Road trips are F-U-N! What is there not to love about snacks, blasting music, beautiful scenery and your own schedule!
One of our favourite road trips to date is the Garden Route drive in South Africa, our honeymoon along the coast of Oahu, Hawaii & The Great Ocean Road in Australia but driving the down the west coast of America was yet another road trip to remember.
This road trip is suitable for all types of travellers with a little bit of everything; rugged coastlines, world-class wineries, wildlife, bustling cities, Redwood forests, sweeping valleys, accessible hikes and of course, relaxing sandy beaches. Take your pick!
Before we go on to give you our 2-week itinerary, please note that there is no right or wrong way to do this trip. There are so many places to stop and it all depends on the time you have as well as your interests. Simply use this as a guideline!
2 Week Road Trip Itinerary Overview
Over the course of 2 weeks, we drove approximately 1650 miles (2330km) at a moderate pace. Expect to drive 2-6 hours a day with 1 or 2 longer days.
- Day 1: Seattle, Washington (3 days)
- Day 4: Seattle – Willamette Valley (222 miles/357 km)
- Day 5: Willamette Valley – Pacific City (63 miles/101 km)
- Day 6: Pacific City – Roseburg via the Oregon Coast (229 miles/368km)
- Day 7: Roseburg – Crater Lake National Park (86 miles/138km) to Crescent City, California (185 miles/297km)
- Day 8: Crescent City – Santa Rosa (300 miles/482km)
- Day 10: Santa Rosa – Santa Cruz (129 miles/207km) We skip San Francisco here, and loop back to it.
- Day 11: Santa Cruz – Monterey (43 miles/69km, 45 minutes) (2 days)
- Day 13: Monterey – Big Sur (28 miles/45km)
- Day 14: Big Sur – San Francisco (147miles/236km)
Have more time? Continue south towards LA and be sure to stop into Pismo Beach, Solvang, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria or check out this extensive list of ideas.
Below is an interactive map or see here for a static map to save.
West Coast Road Trip Highlights
Honestly, the whole trip was a highlight but if we had to choose, these would be our top 5 highlights. Don’t miss these!
- Willamette Valley (wine country) – Oregon
- Crater Lake National Park (huge crater with crystal blue water) – Oregon (see our Ultimate Guide To Crater Lake)
- Redwood Forest (the world’s tallest trees) – California
- The Big Sur (the prettiest coastal drive) – California
- Carmel-by-the-sea (upscale village town) – California
Day 1: Seattle, Washington (3 days)
We began our 2-week west coast road trip in Seattle, Washington. A city filled with unique coffee shops, breweries, restaurants, seaplanes, shopping, sculptures, parks and of course the home of Greys Anatomy (yup, I’m lame). There’s no need to rent a car in Seattle, public transport is fairly reliable however if you stay outside of the city, you can still rely on Uber and some public transport.
Top Things to Do in Seattle:
- Pike Place Market – An indoor food market selling fruits, vegetables, fresh seafood, household items & souvenirs. A fun place to explore!
- Space Needle – Grab that token pic, or go up for an overpriced feed/drink.
- Olympic Sculpture Park – A nice walk with sculptures along the water.
- Fremont Troll – A big art installation under a bridge.
- Fremont Brewery – Outdoor beer garden, bring your passport for ID, not license if you live outside of the USA.
- Seattle Waterfront – Fisherman’s Wharf, arcades, Ferris wheel and restaurants.
- Gas Works Park – A huge park with a great view of the city.
- Kerry Park – Great view of the city skyline, many go for sunset.
- Take a ride on the State Ferry – Bainbridge Island.
- Lake Union – Watch all the seaplanes come in.
- Capitol Hill – Trendy area, cafes, breweries, LGBT scene.
Where To Stay:
Belltown. One of the liveliest, most accessible neighbourhoods. The accommodation all round in Seattle wasn’t cheap, in fact, it is one of the most expensive cities we’ve tried to find accommodation in worldwide. We opted for location over privacy and were pleasantly surprised with City Hostel Seattle. The hostel was close to all the main sights as well as public transport.
Not sure what to do in Seattle? Read: An Extensive Guide to Seattle
Day 4: Seattle – Willamette Valley (222 miles/357 km)
The drive between Washington and Oregon is rather uneventful but there are some suggestions below if you have time. We chose to skip the coast & national parks here as we’re doing this further south.
If you have time:
- Olympic National Park – 922,000-acre park featuring snow-covered mountains, lush rainforests & dramatic Pacific coastline.
- Portland City – We’d had enough of cities by this stage so chose to skip it.
- Colombia River Gorge – Nature preserve featuring an iconic 80-mi., 4,000-ft.-deep canyon. Unfortunately, we missed this due to fires.
- Cannon Beach – Popular beach town located on the Northwest coast of Oregon.
If you’re tight on time: Jump directly on HWY 5 South and head for Willamette Valley. The Willamette Valley is home to some of the best Pinot Noir in the world and you’ll find more than 500 wineries surrounding this region.
Choosing which vineyards to visit can be rather overwhelming, so we strongly recommend spending at least a night at one of the magnificent Bed and Breakfasts to get the full experience. You can roam the vineyards, taste plenty of wines and relax while overlooking acres of grapes.
Tip: Stop into Safeway (large grocery store) prior to your arrival and pick up a variety of cheese, meats, crackers and fig jam to create your own charcuterie plate. One of our all-time favourite things to eat!
- Where To Stay:
Day 5: Willamette Valley – Pacific City (63 miles/101 km)
Once you’ve checked out of Youngberg Hill, visit some popular surrounding wineries such Yamhill Valley Winery, Domaine Serene Winery, Domaine Drouhin & Brooks Wines. By early afternoon, make your way to Pacific City on the Oregon coast for horseback riding, a drink at the Pelican Pub and Brewery and Cape Kiwanda to see the second Haystack Rock (the first and most famous one is at Cannon Beach).
- Where To Stay:
Day 6: Pacific City – Roseburg via the Oregon Coast (229 miles/368km)
Start your day early and travel down HWY 101 along the coast of Oregon. The 363 mile Oregon coast has cute towns, beaches and photo ops all along the way. Here are a few pit stops to consider stopping for. Today’s a long driving day, but it’s broken up with many stops.
- Lincoln City – One of the larger towns along the coast offering a larger selection of hotels, a casino and a long stretch of sandy beach.
- Nye Beach – Nye beach has a real vacation feel to it. It was a colourful town with cute shops and a small handful of restaurants. We enjoyed a really long walk up the beach, just don’t touch the water, it’s bone-chillingly cold!
- Oregon Coast Aquarium – One of Oregon’s busiest attractions!
- Newport – Our favourite stop! A busy town with the opportunity to see Sea Lions up close, enjoy a delicious lunch at Local Ocean Seafoods and walk along the historic bayfront.
- Heceta Beach & Lighthouse – Heceta is the most famous lighthouse along the coast of Oregon. It’s a short 15min walk to the lighthouse and the views are just gorgeous.
- Sea Lion Caves – The largest sea cave in the USA inhabited by sea lions themselves (surprise surprise). You can take a tour for $14 or just enjoy the viewpoint.
- Yachats – I’d be lying if we said we stopped here for anything other than an ice cream break… Nevertheless, it was another cute beach town.
- Coos Bay – The largest city on the Oregon Coast! Visit the Cape Arago Beach Loop which includes Bastendorff Beach, Sunset Bay State Park, Cape Arago Lighthouse Viewpoint, Shore Acres State Park and Botanical Gardens, Simpson Beach, Shell Island Interpretive Stop and Cape Arago State Park. Finish the day off with dinner at Couch House Restaurant and Lounge. Great serving sizes and decent prices.
- Where To Stay
Roseburg. Rather random? Agreed! There’s not a lot going on in Roseburg, but we used this as a stopover to break up the drive en route to Crater Lake National Park the following morning. We recommend Timber Valley Inn and Suites which is conveniently located directly off HWY 5. Breakfast was included, it was clean and surrounded by shops, places to eat and gas stations.
If you’re not making the trek inland for Crater Lake, stay on the coast for the night and skip to day 8.
On a random side note: 41 years ago my mum lived in Oregon on a Rotary Exchange. During our brief stop, we took a trip down memory lane on behalf of her and went and visited her old host family – an adorable couple who are now 90 and 93 years old! They remembered my mum right away and we chatted with them about their lives. It was so special to see where my mum spent her years here and I was very fortunate they were still there to meet me!
Day 7: Roseburg – Crater Lake (86 miles/138km) and then Crater Lake – Crescent City, California (185 miles/297km)
Today is a long but good day of driving. Leave Roseburg after breakfast and head directly towards Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake National Park is the only National Park in Oregon and whilst it may be slightly off course, we promise you won’t regret it!
Crater Lake is the largest lake in the United States (over 1900 ft deep!) and was formed by the eruption and collapsing of a volcano, Mount Mazama 7,700 years ago. Surprisingly, there are no rivers or flowing water that enters the lake, the water simply comes from rain and the melting of snow making it one of the cleanest and clearest bodies of water in the world.
The water is exceptionally blue and when the sunlight hits the water, it’s simply stunning. We spent the day driving around the lake, taking photo after photo! After half a day here, we made our way down HWY 199 through some interesting towns, en route to Crescent City on HWY 101. Keep your eye out for the Elks!
- Where To Stay
Crescent City. Ocean View Inn and Suites. Basic large rooms with a good location right off the 101. You’ll be ready for tonight’s sleep – that’s for sure!
Day 8: Crescent City – Santa Rosa (300 miles/482km)
Get ready for a day of tree exploring! Who would have thought trees could be so fascinating? For once, I wasn’t the tallest!
Make your first stop after Crescent City into Jedediah Smith Redwoods National Park. You’ll immediately gasp at the size of these Red Wood trees! Some of these trees have been known to measure 360 feet in height, making it the tallest measured tree species on earth. There are a few small easy hiking paths to take and they’re worth it to view these giants up close.
Jump back on the 101 and head south to check out the “Big Tree” (look out for all the parked cars). This tree is HUGE but in fact, not even the largest! Jump back in your car and follow the signs towards The Avenue of the Giants. This is a 31 mile scenic stretch of road that runs through the Red Wood Forest parallel to the highway. Stop as frequent or as little as you like but don’t forget to look up!
If you’re anything like us, by now you may be sick of trees and slightly hungry so pull off the highway and stop into Arcata for lunch. Grab a freshly baked bagel from Los Bagels, a crepe from Renata’s Creperie and Espresso or an ice cream from Arcata Scoop (or all of the above!)
Next up: The Shrine Drive-Through Tree. Yep, the name speaks for itself! Sounds interesting right? It was! It helps if you put your mirrors in to go through the tree. It does cost $8 per car but where else can you drive through a tree?
From here, you can either take the coastal highway HWY 1 or the HWY 101 directly to Santa Rosa for the night OR if you feel as though you can continue driving, drive to Santa Cruz. You could also visit one of the many wineries surrounding the Sonoma County too.
Day 10: Santa Rosa – Santa Cruz (129 miles/207km)
Note: We skip over San Francisco here, and loop back to it because our flight leaves from San Francisco + we have to return our rental car here. You could choose to stop in San Fran or continue south (like we did) and hit the beach! See here for our top things to do in San Francisco.
Today, it’s time to relax! There’s been a lot of driving the past week so today, grab your swimmers, a towel and a book and get to the beach in Santa Cruz. This seaside town has one of the most historic boardwalks in the state. You’ll find an array of video games, mini golf, photo booths, laser tag and rides. Unfortunately, outside of “summer”, the rides are only open on the weekends. As you can tell, Jacob was less than impressed.
Grab yourself some lunch from The Picnic Basket or the Surfrider Cafe and enjoy it on the beach whilst people watching and soaking up the sunshine. Finish the day with dinner at Lilian’s Italian Kitchen and ice cream from Marianne’s Ice Cream. Be prepared for the overwhelming choice of flavours!
- Where To Stay:
Santa Cruz. Beach Street Inn and Suites. This hotel is located right on the beach with gorgeous views of the boardwalk/beach. Book early for any weekend trips.
Day 11: Santa Cruz – Monterey (43 miles/69km, 45 minutes)
We left Santa Cruz after a walk along the beach and continued our way down the coastal HWY 1 towards the gorgeous Monterey Bay + surrounding areas. To visit all of these areas, we recommend taking the first exit to Monterey off the freeway and work your way around.
eg. Monterey Bay > Pacific Grove > 17 Mile Drive > Pebble Beach > Carmel-by-the-sea > Point Lobos > Monterey (or Seaside to sleep)
- Monterey – Cannery Row is Monterey’s waterfront town with a larger selection of accommodation. Similar to SF, there is also a Fishermans Wharf with fresh seafood. Be sure to check out the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, sample the chocolates in the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop and grab a beer at Alvarado Street Brewery.
- Pacific Grove – Situated on the very tip of the bay, Pacific Grove is a smaller local area with a pedestrian street with restaurants, small hotels and the famous Lovers Point Park. Grab a toasted sandwich or coffee from Beach House and Lovers Point and walk out to the tip of the rocks to enjoy. Keep your eye out for seals!
- 17 Mile Drive – Located in Pebble Beach (an area, not a beach), this beautiful scenic circular road passes through the Del Monte Forest. Along the way, you’ll find large golf courses, mansions, coastline and the famous Lone Cyprus tree. A stand-alone tree that has been there for 250 years. It takes about 2 hours to drive the whole route, more with stops. $10.25 to enter. Cash only. Tip: Download the app and you’ll get a guided tour along the route with information about each stop.
- Pebble Beach – (an area, not a beach) For all you golf lovers, you’ll find one of the largest golf courses in the USA. Just look at that stellar view of the 18th hole. Grab lunch at The Bench inside Pebble Beach Resort. An upscale American Eatery with awesome views.
- Carmel-by-the-Sea – A peaceful town that with an old European feel. The BnB’s are all very small and quaint which gives this seaside town a unique atmosphere. You won’t find large hotel chains taking up the streets or ugly looking motels. There are a lot of boutique stores, art galleries, jewellery stores and many restaurants. Grab breakfast at Katy’s or La Bicyclette, a baked treat from Carmel Bakery or a romantic dinner at Flying Fish Grill. You could easily spend 1/2 day exploring this town and the other half at Carmel Beach.
- Point Lobos National Park – Believe it or not, we weren’t sick of the coast yet! Grab a map and take the 2-3 hour hiking trails around this National Park. The south trail (our preference) gives you hiking paths alongside the waters edge and the Northern trail from above. Both are great! Listen our for seals and don’t forget to stop for a break to take it all in.
Budget Tip: If Monterey or the surrounding areas are too expensive or unavailable, consider the town – Seaside. Just 15 minutes from Monterey, you’ll find a variety of “cheaper” hotels. Especially on the weekdays. We recommend Sandcastle Inn.
Day 13: Monterey – Big Sur (28 miles/45km)
The day we had been waiting for! Our drive down the ever so famous Big Sur on HWY 1. If there was one thing on this whole trip that we really wanted to see, it was Big Sur. Miles and miles of rugged, unspoiled coastline that hugs the ocean’s edge. This scenic drive is one of the most sought after in the country, as well as the world.
Take your time, drive slowly and stop at every opportunity you can! Don’t forget to stop at the iconic Bixby Bridge (40 minutes from Monterey). Hungry? Thirsty? Stop in at Rocky Point Restaurant for a cocktail and then head to California Market at Pacific’s Edge for lunch with sweeping views of the ocean.
There are a few places to spend a night in the Big Sur, Glen Oaks, Fernwood Resort, Big Sur River Inn, as well as campsites in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. If you’re really feeling it, why not take a helicopter to Post Ranch Inn (a very fancy resort) in a helicopter, starting at $4000! Break the budget! Can you take us too?
Please also note that due to a giant landslide in May of 2017, a whole section of the Big Sur is inaccessible from the South, and you cannot travel the whole route. However, a new bridge is meant to be opening in October 2017. For up to date information on these conditions, visit this most recent post.
Day 14: Big Sur – San Francisco (147miles/236km)
Head North back to San Francisco, and explore the city! Unfortunately, this is our last stop on this incredible road trip. There are tons to do in this bustling city so see our post on the top things to do in San Francisco.
If you’re continuing south towards LA and be sure to stop into Pismo Beach, Solvang, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria or check out this extensive list of ideas.
- Where to Stay:
If you want to be in with all the tourist action, North Beach, right by the famous Fisherman’s Wharf is your best bet but be prepared, it is touristy and expensive! Union Square is where you’ll find a lot of shopping options & Mission District has a lot of greats bars and restaurants to explore. Both of which have large hotel chains and some hostels. For us, we stayed with a friend we met in Chile 2 years ago (travel is awesome!) in Noey Valley and we found it to be far less touristy with a beautiful community feel.
Budgeting for your Road Trip
How you budget is entirely based on the types of accommodations you’re wanting to stay in and of course where you choose to eat. Here are a few estimates of what to expect.
- Car Rental: Use Auto Slash/Priceline for some of the best car deals. Our total cost for 12 days with gas & insurance worked out to be $42 USD a day with Budget Car Rental. Not bad hey?!
- Gas: The closer we got to California, the more expensive the gas became. On average it was priced at $2.80/gallon.
- Food: If you eat out at restaurants every meal (based on 2 people) be prepared to spend at least $100-$150 USD day. We saved $$ by stocking up on snacks and always eating breakfast bought from the grocery store (yoghurt/fruit) etc.
- Hotels: The most basic motels ran at a minimum of $75 USD a night plus all the taxes and fees. Weekend prices are always double. RV and camping parks are very popular along this route so it is something to definitely consider. See Expedia for more great Hotels for Road trips.
- Icecream: Single scoop? $3-$5. The best part? A standard scoop is x3 the regular. Thank you, America.
Top Tips for your Trip!
- Driving from north to south is ideal as you’ll be on the ocean side of the road the entire way. No unobstructed views for miles!
- Don’t book accommodation too far in advance. Allow flexibility for last minute changes and new discoveries/towns. A lot of the places we stayed in were purely for sleeping and very minimal time was spent in the rooms. The journey is the driving, not where you put your head at night. Be wary that taxes and fees are often added on to bookings.
- Get yourself a US Sim Card. It’s far easier to look things up as you go along the road.
- Pack snacks and lots of them. A road trip isn’t complete without at least 3 empty chip packets (family size, none of this individual packet business)
- If you are driving north to south and plan to do the Big Sur, fill your petrol/gas up in either Monterey or Carmel. There are only a few petrol/gas stations in Big Sur and they charge far more!
- Long road trips = the need for bathroom stops! There’s nothing worse than being 100 miles from the nearest toilet! Download this app SitOrSquat and it’ll tell you where the nearest public restroom is and even inform you if it’s clean or not! Whaaat! Make use of the restrooms when you see them. There are either a million in a row or none for miles.
- If you suffer from car sickness, take some tablets, especially along highway 1. It is very windy!
- Pack yourself a little cooler to keep your snacks cool in the car ($5 from Walmart!)
Well, that’s it for us! Have you done this road trip before? Is there anything else you think we should have done, or not done? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you!
Married Days Survived: 932