West Coast, Best Coast: Your Road Trip Guide

The west coast of North America is unrivalled thanks to its beaches, amazing hikes, epic drives filled with dramatic landscapes from mountains to sand dunes and all the al fresco delicious dining you could hope for!

With so much to see, the problem is choosing what’s really worth your time, so we’ve put together some tips and tricks for the best of the west coast. Let’s start your west coast road trip in Canada and before heading south! 

Where to go on the West Coast? Vancouver, Canada

Photo credit: Harshil.Shah via / CC BY-ND

Just one look at Vancouver lets you know this is worth your time: a laid-back, manageable city beside the sea with plenty of greenery and mountain views. This is a nature lover’s paradise if you still love being close to a city as well. There’s a free shuttle from Vancouver to Grouse Mountain where you can hike, zipline and even spot some wolves. If that’s too high-adrenaline, take a relaxing bike ride around Stanley Park, explore Gas Town or Kitsilano.

Where to go on the West Coast? Vancouver Island, Canada


Even before you get to Vancouver Island, you could be blown off your feet – on the ferry over, you can often see orcas and whales. The island is stunning, with the chance of seeing black bears, beautiful scenery and quaint towns. Tofino is the surfing paradise and eco-hero of Canada and Victoria, B.C’s capital, is picture-postcard perfect.

Travel to: Canada

Where to go on the West Coast? Seattle, USA


Much more than the birthplace of Starbucks and Nirvana, Seattle is a city that is forever changing and keeping up with the times, yet still grounded. With plenty to see for the first timers, like Pike Place Market and the Space Needle there’s also plenty of charming neighbourhoods to keep exploring for the veteran travellers, from Capitol Hill, Fremont and Ballard.

Northern Cascades recently stole my heart. The beauty of the rugged mountains and forests here absolutely blew my mind. And this wilderness is so accessible too! Our top experience was hiking the 7 mile Maple Pass loop trail. It’s a steady ascent all the way to the ridge but everywhere you look there are stunning mountain peaks and glittering alpine lakes. The autumn colours only make the views even better!

I would recommend first-timers not just to stick to the coastal areas. There’s SO much to see inland too! Small alpine towns, epic mountains and wonderful wilderness offer an interesting contrast to the ocean coastline. – Gemma and Jean, Off Track Travel

Where to go on the West Coast? Portland, Oregon, USA

Portland Oregon
Portland, Oregon

Portland has been hipster central for a long time, but whether you love them or hate them, you’re bound to find something that speaks to your soul in Portland. Whether that’s an entirely locally-sourced vegan tasting menu, the beautiful Rose Garden, the hidden speakeasy bars or Voodoo Donuts (seriously, check them out), Portland gives the people what they want.

Where to go on the West Coast? Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, USA

Oneonta Gorge
Photo credit: Kayaker Bill via Visual hunt / CC BY

Not far from Portland, the Columbia River Gorge is a 40-mile stretch designated as a National Scenic Area and one of the state’s seven wonders of Oregon. It’s an incredible area to explore, with sights like Multnomah Falls, a burgeoning wine scene and multiple hikes. Try out the mini obstacle course hike to Oneonta Falls – you may have to climb over trees and wade through water, but the views are worth every step.

Where to go on the West Coast? Oregon Coast, USA

Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast goes from mysteriously foggy and atmospheric to vividly colourful in the space of half an hour. Head to Cannon Beach and pretend you’re pals with The Goonies by Haystack Rock. There are always places to leisurely stop along the coast which show just how dramatic the coast can be, like Thor’s Well and Devil’s Churn (if the names aren’t enough to spark intrigue then you’re honestly a lost cause). You can also check out some sandboarding in Florence on the sand dunes.

Where to go on the West Coast? Umpqua Hot Springs, Oregon, USA

Umpqua Hot Springs
Photo credit: mjfmjfmjf via Visual Hunt / CC BY

If you feel at one with the earth and love to admire nature in all its glory, then Umpqua Hot Springs might just be for you. You have to work for your spa and hike a fairly steep trail to get to the natural hot springs. But when I say it’s a place to admire nature in all its glory, I really mean it, because these hot springs are frequently enjoyed butt naked.

You’re under no obligation to disrobe if you feel uncomfortable, but you’re likely to be in the minority, and it’s a great place to get on board with the phrase: go big or go home. You might find it’s actually pretty liberating while you soak, overlooking the river and never-ending trees.

Where to go on the West Coast? Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake USA
Crater Lake, USA

A truly unique sight, Crater Lake looks even bluer and more peaceful than you’d expect considering the baron drive leading up to it within the National Park. Formed due to a collapsed volcano and filled with some of the clearest water in the United States, it’s a nature lover’s dream, with Wizard Island, a miniature volcano, poking its peak out and plenty of trails to enjoy.

Where to go on the West Coast? Redwood National Park, California, USA

Redwoods USA
Redwoods, USA

Prepare to feel tiny as you wander through this forest of famous gigantic redwood trees. Honestly, the only word that can be used to describe these tree is: magnificent. Remember to look up to really feel the small space you actually occupy in the world – enough to make a 7ft basketball player dizzy. To make the most of your time here amongst the Redwoods, camp in the park overnight, go for a morning hike and stop for a picnic at High Bluff Overlook.

Where to go on the West Coast? San Francisco, USA

San Francisco
San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, rolling hills, the house from Mrs. Doubtfire, streetcars, and expensive living… San Francisco already has a huge hype and countless stereotypes about it, but it really is worth a stop on this epic road trip. You can be as touristy as you like with visits to Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street and the Painted Ladies or play it local exploring the Mission District, browsing independent bookshops and get a picture on the Moraga Steps.

Where to go on the West Coast? Big Sur, California, USA

McWay Falls Big Sur
McWay Falls, Big Sur

Welcome to the most beautiful place in the world. Big Sur is on the Pacific Coast Highway, notoriously known as one of the most scenic (yet dangerous with all those winding, cliff-hanging roads) drives out there, and nothing really beats the Big Sur portion. McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer State Park is ridiculously perfect, as though it was made for a postcard. Make sure the driver gets a turn in the passenger seat so they can take in the stunning views.

Where to go on the West Coast? Hearst Castle, California, USA

Hearst Castle USA
Hearst Castle, USA

What’s so great about a big house? Loads of insanely rich people have with mansions, so why should you care, right? Well, Hearst Castle in San Simeon is kind of a big deal. Now considered a National Historic Landmark, it was the baby of newspaper magnate William Hearst and the ultimate glamorous getaway for the Hollywood and political elite.

If you were lucky (read: important) enough to get an invitation here, you could fly into the estate’s airfield or be picked up by a private Hearst-owned car from LA. As you wander through the 250,000 acres of rooms, suites, cottages and grounds, imagine partying with old guests like Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.

Where to go on the West Coast? Santa Barbara, California, USA

Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara

Ah, Southern California… you have so many people’s’ hearts, and we can see why. With great weather, awesome restaurants and bars and beautiful buildings, Santa Barbara is a must-see. The surroundings aren’t so bad either, with hikes in the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Channel Islands.

Where to go on the West Coast? Los Angeles, USA

Griffith Observatory LA
Griffith Observatory, LA

So many dismiss LA right from the start because of Hollywood fakeness, and of course that exists and there are places to avoid (you could compare the Hollywood Walk of Fame to a moshpit at times) but there’s a beautiful side to LA and its surrounding areas. Griffith Observatory is always stunning, there are quirky bars and don’t get us started on the beach vibe.

Where to go on the West Coast? San Diego

west coast best coast

If San Diego was a person, it would be a surfer. By this point of your road trip, you’ll be firmly planted in Southern California so it’s time to start saying ‘gnarly’ and ‘rad’, you know, just to acclimatize. Just kidding… but the chilled atmosphere and great tans are all there, along with genuine, friendly residents. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches, there are impressive hikes and you can kayak La Jolla Cove.

Travel to: California

Kirsten is a travel-obsessed Brit who, ever since studying in Australia, is always plotting her next adventure, from surfing in Bali and swimming with sharks (and pigs!) in The Bahamas to searching for the Northern Lights in Iceland (she didn't find them) and cruising around Norway. You can follow her adventures at Kirst Over the World

Up Next:

11 Things You Need to Experience in Rome in Summer

11 Things You Need to Experience in Rome in Summer