The Best West Coast USA Road Trip: 12 Epic Stops!

Are you looking for the best West Coast USA road trip? Look no further! This guide has everything you need to know.

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco West Coast USA road trip

There are a few different ways to take a West Coast road trip. You can stick to the coast, you can focus on the national parks, or you can hop from city to city. Then, there’s of course the option to combine all of the above to create the best West Coast USA road trip of all.

After that, there’s the question of where to start and where to end. When trying to see all of the U.S. West Coast, most people think of driving from Seattle to San Diego. As a matter of fact, the Seattle to San Diego road trip is one of the most exciting road trips in the country!

That said, there are many other shorter options. A Seattle to San Francisco road trip, San Francisco to San Diego road trip, and Seattle to Los Angeles road trip are all very popular options.

For the purposes of this West Coast USA road trip, we’ll be covering Seattle to San Diego. That way, you can just remove the cities you don’t want to visit, rather than trying to figure out how to add new spots in.

While technically you can drive from Seattle to San Diego in just a couple of days, you won’t get to see all the stops along the way if you’re that speedy. Instead, I recommend taking a week or two to pop by all of the cities and national parks that catch your eye.

Without further ado, here is the best West Coast USA road trip itinerary!

West Coast USA Road Trip FAQs

driving down the Pacific Coast Highway West Coast USA road trip

How Long Does It Take to Do a West Coast USA Road Trip?

You can technically drive from Seattle to San Diego in just 19 hours if you take the fastest route and make no stops. But that’s no fun! For the purposes of this West Coast USA road trip itinerary, we’d recommend at least two weeks. This timeline will allow you to spend at least one day at each stop mentioned below.

How Many Miles Is It from Seattle to San Diego?

A direct route from Seattle to San Diego by car is 1,255 miles.

curving road with mountains in the background

When Should I Do a West Coast USA Road Trip?

The West Coast of the U.S. is stunning at all times of year. That said, I would recommend doing a West Coast USA road trip between May and October for the most ideal weather conditions.

Can You Hike the West Coast of the US Rather Than Drive?

As a matter of fact you can! The Pacific Crest Trail basically goes from the U.S.-Mexico border to the U.S.-Canada border. That means you’ll have to hike a whopping 2,638 miles on foot, which is quite an adventure! 

It takes about five months to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, so be sure to keep that in mind. It is also important to note that this lengthy hike is only for experienced hikers.

The Best West Coast USA Road Trip

Seattle skyline at night with Space Needle

Seattle, Washington

When you start your road trip, you don’t want to zoom off right away and leave Seattle behind. After all, this city is one of the most popular vacation destinations on the West Coast!

Due to its reputation as a rainy city, Seattle is pretty underrated. Even the rain shouldn’t deter you. Many of the best things to do in Seattle are mostly indoors anyways. You can grab a cup of coffee from the first-ever Starbucks, check out the views from the Space Needle, and visit Chihuly Garden and Glass.

If the weather does happen to be sunny, you can add a couple more things to your itinerary. Catch the sunset from Gas Works Park and take a ferry over to Bainbridge Island.

*Pro Tip: If you have an extra day or two, consider adding Olympic National Park to your West Coast USA road trip itinerary.

Mount Rainier at sunset west coast USA road trip

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Mount Rainier is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable mountains in the United States. Since it’s between Seattle and Portland, why not make a stop along the way?

One of the best things to do at Mount Rainier National Park is simply take in the views of Mount Rainier. The most ideal viewing locations include the Fremont Fire Lookout, Reflection Lake, and Sunrise Trail.

That said, there are other amazing activities to do in this national park that don’t revolve around Mount Rainier. Hike to Panorama Point, check out Myrtle Falls, and tackle the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail.

pink rose in Portland International Rose Test Garden

Portland, Oregon

Portland’s slogan of “Keep Portland Weird” aptly describes this Pacific Northwest city. It’s undoubtedly one of the most unique stops on any West Coast USA road trip.

To fully embrace the weirdness of Portland, you’ll want to experience some of its funky attractions. Explore Powell’s City of Books, the largest independent bookstore in the country. Purchase a few quirky donuts from VooDoo Doughnuts. And check out one-of-a-kind hybrid roses at the International Rose Test Garden.

Tumalo Falls in Bend West Coast USA road trip

Bend, Oregon

You’ll have to take a slightly longer route to visit Bend, but this little town is definitely worth the extra one hour of driving.

Bend, Oregon is an ideal getaway spot for nature lovers. You can canoe along the Deschutes River, hike to the gorgeous Tumalo Falls, rock climb at Smith Rock State Park, ski on Mount Bachelor, and even climb a volcano at Newberry National Volcanic Monument!

Crater Lake with island in the middle

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Crater Lake National Park is the only national park in Oregon, so you definitely can’t miss it. 

As the name implies, the highlight of Crater Lake National Park is the sparkling blue Crater Lake. That said, most people don’t actually go into the lake because 1) it’s quite hard to get access and 2) it’s cold! (If you do want to go for a dip in the chilly water anyways, you’ll have to tackle the difficult Cleetwood Cove Trail.)

Instead of swimming in Crater Lake, most people simply enjoy looking at it from the many different viewpoints in the park. The best views of Crater Lake all come after a hike, whether that’s the Garfield Peak Crater Lake Trail or the Discovery Point Crater Lake Trail.

sulfur-covered ground and steam vents at Lassen Volcanic National Park West Coast USA road trip

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

The drive between Crater Lake National Park and any major stop in California is quite long. But there is a hidden gem along the way to help break up the lengthy drive: Lassen Volcanic National Park.

One cool fun fact about Lassen Volcanic National Park is that it’s home to all four types of volcanoes in the world: cinder cone, composite, plug dome, and shield.

Lassen Volcanic National Park has a surprisingly long list of things to do. Check out the steam vents on Walk Bumpass Hell Trail, snap a few pictures of the stunning Mill Creek Falls, hike to the top of Lassen Peak, and go for a swim in Juniper Lake.

grapes at Napa Valley winery

Napa Valley, California

Napa Valley has long established itself as one of the best wine-making regions in the world. And since it’s on the way from Seattle to San Diego, it’s a fantastic place to stop.

When you’re in Napa Valley, you simply have to enjoy a wine tasting or two. There are actually over 400 wineries in the area, so there are quite a few to choose from. Some of the best wineries in the area include V. Sattui Winery, Chateau Montelena, and Andretti Winery.

Book Now: Napa Valley Wine Tasting Tour

aerial view of Lombard Street San Francisco West Coast USA road trip

San Francisco, California

After the many small towns and national parks, the massive city of San Francisco will be quite a change. 

While there are hundreds of things to do in San Francisco, your top priority should be the famous Golden Gate Bridge. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can bike across it. And if that doesn’t appeal to you, you can simply snap a few pictures or take a Golden Gate Bridge boat ride.

After you wrap up at the Golden Gate Bridge, you can then move on to some of the other incredible city sites. Stroll around Pier 39, learn the history of Alcatraz, and ride one of the famous cable cars.

Book Now: Golden Gate Bay Cruise

McWay Falls Big Sur West Coast USA road trip

Big Sur, California

Located on the California coastline, Big Sur is an ideal stop on any West Coast USA road trip.

If you only have time to do one thing in Big Sur, you have to go to Pfeiffer Beach. This strip of shoreline is the only purple sand beach in the entire world!

To add to the appeal of Pfeiffer Beach, it also has critter-filled tide pools and striking natural rock formations.

If you decide to spend a little more time in Big Sur, there are a few other activities that you can add to your itinerary. Gape in awe at McWay Falls, hike at Andrew Molera State Park, check out the Point Sur Lighthouse, and visit Garrapata State Park.

pink and purple sky with palm tree silhouettes Santa Barbara West Coast USA road trip

Santa Barbara, California

After Big Sur, you’ll get to stay on the Pacific Coast Highway for a few hours. Take in the beautiful ocean views, smell the salty air, and maybe even pull over for a spontaneous beach visit or two!

Soon enough, you’ll reach the coastal Californian town of Santa Barbara. While there, you can check out the views of the city from the Santa Barbara courthouse tower, munch on some saltwater taffy, and admire the sunset from Butterfly Beach.

girl and her dog with Hollywood sign in the background West Coast USA road trip

Los Angeles, California

Between Santa Barbara and your next stop of Los Angeles, you’ll get to see quite a bit. The beaches of Malibu and the famous Santa Monica Pier are just the start. Feel free to pull over and add both of these stops to your Seattle to San Diego road trip.

No West Coast USA road trip would be complete without a stop in the famous city of Los Angeles!

Los Angeles is known mostly for one thing: celebrities. To get your best shot of seeing a celebrity in the city, you can see a live taping of one of your favorite shows. Be sure to request these tickets far in advance!

While spotting a celebrity isn’t guaranteed, you can see celebrity-adjacent attractions. Visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame or hike to the Hollywood Sign.

Book Now: Beverly Hills and Hollywood Helicopter Tour

surfer on San Diego beach at sunset

San Diego, California

If Los Angeles is the land of celebrities, San Diego is the land of surfers.

Many of the best things to do in San Diego revolve around surfing. Take a surfing class at La Jolla Shores, watch the pros at Swami’s, and get all the gear you need from the many surf shops around town.

If you want to take a break from the surf-related activities, you can also take a stroll through Balboa Park, dine in Little Italy, and hike through Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

Book Now: 1.5-Hour La Jolla Surfing Class

And that’s a wrap on the ultimate West Coast USA road trip. Are there any other stops that you think should be added to this itinerary? Let me know in the comments below!

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