Looking for the best places to visit on the West Coast of the mainland USA? The American West Coast has some of the best scenic spots, beaches, and cities in the country. Explore the best things to do and epic road trip stops in the states of California, Oregon, and Washington in this West Coast travel guide. You may also like our post on 33 Bucket-list worthy destinations in the USA.
The West Coast of the USA is one of our favorite regions to visit in the country! It was more than a decade ago that we went on our first road trip ever in the American Southwest and on the West Coast. It was also our honeymoon and we had the best time of our lives.
We walked hand in hand in Las Vegas, saw the majestic Grand Canyon, became star-struck in Los Angeles, enjoyed the beaches in Malibu, and biked the Golden Gate Bridge together in San Francisco. Then we went on a most romantic train journey on the California Zephyr. We saw the fog covered beaches of the San Pablo Bay near Emeryville and the snowy Sierra Nevadas before crossing the border into Nevada. We will always remember our first trip to the West Coast with a lot of fondness.
Since then we have been to the region several times: we have seen Disney, Big Sur, and the north Californian coast and most recently, we have road-tripped Oregon. The West Coast continues to remain one of our beloved travel destinations and we even hope to retire there one day.
The West Coast comprises the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. Technically, even Alaska is on the West Coast if you consider the entire country – but we won’t go there for now! The West Coast has many striking destinations along the Pacific Ocean and also further inland. You will find a geologically diverse area of sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, snow-capped mountains, and unique desert environments.
Also Read: Portland to San Francisco Road Trip Itinerary
You will also find culturally rich cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland. You will find a variety of entertainment options for the whole family including museums, zoos, parks, and gardens. You will also find plenty of outdoor activities including hiking, biking, skiing, surfing, and fishing. In short, the West Coast is your ultimate dream destination!
Here are some of our favorite places to visit along the West Coast:
Best Places to Visit on the West Coast
San Francisco, California
San Francisco is our top pick for the best places to visit on the West Coast. We’ve been to the city multiple times, I lived in the Bay area for 6 months, and we even have many family & friends living in the area. The city is famous for its iconic orange-red Golden Gate Bridge which might as well be the symbol for the West Coast.
Fisherman’s Wharf is where the hub is, in San Francisco. This is where you will find San Francisco’s famed sea lions sunning themselves on the dock. There are many restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf; you must try the sourdough bowl clam chowder soup at Boudin’s Bakery and the Irish Coffee at Cafe Buena Vista. Fisherman’s Wharf is where the bay cruises and Alcatraz tours start and this is where families come to have a gala time in the evenings.
To explore more of San Francisco, walk down the crooked Lombard Street and explore the architecture and alleys of Chinatown. Take a cable car ride down Russian Hill and see the city views from Coit Tower. Eat the gigantic Mission-style burrito in a taqueria in the Mission District. Walk down the streets of Haight Ashbury and see the beautiful Victorians on Postcard Row – there is so much to do, that even a week in San Francisco won’t be enough to experience this beautiful city!
Best Place to Stay: Hotel Zephyr near Fisherman’s Wharf for its scenic views and modern vibe.
Big Sur, California
Big Sur is said to be one of the most beautiful places on the West Coast. Big Sur comprises 90 miles of the Central California Coast and is a destination in itself. In Big Sur, the Santa Lucia mountains directly meet with the Pacific Ocean creating a scenic landscape of rugged hills, rocky coastline, and hidden beaches and coves. The Pacific Coast Highway or SR1 parallels the coast and visitors are treated to stunning views.
Big Sur’s natural attractions include Pfeiffer Beach with its sea stacks and Keyhole Rock, the tidal McWay Falls, wildlife of Point Lobos, majestic coastal redwood trees near Big Sur Village, and the views at Ragged Point. Big Sur’s Bixby Creek Bridge is beautiful and one of the most photogenic places in the region.
Another favorite place to visit in Big Sur is the Point Sur Lighthouse. This historic lighthouse is beautiful and open for guided tours throughout the year. Besides the attractions, Big Sur also has many state parks and national lands that are perfect for camping and hiking. Big Sur is also where you can watch sea otters, grey whales, elephant seals, deer, migratory birds, and other marine life.
Where to stay: Ragged Point Inn & Resort for its stunning location on top of a 300-foot cliff.
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles is not just a city, it’s a lifestyle! Home to the film industry, the city is a magnet for movie buffs. Most famous studios like Warner Brothers, Paramount Pictures, and Sony are located in the city and you can visit them on a detailed behind the scenes tour. The TCL Chinese Theatre and the Dolby Theatre which hosts the Oscars are also a must-visit. Walk along the Hollywood Walk of Fame and try to find the stars of your favorite movie stars. See the Hollywood sign and take a tour of the Celebrity Tours in Beverly Hills.
Los Angeles is also famous for its museums. Most of these are located adjacent to each other at the Museum Row on the Miracle Mile. For art lovers, a visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Edward Cella Gallery, and Broad are the top places to go. Natural history lovers should visit the Page Museum and La Brea Tar Pits. The Petersen Automotive Museum is great for automobile fans. Spend some time at the Museum Square when you are done checking the museums.
One of our favorite places to see in Los Angeles is the Griffith Observatory. Located in Griffith Park, the observatory is a beautiful building and a popular filming locale. The view of the city from the observatory’s outdoor courtyard is stunning. Griffith Observatory is equally fun inside. You can see interesting exhibits like the Foucault pendulum, a refracting telescope, and Tesla Coil. Los Angeles is a haven for food lovers. You can dine at award-winning restaurants and eat a variety of cuisines.
Best Place to Stay: The Hollywood Roosevelt, for its celebrity suites and famous guests.
There’s a reason Seattle, Washington’s nickname is the Emerald City. It’s a truly magical place in many ways. The most famous tourist attraction in Seattle is probably the Pike Place Market. Only local businesses are allowed to operate in this market, so it’s the perfect place to go if you want to try local delicacies or buy jewelry and crafts from Seattle-based artists. Be sure to get some chocolate covered cherries at Chukar Cherries and try the award-winning clam chowder at Pike Place Chowder.
Seattle is also home to many wonderful museums, and many of them aren’t even art museums. At The Museum of Flight, you can explore famous rocket ships and airplanes. You can even step onboard President Eisenhower’s Air Force One.
The Seattle Center is home to many of Seattle’s most famous attractions, so be sure to spend an entire day here. Start by seeing music instruments that belonged to Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and other legendary Seattle musicians at The Museum of Pop Culture. You can also see various film exhibits including costumes, scripts, lyrics, and props at the museum.
Then explore breathtaking glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly at Chihuly Garden and Glass. The audio guide at Chihuly Garden and Glass was even recorded by Washington native Kyle MacLachlan. Finally, head up to the top of the iconic symbol of Seattle: the Space Needle. There’s no better place to find spectacular views of the Seattle skyline along with Mt. Rainier, Cascade Mountains, and Puget Sound.
Best Place to Stay – Best Western Pioneer Square, for budget prices and location in Historic Pioneer Square
Stella Jane of Around the World in 24 Hours
San Diego, California
A trip to the West Coast should absolutely include a stop in San Diego. Known for its beaches and its world-famous zoo, San Diego offers something for every type of vacation. Girls’ trip? Romantic getaway? Family vacation? San Diego has it all.
The beach is one of the biggest draws for a San Diego vacation, but there’s a lot more to do on the water than swim. There are multiple places to rent paddleboards, get surf lessons or even take a guided kayak tour of the coves. If it’s not quite beach weather, a trip to the tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument is fun for all ages and you’ll find a little history thrown in. For families with kids, the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are a huge hit, and Legoland is less than an hour away from San Diego.
Balboa Park – one of the largest urban parks in the country – has everything from museums to theatres to restaurants to hiking trails. Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, is a super family-friendly ballpark with a mini-diamond where kids can play and an actual ‘park at the park’.
Couples on a romantic holiday will love watching the sunset over the ocean at happy hour from a rooftop bar or relaxing at a luxury hotel and spa. For girls’ trips, bachelor parties and the like, the nightlife in San Diego’s Gaslamp district is a non-stop party! With options for every budget and some of the mildest weather in the country, San Diego is a bucket list destination.
Best Place to Stay – Loews Coronado Bay Resort, for a luxury vacation with a view of the skyline
Julie of Family Travel Lifestyle
Portland, Oregon is a must-visit place on the west coast. The city is known for craft beer, good food, and delicious coffee. It is also home to lots of nature and beautiful scenery. The city is known for its hipster vibe and is very popular with millennials.
When visiting Portland, it is a necessity to visit Powell’s City of Books, the world’s largest independent bookstore. You actually need a map to explore this enormous bookstore – and is a city landmark. Other popular things to do in Portland include Pittock Mansion, Oregon Zoo, and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
Some of the best outdoor activities in Portland include the Lan Su Chinese Garden – a full city block inspired by the classical gardens in Suzhou – and the International Rose Test Garden, a rose garden with over 10,000 roses. The Portland Japanese Garden is also a beautiful place to visit, especially during the summer and fall.
You’ll never run out of hikes and trails around the area. Some of the best hikes in the country are within an hour of Portland, including those in the Columbia Gorge. You can find craft beer and coffee shops on almost every corner, and food carts throughout the city – you won’t leave Portland hungry or thirsty for sure!
Best Place to stay – Kimpton Hotel Vintage, a boutique hotel in Downtown Portland with gaming lobby and bar
Tarah Vongbouthdy of Fit Two Travel
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
One of the most beautiful places to visit in Oregon is the Columbia River Gorge, a nature preserve on the border of Oregon and Washington. Only 30 mins outside of Portland, you can find an abundance of waterfalls and hikes for all levels and the best part is that they are all free! The best way to see the area is by a road trip along the 75 miles long Historic Columbia River Highway.
One of the most popular waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge is the famous Multnomah Falls. Seeing the powerful waterfall cascade down the side of the mountain is a sight to behold. Visitors can walk up a short trail to Benson Bridge to get up close to the waterfall and also see jaw-dropping vistas below.
A few other waterfalls that are must-see and close to each other are Bridal Veil Falls and Latourell Falls. The Bridal Veil Falls are easily accessible from the Historic Columbia River Highway. A short walk along the creek leads you to a small viewing area that is great to see the falls and to take photos. By the parking area, you can find picnic tables in a pretty setting that is perfect for lunch.
Latourell Falls is made up of the Lower Falls, which are a short walk from the parking lot, and the Upper Falls, which can be accessed by a 30-minute hike from the trailhead. Another great stop along the scenic byway is the Vista House Museum at Crown Point. It has amazing views over the gorge and the building itself has striking architecture.
There are hundreds of waterfalls, hikes, and biking trails that are waiting to be discovered along the Historic Columbia River Highway, however, some roads are closed due to the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, so check the website before you go. If you don’t have a car and still want to explore the waterfalls, then you can take the shuttle bus, Columbia River Gorge Express. Definitely take a day trip to discover all that the Columbia River Gorge has to offer, you won’t be disappointed!
Best Place to Stay – Columbia River Gorge Hotel & Spa in River Hood for its lush location and luxurious amenities
Tiana of Passport of Memories
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Crater Lake National Park is a must-visit destination in Oregon – there’s really nothing else like it. For starters, the lake rests on a volcano! It’s the deepest lake in the United States and filled with intensely bright blue water. The rocky cliffs and old-growth forests that encircle the lake make for an incredibly beautiful setting and plentiful hiking trails.
The best way to see Crater Lake is to complete the 33 mile Rim Drive that surrounds it. You can drive, bike, and even walk if you really want to! If a boat ride is more your style, you can take one to Wizard Island, a cinder cone leftover from a previous eruption. Garfield Peak is a great, albeit strenuous, option for a hike. From the top, you can see amazing views of the lake! If you were hoping for a more leisurely stroll, not to worry – there are 90 miles of trails to choose from. You can even go swimming in the (very cold) water if you dare!
Be aware that it does snow in the park (the above photo was taken in June!) so be sure to check the weather for road closures. Crater Lake is still gorgeous with snow, but July, August, and September are the best months to visit for warmer weather.
Best Place to Stay – Crater Lake Lodge, for its prime location inside Crater Lake National Park
Kelsey of Sights Better Seen
Located three hours north of San Francisco, Mendocino is one of the best places to visit on the West Coast. For anyone planning a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, Mendocino is an ideal first stop on a San Francisco to Seattle road trip.
As a small coastal town, Mendocino boasts access to beautiful beaches, a charming downtown with shopping and restaurants, wineries, breweries, state parks, and outdoor fun. The dramatic cliffs along the shoreline make for spectacular scenery. Hiking along the Mendocino Headlands and Van Damme State Park is a great way to soak up the gorgeous vistas of the cliffs and the Pacific Ocean. It is located just across the street from Glendeven Inn, an adults-only ocean-view farmstead and spa resort that offers romantic bed and breakfast accommodations.
One of the unique features in Mendocino is that there are two rivers that meet the ocean – the Little River and Big River. Biking, paddling, and wading in the river are common activities in this area. Mendocino also has some sea caves that have become a popular kayaking destination. On the guided kayaking tour, guests will encounter seals, sea birds, and learn to navigate a kayak in some tight spaces.
Mendocino is a small city filled with big adventure and unparalleled ocean and river views. A stop in this coastal area is sure to be filled with relaxation, beauty, and entertainment.
Best Place to Stay – Glendeven Inn, for a historic farmhouse vibe.
Margie of DQ Family Travel
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
The West Coast is home to some of the best national parks in the United States. While California hosts a fair share of these, Washington is home to one of the best active volcano national parks: Mount Rainier.
Mount Rainier National Park is one of the best places to visit on the West Coast due to its natural beauty and the great proximity to Seattle. Located just two hours south of the city, visitors are able to enjoy a bustling city experience as well as drive down to Mount Rainier to enjoy the outdoors.
The best way to explore Mount Rainier is by hiking through the forests, river valleys, and alpine meadows that constitute the park. The national park has a variety of hiking trails ranging in difficulty from easy to advanced.
The most popular area to visit is the appropriately named, mile-high valley surrounding the Paradise Visitor Center. Here, visitors can take a stroll around the Nisqually Vista trail that weaves through blooming meadows and dense trees, with Mount Rainier in the backdrop. This trail offers breathtaking views of the national park and can be easily completed by all skill levels in under an hour.
Another great location to visit while in Mount Rainier is Reflection Lakes. After checking out Paradise, drive to the pull off and photograph the iconic view of Mount Rainier reflected in the lakes. You can also hike to a ledge located over the looks for stunning views.
Mount Rainier is an icon for the state of Washington, which makes it one of the best places to visit on the West Coast. For the beautiful photos of blooming wildflowers, make sure to visit the park between June to August.
Best Places to Stay – Gateway Inn for its rustic cabins and wildlife views
Amy Dodd of Oceans to Alpines
The Oregon coast is one of the most scenic areas in the United States, and the jewel of the Oregon coast is the small fishing town of Astoria. Located at the northern border of Oregon, Astoria boasts beautiful coastal scenery, an adorable downtown with great shopping, and plenty of history.
Astoria is well known by movie lovers as the location for the classic 80’s movie “The Goonies”, and visitors head to Astoria to visit the Oregon Film Museum which was prominently featured in the film.
History buffs head to Fort Stevens State Park to view the shipwreck, Peter Iredale. This sailing vessel wrecked on the shores of Astoria in 1906 and has sat there ever since. This huge wreck is one of the best-preserved shipwrecks in the US, and well worth a visit.
Another famous Astoria site that should not be missed is Cannon Beach. Giant boulders and cliffs dot this beautiful beach, and it’s easy to spend several hours walking along the sand taking in the beautiful views. Be sure to get a photo of the famous Haystack Rock, one of the most Instagrammable spots in Oregon!
Best Place to Stay – Atomic Motel, for budget retro rooms
Brittany of The Rolling Pack
Seaside is a small beach town along the Oregon coast. Travelers of all types enjoy the fantastic vibe of Seaside and it is one of the best places to visit on the West Coast on a Highway 101 road trip.
When in Seaside, everyone must take a walk along the beach to find one of the several swing sets set up right in the sand! Racing to the sets and swinging on the beach is different fun altogether. Once you’ve burned off some steam, stop in one of the many seafood restaurants for fresh fish. Continue the walk down nostalgia lane with a stop by the old-fashioned candy shop, Seaside Candyman for candies and saltwater taffy.
Right across from the beach, you will find one of the West Coast’s oldest aquariums. With an old-timey storefront and prime location, the privately-owned Seaside Aquarium is small and quaint. The harbor seals in the front of the aquarium love visitors and you can buy small cups of fish to feed the captivating creatures. Inside the aquarium, there’s a fun touch tank for all ages and several exhibits of underwater creatures.
Just 10 minutes outside Seaside’s downtown is Ecola State Park, which has several beaches and hiking trails. Cannon Beach is the most popular, with the stunning Haystack Rock breaking up the horizon. If you’re itching to get in the water, there are both kayak and paddleboat rental options to explore the waterways.
Best Place to Stay – Surfsand Resort for its oceanfront views, kids activities, and on-site spa services
Stephanie of Explore More Clean Less
Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara is a coastal city located in Central California. Whether you’re there during a stop on a Pacific Coast Highway trip or you’re in Santa Barbara for a weekend getaway, there’s plenty of ways to pass the time in this gorgeous city.
A can’t-miss place to explore in Santa Barbara is State Street, the main drag cutting through the center of the town. State Street is lined by a number of popular shops and boutiques, farm to table restaurants, and cozy coffee shops. Along its side streets, you can see some of California’s historic Spanish-Colonial architecture, including the beautiful Santa Barbara County Courthouse. Go to the top of the clock tower for views of Santa Barbara going all the way to the ocean.
One of the main things Santa Barbara is known for is its close proximity to wine regions, but you don’t need to head out to the vineyards of Santa Ynez Valley; instead, head to the Urban Wine Trail located a short cab ride away from State Street where you can walk between a number of tasting rooms in a fun setting not far from the beach.
As for that beach, Santa Barbara has an impressive one, with miles of sand and a wooden pier you can walk down. Santa Barbara is all about living the good life and you can, too, during a visit there.
Best Place to Stay: Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort, for some sand and sunshine
Gina of Evergreen & Salt: West Coast Travel
Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic National Park is a West Coast bucket list topper for a reason. Not only is it one of the finest examples of temperate rainforest in the United States, but it’s also home to an abundance of wildlife, alpine highlands, lakeshores, and wild coastlines. From day treks to overnight or multi-day hiking, there is an option for every level of nature enthusiast.
For the more avid hikers, heading into the 7 Lakes Basin via the High Divide Loop Trail brings wildlife and alpine views together into one beautiful 19-mile round-trip adventure with 4,000 feet of elevation. While it’s not for the faint of heart (or feet) is it worth the long and technical journey.
If you prefer an easier hike, head over to the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center for an incredible 1.2-mile loop around the Spruce Nature Trail or combine it with the Hall of Mosses loop Trail to view an amazing old-growth forest.
On a clear day, hikers might be able to view Mt. Olympus – the highest point on the peninsula at 7,980 feet – from Hurricane Ridge. Throughout the park, hikers can keep their eyes peeled for black bears, black-tailed deer, bald eagles, and cougars.
With ample camping grounds, Olympic National Park is an excellent place to be one with nature. Just be prepared for rainfall as the Olympic Peninsula gets an average annual rainfall of 140 inches a year.
Best Place to Stay – Falls Creek Campground, to be close to the spectacular nature
Ashley of Impact Winder
Southern California is one of the most popular destinations on the West Coast. San Diego and Los Angeles get a lot of attention, but Anaheim, California is home to the happiest place on Earth, Disneyland. At Disneyland, kids can meet princesses and favorite cartoon characters and also sit on a variety of rides.
But there are so many things to do in Anaheim besides Disneyland. If you want to spend the day at the water park the Great Wolf Lodge is a great place to have fun. The lazy river, water slides, wave pool, and treehouse can keep you and your little ones busy all day. If you do not plan to stay at the lodge there are day passes available for purchase.
For more adventurous families, Knotts Berry Farms is a fun place to get your adrenaline running with roller coaster rides and their seasonal scary mazes. If you are looking for something unique to do, you can dine with Knights or Pirates and enjoy a show.
For families with younger kids, Adventure City is the perfect place to take your little ones for the day, plus parking is free. The entire park is designed for kids up to 6 to enjoy and is reasonably priced. You can have fun without spending a fortune. Anaheim is the perfect fun destination and has something to offer for everyone in the family.
Best Place to Stay – Holiday Inn Anaheim, close to all the theme parks
Corritta of It’s a Family Thing
You’d be hard-pressed to drive through Oregon and not stop in Bend for a few days. There are SO many things to do in Bend, you’d need a week to scratch the surface. This town is best for adventurers and beer drinkers. And don’t those things just go together so well? Here are just a few of the best things to do in the area.
Start by exploring the Cascade Lakes. This area would take you weeks to “finish” because there are so many hikes to explore, mountains to summit, and lakes to splash in. Broken Top and South Sister are two epic summits to take on and Elk Lake and Lava Lake are two of the coolest lakes to take a SUP board or kayak out on. They rent equipment at both of those lakes if you don’t have your own.
Next, stop at the Deschutes River. This gorgeous river that flows through the town is just too much fun. During the summers you’ll find everyone floating down the river with a beer in hand. There’s plenty of SUP borders too and even a human-made wave to surf. If you want to stay dry or are here in winter, just take a stroll down the trails along the river.
To explore beyond the town, go on an epic day trip. There are tons of things to do around Bend like hiking around Paulina Peak, playing at Proxy falls, or rock climbing at Smith Rock. And don’t forget, the beer in Bend is amazing too. There are so many breweries in Bend, that you can go around touring them for literally an entire month – that’s no joke. There’s even an “Ale Trail” for you to explore and grab a beer after your adventurous day. Bend is a cool spot to spend some time so don’t rush through it!
Best Place to Stay: McMenamins – Old St. Francis School Hotel in downtown Bend because of its cool retro style and incredible pool
Nina and Garrett of Oregon is for Adventure
Morro Bay, California
Morro Bay, a beach town located along California’s Central Coast in San Luis Obispo County, is full of natural, cultural and gastronomic wonders. The town’s name derives from the landscape-dominating Morro Rock, a huge volcanic plug standing on the shore. The rock and a long sand spit form a bay where mammals, birds and a wide variety of plants abound.
On any given visit, it makes sense to take a good look at Morro Rock first. Visitors can reach the base by driving to the end of Coleman Drive. Or, the area can be explored on a guided boat tour, kayak or paddleboard. It is advisable to survey the bay’s water constantly in order to spot otters and sea lions. It is very easy to find them or sometimes hear them before you see them!
Morro Strand Beach offers amenities such as campgrounds, showers, restrooms, picnic tables, and trails. More undeveloped beaches can be found in the nearby state parks. Those who like to hike will enjoy places such as Montaña de Oro State Park, the Elfin Forest, Morro Bay State Park, and Black Hill – another volcanic plug.
More relaxed options include strolling around the waterfront Embarcadero and exploring the Downtown area which is full of murals, boutiques, and cafes. Or you can visit a museum – the city has many including the Natural History Museum, Maritime Museum, and the unique Skateboarding Museum.
If hunger attacks, Morro Bay is known for its many restaurants serving seafood dishes. Delicious options include Dutchman’s Seafood House, Tognazzini’s and The Galley. Taco de Mexico and Thai Bounty are excellent non-seafood restaurants.
Best Place to Stay – Estero Inn, for its waterfront location and coastal views
Ruth of Tanama Tales
One of the best places to visit in the Pacific Northwest is the town of Tillamook. Nestled along the Oregon Coast between Cannon Beach and Newport, it is a fun place for a weekend adventure.
A great way to start a trip to Tillamook is with a tour of the Tillamook Creamery. Visitors can observe cheesemakers from the viewing deck, learn about how the cows are taken care of, and sample different selections. In the Dining Hall, there are all the cheesy delights one can imagine, as well as delectable treats like local huckleberry ice cream.
After touring the factory, exploring the outdoors should be next on the list. A short hike in Munson Creek Falls State Park is a great introduction to the area. The park delights explorers with moss-covered trees, flowers in the spring, and a cascading waterfall.
A perfect follow up to Munson Creek Falls is another Oregon Coast State Park. An afternoon spent at Cape Lookout State Park is super fun. With hiking trails, a sandy beach, and views that stretch for miles, there is something for everyone. In addition, during the migration season, a hike to the tip of the cape can also be a great way to catch a glimpse of grey whales during their journey.
The Oregon Coast is full of amazing places to explore during a visit to the Pacific Northwest. With a stunning coastline, memorable hikes, and fun outings, Tillamook is one that is sure to stand out.
Best Place to Stay – Thyme & Tide Bed and Breakfast, for the romantic ambiance and gorgeous views of the coast
Tiffany of The Stoke Fam
Monterey is a charming coastal town in California blessed with gorgeous weather and lovely beaches. This town has a lot to offer to all kinds of visitors. Its beaches like Lover’s Point, Asilomar, and Del monte attract everyone to their pleasant waters.
Pebble beach is a destination in itself and can be reached by taking an amazing scenic 17-mile drive. This drive takes one through a fairyland with lush forest greenery, majestic cliffs, and unbelievable beaches.
The aquarium in Monterey is internationally renowned. Their jellyfish display cases are especially magical. The kid’s exploration area in this aquarium is cool and kids simply love the huge display with turtles and sharks along with the kelp forest.
Cannery Row is a great place to check out in Monterey. Dennis the Menace Park is a super hit with families. In the lake beside the park, recreation boating is offered to enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
Lover’s Point beach also has a park and marine preserve. The beach is small and secluded, ideal for diving and recreation. Be prepared for chilly weather in Monterey whichever season you visit because of the winds and it is especially cold in winter as expected.
Where to Stay – Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, for its fantastic location on Cannery Row
Priyadarshini Rajendran of Glorious Sunrise
Located just 30 minutes from Seattle, Tacoma is one of the most underrated cities in Washington State. Nicknamed “Grit City,” it’s the perfect mix of Portland hipster and Seattle grunge. In the past decade or so, Tacoma has blossomed into a true destination city. It’s becoming a haven for thrifters with some of the best vintage and second-hand stores in the state.
Some of the best things to do in Tacoma include attending a concert at the Tacoma Dome, hanging out at Point Ruston, seeing the new aquarium at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, and checking out vintage cars at Lemay- America’s Car Museum which also happens to be the largest car museum in North America. Other favorites include cheering on the Tacoma Rainiers baseball team, walking across the Bridge of Glass, and gazing at Chihuly glass at the Museum of Glass.
Tacoma is also home to the world-famous Almond Roca candy factory. They offer lots of free samples and you can buy boxes of their candy at wholesale prices at their factory store. What’s really cool about Tacoma is that they have a free Link Light Rail train that runs through Downtown Tacoma, making it easy as well as affordable to get around.
Best Place to Stay – Hotel Murano, because of its central location
Marcie of Marcie in Mommyland
Pacific City, Oregon
If you’re planning a road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway, be prepared for a detour to Pacific City, Oregon – it will blow your mind. You’ve probably seen pictures or have visited Cannon Beach, but Pacific City is a much mellower, more off the beaten path place with its own giant haystack rock formation just offshore.
Pacific City has a rustic and family-friendly beach vibe with an active fishing community, camping areas, a shaved ice shack, and lots of inexpensive restaurant options. Check out the fish tacos at Ben and Jeff’s Burgers and Tacos, and make sure you try a flight of beer at Pelican Brewery.
It’s busy in the summertime, but this is a place I’d recommend for shoulder seasons and even winter. If you’re interested in learning to surf, this may be the ideal place for you. You can drive, camp, and have fires on the beach year-round, and a big crowd congregates on the beach and patio in front of Pelican Brewery to watch the sunset.
The community is right next to one of the biggest vertical dunes you may ever see in real life. It’s a challenging hike to the top of Cape Kiwanda’s 200 foot high dunes, but the panoramic views are worth it. You may get lucky and see whales spouting on the other side. Don’t mistake the out of bounds signs for friendly suggestions, a park ranger mentioned that rogue waves have been known to sweep people off the rocks when they’ve ventured out for a selfie.
Best place to stay – Inn at Cape Kiwanda with ocean views from every room or Headlands Coastal Lodge & Spa if you’re not on a budget
Lizzie of Lizzie Lau Travels
Channel Islands, California
One of the best places to visit on the West Coast is the Channel Islands – especially for those who love to dive or sail. There are eight Channel Islands; the northernmost five form the Channel Islands National Park. Channel Islands National Park is a great destination for hiking, swimming, snorkeling, and diving.
The only inhabited island is the southern island of Santa Catalina, popularly known as Catalina Island. To reach the island, you can take ferries daily from three ports around Los Angeles. The two main towns on the island are Avalon and Two Harbors. On a day trip to the island, you can bike along the coast, explore the downtown, relax on the beach, play golf, and even zipline over the island.
Both towns on the island are great for shore diving, and boat dives can also be arranged from Avalon. Sites around Catalina can also be dived as a day trip from San Pedro just south of Los Angeles. The main attractions for divers are the giant kelp forests that surround the Californian islands. Divers can wind their way through strands of golden kelp stretching from the sea bed to the surface far above. Bright orange garibaldi fish are another treat, as are the seals and sea lions that love to swim around the kelp.
The other main island for diving is Anacapa Island, with day trips leaving from Ventura Harbor, a little north of Los Angeles. Dive trips to the northern Channel Islands San Miguel / Santa Rosa Island are also possible and leave from Santa Barbara.
Best Place to Stay – Pavilion Hotel in Avalon for a beach resort experience
James of Travel Collecting
Solvang is a former settler village that was founded by Danes in 1911. It is located in Santa Barbara County and has since been incorporated as a city and retained its Danish heritage and culture.
The Danes who founded Solvang came here to escape the Midwestern winters and establish a Danish community. Visitors can enjoy a wide selection of bakeries and restaurants serving Danish pastries and food. Additionally, there are lots of small shops that sell everything from candy to antiques. In Solvang, you will get a taste of Denmark in California, and it has been aptly named as the Danish capital of America.
Some of the attractions include a replica of the Little Mermaid statue and the Round Tower, which are originally found in Copenhagen. Moreover, there is a historical landmark near the center of the town, Mission Santa Inés, which is one of the California missions. For a meal, try the Viking Garden for some Danish sausage and beer.
Every year on the third weekend of September, the inhabitants celebrate “Danish Days” with fun events that include music and dancing as well as processions and competition. This tradition has been carried on since 1936.
Best Place to Stay – Solvang Inn & Cottages, for its cozy Danish ambiance
Alexander of Swedish Nomad
Mount St. Helens, Washington
One of the best places to visit on the West Coast is Mount St. Helens, the famous active volcano in the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Range. When the volcano erupted in 1980 it blanketed over hundreds of square miles of surrounding land with volcanic ash and turned it into a wasteland. The area around the volcano is preserved as the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
Mount Saint Helen is a great day trip along the Pacific Coast because it is approximately 2 hours from Portland, Oregon and 3 hours from Seattle and Tacoma. The national monument includes three visitors centers as well as miles of hiking trails where you can walk around the blast zone or even climb up to the crater.
Once you enter the National Volcanic Monument via Highway 504, your first stop should be the Forest Learning Center at Milepost 33. This visitor center has a free exhibit and a ton of activities and a play area for kids. There is a virtual helicopter tour of the blast zone as well as an Eruption Chamber that gives you a full immersion experience of the 1980 eruption. You can also see elks in the area.
From the Forest Learning Center, it takes about an hour, without stopping, to get to the summit observatory, Johnston Ridge. It costs $8.00/ per person to enter but is totally worth it. The observatory is 6 miles from the crater but seems much closer. The Visitor Center has great views of the area, interesting ranger talks, as well as many exhibits about the explosion. There are also several hiking trails just outside of the Visitor Center. You can walk along the trail and take great pictures of the crater and the peaks.
Best Place to Stay – Best Western Aladdin Inn, for proximity to the monument
Allie G. of WOC Travel
Sonoma Valley, California
Of all the best places to visit on the West Coast, the Sonoma Valley is one of the most beautiful and diverse. Between lush vineyards, a stunning coastline, and delicious farm to table cuisine, there is plenty to do and see. Wine lovers will be amazed at the dozens of tasting rooms to choose from throughout the valley with B.R. Cohn Winery, Trentadue Winery, and Benziger Family Winery with its vineyard tram tour being local favorites.
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve is a magical place to walk among the coastal Redwoods. The park offers an easy trail to meander among the giants with a picnic area as well. Keep heading west and you will reach Bodega Bay with its tiny beaches dotting the shoreline. Bodega Head is the perfect spot for a beachfront walk on the peninsula and the nearby Spud Point Crab Company offers the best clam chowder. Jack London State Historic Park is also nearby with its forested trail, museum, and tribute to the well-known writer.
A trip to Sonoma County is never complete without a few tasty meals with the area’s top chefs. Locals love the Girl & the Fig as well as Willi’s Wine Bar. Wild Flour Bread is the best spot for scones fresh out of the oven. Check out Stark’s Steak & Seafood for an incredible Happy Hour and Oliver’s Market for the best locally sourced picnic supplies for a perfect afternoon touring the local vineyards.
Best Place to Stay: Vintners Inn, for its luxurious vibe and location in Russian River Valley
Sierra of Free to Travel Mama
Willamette Valley, Oregon
Whilst many wine tourists visiting the west coast of the USA will head to the well-known spots around Napa Valley, following names such as Opus One and Stag’s Leap, there is an alternative wine region which is well worth an adventure.
Willamette Valley (pronounced to rhyme with “Dammit”, the locals will say!), in the more northerly state of Oregon, is a slightly cooler wine region than its better known Californian peers, but produces some fabulous wines and creates a beautiful setting to explore.
The wine region is only a short drive from the state’s capital, Portland, with it’s buzzing food scene and hip city center, and you will soon hit the rolling hills with vines dotted around. Head to the town of McMinnville, where the old-worldly USA comes to life, and stay at the delightful A’Tuscan Estate, with its classic whitewashed structure offering exceptionally friendly and comfortable lodgings.
During your stay, you can join a tour with Cellar Door Wine Tours, a family-run company offering some fabulous insights into local winemakers and giving you the chance to visit some of the smaller names that you might otherwise miss out on. Tendril Wines is a favorite of theirs, run by one of the region’s most acclaimed winemakers, with its off-the-beaten-track spot, but producing some of Oregon’s best Pinot Noirs!
Best Place to Stay – A’Tuscan Estate, for its old-world charm
Laura of The Travelling Stomach
There is a phrase that local Oregonians like to emphasize to visitors: “We don’t have beaches. It’s called the coast.” While it is the most beautiful region of Oregon, the coast definitely earns its name with jagged cliffs, colorful tide pools, and looming forests. In particular, the small city of Yachats, Oregon is a standout destination along the 363 miles of the state’s coast.
Yachats is on the ancestral lands of four Native American tribes, and although the population is less than a thousand inhabitants, you will need a car for reliable transportation. The best places to stay would be in the Cape Cod Cottages, which have a seaside view and are central to many shops and restaurants in town, though there are numerous cozy cabins scattered throughout the city.
The best part about the food in Yachats is that every restaurant places an emphasis on local, sustainable, and ethically sourced ingredients and products. For example, the best breakfast spot, Bread & Roses, uses fair-trade coffee beans and local flour from Eugene, Oregon. Luna Seafood Fish House, one of the best seafood spots on the coast, catches its seafood fresh every day and is a certified dolphin and ecosystem safe.
And you can’t visit Oregon without hitting up a brewery, so head to Yachats Brewing for an extensive and delicious array of craft brews! When you are happy and full from the food, stop by the Yachats Sea Lion Caves to see the biggest (and loudest!) sea lion caves in the Americas! For the beautiful vistas, head to Cape Perpetua to see the iconic nature sites of the area: Spouting Horn, Thor’s Well, and Devil’s Churn. But regardless of your activity level, Yachats is a beautiful small town that leaves an imprint on everyone that visits.
Best Place to Stay – Cape Cod Cottages, by the seafront
Kay of The Awkward Traveller
Snoqualmie Falls, Washington
Need a relaxing getaway from Seattle’s bustling city life? Visit the beautiful Snoqualmie Falls on the Snoqualmie River! This Washington gem offers a hiking trail and a large, 268 foot, waterfall which comes together for some beautiful scenery. Being one of Washington’s most popular scenic attractions, the falls receives over 1.5 million visitors per year.
What makes Snoqualmie Falls so great is that it’s a short half-hour drive east of the city center. It can easily be incorporated into a day trip while also exploring the city. Snoqualmie Falls area has ample parking, a gift shop to pick souvenirs, and restrooms. There is also a two-acre park surrounding the falls.
The best way to see the falls is from the observation deck at the top of the falls. From here you can see 360-degree views. You can also take a short but steep 1.4-mile round trip hike to the bottom of the falls – where you can walk on a boardwalk along the river – for more stunning views. In the summer months, it’s common to take a dip in the cool waters. You can also head there in the evening to see the falls illuminated by multiple lights.
Where to stay – The luxury Salish Lodge, which includes a spa, golf course, horseback riding adventures, and fishing trips.
Samah Khan of God & Wanderlust
We hope you liked our recommendations for the best places to visit on the West Coast. Did we miss any stunning natural landmark or vibrant communities along the Pacific Coast? Let us know in the comments.