Rachael, the Londoner who was drunkenly invited to my wedding after meeting me maybe twice, and then spontaneously agreed to come, recently told me she is going to be returning to the West Coast! This is also the girl we subjected to learning how to shotgun a beer – an admittedly indecorous rite of passage we unashamedly make each and every one of our foreign visitors try at least once. This obviously makes us close friends and I feel obligated to help her have the time of her life! I am also partial to helping plan this trip as it is similar to the one I did for my birthday in 2012. It is the same trip that my now husband popped the question and gave me a sparkly new ring. Aside from the happy memories, I truly believe this is one of the most beautiful drives in the world – complete with mountains, lakes, craters, redwoods, ocean, and colorful coastal cities. Let us start this epic journey north and head south.
Day 1 – Vancouver to Seattle
I have actually never been to Vancouver but because this is where Rachael is flying in, we will start here. I have some good sources who recommend a few different activities. You could hike up Grouse Mountain. It takes a little over an hour up stairs and then a $5 Gondola ride back down.
Another option is to rent bikes in the beautiful Stanley Park. If you want to get out on the bay, you could also book a whale watching tour. My friend recently went to San Diego whale watching and said it was amazing, so I would definitely recommend it. After a fun day in the city, I would start the 2 hour drive down to Seattle and check into your hotel.
Recommended Hotel: The Edgewater – Nestled on Seattle’s waterfront at Pier 67, the hotel is surrounded by beauty: admire the majestic Olympic Mountains, the sparkling waters of Elliott Bay, and the velvety-pink sunsets of the northwest sky. Another option would be to book a room in one of Seattle’s many adorable old Victorian B&Bs. Either choice will give you a uniquely unforgettable Seattle experience.
Day 2 – Seattle
Start the morning out at the nation’s oldest continuously operating public market, Pikes Place. Located on the corner of 1st Ave and Pike St. in downtown Seattle, you will find beautiful flower stands, some of the freshest seafood in the world, and fun arts and crafts booths – you could spend hours here.
You can also head over to the Space Needle for some epic views of the Puget Sound and eat at the world famous revolving restaurant 500 feet above ground.
Recommended Hotel: The Edgewater
Day 3 – Portland
Wake up early and drive the 3 hours down to Portland. This is one of my favorite cities and for good reason. It is unique and wonderfully weird. Stay in town and close to the streetcar line, and you won’t really need the car. The streetcar loops through downtown so you can get off at Powells and browse, grab a coffee and pastry at the Pearl Bakery, get back on the streetcar and go on over to NW 23rd and walk up and down the street, visiting all the boutiques and have some spicy noodles at Miso Happy then chocolates at Moonstruck. If you are up for it, you can walk up the hill to the Rose Test Gardens and even to the Japanese Gardens. Enjoy the views looking back over the city. Getting back on the streetcar, go to the Pearl District, get off on Johnson or Glisan and just wander the streets, looking in at the great shops, galleries and have drinks and dinner at one of the many fabulous restaurants in the area.
Recommended Hotel: Inn at Northrup Station – This funky, colorful, boutique hotel is an 8-minute walk from Nob Hill and a block from the NS light rail line. The eclectic suites have all the amenities you would need and a complimentary continental breakfast. There is also a rooftop terrace.
Day Four – Multnomah Falls and Hood River
Get ready for a day of beer tasting, mountain views, and one of the most breathtaking waterfalls of your life. Get some breakfast near the hotel and start the day driving towards Multnomah Falls. Stop and snap some pictures of the double decker falls and take the beautiful hike through the trees up to the top of the falls. It takes about an hour. Once back to your car, head over to Hood River for beer and lunch. Walk around the quaint town that smells of hops, exploring the breweries. You can get lunch at Full Sail, the biggest brewery in town and a beautiful eatery perched high over the hood river. You will better understand the brewery’s namesake as you look down on the windsurfers cruising the river. After Full Sail, head up the the hill for some more beautiful views of Mt. Hood and wine tasting. You can also stop at fresh produce stands and pick up some fruit for the road before heading back to Portland for dinner.
Recommended Hotel: Inn at Northrup Station
Day 5 – Crater Lake
After checking out of your hotel in Portland, you will start out the 4 hour journey to beautiful Crater Lake. There is no place in the world quite like Crater Lake National Park. Its unique landscape inspires visitors from all over the world. Its panorama view combines a deep blue lake engulfed in surrounding cliffs of up to two thousand feet high and has two picturesque islands that appear to float in the middle. It is a place of immeasurable beauty, and should definitely be at the top of your list when visiting Oregon. Once you arrive, take in the views, hike around the crater or you can even take a boat tour out on the lake.
Recommended Hotel: Crater Lake Lodge – This lodge is perfectly located and you can ask for a room that overlooks the lake.
Day 6 – Redwoods
From Crater Lake, you will head southwest to the Northern California coast. Prairie Redwoods State Park is a beautiful recreational sight for your first stop. It is located right on the coast combining mystical woodlands with ocean front paradise. There are rivers and creeks and even a heard of elk grazes the area. I am partial to this spot as it is where my now husband popped the question one perfect day in April 2012. Do the magical hour long hike to Fern Canyon, you won’t regret it!
After hiking to Fern Canyon start the drive down towards Avenue of the Giants highway and get ready for one of the prettiest drives of your life. This 31-mile portion of historic Highway 101, which runs parallel to the modern Highway 101, is surrounded by Humboldt Redwoods State Park and has the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world. There will be plenty of opportunities to stop and go on short hikes or pull off the side of the road and take pictures with these ancient behemoths.
Recommended Hotel: Miranda Gardens Resort – This hotel is ideally located at the end of the Avenue of the Giants. Hotels out this way are usually less than ideal but this one offers cute little cottages with all the amenities you will need for one night in the Redwoods.
Day 7 – Fort Bragg and Mendocino
Who is ready for some stunning Northern California coast line? Winding down the beautiful coastline you will have a hard time not stopping to snap some pictures. Once you arrive in Fort Bragg I recommend stopping at North Coast Brewing company for some lunch and more beer tasting. Then head down and check into your hotel in Mendocino for the night. Walk downtown and along the cliffs. If it is a sunny day hike down to the beach and get your feet in the water. Downtown Mendocino is filled with cute boutiques and arts and crafts shops. A perfect way to end the day is with dinner and drinks at the classic Pattersons Pub.
Recommended Hotel: Hill House Inn – This quaint hotel is located walking distance from downtown Mendocino and the beach. It’s a cute Victorian style home with a beautiful view out the back patio. We stayed here in 2012 and I was able to find a great deal on Groupon.
Day 8 – Drive to San Francisco
You have a few options here – You can either take Highway 1 all the way to SF which is insanely beautiful, filled with coastal views, heart-wrenching twisty roads, and takes about 5 hours. The other option, that I equally recommend, would be to take Highway 1 to Highway 128. This route will be quicker and will allow you to drive through some beautiful vineyards. You will have the chance to do some wine tasting as well. This route takes about 4 hours. Either way you will have a beautiful day. I recommend checking into your hotel and having a fancy dinner at Foreign Cinema in the Mission.
Recommended Hotel: W Hotel San Francisco – This hotel is centrally located and you can find good deals on Groupon occasionally. This is the hotel Obama stays at when he is in town. We stayed here last weekend and had a blast. Bar is nice but expensive, I recommend going out for your drinks.
Day 9 – San Francisco
The city by the bay! This is my favorite city in the world for good reason. While I recommend more than one day, there are still many activities you can do in this beautiful city in a day. Here is a perfect one day guide for the city.
Recommended Hotel: W Hotel San Francisco
Day 10 – Drive to Yosemite
If there is no traffic, the drive to Yosemite will take about 3 hours. After a few crazy days on the road, once you get to Yosemite, I recommend checking into your hotel and relaxing. Maybe ask the concierge for some short walks and take in some peaceful nature. Get a good night sleep, you will want to get a good hike in tomorrow.
Recommended Hotel: Yosemite Lodge at the Falls or The Ahwahnee – Both are beautiful wonderfully located spots. Both are a bit pricey but if you have the money to splurge a little, you won’t regret it.
Day 11 – Hike Yosemite
There is no better way to see Yosemite than parking your car and getting out on the trails. It’s impossible to say one area of the park is better for hiking than another, in fact all areas of the park are best explored on foot. Really, it depends on the hiker’s ability and interests. I recommend choosing one day hike from this site.
Day 12 – Drive to Las Vegas
Today’s drive from Yosemite to Las Vegas will bring you down through the Sierra Nevadas, past the cute town of Bishop and through Death Valley. It will be a long day with 5 to 6 hours of driving, but you can make fun stops along the way. The best thing about arriving in Las Vegas is that the city never sleeps. When you arrive, check into your casino of choice and go out for dinner in any one of the amazing options you have along the strip. I recommend partying at Tao for a true classic club experience or save that for tomorrow and catch a Cirque de Soleil show.
Recommended Hotel: Elara, Hilton Grand Vacations Central Strip – this hotel is centrally located near Planet Hollywood. It is the best bang for your buck, with beautiful suites at a good price.
Day 13 – Las Vegas
Day time in Vegas usually consists of catching brunch, walking the strip and relaxing by the pool. I recommend the Bellagio for an amazing brunch complimented by beautiful shops and gardens. For your second night in Vegas, again the strip is your oyster. Choose a club, either Haakasan, Tao or XS or do dinner and a show. If you are up for it, do all of it! Vegas never sleeps. Don’t miss the fountain show at the Bellagio!
Recommended Hotel: Elara, Hilton Grand Vacations Central Strip
Day 14 – Time to go home!
Get some sleep on the plane. You will need it after this crazy adventure!