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, and Utah, or even Alaska and Hawaii! Well, it’s not like the Midwest is actually in the mid-west (for all you non-Americans, it’s kind of mid-mid).
The West Coast is a popular road trip destination that receives several million visitors per year according to official statistics. The Pacific Coast Highway alone accounts for thousands of those seeking the true West Coast road trip.
Thanks to the great restaurants, gorgeous hiking trails, and beautiful nature trails, it’s one of those places you have to see in your lifetime. Where else can you drive from a candy factory straight to a mountain range?
There’s absolutely no lack of things to do on the West Coast of the USA;
- Gigs? Covered. Outdoor activities? Yepper.
- Restaurants? Right there.
- Hiking trails? Several.
- Forests? Tons.
- Famous attractions? Buckets.
- Rolling hills? Even those.
- Dramatic landscapes? You betcha. Iconic national parks? Naturally.
- Alpine lakes? Uh-huh. Stunning coastline? Heck yeah, it’s the West Coast!
Accommodation can be surprisingly affordable, and travel can be kept within a moderate budget with the right 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 West Coast of the United States.
An Introduction to the West Coast
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 in advance. If you book early from most places, you are eligible for a discount or special deal.
If you are 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 extremely hot 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. Use this article guide to plan your trip and book your accommodation.
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Even MORE About the West Coast
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 couple of days’ worth of time.
Nature lovers: the West Coast has plenty of beautiful beaches, state parks, and national parks listed in this article, and every kind of climate is found on Earth. You can find wonderful 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 then 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 entire United States can be found right 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! the Los Angeles County Museum, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hollywood Walk, San Diego Zoo, Beverly Hills, the Third Street Promenade, Griffith Observatory Los Angeles – shall I go on?
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!
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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:
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, as well as glasses, and a hat at the very least. You’ll thank this guide when you’re there!
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2. Early Booking Deals
Okay, this isn’t an item you can pack – but it’s something that you can prepare for when you plan 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, but only if you plan your trip right.
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If you plan a trip anywhere, make sure that 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!)
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The Best Places to Visit on the West Coast
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 located in Anaheim, California – and it’s literally 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 of the stops you can visit.
Here’s our list of the top things to do on the West Coast of the United States.
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1. Washington: Aplets and Cotlets Candy Kitchen
Aplets and Cotlets is one of the most famous candy factories in the entire United States. Founded by Armen Tertsagian and Mark Balaban, they are especially known for their different varieties of Turkish Delight – made with only real ingredients for the best flavor.
The factory is located right 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.
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2. Washington: 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 entire United States, and always worth a visit even if you’re only passing through. The Cathedral-like shape of the mountain is what makes it easy to recognize even from a fair distance.
It’s more than something to look at: there’s actually 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 connects Skagit Bay with the Strait of San Juan de Fuca and stretches over more than 4, 134 acres to explore. Deception Pass State Park is located in Washington, it is 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 from 8 am in the morning and can get pretty busy as the day goes on.
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4. Washington: Space Needle Seattle
The Space Needle is something that’s undeniably Seattle, and worth a look if you’re close enough to make the 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 goes up more than 605 feet and gives only a full 360 view of the entire town. It opens up later, from 10 am.
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5. Washington: 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 start of the Hoh Rainforest is at 18113 Upper Hoh Road in Forks.
Rainfall is estimated at approximately 140 inches per year. It’s a rainforest, so that’s exactly what you can expect! But remember to pack for it, since many people don’t.
It’s famous for its hiking trails, which range 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 basic medications in case of any discomfort. It’s open 24 hours and all year.
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6. Washington: Mt Rainier
Mount Rainier is a famous stratovolcano located in Washington, about 59 miles away 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.
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7. Washington: Hike Mt St Helens
Mount St Helens is another active stratovolcano in Washington, and its last eruption was far more recent than the last entry on this list. Back 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 after Mount Rainier, and you can also find appropriate hiking and walking trails along this route, as well as the St Helens National Volcanic Monument.
Even though temperatures are moderate, always check the weather forecast before you plan to head out.
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8. Washington: Visit Port Townsend
Port Townsend is a small Victorian-style town located in Jefferson County, Washington. it’s just about 2 hours away from Seattle if you would like to fit this stop into your drive.
What’s in Port Townsend? Great restaurants and live music venues are just two great things about Port Townsend. Bakeries and smaller food stops can also be found with a drive along the main route.
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 is located at the Hood River in Oregon and opens up to the public at 8 am. A lot of accommodation options are available, including 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 included 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.
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10. Oregon: Cannon Beach
Cannon Beach is under 90 miles away from Portland, and the perfect small town that’s famous especially for its breweries and restaurants – but with plenty of more things to see while visitors are passing 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 if you want to catch a glimpse of 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
Once you pass into California or Oregon, you’ve absolutely 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 totally 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’re likely to 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 is one of the most popular parks of its kind in the country. It receives millions of visitors per year, and it’s so popular, that you can even view certain sections of Yosemite via webcam on the internet!
Cool right? Not cool enough? Yosemite is so popular 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 make up a section of the 1,200-square-mile stretch. It’s impossible to describe everything Yosemite is about right here, but it’s truly an incredible thing to see.
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13. California: Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park is named for its most famous inhabitants; the largest, tallest, and heaviest redwood trees on Earth. The park itself is a protected area, located 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 itself.
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14. California: Disneyland
The original Disneyland Resort was opened in 1955, and the most famous location is located right in California. Anaheim, to be a little more specific.
Forget everything you think you know about Disney and its resorts. The brand isn’t just for kids anymore; they’ve put a lot of time into accommodating adults, too.
If you are fine 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 just a perfectly great place to stay once you’re there. Different deals and packages are available depending on your budget and how long you would like to stay.
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15. California: See 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 absolutely 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 right to the best possible view, and you can even 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.
16. Nevada: See Highway 50
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 all the way through Nevada if you want to plan your trip according to this.
All sorts of roadside attractions, smaller motels, larger resorts, and food stops can be found all along Route 50. It’s not just an empty road, but a must-drive!
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17. California: Visit Cambria
If you think that 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 wonderful 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 it to stay in Cambria just to experience all the food there is to offer! 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 isn’t just a version of Linux or a lame indie song, but a mountainous stretch of town located in California alongside its West Coast.
Big Sur has been rated as the Best Romantic Getaway 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 States to play Hookie – well 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 happen to have a tighter budget or timeframe.
Restaurants are located all around, and you should be able to find at least a handful of places close by 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 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’re planning an outing on the beach. Excellent restaurants are located in and around the area for a bite.
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19. Utah: See Angels Landing
Angels Landing is a natural rock formation that’s technically located within 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 a good 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, hardest trails in the US, Angels Landing is right at the very top of the list.
Conditions are harsh and with the potential to be hazardous: it’s not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for 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. Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico; heard of The Four Corners National Monument?
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.
the amazing sight has reopened to visitors for 2021 – and it makes the perfect stop for road-trippers. 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 aren’t great at directions, remember to take a map or follow your GPS to find your way around. Getting lost isn’t a great mid-vacation idea!
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20. Arizona: The Grand Canyon
Almost everyone on Earth has heard of the Grand Canyon, but you can’t understand how majestic the real thing is until you’ve seen it for yourself. It’s just off the West Coast, and you’ll find it as an incredible detour while you’re driving through.
Is it worth stopping if you have to break your original road-trip plan a little? Most people would say yes. The Grand Canyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a natural national treasure…and somehow this accolade and testimonials still don’t do it justice.
Just like the Hollywood sign, the Grand Canyon has been a popular sight in hundreds if not thousands of movies. The Grand Canyon National Park is the portal to find the right hiking trails, tourist destinations, and a list of restaurants and attractions in the area. 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 full Grand Canyon Packing checklist to help you prepare for your trip.
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21. Nevada: Great Basin National Park
First, forget everything you might know about the great state of Nevada. It’s not all about gambling and betting against the house once you’re here. There’s a lot of great nature to see in the very 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 great accommodation if you’d like to stay in one of the most laid-back places on earth.
Some of the greatest trails and tallest mountain peaks are right in the Great Basin.
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.
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22. Nevada: Sand Mountain
Sand Mountain is one of the world’s most famous natural sand dunes, located right in Nevada. You’ll find Sand Mountain about 25 miles from Fallon, smaller-town Nevada 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 make sure that you’ve checked the weather for the day. There’s nothing else like it anywhere in the world.
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23. Nevada: The 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, the Strip is where the majority of casinos, resorts, and entertainment venues are located.
Restaurants, clubs, and other venues are also found along this route. Accommodation can be expensive at your big-name resorts, but cheaper options are everywhere. 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, it’s recommended that you book your stay at a hotel slightly outside of the famous Vegas Strip area. You’ll save on accommodation with a short drive inward.
The official website for Las Vegas has a more complete list of everything there is 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 go explore the great national parks in the area.