The perfect West Coast Road Trip
The open road... cruising with the windows open, hand out soaring through the breeze... music playing hitting just right... The true feeling of freedom with your friends or family as you drive down the freeway with nothing but fun times on the horizon.
A beautiful sunny day on the Big Sur coast
For those reading this that live in the PNW, this blog is meant for you. But for anyone not living in the PNW, you'll still benefit from the locations I'll be sharing, but the route in which I explain might not work for you.
To start out, hit the road early and stop at your favorite coffee shop for that early burst of caffeine.. there's a lot of driving ahead. The first stop will be Canon beach on the Oregon coast. Canon beach is a great place to hang out for a couple hours or a weekend. There are great shops and places to eat, but there's also lots of fun to be had. Rent a tricycle downtown and have a blast riding around the beach. Take a walk or like my son, just start running around!
After you've tired out on the beach, hop back on the 101 and head south. There are a number of cool towns you'll drive through, with plenty of shops to shop in along with all the fresh fish you can eat! If you haven't had enough beach time yet another fun place to stop are the sand dunes just south of Florence. There are a number of places that you can rent ATV's to enjoy on the dunes or sand boards to go sand boarding (this is honestly a ton of fun).
Next stop on the list is Samuel H. Boardman. There are a few incredible spots to see here but my favorite is called Natural bridges. There's a small parking lot on the west side of the road, and a quick walk to the south from the parking lot will lead to a platform that overlooks a natural arch. If you're feeling a little more adventurous (and have good traction on your shoes) then head north slightly from the parking lot to a trail that heads down to the arch itself. The trail is steep and slick at spots, so please be careful if you attempt. The feeling of standing on the arch with the waves crashing below really is pretty amazing though and is worth the trek down.
This is a great place to view sunset from as it lights up the cliff sides. After sunset just south is Crescent city. Here you'll find some hotels (although not many and not the nicest) but there's also an abundance of camping as you enter into the redwoods. And this leads me into the next day as I would highly recommend checking out Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park. There are a number of trails in the park and beautiful drives to keep you busy and constantly in awe. I would easily plan to spend a good day or so here as there is a ton to see. Check out trails such as Simpson-Reed Trail and Hatton Loop Trail.
Ever camp below giants... or walk among them?
After you've explored this area continue heading south on the 101. The next stop is a place we happened upon and it was such a fun spot. It's called Klamath Tour Thru Tree. If your vehicle isn't too tall this is a redwood tree you can drive through and is worth the admission cost to get access!
A bit further south is one of my favorite areas, Avenue of the Giants. There are some trails here to hike on that I've never done actually, but the drive alone is mind blowing!
If you have a Jeep where you can remove the top, or a vehicle with any type of sunroof, this is definitely the time to open those up. The drive through here will seriously blow your mind as you stare up into these behemoths!
The area does have a good selection of camping around too, but make sure to look into this ahead of time as a lot of them get reserved and last minute bookings are tough.
From here you have the option to take the really scenic route and head down the 1 and just enjoy the coastline. But if you'd rather move a bit faster to the next destination I would recommend staying on the 101 down to Santa Rosa where you'll then head west back over to the 1 as you make your way over to Point Reyes National Seashore. This drive out is absolutely beautiful again with a number of small towns and great places to enjoy some very fresh fish. If you just so happen to be driving a fun coupe or sports car (or just think you are as I do in my lifted Jeep ha ha) then you will enjoy this section of driving as the road twist and turns on a fun coastal road. There are a number of fun spots to check out here including the Cypress Tree Tunnel. Don't be surprised to see people here as it's become a very popular IG photo spot. But if you get there early in the morning or during the weekdays you likely will have it to yourself. Check out these trails; Chimney Rock Trail Head and Pierce Point Ranch.
This photo to the left is from my good friend Parker Burkett from the Cypress Tree Tunnel just a little bit after sunrise and is one of the most beautiful photos I've seen from here. I have visited numerous times but have yet to see it with this kind of amazing light. But no matter what time of day or type of weather you get, it's still a beautiful spot to check out.
After you leave here you'll be heading back south towards your next stop at Mt Tamalpais just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. This is another area where you could easily spend a day hiking around the many trails they have all over this park. It is especially beautiful in the late afternoon to sunset hours.
Even if you don't want to hike, there are plenty of beautiful sights to see from the car as you drive around. There are a couple trailheads worth checking out though such as Rock Spring TH, and the lookout at the top of Mt. Tamalpais. Before leaving the area be sure to check out the best view point of the Golden Gate Bridge.
I won't go into details about things to do in San Francisco, but there is a lot to do here if you'd like to explore the city at all. But once you pass through there continue down the 1. It's a beautiful drive and there is a lot to see besides the spots that I'll point out. So here we go...
SHARKS FIN COVE
This is a great spot to take a quick break from driving and take a little walk above the coastline to enjoy views like this photo below, or spend a few hours at this beautiful beach. Beware that it can get pretty busy and parking can be kind of interesting.
A little south you'll go through Monterey. I have wonderful memories of this city from my childhood (mostly from shopping at a magic shop where I purchased fake poop and throw up, to then try and fool my family with for years to come). Not only is it a fun town with great restaurants and shops but it also has an amazing aquarium, probably one of the better ones out there. This area is also a great place to load up on groceries and gas before heading south as you'll be going into Big Sur and there are only a few small gas stations that are much more expensive and have limited hours of operation. On my last trip we found these stations to be around $1per gallon more expensive then gas you'll get anywhere else in California. Definitely spend some time exploring Big Sur, it's many trails, view points and side roads. There are great camp spots all over, with numerous spots on the east side of the 1 that will require some exploration on random side roads, and some actual camp grounds with bathrooms and water right off the road that you won't miss (these fill up early, so consider stopping early to get them or book in advance). The drive itself is one of my favorites though! It is such a beautiful coastline especially if you catch it on a sunny day!
Be sure to stop at McWay falls, a beautiful waterfall that flows right into the ocean!
Once you make your way through Big Sur stop in Pismo. Pismo beach is a great beach that you can actually drive on which is always a blast, and a great opportunity to practice performing some donuts in your car! A couple tips though if you do venture out onto the sand; Stay on the hard pack sand as it's easy to quickly get stuck in the soft sand and watch for kids and dogs running around as you drive down the beach.
After Pismo head south to Santa Barbara. There's a lot to do in Santa Barbara, again great eating and shopping to be had along with some great beaches. There are also some great hiking options in the mountains above the city. If you happen to be there for sunrise head up Gibraltar road ahead of sunrise and if the weather is good you're in for a treat as seen in the photos below where I was blessed with one of the prettiest sunrises I've ever seen.
This concludes the west coast trip. There's a lot more I could add, but then this blog would be pages and pages long. Also it's fun to explore and discover for yourself and I hope that this blog will give you a great head start on that! The west coast really is a treasure though with so many sights to see. This trip can easily be done in a week with just quickly seeing all the spots I listed, but it can also be a fun couple week long trip where you'll really be able to dive deeper into the areas and explore even more. If you live in the PNW, a lot of the Oregon spots and northern cali spots can be fun weekend trips too if you don't or can't get away for longer sections of time. Have a great day and I hope you enjoy this trip if you take it!