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12 Best Vacation Destinations on America’s West Coast

America’s West Coast offers some of the most magnificent scenery in the world. It’s not only about Southern California’s golden beaches and Hollywood stars but world-class cities with top-notch cultural attractions, rugged coastlines with remote stretches of sand backed by towering redwoods, and mountains with remote wilderness where you’ll probably see more deer than other people. From the jewel-like San Juan Islands to San Diego’s many amusements, there’s an unforgettable vacation destination for everyone on this list.

Olympic National Park, Washington Deer, Mountains and meadows Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park
Credit: Deer, Mountains and meadows Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park by © Curtis Smith - Dreamstime.com

Olympic National Park, Washington

Olympic National Park is a remote wilderness area with everything from soaring mountains, waterfalls, and rainforests to a rugged coastline with driftwood-strewn beaches where the powerful waves of the Pacific crash against the shore. Take a hike at Hurricane Ridge, where meadows are filled with wildflowers in late spring and summer while wildlife is abundant, including black-tailed deer, mountain goats and the elusive bobcat. Lake Crescent is a popular spot for all sorts of watersports from catch-and-release fly fishing to kayaking, canoeing, and swimming. At Sol Duc Springs, there are geothermally-heated waters to soak in after a day of adventure.

Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, Washington Friday Harbor marina and passenger ferry terminal, San Juan Island
Credit: Friday Harbor marina and passenger ferry terminal, San Juan Island by © Mickem | Dreamstime.com

Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, Washington

The San Juan Islands are easily accessed by ferry from the town of Anacortes. San Juan Island, one of the most popular in the archipelago, is home to the historic seaport town of Friday Harbor, where the ferry will dock. It offers an idyllic retreat with plenty of shops, art galleries, and museums to explore, along with farm-to-table eateries serving dishes that use local island produce. There are even a number of vineyards with opportunities for tastings. A wide range of outdoor recreation is possible, too, including scenic trails to hike and bike, kayak excursions to join, whale-watching trips, and more.

Seattle, Washington Seattle skyline with Space Needle.
Credit: Seattle skyline with Space Needle. by © Sorin Colac - Dreamstime.com

Seattle, Washington

If you’re looking for city attractions, Seattle offers it all. Not only is it easy on the eyes, nearly surrounded by both water and mountains, but there is also a myriad of cultural attractions to enjoy with institutions like the Seattle Art Museum, the Museum of Pop Culture, Chihuly Garden and Glass, the Pacific Science Museum, and the National Nordic Museum. You might want to head underground in Pioneer Square too. It was the original downtown area when it was first settled in the mid-1800, and when a fire destroyed much of the area, the city was rebuilt right on top of it. The labyrinth of streets, alleyways and buildings is still underneath and can be visited on a tour. Other highlights include taking in the view from the top of the Space Needle, exploring Pike Place Market, and riding the Seattle Great Wheel on the waterfront.

Astoria, Oregon Astoria, Oregon
Credit: Astoria, Oregon by © Dan Klimke | Dreamstime.com

Astoria, Oregon

The first American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains and the oldest city in Oregon, Astoria is incredibly picturesque, nestled into the hills along the Columbia River. It’s well-known among film buffs as the setting of the 1985 hit “The Goonies,” and fans will recognize many of the filming sites from the “Goon Docks” to the Flavel House Museum, which served as Mikey’s dad’s workplace. The city is rich in tradition and architecture, and a tour of the Flavel House is like taking a trip back in time to the 19th century. Stroll the Astoria Riverwalk to enjoy the water views and sites like the Maritime Memorial. You’ll get the best view from the top of the Astoria Column, where, after climbing the over 160 steps to the top, which includes the Columbia River, the Pacific Ocean, snow-capped volcanoes of the Cascade Range, and Saddle Mountain.

Cannon Beach, Oregon Cannon Beach, Oregon
Credit: Cannon Beach, Oregon by © Dan Klimke - Dreamstime.com

Cannon Beach, Oregon

A popular vacation destination for honeymooners and all sorts of romance-seekers, the town of Cannon Beach sits along the northern Oregon coast, famous for its awe-inspiring scenery that includes long stretches of beaches where waves crash against sea stacks and other rock formations. Iconic Haystack Rock is 235 feet high as the largest of the monolithic rocks that are spread across the sandy shoreline, providing a nesting ground for sea birds. The community itself is a bustling tourist destination with lots of art galleries, unique shops, and upscale restaurants.

Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada Lake Tahoe beach
Credit: Lake Tahoe beach by © Valentin Armianu - Dreamstime.com

Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada

Lake Tahoe straddles the California and Nevada border, a popular destination year-round. It’s one of the top spots for a lake getaway, with the warmer months ideal for enjoying just about anything out on the water, from fishing and swimming to parasailing, jet skiing, paddle boarding, and boat cruises. There are miles and miles of hiking, horseback riding, and biking trails, while winter brings opportunities for some of the best skiing and boarding in the country. There’s plenty of entertainment to enjoy no matter what the season, with casinos on the lake’s Nevada side and all sorts of nightlife to enjoy, including big-name concerts.

Yosemite National Park, California Yosemite Valley

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park is filled with dramatic scenery that includes towering mountains with steep granite cliffs, often reflected in still waters and highlighted by cascading falls. It makes the park a popular spot for climbing and hiking, with the Mist Trail being one of the most popular, leading to Vernal Fall, which plunges 317 down to the Merced River below. There are more than 80 species of mammals here, like bald eagles, black bears, mule deer, coyotes, and foxes, which makes it ideal for wildlife watching too. While Yosemite Valley gets very busy in the summer, you can find relief on the other side of the park at Tuolumne Meadows, which offers even more stunning scenery and quiet trails.

San Francisco, California San Francisco, California
Credit: San Francisco, California by © minnystock | Dreamstime.com

San Francisco, California

Often ranked among the most beautiful cities in the world with its iconic, often mist-enveloped Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco offers a wealth of things to do with more than enough to fill a week-long, or longer, vacation. You can walk or bike the bridge itself to the Marine Headlands on the other side, ride the famous cable cars up and down the hills, enjoy countless museums, or even take a cruise to Alcatraz, the formidable fortress in the middle of the bay. Golden Gate Park is home to some of the city’s top attractions, including the California Academy of Sciences, the De Young Museum, and the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. Don’t miss sampling some of the signature cuisines, like creamy clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.

Mendocino, California Mendocino, California
Credit: Mendocino, California by © Pius Lee - Dreamstime.com

Mendocino, California

An artists’ colony founded in the 1850s, Mendocino sits atop a bluff overlooking the ocean and is the only town on the California coast that’s designated as a historical landmark. Its streets are lined with grand Victorian buildings and saltbox cottages that give it a New England flavor, the reason why it was used as Cabot Cove in the TV series, “Murder, She Wrote.” Visitors can enjoy its many unique boutiques, bookstores, eateries, and museum, along with many outdoor activities. Mendocino Headlands State Park sits at the edge of town and offers trails that lead down to secluded coves and beaches. Nearby you’ll find trails that run through redwood groves and many vineyards for tasting and touring too. Don’t miss Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, just north of town on 47 oceanfront acres, with paths winding through a variety of plants and colorful flowers, culminating along the cliffs where a park bench sits looking out onto the Pacific.

Big Sur, California McWay falls in Julia Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California
Credit: McWay falls in Julia Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California by © Luckyphotographer | Dreamstime.com

Big Sur, California

Located along the Central California Coast in an area that’s often compared to the Italian Riviera, inspiring countless artists, poets and writers, Big Sur will put you among the lush forest, rugged mountains, and hidden beaches, including one with purple sands. The scenic drive along Highway One to get here is worth making Big Sur your next destination alone, but you’ll find plenty to do, including treasure hunting for nephrite jade at Jade Cove, hiking to Sykes Hot Springs for a soak, checking out the 80-foot-tall waterfall that spills down to the beach in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and sipping tasty brews at the Big Sur Taphouse.

Disneyland and California Adventure - Anaheim Believe...In Holiday Magic  takes place select nights during the holiday season.
Credit: Believe...In Holiday Magic takes place select nights during the holiday season. by disneyland.disney.go.com

Disneyland and California Adventure - Anaheim

Disneyland was the original, opened in Anaheim in 1955, with many expansions since then, including the new Star Wars Land. Enjoy all the characters like Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Disney princesses, along with classic rides that include Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, the Matterhorn, and Peter Pan’s Flight. In 1998, Disney California Adventure was built next door in what was once a parking lot for Disney, and it offers plenty of its own with seven themed areas like Hollywood Land, Cars Land and Grizzly Peak. There are tons of hotels nearby that offer free shuttles – or are even walkable to the park!

San Diego, California San Diego, California
Credit: San Diego, California by © Sean Pavone | Dreamstime.com

San Diego, California

Sunny San Diego boasts a year-round mild climate along with beautiful beaches. Coronado is often voted the finest in the entire country, with powdery soft sands that glisten due to the mineral content and calm azure waters that beckon swimmers in. The city is also renowned for its many attractions, with Balboa Park home to the highly acclaimed San Diego Zoo, museums like the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum, and a gorgeous rose garden. You’ll find a fantastic microbrew scene and one of the country’s hottest food scenes too, with everything from delicious cheap eats out of food trucks like carne asada fries to world-class restaurants serving fresh seafood with an ocean view.

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