Some links in this post may be affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Please see our disclosure policy for more detail.
Pacific Coast Highway California shot from above, one of the best romantic vacations for couples in the United States

19 Exciting West Coast USA Road Trip Itinerary Ideas

Stretching from the glaciers of Alaska to the deserts of southern California, there’s no doubt that the west coast of the United States is home to some of the most stunning (and diverse) nature on the planet. Add in iconic cities, quirky small towns, a great food scene, plenty of historic highlights, and several wine regions, and the possibilities for putting together a west coast USA road trip itinerary are nearly endless.

We teamed up with several travel writers to share their favorite west coast road trip routes, and the results are worthy of any bucket list.

Here are the best US west coast road trip ideas!

Two people walking through a doorway in a fallen redwood tree in california usa

Quick Tips for Your West Coast USA Road Trip

Before we dive into exploring the best west coast road trips, there are a few tips to be aware of–especially if you’re visiting as an international tourist and haven’t explored the United States before!

If you’re renting a car, shop around.

The best company to rent a car from for your west coast USA road trip will likely vary dramatically depending on where and when you’re traveling. Sometimes large international carriers offer the best prices, sometimes local outfits. Sometimes one company has an excellent base price, but terrible rental requirements.

The best way to find your rental car is to search through Discover Cars, which will sift through dozens of companies to find the best combination of low prices and reasonable rental terms for your USA road trip.

Browse rental cars for your US west coast road trip today!

snowcapped mountains in alaska as seen fro the water

Read the rental requirements carefully.

Especially make sure you know how many miles you’ve been allotted (or ideally, if they’re unlimited), if you need to return the car empty or full of fuel, what to do if the car breaks down, and what damages you’re liable for in the event of an accident.

On the off chance that you’re planning on continuing your road trip into Canada or Mexico, be sure to check requirements for crossing the border as well.

READ NEXT
The Ultimate Road Trip Packing List: 50+ Road Trip Essentials You Need

Make sure you pack the right gear.

From safety gear to snacks, a big USA road trip requires bringing the right tools along, whether you’re taking a short vacation, trying out van life, or something in between. We recommend taking a look at the suggestions on our road trip packing list before you go!

Mission covered in wildflowers located in california along the pacific coast highway

Book travel insurance.

We don’t ever suggest traveling without travel insurance–anything can happen on the road, and an epic road trip is definitely a case of better safe than sorry. We use and recommend World Nomads for road trips in the USA.

Don’t overextend yourself.

Exploring every nook and cranny of the US west coast is a project for a lifetime, not one trip!

As tempting as it is to add on additional driving to stop in just one more park or small town, make sure that you leave enough time to thoroughly explore each destination rather than spending the entirety of your west coast US road trip driving from one spot to the next.

road in the mountains of northeast oregon lined with evergreen trees as seen from above

Best West Coast USA Road Trips in California

The Iconic Pacific Coast Highway

From Allison of California Crossroads

If you’re looking for an epic US west coast road trip, it gets no better than the Pacific Coast Highway! 
 
The PCH covers virtually all of the coastline from basically the Mexican border all the way up to Olympia in Washington, measuring a whopping 1,675 miles long! For the purpose of this suggested road trip, though, I’ll be sticking to the portion between San Francisco and San Diego. 
 
If possible, drive from North to South — this way, you have the best views on your side! Though truly, either way you drive it will be remarkable.
 
READ NEXT
The Ultimate 3 Days in San Francisco Itinerary
 
This part of the PCH covers most of California’s greatest hits, including redwood forests, the striking coastline of Big Sur, the state’s most important cities, and stunning Southern California beaches. You can have everything from beach days to forest hikes to city exploration — often all in a matter of hours.
 
Here are a few of the most essential Pacific Coast Highway stops between San Francisco and San Diego. Start in San Francisco and admire a few different viewpoints of the Golden Gate Bridge before heading south via the coast towards Monterey. Along the way, you can stop at cute towns on the peninsula like Pacifica and Half Moon Bay. Definitely stop at Santa Cruz to walk the boardwalk and explore the nearby redwood forests! Next up is Monterey, to enjoy the aquarium and Cannery Row.
 
View along highway 1 pacific coast highway california with the ocean taking up most of the shot
 
Drive the scenic 17-mile drive as a detour on your way to Carmel-by-the-Sea, which is a great place to relax for a day or two before continuing on to Big Sur. Stop at Bixby Creek Bridge, Pfeiffer Beach, Mcway Falls, and San Simeon for both its elephant seals and the incredible Hearst Castle.
 
Heading down towards Southern California, make optional stops in Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo before hitting Santa Barbara and its funky vibes and great wine scene. A detour to Solvang is great here! Next up, keep heading south to Los Angeles, stopping in Malibu, Santa Monica, and Venice Beach. On your way towards the end of the road, visit the Huntington Beach pier and stop by Torrey Pines State Park before ending your trip in beautiful San Diego!

Driving Distance

600 miles.
 

Recommended Road Trip Length

It takes at least 12 hours to drive the Pacific Coast Highway. We recommend taking a minimum of 3 days to explore, and the trip can easily last 2 weeks with lots of stops along the way.
 
Bixby bridge as seen along highway 1 in california, one of the most iconic us west coast road trip stops
 

San Diego to Los Angeles

From Chris of Explore Now or Never

This west coast USA road trip makes a great getaway from San Diego.  Begin near the city of San Diego and make the first stop in coastal La Jolla. This upscale little village is a great a place for an overnight, a day of sunbathing at La Jolla Shores Beach, or a cocktail with a view.
 
Just 20 minutes north, stop into beachy Encinitas to window shop the boutiques or sample fish tacos. Walk through the coastal meditation garden at the Self-Realization Fellowship or join surfers in the line-up at one of the fantastic local beaches here
 
Just up the coast is cute little San Juan Capistrano, home to one of California’s favorite missions. In spring, more than 6,000 swallows migrate here from Argentina! As you approach LA, don’t miss swank Laguna Hills. Home to the one-of-a-kind Pageant of the Masters art event, Laguna is brimming with artists and charm. It’s a great place for an overnight. Plus, Crystal Cove Beach in nearby Newport Beach is one of California’s finest!
 
READ NEXT
15 Cool Cities Perfect for Weekend Getaways in the USA
 
After that, the choice is yours: Disney lovers should head directly to Disneyland in Anaheim to meet Mickey. To join the beautiful people and snap a photo of an iconic California scene, head to Santa Monica Pier and walk the boardwalk or ride the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel. A San Diego to LA road trip is the perfect way to enjoy all things Southern California.

Driving Distance

124 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

While it’s just under 2 hours from San Diego to LA by car, there are so many wonderful things to see and do along the way that you could make it a week-long trip easily. Or, you could drive it in a weekend. So whether you want to make a day and a night out of each stop or see several places in 24 hours, it’s wonderful either way.
 
Beach in La Jolla California with purple flowers in the foreground, a fantastic stop on a west coast usa road trip itinerary
 

Los Angeles to Yosemite

From Eden of Rock a Little Travel 

A Los Angeles to Yosemite road trip makes an excellent choice for those who love the big city, but also appreciate some quality time outdoors. 

During your time in Los Angeles, I recommend getting an early start to hike the city’s famous Runyon Canyon trail in Hollywood. After your hike, make your way towards Melrose Avenue to grab brunch and maybe do a little vintage shopping. Spend your afternoon in Santa Monica enjoying the beach before heading into downtown LA for dinner and drinks in the Arts District. 

From Los Angeles, you’ll head north to Paso Robles, one of California’s favorite wine regions. The wineries here are fun and affordable, and most are family-owned. Paso Robles is known for being down to earth and friendly, so even if you don’t know a lot about wine, you’re guaranteed to feel welcome and have a good time. 

After enjoying the wineries of Paso Robles, it’s time to head to Yosemite. Once inside the park make your way towards the Tunnel View lookout. This lookout offers some of the best views in the park with Bridal Veil Falls, El Capitan, and Half Dome off in the distance.

From Tunnel View, you’ll make your way down into Yosemite Valley. From here you can ditch the car and begin exploring this beautiful park on foot or bicycle. You’ll find trails and waterfalls all around you, so take your time and see it all. 

Driving Distance

408 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

Three to five days is perfect for this Los Angeles to Yosemite road trip. This will give you at least one full day in each destination with the option to add on more time where you like. 

yosemite falls in california, one of the best us west coast road trip destinations

Los Angeles to Eastern Sierra

From Jenny of Campsite Vibes

The first place you can explore is off of the 14 freeway, the Red Rock Canyon State Park. In the summer, this area does get very hot, but if you’re doing this trip in the fall, spring, or winter months, it’s a great place to stop and soak in the desert views.

From there, head to Lone Pine, a cute town where several Western movies were filmed. From here, explore the Alamaba Hills. You can spend the day driving up and down dirt roads, viewing the rock formations, and gazing upon the Sierra Nevada Mountains. You can also disperse camp here.

READ NEXT
The Ultimate Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

From Alabama Hills you get a stellar view of Mt. Whitney, standing at 14,505 feet, it’s the highest point in the lower 48 states. Mt. Whitney is not an easy hike, but it’s a must-do for any avid hiker or backpacker. Permits are required for both day hikes and backpacking trips, and it’s a 22-mile round trip hike from Whitney Portal out of Lone Pine, so make sure to train if you want this hike to be part of your west coast road trip itinerary. 

Lone Pine is the start of the Eastern Sierra. From here, as you drive further North, you’ll encounter Independence, Big Pine, Bishop, and then Mammoth. There are so many hiking trails just outside of each of these towns with views that will make you not believe you’re in California.

Driving Distance

225 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

You can make this trip as short or as long as you’d like. If you’re new to the area, give yourself a week to do several hikes, soak in hot springs and take in different elements of what this area has to offer.

view of mount whitney with an empty road in the foreground. mount whitney is a fantastic addition to a usa west coast road trip route

California Gold Country

From Cynthia of Blue Bag Nomads

Highway 49 links many historical gold rush towns through the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in California. Start your journey in the adventure-filled town of Angels Camp, then drive north through Placerville, Coloma, Auburn, Grass Valley, and ending in Nevada City.

Each of these gold rush towns is full of interesting museums, quaint stores, great dining options, and adventures like panning for gold or watch a real blacksmith at work.

Placerville, also known as Hangtown, has the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi. Half the store is filled with gold mining equipment (like gold mining pans) and hard to find hardware, the other half is packed with housewares and fabulous gifts. There is something for everyone.

If looking for a shorter trip, start in Auburn, the easiest of the towns to get to from Sacramento, then head up to the sister cities Grass Valley and Nevada City. There are old gold mines to explore, the best chocolate candy store (Grass Valley), shopping until you drop, and then top it all off with an ice cream cone from one of many locations.

Highway 49 winds through beautiful pine trees and at times it passes along the South Fork American River making this a peaceful road trip with unlimited potential. Each of these gold rush towns along this highway has something unique and “oldest” that they can claim.

Driving Distance

112 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

Driving this route directly would only take about 2.5 hours, but with so much to see and do, it could easily take you four to five days to complete this west coast USA road trip route. Much of the drive is through small towns along windy roads with a continuous supply of mining and gold rush history and activities for all ages.

American River in California gold country near auburn ca

San Diego to Palm Springs Loop

From Maria of San Diego Explorer
 
This southern California road trip starts and ends in San Diego and explores some of the most stunning desert places in the area. What makes this road trip so special is that you will see and experience how diverse and beautiful the California desert is. Each region has its own feel, due to the terrain as well as the unique plants and wildlife you can see there.
 
San Diego is a real gem and you should spend at least 1 full day there. There are a lot of things to do in San Diego, including relaxing on one of the stunning San Diego beaches, exploring Balboa Park, Old Town, or the downtown/Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego. 
 
Your next stop on this road trip is Anza Borrego State Park. On the way, you should stop in Julian for some of the best apple pie you ever had. Aside from hiking, definitely check out the metal sculptures at Galleta Meadows in Borrego Springs. 
 
The desert city of Palm Springs is known for its mid-century modern houses, pool parties, and fantastic art galleries and museums. Here you’ll get to experience the desert in style!
 
READ NEXT
101 Best Short Travel Quotes (+ Caption Ideas!)
 
Temecula is Southern California’s largest wine region is one of the most popular weekend getaways from the Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas, especially on the weekends. It can get quite busy, but you’ll have a great time exploring the various wineries and tasting their best wines. 
 
When you get back to San Diego, I recommend heading to La Jolla before you return your car and check out this fun and classy beach town just north of San Diego.

Driving Distance

370 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

While you can do this road trip in 3 days, I highly recommend spreading it out over 5-6 days, so you can really experience the places you are visiting along the way.
 
As this is a desert road trip, I recommend doing it between November – March as during spring and summer, it can get too hot to enjoy your trip. 
 
Hiker overlooking a sunrise in Anza Borrego State Park southern California, one of the best stops on a southern california road trip itinerary

California’s Lost Coast

From Julia of Well Planned Journey

California’s Lost Coast is the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States. For 75 miles, the famed Pacific Coast Highway cuts inland, unable to pass through the rough terrain. This road trip from Eureka to Mendocino is perfect for those looking to explore off-the-beaten-path. 

Start your Lost Coast road trip in Eureka, California, an old town famous for its Victorian houses. Leave the Pacific Coast Highway behind as you head for the small town of Ferndale, where you can explore the Victorian homes and the Golden Gait Mercantile.

Mattole Road winds through rolling hills and backcountry before running parallel to the Pacific Ocean. Stop along Mattole Road to enjoy the solitude and coastal views. As Mattole Road turns back inland, you trade the rugged Lost Coast for a redwood forest.

READ NEXT
25 Best Christmas Vacations in the USA

Humboldt Redwoods State Park is the largest old-growth redwood forest in the world. End your first day in Humboldt Redwoods State Park exploring the Avenue of the Giants, a famous 31-mile scenic drive through the redwoods. Stay the night in one of Humboldt Redwoods State Park’s many campgrounds or if you prefer a hotel, stay at The Tides Inn in Shelter Cove. 

The next morning, make your way to Shelter Cove. Explore Black Sands Beach and grab lunch and a beer at Gyppo. After lunch, stop to explore Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, searching for sea glass, and watching for seals and whales. End your Lost Cost journey in Mendocino where you can hike the coast on the Mendocino Headlands trail or go on a kayaking tour with Kayak Mendocino.

Driving Distance

235 miles.

Recommended Trip Length

While this route could be driven in a day, 2-3 days gives you the perfect amount of time to explore the Lost Coast and the Mendocino area. 

rolling green hills with the ocean in the distance with the pacific ocean in the background on california's lost coast, one of the best us west road trip ideas

National Parks in Southern California

From Dhara of Roadtripping California

Road trips are a wonderful way to experience California’s stunning natural wonders. And one of the very best California road trips with a nature focus is a route that covers southern California’s great desert parks.

Start in Los Angeles and make your way to Palm Springs, a fun desert city with many resorts and spas to enjoy. Palm Springs is home to mid-century modern architecture and desert canyon hikes, as well as an aerial tramway that takes you to the top of Mount San Jacinto.

From Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park is just about an hour’s drive. The park is known for its magnificent boulder masses and the strange-looking, unique Joshua trees that aren’t really trees but a type of succulent. Whether you enjoy hiking or early settler history replete with relics of ranches and mines, you will have fun exploring Joshua Tree National Park.

READ NEXT
USA Bucket List: 50 Best Places to Visit in the US

Next, drive through the Mojave National Preserve, with more stands of Joshua trees and mighty sand dunes, before arriving at Death Valley National Park.

Death Valley National Park is home to the lowest point in North America. It is cool to take a photo by the sign saying “282 feet below sea level” at Badwater Basin! Explore the massive salt flats and take in the views from iconic viewpoints such as Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View. Death Valley National Park is huge but easily explored if you have a car.

From Death Valley National Park, make your way back to Los Angeles, stopping, if you like at more desert places along the way, such as Alabama Hills.

Driving Distance

573 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

This trip is best enjoyed over a time frame of 5-7 days. Each of the parks is large and deserves a day or two to see the major sights and get in a couple of hikes.

desert landscape at sunrise in joshua tree national park, an excellent part of several of the best west coast road trips usa

Mammoth Lakes to Bridgeport

From Jeanine of Le Wild Explorer

One of the most incredible places in California is the Eastern Sierras. It’s full of natural beauty and a great place for outdoor adventures. A road trip from Mammoth Lakes to Bridgeport will take you amazing hot springs with killer views, pristine lakes, scenic hiking trails, and more. 

You’ll begin your trip to Mammoth Lakes which is extremely busy in the winter and summer. The famous Mammoth Mountain is an all-season resort that is popular for snow sports in the winter and mountain biking in the summer. Mammoth Lakes also has incredible hot springs and loads of hiking trails.

From Mammoth Lakes, you’ll head north where you can drive the June Lake Loop. The Loop is made up of four different lakes where you can go fishing, kayak, swim (in the summer), and more. There are also hiking trails that lead you to postcard-worthy vistas. 

Continue your drive north to Lee Vining where you’ll find Mono Lake. The lake is one of the oldest in North America and a true gem. The tufa towers are made of mineral deposits and give it an out-of-this-world look. The best time to visit is for sunrise or sunset but you can enjoy day-time activities such as kayaking and birdwatching.

Last, you’ll reach Bridgeport where you can soak in more hot springs and even visit a ghost town. Hiking and horseback riding are also popular. And if you love fishing check out their annual fishing events and go fly fishing in one of the creeks. 

Driving Distance

55 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

This Mammoth Lakes to Bridgeport road trip can be done in a weekend but at least three days is recommended if you hope to enjoy a few hikes.

lone car driving on the june lake loop with the mountains in the background of the photo

Oregon + Washington Road Trip Itinerary Ideas

Portland to Seattle 

Recommended by Lotte from Beste voor Kids 

Start your road trip in the delightfully weird city of Portland (Keep Portland Weird is actually the city’s slogan) and stock up on food, snacks, and gas. If you’ve never been to Portland, be sure to allow for a day in your itinerary to explore the city before hitting the road.  

From Portland, head north on the I-5 S and drive to the Mount Saint Helens Visitor Center (about an hour). Here you can learn more about the major eruption on March 27 in 1980. This eruption took the lives of 57 people and drastically changed the shape of Mount St. Helens and the surrounding ecosystem.   

READ NEXT
3 Days in Seattle: The Ultimate Weekend in Seattle Itinerary

Drive to Randle on the 12 and continue to Windy Ridge via the NF-99. Often cited as one of the most scenic drives in Washington State, be sure to take plenty of time to admire the views here. Note that the NF-99 closes around late October/early November (depending on the first serious snowfall). At the end of the road, you can hike up Windy Ridge for a beautiful view of Mount Saint Helens and Spirit Lake.  

Next up on your west coast road trip itinerary is Mount Rainier National Park. Drive here via the 123 and Steven’s Canyon Road (also closed in winter) and spend a day or two exploring this amazing National Park. Nice hiking trails are the Skyline Trail (8.4 miles round trip) and the short but beautiful Alta Vista trail (1.8 mile). Both start at the Paradise parking lot.   

End your trip in Seattle, the birthplace of Starbucks, home to famous Pike Place Market, and of course the 605-ft.-tall Space Needle.  

Driving Distance

175 miles.

Recommended Trip Length

You could drive the 175 miles from Portland to Seattle in just under 3 hours via the I-5 S, however, for this road trip, I’d recommend 3 days if you don’t plan on exploring Portland or Seattle. If you want to visit these cities as well, add at least two extra days so you can spend an entire day in both of these great west coast cities.  

Snowcapped Mount St Helens with purple and red flowers in the foreground of the photo

Willamette Valley

From Sarah & Nathan of Discover the PNW

Just south of the popular Oregon city of Portland sits the gorgeous Willamette Valley, known for the state’s wine production. A west coast USA road trip between Portland and Eugene will take you right through one of the most beautiful places in Oregon with plenty of opportunities to stop for great wine, food, and scenery.

There are nearly 600 wineries in the Willamette Valley and many of them are open year-round for tastings and tours. The region is known for producing premier Pinot-Noir but you will also find many other varietals to taste. 

Another plus to this road trip is the cute towns along the way offering fabulous dining and charming accommodations. McMinnville is a favorite with its historic center, boutique shops, foodie-focused restaurants, and dozens of tasting rooms. 

READ NEXT
25 Best Honeymoon Destinations in the USA (For All Couple Styles!)

Oregon’s pretty capital city of Salem is also worth a visit with its gardens, cultural, arts, and food scene. Pay a visit to the Willamette Valley Cheese Company, enjoy a brunch cruise on the Willamette Queen Riverboat, or partake in a glass of wine at Oregon’s oldest producing winery.

The Willamette Valley is also a top choice of nature lovers. With miles of farmland, orchards, and vineyards plus views of the Columbia River and the Cascade Mountains, the drive is nothing short of stunning. If you’re looking for outdoor adventure be sure to spend some time around Eugene which is surrounded by hiking and cycling trails, waterfalls, and rivers. 

Driving Distance

120 miles one way or 240 miles as a loop.

Recommended Trip Length

It only takes about 5 hours to drive this west coast USA road trip loop but with so many places to stop along the way we recommend at least 1 night and 2 full days.

grape vines in willamette valley oregon in the fall with yellow leaves

Portland to Bend

From Amanda of A Dangerous Business

Oregon is a great place for a road trip, and an easy route that includes everything from waterfalls to mountains to rainbow-hued hills is from Portland to Bend.

Once you’ve had your fill of weird in Portland, hit the road to the Columbia River Gorge. This river-carved canyon along the Oregon-Washington border is known for its great hiking trails and incredible waterfalls. Don’t miss Multnomah Falls, or hikes to spots like Latourell Falls, the Oneonta Gorge, and Elowah Falls.

From here, you can head south towards Bend on OR-35, which takes you past Mount Hood, Oregon’s most famous volcano. You could stop to hit the ski slopes or the mountain bike trails on Mt. Hood, or simply ride the Magic Mile Chair Lift up to 7000 feet for great views.

READ NEXT
3 Days in Portland OR: The Ultimate Weekend in Portland Itinerary

Continue your drive to an otherworldly spot in eastern Oregon: the Painted Hills at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument near Mitchell. Enjoy the scenic drive through the park, and take a short trail or two to get up close to these orange, yellow, and green hills.

You’ll have to retrace your route on your way back towards Bend, so you may as well also stop Smith Rock State Park. Famous for its rock climbing, this stunning park also has some good hikes for all skill levels. If you’re up for a challenge, try the Misery Ridge Trail.

From Smith Rock, it’s only about 40 miles to Bend, the outdoor recreation mecca of Oregon. Bend is a great jumping-off point when you decide to continue your Oregon road trip.

Driving Distance

364 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

If you drive straight through, this route takes 8 hours. But of course, you don’t want to drive it straight through! I’d recommend at least 3-4 days for the driving portion of this trip, not counting the time you spend in Portland. 

Mount Hood Oregon with wine country in the foreground

Seattle to the San Juan Islands

From Adria of The Emerald Palate

The San Juan Islands are an incredibly scenic chain of 170 islands about 3 hours north of Seattle that offer a ton of outdoor adventures. San Juan Island, Orcas Island, and Lopez Island are the 3 most popular ones to visit, and all of them are a perfect final stop on a road trip from Seattle.

Starting from Seattle, take I-5 north toward the Skagit Valley. Pronounced “skaaa-jit”, this area spans about 100 miles and is made up of a bunch of quaint towns and farms worth visiting on your road trip.

Start your trip off with a beer tasting flight in Mt. Vernon. If you love shopping, Mt. Vernon has some great antique shops and boutiques worth poking your head into. 

Next head to the nearby Chuckanut Drive. This is one of my favorite things to do in Skagit County, WA. It’s a 20-mile scenic drive that takes you along the coast through dense trees that open up to offer incredible views of the San Juan Islands. Hikers will love the Oyster Dome trail for incredible, uninterrupted views of your final destination. Those looking for more low-key hikes should head to Larrabee State Park.

READ NEXT
25 Most Romantic Getaways in the USA

Before heading to the San Juan Islands, make a stop at Deception Pass State Park. There are a bunch of easy walking trails overlooking some of the bluest water in Washington. It makes for a beautiful photo when you get the mint-colored Deception Pass Bridge in the shot.

Lastly, make your way to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal about an hour before your reserved your ferry ticket (reservations are a must in the summer).

If you chose the quieter and least-visited Lopez Island as your final destination, you can expect the ride to be about an hour on a direct ferry. Orcas Island, the largest and most food-focused of the islands, will take about an hour and 20 minutes. San Juan Island, the most popular and known for art and wildlife, will take about 1.5 hours.

No matter which island you chose, make sure you plan a whale watching tour because this is one of the best places in the world to see orcas and other types of whales.

Driving Distance

About 155 miles one way. Here’s a map of the route.

Recommended Trip Length

Five days would make for a solid US west coast road trip, spending about 2 days in the Skagit Valley and 3 days on whichever island you choose.

orca jumping out of the water as seen in san juan islands washington

Northeast Oregon

From Erika of Erika’s Travels

Northeast Oregon is an underrated USA west coast road trip destination that will take you to some of the most remote and awe-inspiring wilderness areas in the Pacific Northwest. It is an off-the-beaten-path corner of the state that is home to character-filled Western towns, lonely scenic byways, soaring granite peaks, and the deepest canyon in North America. 

The road trip begins and ends in Baker City—a historic town that was once the largest settlement between Portland and Salt Lake. The picturesque town has over 100 historic houses, a phenomenal Oregon Trail interpretive center, and its very own Carnegie Library. 

From Baker City, the road follows the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway to the artsy town of Joseph, on the shores of Lake Wallowa State Park. 

Lake Wallowa is one of the premier recreation areas in Eastern Oregon. The shimmering cobalt lake is a paradise for boaters, swimmers, and fishing enthusiasts. It is also a primary gateway to the towering granite peaks of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. 

READ NEXT
25 Long Haul Flight Essentials + Long Flight Tips

If you have a few days to spare on your road trip, hiking the Wallowas is an unforgettable Pacific Northwest experience. The sprawling area boasts alpine lakes, wildflower-laced meadows, and 18 peaks that eclipse 9,000 feet.  

From the Wallowa Mountains near Joseph, the road trip traverses barn-dotted farmlands and winds through a rugged river canyon to the minuscule community of Imnaha. The tiny town is the starting point of an epic adventure along a narrow and treacherous gravel road, to the Hat Point Overlook.

At Hat Point, a fire tower showcases stunning views of canyon walls that rise nearly 8,000 feet above the waters of the Snake River.

After taking some time to soak in the views of Hells Canyon from Hat Point, the scenic loop continues toward Baker City. Along the way, it traverses the eastern flank of the Wallowas and winds through golden hills of cow-speckled farmlands. 

Driving Distance

323 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

A northeast Oregon road trip should ideally take at least 3-4 days. However, If you enjoy camping and hiking, consider adding a few extra days to enjoy the vast Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains. 

Wallowa mountains in northeastern Oregon with a red barn in the foreground. northeast oregon is an offbeat usa west coast road trip itinerary

Oregon Coast

From Kay of The Awkward Traveller

Because of its simple route and beautiful coastal scenery, the Oregon Coast is the most popular west coast road trip in the state.

If you start at the north end, closer to Portland, you will pass the iconic bridges of Astoria, and also a major artistic hub for film and movies.

Once you reach the city of Seaside, where Lewis and Clark (and Sacagewea and York!) famously completed their expedition to the Pacific Ocean. While you stop to relax on the beachfront, be sure to head to Cannon Beach for a look at Haystack Rock.

Driving south, stop in the city of Tillamook to visit the Tillamook Cheese Factory for a taste of their globally recognized cheese and farm-fresh ice cream.

Stay overnight in Yachats, a town that prides itself on sourcing local and sustainable products, as well as amazing attractions such as Oregon’s Sea Lion Caves and Cape Perpetua.

Next, wake up and drive to Florence, the sand dune capital of Oregon, and rent ATVs for the day. Or, continue south and spend your time exploring the dramatic views of the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. However long you decide to drive the coast, the best lodging options to fully experience the location would be to rent a cabin on the beach.

Driving Distance

About 338 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

It is not a far distance in total,  so 3-4 days is recommended to explore the Oregon Coast at a more relaxed pace. However, if you are an avid photographer or love to immerse yourself in nature by hiking and camping, spending a week in the area might be more fulfilling. 

One car driving along the oregon coast as shot from above

Beaches of Olympic National Park

From Michelle of The Wandering Queen

One of the best US west coast road trips to take in the PNW is to the Olympic National Park Beaches. The Olympic Peninsula beaches are so different than any beaches you have ever seen before! These beaches are filled with sea stacks, tide pools, wildlife, and driftwood. If you are lucky, you will spot a bald eagle while having a nice walk down the beach. 

The first stop should be the Kalaloch Beach. There are many campgrounds here if you want to stay a night. After that, make sure to stop by Ruby Beach, which has an enormous sea stack. It is a perfect place for sunset with the family, and you don’t need to hike too far to get great views.

Next, try out a great hike at Second Beach (4-mile round trip). Many people love backpacking and staying the night at this beautiful spot. The trailhead is located close to River’s Edge Restaurant, which had yummy food and large windows to watch the bald eagles hunt outside. 

READ NEXT
33 Best Beaches in the USA

The next beach on the list is Rialto Beach. This beach has a popular hike called The Hole In The Wall hike, and it is around 4 miles round trip. The best time to experience this hike is during low tide. 

The last spot on this trip is a special place called Cape Flattery. This is the northwesternmost point of the contiguous United States and is also part of the Makah Reservation. 

Driving Distance

126 miles.

Recommended Trip Length

This is a great weekend destination. The first day you should experience Kalaloch, Ruby, and Second Beach, then Stay in Forks. The next day, drive to Rialto Beach and Cape Flattery.

Rocky Beach in Olympic National Park washington at sunset, a fantastic view along a west coast usa road trip destination

Portland to Cannon Beach

From Daris of The Discovery Nut

The picturesque Cannon Beach is one of the shortest and most popular road trips from Portland.

The most distinct feature of the area is the iconic Haystack Rock, a 235-feet rock formation jutting out of the Pacific Ocean. Not far from it, visitors can explore the scenic Ecola State Park with stunning nature and hikes that can be entered from the north end of Cannon Beach.

Cannon Beach stretches for nine miles and provides plenty of space for walking, running, and strolling. Some of the top activities are wildlife watching, hiking, and relaxing. If you look closely, you might spot colonies of puffins on Haystack Rock and spot large mammals such as elk and deer more in the area more inland.

And while the town has become a tourist magnet for travelers taking a west coast USA road trip, it has retained a small-town charm thanks to stringent regulations that limit the number of big-name chains such as stores and restaurants allowing small businesses to dominate the downtown.

Driving Distance

80 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

You can easily road trip to Cannon Beach from Portland on a day trip, but to enjoy a quieter side to this beautiful spot, consider spending the night.

Cannon Beach Oregon as seen from above, one of the best stops on a west coast usa road trip itinerary

West Coast USA Road Trip Ideas in Alaska

Anchorage to Kenai Fjords National Park

From Rachel of Rachel Off Duty

When visiting Anchorage, Alaska, one thing you absolutely must do is rent a car and drive down to the Kenai Peninsula. Just 2.5 – 3 hours away from Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula is a natural wonderland where the ice age mixes with the present day. Lush, dense forests, teal glacial water, massive glaciers, and abundant wildlife make this destination one that truly can’t be missed. 

Driving from Anchorage, within minutes you’ll find yourself tracing the side of Chugach State Park and Turnagain Arm, a massive waterway famous for bore tides that happen on a near-daily basis. Pullover at Beluga Point for a great viewing point of Turnagain Arm and, you guessed it, belugas! 

READ NEXT
7 Epic East Coast USA Road Trip Routes

Back on the road, continue until you hit Girdwood, a resort town that’s bustling with things to do for adventure-lovers. You can stay here for the night, or simply make a pit stop for a bite to eat. Jack Sprat Restaurant is a popular choice, or for something more upscale with unbeatable views, go to Seven Glaciers Restaurant (which you can access by tram!). 

From Girdwood, it’s just another hour and 45 minutes to Seward, the entry point for Kenai Fjords National Park. Once you’re here, you can explore the national park on foot, by kayak, or by boat tour. On Resurrection Bay, you might spot whales, sea lions, otters, kittiwakes, and more! Be sure to also check out Exit Glacier, which is the only glacier you can pretty much drive right up to, park, and enjoy without hiking. 

Driving Distance

127 miles.

Recommended Road Trip Length

While a trip to Kenai Fjords National Park and a quick boat tour of Resurrection Bay can easily be done in one day with minimal stops, we recommend dedicating at least 2 days to exploring the park and the surrounding areas in south-central Alaska.

fjord in alaska with a glacier visible in the background of the image. alaska is an incredible place for west coast usa road trip ideas

Anchorage, Seward + Denali Loop

From Jenifer of The Evolista

What’s better than an Alaskan cruise? An Alaskan road trip!

On a road trip in Alaska, you’ll see breathtaking views of mountains, wildlife, and ocean critters along with thrilling active pursuits along the way. 

Starting in Anchorage, take one of the most scenic roads in America, Seward Highway to visit Kenai Fjords National Park. Once in Seward, you can hike a glacier, take a whale-watching cruise, go iceberg kayaking, fishing, or one of sample some of these exciting things to do in Seward.

The next stop is Girdwood, Alaska’s ski resort town. Stay in the luxurious Alyeska Resort where you’ll have access to multiple hiking trails and the Alyeska Aerial Tram for breathtaking views of the Turnagain Arm and Chugach Mountain Range.

Snowcapped mountain in Denali National Park with evergreen trees in the foreground. Alaska is a bucket list us west coast road trip itinerary

Talkeetna, Alaska, 3 hours north, is a quirky, fun town that some say was the inspiration for the TV show Northern Exposure. Around May 1st, Talkeetna is overflowing with climbers preparing for a Denali summit. Not planning to climb a 20,320-foot mountain? You can still have the experience of a lifetime with a flightseeing tour complete with a glacier landing.

If you have an extra few days to spare, the entrance to Denali National Park is 2 hours north. The 6 million-acre national park is one of the best places in the world to spend time up close with wildlife but it’s too large for a day trip to be worth it. Plan accordingly and head back to Anchorage to complete the trip.

READ NEXT
35 Fun San Francisco Quotes to Inspire Your Trip

Driving Distance

488 miles without Denali, 767 with Denali.

Recommended Road Trip Length

One week trip for Seward, Girdwood, Talkeetna, and Anchorage.

If you want to include Denali National Park, add a few days to this west coast USA road trip itinerary. There are additional activities near Denali like ATV trips or going to see the Into the Wild bus in Healy, Alaska.

photo of la jolla beach in southern california with purple flowers in the foreground. black and pink text on a white background reads "the best west coast road trips"

 

Leave a Comment