Charity De Souza is a Florida native and travel enthusiast. Traveling to over 50 countries abroad and residing in 6, she has a passion for exploring new cultures. While Central Florida is where she calls home, her favorite travel memories include skydiving in Switzerland and watching the sunset in Morocco.
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If you’re looking for a classic family road trip, the West Coast of the United States offers some of the most beautiful natural sites in the entire country. From California’s iconic parks to the Oregon Coast, you’re spoiled for choice with incredible sights and roadside attractions. There’s no shortage of things to see and do, and it offers the perfect chance to make memories while getting that fresh air you’ve been craving. Here are some of the top West Coast road trip ideas for families, including the best stops, where to stay, and the best sights along the way.
One of the most scenic stretches of coastline in the entire United States, the Oregon Coast spans for 360 miles from Astoria and the Columbia River down to Brookings. You’ll find plenty of scenic spots to pull over for, including Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach and the Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport. Make pit stops at charming towns like Florence with its Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and Tillamook, which is known for its dairy products, while the shorter Three Capes Scenic Drive is ideal if you’ve only got a weekend to explore.
Where to Stay: The Coho Oceanfront Lodge in Lincoln City features ocean-facing rooms and an indoor pool, while River Inn at Seaside in Seaside is a family-friendly stay one block from the main drag. In Cannon Beach, The Waves offers an excellent location and beach views.
One of the most iconic road trips in the United States for all types of travelers, the Pacific Coast Highway is a must for adventurers. Also known as California State Route 1, this route hugs over 600 miles of the California coastline, with some of the most scenic stretches near Big Sur and the Bixby Bridge. You’ll find hundreds of stopping points along the winding road, from the multicolored rocky beach at Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach to the Redwood National and State Parks.
Nature-loving families looking for epic vistas can follow the Cascade Loop of Washington. It’s a great way to see the state’s most incredible sights, stretching for 400 miles from Seattle to the North Cascades Scenic Byway. You’ll have to plan your road trip for weather conditions, as it’s open seasonally between May and November and offers many scenic hiking trails best seen during this time. Marvel at the bright blue waters of Diablo Lake, visit the family-friendly Methow Valley (which includes Mazama, Winthrop, and Twisp), then stop in Leavenworth, a charming Bavarian-themed town.
Where to Stay: Seattle Marriott Waterfront offers the ideal starting or ending point of your family-friendly road trip with its indoor/outdoor pools and views of Elliott Bay. When exploring Leavenworth, stay overnight in the chalet-style Bavarian Lodge or enjoy the outdoor pool and mini-golf at Icicle Village Resort.
Southern California is home to a long list of family-friendly attractions, including inviting sandy beaches, surfing meccas, and scenic hiking trails. Not only that, but it also boasts fantastic weather year-round. Follow the 200-mile stretch of Highway 101 in Southern California and Interstate 5 that connects Santa Barbara and San Diego for a fun family adventure. For a mix of sun and fun, stop by the San Diego Zoo, see marine mammals in the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, and the Oak Glen Preserve in Yucaipa.
Where to Stay: In San Diego, Fairmont Grand Del Mar wins parents over with its easy access to LEGOLAND California and San Diego Zoo, while Hotel del Coronado is one of the city’s most iconic beachfront hotels. With its seaside pool and Pacific beachfront access, Surf & Sand Resort in Laguna Beach is another favorite.
Showcasing the best of the Pacific Northwest, what’s typically a two-hour trek to the ferry in Anacortes can be extended to a coastal road trip from Seattle to the San Juan Islands. Start by exploring top family-friendly attractions in Seattle, then take Highway 525 to Mukilteo for ferry tickets to Clinton on Whidbey Island. Explore the town of Langley, aka “the Village by the Sea”, then visit Coupeville, Oak Harbor, and see the famous bridge at Deception Pass State Park before reaching Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.
The West Coast is home to some of the most celebrated national parks in the United States, with bucket-list destinations spanning from Yosemite National Park to Joshua Tree National Park. You can make this journey as short or as long as you’d like depending on how much time you have, with the stretch from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree being the most popular. If you have time, add a stop in Death Valley, Kings Canyon, Yosemite and Lassen Volcanic National Park to see some of the country’s most picture-perfect natural landscapes on offer.
Where to Stay: Shutters on the Beach is a 5-star pick near the Santa Monica Pier, while The Inn at Death Valley is the perfect stop for families with its spacious suites and spring-fed pools. If Yosemite is on your itinerary, stay at The Ahwahnee for easy access to the park’s top attractions.
At just 70 miles long, the Columbia River Scenic Byway is perfect for families who are short on time. The best time to embark on this journey is spring through fall, so you can enjoy views of the natural landscapes at their best. Defining the boundary between Oregon and Washington, the Columbia River Gorge is home to some of the most incredible waterfalls in Oregon, including the 620-foot Multnomah Falls. It stretches from the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, with most travelers starting the road trip in Portland and stopping in Hood River.
The perfect weekend road trip for outdoor-loving families, add the redwoods of Northern California to your West Coast itinerary. Less than a five-hour road trip from the Bay Area and you and your family can get up close to the world’s tallest and oldest trees, which can reach heights of 360-feet and weigh more than 500 tons. The UNESCO-listed site features beautiful forests, miles of beaches, and stunning overlooks for a memorable road trip. Highlights include Klamath River Overlook, Lady Bird Johnson Grove, and the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway.
Highway 101 in the Olympic Peninsula loops about 330 miles and offers access to the temperate rainforest in the renowned Olympic National Park. Kids will love peering out the window to see a rocky coastline with emerald lakes and cascading waterfalls. With starting points in either Seattle or Olympia, you’ll have the chance to stop at charming small towns like Sequim and Port Angeles and enjoy outdoor adventures in the Hoh Rain Forest, Ruby Beach, and the Mima Mound Natural Area.
Families who want to combine two of California’s most iconic attractions can plan a road trip from South Lake Tahoe to Yosemite National Park. While short, the road trip on Highway 395 allows you to combine California’s shimmering alpine lakes and jutting mountain peaks with bucket list-worthy natural landmarks such as Yosemite’s Half Dome, Tuolumne Meadows, and El Capitan. Enjoy the postcard-perfect landscapes as you head south from Lake Tahoe to Mammoth Lakes, then venture west on Highway 120 to Yosemite Valley.