The West Coast of the USA has a special place in the hearts of many travelers – from the early pioneers who rushed here in search of precious metals to modern-day adventurers coming to gaze out at the Pacific. A road trip gives you the perfect chance to see a little bit of everything and visit some of America’s best towns and cities along the way.
Many like the idea of driving along the coast and taking detours – after all, countless films and TV shows are based around this trope. Part of the fun is plotting your own route before hitting the road. To help get you started, here are some of our favorite coastal cities and why you should consider putting them on your itinerary.
Start your road trip with this West Coast gem, famous for so much more than its wide array of surfing beaches. Visit the large Balboa Park, taking time to explore its beautiful gardens, museums, and the San Diego Zoo, then set off on a hike through Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Explore the sea caves in La Jolla and watch the sunset from the cliffs of Point Loma, where European sailors first landed in California. You can also travel back to the 1800s at the Old Town San Diego History Park, where you will find restored houses and shops on the grounds of the first European settlement in 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 of course, 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 Coachella Festival.
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 on the iconic Central Perk couch from Friends – or walk the Hollywood Walk of Fame where you can step on the stars of your favorite celebrities. Visit the Getty for some amazing art and magical views, splurge on a sleek outfit at a Rodeo Drive boutique and enjoy the rejuvenating ocean breeze at Santa Monica Pier.
Rugged and wild, Monterey is sure to impress you with its natural beauty. Follow the scenic 17-Mile Drive (27km) 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. Embark on a whale-watching tour from the cosmopolitan Cannery Row and 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.
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, acres of parks, 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 the sun illuminate the grand Golden Gate bridge as it sets.
Oakland, to the east of San Francisco, is famed for its culinary and art scenes. Pick up fresh produce at Swan’s Market, and grab a taco to go from one of the many trucks lining the Fruitvale stretch. Alongside Ethiopian restaurants and waterfront wineries, the city also has some of the best breweries in the Bay Area. Get your art fix at the Oakland Museum of California, or catch a 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 than a graveyard.
This road trip would not be complete without the northwest coast, so leave California behind and head north to Portland. This charming port city takes pride in its progressive ideas and is taking decisive action towards sustainability – it’s been named the Greenest City in America by Popular Science. Portland has several 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.
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 won’t want to skip. Fun fact: Seattle is where Starbucks originated, but there’s so much more you can expect: green spaces, chic Pioneer Square, the Space Needle observation tower, 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.
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