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Incredible West Coast Road Trips in the USA

 Who doesn’t love a road trip?  Road trips are a great way to explore your own country (or any other!) and you get to plan your route and how long to take.  However, if road trip planning seems overwhelming, never fear!  I’ve brought together the best West Coast road trips in the USA for you, as recommended by top travel bloggers and road trippers so all the hard work is done for you.  The only challenge is deciding which road trip to do first!

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Contents

Road Trip from the Oregon Coast to Crater Lake National Park

Distance & time recommended:

Cannon Beach to Portland to Crater Lake is 586 km or just over six hours of drive time. This does not include additional driving along the Oregon Coast. At least a week is recommended.

What to See Along the Way?

Starting along the Oregon Coast, you will not want to miss spending time at Cannon Beach (famous for haystack rock), Seaside, and Indian Beach (located in Ecola State Park). Another interesting stop is at Fort Stevens State Park, where you can walk right up to the Peter Iredale Shipwreck at low tide.

After you are done exploring the Oregon Coast, take a short drive to Portland. It is a fun city with the slogan “Keep Portland Weird”, as the city has a strong belief in promoting individuality and expressionism. Wander the world’s largest used bookstore, Powells Books. Treat yourself to some delicious and unique Voodoo Doughnuts. Also, you will find many delicious food truck options for unique eats all over the city. Take a cruise to explore Portland from the water on the Willamette River. Another must-see, the towering Multnomah Falls, is a short half-hour drive from Portland.

Enjoy the last couple of days of your trip at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon’s only National Park. Drive the 33-mile rim road to enjoy the bold blue lake from several different perspectives. If you have the time, go on a couple of hikes to see the lake from views you do not get at road level.  

By Debbie Fettback, WorldAdventurists

Multnomahfalls in Washington State, long thin waterfall with an arch bridge in front of it
Multnomahfalls in Washington | Credit: WorldAdventurists

Road Trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas

Distance & Time Recommended:

Total distance is 815 miles. I recommend at least a week.  This will give you 1-2 days in each national park along the way.

What to See Along the Way?

This road trip takes in four of California’s best national parks.  Set out early in the morning from San Francisco and head straight to Yosemite National Park. It’s a three-hour drive if you get good traffic.  Spend that day and the next enjoying the park – hike the Mist Trail to see two beautiful waterfalls, hike up to the Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls, and drive to scenic overlooks for sensational panoramic views of the park’s famous granite peaks.

Then drive another 2.5 hours to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.  The parks are adjacent, and you can visit their highlights in two days.  These include seeing most of the largest trees on earth, including the largest (General Sherman Tree) in Sequoia and the second largest (General Grant Tree) in Kings Canyon.  The scenic drive between the two is the General’s Highway and there are plenty of scenic overlooks to stop off along the way.

It is a 6-hour drive from there to Furnace Creek in the heart of Death Valley.  Stop off at the lovely Lake Isabella along the way.  Spend the late afternoon and the whole next day exploring Death Valley including the sand dunes at Mesquite Flat and the stunning badlands at Zabriskie Point.

From there, it is a short 2.5-hour drive to Las Vegas, where you can enjoy all that Sin City has to offer.

By James Ian, Parks Collecting 

Sand Dunes and Rock in Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park | Credit: Parks Collecting

Road Trip from Seattle to Mt. Rainier National Park

Distance & Time Recommended:

2.5 hours from Seattle, but I suggest spending 2-3 days exploring the route.

What to See Along the Way?

Tacoma is about an hour south of Seattle and is the perfect stop on the way to Mt. Rainier where you can spend a day exploring. Fuel up at Tibbitt’s at Fernhill then check out some of the art Tacoma has to offer at the Museum of Glass and the Tacoma Art Museum for those that prefer more traditional exhibits.  Head to Point Defiance Park for easy hikes in wooded trails and water views of Puget Sound. 

Mount Rainier National Park is organized into 5 sections: Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise, and Carbon River/Mowich. Longmire and Paradise are the most popular given its year-round access, so start here.  The first viewpoints you’ll pass are Christine Falls and Narada Falls. Make sure to stop for pictures. Another great spot for pictures is Reflection Lakes. On a sunny day, you’ll see the snow-peaked Mt. Rainier volcano reflected in the blue water.

A lot of people stick to the trails around the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center, but insiders know one of the best hikes at Mt. Rainier is Bench and Snow Lakes a few miles away. This 2.6 mile round trip hike takes you through a meadow bursting with wildflowers in July through August or bright orange and red foliage in October. Most people fly by the small parking area, meaning you’ll have this relatively moderate hike mostly to yourself.

About an hour away from Paradise is the Sunrise Visitor Center. This area is also popular, but less so than Paradise because its roads close in winter.  One of the best hikes to go on before hitting the visitor center is Naches Peak Loop Trail. This 3.2 miles moderate hike takes you through a beautiful meadow and around a small lake.

At the visitor center, try to time your visit to Mount Fremont Lookout during sunrise or sunset. This 5.6 mile hike is a bit more difficult, but it offers gorgeous uninterrupted views of Mount Rainier National Park from the clouds.

By Adria Saracino, The Emerald Palate

Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park | Credit: The Emerald Palate

Road Trip from Santa Barbara to Pismo Beach (via Solvang)

Distance & Time Recommended:

90 miles, 2-3 days

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What to See Along the Way?

No trip along the West Coast is complete without a stop in California’s Central Coast. Just away an hour’s drive or two north of busy Los Angeles lies dreamy Santa Barbara. Also known as the American Riviera, Santa Barbara is a small yet posh city where Hollywood celebrities escape for local wines, luxury experiences, and stunning views. Be sure to spend time downtown where you’ll find outdoor shopping malls, Spanish colonial architecture, and the Old Mission Santa Barbara.

Next, drive 35 miles to the Denmark of Southern California, Solvang. The little pedestrian-friendly town provides visitors with the full Danish experience from the historical architecture to traditional windmills. A trip to Solvang is a great option if you’ve always wanted to visit Copenhagen but never had the time or budget! While you’re in Solvang, don’t forget to try out the authentic aebleskivers, which are a traditional Danish dessert.

Finally, complete your weekend road trip in Pismo Beach. Located 55 miles north of Solvang, this beach town offers picturesque views of the Pacific Ocean as well as miles of beach to enjoy. For a fun experience, rent an ATV and ride on the beach as well as sand dunes!

By Michelle of Wander Eat Write

Red Tile Rooftops of Santa Barbara with blue sky
Red Tile Rooftops of Santa Barbara | Credit: Wander Eat Write

Road Trip from Seattle to Olympic National Park

Distance & Time Recommended:

400 miles to cover in seven days

What to See Along the Way?

A quintessential Pacific Northwest road trip is from Seattle, Washington to Olympic National Park. You will explore one of the most vibrant cities in the PNW and visit the three extraordinary ecosystems in the park, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

Spend your first day at Seattle City Center, visiting the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Pacific Science Center, and the many activities available throughout the complex. Begin day two at Pike Place Market and eventually head down the stairs to the Seattle waterfront. There you can take a ride on the Great Wheel and visit the Seattle Aquarium. 

Start your third day with a ferry ride out to the Olympic Peninsula. Keep your eyes open for orcas and enjoy the spectacular panoramic views of the Olympic range in front of you.  Drive north and explore the town of Port Angeles, the park’s visitor center, and Hurricane Ridge viewpoint and trails. 

On day four, drive to Lake Crescent for swimming and boating and Sol Duc Hot Springs for a relaxing soak. Day five brings you to the heart of the park, the Hoh River Valley. Hike the mossy, otherworldly trails and enjoy a ranger talk. Day six brings you to the coast with stops at Kalaloch Beach, Ruby Beach, and Beach 4. Finish your trip on day seven with a stop at Lake Quinault on your drive back to Seattle.

By Erica, Tripscholars

Seattle skyline and Mount Rainier from Eliot Bay Marina in Seattle
Seattle skyline and Mount Rainier from Eliot Bay Marina in Seattle | Credit: Tripscholars

Road Trip from San Francisco to Big Sur

Distance & Time Recommended:

300 Miles Round Trip, can be done in a weekend

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What to See Along the Way?

The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most scenic stretches of coastline in the country. The famous highway, also called Highway 1, runs along the entire Pacific coastline. For the ultimate weekend trip from San Francisco, you can follow the Pacific Coast Highway down to Big Sur.

The best way to see this stretch of highway is on a multi-day road trip, spending the night in Monterrey. On the drive down, stop to explore the rocky cliffs along the Pacific Ocean south of San Francisco. The best ocean vantage points include Devil’s Slide, Pigeon Point Lighthouse, and Shark Fin Cove.

Popular towns along the Pacific Coast Highway include Santa Cruz, Monterrey, and Carmel-by-the-Sea. Don’t miss exploring the Santa Cruz boardwalk, the world-famous aquarium in Monterrey, or 17-Mile Drive Carmel.

Once you arrive in Big Sur, you’ll find endless coastal views in the many state parks. Enjoy the drive and keep an eye open for Bixby Creek Bridge, McWay Falls, and lunch at the cliffside restaurant, Nepenthe.

By Julia Jennings, Well Planned Journey

Big Sur Road Trip at Sunset
Big Sur Road Trip at Sunset | Credit: Well Planned Journey

Road Trip from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon

Distance & Time Recommended:

Only 2 and a half hours from Las Vegas, it is possible to visit the Grand Canyon west rim on a day trip. But to really experience the magnificent landscape it is best to stay overnight close to the south or north rims.

What to See Along the Way?

The area around the west rim is owned by the Hualapai Indian tribe and there are fabulous views from the Skywalk glass bridge to the canyon 4,000 metres below.

Further on from the west rim is the south rim, which has most of the tourist facilities. Given the south rim is an additional 2 hours from Las Vegas it is recommended to stay for at least one night. With hotels, restaurants, helicopter tours, and hikes it can get busy so staying overnight also allows you to arrive early in the morning to beat the crowds.

Furthest away is the north rim. Although it is just as pretty as the other two rims the journey here is less interesting. On the way to the south and west rims you will pass the Hoover Dam, which is over 700 feet high, and Lake Mead, a reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam where you can rent a boat to explore.  

By Kristin, Adventures with EnSuite

The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon Road Trip from Las Vegas

Las Vegas to Zion National Park

Distance & Time Recommended

The one-way distance is 165 miles which makes it less than a 3-hour drive but take your time and spend a couple of days enjoying the spectacular desert scenery along the way.

What to See Along the Way?

One of the most popular day trips from Las Vegas, Zion National Park is located in the southwestern part of Utah, and over years, it has become one of the most popular West Coast Road trips and a great place to drive to from Las Vegas.  

Zion is one of the most visited national parks in the United States with a visitation of a few million tourists per year thanks to its incredible scenery.   

One of the highlights of the trip is the Virgin River Gorge about 100 miles away from Las Vegas with dramatic cliffs on both sides of the highway. After driving through the gorge, you will cross the state line and arrive in St. George, Utah’s fastest-growing city located about 40 miles away from the entrance of Zion National Park. 

While weekends are the busiest at Zion National Park, visiting it during weekdays will allow you to enjoy less-crowded trails. It’s especially true for summer, the busiest season at Zion National Park when thousands of visitors come here to enjoy the beauty of this place.

By Daria, the Discovery Nut 

Zion National Park
Zion National Park | Credit: the Discovery Nut

The Avenue of the Giants

Distance & Time Recommended

Distance: 31 miles from Highway 101 Exit #645 to Exit #674, take 1-2 days to make the most of the journey.

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What to See Along the Way?

Take a trip through time with a scenic drive along the majestic Avenue of the Giants. Located in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the Avenue of the Giants is home to the world’s tallest trees: Sequoia sempervirens (aka coastal redwoods). Stretching for 31 miles along a byway paralleling Highway 101, this scenic drive is a great introduction to the park and to these majestic trees.

When driven from south to north, the trip begins near the town of Garberville and ends just south of Rio Dell. An official Avenue of the Giants auto tour is available with stops at points of interest along the route, including Mahan Grove and the park’s visitor center. Founder’s Grove is one of the most popular destinations in the park and features the magnificent 346-foot-tall Founders Tree.

The area is also home to kitschy tourist attractions that are fun for visitors of all ages. The Legend of BigFoot gift shop is filled with sasquatch-themed souvenirs and wood-carved knickknacks. You can also drive your car through a redwood tree at the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree or get a picture taken with the ancient Grandfather Tree in the town of Piercy. 

By Katy, A Rambling Unicorn

Avenue of the Giants Road Trip - Road passing through huge conifer trees
Avenue of the Giants Road Trip | Credit: A Rambling Unicorn

Road Trip from LA to Vegas (or vice versa)

Distance & Time Recommended

Depends on the route you take, varies between 270 miles and 450 miles. Allow from 1-4 days, depending on the route and activities you plan along the way.

What to See Along the Way?

LA and Las Vegas are two of the most visited cities in the world, and they are close enough to each other that you can do a road trip from one to the other, across the California and Nevada desert.

You can pick from one of several routes for your LA to Vegas drive, or vice versa, from the shortest route along I-15 with many kitschy roadside attractions and ghost towns, to variations that allow you to explore one or more of Southern California’s great desert parks, from Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park to the Mojave National Preserve.

Along the shortest route, you can see the world’s tallest thermometer, a bottle tree ranch, some Route 66 attractions and museums, and a silver mining ghost town (now restored).  With a little more time, you can experience many Route 66 attractions but also spend time exploring the desert, by day and by night, when the dark skies offer up great stargazing.

Joshua Tree National Park features the namesake Joshua trees and gigantic rock formations. Death Valley National Park has many stunning viewpoints and epic desert hikes. The Mojave National Preserve is less visited but features tall sand dunes, historic railroad depots, and dense forests of Joshua trees.

Whichever route you choose to follow, you will have a great time road-tripping between LA and Vegas!

By Dhara, Roadtripping California

Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California
Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California | Credit: Roadtripping California

Road Trip from San Francisco to Mendocino

Distance & Time Recommended

150 miles/4 hours without stops, but stopping is highly recommended!  Spending several nights in Mendocino is ideal, allowing time to explore the town one day and then amble back down the coast the next, when you can stop at some of the places you missed going up.   

What to See Along the Way?

It is hard to beat a road trip that starts by crossing the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge, then follows the scenic Pacific Coast north, ending in the coastal artist village of Mendocino

After crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, you wind off of Highway 101 over to Highway 1, where after passing through a eucalyptus forest you find yourself driving on a windy road leading to the coastal village of Stinson Beach.  From here on you’ll see spectacular ocean vistas on your left and wild open spaces on your right. 

The small town of Point Reyes Station makes a good stop for refreshment, perhaps coffee at the town bakery.  A little farther on, Hog Island Oyster Company is a good spot to stop for a snack or lunch consisting of farm-raised oysters and clams that you can shuck yourself at a waterfront picnic table. 

Farther up, the town of Jenner is home to Fort Ross State Historic Park, built in 1812 as a Russian trading post.  Then, in Point Arena, you can visit the Point Arena Lighthouse, where a guided tour of the tower requires climbing up 145 steps. 

Mendocino has an amazing selection of lodging choices, but it is best to reserve ahead.  Among the favorites are Heritage House, which is on a craggy stretch 4 miles south of town and is famous for being in the movie “Same Time Next Year,” and in town the Victorian MacCallum House Inn & Restaurant boasting a water tower that is repurposed into a suite.

By Carole Terwilliger Meyers, Weekend Adventures Update

Mendocino town from Headlands
Mendocino town from Headlands | Credit: Weekend Adventures Update

Road Trip from Death Valley to Yosemite

Distance & Time Recommended

285 miles – While the drive straight through is about 6.5-7 hours, you’ll want to take at least a full week to have time to explore.

What to See Along the Way?

To experience some of the most spectacular outdoor spaces that California has to offer, take a road trip along the Eastern Sierras from Death Valley to Yosemite.

Start this west coast road trip on the border of Nevada and California in Death Valley National Park. First, take some time to explore the extreme desert landscape – Death Valley is the hottest place on earth, and Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America.

Then hit the road and head to the town of Lone Pine, where you’ll find the highest point in the continental US, Mount Whitney. If you’re lucky enough to win the permit lottery, you can attempt to hike to the summit of Mount Whitney, standing tall at 14,505 feet. This is an intense hike, so you could choose to take an easier hike and get great views of the epic peak from afar instead.

Next, make your way to the mountain town of Bishop, where you can hike, mountain bike, or rock climb. After your adventures, check out all the awesome things to do in Mammoth Lakes, including hot springs where you can soak your tired muscles.

Finally, end your road trip with a visit to Yosemite National Park, where the grandeur of the granite domes will take your breath away. Stop in the lovely landscape of Tuolumne Meadows on the way into the park, then visit Yosemite Valley, which showcases the iconic formations of Half Dome and El Capitan.

By Allison Boyle, She Dreams of Alpine

Mount Whitney Eastern Sierras with a Sunset glow on the mountain
Mount Whitney Eastern Sierras | Credit: She Dreams of Alpine

Road Trip from Portland to Seattle

Distance & Time Recommended:

174 miles, 5 days

What to See Along the Way?

Portland to Seattle is one of the best west coast road trips in the United States. Start your journey in Portland, Oregan’s largest city at the start of the Willamette Valley. Visitors can easily spend two days in Portland enjoying hikes, awesome food, and the local sites. Make sure not to miss the Portland Art Museum, Waterfront Park, Powell’s City of Books, and the Portland Japanese Garden. 

From Portland, head north on the I-5 to Seattle. Along the way, make sure to stop in Vancouver to see Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, a fur trading post in the 1800s. Then, head to Olympia, the capital of Washington. Make sure to check out the Capital Campus, complete with a gorgeous lake and the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. After, make a stop in Tacoma for the Museum of Glass, the State History Museum, and the Tacoma Art Museum. 

Finally, opt to spend at least two days exploring what Seattle has to offer. The Space Needle, Chihuly Gardens and Glass, and Pike Place Market are must-see attractions. If you have time, opt to check out one of the National Parks in the area. 

By Francesca of Homeroom Travel

Skyline of Portland Oregon with tree branches framing the photo
Skyline of Portland Oregon | Credit: Homeroom Travel

Road Trip from LA to Temecula to San Diego

Distance and Time Recommended

143 miles over 3 days

What to See Along the Way?

One of the best West Coast road trips and weekend getaways is traveling from Los Angeles to San Diego with a pit stop in Temecula! This trip is best enjoyed by spending one day in each city, so 3 days total.

As you begin your trip in LA be sure to start your adventure downtown. Grab a bite to eat at Grand Central Market where there are dozens of vendors to choose from. From here, you are within walking distance from one of LA’s oldest landmarks, the Bradbury Building, and Angel’s Flight, the world’s shortest railway.

Continue your road trip to Temecula. On your way to wine country, if you happen to be traveling in mid-March, the California poppies will be in full bloom at Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore. Once you arrive in Temecula, aside from the wineries, be sure to check out Old Town Temecula. Every Saturday there is an amazing farmers market with tons of fresh flowers, fruits, and vegetables.

As you make your way to your final destination, San Diego, you need to visit two iconic locations: beautiful Balboa Park and the Sunset Cliffs. Enjoy this quick and fun-filled West Coast road trip everyone needs to take! 

by Erin McLaughlin, The SoCal Gal

View from the Pacific Coast Highway on the way from LAto San Diego - Green grass with the blue sea beyond
LA to Temecula to San Diego Road Trip | Credit: The SoCal Gal

Road Trip from LA to Phoenix

Distance and Time Recommended

380 miles, which can be completed in two weeks with plenty of time to stop along the route.

What to See Along the Way?

For those who love beaches and mountains equally, with some stunning red rock views, an epic road trip on the West Coast of the USA is California to Arizona road trip via Nevada, driving from LA to Phoenix.  The itinerary can be adjusted according to your interests, as this trip takes you through some iconic highways, landmarks, and national forests, as well as through California beaches, coasts, and even the party capital Las Vegas.

In Los Angeles, you could explore the coastal vibes, hop on beaches, party in Hollywood and watch the sunset/sunrise in Santa Monica pier or Venice beach. The highway drive from here to Las Vegas is stunning where you can party hard or less, everything is possible in Las Vegas. Casino hopping and watching a show are famous things for your Vegas bucket list.

After some partying in Vegas, drive towards the Grand Canyon via Hoover Dam, which will offer you one of the scenic drives Nevada has to offer. This drive is amazing and not to miss during your Vegas road trip. On your way to Grand  Canyon, you could even cross part of the famous Highway 66. Watch the sunset or sunrise in the mighty Canyons and even hike if you have more time here.

From the Canyon, drive towards Phoenix via Sedona, where you can enjoy this ultimate red rock city and some epic hikes. All in all, this road trip offers a mix of landscape hopping, partying and city vibes, and coastal vibes which is a good mix for diverse experiences. You can plan an itinerary based on what interests you the most and adding more time in.

By Jumana, Planet Hopper Girl

Red rock mountain scenery on a Nevada Road Trip
Red rock mountain scenery on a Nevada Road Trip | Credit: Planet Hopper Girl

Road Trip from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree to Death Valley to Los Angeles

Distance & Time Recommended

565 miles total; 4 – 6 days total

What to See Along the Way?

California has some of the best stops for a West Coast road trip in the USA. Los Angeles makes a great starting point for your road trip adventure with a major airport and so much to see and do in the area. You can always add time to the trip to spend more time exploring the LA area.

If you are looking for things to do in Los Angeles, check out some of the area beaches (like Malibu, Santa Monica, or Venice Beach), go for a hike to the Hollywood sign, enjoy the sunset at Griffith Observatory, or find your favorite celebrity on the Walk of Fame. You can easily spend a week in Los Angeles exploring the area or just fly in and hit the road.

While you can easily do a day trip to Joshua Tree from LA, you can also visit both Joshua Tree and Death Valley before looping back to LA. In Joshua Tree, take time to hike out to Arch Rock, visit the Cholla Cactus Garden, and, of course, see the Joshua Trees themselves.

It isn’t a long drive to get from Joshua Tree to Death Valley, and you’ll want to spend at least one day in each park. In Death Valley, visit the lowest point in North America at Badwater Basin and hike out on the Mesquite Sand Dunes for sunrise or sunset. Drive (and hike if you want) through Artist’s Drive and enjoy the view from Zabriskie Point.

From there, head back to Los Angeles to finish out your trip. Because it only takes 2 – 4 hours for each leg of this drive you can easily do it in 4 days with some time in Los Angeles or stretch it out to enjoy more time in the parks or to add on additional stops. You really can’t go wrong when planning a west coast road trip in California.

By Christine Wheeler from Live Love Run Travel

A Joshua Tree in Joshua Tree National Park - West Coast Road Trips in the USA
Joshua Tree National Park in the USA | Credit: Live Love Run Travel

Have you taken any of these awesome East Coast road trips?  Which is your favourite?  Let me know where your road trip planning is taking you this year!

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