road trip on the west coast
April 4, 2007 6:35 AM   Subscribe

Road trip from San Diego to Seattle - what not to miss! and what to avoid!

Hi, my brother and I are flying out from the eastern US to san diego Aug. 24 and driving up to Seattle, where we are scheduled to fly back east on Sept. 3. We're going to rent a car and drive up the coast for a nice road trip. I've never been west of Cincinnati so I am pretty pumped about seeing this western landscape.

What should we make sure to check out? We'll probably stay with another of our brothers in the LA area, and with some friends in the santa barbara area, but the rest of the way along the route we'd love to camp in some scenic awesome areas. We'd be happy to camp near the ocean, but i'm willing to drive a ways inland if the scenery and attractions warrant it, any good recommendations?

We'll be looking for cool places to stop along the way, first and foremost we'll be looking for views and awesome scenery, we'll also be interested in eating some of the best tacos around (and i have seen the recent, excellent nyt article on this). We'd also love to check out cool bars, hangouts or museums along the way.

Most of all we like to kick back, eat tacos and this should be a fun ride. We also love Sublime and the Long Beach music scene from the 90s, any historic places to check out there?

So, in general, what's cool along the route?'
posted by Salvatorparadise to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I know this is overly broad, but it's also true: The entire Oregon Coast is awesome. Don't waste your time on the Washington Coast. You'd think they'd be comparable, but they're just not. There's such a wide variety of landscape on the Oregon Coast, and yet it's (nearly) all very pristine. Plenty of places to camp and lots of interesting towns to explore (Bandon, Newport, Tillamook, etc.).

I'm pretty fond of the California Coast, too, from, say Monterey on up, but still, there's just something about the Oregon Coast.

If you venture inland, I'm pretty big on the whole Bend-area, especially around Lapine. Take a drive through the Cultus Lake area. Beautiful.

Have fun! Makes me pine for home. Pun intended.
posted by unclejeffy at 6:52 AM on April 4, 2007

Not to self-promote too much, but perhaps you would find this book helpful? San Diego-Seattle is one of the routes it covers, and it's low-budget in coverage, which means it should contain lots of campground listings.
posted by phoenixy at 7:17 AM on April 4, 2007

It will be inland a bit, but Yosemite National Park is spectacular and would provide a nice place to camp for the night.

About a month ago, I also went to Joshua Tree for the first time, and that's pretty cool if you're into deserty landscapes.

Between Santa Barbara and San Francisco on the coast you'll find Hearst Castle that's pretty cool.

You might think about stopping at Laguna Beach for lunch. That would be between San Diego and Los Angeles. I don't know if they have any good tacos there, but it's sort of a nice little art community.

A friend of mine highly recommends Titos Tacos in Los Angeles (Venice/Culver City).
posted by willnot at 7:42 AM on April 4, 2007

I reccomend taking the coastal Route 1 north of San Fransisco for some of the most mind-bogglingly gorgeous landscapes you'll ever drive along.

In that vein - camp at the Point Reyes National Seashore. I want to move back to northern California just to be near that place again.
posted by nelleish at 7:58 AM on April 4, 2007

This other AskMe thread has a lot of suggestions for the Pacific Coast Highway (ie, 101), which would be a good choice. There are things you will miss by staying coastal: the Sierra Nevada and its associated National Parks, Lassen NP, Crater Lake NP, the interesting bits of central Oregon (see above). You could follow the coast up, then swing inland for Mt. St. Helens.
posted by janell at 8:02 AM on April 4, 2007

If it's a "trip," just make sure you take the coastal road... 101 right? I drove up from LA a few months ago and while you can take I-5 much of the way (and it's faster), it's pretty much a wasteland.

Try to go through the redwoods, and if you see the Mystery House or whatever, go in.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:02 AM on April 4, 2007

On two seperate, non consecutive anniversary trips with my wife we've driven from Monterey to the San Juan Islands. Here are my highlights:

Big Sur - Stay in a cabin and think about Kerouac.

The Lost Coast - I'm not even going to talk about this because it is one of the coolest places I have ever been and I don't want it to be ruined. Trust me and take this detour.

Crater Lake - This is a ways off the coast, but an awesome place. We stayed in the crater lake lodge on the rim in October. I had a killer steak and some great Crater Lake private label wine in the grand dining hall. In the morning watch the sun rise over the lake. Spectacular.

All the state campgrounds on the Oregon Coast are really nice. But, they book up quick. Make reservations.

The Rogue Brewery - In Newport Oregon is the Rogue Brewery. Great beers and a really great Kobe Beef Burger.

The Newport Aquarium - After you get a little buzz on at Rogue go chill with the fishes at the Aquarium down the street.

Orcas Island in the San Juans - We stayed at the Does Bay retreat with a nice Cafe, friendly hippies, nice cabins and a clothing optional hot spring that overlooks the bay. Good times.

This is a great roadtrip. Stick to the 1 and don't rush it.
posted by trbrts at 9:08 AM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding Hearst Castle. There is a great campground right next to it at San Simeon state beach.

Monterey is worth a stop too.
posted by sbrollins at 10:17 AM on April 4, 2007

More stuff in this thread, specifically about which routes to take. Enjoy!
posted by junkbox at 10:22 AM on April 4, 2007

From south to north:

San Diego -
Cheap, seedy looking Mexican places have the best Mexican food. Seriously. Especially if you're hungover. El Cotixan's is one of my favorites (it's a small chain, so you should be able to find one), but other people swear by Aliberto's, Cotija's, etc. Of course, a lot of people also swear by the street vendors in Tijuana for the really good tacos. But basically, just look for a place that looks cheap, and you'll get some good tacos out of it.

There's not going to be much beach side camping in San Diego. Joshua Tree is pretty, but also a half day's drive or so inland.

You might like the nightlife in Pacific Beach (very collegey meat markety) or Ocean Beach (more of a hippy vibe). The Sunshine Company in OB has a taco stand attached to it.

Sights to see in SD include Coronado (the island and the hotel) and Balboa Park (gorgeous grounds, museums, street performers). If you've got time, check out the zoo in Balboa Park or the Wild Animal Park near Escondido (it's more inland).

The north county coastal towns are picturesque. Stop at Pizza Port in Solana Beach for great pizza and beer.

LA -
There's tons to do, obviously, but I recommend the Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach as good beach-y starting places. Santa Monica Pier is pretty touristy and Venice Beach is about as quirky as they come.

Santa Barbara -
Great beachside camping at El Capitan and Refugio. My family camps at El Cap every year, and it's got some of the nicest campsites in America. A lot of the sites have ocean views, and you can hear the waves even from the ones that don't. Unfortunately, it'll probably be hard to get into El Capitan at least, since I know we have to make reservations about 6 months in advance. I'm not sure if they keep some spots available for road trippers like you, but if they do, you'll probably get stuck in the crappy spots at the back of the campground, and you don't want those. They're right on the railroad tracks, and nothing disturbs a peaceful night of camping like a train coming through at midnight. I once had a nightmare that a cougar was attacking my tent (and he had a blinding spotlight to help him), but it was just the wind and the train. You might have better luck at Refugio. It's worth making the effort to try to get a spot at either place.

Northern California and Oregon
You've already gotten lots of advice this part of the trip, and I haven't done it since I was a little kid. I do remember the Monarch groves, so you might want to check those out if the thought of thousands of thousands of Monarch butterflies doesn't creep you out.

Do the usual touristy stuff in San Francisco. Take a ride on a trolley car, visit Alcatraz, etc.

The 1 is gorgeous, but on a curvy cliff with no guard rails. My parents just drove it last weekend, and my dad said his fingers were still feeling a little cramped from gripping the steering wheel so tightly.

Same advice for Seattle as San Francisco -- Space Needle, fish market...

The San Juan Islands are beautiful and worth the ferry trip. My roommate's parents live on Orcas Island. There are no stop lights (or maybe just one?). If you're there, they've got this dump/yard sale place. I'm not really sure how to describe it (or what the name of it is, but I'll find out if you're interested). Basically, people bring the stuff they'd trash/Craigslist/yard sale, and then other people come, browse, and buy it. It's fascinating just to browse around and see what you find.
posted by natabat at 10:44 AM on April 4, 2007

The wife and I had a great time at the Tillamook Cheese factory in Tillamook, OR. They have an ice cream bar with great flavors.
posted by inviolable at 10:58 AM on April 4, 2007

Bolinas, Inverness and Point Reyes north of SF. This is a pleasantly strange out-of-place stop with good beer on tap.

And oysters.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 11:15 AM on April 4, 2007

Great advice so far.

Let me weigh in on a topic I know very well, tacos, and offer two bits of simple advice:
1) Do not expect quality tacos north of Santa Barbara (OK, you can still get decent Mexican food as far north as the Bay Area but OR and WA is a wasteland as far as I'm concerned)
2) Go to any 'berto as in Robertos, Albertos, Adalbertos, Filibertos, Hilibertos . . .

Note that you'll be in Seattle over Labor Day weekend and this means you'll be well positioned to attend Bumbershoot, which is a terrific arts festival.
posted by donovan at 11:37 AM on April 4, 2007

On the inland side of things, I would seriously recommend taking a 3-5 hour side-trip to the Columbia River Gorge. If you're coming up I-5, when you hit downtown Portland just hang a right on I-84. Go about 20 minutes and follow signs for the Old Columbia River Gorge Highway.

Ride along the old highway stopping to take in the amazing waterfalls, spectacular vista. Stop and check out Multnomah Falls too. Then if you have time I'd hop back on I-84 east and head another few miles up to Hood River, Oregon. Cute little town right on the river. It has spectacular views and lots of cute places to grab some lunch or dinner. Then if you're in a hurry, ride on back to Portland on I-84, or hop across the river and ride back on the Washington side of the river (other side trips on the Washington side include running by Mt. Adams and/or Mt. St. Helens).

We've been in the area under a year still, but the Gorge still just boggles my mind every time I drive through it. It really is a sight to see.

A couple of other Oregon-area thoughts:
- Downtown Portland is really pretty to walk around ;(especially along the river) if you want a break from driving
- If you like wine, there's plenty of pinot noir in Oregon all up and down the Willamette Valley, and it is not as snooty as a lot of the California vineyards);
- I echo what was said previously about the Oregon coast. If you head up that way, Astoria (near where they filmed the Goonies) is magnificent, as is Cannon Beach.

Hope this helps!
posted by saladpants at 1:42 PM on April 4, 2007

Prehistoric Gardens!!
posted by Eothele at 2:08 PM on April 4, 2007

You'll be in Seattle, San Francisco, LA, etc. other times in your life. Take advantage of the remote places you may not get a chance to see again. The Northern California Redwoods, the Oregon Coast.

I came into this thread to post about Crater Lake. You don't have a ton of time, but this is only a couple hours off of I-5. It's far from everywhere and you'll not likely ever be within striking distance again. It will make you crap your pants. Seriously, bring clean pants. I still don't really understand how something like that exists on planet Earth.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:33 PM on April 4, 2007

Make one of your Hwy 1 camping stops MacKerricher State Park, just north of Fort Bragg, CA. You can camp just over the hill from the beach. The best lunchtime taco place in Fort Bragg is Los Gallitos. For music, check the calendars at the Caspar Inn & Headlands Cafe.

Consider cutting east to catch Mount Shasta.
posted by salvia at 5:22 PM on April 4, 2007

Seconding Crater Lake (and I'm from Monterey and lived in Portland for 6 years)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:23 PM on April 4, 2007

you must go see the Olympic Coast of Washington nothing else is quite like it.
posted by seawallrunner at 7:33 PM on April 4, 2007

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