Best West Coast Road Trips

Pacific Coast Highway: San Francisco to Los Angeles (© Getty)

Pacific Coast Highway: San Francisco to Los Angeles

Is there a more iconic road trip than taking Highway 1 south from San Francisco along California’s coast? En route on the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll pitstop on the Monterey Peninsula before snaking along through the wilderness of Big Sur. Take a long weekend to enjoy the ocean views (and wine) this drive has to offer.

Where to stop: Make your first stop the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the largest of its kind anywhere in the world (just be sure to reserve a ticket online in advance). Continue on to Big Sur, stopping to take a shameless picture of the Bixby Bridge, one of the tallest concrete bridges in the world.

Where to eat: In Monterey, skip the burgers and beers and make a reservation at Aubergine within L’Auberge Carmel. Chef Justin Cogley doles up multi-course tasting menus that focus on local fish, and there’s a 2,500-bottle wine cellar full of California and French wines that you should absolutely sample in a pairing.)

Where to stay: There’s Post Ranch Inn, the splashiest place to stay in the area thanks to its swoon-y clifftop location, or Glen Oaks Big Sur, where you can have a mid-century modern room for night two of your road trip.

The Alaskan Highway (© Getty)

The Alaskan Highway

The 1,390-mile Alaska Highway has a legendary name—the Alcan—and views to match. Starting in Seattle, it crosses the border to Vancouver, and then on to Anchorage, where you’ll see the best of the Northwest, super-sized. “Mountains are wide and widely spaced, and massive lakes are electric blue,” writes Allison Williams for Seattle Met magazine. Bears and moose will keep you company along the way.

Where to stop: Vancouver, always, for a walk through Stanley Park and amazing meals to fortify you on the long road (see below). Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory is one of the few landmark towns on the Alcan (and a good place to overnight).

Where to eat: In Vancouver, join the line at Indian institution Vij’s for lamb popsicles and spicy goat curry; in Whitehorse, try Antoinette’s or Burnt Toast Cafe.

Where to stay: Lodging is a little sparse on this road trip, but the Summit Lake Lodge outside Moose Pass, and Northern Lights Resort and Spa in the Yukon, are reliable options. Plus, the Northern Lights Resort lives up to its name.

California Parklands: Yosemite to Death Valley (© Getty)

California Parklands: Yosemite to Death Valley

Eastern California is blessed with prolific—and diverse—national parklands. Start in Yosemite National Park with North America’s highest waterfall, Yosemite Falls, and the 3,000-foot tall granite monolith, El Capitan, then head south to contiguous national parks Kings Canyon and Sequoia, underscored by larger-than-life, centuries-old Sequoia trees within virgin forests. Finish the park tour exploring the ethereal sand dunes and canyons of Death Valley National Park by way of the Death Valley Scenic Byway.

Where to stop: Put size into perspective with a picture of the largest tree on earth, the 275-foot General Sherman sequoia tree in Sequoia National Park.

Where to eat: Splurge on dinner at the Majestic Yosemite Dining Room, a formal, candle-lit space that maintains its 1920s grandeur with candelabra chandeliers, fine china, and modern takes on classics like oysters Rockefeller and French onion soup.

Where to stay: Unpack at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly Ahwahnee Hotel), a Gilbert Stanley Underwood designed, Y-shaped lodge in the heart of Yosemite National Park—and the first-ever luxury property in America’s national parklands (it opened in 1927).

Highway 101 in the Olympic Peninsula (© Getty)

Highway 101 in the Olympic Peninsula

In its northernmost reaches, Highway 101 loops some 330 miles around Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, showcasing vast swathes of temperate rainforest in Olympic National Park, mist-shrouded emerald lakes, cascading waterways, rocky coastline, and dozens of quaint, small towns with populations under 1,000.

Where to stop: See what an American rainforest looks like at Hoh Rainforest, where towering spruce and western hemlock trees dominate and black bears and bobcats roam. Don’t miss the Dungeness Spit, one of the world’s largest sand spits and a national wildlife refuge, either.

Where to eat: Sample the seasonal “garden-to-plate” items at Nourish in Sequim, where all ingredients are local and organic.

Where to stay: Get back to nature in Olympic National Park at the rustic Kalaloch Lodge, which sits between evergreen forests and the Pacific Ocean.

California Wine Country: Napa to Sonoma (© Getty)

California Wine Country: Napa to Sonoma

Don’t choose between California’s two most renowned wine regions—visit both. Take in the verdant hills and highly polished wineries and estates of Napa Valley, and then head west to Sonoma County, a region rich in mom-and-pop establishments, artisanal wineries, and towering Redwoods.

Where to stop: In Napa, tour the caves and fuel up on sparkling wine at Schramsberg Vineyards (the official bubbles of the White House). In Sonoma, delight in superlative cabernets at Jordan Winery.

Where to eat: Off the scenic Bohemian Highway, follow the scent of fresh-baked delights to Wild Flour Bread in Freestone (population: 32), Sonoma’s first historic district. Grab a cheese fougasse and piping hot “Egyptian” bread with fig, pear, and candied ginger for an afternoon picnic.

Where to stay: Sleep off the food and wine at Vintners Inn, a family-owned, 92-acre estate in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley.

Highway 101 on Oregon’s Coast (© Getty)

Highway 101 on Oregon’s Coast

Down the snaking shoreline from Washington State to the California Redwoods, Oregon’s Highway 101 puts on a show, from broad Cannon Beach to dozens of outstanding state parks with even better names (see: Devils Punchbowl, Cape Perpetua). Each detour is distinctive, and the drive is—dare we say it—as lovely as California’s Highway 1.

Where to stop: Thanks to its appearance at the end of the 1985 kidventure flick The Goonies, Haystack Rock is forever known as “Goonies Rock.” The sea stack rises 235 feet above sea level, and is a visible beacon calling you to Cannon Beach.

Where to eat: Pelican Pub and Brewery in surfers’ cove Pacific City lets you drink a locally brewed porter with your toes in the sand. Nothing wrong with that.

Where to stay: Built in the early 1890s, the iconic Heceta Head Lighthouse—just five miles from Cape Perpetua—has an adjacent light keeper’s house that’s now a plush bed and breakfast (with a memorable multi-course meal in the morning). If you’re the sporting type, Bandon Dunes golf resort is nationally renowned and a great place to stay for a day or two.

The Road to Hana

The Road to Hana

This legendary 64-mile stretch, known as the Hana Highway or Road to Hana, snakes along the northeastern coast of Maui with 600 curvy bends and more than 50 wait-your-turn bridges (we suggest a Jeep for this journey.) Leisurely driving is rewarded with towering coastal cliffs, plunging waterfalls, dense jungle, and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.

Where to stop: With its bamboo canopy, Waikamoi Nature Trail, makes for a dreamy hike. The mystical Waikani Falls and volcanic black sand beaches at Wai’ainapanapa (glistening waters) State Park make for ideal Instagram moments.

Where to eat: The sleepy farm stand Twin Falls is a great place for a pit stop, with fruit smoothies and squeezed-to-order sugarcane juice. For a proper sit-down lunch with a view, The Mill House sources its ingredients from the nearby Maui Tropical Plantation grounds.

Where to stay: Drop your bags at the blissed-out, television-free Travaasa Hana and book a traditional Hawaiian Lomilomi healing massage with deep kneading.