A West Coast USA road trip is one of the classic American road trips. Make the most out of your adventure with this step-by-step Highway 1 road trip itinerary.
By Julianna Barnaby
Driving up the Pacific Coast Highway and the rest of Highway 1 is an experience to remember – it’s one that I certainly do. Magnificent views, laid-back towns, vineyards and the great outdoors: this is a real chance to explore the great American coast. What more could you want from your time on the road?
Any great trip is worth taking its time over, so I’ve put together the perfect three week Highway 1 road trip itinerary to help you plan your trip. All the West Coast road trip ideas you’ll need to plan the perfect trip. Don’t stress, just sit back and enjoy the ride.
- What’s the Perfect Highway 1 Road Trip Itinerary?
- Where Does the Pacific Coast Highway Start?
- Which Direction Should You Drive a Highway 1 Road Trip?
- San Diego (Day 1)
- San Diego to Laguna Beach (Day 2)
- Laguna Beach to Los Angeles (Day 3)
- Los Angeles to Santa Barbara (Day 4)
- Santa Barbara to Pismo Beach + San Luis Obispo (Day 5)
- San Luis Obispo to Hearst Castle and the Big Sur (Day 6)
- Big Sur to Carmel, Monterey + Santa Cruz (Day 7)
- Santa Cruz to San Francisco (Days 8 + 9)
- Detour from San Francisco to Yosemite (Days 10-12)
- Detour from Yosemite to Sonoma (Days 13 + 14)
- Sonoma to Mendocino (Day 15)
- Mendocino to Klamath (Day 16)
- Klamath to Coos Bay (Day 17)
- Coos Bay to Newport (Day 18)
- Newport to Astoria (Day 19)
- Astoria to Olympic National Park (Day 20)
- Olympic National Park to Seattle (Day 21)
- Practical Tips and Must-Knows for Your West Coast USA Road Trip
What’s the Perfect Highway 1 Road Trip Itinerary?
We’re going to go into (a lot) more detail throughout this article, but here’s a quick summary of the Highway 1 highlights.
Your perfect Highway 1 road trip itinerary should include:
- San Diego
- Laguna Beach
- Los Angeles
- Santa Barbara
- San Louis Obispo
- Hearst Castle
- Big Sur
- San Francisco
- Coos Bay
- Olympic National Park
I’ve included estimated drive times between destinations to give you a rough idea of what to expect but much of the pleasure of any West Coast USA road trip is stopping off to enjoy the spectacular views along the way.
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Where Does the Pacific Coast Highway Start?
The Pacific Coast Highway technically only runs from San Diego to Mendocino in California – the full stretch is Highway 1, which is what this itinerary covers. If you want to make this into a Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary, just stop at Mendocino!
Which Direction Should You Drive a Highway 1 Road Trip?
You can drive this Highway 1 road trip itinerary in the opposite direction from Seattle to San Diego – there isn’t much in it either way. If you drive from north to south, it’s easier to turn off and get to lookouts. If you drive from south to north, the sun tends to be behind you and not in your eyes.
San Diego (Day 1)
Laid-back, friendly and easy on the eye, San Diego is the perfect place to start your USA road trip and a great introduction to the West Coast of California. The city is best known for two things: its great beaches and year-round warm climate – take advantage of both of these before you set off on your West Coast road trip.
Spend some time exploring the compact downtown area and take advantage of the buzzing dining scene before hitting the road. See the Practical Tips section for details on transport, car hire and road trip essentials before you set off.
Best Things to do in San Diego
- San Diego Zoo – San Diego’s world-famous wildlife sanctuary is located in Balboa Park, with more than 3,700 animals of 650 species.
- Mission Beach – The lively boardwalk and picture-perfect coast make this one of San Diego’s hottest spots.
- Catch the sunset at Sunset Cliffs – They got their name for a reason.
- Take a surfing lesson – Because it’s California and it’s practically mandatory.
- Read for more San Diego travel inspiration
Where to Stay in San Diego
Sheraton San Diego Marina (Luxury)
Right on the Marina and offers a free transfer from San Diego Airport.
Hotel Indigo (Mid Range)
Check prices, Reviews & Availability[/button]An eco-friendly hotel with an eye-catching interior in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Hotel Solamar (Mid Range)
Flaunting its hipster credibilities, Hotel Solamar is a cool place to stay without breaking the bank.
San Diego to Laguna Beach (Day 2)
1.5 hour drive from San Diego.
It’s a beautiful drive from San Diego to Laguna Beach, the next stop on your West Coast USA road trip itinerary. Straight outta the OC, Laguna Beach is a pleasant cluster of gorgeous beaches, art galleries and boho-chic eateries. Stop off to explore the rocky bluffs and hidden coves dotted along Laguna’s coastline. There are over 30 beaches in the seven-mile stretch of Laguna Beach for you to take your pick from.
Best Things to do in Laguna Beach
- Laguna Art Museum – The best in modern Californian art in the oldest museum in the state.
- St Francis Cathedral – The second-smallest cathedral in the world (it’s tiny).
- Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art – Showcases contemporary art dedicated to illuminating humanitarian causes.
- Nick’s Laguna Beach – Classic American comfort food is the name of the game at this chic bistro with an open kitchen.
Where to Stay in Laguna Beach
Inn at Laguna Beach (Luxury)
One of the coolest hotels in Laguna Beach (and with the price tag to match), the Inn at Laguna Beach is tucked away on a cliff, 1 minute walk from the beach and with captivating ocean views. Service is second to none.
Laguna Hills Lodge (Budget)
Tucked inland in the Laguna Hills, this budget-friendly hotel offers comfortable rooms at an affordable price.
Laguna Beach to Los Angeles (Day 3)
1 hour drive from Laguna Beach.
Love it or hate it, no West Coast USA road trip is complete without a stop in Los Angeles. Sure, the roads are crazy but take some time to explore and you’ll find some of the coolest galleries, restaurants and beaches in the US.
Best Things to do in Los Angeles
- The Broad. LA’s hottest art gallery is the place to go and an Insta-lover’s dream.
- Venice Beach. Release your inner freak and revel in the weird, wacky and wonderful on Venice Beach.
- Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles. The best fried chicken in LA is something of an institution. Grab your place in line before settling down to a feast.
Want more LA travel inspiration? Check out our guide to 25 LA Hotspots you shouldn’t miss on your next trip.
Best Places to Stay in LA
The Mondrian (Luxury)
This Morgan Hotels property is quirky and unashamedly glossy.
Farmer’s Daughter (Mid-Range)
This 1960s strip motel has been transformed into a characterful hub in a cool location. From
USA Hostels Hollywood (Budget)
Looking for a lively hostel with buzzing social areas and a nightly rota of events? This is your place.
Los Angeles to Santa Barbara (Day 4)
1.5 hour drive from Los Angeles.
After a leisurely (and relatively short) drive from Los Angeles, you should stop off in Santa Barbara for a taste of the good life. This old Spanish mission town is a West Coast road trip USA staple – over the years it has blossomed into a hub of pretty buildings, lush gardens and high-end stays.
Don’t forget to pop into a vineyard or two in the style of indie-hit film Sideways. Just remember to appoint a designated driver first. If you don’t have time to head out to the vineyards, many of them have tasting rooms in town too (mostly centered around the fabulously-named region of town called The Funk Zone).
Best Things to do in Santa Barbara
- Mission Santa Barbara. Dating back to 1786, Santa Barbara’s mission is the city’s main historical landmark and well worth a visit.
- Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Captivating range of artworks from native Californians and international masters.
- Kalyra Winery. A small, independent winery producing stellar wines.
- The Lark. Santa Barbara’s best restaurant is difficult to book but well worth the effort if you bag a table.
- Metropolous Fine Foods Merchant. Stock up on deli dishes, handmade sandwiches and salads for your lunch.
Where to Stay in Santa Barbara
Belmond El Encanto (Luxury)
A plush hotel overlooking the ocean, El Encanto is the place to really push the boat out.
The Eagle Inn
A quaint B&B with private cottages a few blocks away from the beach.
Casa del Mar Inn
An affordable hidden gem that’s close to the beach.
Santa Barbara to Pismo Beach + San Luis Obispo (Day 5)
1.5 hour drive from Santa Barbara.
The drive from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo is full of treasures, and sure to be a highlight of your West Coast USA road trip. If you’re travelling between October and February, the Pismo Beach Butterfly Grove is a must-do: millions of Monarch Butterflies take sanctuary in the grove’s Eucalyptus trees during the winter season. Bring some binoculars or a good zoom camera for a close up peek.
Pismo is prime seafood country – The Cracked Crab might be no-frills, but who needs them when the seafood is that fresh and tasty? Cover up though, digging in can be a messy business.
Almost perfectly halfway between LA and San Fran, San Luis Obispo (or SLO as the local’s call it) is a buzzing town with an old Catholic mission and a great weekly farmer’s market. Wine lovers should take a little detour into the picturesque Edna Valley to taste the local vintages.
Best Things to do in Pismo Beach + San Luis Obispo
- Monarch Butterfly Grove
- The Cracked Crab
- San Luis Obispo Mission – a well-preserved mission dating from 1772.
- Farmer’s Market
Where to Stay in San Luis Obispo
San Luis Creek Lodge (Luxury)
High-end B&B that’s consistently rated as one of the best places to stay in SLO.
Madonna Inn (Mid-Range)
Over-the-top in the best possible way. If you want your accommodation with bags of colourful personality, you won’t find anywhere better than the Madonna Inn.
Avenue Inn Downtown San Luis Obispo (Budget)
Small inn in walking distance from downtown San Luis Obispo.
San Luis Obispo to Hearst Castle and the Big Sur (Day 6)
Get ready for dramatic scenery and photo-opps galore on today’s West Coast drive. Today starts with a visit to the palatial but bizarre Hearst Castle. Sir William Randolph Hearst built the castle to entertain his hoards of Hollywood star and media magnate friends. Expect unbridled opulence and gorgeous architecture from this Highway 1 Highlight.
After Hearst Castle, jump back into the car for a completely different kind of drama: The Big Sur. This winding 100-mile stretch of road is California’s most famous – and for many, the highlight of their West Coast Road Trip. For good reason: the salty surfs, coastal bluffs and (mildly terrifying) winding road are sure to keep you on your toes. Allow plenty of time to drive the Big Sur as it can get quite congested. Sections of Big Sur are closed during 2018. Check here for the latest updates.
Best Things to do in Big Sur
- Hearst Castle – Sir William Randolph Hearst’s fantastical fairtytale destination.
- The seal colony at Point Piedras Blancas
- Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park – home to McWay Waterfalls, redwoods and some great hiking.
- Henry Miller Memorial Library – beatnik books, offbeat events and film screenings.
- Pfeiffer Beach – a purple sand beach in the state park. A little hard to find but worth spending the time to do it.
- Big Sur Taphouse – For locally-brewed craft beers and delicious food.
- Deetjeens Big Sur Inn – Grab some hearty fare from this local institution.
Where to Stay in Big Sur
Post Ranch Inn (Luxury)
Frequently named as one of the best hotels in the US and the place to pamper yourself on your Highway 1 road trip.
Big Sur Lodge (Mid Range)
Tucked away in the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur Lodge is the perfect base for exploring the area.
Big Sur Campground & Cabins (Budget)
If you’ve brought a tent, book ahead and pitch up in this handy campsite.
Big Sur to Carmel, Monterey + Santa Cruz (Day 7)
1.5 hour drive from Big Sur to Santa Cruz
Wherever you’ve stopped off in Big Sur, I’m pretty sure that you will be sorry to leave. Many people call it a day after Big Sur and head back home. Sure, you could do that – but you’d be missing out on so much of the Pacific Coast Highway / Highway 1 and the adventures that it has to offer.
Pack up and jump back in the car and drive down to the small well-heeled town of Carmel (of Clint Eastwood ex-mayor fame). I can’t say that Carmel was my favourite place ever, but there’s an undeniable charm to the chocolate-box prettiness of the town.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, a short distance from Carmel couldn’t stand in starker contrast to the quiet town. You can’t miss the crashing waves and and the noisy sea lion population who make their presence known (very loudly). I’d recommend taking a few hours and doing the six-mile circuit around the park, but if you’re short on time there are plenty of car parks near to viewing points for you to take advantage of.
Further along the coast, you can stop off in Monterey to see the award-winning aquarium (buy your tickets in advance if you do). Wander around the town, which was immortalised in the John Steinbeck novel “Cannery Row” thanks to its previous life as the centre of the US sardine canning industry.
Those brave enough to get in the chilly waters might also want to consider booking a dive to explore Monterey’s abundant underwater life. When you’re ready to get back on the road, cruise along to eccentric Santa Cruz to spend the night.
Best things to do in Carmel, Monterey + Santa Cruz
- Point Lobos State Natural Reserve – sea lions and wildlife in a rugged natural setting.
- Monterey Bay Aquarium.
- Point Pinos Lighthouse – the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast.
- Monarch Grove Sanctuary Park. If you missed the Monarch Butterfly grove on the way to Pismo, you get a second chance. October to February only.
- Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The oldest seaside amusement park on the West Coast is a celebration of all things kitsch and cool.
- Santa Cruz Surf School. There’s no better place to learn to surf than Santa Cruz – you can even buy a board (or something a little more portable) from the original O’Neill Surf Shop on 41st Ave.
Where to Stay in Santa Cruz
Rio Vista Suites (Luxury)
A pristinely restored historical mansion and the swankiest bed in town.
Pacific Blue Inn (Mid-Range)
Eco-friendly cool spot with comfortable and stylish rooms.
New Brighton State Beach Campground (Budget)
Beachside camping with power connections and shady spots if you can get there early enough to nab one.
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Santa Cruz to San Francisco (Days 8 + 9)
1.5 hour drive from Santa Cruz to San Francisco
It’s only 70 miles from Santa Cruz to San Francisco but what a 70 miles. You’d think that you’ll be used to mile after mile of gorgeous coastline unfurling in front of your windscreen by now, but let me tell you – it never gets old.
Stop off outside of Santa Cruz at the Año Nuevo State Park to see the largest mainland breeding colony of elephant seals. Watch as the (not so gentle) giants roll around in the surf, snooze and fight – you can book ahead onto a guided tour.
There are plenty of small stops for you to take along the coast: Pigeon Point, Pescadero State Beach and Half Moon Bay are popular ones. Seafood-lovers are spoilt for choice with the seemingly endless seafood shacks lining this part of Highway 1 (hey, you can never have too much of a good thing right?).
However many stops you make and shacks you eat in, you’ll eventually make it to San Francisco.
I’d recommend spending an extra day here (mainly because you’ve been doing a lot of driving and it’s one of my favourite cities) – but if you would rather spend that extra day somewhere else, say in Yosemite, that’s easily done too.
Best Things to Do in Santa Cruz and San Francisco
- Año Nuevo State Park – elephant seal watching on the coast.
- Pigeon Point Lighthouse and Park – one of the tallest lighthouses in the US and a good seal and whale watching spot during the season.
- Pescadero State Beach – the marshy lands behind the beach are a birdwatcher’s paradise.
- Alcatraz – the prison on The Rock. Take the boat and a tour of the most famous prison in the US.
- The Castro – gay friendly and colourful Castro is the perfect spot to explore on two feet.
- Golden Gate Bridge + Park. Walk through the woodland and hike along the trails to the foot of San Francisco’s legendary Golden Gate Bridge.
- Go Stargazing in the Bay
- Balmy Alley – politically-inspired street art in the lively Mission District.
- Brunch – Gingey Bites has written a great guide to the best brunch spots in San Francisco
Where to Stay in San Francisco
Argonaut Hotel (Luxury)
Luxury hotel on Fisherman’s Wharf with a stylishly understated Maritime theme.
The Buchanan (Mid-Range)
Located in Japantown, The Buchanan boasts a sleek design and thoughtful touches at a reasonable price.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse (Budget)
If you don’t want to spend the night in San Fran, you can book a bed in the iconic HI-run lighthouse if you reserve well in advance.
Detour from San Francisco to Yosemite (Days 10-12)
3 hour drive from San Francisco to Yosemite
OK, so now we’re going to tear the rule book up and throw it out of the window (or let it flutter over your head if you have a convertible with the top down).
Yes, yes, I know that Yosemite isn’t on Highway 1. In fact, it’s a three hour detour away from Highway 1 towards the Nevada border. But, unless you have been and decided never to go again (doubtful), or you are really, really pushed for time (more likely), it would be a real shame to come all this way and not go to Yosemite.
So pack up the trunk, take the rather dull drive inland and get yourself to Yosemite – I can guarantee you won’t regret it. It would actually take a whole other article as long as this one (3,200 words and counting) to cover all the things you can see and do in Yosemite – so I’d suggest having a good look at the National Park Service’s website and my photos to inspire you instead.
Best Things to do in Yosemite
- Yosemite Falls
- Viewpoint from Tunnel View
- Mariposa Grove – giant sequoia trees.
- Basically everything you see and do.
Where to Stay in Yosemite
Evergreen Lodge (Luxury)
Originally built in the twenties, Evergreen is just outside the national park boundaries but offers rustic-chic lodging for a high-end stay.
Big Trees Lodge (Mid-Range)
It’s a bit of a drive to sights other than the Mariposa Grove, but an affordable and comfortable option.
Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Lodge (Budget)
Hippy vibes and friendly owners on the outskirts of Yosemite.
Upper Pines Campground (Budget)
Upper Pines is busy but it’s well located, shady and a good base for a short Yosemite stay.
Detour from Yosemite to Sonoma (Days 13 + 14)
3.5 hour drive from Yosemite to Sonoma
I promise that we will get back to Highway 1 very soon, but if you’re anything like me, you love your wine (almost as much as you like the breathtaking views you caught sight of in Yosemite, but not quite).
We all know that Napa and Sonoma are California’s most revered wine regions, so it makes sense to stop off and have a nose, just while we’re in the area on our West Coast road trip. I’ve been to both Napa and Sonoma and preferred the latter’s slightly more casual vibe – you can of course go to both, or neither – whatever takes your fancy.
Best Things to do in Sonoma
- WINE. More specifically…
- Bartholomew Park Winery. The wine is mighty tasty, but the 400-acre nature preserve setting is almost as big a draw. Purchase a bottle or two and head out into the grounds with a picnic.
- Sonoma Valley Bike Tours. Let’s face it – no one wants to be the designated driver in Sonoma. Book onto a guided tour or hire a bike and set off on your own.
- Fig Cafe & Winebar. Hearty and delicious food is paired with an extensive local wine list.
- Benzinger Family Winery. Sample Benzinger’s range of biodynamic wines on one of their popular tours. Reserve in advance.
Where to Stay in Sonoma
Farmhouse Inn (Luxury)
The hefty price tag means the Farmhouse Inn is only a plausible option if you don’t mind splashing on a hotel. Those who do are treated to Michelin-star meals and airy rooms in return.
Vintner’s Inn (Mid-Range)
Within a short distance of countless vineyards, Vintner’s Inn is a homely boutique option a few miles out of downtown Santa Rosa.
Casini Ranch (Budget)
RV Hookups, a tent campsite and small cabins at affordable prices.
Sonoma to Mendocino (Day 15)
2hrs 45mins drive from Sonoma to Mendocino.
From Sonoma, head back out to Highway 1 to resume your West cwest coast road oast road trip itinerary. You’re heading towards redwood country: where the majestic tall trees are almost as numerous as the people that live there.
Hiking opportunities abound, as do small and quirky towns – each with its own organic food store and cafe. Stock up on picnic supplies and eat your feast on one of the wide-open beaches. If you’re travelling in season (November to April), keep an eye out for migrating whales making their annual journey between Alaska and Mexico. Bed down in Mendocino: the perfect base for exploring the craggy Mendocino Headlands State Park.
Best Things to do Between Sonoma and Mendocino
- Go on a whale watching trip with Bodega Bay Charters.
- Hiking in Salt Point State Park.
- Climb to the top of the Point Arena Lighthouse for spectacular views out to sea.
- Mendocino Headlands State Park for abundant wildlife and (more) hiking.
- Spud Point Crab Company You’ve got to be a dab hand at making crab if you include it in your name. Fortunately for Spud Point, they are.
- Explore wine country. Head inland to discover Mendocino’s thriving wine country.
Where to Stay in Mendocino
Blue Door Inn (Luxury)
Upscale accommodation with indulgent breakfasts and contemporary decor.
Agate Cove Inn (Mid-Range)
A small high-end B&B with sea views.
Gualala Point Regional Park
Gualala Point is the perfect place to camp: a short walk from the beach in a redwood grove.
Mendocino to Klamath (Day 16)
4.5 hour drive from Mendocino to Klamath.
Today is all about the majestic Redwood National Park – home to the tallest trees in the world. Start off from Mendocino early for the 3-4 hour drive up to the national park. The park takes its name for the soaring redwood trees, larger than you can possibly imagine that fill its grounds. There are numerous hiking trails within the park, suited to hikers of all kinds of abilities, otherwise you can explore the highlights and main viewing points by car. If you’re not camping, the small hamlet of Klamath is your best choice for accommodation – with the added benefit that you can start several hikes from Klamath itself.
If you are stopping your West Coast USA road trip in California, that’s it folks – time to head home. If you’re going all the way up to Seattle, keep reading – you’ve got plenty of excitement to come.
Best Things to do in Redwood National Park
- Howland Hill Road – a 10-mile drive through a Redwood grove with an optional ½ mile walk.
- Klamath River Overlook – drive to the overlook for prime whale watching during migration season plus wildlife spotting opps for the rest of the year.
- Fern Canyon – An enchanting canyon lined with ferns in Prairie Creek Redwood State Park.
- Hidden Beach – Hike along a three-mile coastal and forest trail from the Klamath River Overlook to this gorgeous beach that is only accessible by foot. It’s almost always empty and is dotted with driftwood pebbles and branches worn smooth by the surf.
- Avenue of the Giants – Take a turn off Highway 101 in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park to take the 32-mile Avenue of the Giants. The road is named for the soaring redwood trees that line its sides – nothing makes you feel smaller than hundreds of trees so tall you can’t even see the top.
Where to Stay in Klamath
Holiday Inn Express Redwood National Park (Budget)
There’s not much to this Holiday Inn that’s special but it’s in a great location for walking out to Klamath River Overlook and then doing the three mile hike to Hidden Beach.
Klamath to Coos Bay (Day 17)
3 hour drive from Klamath to Coos Bay
Welcome to Oregon! After a long time dawdling your way up the Californian coast and moseying inland for a detour or two, it’s time to hit a new state. Oregon’s quieter coastline boasts a rugged beauty that never fails to impress. Almost every Tom, Dick and Harry sets out on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip and sees the Big Sur, but if you’ve made it up this far, you’ve truly earned your Highway 1 road-tripper badge of honour.
Best Things to do between Klamath and Coos Bay
- Samuel H Boardman Scenic Corridor – Named after the “father” of Oregon’s national park system, the scenic corridor is one of the most beautiful stretches of the Oregon coastline.
- Brookings – A cool little town just over the Oregon border. Chill out on one of the many beaches, hang out on the boardwalk and soak up the laid-back vibe.
- Arch Rock Brewing Company – The Pacific Northwest is famed for its craft beer scene. Make like a local and try a brew or two in Arch Rock (y’all don’t need me to tell you about drink driving – designated driver etc etc).
- Sunset Bay, Shore Acres and Cape Arago State Parks – Three state parks that stand side by side on the southern stretch of the Oregon coast. You can camp in Sunset Bay – make sure you’re there for sunset, it’s named that for a reason.
- Port Orford – Wedged in a small natural harbour next to Cape Blanco State Park, the views from Port Orford are fairly spectacular.
- Coos Bay – Coos Bay is well worth exploring. There are a few cool museums and plentiful seafood to chow down on too.
Where to Stay in Coos Bay
Red Lion Hotel Coos Bay (Mid-Range)
Recently given a breath of fresh air, the Red Lion is a comfortable option in Coos Bay.
Sunset Bay State Park (Budget)
Camping near to the shoreline at this state park. Tent sites, RV hookups or you can rent one of their eight yurts.
Coos Bay to Newport (Day 18)
2 hour drive from Coos Bay to Newport
A little north of Coos Bay Highway 1 takes you to the fringe of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area – the largest area of coastal sand dunes in the US. Up to 150 metres tall – the dunes are impressive enough to look at, but add in dune bashing, hiking and horseriding and you have a whole world of fun. I’d recommend parking up and spending most of the day in the park – it’s only a short drive to Newport and the dunes really do have to be seen to be believed.
Best Things to do Between Coos Bay and Newport
- Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area – spend the day (or more if you have the time) exploring the largest area of coastal sand dunes in the US.
- Umpqua Aquaculture – If you love oysters, read on.This tiny little spot may well serve the best oysters you can find on the whole of the West Coast. Yes, we’re serious. Buy them by the bucket and feast your face off.
- Oregon Coast Aquarium – Award-winning aquarium in Newport with a sea otter pool, and a heart-stopping shark tunnel.
- Yachats – A small town on this undeveloped coastline that’s the Oregon beachside hideaway for those in the know.
- Yaquina Head Outstanding Area – A coastal bluff with the tallest lighthouse in Oregon. At low tide, you can spot the sea urchins and starfish that line the shores. You’ll need to book ahead if you want to visit the lighthouse itself.
- Willamette Valley – Not along the Highway 101 at all but this valley a short drive inland is the home of Oregon’s flourishing Pinot Noir production. Wine lovers – it’s definitely worth the detour.
Where to Stay in Newport
Inn at Nye Beach (Luxury)
Set in the increasingly cool area of Nye Beach, the Inn has a wonderful view, freshly-roasted coffee and chocolate chip cookies. Heart eye-emoji love.
Sylvia Beach Hotel (Mid-Range)
Every room here is named (and decorated) after a different literary legend, so you can take your pick from Alice Walker, Ernest Hemingway, J.R.R Tolkien, Oscar Wilde and more. The room features books and information about your author of choice. There are no TVs and no wifi – just hunker down with your favourite book and soak up the atmosphere.
South Beach State Park (Budget)
A popular campsite two miles south of Newport.
Newport to Astoria (Day 19)
3 hours 15 min drive from Newport to Astoria
The stretch of Oregon Coast between Newport and Astoria is studded with uber-cool towns, nice beaches (when the weather’s warm enough) and lots of beautiful vantage points for you to soak up the Pacific Ocean.
Astoria itself is a historic city with plenty of easily-accessible hikes and water-sports for you to take advantage of. Seaside and Cannon Beach are two of the better known beaches along this stretch – just watch out, they tend to get pretty busy during the summer months (though that’s not always a bad thing at all).
Manzanita is one of my favourite little villages along this coast – the small city is a thriving outdoors hub and brimming with great restaurants. It helps that the beach is pretty lovely too.
Best Things to do Between Newport and Astoria
- Seaside and Cannon Beach – for summertime beach-bumming and stellar views.
- Manzanita – A cool (dare I say hipster) village that’s well worth a stop.
- Astoria – Soak up the history in Oregon’s northern most coastal town.
- Big Wave Cafe, Manzanita – Hearty and fresh grub served in Manzanita’s friendliest restaurant.
- The Three Capes detour – take a detour off the 101 to soak up the coastal views on the Three Capes road. It winds its way past Cape Meares, Cape Kiwanda and Cape Lookout. The road has been under repair in recent years so check the status before you turn off the PCH.
Best Places to Stay Between Newport + Astoria
Whale Cove Inn (Luxury)
You’ve been on the road for weeks now. Splash out and stay in this super-luxury hotel. Suites come with private decks with a jacuzzi and all boast magnificent ocean views.
Commodore Hotel (Mid-Range)
A cool hotel in downtown Astoria, the Commodore has been built in the vein of our much-beloved Ace Hotels, with funky decor and friendly staff.
Nehalem Bay State Park (Budget)
Bed down in one of Nehalem Bay’s yurts, or pitch up on a RV or tent site. In the morning, simply walk over the dunes and you’re straight onto the beach – perfect for your morning swim.
Astoria to Olympic National Park (Day 20)
2.5 hours from Astoria to Olympic National Park
It’s the penultimate day of your West Coast USA road trip itinerary. Can you believe it? It was almost three weeks ago that you set out thinking that you had all the time in the world to wend your way along one of the most famous road-trip routes in the world and now it’s almost over. We’re all sad about it, but you’d better make these last days count. What better way to start than crossing over into a new state? You pop over into Washington almost as soon as you leave Astoria – and the Highway 1 dips in and out of the coastline for the last stretch.
Today is really about getting to and spending at least a bit of time in Olympic National Park. It’s 1406 square miles, so probably a bit too much to see in one day (I know you’re keen but no, that’s just too much). The section of Olympic National Park near to Highway 1 is the wildest and the most untamed – Hoh River Rainforest and Lake Quinault are good places to head to as you can camp or find accommodation in both.
Best Things to do in Northwest Washington
- La Push Beach – Twilight fans can revel in the knowledge that the vampire/werewolf dramafest were set in La Push. The rest of us can just enjoy the rugged tranquility of the three beaches and small surrounding community.
- Olympic National Park – far greater than you’re ever going to be able to tackle in a day (or even a year come to think of it), Olympic is the outdoor adventurer’s dream. Plan your trip using the park’s informative website.
Where to Stay in Olympic National Park
Lake Quinault Lodge (Luxury)
One of the classic park lodges of yore, Lake Quinault Lodge offers high-end stays in a memorable setting.
Quiluete Oceanside Resort
Take your pick from the luxury cabins, motel rooms or RV sites in this quaint resort just outside of La Push.
Hoh Visitor Center and Campground
Very, very basic camping but a great base for exploring the near-mystical Hoh River Rainforest.
Olympic National Park to Seattle (Day 21)
2 hours drive from Olympic National Park to Seattle (dependent on park location)
The final day of our Highway 1 road trip itinerary lands us in Seattle. PNW’s biggest hub sits in the shadow of the towering Mt Ranier and is a charming combination of great coffees, trendy places to eat and drink and grungy hangouts.
If you have a bit more time, Seattle’s a great city to decompress and unwind after your hectic three week trip – otherwise it’s a whirlwind tour of the city and hometime. I hope you’ve had an awesome trip!
Best Things to do in Seattle
- Pike Place Market – One of Seattle’s most famous landmarks, Pike Place is a thriving hub of small businesses, pubs, seafood eateries and shopping nooks. Spend an hour or two with no agenda for the full experience.
- Space Needle – You can’t miss the Space Needle – the recognisable tower that dominates Seattle’s skyline. Fork out the steep price for the observation deck – it’s worth it.
- Olympic Sculpture Park – The ‘grammer’s dream, Olympic Sculpture Park is bold, arresting and free! Pack a picnic and get snapping.
- Washington State Ferries – Jump on a Washington State Ferry to get around Puget Sound or just soak in the awesome views from the deck. If you have enough time, get a ferry to Bainbridge Island and spend some time in Winslow, the island’s main town – or strike further out to explore the almost-too-good-to-be-true landscapes.
Where to Stay in Seattle
The Edgewater (Luxury)
(In)famous waterfront hotel where rock-stars and celebrities have stayed and frolicked for several decades.
Staypineapple at the Maxwell Hotel (Mid-Range)
One of the best boutique hotels in Seattle with colourful interiors and stellar service.
Moore Hotel (Budget)
A hop, skip and not even a jump away from Pike Place, Moore Hotel offers budget digs in a central location.
Practical Tips and Must-Knows for Your West Coast USA Road Trip
If you’re hiring a car, rather than an RV, your choice of car is going to be really important. While it can be tempting to hire the smallest and cheapest car – do remember that you’re going to spend a lot of time in the vehicle. So much so that it’s going to become one of your best buddies during your West Coast USA road trip.
Who doesn’t want to look flashy in a bright red convertible zipping along the coast? If you’re going for the ultimate road trip vehicle a convertible is the thing that immediately springs to mind. That said, if you’re travelling outside of summer, it might not be the best choice: the weather in the Pacific Northwest is notoriously unpredictable…
Here are some pointers on what to think about when you are choosing a car.
- If you want to live it up in true West Coast style and hire a convertible, popular choices are a Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro. If you aren’t fussed about having the top down but still want to go for a muscle car, you may be able to get a really good deal on one of the hard top versions of these cars (that’s what we did and saved a few hundred dollars!).
- You could also consider something a little more unusual like a Dodge Challenger.
- Muscle cars are perfect for two people and a reasonable amount of luggage. They will use a little more fuel than a typical economy car but fuel in the US is pretty inexpensive.
- Most of the rental cars are automatic – worth remembering if you’ve never driven one before (don’t stress, it’s easy).
- US cars tend to be larger than European ones. Watch out on that spatial awareness (though parking spaces etc tend to be larger too).
- Don’t forget to check how much the one-way fee will be, unless you want to drive all the way back again.
Car Hire Options (and Discounts)
- Hertz – Hertz is an international car rental company that has a variety of cars available for a road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway. I love you guys so much I’ve even found you a special offer: Rent for at least three days and pay for one less day at Hertz.com. Use code: 203794. Book NOW for rentals 9/1/17 – 1/31/18. Click here to use this offer.
- Sixt Rent a Car – Sixt has great car rental prices. Plus, you can get up to 25% off all US rentals with this link (discount is automatically applied).
- Car Rental 8 – A car rental comparison site that allows you to check prices from all the major car rental companies and book the cheapest one. A great choice to save you time trawling through all of the different sites and sometimes the rates they quote are cheaper than if you book direct. Check for the cheapest car rental prices now.
If you don’t want to hire a car and sort accommodation separately, an RV is something you should consider. RVs or “recreational vehicles” can be as basic or as luxurious as your budget affords.
The whole of Highway 1 is covered with campsites with RV pitches (including all of the campsites mentioned in the article) so you will never struggle to find somewhere to pitch for the night. Pitches tend to come with electricity and water as a minimum. Of course, you always have the option of just parking up roadside and kipping there for the night too.
Though RV rental isn’t cheap, it tends to be the more economical option if there’s a group of you travelling.
RV Rental Companies
You can also choose to camp and drive in a campervan. As a rule these are much smaller than RVs but also tend to be more cost-effective. Wicked Campers hire brightly-coloured and decorated vehicles that are going to make you look like the coolest kid in town – I used them for our Atacama Desert road trip in Chile and was really impressed by the company.
When to go on your West Coast USA Road Trip?
The short answer to this is anytime. The longer answer is that it does get quite cold (and wet) in the Pacific Northwest from October to March, so between April and October is probably best. Peak months along the Pacific Coast Highway are June to August when the roads are busiest and the notorious “June Gloom” fog engulfs parts of the coast.
Checklist for Your West Coast USA Road Trip
It can be tempting to pack everything, including the kitchen sink for a West Coast road trip but the reality is you don’t need to bring tonnes of stuff with you. I’ve put together a basic list of items you’ll need, plus a few extras if you plan on doing a lot of hiking while you’re on the trip.
- Clothes + Shoes
- Binoculars – for whale watching season, seal and sea-lion spotting, bird watching and trying to work out how tall that tree really is.
- Picnic Blanket
- Camera (If you’re looking for a new camera – read our guide to the best travel cameras before you buy)
Additional Items for Outdoors Activities
- Wetsuit if you’re planning on surfing, particularly in the sea in and above Northern California.
- Hiking Boots and Socks
- Soft Shell Jacket or Waterproof Jacket for Hiking
- Marco Polo West Coast USA Map
Other Useful Resources
You might also want to check out our worldwide road trip guides for more road trip inspiration.
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