Best West Coast American Road Trip
This route technically includes Mexico and Canada, but you could easily cut out the south-of-the-border foray and stick to the mainland for an easier, passport-free road trip.
CALIFORNIA COAST: A paradise of glamor, great views and wine
View California map HERE.
Begin your adventure in Tijuana. We don’t recommend bringing your car across the border here, but there are any number of buses from San Diago (where you can also get a cheap hotel near the cross points) and spending a day exploring the famous town for all it’s wonderful (or seedy) offerings. More Americans are in jail or arrested each day (week, and year) in Tijuana than anywhere else outside the U.S. This isn’t surprising, but what is surprising is that people keep going south of the border to break the law, knowing they’ll end up looking up at the sky through barred windows. If you decide to start this road trip from south to north along the coast, Tijuana offers the perfect dichotomy to a finishing point in remote Alaska.
San Diago is an interesting city. For starters, the nearby Marines base means it’s full of an unreasonable amount of testosterone. To cater to that, dive bars are sprinkled around the fringes of the city to cater to the Marines. Semper Fi. Meanwhile, in the downtown area your money will spend, and spend well. The coast is stunning, and if this is your first peek at the Pacific do yourself a solid and book a whale-watching tour or just get out and do some sea fishing.
Hightail it north along the coast to Los Angeles, where you’ll end up dining with a celebrity no matter where you eat. Hell, half of the waitresses in town have been in films, and that’s just one industry. Go out and see the iconic Hollywood sign, you know you want to. And check out Beverly Hills, and window shop along Rodeo Drive. You can’t visit the West Coast without being consumed by the cinema and it’s historic hotbed in L.A.
Santa Monica and Santa Barbara, just north of L.A are the best places to go for some serious beach time. Get on your bikini and get fresh, Pacific sun on those pasty legs. While there, make sure you tour the city’s museums and attractions–there’s more up in the Santas than meets the eye.
After a few days of celebrities, expensive shopping, fine dining and spending way too much money, it’s time to get out of dodge. Settle in for a long, breezy drive, salty wind in your hair as you zip north to San Fran.
If you’re new to San Fransisco don’t miss the obvious highlights like the Golden Gate Bridge, ironically painted red and not gold, and the down town trolleys. The city also has a bit of a homosexual side, and it’s most fun during parades and rallies. Napa Valley and Sonoma are just north of the city and make for a great way to enjoy some of the stunning landscapes a bit inland from the sea.
After your wine tastings, head back to the coast and jump on the famous Highway 1 for unparalleled views of the coast. This road is so beautiful it’s a drive you’ll want to do again and again.
OREGON: Exploring the hippie hinterland
See the above map here.
Oregon is an interesting state. It’s sparsely populated, full of hippies, and yet it has havens of thriving, unique businesses (organic alpaca farms, anyone?). You may find it hard to dine if you’re not vegan, but there are options.
If you’re looking at the map above you’ll be asking yourself if it’s worthwhile to cut back to the coast after a jaunt inland. In short, yes! Here’s why:
Once you hit Oregon you’re in redwood territory. Of course the Great Redwood Forrest (home of the Ewok) is in southern California as well, but Oregon doesn’t have much so let’s give the Redwood credit to them, eh? Cut inland to enjoy long hikes through the mind-numbingly tall trees. There is rumor that the mist over Oregon is so thick that squid eggs are picked up into the tops of the super-tall redwoods. When the eggs hatch (it’s moist up there from the constant mist and elevation) the squid rain down on tourists below. Terrifying?- yes. True?-probably.
Interstate 5 is at its best in Oregon, with short jaunts through creepy, abandoned towns or just curving, rolling ambulations through the Oregon rainforests. You’ll enjoy the few hours north on this major artery before cutting back to the coast. Here, the ocean isn’t about getting tan, playing volleyball or walking along piers eating taffy. Here they are a testament to the power (and fickleness) of Poseidon. From Newport to Astoria, the ocean crashes against Oregon, battering it with an angry lashing of waves and rock. At times violent, at times gentle and caressing, it’s like a love-hate relationship that is worth witnessing. Don’t take your eyes off the sea or you’ll miss a brief temper tantrum or loving touch.
No visit to Oregon is complete without jaunting into Portland. The downtown area boasts an impressive collection of food trucks (big surprise) and even a yurt restaurant! You’ll find the normal barrage of fast food, clubs and chain restaurants, but you’ll find something more, something you can’t put your finger on. I bet you wont’ be able to leave without picturing yourself with a beard or Birkenstocks, living out your days happily as an Oregonian.
Washington: The (Liquid) Sunshine State
All good things must come to an end as you cross the bridge on HWY 5 into Washington State. You’re not in the woods for long before you pop into hip Olympia, the capital of the evergreen state. It’s a quaint, cute and bustling town but it has a sleepy, slow nature that you have to get used to. Stay on 5 as you head towards Tacoma and Seattle. Once there, enjoy the Space Needle, Experience Music Project, or Pike’s Place Market. The first Starbucks is in Seattle, near the market, and there are some great restaurants. Try Matador, a great Tex-Mex place with awesome margaritas. One of the top things to do for those who have been to Seattle a few times before is just to get on a ferry and explore the area by sea. Don’t look down though, as the waters off the Puget Sound are home to some of the largest giant squid in the world.
Canadian Calling: The Lure of the Moose
View this map here.
You could explore the area around Seattle for days before hitting the northern trail, and it’s always hard to say goodbye to Washington’s true culture capital. Make for Canada like a bandit and head directly for Vancouver. This city is the outdoor sportsman’s paradise. From kayaking to biking to paddle board and yoga (home to Lulu Lemon) this town was made, and is populated by, outdoorsy types. After you’ve had your fill of bike shorts and beards, head to Whistler, where the real fun begins. If it’s winter, ski the Olympic slopes at Whistler – Blackcomb, or mountain bike the excellent trails in spring and fall. In summer, hiking is the main offering, though reports of mosquitoes flying off with small children are popular.
The American Frontier: Alaska
This is supposed to be an American road trip, so don’t spend too much time in you Canadian tux drinking Canadian Whiskey and eating your bacon in circled slices. Get your ride in gear and haul it through the wilds of British Columbia to Jeneau, Alaska’s most southern city. This city is remarkable because it has everything going against it and still stands. The weather is a fickle, merciless strain, the landscape is rugged and unforgiving and the animal life dangerous. To combat all of this, the people who live in Jeneau just got tougher and tougher. Now they are a stubborn force to be reckoned with, and fit nicely into the ecosystem. Don’t stay too long (or look at anyone too closely in the eye) before booking it to Anchorage, the mega-city of Alaska.
Despite the violently cold weather, the city of Anchorage Tourism Bureau lists a range of “fun” outdoor activities for visitors. Most visitors go salmon fishing in the nearby rivers, hunting, sea fishing or crabbing, or else they are there for the kayaking and hiking. If you wanted to lose yourself in nature, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place. Alaska happily swallows people up.
There is an airport in Anchorage, but the better way to go would be via the sea. A range of cruises ply these waters, and you’re likely to see whales, seals or even the odd floating iceberg. While sitting on the deck freezing your cahones off, remember the beautiful (dangerous) setting in Tijuana.
You’ve come a long way.