Getting there is half the fun, and that’s why road trips are the most-fun and most-versatile summer vacations you can take. Since you can stop when and where you want, your trip can be full of a bunch of mini vacations on your way to your final destination (what ever happened to Devon Sawa, he was dreamy…). The west coast has some of the most scenic routes leading to some awesome destinations, so pick a place, grab your friends and hit the road.
Here are the most scenic road trips you can take along the west coast:
Big Sur, CA
Big Sur is not actually a city but a region of the Central Coast of California where the Saint Lucia Mountains meet the Pacific Ocean. It is, unofficially, the 90 miles of coastline from the Carmel River in Monterey County to the San Carpoforo Creek in San Luis Obispo County. Big Sur is located approximately 245 miles north of Los Angeles and this beautiful and sparsely populated region is an awesome road-trip destination. Make your way up (or down––San Francisco is 120 miles north) the coast on the Pacific Coast Highway (the 1), one of the most scenic highway routes in the country. Since it is a relatively short drive from both Los Angeles and the San Francisco area, this is the perfect weekend road-trip destination for hiking, dining, exploring the beaches and tide pools, and, if you have time, a quick drive will take you to Monterey where you can check out the famous and state-of-the-art Monterey Bay Aquarium. Really. Go see the otters. They hold hands, guys. Lodging in the Big Sur area can get a bit pricey, so if you are road tripping on a budget, there are a number of easily accessed and reasonably priced campsites throughout the region.
This city in Santa Barbara County is best described as “Denmark meets Central California Coast.” And who doesn’t love a little sand in their wooden shoes? Solvang was founded in 1911 by a group of Danes who were looking to move west from the Midwest (no one likes Minesota in the winter). The city’s architecture reflects Danish style and there are many Danish restaurants, bakeries and merchants. There is even a replica of Copenhagen’s Round Tower at one-third scale in the town center. Nearby is one of the California State Missions, Mission Santa Ines. If a road-trip/wine-tasting adventure appeals to you, then a journey to Solvang will be right up your alley. Stop just about anywhere in the Santa Ynez Valley and the Santa Barbara area, and you will be a stone’s throw from some of the state’s best vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms. Solvang is only about a two-hour drive up the coast from Los Angeles, but the beautiful scenery will make you want to slow down and enjoy the ride.
British Columbia, Canada
British Columbia is a province in Canada located on the west coast, just above the state of Washington. Grab your passport and hit the road to the home of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Glacier National Park and Pacific Rim National Park. The scenic route up from California, through Oregon and Washington, will take roadtrippers through many beautiful seaside destinations, including Big Sur and Solvang. This is definitely not a quick weekend road-trip destination. The nearly 1,500 miles between Los Angeles and British Columbia should be explored leisurely. And the sheer size of British Columbia itself definitely calls for multiple days of exploring. Plus you can’t show up to Canada cranky––they won’t let you in.
Joshua Tree National Park, CA
This National Park is not technically along the west coast; however, it is still one of the coolest road-trip destinations this side of the Mason Dixon (unless you are currently on the otherside). Located in southeastern California, Joshua Tree National Park is named for its Joshua Trees (aka Yucca). The park is a massive 1,235 square miles, which is bigger than the whole state of Rhode Island (although, what isn’t bigger than Rhode Island?). The ecosystem is made up of parts of two different deserts: the Mojave and the Colorado. Joshua Tree has a reputation of being a hippy destination, but visitors will enjoy it with or without the peyote. If you want a real California-desert camping experience, there really is no where else like this National Park. There is a large variety plants and animals that make their home here and the clear sky and lack of light pollution makes it a prime spot for stargazing. There are no restaurants or lodging in the park, but there are nine different campgrounds to choose from. The journey to Joshua Tree can be just as scenic as the park itself. And the drive down from the Los Angeles area will take you through the desert via the Interstate 10. You can make stops in Riverside, Palm Springs or visit the nearby Salton Sea that is just south of the park.