  1. Exploring Washington’s Volcanoes: Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens

Sixty miles southeast of Seattle, Mount Rainier is a massive active volcano and one of the best national parks in Washington.

The stunning national park surrounding this 14,411-foot peak invites all kinds of fun with several top-notch campgrounds and scenic hiking trails.

Just a few hiking trails in Mount Rainier include the Skyline Trail and Spray Park. It is a trendy park throughout the summer and shoulder season and offers winter adventure with cross-country ski trails and beautiful snowshoe opportunities.

Much of Washington’s volcanic activity can be experienced at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, a two-hour drive south of Mount Rainier.

Most famous for its dramatic 1980 eruption, Mount St. Helens is today a living science exhibit on how habitats bounce back after an explosion.

The top-rated hiking trails in Mount St. Helens offer many unique opportunities to explore this altered environment, including underground expeditions to Ape Caves and the massive craters left behind after the 1980 eruption. (West Coast USA Road Trips)

  1. Tour the Volcano Heritage Scenic Byway

Tracing the geological past of the Cascade Mountains, the Volcano Heritage Scenic Byway stretches from Crater Lake in Oregon to Mount Lassen in California.

The ancient caldera known as Crater Lake is a stand-alone destination as the deepest lake in the country and one of the best weekend getaways in Oregon.

Within Crater Lake National Park, Mazama Village makes for a great camping destination that the whole family will enjoy.

Heading south, the impressive slopes of Mount Shasta fill with adventure, as are the remarkable water features found at Burney Falls.

At the southern end of this 500-mile scenic trail, the geothermal features of Lassen Volcano National Park define the inviting landscape.

During the summer, expect long-distance hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail to share scenic stops along the Volcano Heritage Scenic Byway. (West Coast USA Road Trips)

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  1. Southern California Splendor: From Santa Barbara to San Diego

Southern California offers excellent weather to explore any time of year, with sandy beaches, surf spots, and palm trees lining the sidewalks.

The 200-mile stretch of Highway 101 and Interstate 5 connecting Santa Barbara and San Diego is a great way to experience this warm-weather region of the country.

Mission Santa Barbara is a great place to capture some of Santa Barbara’s architectural and cultural flavor. The area is filled with many top hiking trails, beach resorts, and fun things to do with the family.

Cities like Beverly Hills, Long Beach, and Irvine all include major metropolitan areas south of Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, each offering unique culture and places to visit.

To the south, near the US/Mexico border, San Diego offers even more family-friendly things to do.

With an average annual temperature of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, one of the most popular attractions in San Diego is the 14,000-acre Balboa Park complex that houses several museums, botanical gardens, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. (West Coast USA Road Trips)

  1. Experience Oregon’s Willamette Valley

Around the Interstate 5 corridor and the Willamette River in northern Oregon, the Willamette Valley is well known for its fertile soil and culturally rich places to visit.

It is home to the largest cities in Oregon, including Portland, Eugene, and the state capital, Salem.

Fun things to do in this entire region, from the western Cascade slopes to various agricultural attractions and tours.

Summer in the Willamette Valley encourages up-and-down car rides, and throughout the shoulder season, this scenic area features dazzling displays of spring flowers and fall foliage. (West Coast USA Road Trips)

  1. Tour the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway in Central Oregon

The 66-mile Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway departs from the high-desert town of Bend. From its arid surroundings, the subway climbs into the central cascade and enters a world of alpine splendor.

The byway defines Oregon’s mountain style well, with excellent views of postcard summits such as Mount Bachelor, Broken Top, and South Sister.

The route is inaccessible in winter between mid-November and May. Coming from Bend, the byway begins as Century Drive (Oregon Route 372), where it enters Deschutes National Forest. Toad Lake is one of the first alpine lakes, followed by many more.

There are at least a dozen beautiful lakes along the route. And most of the entertainment centers are around these icy-cold bodies of water.

Beaches, marinas, and picnic areas line many of the shores, all catering to fishing and hiking activities. Lava lakes provide an exciting stop, as does Little Lava Lake, which provides the source for the Deschutes River.

We hope you like our article about Top 11 West Coast USA Road Trips.

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