West Coast Road Trip!
My best friend and I are east coasters...we are eagerly anticiapating our spring road trip down the west coast. We have about 2 weeks and wanted to start in Seattle (we're going to fly in), do Portland and then hit CA. We've already been to LA so we probably would only spend a day and 1/2 there. Any ideas of what to hit? I don't even know where to start in terms of rental car and accomodations! Any help would be greatly appreciated!
Are you planning to start in Seattle and end in San Diego, or will this be a round trip and back out from Seattle again? Bob
our plan is
The plan is to fly to seattle and drive all the way down to San Diego and then fly to vegas to meet our friends. Thanks!
First, you'll pay a bit extra for a one-way rental, but shop around, and be sure to get a quote from Advantage. They had a flat rate price for one way rentals (last year), and if they still offer it, it may save you a little. A one way rental (compact car like a Nissan Sentra) for two weeks in September will cost you about $440 from Alamo, so use that as a baseline when comparing quotes and see if you can do better. That rate is available on Alamo's website today, and will probably hold unless they start to sell out. I have found that Alamo often offers the best rates of any big name rental company, and there is no monkey business with them as you might find with other, less reputable companies.
From Seattle, you might start on the Olympic Peninsula, or the San Juan Islands (you can take the car out there on the ferry or just ride as a passenger out to Friday Harbor and walk around). Also recommended is a look at Mt. St Helens -- it is recovering from the catyclism that occurred there and is a remarkable thing to see. Be sure to spend some time along the Oregon coast (the Seaside/Astoria area is a particular favorite of mine, and Depoe Bay. See Crater Lake if you can.
I also love the Northern CA coast, and the Redwood groves are nearby. I'd spend a couple of days in San Francisco, one of my favorite cities, and take in Yosemite National Park as well. Spend at least two days in Yosemite! Then you can go back over to the coast, or drive down US395 from the east exit of the park. The Owens Valley (around Bishop CA) is very beautiful.
From LA, there are a lot of attractions to choose from, everything from nightlife to scenic drives. One suggestion might be to take the passenger ferry to Santa Catalina Island and spend a day there bicycling around the backroads. The trip as I've suggested can be done in less than 10 days (not including Lassen Natl Park, Death Valley or the Redwood parks, which are also places I recommend), with a few hours of time spent at the places I've suggested, and a couple nights in San Francisco and in Yosemite.
If you decide to include more than two National Parks or Monuments in your plans, be sure to buy an annual pass at the first one you visit, and you'll save money -- Yosemite alone charges a $25 entrance fee. Bob
Try and get a night-time flight
If possible, try and get a night arrival flight, avoid sitting over the wings and get a window seat (ideally on the left side of the aircraft -- depending upon the approach pattern in use when you land...) When you fly into Las Vegas at night, it looks like you are flying into Oz. The green of the MGM, the blue/red of the Polo Towers and the rest of the LV strip display is really pretty cool!
Depending upon the weather -- that stretch of air space is also a bit bumpy as you will pass over five significant mountain ranges.
Personally, I don't think it is reasonable to try and hit Yosemite or any of the parks inland from the coast in your time frame. If it were me, I would plan to spend the entire time exploring the coast as you go south. The coast highways are slower moving than the Interstate highways and will easily take five days to drive from Seattle to San Diego. If you pause for a day or two as you go at some of the more memorable places and towns, it will certainly take all of the two weeks to make the drive. This should not be considered a "speed run". For a sample of places to stop and explore do a keyword search (select all topics -- gray button top of this page) using coast road trip. You will find a legthly topic thread about such trips taken last year.
some suggested stops
Mt Rainier National Park, WA (2-1/2 hrs)
to Mt. St. Helens volcano, WA (3-1/2 hrs)
to Portland, OR (2 hrs)
to Crater Lake National Park, OR (5 hrs)
to Redwood National Park, CA (4-1/2 hrs)
then drive the coast #101 / #1 to San Francisco (7 hrs)
& then continue onward along the coast through the various popular cities/towns to L.A.
The above are several scenic national parks / sites to see without trying to get as far as Yosemite or Sequoia.
IMHO, stay on the coast
You've gotten some great advice already. Personally, I would stay on the coast. Although if you have time to do Mt. St. Helen's, do it. It's fascinating.
From Seattle, I would take the ferry to Bremerton.
From Bremerton, drive north to Poulsbo (a charming Scandinavian village), Port Gamble (interesting "company" town), and then to the Port Townsend area (lovely Victorian town).
From Port Townsend, head west along the upper edge of the Peninsula and see the Dungeness Spit NWR in the Seqium area, Hurricane Ridge in Port Angeles, Sol Doc Hot Springs, Lake Crescent, and drive out to the Makah Indian Reservation in the NW corner. The Makah has a terrific museum with artifacts excavated from Makah villages of the past, and you can check out Cape Flattery (the fartest most north-west portion of the US).
Down the coast you will want to explore the Hall of Mosses (just south of Forks, WA), Ruby Beach, Kalaloch area, and the Lake Quinault area. All of these have wonderful short hikes into the breath-taking Olympic National Park/Rainforest.
Heading South of 101, you will go through Aberdeen, WA. If it's in port, check out the Lady Washington...a beautiful ship that is the same type of ship that Capt. Robert Gray (discoverer of the Columbia River) sailed in the 1790s. It has been in the movies (Pirates of the Caribbean) and is a treasure.
From Aberdeen, head to Westport, WA, and explore this fishing village and then start down the coast. Beautiful vistas. Go through Raymond/South Bend and out to the Long Beach Peninsula, then through the cute little village of Ilwaco. Check out the Lewis & Clark museum there (this was where they first viewed the Pacific Ocean).
Note: If you decide to squeeze in Mt. St. Helens, go east on Hwy 12 from Raymond to I-5, then south to Mt. St. Helen. You can easily return to the coast by taking Hwy 4 at Longview which will take you through Cathlamet back back over to the Ilwaco area and/or straight to the bridge to Astoria, OR. (see below)
Cross over the bridge across the Columbia River to Astoria. At about 5 miles in length, this bridge is a very cool experience. Astoria has a great maritime museum. Go east from Astoria and stop at Fort Clatsop. A re-creation of the Lewis & Clark fort that they wintered in.
Then head down the Oregon Coast. Much to see and do and a beautiful drive. Seaside, Cannon Beach, Tillamook (and the yummy Tillamook Cheese Factory with the world's best ice cream), Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Newport, Sea Lion Caves, Gold Beach, Dunes Recreation Area, Bandon, etc.
Then on into California where you will want to explore Eureka, the Redwoods, etc. to San Francisco.
Then, of course, you have the lovely stretch south along the coast all the way to SAn Diego. I'll let California folks give you more detail on what to see there.
Anyway, this trip can be done in about 4-5 if you drive like heck and explore little, or can take 4-5 weeks if you really want to enjoy the sights, or anything in-between. While the stuff inland is great as well, I would save it for another trip when you are exploring what is inland off the I-5 corridor and stick to the coast for your first trip.
Thanks for all your suggestions!
I think we are going to stick to the coast (well except for Portland). But what I'm looking into now is tours. I found a tour out of Portland that goes to Mt. St. Helens, and now I'm on the hunt for a tour that goes from Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula. I found one, but it was only for groups of 5 or more. Anyone have any suggestions?
Mt. St. Helens is an iffy one
Even though your trip is not until the Spring, Mt. St. Helens is awake and active and may be then too. While it will make your trip more memorable -- you will need to be somewhat flexible since no tour operator can predict if the roads and visitor centers will be open.
I am sure that you will hear from poster Judy about tours in this area one of these days.