23 Best Things to Do on the West Coast, USA

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Best Things to Do on the West Coast, USA

Planning a road trip or extended vacation? Technically speaking, the United States West Coast is a long stretch between three different states: California, Oregon, and Washington, all sharing a coast with the Pacific Ocean.

However, colloquially “West Coast” among some Americans includes Arizona, Nevada, Utah, or even Alaska and Hawaii! Well, it’s not like the Midwest is in the mid-west (for all you non-Americans, it’s mid-mid).

According to the U.S. Travel Association, the West Coast is a popular road trip destination with several million visitors annually. The Pacific Coast Highway alone accounts for thousands of those seeking the West Coast road trip.

The West Coast of the USA is brimming with captivating things to do, offering a perfect mixture of adventure and relaxation. Imagine driving straight from a candy factory to a mountain range. From gigs and outdoor activities to various restaurants and hiking trails, it’s got you covered.

The region boasts many forests, famous attractions, rolling hills, and dramatic landscapes. It has iconic national parks, alpine lakes, and a stunning coastline. It’s not just a place. It’s an experience!

Accommodation can be surprisingly affordable, and travel can be kept within a moderate budget with suitable car rentals or taxi services. The West Coast is the ideal vacation destination for backpackers, road-trippers, groups, hikers, friends, and families.

Ready to start heading west? Here’s your guide to the best things to do on the United States West Coast.

Places to Visit on the West Coast & Things to Do

Popular West Coast tourist attractions include the majestic Liberty Bell mountain range in Washington, the Space Needle in Seattle, and at least one stop to a Voodoo Donuts store. The original Disneyland Resort is in Anaheim, California – the happiest place on Earth!

Nature lovers can’t drive through without a stop at one of the great national parks along the West Coast. Yosemite National Park, Lava Lake, Deception Pass, Joshua Tree National Park, Lake Tahoe, Muir Wood, and Crater Lake National Park are just a few stops you can visit.

Here’s our list of the top things to do on the United States West Coast.

See Related: Most Beautiful & Best Vacations in the US

1. Washington: Aplets and Cotlets Candy Kitchen

Aplets And Cotlets Candy Kitchen And Country Store
Image from TripAdvisor

Aplets and Cotlets is one of the most famous candy factories in the United States. Founded by Armen Tertsagian and Mark Balaban, they are primarily known for their different varieties of Turkish Delight – made with only natural ingredients for the best flavor.

The factory is located in Washington, at 117 Mission Avenue in Cashmere. Visitors can tour the facility or buy some of the great candy that made them famous in the first place.

Rumors speculated that the brand might be closing its doors, but be reassured that the factory is open for business at the time of writing! If you have a sweet tooth, you can’t miss it. Opening hours are at 9 am.

See Related: Best Travel Backpacks

2. Washington: Liberty Bell Mountain

Liberty Bell Mountain

Liberty Bell Mountain describes the most northern point of the Liberty Bell Group. It’s one of the most majestic mountain passes in the United States, and it’s always worth a visit, even if you’re only passing through. The mountain’s Cathedral-like shape makes it easily recognizable even from a fair distance.

It’s more than something to look at: there’s something to do here! Ice skating is one of the options if you are here at the right time of year. According to the visitor center, the Liberty Mountain Resort offers season passes, including ski passes, if you’d like to stay a couple of days longer.

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3. Washington: Deception Pass State Park

Deception Pass State Park

Deception Pass connects Skagit Bay with the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, stretching over 4,134 acres to explore. Deception Pass State Park is located in Washington, one of the most visited national parks in the United States by total visitor count every year.

What can you do here? Deception Pass is rated as one of the top hiking trails, whether you are a beginner or an advanced trail walker. With the right guide at your side, there’s a lot to see here. Be there early: it opens at 8 am and can get pretty busy as the day progresses.

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4. Washington: Space Needle Seattle

Space Needle Seattle

The Space Needle is undeniably Seattle and worth a look if you’re close enough to drive from where your last road-trip stop left you at. The famous Seattle Space Needle is located at 400 Broad Street. Visitors check in at the door, and passes are time-based, although the option to book a visit ahead is also available on their website.

Sure, it’s a traditional “tourist stop,” but it’s worth it! The Needle exceeds 605 feet, giving only a 360 view of the town. It opens up later, from 10 am.

See Related: Best Road Trips in the USA

5. Washington: The Hoh Rainforest

The Hoh Rainforest

The Hoh Rainforest is one of the largest rainforests in the United States and a must-see for nature lovers making it through the West Coast. The NY Times has called it “one of the quietest places on Earth.”

The total area is 24 miles of gorgeous forest, located within the larger Olympic National Park in Washington. The Hoh Rainforest starts at 18113 Upper Hoh Road in Forks.

Rainfall is estimated at approximately 140 inches per year. It’s a rainforest, so that’s precisely what you can expect! But remember to pack for it, since many people don’t.

It’s famous for its hiking trails ranging from basic to more advanced and much longer. Rainforest humidity is high, and those with breathing or lung conditions should keep this in mind and prepare by packing essential medications in case of discomfort. It’s open 24 hours and all year.

See Related: Travel Hacking 101

6. Washington: Mt Rainier

Mt Rainier

Mount Rainier is a famous stratovolcano in Washington, 59 miles from Seattle. While there have been several eruptions, and this is considered an active volcano, it’s also certified safe for visitors.

The last eruption of Mount Rainier was over 1,000 years ago. Why is it famous as one of the best West Coast stops? Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in Washington state, with an official measurement of 14,411 feet. That’s huge!

Novice and advanced climbing expeditions are available. Hiking trails and other activities can be booked through their tourist department or one of the local accommodation spots.

See Related: Simple Ways to Sustainable Travel

7. Washington: Hike Mt St Helens

Mt St Helens

Mount St Helens is another active stratovolcano in Washington, and its last eruption was far more recent than the previous entry on this list. In the 1980s, a famous eruption at Mount St Helens made worldwide news – but again, the stratovolcano is considered safe for visitors today.

It’s the perfect place to visit Mount Rainier. You can also find appropriate hiking and walking trails along this route and the St Helens National Volcanic Monument. Even though moderate temperatures, always check the weather forecast before heading out.

See Related: How to Pack for a Camping Trip

8. Washington: Visit Port Townsend

Port Townsend

Port Townsend is a small Victorian-style town located in Jefferson County, Washington. It’s about 2 hours away from Seattle if you want to fit this stop into your drive.

What’s in Port Townsend? Great restaurants and live music venues are two great things about Port Townsend. A drive along the main route can include bakeries and minor food stops.

Cheap-but-great accommodation is also available in Port Townsend if you’d like to stop over before continuing your trip. Visit the official website for Port Townsend to find more details and book your stay-over.

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9. Oregon: Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge in Oregon

Columbia River Gorge is located at the Hood River in Oregon and opens to the public at 8 am. Many accommodation options include the Hood River Hotel, Skamania Lodge, and Carson Ridge Luxury Cabins.

Affordable to more luxurious stay options are available, some with stay-in breakfast options – and all with added amenities like Wi-Fi to upload memories to the cloud. There’s an incredible beauty to be found within Columbia River Gorge. Like most places along the West Coast, hiking trails are everywhere.

See Related: Rental Cars That You Can Take Out of State

10. Oregon: Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach in Oregon

Cannon Beach is under 90 miles from Portland and the perfect small town famous mainly for its breweries and restaurants – but with plenty more to see while visitors pass through.

If you want to spend time outdoors, Cannon Beach is an ideal place to go, as one of the most distinct rocky beaches in the US. Wait for low tide to glimpse the natural beauty at its best.

Make sure that you stop to see Haystack Rock, one of the best natural attractions in Cannon Beach. Remember to take pictures; it’s so striking that you won’t want to forget it!

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11. California/Oregon: Voodoo Doughnuts

Voodoo Doughnuts

Once you pass into California or Oregon, you’ve got to stop at Voodoo Doughnuts. Forget all the hype you’ve heard about various other doughnut places – this is where it’s really at.

It’s worth the stop, and anyone who has ever been there can confirm it *Editor speaking can confirm*. They make some of the best doughnuts around *Editor speaking, get the Maple Bacon Bar!*

You’ll likely see Voodoo Doughnuts in several places as you drive through the West Coast. Voodoo Doughnuts opens later, from 11 am, and can be found in Portland, Eugene, Milwaukie in Oregon, or Hollywood in California (their California location is at 100 Universal City Plaza), made fresh daily, with more options than you can imagine until you’ve seen it.

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12. California: Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular parks of its kind in the country. It receives millions of visitors annually and is so popular that you can even view certain sections of Yosemite via webcam online!

Cool right? Not cool enough? Yosemite is so famous it has its own Instagram (@yosemitenps). You’ll want to see it for yourself! While Yosemite is right on a volcanic range, it is no longer considered active today – and again, totally safe for visitors and tourists.

Waterfalls, cliffs, simple to advanced hiking trails, and restaurants comprise a section of the 1,200-square-mile stretch. It’s impossible to describe everything Yosemite is about here, but it’s incredible.

See Related: National Parks to Visit in November

13. California: Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park is named for its most famous inhabitants; the largest, tallest, and heaviest redwood trees on Earth. The park is a protected area on the northern side of California – although it feels like its own world once you’re inside.

Hiking is the most popular thing people come to do here, but even if you are not the most avid hiker, you will still enjoy staying over. Accommodations and restaurants are available within the park – and there’s no need to hike if you don’t want to. If you love nature, Redwood National Park is as good as heaven.

See Related: Free California Travel Guide

14. California: Disneyland

Walt and Mickey Statue in Disneyland California

The original Disneyland Resort was opened in 1955, and the most famous location is in Anaheim, California. Forget everything you think you know about Disney and its resorts. The brand isn’t just for kids anymore; they’ve also spent much time accommodating adults.

If you are OK with everything on a Disney theme, even adults will have a great time at the resort. Restaurants and tourist attractions are the big draws, but it’s also a great place to stay once you’re in Southern California. Different deals and packages are available depending on your budget and how long you want to visit.

See Related: Best Things to Do in East Bay

15. California: See the Hollywood Sign

The Hollywood Sign

The Hollywood sign is an iconic California landmark. How many songs and movies can you think of that mention or show the Hollywood sign? If you’re going past California, you have to see it.

It was first established in 1923, officially located on Mount Lee. It’s a protected area, so regulations don’t allow people to walk right up to the sign, as you might think. The sign is owned by the City of Los Angeles – and is under 24-hour protected watch to prevent vandalism.

Want to see the Hollywood sign from a close-up? Visit Griffith Park and take one of their hiking trails. It brings you to the best possible view, and you can get an appropriate selfie with the Hollywood sign in the background.

There are different points of view other than Griffith Park, though they can’t get you quite as close to the sign as most would like. Visit the official website for the Hollywood Sign for more information about where and how to see it best.

See Related: Northern California vs. Southern California

16. Nevada: See Highway 50

Highway 50 in Nevada

Route 50 is called The Loneliest Road in America, a term coined by Life Magazine and later used by Nevada State as a marketing slogan.

If a long and tranquil drive on the open road is the perfect idea to get from one place to the next, consider a drive on the iconic Route 50. The route begins in California but stretches through Nevada if you want to plan your trip according to this.

All roadside attractions, smaller motels, larger resorts, and food stops can be found along Route 50. It’s not just an empty road but a must-drive!

See Related: Best Things to Do in Primm, Nevada

17. California: Visit Cambria

Cambria Winery, Santa Maria, California

If you think Cambria is just a default Microsoft Windows font, think again! Here’s a town you should add to your list of stops along the West Coast. Cambria is located in San Luis Obispo County, California. It’s rated as one of the most affordable places to live and a fantastic city to visit.

If you make your way through the West Coast, Cambria is a great place to stop and stay for a rest. What’s there to do in Cambria? Book your stay at the Creekside Inn, Blue Dolphin Inn, or Cambria Beach Lodge. There are many other options depending on your location and budget. Remember to book your stay ahead of time for a possible discount.

From there, you can visit some of the top restaurants in Cambria. There’s something for everyone’s tastes, with its restaurants including traditional cafes, pie eateries, oyster bars, and corner bakeries.

It’s worth staying in Cambria to experience all the food there is! Foodies will be as happy as they can be. There’s even a famous wine cellar in town: Madeline’s Restaurant & Wine Cellar.

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18. California: Big Sur

Big Sur, California

Big Sur isn’t just a version of Linux or a lame indie song, but a mountainous stretch of town in California alongside its West Coast. Big Sur is one of the best romantic getaways in the United States, but that’s not all the place is known for. According to National Geographic Traveler, it’s also reportedly one of the best places in the United States to play hooky – if you’re into that.

Resorts like the Big Sur Lodge and Ventana Big Sur make staying a luxury. Affordable accommodation options are also available if you have a tighter budget or timeframe. Restaurants are located all around, and you should be able to find at least a handful of places nearby, no matter which hotel you choose.

While you’re going through Big Sur, be sure to make time so that you can visit the beaches. Pfeiffer Beach and Garrapata State Beach are two-mile stretches along Big Sur, and these beautiful beaches are part of what puts the place on the map.

The beaches are quiet throughout the day, though they have peak busy times during weekends. Weather is moderate but can get into extremes for both hot and cold. It’s an excellent idea to check the weather report first, especially if you plan an outing on the beach. Excellent restaurants are located in and around the area for a bite.

See Related: Day Trips from San Francisco

19. Utah: See Angels Landing

Angels Landing in Zion National Park

Angels Landing is a natural rock formation in Zion National Park, Utah. Traveling through the West Coast, it’s one of the places you might just have driven through – but don’t forget that it’s an excellent place to stop first!

Advanced hikers should add this to their list of things to see. If you want the adrenaline rush of hiking one of the harshest, most challenging trails in the US, Angels Landing is at the top.

Conditions are harsh and potentially hazardous: it’s not for the faint of heart or beginners. Not an advanced hiker? Afraid of the term advanced hiking? Much easier hiking trails are available throughout the larger Zion National Park – just not this one.

Worry not: there’s more to see just a stone’s throw away from Angels Landing. Have you heard of The Four Corners National Monument in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico? The Four Corners National Monument brings together the areas of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico at one point.

As a geographical occurrence, this is pretty rare – and some would even say that there is a certain magic associated with standing at the very spot where four states meet. Try an epic game of Twister; right-hand Utah, left-food Arizona.

Four Corners is located in the Southwestern US, and it’s not all that much of a detour to see it from any side of the West Coast as part of your trip. If you lack directions, remember to take a map or follow your GPS to find your way around. Getting lost isn’t a fantastic mid-vacation idea!

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20. Arizona: The Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park

Almost everyone on Earth has heard of the Grand Canyon, but you can’t understand how marvelous it is until you’ve seen it yourself. It’s just off the West Coast; you’ll find it a significant detour while driving through.

Is it worth stopping if you must break your original road-trip plan a little? Most people would say yes. The Grand Canyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a national natural treasure…and somehow, this accolade and testimonials still don’t do it justice.

Just like the Hollywood sign, the Grand Canyon has been a famous sight in hundreds if not thousands of movies. The Grand Canyon National Park is the portal to find suitable hiking trails, tourist destinations, and a list of restaurants and attractions. Book a guide, and be one of the 5.5 million visitors to the most famous canyon range in the world.

Please keep in mind that the state of Arizona is hot. Check your car’s air-conditioning before you even show up, and remember your sunscreen. Check out our complete Grand Canyon Packing checklist to help you prepare for your trip.

See Related: Do Hotels Take Cash?

21. Nevada: Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park

First, forget everything you might know about the great state of Nevada. It’s not about gambling and betting against the house once you’re here. There’s a lot of great nature to see in the same place!

Frequent hikers will love the Great Basin National Park. Lazy hikers will happen to love the park just as much, with a total of 77,000 acres – and excellent accommodation if you’d like to stay in one of the most laid-back places on Earth.

The Great Basin has some incredible trails and the tallest mountain peaks. Now, trails aren’t the only thing you can do here. Small restaurants and accommodation are all available and can be booked through the official website.

See Related: Vegas vs. Phoenix

22. Nevada: Sand Mountain

Sand Mountain (Nevada)

Sand Mountain is one of the world’s most famous natural dunes in Nevada. You’ll find Sand Mountain about 25 miles from Fallon, a smaller Nevada town, while driving along Route 50.

It’s an incredible phenomenon to behold and stretches more than 600 feet. Hiking trails are available, and with a guide, you can make it through the entire stretch. If you are not an advanced hiker or want to take in the sights with a slow walk instead, alternate shorter hiking trails can also be arranged.

Expect the potential for heat while you’re here. Prepare accordingly and ensure you’ve checked the weather for the day. There’s nothing else like it anywhere in the world.

See Related: Fabulous Day Trips from Las Vegas

23. Nevada: The Las Vegas Strip

Las Vegas Strip

Welcome to Vegas, baby! The Las Vegas Strip is the perfect destination to close any West Coast trip with excellent memories – and while you’re there, see a show or two. If you didn’t know, most casinos, resorts, and entertainment venues are on the Strip.

Restaurants, clubs, and other venues are also found along this route. Accommodation can be expensive at big-name resorts, but cheaper options are everywhere, make sure you use Booking.com to find the best possible price for accommodation. When you see the bright lights of Vegas, it’s the Strip you’re looking at.

Entertainment suits everyone, from family-friendly shows to hard rock or jazz. There’s no lack of fine food and drink, either. Street food and sit-down restaurants are littered throughout and around the entire Strip.

If you want to lower costs, booking your stay at a hotel slightly outside of the famous Las Vegas Strip area is recommended. You’ll save on accommodation with a short drive inward.

The official website for Las Vegas has a complete list of everything to do and a quicker way to make online bookings or find your way around town. You may want to rent a car in Las Vegas to explore the great national parks in the area.

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What to Expect When Visiting the West Coast

Roller Coaster in Disneyland Resort, California

Picturesque and long stretches of highway aren’t all you can expect from the West Coast. If outdoor fun is your bag, gorgeous beaches, state parks, mountains, and forests are also there to explore on the same route.

Travel and accommodation can be expensive if you show up unprepared. Book ahead to save time and money, and take some time to plan your stops. You are eligible for a discount or special deal if you book early from most places.

If planning a West Coast road trip, travel can be kept within your budget with the best car rental companies. Choose a car with air-conditioning and comfortable seating since some areas of the West Coast can be scorching during some times of the year.

The West Coast has enough to keep you busy for weeks. No kidding! We’ll show you some of the best, most popular attractions on the United States West Coast.

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Types of Places to Visit on the West Coast

Pacific Coast Highway

The West Coast has everything, and that’s not an understatement! You can easily have one of the best West Coast vacations with a well-planned trip and a few days’ worth of time.

Nature lovers: The West Coast has many beautiful beaches, state parks, and national parks listed in this article, and every kind of climate is found on Earth. You can find fantastic nautical creatures such as sea lions and embark on whale-watching tours in the Pacific Ocean!

Adrenaline junkies: advanced hiking and adventure trails can be found throughout the entire West Coast if you want to work up a sweat. If you want more, there are ample opportunities for high-octane action, such as rock climbing the Sierra Nevada Mountains or surfing on Venice Beach as part of your vacation!

Foodies: some of the best-rated restaurants in the United States can be found on the West Coast and Pacific Northwest. It’s also rife with wonderful independent coffee shops, and, speaking of drinks; it’s home to Napa Valley!

Tourist trappers: you’re in heaven! Shall I go to the Los Angeles County Museum, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hollywood Walk, San Diego Zoo, Beverly Hills, the Third Street Promenade, and Griffith Observatory Los Angeles?

If you’re a blogger or writer (like us), you’ll find more than enough to write about – and remember to take as many pictures as you can to save for later!

See Related: Best Herschel Travel Bags

Things to Remember for Your Trip

Never been to the West Coast or Pacific Northwest before? Here are several travel tips to remember for your trip to the West Coast, USA:

1. Sunscreen

Woman applying Sunscreen

Protection against UV and the sun isn’t a myth but a reality. Certain parts of the West Coast section can get extremely hot at certain times of year – and especially Death Valley is so hot that even locals aren’t used to it for the whole year.

Heat is dangerous, and I mean it when I say you need SPF 50. Remember that sunscreen, glasses, and a hat at the very least. You’ll thank this guide when you’re there!

See Related: Best Travel Size Cologne

2. Early Booking Deals

Booking.com homepage

Okay, this isn’t an item you can pack – but it’s something you can prepare for when planning your trip to the West Coast. Book your stay ahead, and you are likely to get a discount for doing it.

Hotels, motels, and resorts like it when people book ahead. In return, there are discounts and special deals. It’s a win-win situation if you plan your trip right.

See Related: Best Camper Accessories

3. Powerbanks

White Power Bank

If you plan a trip anywhere, ensure you can prepare for anything that might happen on the road. Charge your devices – and keep them charged by packing at least one or two good power banks for the road. (Again, you can thank this guide for it later!)

FAQs

Where should I stop on a West Coast road trip?

A West Coast road trip is a journey that covers the scenic Pacific coastline of the United States. This popular route spans over 1,000 miles and passes through California, Oregon, and Washington. Highly recommended destinations include San Francisco, Big Sur, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Seattle, and Olympic National Park.

What is the West Coast known for?

The West Coast of the United States is known for its diverse landscapes, ranging from sun-kissed beaches and verdant vineyards to towering mountains and vibrant urban areas. This region is also recognized for its cultural hotspots like Hollywood and Silicon Valley and its unique cuisines, such as fresh seafood and farm-to-table dishes.

What are the best places to visit on the West Coast?

Top destinations on the West Coast include Los Angeles, with its iconic Hollywood scene and beautiful beaches, and San Francisco, famous for the Golden Gate Bridge and its historic cable cars.

Don’t miss out on natural wonders like the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Yosemite National Park in California, or the scenic Oregon Coast. Each offers a distinct experience, highlighting the West Coast’s charm and versatility.

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Kyle Kroeger
WRITTEN BY

Kyle Kroeger

Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He's a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he'd heard.

Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he's learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.

He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time. Read more about his portfolio of work.

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