Hit the road for several days or take an extended vacation to explore these beautiful West Coast destinations.
With summer just around the corner, now is the time to plan your perfect West Coast getaway. The highways and byways from California to Washington boast some of the most spectacular scenery in the U.S. and along the way, offer incredible outdoor experiences. While these 12 road trips include familiar locales, such as wine destinations in California and thrills and chills at theme parks, there are also off-the-grid epic adventures complete with otherworldly landscapes. You might even want to extend your vacation and combine a few of these trips. So, make those bucket list plans, pack your bags (and maybe even a sleeping bag) and hit the road for an unforgettable trip.
California’s Central Coast Wine Tour: Santa Barbara to Paso Robles
This wine-sipping adventure through the Central Coast’s rolling hills begins in Santa Barbara, where the Mediterranean-like climate is optimal for producing award-winning vintages. While in town, check out unique boutiques and galleries in the Funk Zone and walk the Urban Wine Trail. Sunstone Vineyards, Winery and Villa, located in Santa Ynez, features stunning scenery where you can savor sustainable wines in a beautiful Provencal-style setting. Plan to end your getaway at Halter Ranch vineyard in Paso Robles to experience the chef’s signature tasting menu or relax outdoors with a bottle of wine. Other wineries to stop by include Alma Rosa Winery in Buellton and Stolpman Vineyards in Los Olivos.
Gateway to the Blue Mountains in Oregon: Alpine lakes, cowboy culture and ghost towns
Gold mining and ranching put this section of northeast Oregon on the map, and there are two scenic routes to explore the beautiful region and its history. Begin at the Columbia River on the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway. This road winds through rolling grasslands, hills and canyons into the 1.4 million-acre Umatilla National Forest. The Elkhorn Drive Scenic Byway heads down from the mountains into Baker City and the Powder River Valley, the heart of cowboy country. On the drive, you’ll see the old mining town of Granite and the highest alpine resort in Oregon, Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort, which sits at a base elevation of 7,100 feet. Don’t miss a stop at nearby North Fork John Day River, which feeds into the Columbia River. The river was home to a thriving mining industry in the 1860s.
Washington’s Cascade Loop Scenic Highway
Known as “Washington State’s Great American Road Trip,” this 440-mile journey departs and ends in Puget Sound, offering something for everyone along the way. Kick off your adventure museum-hopping in Seattle, then go hiking and whitewater rafting on the Skykomish River along the Stevens Path Greenway. Stop for lunch at the Bavarian village of Leavenworth, which features beer gardens, brats and German specialties. You can also check out the wineries in the Wenatchee and Columbia River Valley’s wine region. Plan to set up camp one night in Lake Chelan State Park, then head to North Cascades, making a stop in the town of Twisp to explore its lively arts scene. End your adventure-filled getaway with a scenic drive along the Whidbey Scenic Isle Way before returning by ferry crossing over Puget Sound.
California’s North Coast: Mendocino County Road Trip
This road trip begins approximately 60 miles north of San Francisco on the southern point of State Route 128 in Sonoma County. Worlds away from the bustling city, this bucolic adventure includes sipping wine in Anderson Valley’s picturesque wine country, visiting baby goats and tasting artisan cheeses at Pennyroyal Farm, and exploring the 1,000-year-old redwoods at Hendy Woods State Park. Heading north on Route 128, the road turns into Highway 1. This 17-mile stretch along the Pacific coastline from Elk to Mendocino boasts views of the ocean, hidden beaches and wildflower meadows. Take the 4-mile hiking trail in Mendocino Headlands State Park for spectacular sights and sounds, including wind-swept cliffs, offshore islands and the roar of the thundering ocean.
Oregon’s Hells Canyon: Rivers, gorges and snow-capped mountains
Located in the northeast corner of Oregon, Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in the U.S. One of the best ways to explore the gorge’s nine wild and scenic rivers, as well as the 9,000-foot peaks of the Wallowa Mountains, is along Hells Canyon Scenic Byway. Begin your adventure in the vibrant university town of La Grande. Afterward, drive through farmlands to the ranching town of Elgin, home of the annual Elgin Stampede (where you can see rodeo performances, bull riding and more each summer). Other stops to include are Wallowa Lake, the historic Oregon Trail and the artist community of Joseph. Before heading home, end your outdoor adventure with a rafting trip or an exhilarating high-speed boat tour on the mighty Snake River.
Washington’s White Pass Scenic Byway
This 78-mile scenic drive in the west-central part of Washington state affords stunning views of Mount Rainier, sweeping vistas and cascading waterfalls. You can even spend the night in Paradise at 5,400 feet elevation: The historic Paradise Inn is set in this small, picturesque town in Mount Rainier National Park. Top attractions along this byway include Skate Creek for its many waterfalls, Longmire for the first incredible views of what is known as “The Mountain” (Mount Rainier), and Ricksecker Point Loop Drive. The one-way Ricksecker Point Loop Drive, aptly referred to as the “Viewpoint,” is notable for its panoramic views of Nisqually Glacier and several of the other 26 glaciers located on Mount Rainier. Be sure to see the old-growth trees at Grove of the Patriarchs as well as Margaret Falls, the park’s tallest waterfall at 1,100 feet.
Classic Coast and Mountains in California: Santa Cruz to Mono Lake
Kick off your active outdoor adventure by hitting the waves in Santa Cruz. Then, head inland to Pinnacles National Park, where the rugged landscape formed by volcanic eruptions attracts rock climbers, hikers and birders. You might even catch a glimpse of the endangered California condor, the largest bird in North America. Not to be missed are the massive sequoias of the Giant Forest at Sequoia National Park, Yosemite’s spectacular scenery and the glistening turquoise waters of Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe. At Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, the main attraction of this more than 1 million-year-old lake (one of the oldest lakes in North America) is its tufa spires, or calcium-carbonate towers and knobs formed by the interaction of alkaline lake water and freshwater springs.
Oregon’s Diamond Loop Tour Route: Volcanic landscapes and moon-like dry lakes
Oregon’s frontier country offers rugged beauty, unparalleled wilderness and spectacular surprises. Head out on the High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway in the town of Burns to explore the southeastern area of the state. Stops to include are the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the tiny town of Frenchglen and the Diamond Loop Tour Route to view volcanic formations known as the Diamond Craters. You’ll also want to stop and take in the valleys carved by glaciers from high above at Steens Mountain’s rim and marvel at the otherworldly landscape of the cracked earth at the Alvord Desert. Afterward, enjoy a reinvigorating soak in Alvord Hot Springs. Then, set up a tent in the desert to sleep under the stars.
Washington’s Wine Country
Also known as the “vineyard region” of Washington state, this area includes the Yakima and Walla Walla valleys and the Tri-Cities. Boasting more than 240 wineries across several AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), the region produces many top-rated vintages. Wine enthusiasts can visit more than 100 wineries in the Yakima Valley, which has similar growing conditions to some of the most productive wine regions in France. What’s more, in the Walla Walla Valley, there are approximately 120 wineries. Plan to stay in the Tri-Cities, the heart of wine country, where you’ll also have plenty of outdoor activities to explore including golf, water sports (think: canoeing and sailing) and biking trails.
Theme Park Thrills in California
The approximately 165-mile whirlwind trip from San Diego to Santa Clarita will bring out the kid in everyone thanks to nonstop rides, movie sets, rollercoasters and an endless array of theme park food. Begin your once-in-a-lifetime adventure at SeaWorld San Diego to view marine life and ride one of the state’s tallest roller coasters, Electric Eel. Then head north to LEGOLAND, where you can cool off at the water park and take in Pacific Ocean views at your hotel, The Cassara Carlsbad. Next stops include Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park and Universal Studios Hollywood just north of Los Angeles. And if that isn’t enough fun, Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia offers screaming G-force thrills with 20 rollercoasters, including the world’s tallest and fastest looping rollercoaster, Full Throttle.
Oregon’s Outback Scenic Byway
Road-trippers traveling southeast from La Pine to the Oregon-California border will find this area boasts clear skies, incredible geologic formations, ancient human history and wildlife viewing — even though it might look empty on a map. Highlights of the 171-mile-long Oregon Outback Scenic Byway include petroglyphs (ancient Native American rock carvings) at Picture Rock Pass, Oregon’s only geyser, Old Perpetual, and natural hot springs. What’s more, along the cliffs of the Winter Rim, you can spot bighorn sheep or watch for pronghorn (which looks like a cross between an antelope and a buck deer) in Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. Other stops should include Albert Rim, North America’s largest exposed fault scarp, and then for a taste of the Old West, head to the Pioneer Saloon in Paisley.
San Juan Islands Scenic Byway in Washington
The San Juan Islands are an archipelago of more than 170 islands found in northwestern Washington near the Canadian border that are reachable by ferry, private boat or plane. The scenic byway includes three drives, but you should spend the most time on the San Juan Island portion. Highlights around the island include unique artists’ studios, The Whale Museum, San Juan Islands Museum of Art and the San Juan Historical Museum. You can also look for bald eagles at Cattle Point Lighthouse, visit the Pelindaba Lavender Farm and go whale watching at Lime Kiln Point. Afterward, relax at San Juan Vineyard and sample the estate’s award-winning wines. For more island time, reserve accommodations at Island Inn at 123 West in Friday Harbor.
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