US West Coast Road Trip Itinerary (8 Reasons To Take One!)

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

What is better than a good Summer road trip? You get to explore new areas every day, and you get to set the pace for your activities. In my little family Summer has become synonymous with road trips, and our favorite route is from our home in Seattle all the way to somewhere in Southern California. While the sighs and attractions we see each time change, the reasons why we take this road trip year after year do not.

Here are my 8 reasons that I hope will convince you to take a US West Coast road trip!

The Best Camping Spots

Road trips mean camping, and there is no better camping than spots next to the ocean.

Our trip started in Seattle, where we made it to the coast via Cape Disappointment. An unfortunate name given to the most South Western corner of Washington State, this state park has views of insane crashing waves and a long and quiet beach. There is a handy highway that you can begin here that will take you all the way through Oregon: Highway 101.

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach is a sight not to be missed!

Some beautiful stops while driving include: Cannon Beach, Manzanita, and Tillamook (the factory’s cheese and ice cream are the absolute best!)

Our trusty Coleman tent!

Our first night was spent camping at Cape Lookout State Park. At $30 for a non-powered campsite, it is a steal. You fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves and you are always less than a five minute walk from the beach. Camping on this road trip was amazing because of the sites we were able to book. There is nothing quite like falling asleep to and waking up surrounded by the sounds of the ocean.

Time Spent Together Exploring New Things

Day Two was all about uncovering new gems along the Oregon Coast. This was the first time we would be following the 101 all the way to the California border, and we planned to stop everywhere the daylight would allow.

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

My first sea star!

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

On our hidden beach!

 

Although the day started off rainy, we were determined not to let that ruin our time together. Because Adrian and I spent two and a half years living on almost opposite sides of the continent, our time together really mattered. We used this time to road trip together and make amazing new memories.

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

A roadside lookout on the Oregon Coast

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

Another scenic lookout!

The day was filled with some awesome things. I finally found sea stars in some tide pools (after years of dutifully searching!) We discovered a pristine beach with literally no one else in sight (I will give you the nearest city-Yachats- and leave the rest up to you!) and we ended off the day viewing the sunset from the top of some sea stacks.

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

Sunset on the top of a sea stack

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

Beautiful end to a beautiful day!

That night we set up camp in the dark (an adventure itself) underneath towering Northern California redwoods. Road trips give you an opportunity to make new memories while spending lots of quality time with friends, family, or partners.

Discovering Unexpected Places

Our first full day in California was filled with expected stops.

After checking out of our KOA campground, we ventured through a forest of Redwoods. The temperature kept climbing and we realized this was a perfect opportunity to find a swimming hole. Sounds easy enough since we were in a forest, but it was a lot harder than expected. After asking for directions in a small town and not being able to find the location, we were ready to give up.

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

Morning view at Crescent City KOA

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

The towering redwoods are so huge that you can fit inside of them!

As we continued driving we spotted a river through the trees and followed it until we could find road side access. Through a bunch of redwoods so big I could fit inside of them there was a quiet and slow enough moving river for a swim. We spent time cooling off and enjoying the peacefulness around us.

That night we stayed with a friend in Sunnyvale, and had a story to tell about the refreshing river we had had all to ourselves. Sometimes the unexpected places end up being the best!

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

The river was so clear and so quiet!

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

We could have stayed there for hours!

The Ocean

Arguably the best part of a US West Coast road trip is being next to the ocean. By the time you reach California, depending on the time of the year, it is sometimes swimmable.

After grabbing breakfast in Menlo Park we headed back to the coast to reach Carmel-by-the-Sea. If you have never heard of it, you are not alone. It is a quiet gem located between busy Santa Cruz and the better known Big Sur.

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

The beautiful weather in Carmel

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

The beautiful pools onshore

You never know what to expect in Carmel. Sometimes we have been there and the whole town is covered in sea fog. Sometimes it is cold and cloudy. This day it was just perfect! It was sunny, the water was fairly warm and the tide had created a wide and shallow pool further up on the beach. We enjoyed our time soaking up all the sun, and Mason frolicked in the waves for what seemed like forever.

In the afternoon we dropped Mason off with a dog sitter and headed to nearby Point Lobos State Reserve. The crystal clear China Cove and the abundant wildlife are good enough reasons to check it out, but there are so many different trails to discover at this preserve.

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

Point Lobos Reserve

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

China Cove in Point Lobos- that is not all seaweed, there are seals lounging on the beach!

We ended off our day in the best way possible: visiting McWay waterfall at sunset and camping at Kirk Creek Campground, in a site located on the top of a large cliff overlooking the ocean in Big Sur.

The Scenery

If you’re looking for amazing scenery on your West Coast road trip, make sure to spend some quality time in Big Sur. A stretch of Highway 1 located between Northern and Southern California, it offers some of the state’s best views.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is the cutest town ever!

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

The sea fog in Big Sur clearing!

After experiencing sea fog in the morning, we decided to head back to Carmel to eat breakfast. After it had cleared we set out to explore as much of Big Sur as possible on Day 5. We stumbled upon a film set on one of our “secret” beaches, and met the producer of what would become the hit miniseries “Big Little Lies”. We stopped every few minutes at lookouts, peering over the dauntingly high cliffs. And we finally found the purple sand beach we had tried to find the year before.

 

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West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

The purple sand beach was foggy but so cool!

Big Sur never disappoints. That night we camped at an inland campground, Plaskett Creek, located in a forest next to a river. As the sea fog rolled in for the night we were treated to an eerily beautiful scene as a full moon rose above us.

The Music

What is a road trip without music? There are so many songs that are tied to specific memories for me, and a lot of those memories are of being on road trips.

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

The elephant seals in San Simeon

Day Six was filled with a whole lot of unintentional driving. We woke up in Big Sur, and visited our favorite colony of elephant seals in San Simeon before completing that drive. While driving past Santa Barbara we made a hasty decision to detour through Los Angeles. At 3 PM. On a week day. Worst. Idea. Ever. The only thing that got us through hours and hours stuck in LA traffic and that got is through getting lost in less than desirable neighborhoods was our entertainment.

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

We finally made it to Huntington Beach after hours and hours in the car!

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

A well deserved sunset after a crazy day!

California Gurls reminds me of the first time I visited LA with my best friend, and the OC theme song reminds me of the time my sisters, my husband and I belted it out while crossing the border into California. On an otherwise disastrous day of our road trip, music was there for us. And it always is on road trips. It is the constant on the sometimes monotonous highways that get you to where you’re going.

The Spontaneity

Road trips give you the freedom to go wherever your car will take you, whenever you want. The next few days were filled with unplanned activities, which are sometimes the best kind.

After the wasted day we woke up in beautiful Laguna Beach, after camping at Crystal Cove State Park. Except that it was not all that beautiful that morning. Considering we were in Southern California, the weather was downright terrible. It was drizzly and cold. Our plans to swim on one of Laguna Beach’s beaches seemed thwarted. It did not ruin our day though. We headed to dog friendly Huntington Beach instead, to let Mason swim. To our surprise the water was warmer than it looked! We got our swim in after all! We had achieved what we had come all the way to Southern California for, and we could now start heading home.

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

Happy to be swimming at Huntington Beach!

After making it all the way back to the Bay Area, we woke up in Sunnyvale again. The plan was to visit the Winchester Mansion, which we had seen in 2013, but at the last minute Adrian suggested we try something new. So we headed to the Computer History Museum in San Jose (Adrian is a computer programmer!) It turned out to be a really cool museum in which somehow the creators made learning about computers really engaging and fun!

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

A quote from the Computer History Museum

Sometimes the things that are unplanned end up being the highlights of a trip, simply because there is no expectation for them. We ended our adventure on a different note than expected, but a memorable one.

Culture of Road Trips

Our last morning started in the forests of Shasta, Northern California. We spent the day driving back to Seattle, which was exhausting. It was made much easier because the USA is an easy country to road trip in.

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

Who loves road trips more? Us or Mason?

I have road tripped in Canada, in multiple countries in Europe and in New Zealand, and I can say with the utmost confidence that the USA is the best place for road trips. The infrastructure is well put together and maintained, so you never have to worry about getting lost in the middle of nowhere, or not having access to a certain place. There are rest stops at regular intervals and there is always a gas station close by. You will never go hungry even if you forgot your food, because there are handy signs on the highway showing you where you can find something to snack on. The USA has built such a culture around road trips that it is very easy to hop on the bandwagon and join yourself!

If you’re just starting out and have never taken a road trip, the US West Coast is the absolute best place to start. It is not remote enough that you will have to worry about getting stranded, and it gives you the most amazing views!

West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

Road trips involve views like this!

Road trips are something that everyone should try at least once in their lives. If you’re looking for adventure, a road trip is for you!

“Because the greatest part of a road trip is not the destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.” Emma Chase

Happy truthful road tripping,

Samantha

A Truthful Traveler