See the Most Beautiful Towns and Cities on the West Coast on This Magical Road Trip

The grand Golden Gate Bridge is one of the must-see sights on the West Coast
The grand Golden Gate Bridge is one of the must-see sights on the West Coast | © Maarten van den Heuvel / Unsplash

The West Coast of the USA has a special place in the hearts of many travelers. From early pioneers who rushed out here in search of precious metals to modern-day adventurers looking to gaze out on the Pacific, we can’t get enough of this incredible destination. A road trip gives you the perfect chance to see a little bit of everything, and visit some of the best towns and cities in the country.

Many of us like the idea of driving along the coast and taking detours, and countless films and TV shows are based around this ideal. Part of the fun is plotting your own route and hitting the road, but to help get you started, here are some of our favorite coastal cities – you should consider putting them high on your itinerary.

San Diego, California

Start your road trip with this Pacific Coast gem, famous for its wide array of surfing beaches. Visit the large Balboa Park, encompassing beautiful gardens, museums and the San Diego Zoo, and hike your way through rare pine trees in the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Explore the sea caves in the La Jolla seaside area and watch the sunset from the cliffs of Point Loma; this is where European sailors first landed in California. You can also step back into the 1800s at the Old Town San Diego History Park, with restored houses and shops on the grounds of the first European settlement in California.

Explore the sea caves in La Jolla while in San Diego | © Sapan Patel / Unsplash

Palm Springs, California

If you’re looking for a resort town in the middle of the desert, look no further than sunny Palm Springs. The city is known for its exotic landscape, palm trees and hot springs, as well as its impressive midcentury-modern architecture, celebrated every year during Modernism Week. Here, you can stay in stylish hotels, play golf in dreamy resorts and recharge in sumptuous spas. You can also feed a giraffe at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, or go antique shopping at a gallery along Palm Canyon Drive. If you’re feeling festive, join the boho chic crowds partying at the rainbow-colored Coachella Festival.

Stay in stylish hotels and recharge in sumptuous spas in Palm Springs | © Jocelynne Flor / Unsplash

Los Angeles, California

Whether you’re in love with the glitz and glamor of the entertainment industry or simply long for a stroll at the beach, Los Angeles has it all. Dive into the shiny world of Hollywood at the Warner Bros Studio – you can even sit in the iconic Central Perk couch from Friends – or along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where you can step on the stars of your favorite celebs. Visit the Getty for some amazing art and magical views, splurge on a sleek outfit at a Rodeo Drive boutique or enjoy the rejuvenating ocean breeze at Santa Monica Pier.

Splurge on a sleek outfit at a Rodeo Drive boutique in Los Angeles | © Suzanne Emily O’Connor / Unsplash

Monterey, California

Rugged and wild, Monterey is sure to impress you with its natural beauty. Follow the scenic 17-Mile Drive and you’ll be marveling at unreal Pacific views, gorgeous villas and expansive forests. The town is also a golfer’s paradise, with glorious courses such as the Pebble Beach Golf Links appealing even to non-fans. Embark on a whale watching tour from the cosmopolitan Cannery Row, and make sure to spend some time at Pacific Grove: millions of orange-and-black-winged monarch butterflies migrate here from October to March, clustering on pine, cypress and eucalyptus trees at the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary.

Monterey is sure to impress you with its natural beauty | © Leslie Lopez Holder / Unsplash

San Francisco, California

The steep inclines of this city are among its most recognizable features, ever-prominent in US movies and TV shows – remember The Princess Diaries when Mia slides down a hill and crashes into a passing cable car? In addition to cute vehicles rolling on hills, San Fran has plenty more to offer. Laid-back coastal hubs such as Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, sprawling parks, the bustling Union Square, picture-perfect Victorian and Edwardian houses (known as Painted Ladies) and the crooked Lombard Street all deserve your attention. End the day by watching a rosy sunset illuminate the grand Golden Gate bridge.

These picture-perfect Victorian and Edwardian houses in San Francisco are known as Painted Ladies | © Chris Lawton / Unsplash

Oakland, California

Oakland, to the east of San Francisco, is well worth a visit, if only for its vibrant culinary and art scenes. Pass by Swan’s Market for fresh produce, and grab a luscious taco from the many taco tracks lining the Fruitvale stretch. Alongside Ethiopian restaurants and waterfront wineries, the city also has some of the best beer bars in the Bay Area. Get your art fix at the Oakland Museum of California, or catch a classic play at the Paramount Theater. For some downtime, hang out at the serene Lake Merritt or Mountain View Cemetery, which feels more like a park and less like an actual graveyard.

Enjoy some downtime at the serene Lake Merritt in Oakland | © Corleone Brown / Unsplash

Portland, Oregon

This road trip would not be complete without the Northwest Coast, so leave California behind and hop on a long ride to Portland. This charming port city takes pride in its progressive ideas and is taking decisive action towards sustainability – it was named the Greenest City in America by Popular Science in 2008. Portland has several lush parks and gardens, including the majestic Forest Park. Taste Voodoo Doughnut’s tasty offerings – in their own words, “the magic is in the hole” – and enjoy some craft beer at one of the many microbreweries. Keen readers shouldn’t miss the enormous and celebrated Powell’s Books store.

Portland, Oregon, is a charming port city that takes pride in its progressive ideas | © Zack Spear / Unsplash

Seattle, Washington

With about 152 days of rain per year, there’s a good chance it will be raining when you arrive in Seattle. Still, this is one stop you don’t want to skip. Fun fact: Seattle is where Starbucks originated – but there’s so much more to expect here. Ample green spaces, the chic Pioneer Square, the striking Space Needle observation tower, the bustling Pike Place Market (one of the longest-running farmer’s markets in the US) and Sub Pop Records – the label that famously signed Nirvana, shaping the grunge scene as we know it. For public art, delicious food and stellar views, pop by the bohemian Fremont neighborhood.

Pike Place Market in Seattle is one of the longest-running farmer’s markets in the US | © David Izquierdo / Unsplash
These recommendations were updated on July 9, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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