There are over one-and-a-half thousand miles of coastline from the southernmost point of California all the way up to the border of Washington state. It would take you just over a day to drive the entire thing straight without stopping. The west coast holds some of the most beautiful points in all of North America, and that is saying something! We’ve made a list of the very best stops to make on your West Coast Road Trip so that you can see the best this coast has to offer!
We have driven up the west coast on many occasions and each time I am amazed by the beauty and variety of landscapes along the way. Now, of course, you do not have to do the full west coast road trip on one visit, you can break it off into segments. So, we are breaking down the best stops from North to South. From the bustling cities to the laid-back beaches to the enchanting mountains and forests, here are the must-do stops for your west coast road trip.
The Pacific Northwest Stops to Make on Your West Coast Road Trip
Pioneer Square is the oldest neighborhood in Seattle and is home to some of the most stunning architecture, delightful cafes, and charming art galleries. It is the absolute perfect place to get in touch with the history in Seatle.
Did you even visit Seattle if you didn’t see this West Coast city’s most iconic landmark? This powerful landmark provides visitors with excellent views of the downtown area, as well as the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound.
Pike Place is one of the most-visited Seattle landmarks thanks to the fact that it is also an excellent spot to grab lunch. From the best clam chowder bowls outside of Boston to the delicious breakfast scrambles, Pike Place has something for everyone.
2. Portland Spots to See on Your West Coast Road Trip
From bubble gum to maple syrup, Voodoo Doughnut is a Portland staple. With out-of-this-world flavors and tons of delectable donut choices, it is no wonder why there is a line wrapped around the building almost every day. Check out some of the other incredible Portland Doughnut shops here!
One of the best ways to get around the many Portland breweries is by bike. Pedal Bike Tours offers Portland visitors a wonderful way to check out all the city’s best food and beers.
Book your tour here! They do tend to book up fast.
Monmouth Falls is pretty stunning. The great part of this waterfall is it could not be easier to get to. In fact, you can see it from the highway. Once you walk up to the falls you will be in awe of the power of the waterfall. You can hike to the top of the falls but the best view is from the bottom.
There is a ton more to do in Portland, you can check out our favorite things to do in Portland here!
The Bay Area & Central California Stops on Your West Coast Road Trip
3. San Francisco
The Golden Gate Bridge is the most photographed bridge in the world for a reason. This iconic bridge has been hovering above the bay for almost 100 years now. We highly recommend taking a bike across the bridge or walking it if you truly want to take in the surrounding scenery. However, if you want to get moving on your road trip, just a drive across will suffice!
Alcatraz was converted to a military prison from a lighthouse back in the 1870s. Though it is out of commission now, there are many great tours available where you and the family can learn about some of the most notorious criminals of the 20th century.
You can book your tickets here! Make sure to get them well in advance as they typically sell out.
Not only can you find tons of cool little tourist shops and activities sprinkled along Pier 39, but it is also home to a huge group of barking sea lions. All year long these sea lions frolic behind the docks, creating picture-perfect opportunities for the city’s guests.
There is so much to do in San Francisco, you can check out our full list of things to do in San Francisco here!
4. Spots to See on Your West Coast Road Trip in Carmel & Monterey
If driving along the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway isn’t enough excitement for you, check out the Coastal Trail by bike. This trail provides bikers with front-row views of the gorgeous Monterey Bay. Take this 18-mile trail and breathe in the refreshing sea air while riding past the one-of-a-kind, golden sand beaches.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the biggest attractions in the city and was actually the inspiration for the Marine life Institute seen in Finding Nemo. Here you’ll find playful sea otters, an underwater kelp forest, and groups of glowing jellyfish.
Asilomar State Beach is the idyllic California beach with awesome sunsets and vibrant white sands. You can stroll along the boardwalk or head out onto the rocky shores to discover the diverse tide pools.
5. Santa Cruz
I loved visiting Santa Cruz on our West Coast Road trip. This quirky little beachside town brings back such fun childhood memories. There are so many fun rides, delicious unhealthy food, and of course, a beautiful beach to enjoy.
Looking for a thrill in the midst of your West Coast road trip? The Santa Cruz Boardwalk is a timeless amusement park that sits beachfront. With tons of rides, delicious treats, and games that will invoke childlike wonder, there is something for everyone at the Santa Cruz boardwalk.
Steamer Lane is one of the best surf breaks in California. Here you can find a large number of surf contests, as well as your Santa Cruz locals who enjoy shredding the double overheads. Steamer Lane is the perfect place to get your feet wet.
The Garden of Eden is a magical swimming hole tucked inside a small part of the redwood forest. All it takes to get there is a less-than-one-mile hike through the scenic forest. Make sure to bring a towel and some drinks!
6. Big Sur
Nepenthe is perched among the clouds like some sort of ancient temple. It just so happens to be one of the best places to grab a drink and revel in the view as the sunset dips deep into the adjacent Pacific Ocean.
Bixby Creek Bridge has an aesthetic like no other with graceful architecture and a magical setting. It sits upon Highway 1 just beside the coastline, acting as a top-notch photo spot for those passing through.
With hypnotic waves and a gorgeous background that is the Santa Lucia Mountains, Pfeiffer Beach invokes awe and wonder in those who decide to make the trek. Keyhole Rock is the beach’s main attraction, which is a large, natural arch that is often admired and photographed.
The Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is also nearby and offers plenty of room to explore the beautiful redwoods and a waterfall. It is a great place to stretch out your legs after a long stretch of driving!
7. Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara is one of the most wonderful little beachside towns in California.You can enjoy shopping on State St, some amazingly local restaurants, plus of course an amazing beach. But there is even more to Santa Barbara to check out.
The Old Mission in Santa Barbara dates back to the 18th century and is the reason that the city exists. It is a beautiful and historical destination for those who are looking to take in a little bit of cultural history on their trip.
Inspiration Point provides eager hikers with gorgeous views of the Santa Barbara coastline, as well as the distant Channel Islands. There are two trails, including a shorter 3.5-mile roundtrip hike and a steeper 7-mile Jesusita Trail hike.
Visit the Santa Barbara Zoo
The Santa Barbara Zoo is one of the cutest zoos I have ever been to. It is immaculately clean, has an incredible setting with even a view of the ocean. It is a great place to take the kids while you are in Santa Barbara.
Southern California Stops to Make on Your West Coast Road Trip
8. Los Angeles/Orange County
The Broad is a free, contemporary art museum that is situated in Downtown LA. With thousands of works and the popular Infinity Mirror Rooms, it is a must-visit for those who want to explore the museums in the city.
When your West Coast road trip veers off the coastline and into Los Angeles, there are a couple of things you must see. The Griffith Observatory dates all the way back to 1935 and is now one of the most famous LA landmarks. Here you’ll find a variety of exhibits, such as the Foucault pendulum, the planetarium show, and the Tesla coil.
Once you make it down to Orange County, getting to Disneyland is a must. Even if you don’t want to fork over tons of money for the tickets to the two theme parks, you can still spend the day walking around Downtown Disney to get some shopping or dinner in!
Slide Down a Glass Slide 70 Stories Above Los Angeles!
We headed to downtown LA for a Lakers Game and then checked out the glass slide. The OUE Skyspace takes you to the top of one of the tallest building in Los Angeles for an unparalleled view of the city. There you can check out the view and then enjoy going down a glass slide which hangs out over the side of the building.
9. San Diego
This thrilling little amusement park is located in Mission Beach and is home to the iconic rollercoaster known as the Giant Dipper. For only $6 you can ride this 48mph coast and take in views of the surrounding Pacific Ocean.
The San Diego Zoo is one of the most incredible zoos on the west coast. From Komodo dragons to big cats, you can spend the whole day here peering into the lives of some of the world’s most fascinating animals.
You can’t visit San Diego without heading to Balboa Park. This 1,200-acre park is sprawling with major museums and gardens. You could easily spend the whole day walking around here without running out of things to do.
Wherever your West Coast road trip takes you, it is sure to be full of beauty! Take in the sights and enjoy every minute. It is one of the most fun trips to experience, and you will be able to see so many different historical spots and landscapes. I already cannot wait until the next time we get to go!
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