Road trip in the U.S. – What not to miss along the West coast
When I say West coast, I mean the West coast in its entirety, not just California. All the way from Seattle in Washington to San Diego in California.
That also means that this is not a complete list. There are many more things to see along the West coast than the few I can name in just one blog post – and many more places than my husband and I saw ourselves when we went. But if you’re looking for inspiration this is the right place to be. At least if you’re planning to drive along the West coast.
This is a blog post containing some of the things worth seeing along the west coast of the U.S. listed by state.
The state of Washington is a true Pacific North West paradise of wilderness. It has lush forests, great pine trees and mountains. It’s perfect if you love nature, but be aware that the weather can be unpredictable, even in summer. Make sure to bring a raincoat and some warm clothes.
Seattle is a wonderful metropolis with lots of beautiful viewpoints. It is home to the first-ever Starbucks café located at the famous Public Market, also known as Pike Place Market.
One of the more famous landmarks in Seattle is the Space Needle. Even from the ground the needle itself is a wonderful sight, but from the top of the needle you’ll get a 360° panoramic view of Seattle, Mount Rainier and the surrounding mountains. Standing 184,4 meters tall it can be seen from numerous viewpoints around Seattle. Kerry Park is worth mentioning. Here you’ll get a full view of the Space Needle, the Seattle skyline, Mount Rainier and the bay.
Other than iconic views Seattle offers some weird sights as well. The Gum Wall, or Gum Alley, is exactly what it sounds like: An entire alley covered in gum. It doesn’t take long to walk through, but the overwhelmingly sweet smell will stay with you for a while.
Another curious attraction is the International Fountain, which shoots water 38 meters up in the air and plays music every half hour. You can even play in the water on a hot summer day.
Olympic National Park
When leaving Seattle head for route 101 to get to Olympic National Park and Lake Crescent. The national park is incredibly big, measuring 3.733 km². A place that size takes more than one day to explore, if you want to see all that it holds, therefor plan your visit well.
The park is actually a number of different areas combined to one great park, including the pacific coastline, alpine areas, temperate rainforest and pine forests. The park holds a variety of ecosystems and is even on UNESCOS World Heritage list.
When planning your visit consider your time. There are a lot of great hiking trails, even one that goes up Mount Olympus, but you can also choose one of the many smaller roads and drive through the park.
Olympic National Park is also home to Lake Crescent, which is a grand, deep lake within the national park. Located on the north side of the park, it’s possible to access it from the road (route 101). Surrounded by mountains this bright blue pearl is a perfect place for swimming, kayaking, or to just dip your feet in on a hot day. In the area you’ll also find a number of hiking trails letting you explore the nature and the national park.
I must be honest with you and say that we didn’t visit all the things we set out to in Oregon because of bad planning. We wanted to visit Portland and see the sights such as the Classical Chinese Garden and the Pittock Mansion, but eventually we didn’t. Instead, we spend our time searching for Oneonta Gorge, not realizing that it wasn’t that hard to find had we only planned ahead better.
Located in the Columbia River Gorge area you’ll find this hidden gem. A short hike climbing fallen trees and walking through water you’ll get to a waterfall snugged between moss covered boulders. Remember to bring your bathing suit, not only because you’ll have to go through water, but because it’s possible to take a dip in the waterfall.
The Columbia River Gorge is a true nature’s paradise holding a variety of plants and wildlife. What we didn’t realize when we visited was that Oneonta Gorge wasn’t the only waterfall to see in this area, it is also where you’ll find the (dare I say Instagram-famous) Multnomah Falls.
To get to the gorge and all its wonders take the Interstate 84 east of Portland.
California could (and should actually) have its own blogpost. The Golden State is the third largest state in the U.S. so naturally there’s a lot of ground to cover and a lot of spots worth visiting. We didn’t make them all (and probably weren’t aware of half the spots) therefor I’m aware that I’ll come up short, but hopefully you’ll get inspired anyways.
Nothing makes you feel quite as humble as to walk among the giant trees that has called this planet their home for several thousand years. The redwoods grow in a large area by the coast and there are a few different parks all holding different experiences. In the Redwood National and State Park you’ll find the tallest trees taking the Tall Trees Grove trail. The tallest tree measures 115,85 metres, but its location is secret due to protection.
Carrying on south on the highway 101 you’ll hit Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Here you won’t even have to leave your car to experience the giants. Parallel with highway 101 is State Route 254, also known as Avenue of the Giants. This lets you take a scenic drive among the trees reaching for the skies. If driving along the feet of the trees isn’t enough, you can drive through some of them as well. Some of the more famous options include Shrine Drive Thru Tree located at the Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the Drive-Thru Tree Park a short drive south from there.
Glass Beach in Fort Bragg
Normally when you go to the beach you expect to bury your feet in the warm sand. That won’t happen at the Glass Beach located in MacKerricher State Park. Here the sand has been replaced by glass. But fret not, the glass has been broken down and polished by the waves and salty ocean water for decades, which makes the glass look like colorful small pebbles. The reason for all the glass is that the place used to be a dump in the 1940s through the 1960s where people would discard metal, glass and even cars. In the 1990s measures were taken to clean up the dump (except for the glass) and the beach was incorporated into the State Park.
Although it’s tempting to bring a memoir back home it is forbidden to take any of the glass. What seems like a harmless amount to one person can quickly become a deadly amount if every one of the thousands of tourists who visit every year “take just a little”. Removing glass from the beach will ruin the experience for future generations.
Yosemite National Park
Although it’s not really along the coast of California I just have to include Yosemite. This iconic national park is something you don’t want to miss. It’s one of the oldest national parks in the U.S. created in 1890. Here you’ll gaze at massive granite mountains, valleys, wildlife, and waterfalls. Spanning 3.081 km2 it takes more than just an afternoon to take in all of which this park offers.
Plan your stay well and consider sleeping inside the park to get the full experience. There are tour busses that can take you to some of the more popular viewpoints, but they are also accessible by foot and some of them by car. Don’t limit yourself to just the popular sights, there are stunning views to be found no matter where you look. My advice to you is to research the viewpoints and/or hikes which you want to see/take, but most importantly my advice is to just explore the park at your own pace – you can’t take a wrong turn in Yosemite. Or you can actually – remember to watch where you’re going.
Although some hippies remain in this city by the sea, you don’t have to wear flowers in your hair to visit. Instead bring lots of sunscreen and prepare for some steep hills. San Francisco is a wonderfully colorful city with great views and curious sights. Take for example the famous Seven Painted Ladies. A row of Victorian-Era houses placed near the small park Alamo Square overlooking San Francisco. There are lots more houses like these in San Francisco (and across the U.S.), but these seven seem to be the most popular once having appeared in numerous movies and tv-shows.
Not far from there you can take a stroll back into the 60s and 70s and get a glimpse of the hippie movement. At the intersection Haight-Asbury you’ll find houses splashed in colour and personalities just as colourful. Among the many steep streets, you’ll find The Crookedest Street, or Lombard Street. Cars will be snaking their way down this street all day long, but you don’t have to take a car to marvel at this unconventional street. Somewhere you would like to take your car is across the Golden Gate Bridge. No matter which way you’re going do yourself a favor and drive across this iconic landmark.
State Route 1/Highway 1
This iconic road is a must if you’re road tripping through California. The road goes all the way from Legget to the south of Los Angeles. You don’t have to drive it the whole way though, but I can strongly recommend taking the state route 1 from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to Santa Monica in Los Angeles, it’s a long drive but unbelievably beautiful. If you want to spend your time doing something else than driving, the most iconic part of the route, which would be a shame to miss, is the Big Sur area just between San Francisco and Los Angeles. You’ll be meandering your way through the place where the mountains stretch their legs into the Pacific Ocean. Having a view to the hilly landscape on one side and the endless Pacific Ocean on the other is a true marvel.
On your way you’ll cross the very famous Bixby Creek Bridge. This picturesque bridge is not only an architectural treat but also one of the tallest concrete arch bridges in the world. But be aware that because of its popularity it might be crowded near the bridge, and you might not be able to park there to get a photo or to gaze at it.
This probably won’t be much fun unless you’re a Dane looking for a good laugh. The “Danish Capital of America” was established in 1911 by some Danish teachers. Today the only subjects being taught here are tourism, Danishes, æbleskiver and Viking helmets. Which is sad, considering Denmark is so much more than that. It all seems like some obscure parody of something Denmark was in the 1800s. But all the tourists aside it was fun to see and actually quite hyggeligt (comfy). I just don’t hope this is what visitors think Denmark looks like.
For anyone wanting to feel just a little bit of a Hollywood star this is the place to be. Crowded with palm trees and bathed in sunlight this metropolis is a perfect summer-vacation-destination. Take a couple of days to explore the city because there’s a lot to see. Walk in the footsteps of celebrities at the Chinese Theater located at the Hollywood Walk of Fame where you can spend your time looking for your idols. There are seven streets paved with stars, but don’t spend the whole day just looking at the pavement.
Not feeling star struck yet? Taking a drive-up Mulholland Drive or Sunset Boulevard ought to do it. You get a glimpse of the lifestyles of the rich and the famous plus you’ll get a wonderful view of the city from the Mulholland Scenic Overlook. Another wonderful viewpoint is the Griffith Observatory which gives you a view to the Hollywood Sign, downtown LA and an almost 360° view of the whole city.
Los Angeles is also home to the oldest, still running, McDonalds located at 10207 Lakewood Boulevard. Build in 1953 it’s the third restaurant ever built. Although the food is modern the architecture is something else entirely making it a fun gimmick and something out of the ordinary to visit. Not so out of the ordinary is the Santa Monica Pier. Complete with an amusement park, restaurant, concession stands, and stands for fishing it’s the perfect place to relax and just take in California at its best.
Also located near Los Angeles, is Anaheim home to the first ever Disneyland. Being a (major) Disney fan, this was a must stop for us. If you’re not one for amusement parks and long lines, please just go anyway. Take at least one day to explore the enormous park. There are actually two parks right next to each other: The Disneyland Resort (the original) and the Disney California Adventure Park. It’s recommended to plan at least one day for each.
San Diego is the last stop before California (and the US) ends and Mexico begins. It’s a beautiful city and because of its location good weather is almost guaranteed. Being a city by the ocean it would be natural to spend your time exploring the bay area and shores. Seaport Village is a cozy place to walk around for a couple of hours, boasting with restaurants and small shops with a view to the pacific. If you love animals San Diego’s got you covered. The San Diego Zoo is the largest zoo and most organized zoo I’ve ever been to. Their path systems are easy to figure out, it’s wonderfully lush and they have so many animals! You can easily spend a whole day scouting for all kinds of animals from around the world.
It’s okay not knowing everything about travelling and roadtripping. We knew nothing, and although we made some mistakes and there are some things I’ve would’ve done very differently, if we were to go now, we still had a blast. It’s one of the best travelling experiences I’ve had. So, go out there and plan ahead, put don’t be afraid to miss a step.
Be mindful of the nature and the wildlife when traveling. Follow the “leave no trace”-principles and respect your surroundings. Make sure that future visitors can have a great experience as well.
Don’t forget to pin this to your travel board!