Two months ago, my new fiance Chris and I packed a suitcase and hopped on a one-way flight to Seattle to begin a 2-week West Coast Road Trip. We had been dreaming about this vacation for nearly a year and I’m happy to say that our time out west definitely lived up to our expectations.
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The original purpose of our trip was to spend a weekend in Half Moon Bay for the wedding of a good friend. Chris and I had always dreamed of exploring the Pacific Northwest and neither of us had ever been to LA so our weekend trip quickly evolved into a 13 day and 1,500 + mile West Coast road trip.
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We feel that 2 weeks is the minimum amount of time to follow our West Coast road trip itinerary, however, we would’ve loved more time particularly in Seattle and California.
We began our west coast road trip during the last week of June and flew back to New York on July 5th – this was a great time of year to visit as the weather in the Pacific Northwest was warm and sunny, unlike the rainy and cool temperatures that are experienced during fall and winter.
Our Recommended West Coast Road Trip Itinerary
Regardless of the time of year, you choose to do your west coast road trip, here is where we suggest you go and our best route to navigate your way down the coast, beginning in Seattle, WA and ending in Los Angeles, CA.
Seattle: 3-4 Days
Welcome to the Pacific Northwest! Start your West Coast road trip adventure in Seattle, a vibrant seaport city surrounded by the beauty of nature. Whether you love the outdoors or are someone who wants to explore the city’s vast selection of restaurants and breweries, there is no shortage of ways to spend your time in this favorite PNW city. Be prepared to spend at least 3-4 days here at the beginning of your West Coast America road trip.
- Visit Lake Union – take a stroll around the lake, spend an afternoon kayaking or paddleboarding or consider seeing Seattle from a different point of view – like from the air on one of Kenmore Air’s daily seaplane flights.
- Visit a brewery – Seattle is home to more than 40 breweries, offering countless ways to taste craft beer during your visit. If you’re looking for the best taproom to spend an afternoon, we recommend a visit to Holy Mountain Brewing Company (it was our favourite)!
- Experience the great outdoors – Mount Si is a beloved hike among Seattle residents and tourists alike. We opted for the path less traveled and climbed Si’s neighbor Granite Mountain, an equally (if not more) beautiful but less trafficked peak.
- Olympic National Park Small Group Tour is a great way to explore the rugged and beautiful World Heritage Site. The tour also includes lunch, local wine, and snacks.
- For the foodies amongst you, take the Pike Place Market walking food tour and experience this bustling, fish throwing market! You’ll discover some amazing little gems that only the locals know about.
Where to Stay in Seattle
Motif Seattle is the perfect combination of eco-friendly and luxury. This stylish boutique hotel located right in the centre of Seattle has dedicated practices to lessen their own and their guest’s carbon footprint. A few of their green initiatives include reducing waste, increasing recycling and composting, and buying locally sourced organic food and beverages.
The Edgewater Hotel
The Edgewater Hotel is one of only 6 hotel recipients of the coveted Green Eco-Leaf Rating from iStayGreen.org. They use energy efficient lighting, recycle, compost, encourage guests to reuse linens and towels, and operate a paperless check-in/check-out service.
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Portland: 2-3 Days
From Seattle, travel south along the I-5 S to Oregon’s largest and weirdest city. With a well-known motto of “Keep Portland Weird”, long gone are the days when Portland was a well-kept secret. Home to hippies and hipsters alike, Portland is a destination with big city excitement yet still maintains a small town charm.
The “city of roses” sits in the shadow of Mt. Hood’s snow-capped peak and is best known for its eco-friendliness and bike paths, microbreweries and coffee houses as well as being one of the best foodie cities that you’ll come across on your west coast road trip.
- Wake up early and make your way to VooDoo Doughnut, a Portland staple. Here you’ll find every doughnut you’ve ever dreamed of with creations such as Oh Captain, My Captain, Maple Blazer Blunt and Voodoo Doll to name a few. I recommend going early in the morning and on a weekday to avoid the long lines. We went on a weekday morning and still waited over 30 minutes… but it was worth it!
- Craft beer lovers need not look any further – Portland is home to more breweries than any other city in the world. With over 75 breweries in the city and Brewfests galore, you’ll have your pick when it comes to drinking your way through the city’s best lagers, saisons, IPAs, and stouts.
- Visit Powell’s City of Books, the largest independent bookstore in the world.
- Eat at a food truck! Portland has over 400 food carts and mobile eateries.
- Explore neighborhoods including Downtown Portland, the Pearl District, and Northwest Portland/Nob Hill.
- Being a foodie city, an absolute must do is the two-hour food walking tour and check out the many food carts, tasting trucks, and hidden kitchens where former 4-star chefs cook up a storm.
- Being the celebrated city of weirdos, then a 2-Hour Beyond Bizarre Walking Tour seems quite fitting!
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If you’re not one for mountain sports, you can rest knowing that your visit to Timberline is in good company – each year, two million people visit Timberline, whether to see the National Historic Landmark and its architecture or to stay at Oregon’s only slopeside hotel.
This historic resort offers a variety of modern amenities for you to enjoy during your visit, including an outdoor heated swimming pool and mountain hot tub (open year-round), WiFi throughout the lodge, a fitness center, and game room and lending library.
The lodge also features a number of great dining options, including the Cascade Dining Room, Ram’s Head Bar, and the Blue Ox Bar, the most iconic bar in Oregon according to Thrillist.
Our main reason for visiting Timberline Lodge on our West Coast road trip was to attempt a climb of Mt. Hood, Oregon’s highest peak. We booked a group climb through Timberline Mountain Guides but were unfortunately turned around before the summit due to another climber in our group needing to turn back.
It was a disappointing experience for both Chris and me, as we had been training for the big climb for over 6 months. We plan to re-attempt the climb someday in the future, but due to our poor experience with our guide company (the unfortunate situation was handled in an unprofessional way), we suggest that aspiring climbers consider booking a private climb with a different company such as SWS Mountain Guides.
Crater Lake: 1 Day
From Timberline Lodge head south to what I believe is one of America’s most beautiful National Parks. Crater Lake National Park is located in southern Oregon’s Cascade Mountains.
The pinnacle of this awe-inspiring park is the stunning deep blue Crater Lake, surrounded by high cliffs. The park offers many activities including camping, fishing, bicycling, daily volcano boat cruises, and hiking.
Unfortunately, during our visit multiple trails were closed due to snow and ice late in the season, however, we were still able to complete a short 2-mile hike that offered some of the best views on our West Coast USA road trip!
From Crater Lake, we made our way southwest to the California Coast where we then followed Highway 101 south. Winding narrow roads, majestic red wood trees and mist rolling in off the ocean made for an interesting and at times a white-knuckled drive. We decided to call it a night in Crescent City, California where we found a hotel and crashed for an 8-hour break. The next day was a long drive to Half Moon Bay.
Nick’s Cove – Lunch Stop
On our drive from Crescent City to Half Moon Bay, we stopped for a seafood lunch at Nick’s Cove Restaurant and Oyster Bar. Nestled in one of California’s most pristine coastal settings, this award-winning menu is sourced from local dairy and produce farms, and the fresh seafood of Tomales Bay.
Chris and I shared a variety of the cooked oysters as well as the Lagunitas I.P.A. battered fish and chips, but I’m willing to bet we would’ve enjoyed anything on the menu.
From there it was back on the road, where we took in the views during the iconic drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. Both Chris and I had visited San Francisco separately on previous occasions but once over the bridge, we did stop to snap a few photos before completing the last leg of our drive!
Half Moon Bay: 2 Days
Half Moon Bay is a small city just 45 minutes south of San Francisco. This beautiful coastal gem features a string of beaches, including the famous Maverick’s Beach, home to the annual big wave surfing competition.
Other beaches worth exploring include Poplar Beach and Half Moon Bay State Beach, the latter which includes boating, campsites, and trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Other local activities include golfing at Half Moon Bay Golf Links, kayaking or paddle-boarding at Half Moon Bay Kayak Co. or exploring one of the region’s many wineries.
- Take a stroll on the beach. While the temperature in Northern California is often cool, misty and overcast, this makes for the perfect weather to go for a long walk along the surf.
- Grab brunch at The Barn – this rustic farm to table burger joint is not to be missed, as it offers excellent burgers, milkshakes, craft coffee and draft beer.
- Enjoy a beverage or two at Half Moon Bay Brewing Co., a relaxed brewpub with a patio overlooking the bay. Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. was the first green-certified business on the San Mateo Coast. Fun fact: It was the first brewery in California to brew a beer made from recycled water!
From Half Moon Bay, we continued on our West Coast road trip and headed south down Highway 1 toward Southern California. We had initially planned to stop and take in the sights at Big Sur, but unfortunately, that stretch of Highway 1 was closed due to landslides earlier this year. We opted for a few hour break in Carmel By the Sea and from there it was onwards to Santa Barbara.
Where to Stay in Half Moon Bay
Oceano Hotel and Spa Half Moon Bay Harbor is a great overnight stay. Pamper yourself for one or two nights in the luxury of the Oceano Hotel and sleep well knowing that you are in one of the most eco-friendly luxury hotels in California. It is also located less than 5 minutes walk to the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, so you can enjoy a few beers before the short walk home!
Carmel By The Sea: Pit Stop
This small European-style beach town is located on the Monterey Peninsula. With stunning views and a short walking distance from Carmel Beach, this charming village is perfect for a one, two or even three-day getaway. Easily accessible by foot, Carmel by the Sea offers everything from art galleries, wine-tasting, boutique shopping to beach and outdoor activities.
Santa Barbara: 1 Day
Santa Barbara was the first taste we got of SoCal, and we certainly loved it. Although we only stopped for a few short hours, we recommend spending at least a day in this beloved seaside town. Home to Berkeley College, Santa Barbara offers plenty of unique shopping, dining and world-class accommodations to its many visitors.
Eat a perfect seafood dinner at Santa Barbara FisHouse. This was probably our favorite meal on our entire West Coast road trip – located on the beautiful waterfront, this casual eatery offers some of the coast’s finest fresh seafood. Go for happy hour when a lot of starters are half-price! Don’t miss out on the lobster macaroni and cheese or the delicious fish tacos!
- If you love wine and photography, then you’re in for a treat with the El Paseo Wine and Photo Tour. You’ll get to sample up to 10 different wines, accompanied by a few small bites and get some travel photo tips at the same time.
- If you’re feeling adventurous, then a Santa Barbara: Harbour Wildlife & History Kayak Tour will be just the ticket.
Los Angeles: 3 Days
Venice Canals, LAAfter dinner, it was on to the final destination on our west coast road trip – the City of Angels. Despite living in New York for years and traveling all over the world, neither I nor Chris had ever made it to LA. We couldn’t justify spending so much time on the west coast and not visiting Los Angeles so it was the perfect place to end our amazing vacation.
- Explore the Venice Canals
- Walk or bike from Venice Beach to the Santa Monica Pier. Act like a tourist with a ride on the Ferris Wheel.
- Explore Santa Monica and enjoy cocktails with panoramic views at the Onyx Rooftop Bar, atop the luxurious Hotel Shangri-La.
- Hike to the Hollywood Sign. The best way to get there is to drive to the Deronda Gate, although keep in mind that parking is restricted in this area on weekends and holidays. Once through the gate, be sure to stay on the paved path and follow it to the top of Mt. Lee for an epic view of LA from behind the infamous Hollywood Sign.
- Spend the day relaxing at Manhattan Beach, a classic southern California beach complete with people playing volleyball, sunbathing, and surfing without the crowds found in Venice or Santa Monica Beach.
- If you’re looking for a fun and eco-friendly activity in LA, then check out the LA in a Day Bike Adventure. You’ll start on Route 66 before cycling through Beverly Hills, Bael-Air, Santa Monica, Venice, and Marina Del Rey.
Where to Stay in LA
End your West Coast USA road trip with a bang, with a stay at the Terranea Oceanfront Resort. It is the only luxury eco-resort in the LA area with its own ecological preserving and enrichment programs.
They also collaborate with Chefs to End Hunger, an initiative which redistributes food from hotels and restaurants that would normally go to waste to local food agencies giving to those in need. They offer a range of accommodation types, from bungalows, casitas, and villas, plus four pools, eight restaurants, spa facilities, and a golf course.
Have you ever been on a West Coast road trip? What are some of your favourite stops and things to do along the way?
About the Author:
Diana Rosario is originally from Canada but has been living in NYC for the past 5 years. She is passionate about non-profit and event planning, animal rescue, travel and yoga. Diana has traveled to over 30 countries and completed her 200-Hr Yoga Teacher Training in Costa Rica. These days she spends most of her time exploring the US.