When the Dalai Lama spoke his infamous words, “Once a year, go somewhere you have never been before,” I think it’s fair to say this resonates perfectly with those that LOVE road tripping around the world. I know that we certainly fall into this category and this is particularly true when thinking about the best way to explore the United States. From East to West and North to South, the US is home to a myriad of amazing road trips waiting to be experienced. Let’s start by taking a look at some of the best West coast USA road trips that we think need to be on your radar (if they are not already).
West Coast USA
What exactly determines the “West coast?” It’s all down to interpretation in my opinion! If we are taking these words at face value, we are likely looking at the iconic Pacific Highway in California or perhaps the breathtaking 17-mile drive along the Monterey Peninsula via Pebble Beach.
But what about if we expand this just a little (or a lot!) and start contemplating road trips that head inland? It’s true if you are willing to hit the open road, the Western United States is home to a plethora of breathtaking natural landscapes and lively urban environments. We decided to focus our attention on this wider geographic region, yet our focus primarily has each of the following road trips either starting or ending at a coastal destination.
We have been incredibly fortunate to experience some of the best road trips around the Western US states but rather than simply sharing our personal favorites, we opted to collaborate with some of our favorite travel blogging friends from across the globe and share this ultimate collection of EPIC road trips…that’s right, these are some of the best road trip itineraries not only in the US but anywhere in the world!
Best West Coast USA Road Trips
So…the million dollar question, which road trips actually made the cut when considering the BEST of the BEST around the West coast? It’s no surprise to see that there are some common destinations around several of these itineraries but the beauty of planning any road trip is that it’s entirely customizable. If you follow our top tip, you will always allow some time for spontaneity because that is what makes road trips so much fun.
- Eastern Sierra – Road Trip on I-395
- Pacific Coast – San Francisco to San Diego, California
- American Southwest – Los Angeles, California to Page, Arizona
- Utah’s National Parks – Los Angeles, CA to Southern Utah National Parks
- Oregon Coast Road Trip – Astoria to California Border
- Yosemite National Park – San Francisco, CA to Yosemite National Park
- American Southwest – Las Vegas, Nevada to Northern Arizona
Eastern Sierra Road Trip on I-395
By Noel Morata from Travel Photo Discovery
A road trip on I-395 on the Eastern slope of the Sierras is not so well known for travelers visiting the golden state, but for those interested in visiting historic areas of old California, you’ll find some amazing western towns, the tallest mountain in California at Mt. Whitney to the lowest area in the USA at Death Valley National Park.
In between are unique places to visit like the Japanese internment camps at Manzanar, bizarre rock formations at Alabama Hills to some cool hot springs and a railroad museum in Bishop. Everything feels so western and authentic, almost like time stood still here in the Eastern Sierras.
For more inspiration, check out Noel’s Eastern Sierra road trip here for more pictures and cool places to explore in California’s I-395.
San Franciso to San Diego
By Patrick Muntzinger from German Backpacker
A road trip down the coast from San Francisco on the famous Highway No. 1 has to be one of the most popular trips on the Westcoast – for good reason! After spending some days exploring San Francisco with its unique sites such as the Golden Gate Bridge, make your way down the coast. Plan a stop at the amusement park on the beach in Santa Cruz and marvel at the stunning cliffs at Big Sur – the views are breath-taking!
Another nice stop along this route is the student and surfer city of Santa Barbara. Spend some time here before driving through Malibu and further into LA (with its infamous traffic, unfortunately!). Spend one or two days exploring the sights in LA such as Hollywood, Beverly Hills and the magical coastline featuring the likes of Santa Monica and Venice Beach.
While many people finish their journey in LA or head into the country towards Las Vegas or Grand Canyon from here, I highly recommend driving further south. The beach communities between LA and San Diego, such as Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach and Newport Beach (famous from ‘The OC’) are beautiful and it’s a great experience to see all those mansions on the cliffs and the people enjoying their typical southern Californian lifestyle. Soon you’ll be in San Diego.
San Diego itself doesn’t have any world-famous attractions compared to LA but is much nicer, more relaxed and more beautiful with its surfer beaches and its Hispanic flair thanks to the proximity to the Mexican border. San Diego is the perfect ending of your California road trip and you should take a few days to relax on the beach or to try some surfing!
Los Angeles, CA to Paige, AZ
By Kristin Addis from Be My Travel Muse
The American Southwest Road trip is so full of options it’s tough to narrow it down. There are so many hidden gems and beautiful canyons all concentrated into one area, you almost can’t go wrong no matter what you choose. Leaving from Zion and Bryce, don’t miss the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument for some amazing off the beaten path camping and hiking.
Most of the roads are unpaved and you can free camp almost anywhere within the area. There are arches, slot canyons, and loads of hikes to choose from. The drive from there through Moab and onwards to Arizona is incredible as well, including the Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley, and of course, Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona.
You’re also at the perfect jumping off point there for the Wave, White Pocket, and Lake Powell. It’s an outdoorsy person’s dream. The best time to visit is in the spring or fall when the weather is not too hot and not too cold. It’s a desert, after all!
For more inspiration on this awesome experience, check out Kristin’s detailed American Southwest road trip itinerary.
Los Angeles to Southern Utah’s National Parks
By Tim Van der Linden from Annual Adventure
California may be utterly spoiled for national parks, but sometimes you just need to experience something new. Enter: Southern Utah with its unparalleled natural beauty.
The Mighty Five parks hosted by Southern Utah are just a taste of what the area has to offer, and it’s the perfect distance from Los Angeles to make a road trip out of it! Not only will you get plenty of time to explore Southern Utah, but also experience the changing scenery as you move in closer to these famous parks.
Each of Utah’s National Parks hosts uniquely identifiable scenery that you won’t find outside of that individual park, and they are clustered so far together that you need to bring a trailer just to drag your dropped jaw behind your car! From Zion’s sheer crags to Bryce’s banded amphitheater of Hoodos to Arches’s, well, arches, you’ll never feel like you’re visiting the same place twice.
There’s also no need to stick to just the Mighty 5, even if they do get all of the attention. Within driving distance of the area, you can also easily reach Monument Valley, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon and the Grand Canyon! While you could spend months (or even a lifetime) exploring this concentrated area of natural beauty, it’s easy to make the trip over 9 days during a week off.
For an idea of what this trip might look like, check out this Utah National Parks road trip itinerary!
Oregon Coast Road Trip
By Sarah Hughes from Live, Dream, Discover
Driving along the Oregon coastline is one of the most iconic west coast road trips you can do. This spectacular section of Hwy 101 provides stunning scenes of incomparable natural beauty as well as the chance to stop and explore charming seaside towns, State Parks, and rugged coastline beaches.
If starting in the north of the state begin your road trip in historic Astoria, the oldest US settlement west of the Rockies. From there, hug the coastline and head for Seaside, the home of Oregon’s first beach resort town. Not much further along is Cannon Beach, likely recognizable from the impressive sea stacks sitting majestically on the beach below.
The coastal highway continues for more than 360 miles passing so many quaint towns and points of interest that you could easily spend a week getting from Astoria to the California border.
Some of the many don’t miss highlights include Yaquina Head lighthouse, Indian Beach Trail, Tillamook Cheese Factory, Devil’s Punchbowl, Peter Iredale shipwreck and Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Plus you won’t go thirsty or hungry with the many great seafood restaurants and craft breweries along the way.
For fresh seafood, stop in at one of the beloved Mo’s restaurants or have freshly caught crab cooked up right on the dock at Kelly’s Brighton Marina. If craft beer is your thing don’t miss a stop at the original Pelican Brewing Company pub where you can sit with your toes in the sand enjoying an ice cold beverage.
This west coast road trip is beautiful any time of year but, unlike Southern California, it’s not the type of coastline where you go to just lay on the beach or swim in the ocean. Weather is unpredictable along the Oregon coast but there are some general rules of thumb.
Winter is the best time for whale spotting and storm watching, spring is fresh and perfect for hiking, summer is the driest and sunniest time but also the busiest season and fall is often called “second summer” as the weather can be very pleasant and the crowds are mostly gone
San Francisco to Yosemite National Park
By Catherine D’Cruz from We Go With Kids
Our family thoroughly enjoyed our five-day/four-night road trip from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park to Napa Valley and back to San Francisco. At the time of our trip, our boys were two and four, and we enjoyed two lovely weekends in San Francisco visiting Muir Woods, the Golden Gate Bridge and Japanese Tea Gardens on either side of our road trip.
If you are lucky enjoy not to get stuck in traffic, Yosemite National Park is about a four-hour drive from San Francisco. Yosemite is known for its stunning granite cliffs, giant sequoia trees, and mountains and is easily one of the country’s most impressive national parks.
We spent two days exploring the park on easy hikes with unbelievable views of the iconic El Capitan and Half Dome. We weren’t lucky enough to travel during Spring, which is peak waterfall season but did see a trickle at Bridalveil Fall. Mariposa Grove features impressive giant sequoias.
Our next stop was Napa Valley, which is approximately four and a half hour away. We toured Sterling Vineyard, V. Sattui, Andretti Winery, Grgich Hills Estates and Beaulieu Vineyard during Fall harvest. Finally, we returned to San Francisco, about one and a half hours (again, assuming no traffic). We recommend this road trip because it features amazing views, beautiful nature and great wine.
Las Vegas to Northern Arizona
By Allison Green from Eternal Arrival
One of the best American road trips there is the American Southwest – and my personal favorite portion of the trip is between Las Vegas and Northern Arizona. It’s less crowded than Utah’s many national parks, with gorgeous landscapes and a huge variety of things to do. I recommend starting your route in Las Vegas because the car rentals in Vegas are much cheaper than in neighboring states.
Be sure not to miss the Valley of Fire State Park, with the gorgeous red rocks that have made it a popular stand-in for Mars in movies such as Total Recall. After the Valley of Fire, head over to the Hoover Dam, to see what used to be the tallest dam of all time
After Hoover Dam, head towards Flagstaff, Arizona, which is a perfect gateway to other places in Arizona. You obviously can’t miss the Grand Canyon, one of America’s most iconic landmarks. The deepest canyon in the world, this canyon is more impressive than you could have ever imagined. You can also make a side trip to Sedona, with its red rocks, hippie restaurants, and stunning hikes.
After exploring the area around Flagstaff, head north towards Page, Arizona. There, you’ll find Antelope Canyon, one of the most stunning slot canyons. Located on Navajo Nation land (LeChee Chapter), you can only visit with a permit and guided tour – and it’s worth every penny. It is quite crowded, though, so be prepared for that.
While in Page, you also shouldn’t miss Horseshoe Bend, where the Colorado River takes a hairpin turn from a scenic lookout point. It’s located just a few miles outside of town and is a short 15-minute walk from the parking lot. I also recommend visiting the gorgeous Lake Powell or viewing it from one of the scenic lookout points like Wahweap Overlook.
Breathtaking…this word alone doesn’t give the west coast of USA enough justice but that’s truly what it’s like when you see the myriad of spectacular scenery awaiting you on your next adventure out west. Whether you are intrigued by the urban skylines of San Francisco, Los Angeles or San Diego or simply prefer to head further inland to explore the Mighty 5 National Parks of Utah, you can be sure that the west coast offers a diverse blend of options that will surely entice you into a road trip.
Road tripping is our favorite way of exploring the United States. Why? Because of the above itineraries and photos that immediately epitomize the beauty throughout this part of America. Hit the open road folks and let spontaneity take over because there is an incredible overlook or scene right around the corner.
What are your favorite road trips around the western USA? Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about the east …you will just have to head over and check out our post on the best East coast USA road trips!
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our friends from the travel blogging world that collaborated with us to create such an awesome collection of road trips. Don’t forget to check out all of their blogs and follow them on social media for more inspiration.