Driving down the Oregon and California Coasts

This summer I drove down from Seattle to LA by myself via Highway 101 and Highway 1. The entire trip took 10 days and was a great way to experience the Oregon and California coast. Along the way, I drove by scenic stops, ate tacos, and did some moderate hiking. After talking with a few of my friends, we decided that these are the 10 must-see spots along this iconic west coast road trip.

1. Ecola State Park

Ecola State Park is a great first stop to explore the Oregon coast. The coastline stretches for miles and you can enjoy a leisurely hike through some trees and shade while enjoying the beach. As a warning, Oregon beaches are a lot foggier and colder than LA beaches!

2. Three Capes Scenic Drive

Unfortunately some kids recently knocked over the beautiful Cape Kiwanda sandstone pedestal, but the three capes region of Oregon is still beautiful. It's dreamy, mystifying, and peaceful. This section of the coast is great for leisurely beach walks followed by beers at Pelican Brewing Company. I would highly recommend driving to each of the capes and walking around the beaches.

3. Cape Perpetua

Cape Perpetua is home to the famous Thor's Well, great for observing during high tide. This area is known for the meeting of forest and sea, where towering trees overshadow the sand and fog of the surrounding area. I hiked along the Cook's Ridge Trail and Cummins Creek Trail before checking out Devil's Churn and Thor's Well

4. Oregon Dunes Recreational Area

Some insights from friends - I recommended that you take a high speed tour by one of the professional drivers out there so you can really go for it. The dunes change all the time and are hard to navigate so it's better to let the pros do it. We chose the Sand Dunes Frontier since they have the high speed sandrail rides and if you decide you want to drive yourselves there's a rental place right next door. We went for 30 minutes and that was more than enough for us! Exhilarating and so much fun!!

5. Crater Lake

If you've never been to Crater Lake before, take the detour out here. It's exactly what it sounds like, a giant lake inside a crater. Photos don't do it justice. The expansiveness of the lake is jaw-dropping and I would highly recommend it. Insights from friends:

We decided against taking any boat tours and chose a moderate hike that gives one of the best views over the whole lake - Garfield Peak. We parked outside the Crater Lake lodge since the trailhead was just around the back. The altitude made it a little tougher than we expected, not to mention it was a scorching hot day, but it was nothing that we couldn't handle, especially given the older hikers and kids on the same trail. The hike only took a couple of hours so afterwards we drove around the whole lake and stopped at a few different view points around the rim which took about 1.5-2 hours.

6. Redwood National and State Parks

Soon you'll cross the Oregon border and come into California. The true Northern area of California is quiet and at times desolate. My favorite stop here was for Redwood National Park, home to the tallest trees on earth. If you've never seen them before, prepare to have a sore neck by the end of the day! If you can secure permits, I would highly recommend the Tall Trees Grove. Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwood Forest is another great option. Insights on Fern Canyon from friends:

After paying a little fee (I think it was $5 or $10?) we drove along a narrow dirt road through the forest and out to the coast past Gold Bluff's beach to get to the canyon. The carpark was full of cars so we knew it was a popular spot. Once you walk about 200m to the entrance of the canyon you know it was totally worth it. Its so mysterious and magical in there! The walls either side are totally covered in ferns and a little stream trickles through so you have a little obstacle course to navigate. We only spent about 45 minutes walking through to the end and back again but it was one of the trip highlights.

7. Stinson Beach

After a long stretch of not much going on, you'll arrive at Stinson Beach just north of San Francisco. It's a great spot for surfing, picnicking, and enjoy the classic California beach vibe. It's also right near Tomales Bay Oyster Co, a highly recommended stop. 

8. Point Lobos State Preserve

After passing through the city and Silicon Valley, meander down to the Carmel and Monterey region of the coast. This area is foggy just like the Oregon coast. Carmel is an older sleepy down while Monterey is busier and home of the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium. My favorite area here is Point Lobos. Depending on the time of the year, you can see some seal pups laying out on the shore. The hiking here is gentle and traces along the coast. I usually spend 3-4 hours hiking here before grabbing lunch at one of the nearby towns. If China Cove is open, be sure to step out into the water, around to your left, and discover a hidden pocket behind the shoreline.

9. Pfeiffer Beach

A little further down the Big Sur region is Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Beach. You must stop at one of the parks to do some hiking. The Valley View Trail at Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a good option. After that, cool down at the Pfeiffer Beach, home to purple sand. On your way back on the road, McWay falls is a short walk that is perfect for sunset. 

10. Palos Verdes

After passing the glamorous Malibu and Santa Monica areas of LA, drive further down to Palos Verdes, the quieter side of town. There are fantastic hikes here all along the coast, but my favorite one is the Abalone Cove Trail. It's a great sunset hike in the summer, when the temperature cools off to a nice 60s/70s and the sky lights up bright pink.

Have you ever driven down the Oregon and California Coasts? Share your experience in the comment box below!