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
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As we arrived at Crater Lake in the middle of the night we were skeptical of how the photos would turn out as the sky was full of clouds and the moon was so bright. We grabbed our gear and began to hike through the snow in the below freezing temperatures. There wasn't a single other person around and the only sounds were falling snow and icicles from the surrounding trees and a light howling wind. After a bit of a wait the clouds cleared revealing stars and the lake was beautifully lit up by the moonlight. Shot with @sonyalpha a7rii #alphacollective
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
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Want a once in a lifetime experience in Joshua Tree? Join an Earthwatch expedition! Over two million people visit the park every year, but you would experience it as none of them do: off the beaten path, with a team of researchers. Hike, monitor reptiles like the desert tortoise, measure Joshua trees and contribute to crucial research. Check out expedition dates and details by clicking on the link in the bio. #Earthwatch Photo by NPS/Hannah Schwalbe.
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
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What irreplaceable icons do you defend? "To sustain an environment suitable for man, we must fight on a thousand battlegrounds. Despite all of our wealth and knowledge, we cannot create a redwood forest, a wild river, or a gleaming seashore." – Lyndon B. Johnson Photo: S. Gayner @redwoodseth #redwoodnps #findyourpark #encuentratuparque
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.