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Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip

05.22.18

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Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
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  • Surfer at sunset at Ocean Beach.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Old Point Loma Lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Razor Point Trail at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Swami's is home to a world class (and crowded) surf break.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Venice Canal Walkways.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Sunset at El Matador State Beach.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Late afternoon on the dunes at Jalama Beach.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • McWay Falls at Sunset.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Stair trails over Keyhole Rock at Pfeiffer Beach.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Bixby Bridge - a great place to hangout at night, too!- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Harbor seals enjoying the afternoon sun along the South Shore Trail in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • The rocky shoreline creates an abundance of tide pools at Asilomar State Marine Reserve.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • The beach at Fort Ord State Park.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Panther Beach from the top of the cliffs.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Baker Beach from Lands End Coastal Trail.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Chimney Rock Trail at Point Reyes National Seashore.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Kehoe Beach, south.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Looking southwest at Doran Beach and the jetty. Jetty Campground loop is in the upper right.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • The final section of the Damnation Creek Trail opens out on Damnation Cove and the mighty Pacific.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Golden autumn light along the Kortum Trail.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Looking south from the Bluff Top Trail in Gualala Point Regional Park.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Sea caves at the edge of Glass Beach.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Battery Point Lighthouse is one of California's oldest lighthouses.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Thor's Well at Cooks Chasm.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Cape Perpetua: View south toward Heceta Head.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Sunset Bay State Park.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) at Seal Rock State Recreation Site.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Purple sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Devil's Punchbowl.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Neskowin's Ghost Forest and Proposal Rock at Neskowin State Recreation Site- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Cape Kiwanda Sunset- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • View from along the Cape Lookout Trail, 400 feet above the Pacific.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • View north to Bayocean Peninsula and Cape Meares Lake from Cape Meares.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Cannon Beach viewed from Ecola State Park day-use and picnic area.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Lake Quinault Lodge.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Kalaloch Creek leading to Kalaloch Beach.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Panoramic view from Ruby Beach.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • La Push, Second Beach.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Hole-in-the-wall with James Island and Little James Island in the distance. Olympic National Park.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Sunset at Tongue Point and Crescent Bay.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Dungeness Spit and Dungeness Bay.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Battery Kinzie at Fort Worden State Park.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Panoramic view to Mount Baker (10,781') from the summit of Mount Constitution.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • Looking into Canada from Fox Point.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
  • A sailbot heads past Posey Island.- Driving 101: An Unbeatable West Coast Road Trip
Article
Team

Road trips are one of our favorite things, and we've already shared a few great itineraries. The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip Part 1 takes you from Seattle to Los Angeles through the interior of the Cascade Range, down to Smith Rock and Crater Lake, and out to the coast through the California Redwoods and Big Sur. Part 2 of that trip takes you along the interior of California through Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite national parks to Tahoe, Lassen Volcanic National Park, out to the Oregon Coast, and up through the Olympic Peninsula. Though they are two amazing options and an ideal round-trip route when done together, we have so much love for the Pacific Coast that we had to put it all together in one epic itinerary. 

Here we go...1,750 miles of sandy beaches, wave-battered cliffs, redwood forests, majestic rock formations, and more epic ocean views than you can count. Fasten your seatbelt for an unbeatable road trip from San Diego, California, to Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands.

San Diego to Ventura

Distance: 186 miles + Drive Time: 5.25 hours

O.B. Pier at sunset in San Diego. Photo by Yelena Sukhanov.

The route can be done going either direction, but we're going to start this adventure in one of California's sunniest destinations, San Diego. You can't, or shouldn't, leave San Diego without spending a little time one of the many amazing beaches. Just 15 minutes north of San Diego on the Point Loma peninsula you'll find Ocean Beach, or O.B. as the locals call it. Before you hop in the car, take a stroll on the 1,971-foot Ocean Beach fishing pier, one of the longest in southern California. 

Highlights between San Diego and Ventura:

See the camping options near Ventura. If you want to drive about an hour further, you'll reach El Capitan State Beach Campground near Santa Barbara. 

 

Ventura through Big Sur to Monterey

Distance: 263 miles + Drive Time: 5.25 hours

Bixby Bridge on the Big Sur coastline. Photo by Patrick Mueller.

Though all of the California Coast is beautiful, this section takes the cake. Many people stick to the road and simply drive through Big Sur, but you could actually split this section into two or three days to really experience the best of Big Sur and all of the hiking, camping, waterfalls, and beaches it has to offer. 

Highlights between Ventura and Monterey:

Most of the camping is going to be in Big Sur, or you'll have to drive just over an hour north to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Campground in Santa Cruz or even further to one of the campgrounds in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

 

Monterey to Bodega Bay

Distance: 192 miles + Drive Time: 5 hours

Tide pools at Asilomar State Marine Reserve. Photo by John Cody.

You'll definitely want to stop by one or two of the beaches in Santa Cruz and a few beaches near San Francisco. If you're ready to stretch your legs, try Pedro Point Loop Hike or one of the other great day hikes in the Bay Area or Marin. On this stretch you'll pass through San Francisco, and we recommend traveling across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin, staying as close to the coast as you can. You'll start to pass through California's redwoods, and you should stop if you'd like, but there will be plenty of redwood forests in the northern part of the state as well.

Highlights between Monterey and Bodega Bay:

Camping options near Bodega Bay:

 

Bodega Bay to Crescent City

Distance: 323 miles + Drive Time: 6 hours

Looking up into California's redwoods. Photo by Shane Kucera.

This leg is a long one, but making it to Crescent City to camp in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is well worth it. The road meanders away from the coastline and winds its way through over 100 miles of redwood forests. There are numerous trails to stretch your car-cramped legs, and hiking in California's redwoods in Humbolt Redwoods State Park, Redwood National and State Parks, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, or on the Damnation Creek Trail in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park is a must. There are great hiking options in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park as well if you prefer to get all of your driving done before adventuring too far.

Highlights between Bodega Bay and Crescent City:

Camping options near Crescent City:

 

Crescent City to Newport

Distance: 230 miles + Drive Time: 4.75 hours

Thor's Well on the Oregon coast. Photo by Tyson Gillard.

Congratulations, you finally made it through California and into Oregon! Welcome to a dramatic coastline filled with majestic views, unreal rock formations, exclusive wildlife and habitat access, and broad, sandy beaches. You should stop at as many of the highlighted areas as you can, and you don't want to miss Simpson Reef Overlook, Thor's Well + Cook Chasm, and Cape Perpetua Scenic Area.

Highlights between Crescent City and Newport:

Camping options near Newport:

 

Newport to Cape Disappointment State Park

Distance: 149 miles + Drive Time: 3.5 hours

View of the Oregon Coast from Ecola State Park. Photo by Tyson Gillard.

This leg was intended to be a bit shorter to allow time for one of the great hikes to one of the great views on the Oregon Coast. Some of the trails can get a bit crowded on the weekends, but here are five overlooked hikes on the northern Oregon Coast that are good options to escape the Portland crowds. We highly recommend camping at Cape Disappointment State Park and taking a short walk out to the beach to view the lighthouse. For this particular area, the bigger the waves the better. Hopefully you'll see why.

Highlights between Newport and Cape Disappointment State Park:

Camping options near Cape Disappointment:

 

Cape Disappointment State Park to La Push

Distance: 195 miles + Drive Time: 4 hours

La Push, Second Beach on the Washington Coast. Photo by Tyson Gillard.

The Washington Coast may not seem as impressive as its Oregon and California counterparts; however, it does encompass 40 miles of completely raw and undeveloped wilderness that is only accessible by hiking within Olympic National Park, three Native American reservations, countless islands and stack formations inhabited by protected wildlife, dense conifer old-growth forests, some of the most productive salmon estuaries and habitat, one of the southernmost snowy owl nesting areas, incredible tidal beaches, the longest continuous beach in the world (stretching 28 miles), six lighthouses, a World War II fortress, and the state's oldest accommodation, the Tokeland Hotel. To get a closer look, hike one of our favorite Washington Coast trails or visit one of Washington's best beaches.

Highlights between Cape Disappointment and La Push:

Camping options near La Push:

 

La Push to Friday Harbor

Distance: 173 miles + Drive Time: 5.5 hours (This leg includes a ferry or two.)

Friday Harbor at sunset. Photo by Shane Kucera.

To get to Friday Harbor you can go through Port Townsend to Whidbey Island and up to Anacortes or through Seattle to Anacortes. Be sure to check the Anacortes ferry schedule before heading out and the Port Townsend ferry schedule if you decide on a multi-ferry adventure. On summer weekends the ferries can fill quickly, so you should plan on being at least an hour early. As you head east from La Push, keep an eye on the Strait of Juan de Fuca for orca whales and other wildlife. Orcas use this straight as their gateway between the Pacific Ocean and the waters surrounding the San Juan Islands. If you want to take a bit more time, there are plenty of amazing hiking and camping options in Olympic National Park. If you want to stop off in Seattle, check out one of these great day hikes or even rent a kayak for a paddle.

Highlights between La Push and Friday Harbor:

Highlights in the San Juan Islands:

See the camping options on San Juan Island.

What are your favorite stops along the way? We'd love to hear about your adventures on the West Coast in the comments below.

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