4 Essential West Coast Road Trips
You may have heard the boastful phrase, “West Coast, Best Coast” from those who love to brag about their Pacific Ocean-facing backyards. Washington, Oregon, and California (and don’t forget about Canada and Alaska!) certainly have plenty of reasons to gloat, and it becomes even more obvious to those who venture on road trips up and down this glorious coast. It’s certainly hard to dismiss the superior claim when you see all the beauty of the west coast, but is it really better than the rest of the country’s regions?
We’ll leave the final decision up to you. In the meantime, these are some of the region’s best road trips to give you a little food for thought.
Pacific Coast Highway
8 hours – 475 miles
Credit: Ron and Patty Thomas/iStock
Possibly California’s most popular road trip, the iconic PCH (Pacific Coast Highway aka Route 101) offers a little piece of everything that’s made California famous. Leave L.A. early to beat the crazy morning rush-hour traffic and make stops in natural hippie haven, Ojai, and the symbolic west coast beach town of Santa Barbara. Then it’s on to San Luis Obispo (SLO) where you can spend the afternoon sipping craft beers, wine tasting, exploring the bizarre Bubble Gum Alley or hiking in the nearby nature reserves. Check out Hearst Castle on your way out of SLO before hitting the southern starting point of Big Sur. Here the road winds along the famous California cliffs with breathtaking views of sites like the Bixby Bridge, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park & McWay Falls and Garrapata State Park. After soaking up Big Sur, spend a day or two in Monterey exploring the Old Fisherman’s Wharf, quaint seaside villages like Carmel-by-the-Sea, and wandering down Cannery Row. Finish in San Francisco, where the funky culture, shopping, and architecture will keep you captivated for days.
San Diego, California to Joshua Tree National Park
2 hours 30 minutes – 164 miles
Leaving sunny San Diego behind is tough, so consider a few stops on your way out before embarking on the open road. Enjoy a brisk morning hike in La Jolla’s Torrey Pines or shop the thrift shops and dine on creative vegetarian bites in Encinitas. After these San Diego pit stops, head east towards Joshua Tree. Stop in Temecula, San Diego’s premier wine-tasting destination. Next, treat yourself to a luxurious day in Desert Hot Springs, soaking in hot mineral water pools or indulging in spa treatments. Then it’s onto the grand finale – Joshua Tree National Park. There are plenty of hikes and drives within the park that showcase Joshua Tree’s strange rock formations, other-worldly landscapes, and stunning pink-sky sunsets. Spend a few days and nights here stargazing, rock climbing, camping, horseback riding, or mountain biking one of the nation’s most revered National Parks.
Portland, Oregon to the Redwood National Park, California
6 hours 20 minutes – 370 miles
Portland is a full destination all on its own, but on this road trip it's just your starting point. After making the obligatory Portland stops, like Powell’s City of Books, Mount Hood, the local nature parks, public gardens, and the excellent craft beer & foodie scene, head south on the I-5. Make a 1-2 hour detour and check out Crater Lake National Park in southeastern Oregon to discover the deepest and clearest lake in the U.S., surrounded by 2,000-foot tall mountains. Then head to the final destination in Redwoods National Park, land of the tallest trees on earth as well as some of the oldest (2,000 years!). Spend a few nights roughing it in one of the four campgrounds within the park. Occupy yourself by taking scenic drives, hiking through redwood forests boasting 350-foot trees, or viewing the majestic area from the SkyTrail gondola.
Seattle, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska
25 hours - 1,114 miles
This road trip is by far the longest, but the journey along the Alaskan Highway is nothing short of legendary. Towering mountains, pristine nature, quaint towns, and abundant wildlife follow you around every twist and turn of this adventurous route. First, leave Seattle and head north to the Canadian border. Continue on to Vancouver, a prime Pacific Northwest coast city. Enjoy fresh-caught seafood (and other commodities that have made Vancouver a must-taste foodie destination) and stroll through Stanley Park. Between Vancouver and your next major point, Prince George, are several small towns worth a stop - even if it’s just for an hour or two to break up this long stretch. Othello Tunnels is just one example offering a unique way to stretch your legs with a wander through the old train tunnels carved into granite walls. Arrive in Prince George and spend the evening wining and dining before heading to Prince Rupert the next day to catch the ferry to Ketchikan for the last leg of the journey. Cross the border back into Alaska while gazing for hours at the mountains and the endless ocean from the deck of the ferry as you scour the horizon for humpback whales.
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