The 16 Most Iconic West Coast Road Trips

<a href="">Marc Venema</a> / Shutterstock
<a href="">Marc Venema</a> / Shutterstock

You know what's crazy? You can drive I-5 from the northernmost point of Washington down to the southernmost point of California in 21 hours. Which means in less than a day you could get to anywhere on the entire West Coast... except Alaska (WAY TO GO ALASKA). The question, though, is where should you get to? Well, consider these 16 places our answer.

We're calling them the West Coast's (except no, not you Alaska, STOP RUINING EVERYTHING) 16 most iconic road trips.

bend oregon
Peter Kunasz/Shutterstock


Distance from LA: 821 miles; 12hrs
Distance from PDX: 178 miles; 3hrs
Distance from SD: 939 miles; 14hrs
Distance from SEA: 329 miles; 6hrs
Distance from SF: 492 miles; 8hrs

Why it's iconic: Bend’s unique nature rests in its Bio-Dome-like climate anomalies. It’s a town in Oregon’s high desert, but it’s also home to roaring rivers. It’s situated between forests and volcanic scree. And, as such, there’s something for everybody -- whether you ski, mountain bike, white-water raft, climb, hike, or just sit around drinking beer (as it stands, it’s one of America’s best under-the-radar beer cities, home to the likes of Deschutes, Boneyard, and 10 Barrel). But what makes Bend an exceptional road-trip destination is, well, the roads that lead in, including paths that take you around the switchbacks of Mount Hood and one that takes you through thick forests with insane mountain and river views.

big sur
Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz/Shutterstock

Big Sur

Distance from LA: 352 miles; 6hrs
Distance from PDX: 757 miles; 12hrs
Distance from SD: 462 miles; 8hrs 15min
Distance from SEA: 928 miles; 14hrs 36min
Distance from SF: 140 miles; 3hrs

Why it's iconic: In this case, it's not just the destination, but the trip itself: the drive to Big Sur is often called one of the best drives in the country, a zig-zag along the ocean that's equal parts precarious and beautiful. Once you're there, the gorgeousness continues: redwoods tower over cafes, hiking trails, and new-agey businesses, all imbued with an air of artsiness and Americana. Wanna stay in treehouse? They've got you covered. Prefer a yurt? They've got those, too.

columbia river gorge

The Columbia River Gorge

Distance from LA: 983 miles; 15hrs
Distance from PDX: 17 miles; 30 min
Distance from SD: 1,100 miles; 17hrs
Distance from SEA: 180 miles; 3hrs
Distance from SF: 654 miles; 10hrs

Why it's iconic: Constituting one of the last legs of the Lewis & Clark expedition -- the section they hit right before saying “fuck all this rain” and heading back east -- the gorge houses incredible gems in damn near every inch of land protruding from the Columbia, both on the Washington and Oregon sides. Hiking trails throughout the scenic area reveal enough forested majesty to fuel a million Ewok adventures, with waterfalls popping up off the highway (Multnomah Falls is the most famous) and around bends in the trail. Rock climbing is a way of life, and the river offers both sandy beaches and some of the country’s best kite surfing. And if you want to just kick back and enjoy nature without doing anything, you can’t really beat Hood River, one of the best small beer towns in the country. And if you want to keep going and make L&C look like pussies, well, the river stretches all along the state, from the desert you didn’t realize Oregon has, all the way to the coast.

crater lake
Sherri R. Camp/Shutterstock

Crater Lake

Distance from LA: 727 miles; 11hrs
Distance from PDX: 233 miles; 4hrs
Distance from SD: 845 miles; 13hrs
Distance from SEA: 405 miles; 7hrs
Distance from SF: 398 miles; 7hrs

Why it's iconic: As far as gigantic holes in the ground go, Crater Lake is kind of the king, especially since it's the deepest lake in America. The hole itself was caused by a collapsed volcano, so there are no rivers feeding it. Just ample snowfall. And hot damn if it isn't one of the most gorgeous sights in the US -- a crystal-clear pool with year-round hiking, great camping/lodges, and some of the best cliff-jumping in the country. Paired up with a gorgeous approach through South-Central Oregon, the sight of the lake feels like something out of Middle Earth, minus the excessive CGI and boring-ass endings. And that's to say nothing about the Old Man of the Lake, a bobbing old tree that somehow hasn't aged.

friday harbor
David Gaylor/Shutterstock

Friday Harbor

Distance from LA: 1,239 miles; 20hrs
Distance from PDX: 275 miles; 6hrs
Distance from SD: 1,358 miles; 22hrs
Distance from SEA: 103 miles; 4hrs
Distance from SF: 909 miles; 15hrs

Why it's iconic: You’ll spend most of this road trip... on a boat(?!), cruising one of the world’s premier yachting destinations, the San Juan Islands, all thanks to Washington State’s ferries, which offer frequent service to this charming town on the archipelago's largest, and titular, land mass. Once there, you can rent bicycles or kayaks, go whale watching, or dine at restaurants overlooking the quaint harbor. You can also drive to Roche Harbor at the northern tip of the island, a 130-year-old resort where Teddy Roosevelt once carried a big stick, and where today you can watch the sun set over the marina while eating fresh oysters from just down the coast. Pro tip: take the long way there, which involves a brief ferry ride to Whidbey Island, a stop in picturesque Langley, and a trip across the stunning Deception Pass bridge.

joshua tree

Joshua Tree

Distance from LA: 128 miles; 2hrs 15min
Distance from PDX: 1,080 miles; 15hrs
Distance from SD: 160 miles; 2hrs 45min
Distance from SEA: 1,249 miles; 19hrs
Distance from SF: 500 miles; 7hrs 30min

Why it's iconic: Truth be told, even if you're not on peyote, or magic mushrooms, or LSD (or all of the above), the desert is a magical place: the landscape is stark, the air is dry, the hikes are intense, and the vibe is anything-goes. If you're out there, you may want to stay in the crazily themed Hicksville Trailer Palace, and you'll definitely want to get a drink at Pappy & Harriets -- one of our favorite bars in the state -- then get some more drinks at any of these other great nearby watering holes.

mt hood
Anatoliy Lukich/Shutterstock

Mt. Hood

Distance from LA: 952 miles; 16hrs
Distance from PDX: 98 miles; 2hrs
Distance from SD: 1,070 miles; 17hrs
Distance from SEA: 263 miles; 5hrs
Distance from SF: 623 miles; 11hrs

Why it's iconic: Towering behind the Portland skyline like the Paramount Pictures mountain, Hood is renowned for its great, damn-near-year-round skiing, but the area’s National Forest sites are rife with greatness for all outdoor aficionados. Camping opportunities range from the resort comforts of Lost Lake, to rustic creek-side bivouacs, to rentable fire lookout towers. Hell, Timberline, in addition to housing the state’s most iconic bar, also endured Jack Nicholson at his most deranged -- it was the site of the exterior shots for The Shining. Which is to say, whether you’re looking to ski, hike, swim, snowshoe, ride the Alpine slide, or just drive around looking at vistas, every turn around the endless bends of Mt. Hood offers something completely different.

north lake tahoe
LISA WOODBURN/Shutterstock

North Lake Tahoe

Distance from LA: 500 miles; 7hrs 30min
Distance from PDX: 581 miles; 9hrs 30min
Distance from SD: 559 miles; 9hrs 15min
Distance from SEA: 752 miles; 12hrs 30min
Distance from SF: 199 miles; 3hrs 15min

Why it's iconic: Tahoe's like the Stefan's Nightclub of Iconic Roadtrips, 'cause it has it all: ski slopes, boat rentals, camping, fishing, gambling, nightclubs, screaming babies in Mozart wigs, karaoke... Need a guide to the best stuff? We've got you covered. And covered some more. And, if you're cheap, even more than that.

olympic national park
Andrey Tarantin/Shutterstock

Olympic National Park

Distance from LA: 1,126 miles; 17hrs
Distance from PDX: 162 miles; 3hrs
Distance from SD: 1,124 miles; 19hrs
Distance from SEA: 112 miles; 2hrs
Distance from SF: 796 miles; 13hrs

Why it’s iconic: Stretching from snow-covered alpine mountains, through vast swaths of temperate rainforest, to the rocky Pacific coast, this park boasts almost a million square miles of rugged, almost roadless land, which's perfect for almost any outdoor activity, from hiking/backpacking (or even mountain climbing) and whitewater rafting, to fishing and wildlife watching (ONP’s got everything from bears to whales). You can even ski and snowshoe in winter. Prefer indoor activities? That’s cool, ‘cause in addition to 16 campsites, the park’s got a historic lodge, natural hot springs surrounded by rustic cabins, and more.

haystack rock
Mark B. Bauschke/Shutterstock

The Oregon Coast Goonies tour

Distance from LA: 1,035 miles; 16hrs
Distance from PDX: 79 miles; 2hrs
Distance from SD: 1,154 miles; 18hrs
Distance from SEA: 199 miles; 4hrs
Distance from SF: 706 miles; 11hrs

Why it's iconic: Basically every mile of the Oregon coast is gorgeous -- an endless, often treacherous stretch of jagged cliffs, whales, fisheries, seafood shacks, clamming, cheese factories, and some of the best damned sunsets you’ll ever see. But our hearts still belong in Goonies country, the stretch between Cannon Beach and Astoria where you can get flashbacks to the time you and Chunk saw One-Eyed Willy’s boat sail out in front of that big rock (it’s called Haystack), hang out at the jail where the Fratellis escaped (it’s the Oregon Film Museum), and kick it on the rainy beach that housed the shack where Sloth ate his Rocky Road (it’s in Ecola State Park, which is also where Bodhi met the 50-year storm in Point Break). Both towns are incredible -- Cannon Beach is a quaint little vacation town, while Astoria is a small fishing/shipping town with great restaurants, the Fort George Brewery, and incredible beaches. Oh, and Kindergarten Cop and Short Circuit were filmed there too. Every human owes themselves at least one Johnny Five pilgrimage.

palm springs
La Quinta/PGA West

Palm Springs

Distance from LA: 107 miles; 1hr 45min
Distance from PDX: 1,070 miles; 16hrs
Distance from SD: 139 miles; 2hrs 15min
Distance from SEA: 1,241 miles; 18hrs 30min
Distance from SF: 491 miles; 7hrs 15min

Why it's iconic: It used to just be golf and old people. Not anymore: thanks to a huge influx of attention (and money) from the Coachella festival and an influx of developers, Palm Springs is a weekend destination for golfers and old people... and ravers! And live music fans! And hipsters! And drinkers! And hikers! Basically anyone who wants to get out for a few days. There's a ton to do there -- and, thankfully, we did all the best stuff FOR YOU. Because we're good like that.

<a href="">k45025 Rita K</a> / Shutterstock


Distance from LA: 141 miles; 2hrs 45min
Distance from PDX: 914 miles; 13hrs 30min
Distance from SD: 251 miles; 4hrs 45min
Distance from SEA: 1,085 miles; 16hrs 15min
Distance from SF: 300 miles; 4hrs 30 min

Why it's iconic: Not only did the movie Sideways screw merlot sales for, like, ever, but it made this quiet, Danish-themed tourist town into the wine-and-cheese-and-bachelor-party getaway for anyone from SoCal who didn't want to make the drive to Napa. Must-stops include Anderson's Pea House and The Hitching Post II, obviously, but taking a day and going on a wine tour is one of the most relaxing ways to get a little buzzed in all of California.

Candia Baxter/Shutterstock


Distance from LA: 411 miles; 6hrs 30min
Distance from PDX: 617 miles; 9hrs 30min
Distance from SD: 529 miles; 8hrs 30min
Distance from SEA: 788 miles; 12hrs
Distance from SF: 45 miles; 1hr 15min

Why it's iconic: If you like drinking wine, you'll love drinking wine in Sonoma and Napa: there's no West Coast region as synonymous with vines and grapes, and both counties are littered with great tasting towns (one of the reasons wine buses exist), from Yountville (French Laundry bonus, +2) and Healdsburg, to Calistoga (Solage bonus, +500) and Geyserville. If you don't like drinking wine, 1) by the time your trip is over you probably will (free tasting rooms have a way of doing that to a person), and 2) there are thankfully a lot of great dive bars.

<a href="">f8grapher</a> / Shutterstock


Distance from LA: 144 miles; 3hrs
Distance from PDX: 1,104 miles; 16hrs 30min
Distance from SD: 20 miles; 30min
Distance from SEA: 1,276 miles; 19hrs
Distance from SF: 522 miles; 8hrs 15min

Why it's iconic: Make jokes about donkey shows all you want, but if you're in LA or SD, and you're bachelor partying or college partying or... just... uh... party partying, there's no more iconic go-nuts location in driving distance that's not Vegas. But boobs and revelry aren't all Tijuana has to offer anymore: the dining scene there is getting crazy attention, with some of Mexico's best chefs making the most delicious bites you'll ever eat anywhere, plus there's... a brewery scene now, too?

xiaolin zhang/shutterstock

Vancouver, BC

Distance from SF: 950 miles; 15hrs
Distance from LA: 1,227 miles; 19hrs
Distance from SD: 1,397 miles; 22hrs
Distance from PDX: 315 miles; 5hrs
Distance from SEA: 143 miles; 3hrs

Why It’s Iconic: Less than an hour north of the border is one of North America’s most cosmopolitan, and underrated, cities. It’s a place you’ve seen in countless movies and TV shows (most of which wanted you to believe they were set in Seattle), but it’s worth seeing in person, and not just for the spectacular scenery and impressive skyline. Can’t-miss attractions include a trip to Granville Island (get the fish & chips at the world glass farmers’ market); lunch/shopping on Robson St -- followed by an afternoon in Stanley Park -- then drinks/dinner in the historic Gastown neighborhood.

Marc Venema/Shutterstock

Yosemite National Park

Distance from LA: 281 miles; 5hrs
Distance from PDX: 719 miles; 11hrs
Distance from SD: 399 miles; 7hrs
Distance from SEA: 891 miles; 14hrs
Distance from SF: 164 miles; 4hrs

Why it's iconic: There's nothing that screams "America" in, uh, America like Ansel Adams' photos of iconic Yosemite destinations like Half Dome and Glacier Point, and seeing it in person is the kind of thing that makes you be all, "Bro, I'm so glad I'm seeing this in person." There's no shortage of hikes in the summer (and snow activities in the winter); but it's the smell of fresh wood, the sight of waterfalls, and run-ins with wildlife that'll inspire even the most cynical road-tripper to actually acknowledge that, yeah, being outside is pretty damn good, sometimes. Also: if you've never stayed at The Ahwahnee, you're doing something very, very wrong. Just ask James Franco.

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Jeff Miller, Andy Kryza, and Brad Foster are current and former editors at Thrillist, in LA, PDX, and SEA, respectively.