In April, we made an impromptu trip to Los Angeles to see Skrillex, Incubus, and Imagine Dragons along with several other bands play a benefit concert for the ACLU. Turns out this trip resulted in an unforgettable 16 day long adventure up the entire West Coast. We’ve compiled a list of the very best sights and how long you’ll need to experience each of them in this 14-day West Coast Road Trip Itinerary!
General Tips & Info
When to go: Although you could easily do this trip any time of year, we highly recommend to go during the spring or early summer in April-June. During this time of year you will avoid many tourists (and children) while getting to experience the incredible wildflower blooms of California. The rivers and waterfalls in the northern regions will be roaring from the mountain snowmelt, and you’ll get to witness the grey whale migration.
How long will it take: If you have the luxury, you could easily spend a month road tripping the West Coast. There’s just so much to see. We took two weeks to drive from LA to Port Angeles and then 2 extra days to drive back down to LA again. Since we had to rent a car, it was much cheaper for us to drive back down to LA to return the car versus dropping it off in Seattle. If you’re willing to shell out another $500 bucks for that, it would be the most convenient option and will give you a couple more days to explore.
In our opinion, 14-16 days would be the minimum amount of time to travel the coast so you can truly appreciate this beautiful section of earth. With this amount of time, you will not need to do too much driving each day. At the bottom of the article, there’s some suggested itinerary alterations on what to do if you have less than 14 days!
How much it will cost: I’ll be honest here, the West Coast isn’t cheap unless you’re planning to camp ( we camped a few nights to keep costs down). Regardless, this was definitely one of our more expensive trips. For 14 days, I would bring at least $2,500 for 2 people. Average (super basic) hotels go for $150/night. Meals are $15-20/each unless you can find fast food or do some grocery shopping. Rental Car is about $400-500 for the trip.
Which direction to travel: I personally don’t think it matters too much which way you go. You can fly into Seattle or LA/San Diego. We chose to fly in and out of LA since it was significantly cheaper to Dallas vs flying from Seattle. I imagine the only benefit of driving south from Seattle is that you’ll have the Pacific on your side of the road the entire way. If you start in Seattle, keep in mind this entire itinerary will be in reverse!
Money saving tip: If you need to rent a car, don’t rent one directly at the airport (especially at LAX) because you’ll pay 2X the cost. Take a Lyft to a nearby car rental location and get a much, much better deal. We usually use Hertz for our car rentals. In fact, they’re offering up to 25% off when you book online through 12/31/17.
Lodging: We did not book any of our lodging in advance because we wanted the flexibility to spend however long in each destination as we wanted. We typically use Expedia or HotelTonight to find various hotels along the way. We typically prefer private rentals such as VRBO and Airbnb, but many private rentals don’t allow just one night and may be hard to book last minute.
Day 1 LA
Start off your west coast road trip in LA. We’re not much city people but if you’ve never been to LA, there are a few things to explore. We personally enjoyed the La Brea Tar Pits where they’ve found thousands of bones from prehistoric animals, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Both of these attractions are in close proximity and perfect for a relaxing half day in the city.
Day 2 LA to Santa Barbara
After a day driving around in LA traffic (yes, its really that bad), we were ready to get out of the city. We made our way to the coastal town of Santa Barbara. If driving from LA, be sure to take the longer route along Highway 1 to see the shores of Malibu! Its a beautiful drive and we spotted more surfers than we could count!
While in Santa Barbara, be sure to spend at least a half day at the Shoreline Park for some nice views and great vibes. We rented bikes (we haven’t been on bikes in years…yikes!) and did a portion of the Cabrillo Bike Path which was absolutely magical. At the end of the day, grab some food and drinks at one of the restaurants in the Santa Barbara Harbor or take a stroll on Arroyo Burro Beach and soak in the sunset.
Day 3 – Santa Barbara to Cambria
We LOVED the small town of Cambria. Its incredibly peaceful and practically the entire town has primo ocean front views. There’s a boardwalk and some gorgeous trails that run parallel with the ocean perfect for a morning or evening stroll and are not usually too crowded (#winning). Moonstone Beach is the best beach in the area where you’ll be able to watch sea lions while checking out some of the unique life in tide pools during low tide. Note: The restaurants here are VERY expensive!
Beautiful Shores of Cambria, California
Day 4 through 6 – Big Sur
Big Sur is one of the most beautiful drives in the world. On our west coast road trip itinerary we’ve allocated 2 days exploring the area (but you could easily spend a week ?). There are a multitude of stunning beaches, vistas, and trails that dot the coastline. Make sure your camera is fully charged and bring an extra memory card. You’re going to want to pull off at every turn out. Seriously.
A few things you don’t want to miss:
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park – Best views and hiking trails.
McWay Falls – An iconic waterfall that empties straight into the ocean.
Bixby Bridge – An iconic bridge with impeccable views.
Note: There are occasional road closures that may make you take a very long detour. Be sure to check the status of Big Sur road conditions before traveling.
Bixby Creek Bridge
Day 7 – Carmel and Monterey
At the end of Big Sur, there are two towns that offer a plethora of activities. We stayed in Carmel and absolutely loved the quaint vibe of the town. We found the 17 Mile Drive in Carmel to be particularly fascinating as it twists and turns through some of the most beautiful estates and golf courses in all of California. The ocean here is so crystal clear and vibrant blue, its pretty mesmerizing. Point Lobos is a must see state reserve contains incredible vistas that you do not want to miss.
From the 17 mile drive in Carmel
Day 8 – San Francisco
Spend a day exploring some of the iconic sights in SF such as the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, and Lombard Street. Unfortunately it was pouring rain when we went so we didn’t get to enjoy as much time outside as we wanted. We also rented camping gear in SF for our next day’s adventure in the redwoods. SF has got a few places to pick up gear if you want to include some camping in your itinerary!
Day 9 – Meyers Flat Coastal Redwoods
A West coast road trip has got to include some time exploring these magnificent trees. California Redwoods are some of the biggest and tallest trees on earth and are only found along the coast north of San Fransisco to the Oregon border. Getting to the best section of the redwoods from San Fransisco is a bit of a drive. If your in a crunch for time you can take the 101 all the way there from SF (about 4 hours).
However, if you’ve got a bit more time, hop back on Highway 1 and drive up along the Sonoma Coast until it merges back with the 101. This is an equally stunning drive with some incredible vistas. This stretch of road doesn’t seem to get too busy either and you’ll pass through a handful of small quaint towns along the way.
When you arrive to the Meyers Flat area, make sure to do the scenic drive called The Avenue of the Giants. THIS IS A MUST! Be sure to pull off and take a short walk through the massive trees. You won’t regret it.
Avenue of the Giants
Day 10 – Yachats, Oregon
About a 6 hour drive north of Meyers Flat takes you back to the ocean views and quaint coastal towns. Yachats has some of the best views on the Oregon Coast you don’t want to miss. Cape Perpetua State Park is one of the highest rated parks in all of Oregon where you will find “ocean geysers”, rugged cliffs, and beautiful tide pools. You could easily spend a full day here exploring the coastline and trails!
Thor's Well in Yachats
Day 11 – Cannon Beach
Cannon beach is one of the most popular beaches in Oregon (for good reason) and it’s a hot spot for Portlanders on the weekends in the summer because of its proximity. Here you will find upscale restaurants and accommodations. Haystack Rock is a famous spot where a 235 foot rock jets up out of the ocean creating a unique backdrop for photos. I recommend visiting here during low tide to make your visit even more memorable.
Be sure to spend at least a couple hours checking out Ecola State Park – it has some of the best vistas on the Oregon Coast.
Day 12-14 The Olympic Peninsula
This area has so much to do you could easily spend 10 days and not see everything. Home of the Olympic National Park, this area has a diverse set of landscapes that will make you drool (at least we did ?). From the Hoh Rainforest to Hurricane Ridge you will not be disappointed. We’ve got a whole separate article on this area. Click here to discover our top things to do in Olympic National Park.
I recommend finding accommodations in Port Angeles, as it is the largest city in the area and has the most options for lodging and food. We stayed at Colettes B&B and loved it so much we stayed 2 extra nights. Its pricey, but absolutely worth it!
Getting to Port Angeles you can stay on the 101 West (a bit longer) or you can take Highway 12 to 101 East. Both offer great views!
If you have less time…
Skip LA and San Francisco (we’re all about the natural sights and really hate traffic so cutting these out will save you a massive block of time)
Cut out Santa Barbara and Cambria and go straight for Big Sur
If you’re beached out, skip Cannon Beach
That’s it! We hope you’ve enjoyed our West Coast Road Trip Itinerary!
If you have any suggestions, recommendations, or questions please feel free to drop them in comment selection below! Also, if you enjoyed this article, please share it on social media!