If you’re looking for epic coastal landscapes, flawless weather, and super-hip cities, the West Coast USA is something you’ll never forget. This coast offers many exciting experiences, from the beautiful coastlines of Oregon to the thriving metropolises of Seattle and San Francisco.
If you’re looking for adventure in the great outdoors, then head south to California’s redwood forests or explore Washington’s Olympic National Park, which boasts some of America’s most stunning hiking trails.
While it can be tempting to leave the adventure to fate, the West Coast USA is massive, and basing your travel around an itinerary lets you plan for various travel routes.
It’s also the easiest way of ensuring that you’ve accounted for all major attractions, necessary costs, and budget-friendly accommodation options.
From ideas to populate your route to a full-on itinerary, I’ve put together this West Coast trip guide with all you thrill-seekers in mind.
Renting a Campervan, RV or Car for Your West Coast Road Trip
First thing’s first: what are your wheels for this road trip? Are you opting for a campervan, or do you plan on renting a car and stopping at a new accommodation each night?
Renting a car or taking your own is the easiest way to get around the West Coast. Roads along the route are generally in good condition, meaning you don’t need to rely on a 4-wheel drive. (However, it may be an entirely different scenario in the winter for parts of Sierra Nevada, so if you’d feel more comfortable with a 4-wheel drive then go for it.)
It’s never hard to find a rental car company in this region, and the process is always quick and straightforward. Rentalcars.com is my go-to, purely because of how broad their range is. You’ll get a wide range of options, whether you’re looking for something budget-friendly or for more luxurious vehicles.
Motorhomes can be expensive—they use more gas and tend to cost more at campgrounds than tents. But if you’re on a longer road trip, saving on accommodations may be worth it for you, as well as having your own space to cook. There’s ample opportunity along this road trip for refilling the water tanks and emptying the refuse at the proper facilities.
I’ve never had trouble with renting from Outdoorsy. They’re not just for your typical motorhome; they have a variety of van options to suit each traveler. Couples can choose from the likes of cozy two-person VW’s, while families can opt for a Class C, which sleeps up to 5.
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The Best Time for a West Coast Road Trip
Planning the perfect trip for you comes down to which season you’re keen on discovering the surrounding areas. Each season comes with perks and a relatively pleasant climate; you’ll find that the environment lacks extremes, even in winter.
The north of the West Coast has a wetter climate with luscious scapes and incredible waterfalls, even if the weather is grey and dreary. Towards southern California, prepare for sunny and dry climates ideal for beach-goers.
- Summer (June – September): Summer is the most popular time for a West Coast road trip, but it also means busier campsites and heftier prices. The weather is almost guaranteed to be a banger, lakes are open for swimming, camping is simpler with warmer nights, and dry roads make for easy passing.
- Autumn (September – December): Autumn is a great time to embark on a road trip if you’re in search of the golden larches in Washington. Temperatures during the day are pleasant, but you’ll need to keep snug if you’re camping in the northern part of the journey.
- Winter (December – March): If you’re sticking to routes along the ocean, snow isn’t a common occurrence, and temperatures are bearable. This is an excellent option for those looking to snuggle up in cozy cabins or book into downtown hotels.
- Spring (March – June): Spring allows you to get the sunshine of summer but with fewer crowds. The south of the West Coast tends to be greener at this period, making for fantastic hiking scenery with not too much rain.
10-Day Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
The West Coast of the United States is also commonly called the Pacific Coast as its coastline sits along the North Pacific Ocean. It includes the coastal mountain regions on the eastern borders and the Pacific Ocean on the western border.
Stretching from Washington to California, the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most sought-after road trip routes in the USA. From coastal cliffs to bustling urban spaces, the route offers something for travelers from all walks of life.
The route starts from US 101 and runs through Washington, Oregon, and parts of California. It then joins onto California Highway 1, which shows off most of California. In total, the journey is 1,675 miles.
If you are hoping to do the entire route, you can budget about 10 days for your travels. This gives you the chance to take the route at your own pace. You’ll still have time to marvel at the views and stop at attractions.
It’s a long list of places, so don’t worry if it seems overwhelming. I’ve broken the trip down into different regions if you’d like to spend more time in one place.
Keep in mind that you have the option of starting in San Diego or Seattle. This itinerary starts from Seattle, where you’ll discover the Olympic National Park, and ends the trip at the beach in San Diego. But the reverse route is just as appealing.
Day 1: Seattle
As one of the biggest South Pacific cities, you’ll easily immerse yourself in a city with diverse culture. That might include sampling various cuisines (many found at the Pike Park Market), soaking up the epic nightlife, and visiting art attractions like the Museum of Pop Culture.
But that’s not to say that this is entirely a city-slicking destination; Seattle features rolling hills, leafy suburbs, and an abundance of parks. The Washington Park Arboretum sits alongside the shores of Washington Lake, while Kerry Park shows off panoramic views of the city.
Because you’re starting your road trip here, you can factor in several nights in the city before hitting the road. I’d recommend staying in Downtown Seattle so that you’ve quick access to the best parts of the city.
Day 2: Olympic National Park
The drive to Olympic National Park is a mere 2 hours. However, the early bird catches the worm here; starting the day early means you’ve got plenty of time to wander around the national park. Encompassing close to a million acres, the park offers a plethora of ecosystems and dramatic landscapes.
Now is the perfect time to grab the hiking boots to trek through old-growth rainforests, wild coastlines, and glacier-capped mountain peaks. There’s tons to add to your itinerary here, including hiking, fly-fishing, boating, wildlife viewing, and ranger-led activities.
Each year, over 50,000 people camp in the national park. Over a dozen campgrounds in Olympic National Park accommodate backpackers and campers (keep in mind that car camping is only allowed at certain campsites). For caravans, most of the bases allow for 21 feet or shorter, while a small handful accommodates up to 35 feet.
Day 3: Portland
The drive from the National Park to Portland is close to 3 hours. Before heading straight to the city, it’s worth taking a drive to the Witch’s Castle, which is a crumbling and creepy old house found in Portland’s Forest Park.
Once you’ve reached the city, a day of adventure awaits you. The city has a huge foodie culture, so if you’re up to getting to know the city a little better, indulge yourself and embark on a food tour.
If you’re up for giving yourself a break from driving, exploring the Mississippi Neighborhood on foot leads you to quirky shops, trendy bars, and hidden libraries. There’s an array of hotels in Portland for you to choose from, but if you’re not in the mood for looking, Mark Spencer Hotel is in an excellent location.
Day 4: Coos Bay
The Pacific Coast is buzzing with charming little towns that aren’t as well known as the bigger cities but no less spectacular. Coos Bay is a seaside gem that is 3 hours and 45 minutes away from Portland, giving you plenty of time to get in the road trip mood.
The secluded beach sits alongside luscious forests, with the Coos River flowing into the Pacific. Today it’s celebrated for its history of shipbuilding and lumber products. You can visit the Coos History Museum & Maritime Collection to step back into the town’s history.
Coos Bay is a fantastic place to catch those iconic West Coast sunsets. Locals and vagabonds gather at the oceanside with their cameras and picnics in hand. Because of the beauty of the town, camping is a great way to appreciate nature. Sunset State Bay Park and the Mill Casino RV Park are some of your top options.
Day 5: Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park is 2 and a half hours from the coast of Coos Bay. You can make a stop to the park to gaze upon the world’s tallest trees. However, there’s so much more to see and do at the park.
This park is particularly great for road trippers because there are many scenic drives. This grants you the freedom to simply pass through the national park or extend the trip with a camping experience.
The park has four developed campsites that provide campers and RVers with basic amenities, such as showers and firewood. If you feel like roughing it up, you can book one of the backcountry campsites with more than 200 miles worth of hiking trails. If you’re traveling with furry friends, you’ll be happy to know that leashed dogs are more than welcome.
Day 6: San Francisco
Of course, this wouldn’t be a real West Coast USA road trip without factoring in some time to spend in San Francisco, a hub of excitement. The city keeps you on your toes from the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park to Alcatraz Island. Just be sure to start the day early, as it’s a 5.5-hour drive from Redwood National Forest.
The coolest way to get around the city is to hop on the cable car system. The first cable car was developed in 1873, and from there, 23 other cars were introduced. Today, there are just 3 making their way around (nowadays they’re mostly regarded as a tourist attraction, but there’s nothing wrong with that).
Staying in a town as eclectic as San Fran will give you your first taste of the diverse Californian lifestyle. With so many attractions in the heart of the city, staying at Marriott Marquis Union Square means you can save your petrol for longer hauls and venture around on foot or by metro.
Day 7: Big Sur
Big Sur features 90-miles of rugged coastline, and in this case, it’s more about the journey than the destination. The drive boasts the best of both worlds, with the Santa Lucia Mountains meeting the Pacific Ocean.
You can expect to spend the whole day in the car as you discover the various attractions scattered along the way. You’ll definitely want to stop at Camel-by-the-Sea on the north side, the Henry Miller Memorial Library, and Partington Cove.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park sits on the slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Here you’ll have the chance to wander alongside the maple trees, conifers, redwoods, and oaks. Pfeiffer Beach is also home to Keyhole Rock, an enormous rock formation with a beautiful natural arch.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is popular amongst scuba divers and hikers, with various trails overlooking the dramatic coastline.
Ragged Point is another stop to add, preferably at dinner, as it offers a gourmet restaurant, a coffee bar, and comfortable places to spend the night, such as Ragged Point Inn.
Day 8: Los Angeles
Los Angeles is quite a drive from Big Sur, and depending on where you finished off your 7th day, you could be spending around 5 hours in the car.
Los Angeles holds a piece of magic for all kinds of travelers. You can spend your time getting lost in a world of museums—something that LA is famous for—or dedicate the day to studio tours and trips to theme parks.
For beach bums, the soft shores aren’t a bad way to spend the day. If the beaches are what you’re after, Paradise Cove Beach and Venice Beach allow you to catch some rays (or even a wave).
When it comes to spending the night, the choice comes entirely to the individual. LA has a variety of different scenes, from buzzing nightlife to quaint streets dotted with restaurants. If you’re keen on meeting some friendly faces you can book into a trendy hostel that offers pub crawls. But if you’re not in the mood for a party, I’d suggest an idyllic B&B that’s not too far from the rest of the action.
Day 9: San Diego
After a wild, or perhaps tame night in Los Angeles, take a leisurely drive down to San Diego. It’s a city that’s known for its warm climate, art galleries, museums, luscious gardens, and laid-back attitude.
If you’re a sun-seeker and nature-enthusiast, you’ll love it here. La Jolla Cove, Coronado Beach, and Torrey Pines provide you with good enough reasons to spend a few nights here.
North of the California border holds a Mexican influence; expect to find mouth-watering cuisines, Mexican monuments, and the Spanish Revival Balboa Park here.
Given that you’ve been on the road adventuring around the West Coast for 10 days, you might consider a resort to top off the experience. The Lodge at Torrey Pines boasts activities and tours both on-site and off, from golf courses to wellness spas.
There’s also the option of keeping things down to earth. In that case, I’d definitely recommend booking a holiday home for quick escapes to the shores of La Jolla Cove.
Other Destinations to Include on Your Road Trip on the West Coast
If you’re more of an adventurous type, I thought it’d be worth adding a few favorite valleys and national parks in the West Coast region. These parks and national reserves are what make the West Coast road trip route famous worldwide.
Now that you’ve got an idea of where you’re heading when embarking on a 10-day road trip, you can include these stops for an extended vacation.
I would, however, recommend that you opt for a backpacking experience when venturing to these destinations. While you can find lodges and resorts scattered around the region, camping provides you with greater freedom of movement. If you’ve fallen in love with a place, just spend an extra night without worrying about 10 am check-outs.
Joshua Tree National Park is 2 hours and 45 minutes from the busy city of San Diego and 2 hours from Los Angeles, yet it still feels completely remote. Natural beauty is brimming in the national park that’s populated with the topsy turvy Joshua Trees, Yucca brevifolia, and true desert wilderness with plenty of amazing hikes.
Camping under the Milky Way is the way to go when visiting Joshua Tree. You’ll find campsites nestled in rock formations that allow you to experience nature in its truest form. During the day, hiking trails lead you through groves of palm trees and desert oases.
The high season in the park runs from March to May and October to November, when conditions are most comfortable. But this also means that finding a camping spot can be tricky during the weekends. Consider a mid-week break for camping at the park.
If you’re looking for where to stay, there are also plenty of vacation rentals and hotels in and near Joshua Tree. The design of most hotels here will still make you feel like you’ve escaped the city and are spending your time in the heart of nature.
Moving inland, Death Valley is a 4-hour drive from Los Angeles.
As the driest, hottest desert landscape in California, it’s a land of extremes which makes its name all the more appropriate. It gives you the feeling that you’re wandering around a foreign planet, yet it carries an utterly mystical feel.
While it might seem impossible for things to thrive here, there is an abundance of diverse life that survives in Death Valley. In the rare case of tropical rainstorms, the valley bursts into color from thousands of wildflower fields. Throughout the year, willows and cottonwood trees, which are home to over 80 species of birds, scatter the ground.
Camping in summer here means packing plenty of water, and you need to avoid hiking after 10 am. Temperatures range from 110°F to 120°F. Camping is a first-come, first-served basis—you can claim your spot by pitching your tent and setting up your chairs.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is a gem to visit no matter the season, and just 3 hours from San Francisco. While the park holds an abundance of wildlife, it’s teeming with history for you to discover on a Yosemite tour. There’s also 7 museums here, including history museums and a nature center.
When exploring the park’s incredible surroundings, the best way to do it is on foot. With the park featuring dozens of hiking trails for all levels of experience, you’ll find waterfalls, dramatic cliffs, and incredible lakes. Alternatively, take a bike ride along the cycling trails.
An important thing to note is you can’t visit the park spontaneously. Instead, you’ll need to reserve a vehicle pass. I would highly suggest booking your pass pretty far in advance to avoid disappointment.
Lake Tahoe is an enormous, turquoise lake surrounded by the granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains, with alpine forests hugging the shores. Below the towering mountaintops sits Tahoe Town, which transports you back to the Old West with a touch of modernity.
It’s a destination worth spending at least a weekend, as it offers miles of hiking and biking trails, music festivals, dozens of beaches, casual and fine dining options, and sporting events.
During the warmer months, the lake comes alive with swimmers, kayakers, and anglers. As the chill of winter starts to creep in and the mountains develop snow caps, skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing are popular pastimes.
The beautiful surroundings of Lake Tahoe are the perfect backdrop for your holiday. Decide where to stay in Lake Tahoe by determining what you’re most interested in: campgrounds, luxury resorts, pet-friendly hotels, or rustic cabins that offer a more primitive experience. Condos are great if you want modern conveniences like Wi-Fi access while still enjoying mountain views from every room.
If you’re following my Pacific Coast itinerary, Crater Lake is 3 and half hours from Coos Bay. It’s a destination often overlooked when it comes to West Coast drives, but I honestly think this is one of the most incredible destinations in the states.
Around 7,000 years ago, Native Americans witnessed a violent eruption in the tall mountain peaks. This left an enormous sinkhole filled with rainwater and melting snow, which is now one of the most pristine lakes in the world. It’s also the deepest lake in the USA.
It’s magical to see the park in winter, but sometimes the cloud covers prevent you from seeing the lake. Before hitting the road, you can use their online webcam to get a feel of the weather conditions.
Another thing to note is that each year for two days, the East Rim Drive is closed to vehicles. This gives cyclists and pedestrians the chance to enjoy the scenic paths without the noise and interruption of traffic.
USA West Coast Road Trip Packing List
Packing for an RV or hotel-based experience is simple enough when you understand the weather conditions. Everything you need, in terms of cooking and sleeping supplies, will likely be in your motorhome or accommodation.
But this guide also has adventure-seeking nature enthusiasts in mind. If you’re keen on venturing out into nature during your road trip, here’s a breakdown of the gear and supplies to pack.
- Camping stove: Bringing along a portable camping stove works wonders for hiking experiences. This stove is small enough to fit in a travel backpack and you can use it to prepare tea or mid-hike lunches.
- Trekking poles: Carbon fiber trekking poles are sturdy enough to grip between rocks without losing shape. This feature is handy in rocky landscapes and wet conditions. They’re also lightweight enough to attach to your pack when they’re no longer needed.
- Binoculars: During your West Coast road trip, there are going to be ample opportunities to marvel at the incredible views. I always rely on a high-quality pair of binoculars when I’m spotting whales in the ocean, bird watching, or spying upon deer in the forest.
- Hiking shoes: I’m gonna go ahead and say that hiking boots are the most important item for a road trip in this part of the world. Yes, you’ll be in the car, but you’ll also be making stops to explore rocky paths, trek along wet hiking trails, and venture into leafy forests. For men, I’ve found the best hiking boots to be the Lowa Renegade by REI. For women, the Merrell Moab is a highly-rated, waterproof boot.
- Bug spray: I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing worse than being eaten alive by mosquitos during a summery evening. This Sawyer Picaridin bug repellent provides long-lasting protection that isn’t going to mess up your gear or clothing.
- Sunscreen: With all the good weather, sunscreen is an essential item for beach days and hikes.
- First-aid kit: Bringing along a first-aid kit means you can conveniently treat injuries and outdoor mishaps without heading back to your accommodation or a nearby pharmacy.
- Insulated water bottle: I’m all about embracing what nature has to offer. There are some incredible freshwater waterfalls in some of these national parks and you can fill up on your road stop with some pure, ice-cold water. An insulated water bottle can be filled and brought along in the car.
Tips for Your West Coast Travels
Each time you embark on a road trip, you’re going to discover more and more tips for a leisurely experience. But for now, if you’re a newbie road tripper, here’s some much-needed advice for your first rodeo.
- Invest in travel insurance: Travel insurance can do you no harm, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. World Nomads Travel Insurance provides you with 24/7 emergency services across the US; it covers the loss, theft, and damage to your property or gear and protects you from trip interruption.
- Don’t plan too many stops: The best West Coast road trips last a lifetime, and I can assure you that no matter how many times you make the journey, you’ll always discover something new. Instead of trying to do it all in one trip, space out your itinerary and give yourself time to enjoy one destination at a time.
- Bring along the right gear and equipment: There’s no controlling mother nature, and when you’re starting a long trip, it’s best to come prepared for all weather conditions. It would suck leaving something like a rain jacket behind in summer, as you might encounter unexpected rainfall. Being prepared with the right gear comes into play—camp stoves help out in this department, as do dehydrated meals.
- Respect your environment: California’s dry; the low-rainfall environment puts it at risk of wildfire. For this reason, some campsites don’t allow open fires. It’s important to follow the leave-no-trace principles.
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip
With endless opportunities for adventure, a road trip on the West Coast leads you to new discoveries with each journey. Because of how much there is to see, planning is key. Give yourself a rough outline of the places you’re keen on exploring.
All road trips are flexible, and with this 10-day itinerary, you’ve got the option of shortening your trip to suit your travel needs. (Although I’m pretty sure you’ll be extending it by adding some of the incredible national parks scattered around the region to your itinerary.)
So what are you waiting for? Go explore the incredible coasts by RV or rental car on an experience that is consistently making its way onto travelers’ bucket lists.
Where along the West Coast road trip route are you most stoked about? Let us know in the comments!