The American west coast road trip is famous.
You get to spend time in all sorts of climates, from the wine region and beaches in California to the misty forests of Oregon and the quiet bayside towns in Washington. There’s a lot to love about this road trip. I’ve done it a few times, and still want to do it again. Literally anytime, all the time.
I’ve written up a few little guides on how to plan an awesome west coast road trip:
Part 1: The stops
Part 2: The music
Part 3: The apps
For anyone looking to make the coastal drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, I do recommend you take a look at those. Not ’cause I wrote them and my blog is so amazing and blah blah blah, but because I wrote them while prepping for my own road trip. So they’re actually fairly useful, if I do say so ma-self.
In this post I’ll be giving you an overview of the whole west coast road trip, with some tips to make your trip freakin’ sweeeeeeet.
Plus, photos. Just to give you a little idea of what you’ll be seeing along the way.
What is “The U.S. West Coast Road Trip?”
Generally when you talk about going on a “west coast” road trip in the U.S. it means you’re going to be hitting up California, Oregon, and Washington – or any combination of those 3 coastal states. Lot’s of people like this road trip because it is super scenic, especially if you stick to the coastal highways.
The coast from Washington to Cali is beautiful, and there are a ton of things to see along the way. The coastline changes from sandy beaches, to rocky beaches, to cliffs, to forests, and back again. If you’re a little adventurous and love the outdoors, it’s a non-stop awesome experience.
Not to mention:
- Lots of beach walks
- Awesome sea food
- Lots of time to listen to great music
- Exploring like a boss
There’s also specific things to see along this driving route that you can check off your bucket list.
There’s all sorts of places to stay along the way – and if camping isn’t your thing, no worries, there’s no shortage of hotels. If camping is your thing though, I’d definitely say go for it!
Use these apps to find great places to stay along the way
There are tons of camping spots along the coast and a little more inland among the trees. It really adds to the experience in my opinion, plus it’ll be cheaper than a motel.
TIP: If you’re worried about showers and such, aim for an RV + Camping park. They’ll often have showers that take quarters. Some regular campgrounds have them too.
TIP: For camping be sure to bring towels as they don’t provide them at camp showers.
Campgrounds along this route are usually set up with a parking space, plus a little clearing for a tent. On this last road trip, we opted to sleep in our car. Since we continued our drive down the coast each day and never stayed in the same place twice, camping in our car worked perfectly. It allowed us to get on the road faster (no tent to break down) and we got pretty dang fast at moving our stuff from the back to the front seats and visa versa by the end.
We used this blow up mattress specifically made for cars. It had a motorized pump which plugged into the car and we just kept it set up in the back for the entire drive. So once our stuff was moved all we had to do was get under to covers and pass out 😀
We didn’t use the mattress the first night and I can say that it makes a masssssssiiiiive difference. For a pair of twenty-somethings our backs were feelin’ 90 years old that first morning.
TIP: When sleeping in your car, try sleeping with your head at the back of the car. You can see the sky through the window, and you can lean your front seats forward to give your feet more room!
Making reservations for camping
To reserve… or not to reserve… That is the question.
We didn’t make any reservations for campsites, but did get lucky almost every day by finding a spot at the first place we checked. However, there were a couple campsites we would’ve liked (the ones on the beaches are reserved waaaaay in advance so there are no first come first serve spots) that we couldn’t find a space at.
We didn’t know exactly where we were going to stop each day, but if you plan that out, I’d suggest reservations.
- ReserveAmerica is a great site to start with – you can look up campgrounds all over the place and make reservations.
Road Trip Eats
Finding food on a road trip usually means just hoping the nearest restaurant won’t make you sick. But with technology we have options!
There are apps that’ll help you choose a place to eat based on where you are and what type of food sounds good. You can also use Google to see reviews and photos of local eateries.
We really enjoyed breakfast at the Astoria Coffee House & Bistro in Oregon. I’m a sucker for good eggs benedict and really liked theirs.
You could also grab a cooler with ice and take food with you so you don’t have to worry about finding restaurants nearly as often.
In oregon there are a ton of places selling firewood for a few bucks so you can make dinner at your campground. Just be sure to be responsible and only burn fires in the fire pits and put them out when you’re done.
We were going to stop through Big Sur on our trip… but it was on fire. Don’t be the person that lights a whole county on fire.
I do highly suggest having a paper map in the car just in case you don’t have service or your phone dies.
You could also check out an app that has downloadable maps that you can use offline.
We had two people so one of us could do the navigating, but if you don’t have a second person you can use voice navigation through Google Maps or some other service, to guide you.
There are points during a west coast drive that you will lose service so it’s a good idea to have a turn-by-turn list handy.
10 of my favorite stops:
A friend and I did the whole thing in just under a week. We both could’ve used another week at least, but we saw a lot in those days.
#1 Everett, Washington
I had a wedding to go to in Everett. One morning after a disappointing hotel breakfast we were out searching the small town for Starbucks and kept coming across random, rad pianos on the sidewalks.
Turns out, in August, the town of Everett sets out a bunch of pianos around downtown, and you can play them. We tried. I looked up music on my phone (I can kinda read music) and ended up trying to play Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and Heart and Soul. I feel sorry for the poor people that had to listen to us, but it was fun!
#2 Drive-in movie theater, Washington
I added this to the list while planning our road trip. The movie (Ice Age: Collision Course) was… uhhh… interesting…
But the whole drive-in theater experience was awesome.
#3 Abandoned Nuclear Power Plant, Washington
It’s on my bucket list to someday visit Chernobyl. So this was pretty cool for me. Might seem weird to some. The powerplant was never finished, so you just have these massive towers sitting in the middle of a tiny community. It’s odd. But cool to see.
#4 Cape Disappointment, Washington
How could we pass this up? The pun opportunities alone were worth it. But it’s also a really pretty hike.
#5 Peter Iredale Shipwreck, Oregon
Also on the list, this is literally an old ship that wrecked on an Oregon beach that was just left there. Now you can see the ship’s skeletal remains whenever you’re in the area.
#6 & 7 Devil’s Punchbowl and Thor’s Well, Oregon
Two very cool natural formations on the coast, and both fairly dangerous. NOT a place for swimming.
We noticed that although Devil’s Punchbowl is fenced off, Thor’s Well isn’t. Which is funny because, between the two, Thor’s Well really seems like the one that’s a pit of no return if you fall in. But it’s also surrounded by muscles which will probably make most people think twice about getting too close anyway.
#8 Sea Lion Caves, Oregon
For about $15 you can take an elevator down into a cave where a group of sea lions hang out. They go in and out of the cave so you’re aren’t guaranteed to see any, but during the winter they spend more time in the cave. I’ve seen both sea lions and whales off the coast here.
#9 Redwood Forest, California
The famous Avenue of Giants is worth a drive, even if you don’t stop to get out. But if you decide to walk a little ways into the forest, it’s eery how fast the outside noise fades away. The trees are amazing to see up close. They are GIANT.
#10 Black Sand Beach
This little stop is sorta out of the way, requiring an windy, hour-long trip up over the mountains. It’s a beautiful beach. The “sand” is actually black rocks that have been polished smooth by the tide.
Speaking of the tide. Black Sand Beach also has a dangerous reputation for drownings. The riptide here is fairly infamous and there are several signs warning visitors to stay out of the water and to never turn your back to the waves due to random “sneaker” waves. Basically really big, random waves that could knock you down and carry you out to sea. Several people have died here after being sucked out by the strong riptide.
Use awesome apps like Roadtrippers to plan out the things you want to see on the way.
See the full list the most useful apps for a road trip here.
You can click to enlarge any of the photos below!
See more photos from the trip here.