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These Are the Best West Coast Road Trips in America

From Alaska's glorious peaks to California's windswept coast

There are countless reasons why travelers say the West is home to the country's greatest road trips. After all, this is where you'll find the dusty drive through the desert of Joshua Tree, the historic, wildlife-filled route down the Alaska Highway, and the scenic coastal journey up California's Highway 1. The region is also home to some of America's best national parks—Yosemite, Crater Lake, and Olympic national parks, to name a few—as well as tranquil beachside towns and retro-ritzy escapes that harken back to the glamorous old days of Hollywood. If you're ready to get your motor running, read on, because here we've compiled the best West Coast road trips to add to your bucket list.

Pacific Coast Highway, California

bridge between two cliffs along a coastline

Start: San Francisco, California

End: Los Angeles, California

Distance: 466 miles

There's no drive that will give you that wind-in-your-hair feeling more than the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles along the Pacific Coast Highway (known locally as the PCH). This nearly 450-mile stretch promises breathtaking coastal scenery, quirky lodgings (think: The Madonna Inn), and plenty of recognizable landmarks like Big Sur's Bixby Bridge, as pictured in HBO's Big Little Lies. Pro tip: For the ultimate thrill, splurge on a convertible.

Los Angeles to Palm Springs, California

retro 50s blue car parked outside of a mid-century modern house with palm trees

Start: Los Angeles, California

End: Palm Springs, California

Distance: 106 miles

Be like Sinatra, Liberace, and other 1950s Hollywood royalty by escaping Los Angeles for the trendy desert oasis of Palm Springs. It's a mere two-hour drive east, but the payoff is huge. As you cruise out, you'll be rewarded with vistas of imposing granite formations, spindly yucca trees, and wide-open skies (the sunsets are especially dreamy). And once you've arrived, it's all mid-century modern homes, Instagram-ready pool scenes, and vintage stores selling eclectic pieces.

The Alcan, Alaska

a road leads into a mountain range in Alaska in the summer

Start: Dawson Creek, British Columbia

End: Delta Junction, Alaska

Distance: 1,390 miles

Once a bumpy dirt road, the Alaska Highway, also known as "The Alcan" (a portmanteau of Alaska and Canada), has become one of the most legendary highway systems in North America. Beginning in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and extending 1,000-some miles to Delta Junction, near Fairbanks, Alaska, the route is renowned for its scenery (snow-peaked mountains, frozen expanses, spruce forests) and wildlife (caribou, moose, and even bison).

Historic Columbia River Highway, Oregon

bridge crossing a waterfall in a lush forest

Start: Troutdale, Oregon

End: The Dalles, Oregon

Distance: 75 miles

With its mossy stone bridges, basalt cliffs, and more than 50 thundering waterfalls, this drive is one of the most scenic in the country. The 75-mile stretch starts in Troutdale, just 30 minutes east of Portland. From here, meander along the lip of the gorge, stopping at the fresh berry stands, the 1917 Vista House—a prime lookout point—and the 620-foot Multnomah Falls, Oregon's tallest cascade. Hikers will want to tackle Angels Rest, a five-mile hike that takes you to the top of a bluff for panoramic valley views. End the trip at Hood River, where you can watch the windsurfers and kiteboarders fly across the waterfront.

Highway 101, Oregon

sunset over boulders on a beach

Start: Portland, Oregon

End: Redwood National Park, California

Distance: 380 miles

An hour west of Portland, you'll merge onto Highway 101 to kick off your 380-mile adventure down the Oregon Coast and into the northernmost tip of California. Start at Cannon Beach, a windswept seaside town that is home to quaint galleries, shops, and restaurants, as well as the 235-foot monolith Haystack Rock. From there, you'll fly by pine-covered hills, lighthouse-covered peninsulas, and coastal rain forests dense with Sitka Spruces and salmonberry bushes. End the trip in California's stunning Redwood National Park, just 60 miles beyond the state border. 

Highway 101, Washington

male hiker stands in a clearing of mossy trees in a forest

Start: Port Townsend, Washington

End: Aberdeen, Washington

Distance: 211 miles

Highway 101 loops around the perimeter of Washington's Olympic National Park, passing impressive peaks like Hurricane Ridge, as well as the Hoh temperate rainforest and Ruby Beach, a spectacular sunset spot. Bed down for a few nights at the stately Lake Quinault Lodge, built in 1926, or in one of the cozy cabins hugging the shores of Lake Crescent. Just make sure not to miss the idyllic towns scattered along the route, like Sequim, which is known for its lavender fields that bloom every June, and Aberdeen, the birthplace of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, where you can tour the rock star's childhood home.

Yosemite to Death Valley, California

desert road leads into cliffs in california

Start: Yosemite National Park, California

End: Death Valley National Park, California

Distance: 230 miles

If you're looking to check off four national parks in one go, consider the drive from Yosemite National Park to Death Valley National Park, stopping by the Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks along the way. The trip can be squeezed into a single day, but to break it up, spend the first afternoon discovering the wonders of Yosemite, including the 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls, overnighting at The Ahwahnee Hotel—formerly The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, the first luxury lodge built in America's national parklands. That way, you'll be wide-eyed and ready to kick it into high gear one you arrive at Death Valley's salt flats and impressive rock formations the next morning.

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, Oregon

snowy mountains surrounding a lake and island

Start: Bend, Oregon

End: Lava Beds National Monument, California

Distance: 250 miles

This ride winds through southern Oregon, looping around Crater Lake, the deepest in all of the U.S., as well as Upper Klamath Lake, the state's largest. Start at Diamond Lake Junction, halfway between Bend and Klamath Falls on I-97 and pick up the scenic byway at Crater Lake National Park. The lake was formed after the collapse of an ancient volcano some 7,700 years ago, which explains the region's vast deposits of pumice and other volcanic stones. In Upper Klamath Lake, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife; the area attracts more than 430 species of birds, including sandhill cranes, pelicans, and bald eagles. Farther south, the byway crosses into California and passes Lava Beds National Monument, where visitors can explore 500-plus lava tube caves, created over the last half-million years.

Mendocino to Napa, California

golden vineyard in the fall

Start: Mendocino, California

End: Napa, California

Distance: 140 miles

Drinking and driving is a bad idea. But if you do it responsibly, there's no better wine trail than the one beginning in California's Mendocino County and extending down to Sonoma and Napa. In Mendocino, start your tasting at Pennyroyal Farm, home to 23 acres of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir grapes, as well as a creamery and vegetable garden that supplies the on-site farm-to-table restaurant. The drive to Sonoma and Napa will be just as enjoyable: you'll pass rolling hills covered with vines, coastal redwoods, and inland oaks as you make your way to the region's award-winning restaurants and tasting rooms.

Seattle to Whidbey Island, Washington

a strait of water surrounds islands with forests

Start: Seattle

End: Whidbey Island

Distance: 35 miles

The San Juan archipelago is a constellation of 172 isles that span from Olympic, Washington to Vancouver, British Columbia. To discover Whidbey Island, the largest of them all (and the fourth largest in the U.S. at approximately 55 miles long), drive north for about 30 minutes to the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal, where vessels to Whidbey depart every half an hour. Once you've arrived, drive to the quaint towns of Langley and Coupeville, then farther along to Deception Pass Bridge. It's a perfect day trip full of scenic vistas and plenty of roadside attractions—but if you want to overnight, check into the newly-opened Captain Whidbey Hotel.

Los Angeles to Joshua Tree, California

sunset shining through the branches of a joshua tree in california desert

Start: Los Angeles, California

End: Joshua Tree, California

Distance: 128 miles

Joshua Tree is a desert enclave known for its cacti-covered landscapes, Wild West-style attractions, and artsy accommodations (see: The 29 Palms Inn and this funky Airbnb). Make a weekend of it and embark on the two-and-a-half-hour trip from Los Angeles, a dusty drive that is best paired with the music of the Eagles, America, and the Rolling Stones. To get a feel for the place, time your visit to the bi-annual Joshua Tree Music Festival, which pops up every May and October, and features performances by the likes of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and the John Butler Trio.

San Diego, California to Tijuana, Mexico

colorful flags hang over a pedestrian street with sidewalk tables in tijuana

Start: San Diego, California

End: Tijuana, Mexico

Distance: 20 miles

In recent years, Tijuana's gotten a makeover. Once known for its raucous party scene and red-light district, the border town has cleaned up its image by opening contemporary galleries, pilgrimage-worthy restaurants, and even high-end hotels like One Bunk, Zona Centro. Discover the newly revitalized city on the 30-minute drive from San Diego, stopping at the border to pick up your temporary visa. You'll feel instantly transported once you drive down the bustling Avenida Revolución, Tijuana's main street, which is lined with craft stores and funky restaurants.

Palm Springs to the Salton Sea, California

sunlight reflects off water with mountains behind it

Start: Palm Springs, California

End: Salton Sea, California

Distance: 60 miles

A drive from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea is a short but deeply rewarding trip, offering art, history, and photo-worthy landscapes. In the 1950s, Salton—one of the world's largest inland seas and lowest spots on earth—was considered California's riviera, drawing some 500,000 vacationers per year. But when salt levels started to rise in the lake, killing off the fish and creating a nose-turning stench, the crowds decamped for other shores. These days, it's somewhat of a ghost town, but still, attractions abound, like Salvation Mountain, a colorful art installation by Leonard Knight and the Imperial Sand Dunes, which span 15 miles and have appeared in movies including Star Wars.

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