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California, Oregon, Washington

Road Trip from Los Angeles to Vancouver - Spots I can't miss?

I'm driving from Los Angeles to Vancouver in September, stopping in Big Sur (what to do there?), San Francisco, quick flight to Utah, Portland and Seattle.

This is a rough itinerary but I'm looking for suggestions on places to go, hidden gems, things I should see, etc. For example, I want to stop at the Hearst Castle​, but I don't know what else can I find on the west coast. Note: I'm looking for something legit and not a tourist trap. 

Any suggestions? Thank you!!

7 Answers

answered by
Valerie from Seattle

Let's see if I can add anything to Tony's awesome answer. I just drove up the California coast at the end of June/beginning of July, so most of my stops will be in CA. I'd highly recommend taking CA State Highway 1/the 101 to get the real experience.

Over the course of four days, I hit the following cities for stops: Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Redwood City and Crescent City (each was an overnight.

Honestly, between LA and SB, there's not a ton, but if you've never been to LA (as I hadn't been), I'd recommend taking in the Hollywood Walk of Fame and strolling along Venice Beach Boardwalk. I actually walked all the way from Santa Monica Pier to Venice Beach, which I wouldn't recommend, unless you love exercise...

In Santa Barbara, I did Stearns Wharf, climbed to the top of the Santa Barbara County Office Courthouse tower, and Old Mission Santa Barbara. (Another #shamelessplug: 'Charmed in Santa Barbara')

Turning north from SB, things get interesting. Make a stop at Pismo State Beach to stretch your legs and dip toes in the cold Pacific--this is no longer SoCal!

Stop and see the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery! This is definitely one of the coolest things I had never experienced before!

Also try and find a way to visit Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel (not the actual hostel, visit the lighthouse) before you turn inland toward SF.

North of SF, be sure, as Tony says, to stop off at Point Reyes Station. Make sure you don't try and go to the lighthouse on Tuesday or Wednesday, as it's closed and you'll have driven a long way for nothing! Actually, I would skip staying in SF and drive up to this part of Cali for the night--there's a lot to explore, and you'll want to take the time to enjoy it. Once you turn north again, stop at Nick's Cove & Cottages for BBQ oysters, or as I had, fish & chips--I was even sitting out on the pier to eat the freshly caught fish!

Carry on north--I was rushing this part of my drive to get to Crescent City, but there are some really cool things:

So that may not fit with your itinerary as you've sketched it out, but there's a bunch more to add to the list! Have a great trip--let me know when you're in Seattle!!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Los Angeles (city)
  2. Santa Barbara (city)
  3. Redwood City (city)
  4. Crescent City (city)
  5. Hollywood Walk of Fame (attraction)
  6. Venice Beach Boardwalk (attraction)
  7. Santa Monica Pier (attraction)
  8. Stearns Wharf (attraction)
  9. Santa Barbara County Office (attraction)
  10. Old Mission Santa Barbara (attraction)
  11. Pismo State Beach (attraction)
  12. Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery (attraction)
  13. Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel (attraction)
  14. Point Reyes Station (city)
  15. Nick's Cove & Cottages (restaurant)
  16. Point Arena Lighthouse and Museum (hotel)
  17. Glass Beach (attraction)
  18. Drive-Thru Tree Park (attraction)
6 thankscomments (2)

answered by
Lee from Dana Point

Without knowing what activities you like I would suggest going to visit some wineries in Paso Robles just 20 minutes from Hearst Castle. Continuing north on Hwy 1 to Big Sur stop at Napenthe Restaurant (on west side of PCH) for a magnificent view. Hiking in Big Sur is great. Stop along the coast to see the seal colonies. Monterey and Carmelare great to visit if you haven't been there.

On the Oregon border there are all sorts of hikes through the redwoods. Even a quick walk is worthwhile, the trees are amazing.

If you are driving on Hwy 1 through Oregon try going dune buggy riding in Florence (Oregon), it's so unique and lots of fun. Try doing a jet boat on the Rogue River.  Further north the coast of Oregon is great to stop and enjoy the views. When you get to Astoria don't miss the Maritime Memorial.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Paso Robles (city)
  2. Napenthe Restaurant (restaurant)
  3. Monterey (city)
  4. Carmel (city)
  5. Florence (Oregon) (city)
  6. Rogue River (city)
  7. Astoria (city)
  8. Maritime Memorial (attraction)
4 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Matt from New York City

You asked how to spend your time in Big Sur. From our two nights there, five memories stand out as among the best we've ever had while traveling.  

  • Driving. Simply drive up and down Highway 1. It's the most stunning seashore I've ever seen.
  • Breakfast at Deetjen's Big Sur Inn. Amazing food in an atmosphere that captures the relaxed lifestyle perfectly.
  • Lunch at Nepenthe, which does the same thing as Deetjen's, only outdoors, and with an amazing view.
  • Dinner at the Post Ranch Inn. Pricey, though.
  • Midnight bathing at the Esalen Institute. This is something you really can't miss. More info here, with one key piece of information missing: clothing is optional.


We love hiking, and we did some good ones. But the hikes did not compare to the above items.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Big Sur (city)
  2. Deetjen's Big Sur Inn (hotel)
  3. Nepenthe (restaurant)
  4. Post Ranch Inn (restaurant)
  5. Esalen (attraction)
2 thankscomments (1)

top answer by
Tony from Seattle

Near SF, you should hit Point Reyes National Seashore.  If you're there in late summer/early fall, do not leave without doing a night kayaking tour in Tomales Bay-- the bioluminescence is otherworldly.  It's also great oyster country, so grab some BBQ oysters at Marshall Store.

You can hit wine country, if that's you're thing-- but you should dedicate a whole question to that!  You can stay in Petaluma for a less fancypants experience.  Cherry Hill Bed & Breakfast Inn is run by a super sweet old couple and they have a huggable Akita named Ushi.

In Portland, stay on the east side of the river.  If you like waiting in line for a table at 9:30pm on a Tuesday, hit Pok Pok Restaurant.  If you're clever, go to Whiskey Soda Lounge across the street-- they serve the same drinks and the amazeballs wings from Pok Pok.  Multnomah Falls is worth a stop for a photo and Ape Cave is worth a swing on the way north...  It's the longest lava tube you can walk in in the US, I think (2ish miles-- bring good shoes and a flashlight or two-- you've never been in the dark like this!).

Crater Lake National Park deserves a mention. SO STUNNING.

Cannon Beach is beautiful.  Not a beach you'll swim from, but windswept and pretty.

I'm from Seattle, so could go on about stuff to do up here at length-- I think the Seattle section of this site has a mess of good stuff.

Heading north, you must hit the San Juan Islands (ferry out of Anacortes).  Orcas Island is probably the prettiest.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Point Reyes National Seashore (attraction)
  2. Tomales Bay (attraction)
  3. Marshall Store (restaurant)
  4. Petaluma (city)
  5. Cherry Hill Bed & Breakfast Inn (hotel)
  6. Portland (city)
  7. Pok Pok Restaurant (restaurant)
  8. Whiskey Soda Lounge (attraction)
  9. Multnomah Falls (attraction)
  10. Ape Cave (attraction)
  11. Crater Lake National Park (park)
  12. Cannon Beach (city)
  13. Seattle (city)
  14. Anacortes (city)
  15. Orcas Island (city)
13 thankscomments (4)

answered by
Felix from Minneapolis

This might be obvious, but in case it's not, once you are in California, you should definitely take the 101 and not the mind-numbingly boring (thought slightly faster) I-5. The 101 through Northern California is one of the greatest drives I know of. 

1 thanks

answered by
Sandrine from Auvergne

I did a roadtrip from Portland to San Diego last year at about the same time of year...

I would suggest you to see all the lighthouse on Oregon coast because they are beautiful...

You can check my trip and photos related on my blog here :

I'm kind of jalous of your itinirerary, this was the best thing I've did and seen in my life :)

1 thanks

answered by
Jean from France

Hello Joanna I can't help you for the whole trip (one of my future plans) but only for the LA - San Francisco section.

First thing is of course take the coast road, the highway One. From Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is worth a visit, nice atmosphere, very different from LA.

A little farther north you will find a beach wich is a great spot for otaries et and sea lions observation

Then of course Big Sur, there is a pedestrian park there, nice trails, a waterwall falling in the pacific, breathtaking views. 

Carmel is very nice, and just after, the seventeen miles drive from Carmel to Monterey is a fantastic road.

Monterey Bay Aquarium is worth a visit. 

Around San francisco, the whole bay is nice, but I like specially Sausalito, and the Muir Woods Park (that you can see in the Planet of the Apes new sequels). Not too far is the wine region, Napa and Sonoma Valleys, though they just had an earthquake from what I heard.

A visit to Palo Alto and the Stanford University is also very interesting.

Have a good trip, Highway one is certainly one of the most beautiful roads in the world


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Los Angeles (city)
  2. Santa Barbara (city)
  3. Big Sur (city)
  4. Carmel (city)
  5. Monterey (city)
  6. Monterey Bay Aquarium (attraction)
  7. Sausalito (city)
  8. Muir Woods Park (attraction)
  9. Napa (city)
  10. Sonoma (city)
  11. Palo Alto (city)
  12. Stanford University (attraction)
1 thanks

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