Head out on these west coast summer travel destinations so that you and the family can take a fun road trip together.
If you’re looking for a fun family vacation this summer, consider taking a west coast road trip. Why the west coast? Because it’s beautiful!
Plus, it’s easy to get from one destination to the next with minimal time in between when you plan it right. This means you can enjoy the sights without missing out! It will also give the kids something amazing to look forward to or a great excuse to spend time with your teen.
Table of Contents
Tips for the best West Coast road trip
We’ve shared Midwest vacation spots with you so now we want to focus more on the west coast.
Figure out your schedule.
Calculate how much time you think you need for your trip, and then add a few days if you can! This is one road trip you don’t want to rush through. There are so many things to do and see, and Highway 1 is all you expect it to be and more!
Take your time and enjoy the spectacular views our beautiful West Coast has to offer. As you make your schedule, grab this free printable itinerary to map out your daily activities.
If you’re from the West Coast already, you know it can get expensive. If you’re from anywhere else, plan out your budget ahead of time as much as possible. Unexpected expenses are sure to pop up, so having an emergency fund on hand to take care of those things is important as well.
When calculating your budget, factor in gas, food, lodging, admission, and extras. Food and gas are much more expensive in California than throughout most of the country, so don’t underestimate how much you’ll spend. It’s better to overestimate just in case.
Packing a cooler is also a great way to save a few bucks when you are traveling. Pack it with things like cereal, fruit, or granola for breakfast, and sandwiches for dinner.
Typically, lunch specials are cheaper than dinner specials so if you do plan to eat out a lot, try hitting the restaurants during their lunch hours.
Pro tip: If you plan on visiting National Parks, the America the Beautiful Pass is worth investing in.
West Coast Summer Travel Destinations
When you mention traveling to the west coast, the mind goes straight to California. Because the West Coast is more than just California, we are going to cover Washington and Oregon, too.
The Pacific Coast Highway
The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is more than 600 miles long, and extends from Southern California up to the northern portion of the state. The PCH is one of the most famous road trips in the U.S. so it’s a no brainer that you will want to see this as you visit some of the best west coast summer travel destinations.
San Diego Area
San Diego is a famous tourist destination. You could make a weeklong trip just to see the city itself, but the surrounding areas are also worth checking out.
If you’ve been to San Diego but haven’t made the short drive over to Coronado Island, now’s your chance! The lodging here can be even more expensive than in town, but it’s still worth a day trip.
You can see the sea lions and seals year round in La Jolla. The weather isn’t bad either so even during the busy season, La Jolla Cove isn’t unbearable. Take a tour of the Sea Cave, enjoy a kayaking adventure, pack a lunch and have a picnic at The Cove.
Lodging here is a bit more expensive than surrounding areas. If you’re going to stay for the night, it’s worth getting a hotel right on the beach. Go for a sunrise or sunset walk and get tons of Instagram-worthy photos.
Whether you want to catch the perfect wave (or fish!), or just chill on the beach, the vibe in Santa Barbara is super relaxed.
Don’t forget the beach accessories!
When visiting San Francisco, you have to decide if you want to experience it as a tourist – or as a local. Either way is great but each have their own advantages.
As a tourist, the usual touristy spots you’ll want to check out are:
- The Golden Gate Bridge
- Ride a trolley: is it really a visit to the Rice-a-roni city without a trolley ride?
- Fisherman’s Wharf: a tourist trap with decent food and great photo opps.
- Alcatraz: Worth a visit at least once.
- 16th Ave Tiled Steps: another photo opp, and a chance to get in some extra steps.
- The Wave Organ: one-of-a-kind!
If you’d like to experience the area as a local:
- Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line: an art installation tucked into the forest floor in Presidio.
- Japanese Tea Garden: get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
- Land’s End Labyrinth: not the easiest hike, but worth it!
- Coit Tower: 360-degree views of the Bay
- Sutro Baths: ruins by the seaside
About 50 miles to the north of San Francisco, you’ll find wine country and Napa Valley. Even if you aren’t a wine drinker, the drive offers some pretty awesome views and different experiences you won’t want to miss out on.
140 miles east of San Francisco, you’ll find Yosemite National Park. Famous for its giant sequoia trees and stunning 2,425-foot waterfall, the park just celebrated 140 years. Yosemite is still 95 percent wilderness, making it a unique experience – nothing can compete! Oh, and don’t miss the photo opportunity at Tunnel View on your way out.
We featured winter activities in Lake Tahoe, but it’s even more active and beautiful during the summer months.
On the largest freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada, Lake Tahoe promises year-round adventure in a unique environment. It is the only destination in the West to offer world-class skiing and true sandy beaches.
Space Needle, Seattle Washington
Talk about the ultimate photo opportunity for the family! Almost everyone has heard of this famous 605-foot tall landmark! Built in 1962 for the World’s Fair, it was designed to showcase humanity’s “Space Age aspirations”.
A 10mph wind gust can cause the Space Needle to sway up to an inch. Thankfully, Seattle isn’t usually too windy, and the Space Needle is able to withstand winds of up to 200mph. Feeling extra brave? You can actually bungee jump off the Space Needle!
Mount Rainier National Park
There’s soooo much to do at Mount Rainier National Park! Some of my favorites include:
- Gondola Rides: ride up, then hike down to enjoy the wildflowers.
- Ex-Nihilo Sculpture Park: random collection of animals, motorcycle riders, and monsters, all from materials found by the artist.
- Crystal Mountain: enjoy interpretive walks and guided horseback rides in the summer, and skiing in the winter.
- Photo opps: Mount Rainier is packed with social-media worthy photo opps, like Christine Falls, Crystal Mountain, and Grove of the Patriarchs.
Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens was once referred to as the Mount Fuji of America. In 1980, it erupted and the upper 1,300 feet of the summit was removed due to a debris avalanche. There is now a horseshoe-shaped crater partially filled in by a lava dome and glacier.
The Visitor’s Center has a large step-in model of the volcano, as well as theatre programs and a functioning seismograph.
Love hiking? Mount St. Helen’s has hikes as short as one hour, and longer hikes that can span multiple days. Be sure to check the park’s status and road conditions before heading out.
The Oregon Coast is just as beautiful as the California coast! A few stops to consider are:
- Seaside Aquarium: feed the seals!
- Crescent Beach Hike: 3.6 mile easy hike
- Haystack Rock: 235-foot monolith formed by lava
- Short Sands Beach: serene beach away from the crowds
- Tillamook Creamery: take a yummy tour!
The slogan is “keep Portland weird”, and Portland folks whole-heartedly stand behind it. Portland is a one-of-a-kind city that is fun to wander through aimlessly for a few hours. You’ll probably land at a vegan café or a single-origin coffee bar, both of which are sure to delight your whole family.
Located in the Columbia River Gorge, Multnomah Falls is picturesque all year long. To get to the top of the falls, you’ll need to take a moderate 2-mile hike.
Your West Coast road trip
There are thousands of things to do and see on the West Coast. While we’ve covered several of them, you can easily take a year-long road trip and still not see everything that each state has to offer.
Pick the few things that are “must-sees” for your family, and fill in the gaps with other adventures if you have extra time. Don’t try to stuff too much into your trip, or you will not get a chance to enjoy the stops you really want to make in their full glory.