Have you ever had a perfect West Coast road trip in the back of your mind? “Wouldn’t that be beautiful? Maybe I’ll go next year. I’ve never seen the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s probably too expensive.” These were my first thoughts, but after talking with my two travel pals, we figured out it was actually easier and a lot more affordable than we thought.
- Pike Place Market
- Crater Lake National Park
- Golden Gate Bridge
To get the most out of your time, you’re going to want to plan in advance most of the “must-see” locations, and see what all you can fit in one day on your route to the next location.
We decided our best route would be to cruise down the entire West Coast. From Seattle, Washington to Los Angeles, California, in seven days, spreading out the miles to only drive for about six hours per day (really not much when you alternate between three people). October was approaching, and we thought the best way to see this great stretch of road is when the fall foliage is in peak transition, and that’s why I highly recommend taking this trip in autumn.
Next step, finding our flights from Michigan. Secret tip: skiplagged.com is my go-to website to find cheap tickets across all airlines. If you do your research, you can find a one-way, non-stop flight from Detroit to Seattle for $145 on Delta Airlines, that’s what we chose. Then, coming home, Los Angeles to Detroit, a non-stop Delta flight for the crazy low price of $75. Exciting!
Of course for a proper road trip, and one as lengthy and unpredictable as the West Coast, you’re going to need a good set of wheels. We found our perfect vehicle through Hertz, which let us pick-up in Seattle and drop-off in Los Angeles, perfect! For lengthy road trips with more than two people, you’ll want to upgrade to a mid-size SUV. You don’t want to be crammed in a compact car like clowns, and when you think about how many hours you will be spending in your vehicle, it becomes just as important as your nightly accommodations. We went with a 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe. Safe, reliable, spacious, and even though it’s not the coolest car on the lot, it’s definitely the best bang for your buck.
Now to get the most out of your time, you’re going to want to plan in advance most of the “must-see” locations, and see what all you can fit in one day on your route to the next
location. Our flights got into Seattle before noon, which gave us all the time we needed to visit the famous “Pike Place Market” and if Seattle is on your wishlist, you’ve most likely heard of the original Starbucks right across the street. We ate fresh fish poke bowls at the market, grabbed a coffee to-go from the Pike Place Starbucks, and drove a few minutes out of the city to the Space Needle. Then left the city completely behind and headed to our first real stop, Mt. Rainier National Park. We had just enough time to drive through the park and see the sun set behind Mt. Rainier, stopping to walk along a river, and of course, take some photos of the warm autumn colors. Just about another hour south of the park is where we spent our first night. An old girl scout camp retreat turned drool-worthy bed and breakfast. Sitting deep in the lush backwoods along a quiet river was a handful of these picturesque A-frame cabins we found on Airbnb.com for around $50 per night.
The next day, bright and early, get on your way to Portland, the drive is incredible, and there’s amazing coffee awaiting you. After we sat down for brunch with the Patagonia-clad locals, we grabbed a latte at the famous Stumptown Coffee Roasters, then walked to Dan & Louis Oyster Bar, a tiny bar in the city center with good reviews on their oyster-shots (a raw oyster in a shot glass with pepper infused vodka). It’s kind of a thing there, and you have to try it.
After we got our Portlandia fill, we headed to a natural hot spring in the woods on our route about three hours out of town. This place was surreal. “Umpqua” is their name, and after a hike uphill about 1,200 feet along the path, the trees open up to expose 10 or so natural pools dotted along the mountain-side, spilling hot water from one to the next. This was my first time at a hot spring, and I highly recommend this one if you find yourself in central Oregon. We soaked for a long while, chatting with the other friendly people that came and went, and once the sun started rising, we made our way back to the vehicle and got on the road to our next cabin.
Under the glow of the morning sun, we drove to the next destination on our list, another national park, Crater Lake. This place is wild, and like most beautiful things, the scale of the landscape can only be seen to be believed. The attraction to Crater Lake National Park is just that, the crater, a big one. It was once the sight of a volcano that collapsed, leaving behind a massive crater, and even more impressive than that, it’s the deepest lake in the United States. There are no rivers flowing in or out. Its waters have only ever been fed by rain and snowmelt, and it’s a beautiful sight to behold.
Once officially out of the “Pacific Northwest” we made it to the famous Redwoods. These trees are impressive, and the roads make the best platform to slow down and peer out at them. There are a lot of Redwoods in the far northern swath of California, so we took our time here, staying a few nights in Eureka. The best part about this area is the coast, we had taken our route a bit more inland to see the places on our list, and once we hit the Pacific Ocean, we were happy to see it. Anywhere along the famous Highway 1 affords dramatic views worthy of a photo.
It was time to head further south, so we stuck along the coastal highway and made it to our first big city, Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. There’s a great affordable hostel in the protected “headlands” before the bridge. We stayed there the night and in the morning set off for that famous view of the big red bridge.
Bustling through the streets of San Francisco in our Sante Fe was easy, and once out of the city, it was smooth sailing down to Los Angeles. This is where you might imagine yourself on that dreamy road tip, watching the landscape turn from wet and lush, to dry and hazy. It’s a remarkable drive, and you could easily spend even more time making your way down the highway. We made it to Los Angeles in time for the night-life, a cheap Airbnb in West Hollywood was a good place to stay we heard. The last morning before making our way to the airport, we grabbed an acai bowl and an iced coffee, headed over to Venice Beach to put our feet in the sand, and grabbed an ice cream cone from Salt & Straw (strawberry coconut to be exact).
There is so much to do and see in Michigan, the thought of a road trip so far away and seeing all of these places in enough time can seem impossible. But the truth is, you can do it affordably and relatively slow-paced. I wouldn’t trade that week for anything, and it made me even more excited to go back soon to check out the Oregon and Washington coast. I hope this got you excited to visit some new places you maybe hadn’t thought of before, and give you that extra push seeing that it is possible to cross that famed road trip off of your bucket list.
The D Profile