Published April 20, 2020 4/20/2020

14 Short West Coast Road Trips While Social Distancing

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Social distancing hasn’t been easy for many of us. Even if you have a decent yard, you’re probably feeling a bit cooped up by now. The good news for those that live in the west is that there are many short and scenic road trips you can take without even having to stop to fill up for gas, including these.

*Keep in mind that as things are changing on practically a daily basis, be sure to confirm the latest information on closures before heading out to avoid disappointment.


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San Francisco to Santa Cruz Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco to Santa Cruz

Heading south from San Francisco brings dazzling coastal views traveling on Highway 1, with the route to Santa Cruz taking about an hour and 15 minutes without stops. Once you reach the small town of Pacifica, the strip of roadway runs alongside the ocean with no traffic lights for miles. It travels through Half Moon Bay where surfers famously ride Mavericks behemoth waves, passing by rural farms and Pigeon Point Lighthouse, a crown jewel on this stretch of coastline. Once you reach Santa Cruz, head down West Cliff Drive with its epic views of the Monterey Bay on one side, and magnificent homes on the other.

Santa Cruz to Big Sur Big Sur, California
Big Sur, California

Santa Cruz to Big Sur

One of the most iconic stretches of coast can be driven on the route from Santa Cruz to Big Sur Drive that follows Highway 1, with views of the Santa Lucia Mountains, the Pacific Ocean and lush meadows bursting with wildflowers in the spring. While the 70-mile drive takes less than 90 minutes to complete without stops, with the many photo-ops you’ll want to allow for extra time to capture the incredible panoramas. You’ll zig-zag along rocky cliffs that are battered by the crashing waves, enjoying silhouettes of Monterey cypress trees and plenty of scenic beaches that make it nearly impossible to keep going without a closer look.

Portland to the Oregon Coast Ecola State Park Overlook, Cannon Beach
Ecola State Park Overlook, Cannon Beach

Portland to the Oregon Coast

The 75-mile drive from Portland to Cannon Beach on Highway 26 is a straight shot through dense forest with your biggest reward discovered once you reach the coast. Cannon Beach is one of the Oregon coast’s most breathtaking towns, providing sweeping views of the Pacific and famous Haystack Rock.  Your other option is to detour off Highway 26, taking Highway 6 at Banks which follows Wilson River and passes a small waterfall. It leads directly to Tillamook, the town famous for its cheese, bringing stunning coastal views from nearby Cape Meares on Netarts.

Los Angeles to Joshua Tree, California Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park

Los Angeles to Joshua Tree, California

It’s 120 miles from L.A. to Joshua Tree, but not long after you leave the City of Angels, you’ll feel as if you’re in a completely different world. Drive east passing miles of wind farms, keeping an eye out for prehistoric creatures with the 50-foot-high T Rex and Brontosaurus a selfie-worthy attraction. If you’re into mid-century modern architecture, take a drive through Palm Springs and then continue on to magical Joshua Tree. While the park is now temporarily closed, you’ll still be able to glimpse some of this alien landscape that includes gnarled, ancient Joshua Trees.

Troutdale to The Dalles, Oregon Latourell Falls at Guy W. Talbot State Park
Latourell Falls at Guy W. Talbot State Park

Troutdale to The Dalles, Oregon

This 70-mile drive starts in Troutdale, just 30 minutes east of Portland and follows the Columbia River Gorge. One of the most scenic drives in the country, it showcases basalt cliffs, picturesque moss-draped bridges and around four dozen waterfalls, some of which you can see right off the road like 250-foot-tall Latourell Falls. The 1917 Vista House is a popular lookout point bringing panoramic vistas of the mighty Columbia and as you drive toward The Dalles, the sweeping grasslands and jagged rocky outcroppings dominate the horizon.

Lone Pine to Mammoth Lakes, California Lake scene at Mammoth Lakes
Lake scene at Mammoth Lakes

Lone Pine to Mammoth Lakes, California

Upon your approach to the small town of Lone Pine, named after a solitary pine tree that once stood at the mouth of Lone Pine Canyon, views of the nearly 14,500-foot-high Mount Whitney steal the show.  The town itself has been the backdrop to many Hollywood westerns since the 1920s, bringing plenty of photo-ops, and from there, the drive to Mammoth Lakes is just under 100 miles. There are gorgeous mountain and lake views throughout – just minutes from Mammoth Lakes, the Hot Creek Geological Area is worth a look, similar to Yellowstone but on a much smaller scale, with bubbling, brilliant blue sulfur pools.

Mount Hood Scenic Byway, Oregon Mount Hood
Mount Hood

Mount Hood Scenic Byway, Oregon

The Mount Hood Scenic Byway winds for just over 100 miles around the snow-capped peak of Mount Hood, providing a spectacular centerpiece for the route. It edges the mountain, passing through orchards with pear, cherry and apple trees along with grapevine laden vineyards. Other highlights include alpaca ranches, fields filled with lavender and berry farms. If you’re looking for Hood views, there’s no other drive like it.

Seattle to Whidbey Island, Washington Deception Pass, Whidbey Island
Deception Pass, Whidbey Island

Seattle to Whidbey Island, Washington

Whidbey Island is just an hour’s drive from Seattle, the largest of the San Juan archipelago that spans from Olympia all the way to Vancouver, British Columbia. Take the ferry from Mukilteo, enjoying the beautiful views along the water before driving Whidbey Scenic Way which passes through charming Langley, set atop a bluff overlooking the waters of Saratoga Passage and the Cascade Mountains. A highlight is Deception Pass Bridge at the north end of the island, providing breathtaking views of the saltwater shoreline and rugged cliffs that plunge down to meet emerald-hued waters. From here you can circle back around without taking the ferry by continuing north and east on Highway 20 which meets Interstate 5.

San Francisco to Bodega Bay, California Bodega Bay
Bodega Bay

San Francisco to Bodega Bay, California

This short road trip travels less than 70 miles, crossing the Golden Gate through serene farmlands and along a wild and dramatic coast to Bodega Bay. Follow a two-lane roadway through lush hills, farmhouses and pastures filled with sheep, horses and cattle before reaching the most awe-inspiring stretch of Highway 1 called the Shoreline Highway. Turn right on Bodega Highway to check out the village of Bodega, best known for its appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, “The Birds.” Both the St. Teresa of Avila Church and old Potter School House served as film sites.

Mount Shasta to the Old Ski Bowl, California Mt. Shasta
Mt. Shasta

Mount Shasta to the Old Ski Bowl, California

Mount Shasta, at nearly 14,200 feet high, soars over the landscape in Northern California, and you can drive the slopes of the snow-capped dormant volcano, stopping to take photos along several vista points that offer fabulous views of the Sacramento River canyon, the Eddy Mountains and even glimpses of Mount Lassen to the south. The highway ends less than 15 miles from the town of Shasta at Old Ski Bowl Vista where you’ll be able to soak up the awe-inspiring scenery of Mount Shasta’s peak, the spires of Castle Crags, and Trinity Mountain.

Sonora to Bear Valley, California Murphys, California
Murphys, California

Sonora to Bear Valley, California

This 55-mile drive starts with a trip back in time to the gold rush days in the historic town of Sonora. Travel Highway 49 which passes through many historic mining communities of the state’s 1849 gold rush before heading toward Murphys on Highway 4. This charming town is well worth a look with a river running through and the famous shamrock painted on the streets of downtown. From there you’ll meander through the foothills, climbing in elevation through mountains and soaring groves of giant sequoias, the world’s largest trees before reaching Bear Valley with its serene views of craggy peaks.

Cook to Goldendale, Washington Big Lava Bed, Washington
Big Lava Bed, Washington

Cook to Goldendale, Washington

This 55-mile route that’s only partially paved is most famous for its ice caves, including Guler Cave and Cheese Cave, but it showcases many other natural wonders. In the Klickitat Wildlife Area, you can watch black-tailed deer and bighorn ram. The Big Lava Bed in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest which originated from a 500-foot-deep crater is the youngest feature in a lava field that resulted from an eruption that occurred over 8,000 years ago, with the lava flow traveling eight miles from the cinder cone. Trees can be seen sparsely growing between and among caves, bizarre lava formations and towering rock piles.

Mount Rainier Scenic Byways Loop, Washington Myrtle Falls, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Myrtle Falls, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Mount Rainier Scenic Byways Loop, Washington

This 129-mile loop drive will bring you along the eastern edge of Mount Rainier National Park and two popular scenic byways, the Chinook Byway and White Pass Scenic Byway. Along the Chinook Byway, you’ll enjoy the dramatic rugged beauty of unspoiled wilderness areas and geologic formations. White Pass Scenic Byway features alpine lakes and meadows with hundreds of elk too. It takes about three hours to complete and is typically snow-free by late May.

Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, Oregon Bend, Oregon
Bend, Oregon

Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, Oregon

The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway begins on the west side of the town of Bend, traveling 66 miles where Highway 372 starts to climb toward Mount Bachelor. Pass through ponderosa pines and enjoy stunning mountain views as the byway descends from Mount Bachelor to Dutchman Flat, showcasing Broken Top Mountain. As the name belies, you’ll see multiple lakes like Sparks Lake with much of its shore jagged lava and Devils Lake with its eye-popping emerald hue. Dozens of other lakes come into view with the byway following the Deschutes River as it flows into Crane Prairie Reservoir, famous for its birdlife, with sandhills cranes, osprey and birds of prey frequently seen here.

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