The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip


Today is Memorial Day which means it's officially the start of summer. And the start of summer means... the start of road trip season!

I posted individually about each leg of the 8-day West Coast Road Trip I took last summer, but I wanted to put together a guide for the trip as a whole. And what better day than today, while I was relaxing around the house wishing I had a new road trip lined up for the summer?

Revisiting this trip (one of my favorites of all time!) today made me miss having a trip like this to research and plan out. And a 3000+ mile trip definitely requires at least a little planning.

On that note, I hope that this post not only inspires you to get outside and see some of our beautiful country this summer, but hopefully it helps do a bit of the heavy lifting on the planning front as well!

As for me, I'm ready for my next adventure. Any suggestions???

Day 1: San Diego to Big Sur

Driving Time: 7.5 Hours / 470 Miles 

Big Sur is one of my favorite places in the world... when I can get to it. Since it's occasionally rendered impassible by forest fires, flooding, landslides, crumbling bridges and construction, I strongly recommend checking in with State Park websites and the Chamber of Commerce page before kicking off your West Coast Road Trip the best way possible: on the famous Highway 1. 

But once you're there? Revel in the mostly non-existent cell phone service, the breathtaking views and the fresh air. Hotels in Big Sur can be crazy expensive, so consider camping at one of the amazing campgrounds in the area, like Limekiln State Park, where you can camp right on the beach at Site #4, or Riverside Campground, which is walking distance to restaurants and has a great general store on the grounds.  

What To Do:
  • Hike to waterfalls and limekilns at Limekiln State Park
  • Watch the sun set through an arch and play on purple sand at Pfeiffer State Beach
  • Grab a pic from the trail overlooking the famous McWay Falls at Julie Pfeiffer Burns State Park
  • Pick up a copy of Kerouac's "Big Sur" at the Henry Miller Library
  • Reserve a spot (way in advance) to wonder at the night sky in the cliffside mineral hot tubs at the Esalen Institute between 1am-3am. 
  • Splurge on an overpriced lunch at the incredible Nepenthe

Day 2: Big Sur to Santa Cruz

Driving Time: 2 Hours / 65 Miles

Make it a short driving day so that you can take in all that Santa Cruz has to offer: beautiful beaches, a funky downtown area and a historic boardwalk. And the only place worth staying is in the heart of it all: the newly renovated Dream Inn Santa Cruz

What To Do:
  • Play some Death Cab for Cutie as you drive over the iconic Bixby Canyon Bridge on your way north and out of Big Sur
  • Make a detour off Highway 1 in Pebble Beach to cruise the 17 Mile Drive
  • Tour The Mystery Spot for the famous yellow bumper sticker
  • Rent a surfboard and surf the famous Steamer Lane break
  • Take a stroll along West Cliff Drive, stop in the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, and snag a photo at Natural Bridges
  • Walk to the end of the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf and listen to the sea lions bark at each other
  • Ride the Giant Dipper coaster on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
  • Stop for coffee at Santa Cruz's Verve Coffee Roasters

Day 3: Santa Cruz to San Francisco to Napa Valley

Driving Time: 2.5 Hours / 140 Miles

When you're thisclose to California's most famous wine region, you almost have to make a detour. Get an early start, hit up the most touristy must-do's in San Francisco, then head to Napa for a relaxing evening of wine tasting before crashing at a nearby AirBnB. And don't forget to buy some bottles for the nights ahead!

What To Do:
  • Ferry out to Alcatraz for a tour of this famous (now closed) prison
  • Drive down the crookedest street in SF, Lombard Street, if you're willing to wait your turn
  • Relax in Alamo Square across from the Full House house
  • Browse the shops on Haight
  • Cross the Golden Gate Bridge by foot, bike, or car and snap a shot on the other side at Battery Spencer Park
  • Get a picture by the Napa sign on St. Helena Highway 
  • Order a flight of California wine at any of Napa's gorgeous vineyards

Day 4: Napa to Crescent City

Driving Time: 6 Hours / 325 Miles

California's famous Redwoods are the star of the show today, whether you're driving through them or next to them, hiking among them or sleeping below them at the amazing Jedidiah Smith Campground

What To Do:
  • Detour off the 101 to drive through a giant tree at the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree Park
  • Explore the famous redwoods along Avenue of the Giants, the 31-mile drive parallel to the 101
  • Hike to the scenic Stout Grove in Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park
  • Grab some beers and a float and hang out on the Smith River
  • Take the Mill Creek Trail to try and find the Grove of Titans

Day 5: Crescent City to Newport

Driving Time: 4.5 Hours / 210 Miles

Be prepared to make frequent sudden stops today, as many of the wonders of the Oregon coastline require pulling into turn-outs and getting out of the car to take it all in. And now that you're in Oregon, remember: you can't pump your own gas here, so don't bother getting out of the car when you pull into a gas station! At night, camp out 15 minutes south of Yachats at the Fern Gully-esque Rock Creek Campground or drive 20 minutes north of Yachats to Newport to stay at the hip Rogue Bed & Beer above Rogue Ales Public House. 

What To Do:
  • Take a photo with the Welcome to Oregon sign as you cross state borders
  • Pull over to view Oregon's Natural Bridges and a little stretch of the Oregon Coast Trail
  • Stop for a picnic lunch at Windy Point and check out Arch Rock
  • Detour off the 101 to driftwood-laden Coquille Point in Bandon Beach to explore the tide pools 
  • Hike the Captain Cook Trail at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area to try and catch Thor's Well at high tide
  • Enjoy some of Oregon's very own ales at Rogue Ales Public House or tour the brewery itself at Brewer's on the Bay
  • Visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium where Free Willy (aka Keiko) was rehabilitated before he was moved to Iceland

Day 6: Newport to Seattle

Driving Time: 6.5 Hours / 315 Miles

Seattle offers a lot to do, but there's still stops to make on your way out of Oregon! This could easily be spread out into the next day, but either way plan to spend the night in Seattle, where an AirBnB is your most affordable bet. 

What To Do:

Driving Time: 3 Hours / 175 Miles

Leave Seattle with an empty stomach, do some food blog research ahead of time, and plan to eat and drink your way through Portland. Hotels are expensive and often sell out, so unless you want to go rogue and risk free car camping on a quiet street... it's probably best to AirBnB again.

What To Do:
  • Stroll through the Public Market and pass the Gum Wall and the first Starbucks on the way out of Seattle
  • Smell the roses at the International Rose Test Garden
  • Browse over 1 million books at Powells Books' flagship Portland location 
  • Hike to Multnomah Falls, a 40 minute drive outside of Portland
  • Get out some cash and brave the line for Voodoo donuts 
  • Pose under the Keep Portland Weird mural across from Voodoo donuts downtown
  • If you're a sneaker head, stop by the Nike Factory to view the latest and greatest

Day 8: Portland to Crater Lake

Driving Time: 4 Hours / 235 Miles

Don't skip an opportunity to stop at this breathtaking national park before your summer road trip comes to an end! Crater Lake is only open to cars after late May / early June and even then clouds might ruin your visit, so be sure to check the webcams for visibility beforehand. Planning to spend the night? Reserve a campsite in advance or have a tent ready for the walk-up tent camping sites.

What To Do:
  • Drive the entire Rim Road around the lake, stopping at turn-outs for consistently surreal vistas 
  • Take the Cleetwood Cove Trail to cliff jump into Crater Lake if you can brave the cold water
  • Join a park ranger for a boat ride around the lake or a trip to Wizard Island to explore
  • Pretend you're Cheryl Strayed, obtain a backcountry permit and hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail
  • Watch the sunrise at Discovery Point or the sunset at Watchman Peak
  • Bring a DSLR and put your night photography skills to the test trying to capture shots of the Milky Way above the lake

Day 9: Crater Lake to San Diego

Driving Time: 14 Hours / 845 Miles

You could add a stop on the way home, spend a night in Sacramento or use this as opportunity to work Los Angeles into the mix. Or you could just high tail it back to America's Finest City and crash. Whatever you do, don't forget to comment here and let me know how your trip went and what you added or changed!