Dust off that old AAA map of the West Coast and start plotting from San Diego to Seattle. Plug in a pin here. Place a pin there. No, you’re not plotting what banks to hit, you’re mapping out your family’s next adventure. Up the coast, over the river, and through the mountains to the Canadian border you go. If we were playing poker, we’d be going all in blind that this is one of the best West Coast road trip itineraries in the world. Rent that convertible, and check out our 3, 5, and 7-day road trip guide to the West Coast.
3-Day Road Trip Up the West Coast with the Family
The car is packed. Both luggage and kids are comfortably situated throughout the vehicle and the spouse is parked in the passenger seat. You’re more ready for a road trip than the Griswolds were. But you’re not going to fictitious Wally World, oh no. Your four-wheeled steed is taking you up the California coastline. If you follow along below, we can help you out with some West Coast road trip ideas.
Day 1 – San Diego
There’s no better place to begin a West Coast road trip than at the foot of California in “America’s Finest City.” San Diego’s Coronado Island is a perfect jumping off point for your vacation. Start with breakfast beachside at one of the Hotel del Coronado’s eateries. The crashing surf on the shoreline will go great with your order of flapjacks. Are your stomachs full yet? Good. Fire up the station wagon, mini-van, suburban, or whatever car you’re traveling in and hit the road via State Route 75. When SR 75 dumps you onto Interstate 5 north, take a right at the fork in the road to get onto State Route 163, which will you to Balboa Park. What’s in Balboa Park? Oh nothing much except for the world renowned San Diego Zoo. Take the kids on a creepy walk through the reptile house, show them how the tusks on the elephants are bigger than they are, and don’t forget to take them to say hi to Gao Gao and his other giant panda friends.
Day 2 – Los Angeles
North is the direction you’re heading, and I-5 is your thoroughfare to Los Angeles. Don’t worry, the center of the entertainment universe isn’t just for the stars. Make your way over to wacky Venice Beach and build sand castles with the little ones. Once the palaces and forts have washed away, enjoy some lunch at one of the chic cafes lining the boardwalk. And if you’re not sure where it is, just look for the spectacle of body builders, magicians, and guys walking around with 20-foot pythons claiming it as “performance art.” Before you leave, drive over to Beverly Hills and check out Rodeo Drive (pronounced Ro-deh-O). No cowboys here, just some very swanky shopping. One section of the two-mile long street has been modeled after a European shopping alley with cobblestones in the streets. Be sure to keep an eye out for celebrities; they’re known to frequent the luxury store fronts.
Day 3 – Santa Barbara
Day 3 and northward you go. A hop, skip, and jump up the 101 Freeway from Los Angeles rests Santa Barbara. Flanked on one side by the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean on the other, this is the perfect place for you and your family to conclude the 3-day excursion. Drive along downtown’s State Street and pick out a place to stop and have lunch. Or if you’d like to eat over the water, the restaurant at the end of Stearns Wharf will do the trick. You can drive your car right onto the pier!
5-Day Road Trip Up the West Coast with the Family
Wow! That 3-day jaunt up the coast was great. Do you know what’s better? A 5-day adventure even further north. Drive your rental car up State Route 1 past the rock in Morro Bay through the town of San Simeon, and stop at Hearst Castle. Or keep going along the cliffs through the twists and turns of Big Sur to Monterrey. And keep at it, past the boardwalk amusement park of Santa Cruz all the way to San Francisco.
Day 4 – San Francisco
Welcome to “The City by the Bay” and embrace the strange—like Lombard Street. It’s more crooked than a politician giving it the distinct title of the most crooked street in the world. Test your turning ability down the streets eight switchbacks (It’s not as scary as it sounds). When you’re done going right, left, right, left, etcetera, make your way over to Fisherman’s Wharf. There’s two things you have to do here: Get a bread bowl of clam chowder and go to Pier 39 to watch the seals bark insults at each other, like the kids have been doing in the backseat.
Day 5 – Napa
Are you ready for a visit to a quaint little town in California’s wine country? Take State Route 29 to enjoy lunch with a little wine at one of the numerous wineries dotting the land. Or hop on the Napa Valley Wine Train for a 3-hour excursion between Napa and St. Helena. The kids will love the ride and you’ll love the wine car with samples available from many of the regions finest wine makers. We think you deserve a few hours away from the wheel.
7-Day Road Trip Up the West Coast with the Family
As Forrest Gump would say, well, since you’ve come this far, might a well keep on going. You can head inland from wine county and connect with I-5 that’ll take you up the spine of California past Mount Shasta, or get back to the coast and continue up Highway 1 passing redwood trees that have been around since those Neanderthal folks.
Day 6 – Portland
Look in your rear view mirror and wave goodbye to “The Golden State,” because you’re in Oregon now. Just when you thought the West Coast madness was in your past, you cross the Burnside Bridge and a neon sign with a jumping deer welcomes you to Portland. After driving the length of two states, you and the family are probably ready to eat a cow. Cruise to Old Town Chinatown to be exact where the biggest concentration of food trucks is located. Vietnamese, Mexican, and Greek stalls are all within a stone’s throw of each other. If the kids are in their picky eating phase, take them to Nong’s Khao Man Gai where all they serve is chicken and rice, but it’ll knock their socks off.
Day 7 – Seattle
That I-5 is something isn’t it? If you follow it from Portland – like we want you to – eventually you’ll come upon the sleepy, or sleepless, city of Seattle. Park the car near Pike Place Market and see if you can dodge a flying 40-pound salmon while you walk to Seattle’s Great Wheel at Pier 57. Step into one of the 42 gondolas and enjoy the 12-minute ride high above Elliott Bay. If the height of the wheel doesn’t get the kids excited, drive them over to the Space Needle and show them what the city looks like from 520-feet above it. See how they enjoy that.
Hit the Road
Sure, you could get a plane ticket and fly up the West Coast, but that takes little to no imagination–or effort, for that matter. West Coast road trips mean plotting your route on a map, getting in the car, and heading off into the semi-unknown. Our helpful hints above are just a starting point for you and the family. Discover something new while hundreds, maybe even thousands of miles pass beneath your tires.