Top 10 West Coast Road Trip Destinations [Video included]
In this post I am going to share with you my Top-10 USA west coast road trip destinations. An epic road trip is one of America’s favorite pastimes. Be sure to read (or watch the video) until the end to find out what road trip destination takes the top spot. I have included many links and videos to additional information to help inspire your west coast road trip planning.
#10 La Connor, Washington
Starting off at #10 of this list of west coast road trip destinations is the old fishing village of La Connor, which is located in northwestern Washington State. With three museums, restored historic buildings, a plethora of culinary spots, wine tastings, boutique shops, art galleries and waterfront boardwalk, there is no shortage of things to do in La Connor.
The area is surrounded by lush farmland, so you’ll see fresh fruit and veggie stands everywhere. Perhaps the most iconic thing to do in La Conner is attend the Skagit Valley annual Tulip Festival in April.
Road Trips Near La Connor
- Not far from La Connor is Deception Pass State Park, which is located at the northern part of Whidbey Island, it’s one of the most visited areas in the state, and for good reason. The mysterious coves, rugged cliffs and jaw-dropping sunsets will blow you away.
- Anacortes is also nearby, which is where the ferry terminal is located to take road trippers to the stunning San Juan Islands (click the link for a San Juan Islands road trip guide). Snugly ensconced between Northwestern Washington and Vancouver Island, this collection of landmasses, that yield to the ebb and flow of the Salish Sea, is a remarkable place to unwind. There are 172 islands, each with its own distinct appeal, however only four of the islands are serviced by the Washington State Ferry System, the others are left to boaters and pilots to explore.
No matter where you call home base in this region, this part of northwestern Washington is a fantastic west coast road trip destination, which will have you exploring in awe, in all directions.
#9 San Diego, California
At #9 is San Diego, one of my favorite big cities in the country, and, a place I consider my second home. San Diego is a city made up of a series of coastal communities that beckon visitors with its abundance of activities and fantastic year-round weather.
There are so many things to do in San Diego, that it can be a challenge not get a case of FOMA. The most well-known things to do in San Diego include the world-renowned Zoo, SeaWorld and Balboa Park, yet if that’s all you do, you’re only scratching the surface.
I have created a comprehensive post and video on the top-21 things to do in San Diego, so if you’d like to see more of this southern California city, click this San Diego link. I have also included a video highlighting some of the coolest coastal hotels in San Diego.
#8 Cannon Beach, Oregon
At number #8 is the coastal community of Cannon Beach in northern Oregon. Cannon Beach is a trendy, yet quaint and refined seaside village with an expansive beach littered with massive rock cropping, including the most famous one known as Haystake rock.
This rugged coastal scenery is really something to marvel. There are several nearby parks and vantage points to take in the immense beauty. Cannon Beach is nine miles wide and has the most pristine sand…in most areas you won’t even see sea debris—just miles of smooth sand. You can fly a kite, watch sea creatures, or just stroll the beach on bike or foot. There are also an abundance of hiking trails worth checking out.
There are also plenty of dining options, many featuring seafood. Lots of boutique shops and some wonderful lodging options, from boutique hotels to several campgrounds.
#7 Walla Walla, Washington
Located nearly due east of Canon Beach, at #7 is Walla Walla, Washington, which is located in the southeastern part of the state.
Each time I visit Walla Walla I fall a bit more in love. What was once a sleepy farming town, is now a thriving community seemingly focused on one thing…the culinary arts. From wine-making to fine dining and beyond, Walla Walla delivers an exuberant experience that should be on every epicurean’s road trip bucket list.
I have produced an extensive guide on the Best of Walla Walla, so if you’d like to learn about the best wineries, best restaurants and the best places to stay, click the preceding link.
#6 Seattle, Washington
From one of the smaller cities in Washington, to the largest, Seattle comes in at #6. I wouldn’t normally include a big city on a list like this, but in the summer, Seattle is one of the best west coast road trip destinations, as well as home base to explore the region.
My first recommendation is to explore downtown Seattle, and since parking can be tough, and expensive, you might want to drop the car off in West Seattle and take the pedestrian ferry across the harbor. Just be sure to bring your walking shoes. The ferry runs every half hour and the crossing takes just a few minutes.
As you get off the ferry, be sure to stroll the waterfront district and perhaps take ride on the Great Wheel. Next, don’t miss the famous Pike Place Market. This is where the very first Starbucks is located, but it’s not really worth waiting in line when there is another Starbucks just across the street.
- Pike Place is really an impressive market with hundreds of vendors on multiple floors selling everything from fresh produce, flowers to handmade items. Don’t miss the famous fish mongers throwing the catch of the day though they air.
- After Pike Place, be sure to head over to the Seattle Center, there is a plethora of things to do. Top of the list should be Chihuly Garden and Glass, which is an extraordinary exhibit by famed glass blower Dale Chihuly. There are both indoor and outdoor exhibits to enjoy.
- One of the most iconic landmarks in the country is the Space Needle. It’s really worth going up on a nice day to take in the bird’s eye views.
- Also located at the Seattle Center is the Museum of Pop Culture, which is housed within a cool and colorful Frank Gehry building. This museum was created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
- Just North of Downtown, along the shores of Lake Union is the Gas Works Park. This was once a synthetic gas plant, now it’s a peaceful place to see the old equipment vibrantly painted with a large grassy hill to admire the Seattle skyline or pick some fresh blackberries.
- Due west of Gas Works is Seattle’s largest park, at over 500 acres, Discovery Park and the West Point Lighthouse is a tranquil place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
- Nearby is the Ballard Locks, another popular attraction in Seattle. These locks allow boaters to transition from the lower salt waters of the Puduget Sound, to Lake Washington, an upper body of water 20’ higher. There is also a lovely botanical garden on the north side of the locks which often has free concerts in the summer.
- Speaking of Lake Washington, it’s a massive lake in the center of the city with all kinds of recreational opportunities. One of the best spots is the Gene Goulon Park on the southeastern part of the lake.
Seattle is surrounded by lush evergreen forests with warm temperatures and low humidity in the summer, which is a perfect mix for a road trip destination.
#5 Santa Barbara, California
Back to southern California, coming in at #5 on this list of west coast road trip destinations is Santa Barbara. Located just north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara has perfect year-round weather, beautiful buildings, historical Spanish missions, excellent wine bars, restaurants, and activities. This is a superb road trip destinations right on the coast. It’s a fun city to just get lost, and see what you might find.
Santa Barbara is flanked by mountains with some breathtaking beaches, soaring cliffs, enticing enclaves and verdant vineyards. From exhilarating outdoor adventures, to fascinating arts and culture, to an incredible food and wine scene, Santa Barbara is a refined destination where the sea and mountains meet, overflowing with a bounty of color.
#4 Humboldt County/Redwoods, California
Roaming among the Redwoods, at number #4 is Humbolt County in Northern California. Straddling an ancient redwood forest and the wild and windswept Pacific coast, Humboldt County is one of the most uniquely beautiful places in the world.
If you enjoy being one with nature, Humbolt County is the place to be. Home to the Redwood National Park, and several state parks with Redwood Groves, this is a phenomenal road trip destination. If you’ve never seen the Redwoods, this is a humbling experience. These trees are the oldest living things on Earth and many date back more than 2000 years, when the Roman Empire ruled the world. These trees tower over 300 feet in the air, which to give perspective, is taller than a 30 story building.
In addition to the Redwoods, Humbolt County is also know for its marijuana industry. Probably the most well known cannabis grower in the area is Huckleberry Hill farms, a second-generation cannabis plantation run by farmer Johnny Casali. Huckleberry Hill is among the first cannabis farms in the state to be granted a tourism license, enabling tours and overnight guests. After years of working to keep the cannabis operation out of sight, Johnny and other local growers are hoping to peel back the curtain of this once illegal crop.
A great place to call home while visiting Humboldt is the historic Benbow Inn — which has just recently completed a major renovation. The secluded and elegant hospitality served as a get-away to Hollywood elite in the early days. Today, the hotel serves guests from around the world looking to experience the grandeur of the Redwoods.
From the pleasant accommodations with opulent bathrooms, to the glorious grounds, you’ll find plenty of places to relax and take in the surrounding beauty, including a lovely terrace for dinning. Speaking of dinning, the restaurant is one of the best in the area. The hotel also offers Forest Bathing, which is a form of therapy proven to improve physical, mental, and emotional well being.
#3 Columbia Gorge, Oregon
The incredibly scenic Colombia River Gorge comes it at number #3. If you enjoy waterfalls, this is the place you want to visit. There are more than 90 waterfalls along the Colombia River Gorge. Some you can drive right to, but most require a short to long hike to reach. The tallest and most famous of all the waterfalls in this area is Multonomah Falls, which is 620’ tall.
Nearby is the Bonneville Lock & Dam, which is worth a visit. Built and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, this was the first lock and dam on the Columbia and Snake rivers. This is a recreational venue providing fun and educational opportunities for all ages.
Just east of the waterfalls off of I-84 is Hood River, this is an area famous the world over for its wind sports.
South of Hood River is an area known as the Fruit Loop, which has a high concentration of small U-Pick farms where you can get cherries, berries, peaches and a whole lot more.
If you continue south on Hwy 35 you won’t want to miss visiting Mt. Hood and its surrounding areas, this is where Oregon’s tallest mountain meets the mightiest river. If you hike up to the base of the mountain you’ll find year-round snow.
If you’re into RV’ing and camping, you’ll especially enjoy this area. There are national forest lands and many campgrounds to choose from.
#2 South Coast, Oregon
The rugged and majestic beauty of the southern coast of Oregon comes in at #2. Long stretches of Hwy 101 run right next to the ocean, providing spectacular views. Far from large population centers, the Southern Coast of Oregon is certainly off the beaten path. Set among a wild and untamed landscape, where coastal forest trails, stunning sand dunes and secluded beaches invite road trippers to explore if they dare.
The coast is peppered with state and local parks, many offering beach access and camping. If outdoor adventures, solitary beaches, artistic communities and fresh coastal cuisine light your fire, the Southern coast of Oregon should be on your road trip bucket list.
#1 West Coast Road Trip Destination is…Big Sur, California
Coming in at #1 is the unparalleled Big Sur, located just south of Monterey, California. An epic road trip is one of America’s favorite pastimes, and few drives are more iconic than Highway 1 through Big Sur. This is not only one of the most picturesque highways n the U.S., but the world over.
This windy hilly coastal Highway, with tight turns that hug the rugged coastline mile after mile, provide stunning vistas that will inspire awe in even the most seasoned road tripper. Every bend in the road showcases dramatic views and rocky cliffs, while coastal hikes lead visitors to quiet beaches and dramatic surf.
It’s best to do Big Sur from North to South so you can easily access the abundance of overlooks and coastal access. While driving the full 76 miles from Bixby Bridge to Hearst Castle with no stops will take about two hours. you really should plan an entire day to take advantage of all the parks, pullouts and hikes.
Depending on the time of year and even time of day, you will likely encounter fog in some areas of Big Sur, but that only adds to the mystic of this remarkable landscape.
If you have any questions about these west coast road trip destinations, please leave a comment below.
Until next time, we’ll see ya on the road…