The Pacific Coast Highway, known as California State Route 1, is the ultimate road trip route that should be on every traveler’s bucket list.
Between Seattle and San Diego, the landscape of the U.S West Coast is one of the most beautiful in the world. A stunning scenery that combines redwood forests, steeps, cliffs, beaches and wildlife.
Preparing a West Coast road trip
You can get from Seattle to Los Angeles in just two days. But the total purpose of this road trip is to spend some time exploring each city, get carried away by the places that you like the most and extend your stay there. Each place has a different landscape, or an attraction that makes it unique.
Rent a car in the city of departure, drive one way and fly back. If you have time, drive back and spend the return drive taking time to explore the areas skipped along the way.
Weather: The best months are from July to October. Early September is great to avoid the crowds at some cities. One great thing about this route is that the roads are all open during the winter.
Renting a car in United States
Some of the most popular car rental companies are Hertz, Alamo, Budget, Avis, etc. You can use rentalcars.com, a website that compares prices of all rental companies and usually offers a lower price than by booking directly with the rental company. The requirements to rent a car in the U.S are: driving license, passport and a credit card from the driver. United States minimum age to rent a car is 21 years. Companies charge a plus if you have less than 25 years.
Another fantastic idea is to rent a van or motorhome, you will save money in accommodation and you don’t need to worry about finding a place to sleep.
Where to stay
Although it is ideal to have a flexible itinerary and stop where you like the most, looking at last-minute accommodation can be stressful. If you go in summer, I suggest you book your accommodation in advance. I even had to sleep in the car for some nights because I haven’t booked every night of my stay in advance. I usually use Booking.com where I find much cheaper prices for hotels and hostels. If you are not registered yet, sign up on this link and get $15 usd free to use in your booking. Along the route and in every city you will find “Inns” or “motels”, which cost around $60 usd the night for double occupancy and usually include a basic breakfast.
The Pacific Coast Highway is a road to explore at your own pace, without planning a lot and just stop along the way in every place that catches your attention. You can just do the California part, you can start from San Francisco, or you can make the whole route from Seattle to San Diego. The combinations are many and you can modify it as you like. My suggestion would be to have a minimum of 10 days.
This is not the perfect itinerary, but the stops I made in my trip and the places I visited. My journey actually started in Vancouver, Canada and led towards Los Angeles. Then I traveled back to Canada passing through the States of Nevada, Utah and Idaho.
Seattle is one my favorite cities in the United States. You can spend two days visiting the famous Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, the Gum Wall and visit the first Starbucks. After visiting this amazing city, you can head west and visit Olympic National Park.
Portland is a city surrounded by forests and rivers, immersed in art and culture. You can spend 2 days to explore the city a bit. You can’t miss: Powell’s books, International Rose Test Garden, and a bike tour through the city surroundings. If you like shopping Portland is the perfect place because there is no Sales Tax to pay in Oregon.
Hotel recommendation: The Mark Spencer Hotel, <strongrel=”nofollow”>check out the latest prices and more details.
Shop this road trip essentials:
- Portland to Crescent City
Take I-5 route towards the South and drive to Crescent City, where you can spend the night. On the way, you can stop in Salem, Eugene and Crater Lake, Oregon’s only National Park.
- Crescent City to San Francisco
Take the famous California Highway 101 from Crescent City to San Francisco adding stopovers in cities like Eureka and Mendocino. Along the way you will pass through Avenue of the Giants, a spectacular part of the route surrounded by a huge redwood forest.
- San Francisco
No need to introduce this city. San Francisco is famous for its steep streets, Alcatraz prison and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. You can’t miss: Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, the Palace of Fine Arts, and Golden Gate Park. If you go in summer, remember to book Alcatraz tickets in advance. If you have time, check out Berkeley and its famous university.
- Yosemite National Park
I know Yosemite is not on the coast but it is an incredible place for nature lovers. It is about 3 hours from San Francisco so if you are in this city, include detour to Yosemite. Lakes, waterfalls, granite mountains, redwoods, wildlife… Yosemite makes you realize how huge nature is and how tiny we are as humans. I recommend visiting it at least for 3 days.
You might also like: Visiting Yosemite National Park – A temple of Nature
- Yosemite-Morro Bay
After spending a few days in Yosemite, you can head towards the coast again and stop along in: Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Simeon, Cambria and Morro Bay. Must stops in Bixby Creek Bridge and Big Sur. You can visit the famous Hearst Castle located in San Simeon. In my opinion, this is the most beautiful part of the route, you will want to stop in each place to take pictures and admire the view.
- Morro Bay
Morro Bay is a small town located in San Luis Obispo County. As its name implies, a volcanic rock pops up directly from the ocean in Morro Bay. Walk along the harbor where you’ll find restaurants,art galleries, shops and bars. You can read more about Morro Bay here.
- Morro Bay – Los Angeles
It’s only a 4 hours drive between Morro Bay and Los Angeles, but on the way there are a couple of places that are worth a stop: San Luis Obispo, Prismo Beach, Santa Barbara, Malibu and more! The whole area of the Californian coast is fantastic.
- Los Angeles
L.A finally! This city is huge. You should choose wisely where to stay since the distances are long and the traffic is terrible. I stayed in Costa Mesa at a friends house so I experienced a bit of the local life in Orange County. Some of the places I visited were Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Santa Monica and Venice Beach. You can’t miss: a walk through Hollywood, Beverly Hills and the Griffith Observatory. You can also spend a day visiting Universal Studios or Disneyland (the original).
From Los Angeles, you can follow the coast until you reach San Diego in Southern California. Los Angeles was the last stop on the coast for me. From Los Angeles I headed to Las Vegas, visited the Grand Canyon and went back to Canada.
But this part of the road trip deserves another post, so let me know in the comments if you would like to read about it! Did you visit West Coast of the USA too or do you have questions? Love to hear from you!
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