Some of the best views can be seen from a car, and what better way to experience the West Coast than to drive it? The West Coast boasts of all sorts of natural wonders that will leave you in awe. From mountains to beaches to redwood forests and rivers, there is so much to see and experience. With you in the driver’s seat, you can take everything in at your own time and pace. Whether you’re planning your next family vacation or looking for a little “me time” on the road, these are 16 of the best West Coast road trips to consider taking one day!
Most Iconic West Coast Road Trips for Your Family Vacation
Alaska is one of the most beautiful states in the U.S. and to see it by car is sure to be memorable. You’ll see small towns, plenty of lakes, and mind-blowing mountains. Be sure to check out Mendenhall Glacier, Denali and the Chugach National Forest.
2. San Francisco
Of course if you are driving through San Francisco, you’ll want to make your way over the Golden Gate Bridge. Be sure to check out Chinatown, the cable car and San Francisco Bay. If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, Alcatraz Island is great last spot to visit.
Sonoma and Napa are wine country so if you plan to visit here, make sure you’ve booked a hotel room! After enjoying a few hours of taste testing some locally made wine, you can visit one of the many art galleries or spend time looking at the adobe buildings from the 19th century!
4. Lake Tahoe
The drive to Lake Tahoe will be filled with amazing views and tons of wilderness. If you want a road-trip that is fun in and outside of the car, this is the one for you! Be sure to go to Emerald Bay State Park, Inspiration Point Vista and Pope Beach. Each of those locations will leave you in awe of just how beautiful nature is.
5. Big Sur
Big Sur, California has been called the “greatest meeting of land and water.” Big Sur stretches between San Simeon all the way to Carmel and offers 85 miles of beautiful views of the state’s coastline. Big Sur is not densely populated but the location is becoming a tourist hot-spot. If you can find yourself off the beaten path, you’re in for a real treat.
6. Bend, Oregon
Bend, Oregon is the place to go for recreational activities in Oregon, no matter the season. When driving, be sure to make your way to Lava River Cave, Pilot Butte and Drake Park to see all of the beauty that Bend has to offer! You can also check out the Bend Ale Trail Beer Trail to try local brews.
7. Vancouver, BC
Vancouver is a bustling seaport in B.C. that has a lot to offer! Stanley Park is a great urban park that still offers amazing scenery of the seawall. If you want to test just how adventurous you are, trek across the 137 metre long Capilano Suspension bridge that takes you above a forest and water. Downtown Vancouver is also worth checking out for its nightlife.
8. Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is located in Washington state and is considered to be 95% wilderness. The park takes you through dry forests, alpine areas, the Pacific coastline and temperate rainforests. The park is a nature lovers dream and the scenery is like nothing you will see anywhere else. Keep an eye out for grazing elk, enormous red cedars and bigleaf maple trees.
While Seattle is well-known for its city life, the city also offers wonderful natural views such as evergreen forests, water and mountains. The Space Needle is a must see as is the Seattle Japanese, Chihuly and Kubota Gardens. If you want to see Seattle from above, take a few hours to visit the Sky View Observatory.
10. Crater Lake
Crater Lake is located in Oregon and is one of nature’s coolest creations. Once upon a time, the lake was actually a volcano. When Mount Mazama collapsed a 4,000 foot deep caldera was formed. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the world and is engulfed by mountains and evergreens. Don’t forget to bring your camera for this adventure.
11. Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree National Park is located in southern California. The park is home to two very different desert ecosystems: the Colorado and the Mojave. The park is nearly 800,000 acres and allows visitors to hike, camp, rock climb, bird watch and even drive through some portions of the park. It is said that at night the stargazing is amazing since the desert has very little light pollution.
Ensenada is just south of San Diego and has been called the Cinderella of the Pacific. The coastal city is located in Mexico and is the perfect spot for those looking to experience Mexico without the high costs. Ensenada is the perfect place to experience Mexican cuisine, arts and city life.
13. Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park, located in northern California, is made up of old-growth temperate rainforests that are home to thousands of redwood trees. The park is not only home to unique trees but also threatened animals, such as the Chinook salmon, Steller’s sea lion and the tidewater goby. For your drive, be sure to bring your hiking shoes or even your mountain-bike for an even better trip.
14. The Columbia River Gorge
The Columbia River Gorge is a canyon located in Oregon. The canyon is on the Columbia River and offers lovely views of waterfalls, rock formations and several gorges. While trekking through, be sure to stop at Elowah Falls, Crown Point and Horsetail Falls for some amazing sites.
15. Walla Walla
Just saying the name makes you smile! Walla Walla is located in Washington at the bottom of the Blue Mountains. While the city offers lovely mountain views, you’ll also be surprised to find plenty of vineyards. Walla Walla is an up and coming wine hot spot that is perfect for road tripping couples looking for a romantic getaway.
16. Palm Springs
Palm Springs is located in the Sonoran Desert in southern California and is one of the more luxurious road-trip locations to visit. Here you’ll find tons of upscale hotels and spas along with golf courses and hot springs. Be sure to take a few hours out of the car to take a ride on the aerial tramway. Palm Springs is also home to a state park, casino and botanical gardens.
17 thoughts on “The 16 Most Iconic West Coast Road Trips”
I’ve done a San Francisco road trip, but I’d love to try a few more on this list! I’m really liking the look of Crater Lake! Thanks for inspiring my wanderlust:)
I have always wanted to drive the whole of old Route 66.
hubby and I have talked about an Alaska trip and thanks for sharing info about it.
Wow! I want to go to all of them! These photos are stunning!
My husband has been trying to talk me into a trip to Seattle for years. His favorite sports teams are from there.
These are all places I would love to visit before I turn 30! Except Alaska, I think it would be too cold!
These are awesome! I love traveling and we really enjoy road trips! Wish we can visit each of these places!
This just goes to show that there are many untouched places in the west that you can go to and experience. It would be nice to take the kids on a road trip there!
These places are all stunningly beautiful! I cannot choose which one is the best! I hope I have the time and resource to visit each and every place in this list!
Road trips are my favorite! It seems to help the family bond so much! The last we did was all the way to Canada.
I would love to go to any of these! I have been to Oregon and it was amazingly beautiful!
These are all amazing places I would love to see one day. I would love to go to Alaska first. I have always dreamed of exploring it.
I have lived on the west coast my entire life and suddenly realize I still have so many nearby destinations to explore. Taking me anywhere in California is always an easy way to my heart.
I love all of the places that you feature here! I need to plan a visit to some of these with my family over the next few summers – they would love it!
I have not been to the west coast yet, ever. :( I love that you used Instagram photos to document some iconic west coast road trip ideas! love it!
I have always wanted to visit Big Sur. These sound like fantastic road trips that anyone would enjoy.
I think I would include Las Vegas in that list. We used to road trip there for a weekend when we lived in Los Angeles!