Top 10 West Coast Road Trip Essential Places to Visit

Tags: #westcoast ,   #Roadtrip ,   #roadtripusa ,   #traveltips ,   #malibu

Scarlett Goldstein

Scarlett Goldstein

Last updated:  2023-12-07 13:59:27

When it comes to pure nature, wind, and the smell of the sea, there's nothing more captivating than the West Coast. When Katy Perry sang "Nothing comes close to the golden coast," we really felt that. And you should see why it's golden – the best way to experience its magic is to prepare for a road trip on its highways, so check out our list of ten places you can't avoid while driving!

10. Cascade Loop

They only needed one day to see it all!
Is this trip affordable? Absolutely
Days to spend here: Two to three
A place you shouldn't avoid: Leavenworth
Where to stay overnight: Somewhere in North Cascades National Park

When Taylor Swift sings, "I don't know how it gets better than this," she definitely means discovering Cascade Loop and Washington in general. All you need for a memorable road trip is a gorgeous mountain, sea, national park, lake, and river view, and you'll get it all if you embark on the Cascade Loop journey!

From the North Cascades National Park to the wonderfully blue Lake Chelan, this is a roadway you'll remember. You can spend the whole weekend enjoying your time around these green and blue views. Still, the route is so long that spending five days there would also be an excellent investment since this is one of the most extensive roads on our list.

9. Oregon Lakes

These are a must!
Is this trip affordable? One of the cheapest on the list
Days to spend here: Three days
A place you shouldn't avoid: Crater Lake
Where to stay overnight: Pacific City

We mentioned lakes in the previous section, but these are way greater – you've never seen lakes like these before, and they aren't even dangerous. It's incredible when you think you could visit around 30 lakes on this road trip, but we'd instead recommend choosing the best ones!

Moreover, some of these lakes are natural, but others are artificial, so choose which side you prefer. If fishing is your priority, you should drive to Upper Klamath and Applegate Lake, and if you seek an incredible landscape that you've never seen before, head to Crater Lake. This one also includes two islands to visit and several activities to try!

8. Seattle

Not many cities in the world have such an excellent location – it's impossible to skip it!
Is this trip affordable? One of the most expensive on the list
Days to spend here: Three or four days
A place you shouldn't avoid: Space Needle
Where to stay overnight: South Lake Union or Ballard, depending on your priorities

If you're looking for the best area to start your West Coast journey, there's nothing better than Seattle. The recommended way is to commence from the North, and Seattle is the point you can't miss. It's one of the most expensive cities for life in the US, but as a tourist on a road trip, you need to stop and stare at the beauty of it!

Moreover, this is an ideal option if you don't plan to spend ages discovering the nature of the West Coast and you'd prefer to feel the power of its big cities. Luckily, the Pacific Coast has the best of both worlds. You can even explore Seattle before enjoying its natural surroundings because Washington doesn't lack beautiful outdoors!

7. San Francisco

Visit San Francisco so you can see if you adore it or hate it – there's no in between
Is this trip affordable? Not really as some other from the list
Days to spend here: Three days
A place you shouldn't avoid: Golden Gate Park
Where to stay overnight: Union Square

Where were we when it comes to nature? Sorry, but we'll have to go on with city recommendations now! However, San Francisco offers so much that it might sound schizophrenic – you'll get a lot of opportunities even if you're outdoorsy. Are you on a budget? Do you want to stay in a luxury resort? San Francisco has both!

Moreover, having a proper West Coast road trip without crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is impossible, so it brings you to San Francisco quite naturally. The fact that the city is contradictory, disgusting, and magnificent for most people simultaneously might be a turn-off sometimes. Still, at least you'll definitely find something you like! However, keep in mind that this is one of the most dangerous cities in California.

6. Malibu

The sunset part is gorgeous
Is this trip affordable? It's known as a costly area
Days to spend here: One day or two is enough
A place you shouldn't avoid: All the gorgeous, sandy beaches!
Where to stay overnight: You don't have to because one day is enough, but you also can't miss – every part is amazing

It will be one of the last road trip stops if you start from the northern part (as you should), but it will stay on your mind for the rest of your life. Some places aren't overrated even if they're as famous as Malibu – the hype is accurate, and we get why Miley Cyrus dedicated her gorgeous ballad to this breathtaking coast. 

Furthermore, Malibu is indeed one of the most beautiful moments on the West Coast when it comes to the shore! If you love swimming and aspire to enjoy the sand on your road trip, visit Malibu, even if you don't want to spend money on a hotel in the city. Dedicate at least one day of your road trip to daydreaming and the most beautiful sunset in the world!

5. Santa Barbara

From the architecture to the climate, this is a dream place
Is this trip affordable? Not too expensive but not really reasonable
Days to spend here: Three days at least
A place you shouldn't avoid: Santa Barbara Zoo
Where to stay overnight: Not near the beach because those hotels are overpriced

We're all living our lives, but do we all know how to live? The citizens of Santa Barbara indeed romanticize their lives and enjoy every second of it since everything is so laid-back, and it's one of the happiest places in the US overall. It has all the positive sides of the West Coast – from the perfect climate to the beaches and way more than that!

Furthermore, there's so much to see, so make sure you dedicate enough time to this gorgeous city – don't stop there for a day and continue your road trip at night. If you like animals, you must visit Santa Barbara Zoo, one of the best in the states, and we don't even have to mention how many gorgeous museums you can see here!

4. San Diego

The palm trees and high life are the definition of San Diego
Is this trip affordable? It's cheaper than Santa Barbara
Days to spend here: Two or three days would be great
A place you shouldn't avoid: Balboa Park
Where to stay overnight: Old Town or La Jolla

If we're talking about essentials, who would ever make a road trip around the West Coast without dedicating at least two days to America's finest city? The "finest city" title isn't easy to get. Still, San Diego deserves every praise since it has everything an average person dreams of – including some of the most marvelous beaches on the coast!

Just like Santa Barbara, the climate and people from San Diego are both warm, and the vibe is 100% high wherever you're heading. This is a perfect stop after viewing the beautiful nature of the West Coast because it's an excellent opportunity to see great historical landmarks besides all those perfect beaches. Still, you could also try surfing since it's the best here!

3. Monterey Bay

There's even a lot of history to witness besides all these beautiful landscapes
Is this trip affordable? It's not as expensive as the cities
Days to spend here: Two days
A place you shouldn't avoid: The iconic aquarium
Where to stay overnight: Any recommendation is fine here!

Let's take a break from the cities, especially since this is supposed to be a road trip with lots of nature included. Visiting a gorgeous bay is the best way to spend time on the West Coast because there are many of them, and they're an ideal stop after driving for hours. The nature here is breathtaking, especially the coastline and the sand!

Of course, the finest thing you can see at Monterey is the best aquarium you'll ever visit. This aquarium differs from any you've seen in America, and Europe doesn't have a better one either. With over 200 exhibits, you'll spend ages staring at this beauty, and you can even forget that you should see some other stuff here!

2. Big Sur

Its location is perfect for a short stop during the day, so don't miss this one!
Is this trip affordable? Absolutely
Days to spend here: One is enough
A place you shouldn't avoid: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Where to stay overnight: San Simeon 

If the question is where the coastline is the most exquisite, it's that part of the Highway 1 road trip named Big Sur. It's impossible to miss this part, and we wouldn't recommend skipping it anyway because this is the finest line between affordable and gorgeous here. Moreover, this is an ideal one-day trip and a nature getaway that will awaken all your senses!

So, what makes a perfect nature trip? Beaches? Waterfalls? Woods? You'll find all of them in Big Sur and even see the elephant seals. Even the rocks that stand proudly in the sea are the prettiest right here. Once you reach Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, you'll believe you've reached heaven, and we won't judge you for that!

1. Los Angeles

The magnificent "City of Angels" nickname says it all
Is this trip affordable? It's the most expensive city on the list
Days to spend here: As many as you can!
A place you shouldn't avoid: Universal Studios Hollywood 
Where to stay overnight: Hollywood

Your very last stop at the West Coast road trip is also the most glorious ending your journey could get. It's a dream come true for most people, so don't hesitate even if you're on a budget. You can't make a West Coast road trip without stopping to see the Hollywood sign and feel like the star you are!

If you're a daydreamer and want to see all the gorgeous places you've always heard of in movies, LA will give you everything. Venice Beach is where you will romanticize your life the way you always wanted to. Should we even mention Santa Monica Pier and Griffith Observatory, the places that will change your perspective? Visit LA, and you won't regret it!

After all, even a simple road trip drive on the highway by the sea is enough to awaken all your senses and feel all the feels. With all these gorgeous places that mother nature created, it's even more intriguing to get into your car and see them all at once. Take a break from work and hit the road!

Are road trips the best way to travel? Have you ever made a long road trip around the states? Let us know in the comments section!

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