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west coast WA to CA summer driving ideas: where to stop & what to see

west coast WA to CA summer driving ideas: where to stop & what to see

Old Jan 23rd, 2022, 07:45 AM
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west coast WA to CA summer driving ideas: where to stop & what to see

We are east coasters planning to fly to Seattle & drive to Southern CA. We have 4-6 weeks to drive down the coast & play. My thought is to stop at 4-5 airbnbs for +/-5 days along the way to enjoy each area. We love the parks, bike riding, photography and local culture (art, music & food). Planning is overwhelming to us: everything we've researched sounds amazing. I would love ideas about where to stop and spend time, vs what is ok to skip vs where to spend a few hours.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2022, 08:29 AM
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Moved to US board and tagged for the relevant states.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2022, 09:19 AM
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Here are some ideas starting from Seattle:

Townsend, WA This Victorian seaport, set in rugged natural beauty setting , has a vibrant downtown historic main street shopping district and a historic uptown residential and small commercial district. It’s an artists community and sailing center near the San Juan Islands. The ferry only takes 35 minutes to get to Orcas Island. Just 90 minutes away is Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park.

Hurricane Ridge is the most easily accessed mountain area within Olympic National Park and the most popular destination in the state. In clear weather, fantastic views can be enjoyed throughout the year. Hurricane Ridge is located 17 miles south of Port Angeles. There are many popular hiking trails.

Astoria, OR. Many colorful houses and older longtime residents speak with a Finnish accent. Lewis and Clark National Historic Park with the recreated Fort Clatsop. Visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum. Stroll on the Astoria Riverwalk. The Cathedral Tree Trail takes you to a Sitka spruce which you can walk into. Eat seafood.

Cannon Beach, OR. Scenic coastal resort with Haystack Rock. South of town is Oswald West State Park which has lovely deserted beaches.

Cape Perpetua Scenic Area @ Yachats. This is the most popular tourist destination in Oregon. A great overlook with wonderful views of the Pacific. Over 2,700 acres of unique coastal habitat and 26 miles of trails through the lush temperate rainforest. . Ashland, OR. Described as one of the coolest small towns in America, it has a hippie vibe and Southern Oregon University. There are some wonderful parks including Lithia Park and Siskiyou Mt. Park. Nearby is the famous Rogue National Scenic River which which has waterwater rafting. There is a hands-on science museum. It is under two hours to Crater Lake National Park.

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Old Jan 23rd, 2022, 02:12 PM
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Jedediah Redwoods State Park. Wander under towering redwood trees. Some say this is better than the Redwoods National Park which is a few miles south.

Arcata. It has been dubbed the Peoples Republic of Arcata because it is perhaps the most progressive town in America. It’s home to Humboldt State Uni. It features a lovely downtown with colorful buildings and a laid back lifestyle which includes an artistic and intellectual ambiance.

Ferndale. Nestled between the California Redwoods and fabled Lost Coast, the historic Victorian town of Ferndale is a hidden oasis of small town charm, spectacular architecture, enchanting natural beauty and welcoming Humboldt County culture.

Lost Coast. The Lost Coast is a wild land of forests, fog, waves, and sand. The Lost Coast Trail can be accessed from Shelter Cove. On the hike, you’ll be wowed by sweeping views of the King Range, its peaks soaring 4,000 feet above the Pacific.

Mendocino. Mendocino is noted for itscharming Victorian-era buildings and much of the town is protected as a National Historic Landmark District.

Muir Woods National Monument. This cathedral of redwoods contains trees' ages ranging from 400 to 800 years, their height up to 250 feet. Flat easy trails loop through the groves. Can be crowded on weekends.

Sausalito. This seaside community north of San Francisco’s has scenic views, charming houseboat enclaves, and plenty of space for strolls along the water. Sausalito is a laid-back town with a Mediterranean vibe and a mild sunny climate. It’s an artists community and has outstanding restaurants with fresh seafood.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2022, 05:28 PM
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If going around the Olympic Peninsula, don't miss Neah Bay with its museum and a hike to the coast.

and the rain forest in the national park:

More inland in Washington, there is Mt. Rainer and Mt. St. Helens:

https://flic.kr/p/7saByp https://flic.kr/p/7saJoF
Crater Lake in Oregon:

the redwoods in California:

Lots of things to see, lots of choices to make.
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Old Jan 24th, 2022, 06:02 AM
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I can't help with the CA portion, so I leave that for others. There are so many options for OR and WA though that it is hard to pare them down.

One thing to keep in mind for WA is that Neat Bay/Cape Flattery has been closed since Covid and still is. Who knows if it will be open this summer, but check on that before you head out otherwise you lose a lot of time. Also, the ONP is not known for food, so keep your expectations very low Your best bet is to stick to self catering places like you mentioned and stock up in Port Angeles or Sequim. Grocery options further down the coast are extremely limited, even at the Thriftway in Forks.

You do not mention hiking, but that is the best way to see ONP.

Do know that OR and WA have been inundated with visitors since Covid hit so most of the rentals and hotels are booked FAR in advance. The northern OR coast has always been a hot spot, so even before Covid it was booked months in advance. I would get your lodging for at least the OR and WA portions booked like yesterday.

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Old Jan 24th, 2022, 08:05 AM
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I think that 4-6 weeks for this trip is an excellent amount of time, and since you want to take things rather slow, definitely plan for closer to 6 weeks. There are a lot of places to see along the route and distances are pretty big, so you might want to have additional stops, but each stop be a little shorter. Also, at least in CA, short term vacation rentals are an issue - we have a housing shortage and the Short Term Rental (STR) market has exploded, so many municipalities have made strict rules around them. In some areas STRs are fine, but in some areas they are not, so you may need to stay in alternate accommodations in places - but there are a variety of options - hotels, motels, inns, cabins, etc.

For the CA portion, I'd maybe pick the following areas to stay - with 3-5 nights in each:

Redwood NP - stay in Trinidad or nearby
Mendocino/Fort Bragg
San Francisco
Santa Barbara
Los Angeles
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Old Jan 24th, 2022, 08:56 AM
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4 to 6 weeks sounds like (and is) a fair amount of time, but even so you're probably going to have to make some choices. Here are some thoughts, not necessarily in any order, that might be useful.

First, "summer" isn't precise enough. June can look like summer in most places, but at high elevations (for example the mountain national parks like Mount Rainier) June can still see a lot of snow on trails, or cloudy conditions (which are common) can obscure the views that you came for. And while August and September are also "summer," they can bring very high heat and (unfortunately) very high odds of forest fires, closing scenic areas and/or creating palls of smoke. This is a bigger risk in the mountains and foothills than closer to the coast, but the coast is far from exempt from these disasters in these days of climate change.

Second, two mountain ranges (both of which consist of a couple of different systems that are more or less connected) that run north-south can limit "zigzags" between the Pacific coast and inland destinations. In northern California and Oregon, the Klamath Mountains (AKA the Coast Range) is a string of mountains and hills that run from the redwoods into Oregon, then parallel to the coast more or less all the way to the Columbia River. There are several roads through these mountains, most of them 2-lane and relatively winding and slow. Farther east, past the California Central Valley and the Rogue and Willamette Valleys in Oregon, are the Sierras and Cascades - running along the California/Nevada border all the way to Canada and beyond. Unlike the coastal mountains, these are very high and with very limited routes crossing them. But they also hold some of the key inland visitor attractions in the whole west - from Sequoia and Yosemite national parks in California, to Lake Tahoe, Crater Lake, Mounts Hood, St. Helens, Adams and Rainier, just to name a few, in Oregon and Washington. These mountains have late springs and early winters, and tourist areas in them are in very high demand; for example at this stage you're probably going to have major difficulty trying to book accommodation in Yosemite or Crater Lake, for example.

What these factors mean is that planning a route that includes both inland and coastal destinations requires you to be aware of what these places are like WHEN you come to visit. Yosemite is glorious in the late spring and early summer (and crowded) but by September it might be smoky and the famous waterfalls reduced to trickles or even dry. Mount Rainier's famous wildflower display usually is in mid-August, by which time other parts of the Cascades and Sierras might be entering fire season.

Third, and obvious, is demand. Covid has left millions of people wanting to get out and about this summer, and things are booking up FAST. While you say you'd prefer to use AirBnBs where possible (and look out for local rules limiting these options) you're still likely to have trouble in some/many key areas like the northern Oregon coast, any of the national parks and their peripheries (especially Olympic, Mt. Rainier, Crater Lake and the California parks) and many other places. "Winging it" is likely to result in disappointment here and there.

The last thing I'd mention falls under the heading of "substitution." Basically, if you can't see all the wonderful destinations (not enough days in a year) then which ones could you visit that offer a comparable experience to others? Take beautiful, rocky coastline. The Pacific shore, from Cape Flattery to La Jolla, is blessed with amazing coastal waves-on-rocks scenery. Do you need to see them all? Rialto and Ruby Beaches on the coastal strip of Olympic National Park are gorgeous. So are the beaches near Cape Disappointment and Ecola State Park in Oregon, as are those on the southern Oregon coast, on the Mendocino coast, Point Lobos, Big Sur, and on and on.

Or big volcanoes in the Northwest. Mount Rainier is a national park and worthy of the title, but Mount Hood is more accessible, and close to the Columbia River Gorge with its spectacular waterfalls and vista points. See them both or let one "stand in" as a substitute? It all comes down to priorities and time management.

Finally, we all have our favorite places and areas, and I'm no exception. I'll mention a couple just because...

1. Whidbey Island. This long, narrow island in Puget Sound offers picturesque towns, great seafood, cycling and kayaking, historic sites, whale watching, and natural wonders like Deception Pass. It's worth checking out.

2. The Columbia River, from its mouth at Cape Disappointment east to the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Hood and the Hood River Valley, all the way to Maryhill Museum of Art and the strange copy of Stonehenge sitting on the clifftops overlooking the great river. The diversity is nothing short of remarkable.

3. Joseph and the Wallowas. This comparatively little-known corner of northeastern Oregon offers a phenomenal setting, an arts culture that's second to none, and a glimpse of some genuine "old west" scenery.

4. Ferndale and the "Lost Coast." Victorian Ferndale in the redwoods is a scenic gem, and it's located close to the "Lost Coast," the last remaining coastal wilderness in California. This area is well worth a couple of days.

5. Monterey Bay and Peninsula. From the Henry Cowell redwoods and Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in the north, to Point Lobos and the Big Sur coast to the south, this is a remarkable area of California. Monterey's aquarium is justly famous, as is the great old Spanish mission in Carmel. And Point Lobos gets my vote for the most scenic coastline in all of California.

But that's me. Others have their faves, and after this trip, so will you. Happy planning!
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Old Jan 24th, 2022, 10:24 AM
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Lots of good ideas (some great). My idea for the logistics of car rentals would be to rent a car in Seattle (or Portland) and cover Washington and Oregon coastal and mountain regions in about 20 days. Return the car where you rented it and then take the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Seattle (or Portland) south to Sacramento. The train arrives in Sacramento early in the morning (6:15AM scheduled). Have a good breakfast and then rent a car either downtown or out at the airport (SMF). Spend another 14-18 days seeing what you want to see in California before you return the car where you rented it. Flying from SMF is somewhat easier than flying from SFO or LAX IMO.
Personally, I don't like driving the California coast any farther south than Santa Barbara.
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Old Jan 24th, 2022, 03:23 PM
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You might want to look at the trip planning thread and current trip report by "crellston" for the California leg.

In particular, refer to the Santa Barbara entry re closures.

San Francisco to Los Angeles late January

California here we are!!
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Old Jan 24th, 2022, 04:49 PM
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Thank you so much for the detailed information. It really helps to have local knowledge like this! Now, where to begin?

Last edited by corinnec4982; Jan 24th, 2022 at 05:03 PM.
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Old Jan 24th, 2022, 09:28 PM
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You don't what month you are coming but Oregon coast is frequently rainy and cool through June. With all the weather changes you never know what you will get.
I usually stay in Yachats - little town but there are several motels that are worth staying at. There are 3 in a row- all waterfront, the Adobe, the Fireside and the Overleaf. The Overleaf is the most expensive but they are all OK. The Adobe has a dining room and a bar. There is an oceanside walking path between the three.
My favorite beach is at Devils Elbow St Park, also known as Heceta Head. It is a small cove with a nice beach. There is a trail up to the lighthouse and the lighthouse keepers home which is now a B&B. They serve a huge and delicious breakfast to guests. I have stayed there once with a group and it was very nice but reservations have to made months ahead.
Cape Perpetua as mentioned above is nice and has some hiking trails. Trails maps can be obtained at visitors center.
Oregon Coast Mile by Mile is a publication both online and paper with much info about the coast.
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Old Jan 24th, 2022, 10:08 PM
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You don't say which summer months you are traveling - but if it is say . . . Mid June through July I would consider doing your trip in reverse driving SoCal north to Washington. June is early enough that there is less danger of wild fires in California, Yosemite will still have water in the falls (due to construction projects in YNP they will be instituting capacity limits). June Gloom (coastal overcast/fog on the CA coast) would be an issue but it generally burns off by early afternoon. Then by later in the summer the weather will be better on the OR coast and in WA state.

--- Many visitors don't realize that the best weather - our summer really - on the coast between say Santa Barbara and the CA / OR border isn't in early summer but in September/early October. June in SF can be cold/foggy - Sept in SF is typically beautiful beach weather. BUT that isn't the best time to visit in the mountains because of heat and wildfires.
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Old Jan 25th, 2022, 04:53 PM
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My husband and I are educators, so our adventure will be in summer from mid June through the last of July. (We need to be home in VA in early Aug). We imagine ourselves staying 4-6 nights at several different "home bases" and experiencing the surrounding area before driving farther south. We are eager to reserve hotels/airbnbs soon to ensure that we are able to find suitable places to stay. Any additional suggestions on which towns/areas would be good "home bases" for a few days? I feel that once we get our lodging picked out, the rest will fall into place easier for us. Again, thank you all for this terrific information!
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Old Jan 25th, 2022, 06:26 PM
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One area worth looking at for lodging, before you get to Los Angeles or Burbank is between Lompoc and Solvang.

I am not a big fan of Santa Barbara. If you feel you need a night or two around there, try Carpinteria's Best Western.

You may want to lock in your final night's lodging and back track from there, also.
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