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Popular West Coast Road Trip Adventures

If you've been wanting to explore the West Coast U.S. but had a hard time finding the right route, below are six of the absolute best West Coast road trip ideas. From the peaks of the Cascade mountains to the beaches of California, find the adventure you've been waiting for.

Road trips are fun and exciting -- if you choose a good route and prepare properly. The best plan starts with packing the car with tunes, friends, food, family, and having some big views in mind. The road is yours for the taking. Nothing but pavement and good times ahead. Whether it's a day trip, a week of driving, or a month-long excursion, the trip is what you make of it.

West Coast Road Trip 1: Seattle, Washington to Astoria, Oregon

Miles: About 181 or 204 miles depending on the route you take.

Time: Best enjoyed in a 1-3 day trip.

The Best Time to Go: Around March, or any time you want a weekend drive.

The Trip:

If you're coming from Seattle you may already know of some fun things to check out, like Pike's Place Market. This is the home of the first Starbucks, great coffee overall, amazing bakeries, and world-renowned restaurants and bars.

On this stretch of road you'll come across many great things to see and do. There are two routes you can take here, direct or scenic. For the direct route you take Interstate 5. For the scenic route take State Route 509.

This trip has many coastline views, great towns, state parks, beaches, and plenty of Tillamook cheese.

In addition to being a wonderful town, Tillamook is home to the Tillamook dairy products company. See how they make their cheeses, ice cream, and Maker's Reserve-their special aged cheese. It's one yummy stop you don't want to miss.

Situated Northwest of the city of Portland, Astoria is a stone’s throw away from the Pacific Ocean. As you head into Astoria, Oregon you'll be greeted by Victorian-era homes overlooking the Columbia River. Boasting three rivers, it's no surprise that Astoria is historically a fishing town. Check out the Columbia River Maritime Museum to learn all about what it's like out on the open seas. If hiking is your forte, explore the Fort to Sea Trail and enjoy a well-earned local brew before you head out.

Trip 2: North Cascades National Park to Joshua Tree

Miles: Up to about 1,300 miles depending on the route you take.

Time: Can be done in 1-2 days, but take a week or more to really enjoy this route.

The Best Time to Go: Around the warmer months, like July or August. But, if you have experience camping and road-tripping in colder weather you can go from the snow-capped Cascades to the dry desert.

The Trip:

The beauty of this trip is that it starts and ends with wonderful state parks. North Cascades National Park in Washington has many hiking trails you can do, from simple day hikes to something a bit more advanced. In fact, this park is part of the Pacific Crest Trail of the famed book and movie Wild.

If you plan on doing some serious camping/hiking in this park, be sure to check if you need a permit or not. You should be fine without a permit if you're just stopping by for the day. Most national parks require a small fee for parking to maintain the upkeep and beauty that you'll be enjoying.

Other stops on this route include the Evergreen Arboretum & Gardens. This park is 3 1/2 acres full of lush gardens and walkways in American Legion Park. It's a great spot for road trippers who want to literally stop and smell the roses.

If you don't want to drive the full leg, take a peek at The Secrets of Portlandia Free Walking Tour. It explores the many sights and scenes of the famed Portlandia TV show.

The majority of this trip follows the I-5. That makes it easy to make stops at classic national parks like California's Yosemite National Park along the way. And of course, the last stop on this trip is Joshua Tree National Park in the southern part of California. This national park in the California desert has hiking, camping, birding, and even biking trails. Catch a glimpse of birds, lizards, and even bighorn sheep that have adapted to thrive in this environment. The biggest spectacle are the Joshua Trees that have unique spiky leaves. You'll find plenty of cacti, too!

Trip 3: Lake Tahoe to Eastern Sierra

Miles: About 175 miles.

Time: Can be done in half a day, but a full week is best.

The Best Time to Go: In spring, when the wildflowers are in bloom. But fall is a close second.

The Trip:

If you really want to keep up with the Leslie Knope Parks & Rec trend, consider the scenic South Lake Tahoe. You can enjoy the alpine lake or take a quick 40-minute drive to Hope Valley, California. Hope Valley is best seen in the fall because that's when all the leaves start to turn.

If you stroll down California SR359 South to Bridgeport, you'll get to see the ghost town of Bodie. It's now a state park where you can visit historic buildings and the gift shop. If you want a glimpse of a ghoul, you can plan a private tour of the place.

A little farther south you can see the Mammoth Lakes. This lake has activities to do year-round. During the spring, summer, and fall months you can:

  • Hike the Sierra Nevada Range.
  • Road or mountain bike.
  • Cast a line to catch a native golden trout.
  • Relax on a kayak.
  • Camp at one of the 800 campsites.
  • Golf at the Mammoth’s Sierra Star Golf Course.
  • If you plan your trip earlier in the year, you can:

  • Enjoy snow sports like snowshoeing, skiing, or snowboarding.
  • Snowmobile through the Inyo National Forest.
  • Take a snowcat tour to experience the backcountry while staying warm.

    Trip 4: Los Angeles to Pismo Beach

    Miles: About 177 miles.

    Time: This is a great day trip. But stay in Pismo and turn it into a beach weekend before heading back.

    The Best Time to Go: Spring to early fall. Fall is good if you want milder weather and fewer tourists.

    The Trip:

    If you LOVE beaches and want to explore some of the best beaches California has to offer, then this road trip is for you.

    You can start your beach journey at Manhattan beach. This classic beach has a lot to offer, like parks for walking, baseball diamonds, and, of course, lots of waterfront space.

    If you want to press pause on the road trip you can hop on a boat or plane to get to the Channel Islands. Island Packers will take you by sea or use Channel Islands Aviation to get to the Channel Islands by air. You can visit this park year-round, but in spring you'll get to see:

  • The blooming wildflowers at their peak.
  • Newborn fox pups.
  • California sea lions and northern fur seals gathering at the rocks.

    Since this island requires a boat or plane ride, be sure to plan ahead. Check out other destinations that make up the Channel Islands, like Anacapa Island or Santa Cruz, too.

    There is no brick and mortar lodging available, but there is one campground per island. So, be sure to pack your camping equipment and food if you plan to stay a few nights.

    If visiting the islands is not your thing, then you can cruise on the 101 highway to Santa Barbara. This coastal town has hiking, water sports, fine dining options, and the beach.

    If you need some zen, check out the wellness retreat. You can practice some yoga or treat your body to some time in the Himalayan salt cave.

    Next on the 101 highway road trip is Pismo Beach. This beach is perfect if you happen to have a furry friend along for the ride. This beach has a lot of dog-friendly places to stay, from hotels to RV parks.

    Trip 5: San Francisco to Seattle

    Miles: about 920 miles.

    Time: 2 days without stopping. 2 weeks to get the full experience.

    The Best Time to Go: June is great for the temperature, but spring and fall are great too.

    The Trip:

    This West Coast trip begins in San Francisco, has a stop in Oregon, and lands in Seattle. Starting things off in San Francisco, take a visit to the Golden Gate Bridge. Get a look for yourself at one of the world's most beautiful bridges that challenges the senses. Then, you can take a stroll over to the Golden Gate Park for some hiking, picnicking, or playing a round of golf. If you're interested in a beer, swing over to San Francisco Brewing Co. for some eats and an IPA.

    This road trip continues to Florence, Oregon. Here you can check out places to camp, hike, and see the dunes. Yes, believe it or not, Oregon is home to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area where you can ride dune buggies across the sand. For a thrill and a workout, the Oregon forests have lots of trails to choose from.

    After some adrenaline pumping, take the Pacific Coast Highway to see breathtaking views of Oregon's Cannon Beach. This rocky shore is home to Haystack Rock and plenty of diverse birdlife. National Geographic named Cannon Beach one of the 21 Best Beaches in the World. Not only that, it was the filming location of many classic movies, like The Goonies.

    Like most things on this list, Cannon Beach has many hikes you can do. If you want to work for your craft beer, there are trails that are close to the action downtown.

    The last stop on this trip takes you into Washington where you'll find another awe-inspiring sight: the 633,000-acre Olympic National Park. Here you can camp, hike, and see the stars at night.

    Trip 6: Olympic Peninsula Washington

    Miles: About 550 miles.

    Time: 2-7 days. You’ll want to come back.

    The Best Time to Go: Late spring to fall.

    The Trip:

    We know we just mentioned the Olympic National Park. But that is just one of the many sights around the Olympic Peninsula area. You can explore 13 state parks and nearly 100 other park facilities throughout.

    One unique feature of the Olympic Peninsula is the Hoh Rain Forest. This temperate rainforest is one of the last survivors in the Pacific Northwest. Hear for yourself the One Square Inch of Silence this forest offers.

    Another can't-miss feature of the Olympic Peninsula is the Hood Canal. Filled with all sorts of sea creatures this 68-mile saltwater fjord was formed from a glacier 13,000 years ago.
    If you're done with hiking and want to cover more mileage in the car, another sight on this trip is the Loop. The loop is 300 miles of asphalt sprinkled with nature, craft beers, and even spots for whale watching.

    Whether you're team Edward or team Jacob, fans of the Twilight series can see where this rivalry went down. The Loop takes you to Forks, Washington, and La Push where the movies were filmed. Plus, for die-hard fans, there's a Twilight Festival in September with themed celebrations and events.