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Ultimate West Coast USA road trip itinerary

Planning a West Coast USA road trip? Then this guide to the best places we saw on our West Coast road trips should help.

There were a lot of highlights from our 3 month east to west coast road trip of the USA and many of them are from our time spent on the west coast road trip segment.

Full of beautiful beaches, National Parks, cool relaxed cities, and super tall trees, a road trip on the west coast of America is a must-do.

We also ended up living on the West Coast of Canada for 6 years following our big USA trip and so visited places up and down the coast of America over that time too. Returning to our favorite haunts, and visiting new places.

All that to say, if you need some ideas for a road trip on the West Coast, I can help you gather some ideas for your American road trip.

In this post, I’ll cover some of my favorite places from our USA west coast road trip that you should add to your US west coast road trip itinerary!

sunset in mt rainier national park

Itinerary for a road trip USA West Coast

We spent around a month working our way up the west coast from San Francisco and Big Sur to Seattle and eventually Vancouver, BC where we’ve been living.

Get the lowdown on Seattle vs Vancouver and which one you should visit!

You could start your West Coast USA itinerary from lower down the West Coast such as in Los Angeles or Palm Springs, or from higher up such as Portland. That’s the best part about road trips, the itinerary is yours to decide as you plan your West Coast American tour.

Use this post as inspiration for your USA West Coast itinerary! You can mix and match destinations and add to them to make your own west coast road trips.

Preparing for your USA Road Trip & Travelling the West Coast of America

Prepping for a road trip is a bit different from packing for a standard vacation. You’ll have to make sure your car is running well, and you probably don’t want to book hotels too far in advance as you might drive further or shorter distances than you’d expected.

We’ve done a lot of road trips across the world and have put together some posts that’ll help you have a fun and safe trip.

Get a USA National Parks Pass for just $80 and save a tonne of money if you’re planning on visiting multiple National Parks in a year, or visiting the same one more than once!

We did our US west coast trip in our self-converted campervan but if you’re just visiting America you can rent a car or rent an RV for your road trip.

For car rentals, I like to use Discover Cars and Rental Cars. These give you an overview of various different rental companies, their options, and prices so it’s good for getting comparisons.

I use comparison sites like DiscoverCars and RentalCars to book my car rentals as it’s easy to check prices and compare the best deals!

When it comes to renting an RV for your road trip on the West Coast, you can use a site like Outdoorsy which is similar to the car rental companies above. Or, Escape Campervans which has a couple of locations up and down the Coast.

Outdoorsy typically has more options and different styles of campervans, whereas Escape Campervans are vans converted into campers so are smaller.

do you need to own a car in vancouver

What to know before doing US West Coast trips

Here is a list of things to consider before you head off on your West Coast USA road trip:

  • Planning and Route: Research and plan your route in advance, taking into account the distance between stops and your interests. This guide can help give you plenty of ideas. Decide whether you want a loop (starting and ending at the same city) or a one-way trip.
  • Budgeting: Set a daily budget for expenses like fuel, food, accommodations, and activities. The West Coast can be expensive, particularly in major cities.
  • Accommodations: Book accommodations in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons. Consider various options, including hotels, motels, Airbnb, and campgrounds.
  • Vehicle Preparation: Ensure your vehicle is road trip ready with a thorough check (oil, tires, brakes, etc.). Rent a car if necessary, and make sure rental insurance is covered.
  • Travel Insurance: Purchase travel insurance that covers health, car issues, and potential trip cancellations or delays.
  • Packing: Pack light but include essentials like clothes for various weather conditions, toiletries, and a first aid kit. Bring a cooler for snacks and drinks, and camping gear if you plan to camp.
  • Navigation: Have a reliable GPS or map, as some areas may have limited cell service. Familiarize yourself with the main highways and alternative routes.
  • Weather and Season: Research the weather for your planned destinations, as the West Coast has diverse climates. Summer is the peak tourist season; spring and fall usually have milder weather and fewer crowds.
  • Activities and Attractions: Make a list of must-see attractions and activities, but allow for spontaneity and changes in plans. National Parks often require entrance fees, so consider an annual National Park Pass if visiting multiple parks.
  • Safety and Emergency: Always have spare tire, jack, and jumper cables in your car. Keep emergency contacts and know the location of the nearest hospitals along your route.
  • Legal Regulations: Be aware of different traffic and parking laws in each state. Make sure you have valid identification, driver’s license, and car insurance handy while driving.
  • Fuel and Charging Stations: Keep an eye on your fuel gauge and know where gas stations are along your route. If driving an electric vehicle, map out charging stations along your route.
things to do in San Francisco on a budget

San Francisco

Despite not being one of my favorite cities on our USA west coast road trip, San Francisco is still a must-visit. The city is known, of course, for the Golden Gate Bridge but there’s a whole lot more to see.

Since we were traveling on a budget, we prioritized finding cheap and free activities in San Francisco and had a great time exploring the city’s distinct neighborhoods.

tunnel view yosemite

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is a must on a West Coast USA road trip itinerary due to its breathtaking natural beauty.

As one of America’s most famous national parks, its full of granite cliffs, thundering waterfalls, and ancient sequoia trees.

Whether you’re looking to do some of the best hikes in Yosemite National Park like the Yosemite Falls trail, or simply someone means to drive through and admire the views and other best things to do in Yosemite, you’ll be wowed by this beautiful National Park.

The park is in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains and is fairly accessible from several major cities, including San Francisco, so it’s a logical addition to any West Coast journey.

San Diego

San Diego California, is a coastal city known for its beautiful beaches, fantastic weather, and laid-back vibe.

With a vibrant cultural scene, it boasts a world-renowned zoo, extensive parks, and a rich maritime heritage.

Its close proximity to Mexico means it’s got some absolutely delicious food!

San Diego is a sunny, friendly destination that’s perfect for family fun, outdoor adventures, and relaxing on the beach. I highly recommend making some time to go surfing while you’re visiting.

usa west coast road trip

Big Sur & Monterey

Before heading north up the coast, we did a Big Sur road trip.

The year of our west coast road trip the road was washed out from heavy rains and flooding so we didn’t get to see all the best sites but the views were still incredibly impressive and I highly recommend this for any California road trip.

Now that the road is reopened, you’ll get to do the full drive, taking in the coastal views, beaches, waterfalls, and artsy scenes in Monterey.

This drive on its own is a complete road trip on the west coast and one that many people want to experience. It’d be perfect for a west coast road trip itinerary of 7 days.

Lee Flat Joshua Tree Forest death valley

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California is a blend of two distinct desert ecosystems.

Famous for its otherworldly Joshua Trees and dramatic rock formations, this park is a haven for climbers, hikers, and stargazers.

It’s a perfect escape to experience unique landscapes that seem almost alien, offering peaceful vistas and a clear, starry night sky – a quiet, stark contrast to the nearby bustling cities of Los Angeles and San Diego.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles or LA, is the entertainment capital of the world.

This massive sprawling Southern California city teeming with celebrity culture, iconic landmarks like Hollywood and Venice Beach, and extensive art and history museums.

It’s a vibrant melting pot of cultures, with diverse neighborhoods each offering a unique flavor and experience.

Whether you’re into film, fashion, art, or food, LA is a dynamic, bustling city that’s quintessential to any West Coast road trip experience.

redwood national park california (1 of 7)
sea of redwoods

Highway 101 California

Take the coastal route out of the city and drive Highway 101. It’s more peaceful and waaay more picturesque! The route also has some super fun places to stop at.

Ever wanted to drive through a tree? Find corn bigger than you? Or explore a big ship? There’s all that and more along Highway 101 with its weird roadside attractions.

Napa Valley

Napa Valley in Northern California, is synonymous with world-class wineries and luxury dining.

It’s a picturesque valley with rolling vine-covered hills and quaint towns that feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or just enjoy a good glass of wine, Napa offers a chance to explore vineyards, enjoy wine-tasting tours, and indulge in gourmet meals, making it an elegant and delightful stop on a West Coast road trip.

redwood national park california (1 of 7)

Redwood National Park

Heading north out of San Francisco we were keen to stop at Redwood National Park. We’d stopped off at Muir Woods just outside of San Francisco but it was super busy and quite small. The same can not be said of Redwood National Park!

This National Park is actually made up of several areas and it’s huge!

There are plenty of Redwood forest trails to explore as you wander among the giant redwood trees.

We explored the part of the park around Klamath which is a bit out of the way for most people exploring the west coast USA. However, if you’re road-tripping the USA’s west coast it’s the perfect stop!

oregon coast sunset

Oregon Coast

Arguably one of the most beautiful USA road trips on the West Coast is an Oregon Coastline road trip. I was absolutely blown away by the Oregon Coast.

I had zero expectations going into it as I hadn’t heard much about Oregon besides a bit here and there about Portland.

I feel like more people know about its beauty nowadays and if you’re doing a West Coast USA road trip you simply have to drive this stunning stretch of coastline.

We went crabbing, watched an incredible sunset, and visited cute towns and breweries. It was a great few days!

If you’re looking for cool places to stay in Oregon, be sure to check out these Oregon treehouse rentals.

things to do in portland

Portland, OR

Portland is known as a cool city and also a weird one: as the city’s slogan goes “Keep Portland Weird”.

We ate great food and enjoyed chilling out in some of the city’s cool coffee shops while visiting Portland as part of our west coast itinerary.

Ultimate West Coast USA road trip itinerary photo 1542325823 53124d9c5cbe?crop=entropy&cs=tinysrgb&fm=jpg&ixlib=rb 1.2

Mount Hood & Columbia River Gorge

Mount Hood is Oregon’s tallest mountain and the area where it meets the Columbia River is beautiful. You can enjoy paddleboarding and floating or swimming at the river, then go hiking around Mt Hood and taking in the view.

A few months after we drove through, there was a huge wildfire, the Eagle Creek fire of 2017, so some areas of the forest aren’t quite as lush as they once were. It’s recommended to check with the USFS for more information on trail closures as this area recovers.

Ultimate West Coast USA road trip itinerary photo 1581195173454 d73c59e08239?crop=entropy&cs=tinysrgb&fm=jpg&ixlib=rb 1.2

Mount St Helens

From Mt Hood, we drove north into Washington and over to Mount St. Helens. This active volcano not only offers great hiking trails. There’s a great museum with information about eruptions and the geology of the area. I’d definitely recommend checking it out during your visit.

Another fun thing to do near Mount St Helens is to visit the Ape Caves. You can reserve your ticket in advance and then wander into the lava caves over 2 miles long!

To make it to the furthest point you’ll have to be prepared to climb up a rock wall and scramble over rock piles, but you can turn around before that point if that’s not up your street!

Crater Lake National Park

In southern Oregon lies Crater Lake National Park, home to the deepest and purest lake in the United States, created by a collapsed volcano.

The stunning blue waters and the surrounding cliffs and forests make this a breathtaking stop and addition to a West Coast trip.

It’s a paradise for lovers of outdoor activities, with excellent hiking, boat tours, and scenic drives, making it a must-visit on any West Coast itinerary.

Ultimate West Coast USA road trip itinerary mt rainier 6 of 6

Mt Rainier National Park

Mt Rainier National Park was one of my favorites – mostly because it was the first time I saw a bear! We were also in the park for sunset and watched as some beautiful light beams crossed over the valley.

Mt Rainier has some incredible hiking trails including the Wonderland Trail which goes around the base of the mountain. At over 86 miles long it takes most people 10-14 days to complete and you’ll need to secure a permit through their lottery system if interested.

There are other shorter trails that would be more fitting for your American west coast road trip too!

best things to do in seattle

Seattle WA

Seattle was another place I was looking forward to exploring on our West Coast road trip and it didn’t disappoint. The whole city has a kind of relaxed feel to it and there are tonnes to do whatever your interests are.

We enjoyed ticking off all the touristy things like Pike Place Market, the Gum Wall, and a trip out to one of the islands.

Portland – Oregon Coastline – Mt Rainier – Seattle

A trip from Portland to Seattle including some of the National Parks would also be a fun road trip on the USA West Coast. If you’re looking for a 2-week west coast USA road trip this could be the one!

north cascades national park diablo lake

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park is a place I’ve been meaning to go back to. We visited it the day before we crossed over the border into Canada and it was still snowy in early June with some of the scenic drives and a lot of hiking closed.

What we did see, however, was Diablo Lake, and did the short and easy Thunder Knob trail for an outlook over the park.

There are loads of awesome hikes in the North Cascades to check out! Perfect if you’re looking for an adventurous USA road trip west coast route.

Knowing where to stay when visiting North Cascades can be hard since it’s fairly remote. That’s why I’ve put together a list of my top picks.

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park in northwestern Washington State is a diverse and stunning wilderness park that is pretty much the Pacific North West personified. Think of misty forests and a lot of rain!

With its mountains, rainforests, and rugged coastline, it’s like three parks in one.

You can explore the glacier-capped peaks of the Olympic Mountains, wander through the moss-draped trees of the Hoh Rainforest, and wander along the pristine shores of the Pacific Ocean.

It’s a perfect stop for outdoor enthusiasts and those seeking solitude and natural beauty on a West Coast road trip.

If you plan on going to Vancouver Island in Canada, you can easily take a ferry from here towards Victoria BC which would be another great way to extend your west coast USA trip by heading up to Canda.

things to do in bellingham

Bellingham

Bellingham is somewhere we drove straight through on the way to Vancouver at the end of our West Coast itinerary but, honestly, this little town has so much to offer and should be included on your west coast US road trip itinerary.

From super cool cafes to awesome breweries, mountain biking, trail-running, and more!

We spent a day in Bellingham when activating our Candian permanent residency and had so much fun. I’ve been desperate to go back and hope to soon now that borders are open again!

downtown vancouver views stanley park

Vancouver, BC

And yes, I may be biased, but I think I’ve totally saved the best until the last.

Sure, it’s not in the US, but if you’re doing a West Coast road trip and have some additional time, head over the border and into Vancouver.

Vancouver is my favorite city – you just can’t beat its’ location between the mountains and the ocean. It’s beautiful even when it rains (which it does a lot) and there’s an outdoor adventure to be had at every turn.

I’ve written a lot about Vancouver having lived here for over 5 years so you can check out my Vancouver travel guides.

blue lake trail north cascades national park
Blue Lake Trail North Cascades

USA West Coast itinerary 2 weeks

Here’s a suggested two-week West Coast USA road trip itinerary. This itinerary starts in Seattle, Washington, and ends in San Diego, California, but you can also do it in reverse.

I’ve planned it with 14 stops over 14 days, but feel free to spend more or less time in each location based on your interests. For example, you may prefer to spend less time in cities and more in National Parks during your west coast road trip USA.

This itinerary runs north to south, but you could do it the other way around too.

  • Day 1: Seattle, Washington: Explore Pike Place Market and visit the iconic Space Needle for panoramic views of the city.
  • Day 2: Olympic National Park: Hike in the lush Hoh Rainforest and explore the rugged coastal beaches.
  • Day 3: Portland, Oregon: Visit the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) and wander through the artistic Pearl District.
  • Day 4: Crater Lake National Park: Take a drive around the rim for breathtaking views of the deep blue lake.
  • Day 5: Redwood National Park: Walk among the towering redwoods and feel the serenity of these ancient forests.
  • Day 6: Mendocino, California: Enjoy coastal views and explore the charming, artsy seaside village.
  • Day 7: Napa Valley, California: Go on a wine tasting tour at some of the world-renowned vineyards in the valley.
  • Day 8: San Francisco, California: Visit the Golden Gate Bridge and explore the bustling Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Day 9: Monterey & Big Sur: Drive the scenic Pacific Coast Highway and visit the impressive Monterey Bay Aquarium.
  • Day 10: Santa Barbara: Relax on the beach and stroll along State Street for shopping and dining.
  • Day 11: Los Angeles, California: Explore Hollywood, visit the Getty Center, and take a stroll on the beaches of Santa Monica.
  • Day 12: Joshua Tree National Park, California: Hike among the iconic Joshua Trees and enjoy the unique desert landscapes.
  • Day 13 + 14: San Diego, California: Visit the world-renowned San Diego Zoo and relax at the picturesque La Jolla Cove. Or enjoy a relaxing beach day, explore the historic Gaslamp Quarter, or visit more of the city’s attractions.

Please note that each day involves different levels of activity and travel, so starting early and pacing yourself is key to fully enjoying each location on this itinerary.

battery east viewpoint golden gate

West Coast trip itinerary 1 week

Here’s a condensed one-week West Coast USA road trip itinerary with specific activities for each day:

  • Day 1: San Francisco: Explore Golden Gate Park and visit Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Day 2: Monterey & Big Sur: Drive along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway and spot sea otters at Monterey Bay.
  • Day 3: Santa Barbara: Wander through the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and enjoy local dining on State Street.
  • Day 4: Los Angeles: Visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Griffith Observatory for city views.
  • Day 5: Joshua Tree National Park: Hike the Hidden Valley Trail and star-gaze in this Dark Sky Park.
  • Day 6: San Diego, California: Spend a day at the San Diego Zoo or enjoy the beaches of La Jolla.
  • Day 7: Return to Los Angeles: Shop at The Grove, explore the Getty Center, and depart from LAX (if needed).

This west coast road trip itinerary 7 days, provides a mix of city exploration and natural beauty, all while making the most of a shorter road trip timeframe for a road trip west coast USA. These days will be jam-packed, so it’s key to start early and prioritize activities based on your own interests.

FAQs about a West Coast America Road Trip

How to travel the west coast of America?

To travel the West Coast of America, consider a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1 in California and Highway 101 in Oregon and Washington), which offers stunning coastal views. Start from San Diego, California, and head north through Los Angeles and San Francisco, continuing through Oregon to Seattle, Washington. Alternatively, you can travel by Amtrak trains, which offer routes along the coast or opt for domestic flights between major cities.

How many days do you need for a West Coast road trip?

A West Coast road trip can vary in length, but a minimum of one week is recommended to see a few key highlights. Ideally, two to three weeks allow for a more relaxed and comprehensive exploration of the various cities, national parks, and scenic routes along the way

What is the famous road on the West Coast?

The famous road on the West Coast of the United States is the Pacific Coast Highway, also known as Highway 1 in California. It is renowned for its breathtaking coastal views, winding turns, and dramatic cliffs, making it one of the most scenic drives in the United States.

What not to miss on the West Coast USA?

Don’t miss the iconic cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle, the stunning national parks like Yosemite, Olympic, and Joshua Tree, the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, and the unique coastal towns like Monterey and Santa Barbara. These are all worthy of a visit during an America west coast road trip.

How long do you need to travel the West Coast of America?

To travel the West Coast of America comfortably, plan for at least two to three weeks. This allows time to explore major cities, national parks, and coastal scenery, while also having some downtime to relax and enjoy each destination without feeling overly rushed during your West Coast trip USA.

Final thoughts on this West Coast of America Road Trip Guide

A West Coast USA road trip is a rewarding adventure that mixes cities, stunning national parks, and scenic coastal drives.

Remember to embrace spontaneity along the way, allowing for unexpected detours and discoveries – as they’re often some of the best parts of any American road trip!

Hopefully, you’ve now got some road trip ideas for the west coast US. Of course, there are lots of other places you could add but these are some of my picks from our time traveling West Coast America. Many. of these destinations are worthy of being on anyone’s USA bucket list and I think planning a west coast America trip is the best way to see them.

After you’ve explored the West Coast, you might want to do an East Coast road trip. If so, here are several places you should visit on the East Coast as well as this guide to a Florida road trip, or plan a New England fall color road trip.

Last Updated on August 17, 2023 by Hannah

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