There is a reason Hollywood keeps making road trip movies. From “Little Miss Sunshine” to “Thelma and Louise” to “Easy Rider” to, well, “Road Trip,” there are few things that capture our imaginations more than the idea of getting in the car and hitting the open road. Rarely does film magic match up to reality (as anyone who has watched a romantic comedy can attest), but a good road trip really can. Nowhere is the landscape more cinematic than the West Coast, where you can experience sweeping mountain ranges, dense rainforests, picturesque seaside towns and bustling cities all in a few days drive. So if you’re ready to pack up the car and head up the Pacific coast, check out the following spots along your way.
Before You Go
When you start planning a West Coast road trip, you are going to be overwhelmed by the options. You have to let go of the idea that you’ll be able to see everything in one trip and just concentrate on what interests you the most. Pick two or three spots and figure the rest out on the go. Remember, a road trip is about the journey, not the destination, so you want to leave yourself room to be spontaneous. You’d hate to hear that the Joshua Tree Music Festival is happening in two days but have to miss it because you can’t deviate from your schedule.
Of course, being spontaneous is easier with a little forethought. Pack clothing for a variety of possibilities. Bring a powerful and multi-functional smartphone, like the Samsung Galaxy S7, that can help you find last-minute accommodations or allow you to pay for that Voodoo Donut in Portland with its mobile pay options. Even if you plan to stay in hotels, throw a tent and sleeping bags in the trunk just in case.
Sweeping Mountain Range: Yosemite National Park, California
Most people recognize Yosemite National Park from Ansel Adams’ iconic “Half Dome” photo, but nothing compares to seeing it in person. The park is almost 1,200 square miles, with valleys, high peaks, meadows, ancient sequoias and lakes that are almost too picturesque to be believable. This is one place you’ll want to make a reservation because spots fill up fast. There are a variety of lodging options, from campsites to Yurts. For a unique experience, stay at one of the park’s five High Sierra camps, only accessible by foot or horseback.
Dense Rainforest: Olympic National Park, Washington
To reduce Olympic National Park to its rainforests is doing it a disservice. The rainforests, where you can find 500 year-old-trees and wildlife, like cougars and bald eagles, are one attraction in this almost one million square mile park. You can also explore the gorgeous beachfront, hike Hurricane ridge at over a mile high or soak in the Sol Duc Hot Springs. Stay overnight in one of the park’s 16 campgrounds or treat yourself to a night in a cabin at the Quileute Oceanside Resort with cabins right on First Beach.
Picturesque Seaside Town: Half Moon Bay, California
Only 35 miles from San Francisco, Half Moon Bay is a quintessential California beach town. Explore Main Street with its cafes, shops and galleries. Visit the Point Montara Lighthouse, or take a long walk on the sand of Half Moon Bay State Beach. For a delicious meal, dine at Cetrella, which hosts live jazz every weekend.
Bustling City: Portland, Oregon
Portland combines much of the best of the West Coast, with eccentric local businesses (and residents), great options for food and drink, a laid-back vibe and an outstanding natural surrounding. Explore Portland’s downtown and make sure not to miss Powell’s City of Books, the largest independent bookstore in the country. There are plenty of cool places to stay in Portland, but check out the ultra-hip Ace Hotel, a certified-green building filled with local art in the middle of downtown.