Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide: Where to Stop, Hike and Camp

There are so many incredible places to see along the West Coast that you really can’t go wrong. Every new corner reveals another vast coastline or cozy cove, charming small town or rolling hills. If you’re a planner like me, hopefully this info in helpful. It’s the entire itinerary from our weeklong road trip from San Francisco to Vancouver, BC.

I also urge you to leave plenty of wiggle room to switch up plans along the way. Our nine days felt like both a luxuriously long amount of time and absolutely no time at all. We wanted to get in a good hike at least every other day, knowing we had a few hours on the road every single day and lots of stops along the way.

We also love the camping aspect of road tripping so took our time savoring coffee and cooking breakfast in the morning and dinners every evening. While we did see a lot, we could’ve crammed in even more sights and hikes had we hit the road earlier or ate oatmeal for every meal, but that’s just not our style.

So, please do as you please. Here’s how we pleased.

⇓ scroll down for a more detailed overview of each day; in the meantime, here are the daily highlights ⇓

Day 1 (California)

Day 2 (California)

Day 3 (California)

Day 4 (California)

Day 5 (California ⇒ Oregon)

Day 6 (Oregon)

Day 7 (Oregon ⇒ Washington)

Day 8 (Washington)

Day 9 (Washington)

  • Olympic National Park – Sol Duc Falls trail

  • Ferries to Victoria and Vancouver, BC

  • Lovely dinner at Chambar before flying home the next morning

MORE: Essential Packing List for Your Next Camping Trip

A detailed overview of each day

Day 1

We arrived in Oakland at noon and picked up the JUCY van (more on that coming soon). Dropping into Whole Foods for some essentials, we then headed straight into San Francisco. Without much time to spend here, we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge (with a slight detour down Lombard Street, aka Crooked St) and made our first official stop in Kirby Cove park. DO THIS.

There was a lot of traffic and we luckily nabbed one of the very few parking spaces. It’s a short hike down to the water with incredible views of the bridge, bay and city beyond. I wish we could’ve camped here, but we were late to the party and didn’t reserve one of the very few spots early enough.

After an hour or so, we got back into the car and drove up to Mount Tamalpais State Park. Also on my list for the afternoon sightseeing was the Muir Woods National Monument. Faced with no parking and the setting sun (and our 3am wake-up call starting to wear on us), we decided to call it a day and head to our resting place for the night, Olema Campground. DON’T DO THIS.

Like I said, we were late to the game on reserving a spot to sleep. I can’t suggest this place unless you’re in a bind. A lot of camping in Point Reyes is backpacking only—and of course we’ll be sleeping in the van this whole week—so there wasn’t much of a choice. It was fine and most importantly, we got a great night sleep after a long travel day. Solid start to the trip! We were really looking forward to a good hike and some nature time tomorrow.

Day 2

Point Reyes National Seashore has beautiful beaches, forests and plains—so pick your passion.

After stopping into the visitor center to get expert suggestions on how to spend our short time here, we drove to the Cypress Tree Tunnel. It’s a cool spot, a street lined with towering trees that drape the road from overhead. Definitely worth the pitstop. DO THIS.

For today’s hike, we opted for the 6.5-mile out-and-back Tomales Point Trail on the northern tip of the park. DON’T DO THIS. Well, maybe do it.

It’s on an elk reserve, and we saw lots, along with lovely wildflowers and pretty views of the coastline down below. I only say don’t do it because I think there were better/harder/more scenic hikes in the park. We only had time for one, and it was lovely, but lacked a bit of wow factor for me.

Grabbing lunch snacks for the drive (string cheese, sliced salamis and fruit), we hit the road and arrived to our campground in Van Damme State Park later that afternoon. DO THIS.

Knowing it was all uphill after last night’s spot, this campsite was still a total surprise and downright delight. With the beach immediately on the west side of the 101, this park is immediately to the east of the freeway. It’s set in a little valley with towering trees and you’re surrounded by plush, vibrant green ferns and bushes. You never know what you’re gonna get when you blindly book a campsite online, and this one did not disappoint.

MORE: The 10 Essential for Outdoor Survival—Plus 10 More Items You’ll Want to Have with You on Your Next Adventure

Day 3

We were told there’s a nice little fern canyon hike right off the campground and considered doing it but didn’t want to take the time with Humboldt Redwoods State Park ahead of us today.

This whole trip was a balance of exploring and relaxing and sacrificing certain things to do others. Ah, such is life. We hit the road after a failed attempt at showering (come prepared with quarters!) but a rather successful coffee, bacon and eggs situation—standard breakfast operating procedure for the entire trip.

We made one stop at Glass Beach in MacKerricher State Park. DON’T DO THIS.

I don’t know what I was expecting (pretty colors significant in size?) but it was rather disappointing. The glass is all teeny tiny and not as vividly colored as the internet makes you believe.

Another stop moving north along the 101 was at the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree. DO THIS.

It’s $10 to get in and you’re done in about 10 minutes, but it’s pretty cool to drive through a tree! Actually, the JUCY was a smidge too tall so we couldn’t drive through it, but we did walk through it, watch others drive through and snap plenty of pics.

We arrived in Humboldt in the late afternoon via the shockingly scenic Avenue of the Giants. DO THIS.

It’s not really a thing you do. Just make sure to take that road instead of staying on the 101. There’s a self-guided map (which we got later in the visitor center but I’m sure you can find online) that points out landmarks along the way. This was our first foray into the redwoods, and they were absolutely stunning.

We got settled in our lovely campsite among the towering trees in Burlington Campground. DO THIS.

Great campground, conveniently located in the middle of the park and open year-round. Take heed, we were in spot #37, which has spacious and brilliantly situated on the backside of the campground but does has a rather vocal rooster living next door.

We opted for two leisurely strolls to take in the massive redwoods in other parts of the park: the Founders Grove and Rockefeller Loop. DO THIS.

Both were beautiful, and it’s a good thing we didn’t try to do/see anything else that day because we spent hours wandering, marveling, inspecting and photographing the enormous trees.

Day 4

With more redwoods ahead of us, we hit the road first thing in the morning, continuing north along the 101 to Redwoods National and State Parks. Not having planned anything more than that, we—as usual—went straight to the visitor center to pick the brains of experts. I love talking to these people and getting their suggestions after explaining how much time we have (typically very little) and what we wanted to see (the best of the everything, of course). No matter how much research I’d done online, every single encounter with the folks at the visitor centers better helped map out our time.

Today’s lovely lady suggested walking through Lady Bird Johnson Grove (a self-guided trail that loops through some of the park’s most impressive redwoods), hiking Prairie Creek Foothill Loop Trail (officially in Prairie Creek State Park, a set of trails that winds through yet more beautiful trees and you can create your own hike by adding other routes to make it longer or shorter), and finishing at Fern Canyon (a 30-minute drive down to the coast where it’s a .1-mile walk to a canyon with walls of beautiful, bright green ferns). DO ALL OF THIS. It was a perfect recommendation and by far the best day of the trip so far.

We camped at Agate Campground in Patrick’s Point State Park and it blew my mind. Our specific campsite (#105) offered a short trail through the back straight to a cliff overlooking the beach below. I REPEAT, DO THIS.

We hung a hammock, had a cocktail and couldn’t believe the views, vowing to have our morning coffee right there tomorrow.

Day 5

Sad to leave, we hit the road with Oregon in our sights (after enjoying coffee with that magnificent view one more time). We had a lot of stops on the itinerary today, not including Paul Bunyan at the Trees of Mystery, but as we turned a corner and saw Paul and Babe the Blue Ox, we pulled in for a quick photo.

Our first real stop in Oregon was the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. DO THIS.

There are lots of short trails here, and we chose three places to stop and take in the beautiful coastal scenes: Whaleshead Beach (from the parking lot, it’s a very short and flat walk down to the beach), Natural Bridge (another pretty short but steep climb down a cliff and then out onto one of the rock formations), and Arch Rock (very short walk to a lookout point). DO THESE.

With more ground to cover, we breezed up to Cape Lookout State Park. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not really a lighthouse person, and that’s kinda the big draw here. We drove out to the beach, but it was so windy and pretty cold so we didn’t stay long. Another gorgeous spot, but not really a highlight of the day/trip, so I probably have to say DON’T DO THIS.

This day was a lot of driving as we went through Bandon and eventually camped at Sunset Bay State Park. DON’T DO THIS.

I chose this spot given its location on the map and where I thought we’d be ready to call it quits for the day. The campground was a bit out of the way (maybe 20 mins each direction) and there was nothing special about it. It’s not on a bay and you can’t see the sunset. I wouldn’t suggest it and wish we’d kept driving, giving ourselves more time to explore the next day.

Day 6

I’m just gonna tell you now, DO THIS whole day.

We started at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. We parked the car, climbed a dune (may have rolled down the other side of it) and spent some time on the lovely beach. A Thursday in May meant it was pretty quiet and we practically had the place to ourselves. DO THIS in some capacity.

The dunes stretch for miles along the coast so it’s easy to stop along at a few different places.

We passed through Florence, OR, stopping to see America’s largest Sea Lion Caves. It’s $14 per person and you get to do two things: take an elevator 20 floors down to look into the cave (pictured below) and walk to the other side of the coast peering down to a spot where more sea lions hang out and sun bathe. We were in and out of there in 30 minutes. It was cool, but sea lions aren’t hard to find on your own, so MAYBE DON’T DO THIS.

The Heceta Head Lighthouse is also a big deal here, but we didn’t stop. Oregon loves its lighthouses.

On to Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. I didn’t know much about this place and it ended up being one of my absolute highlights of the whole trip. DO THIS!

We climbed the little ass-kicker Saint Perpetua Trail at the suggestion of the trusty visitor center helper. It’s relentlessly uphill with views that make you glad to be alive.

Perfectly timed with high tide, we made our way down to Thor’s Well and Spouting Horn as the waves crashed in. Thor’s Well is a massive hole that is quickly filled with water from below and then—just as quickly—completely empties itself with each pattern of incoming waves. Spouting Horn is another rock formation at the mercy of the water and with every powerful wave that comes crashing in, a big spray of waters pushes out its top. You can climb right down there next to both of these wonders, but be careful at high tide. I wanted to stay here watching the water forever, but we had more ground to cover. DEFINITELY DO THIS (at high tide, and be careful).

We continued on and briefly stopped at Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area, but since high tide was over, it was empty. We didn’t walk down into it, but I’m sure it’s cool.

Our sunset destination was Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, where you can drive on the beach. We had big dreams of taking the JUCY out on the sand and posting up for an epic sunset. Alas, the sand was very soft and there was no way we’d make it very far. So we parked her in the lot and popped into Pelican Brewing Company for a cocktail on the beach.

Our resting spot for the night was Cape Lookout State Park. Another wild surprise, this campground is a little off the 101 but so worth the detour. We camped close to the beach with total privacy from whatever neighbors we might’ve had and gazed at the stars with sounds of waves crashing somewhere nearby.

Day 7

Today we’d finish through Oregon and enter Washington.

We stopped for a stroll along Cannon BeachDO THIS—revisiting Haystack Rock, a place we’d first seen together in 2017.

We opted against other sights along the way and high-tailed it to Cape Disappointment State Park—just across the state border in the northwestern most tip of Washington—where we hiked the Lighthouse Trail (a quick .6-mile with a wee bit of incline) and a short climb down to what’s called Dead Man’s Cove.

It’s literally right off the trail—can’t miss it but you’ll need to scramble down the hillside a bit. There are also stairs, which we didn’t see until we were coming back up. It’s a cool little cove and great spot to relax without too many people around (granted it was an early Friday afternoon). DO THIS.

I didn’t plan a campground this night, and I’m so glad. Knowing we wanted to see the Tree of Life on our way to Olympic National Park, we decided to drive the three hours to get there today so we’d have all day in the park tomorrow.

The tree is actually right in the Kalaloch Campground, so we ended up nabbing a spot there, and it was perfect. We hung a hammock under the tree and watched the sunset over the Pacific. DO ALL OF THIS.

Day 8

Olympic National Park! I was most excited about day 8 the entire trip.

The park is absolutely massive, and it isn’t a drive-thru park, so it takes a while to get from one place to the next. We started at the visitor center and then ventured up to Hurricane Ridge, a 40-min drive further into the park. With snow still on the ground, a lot of trails were closed, but the mountain views were incredible and we saw some deer along the way.

We drove back down to the gorgeous Lake Crescent (the water is shades of blues and greens you don’t often see) and started our hike for the day to Marymere Falls (a quick up-and-back with a little bit of gain before arriving at the 90-foot waterfall) and then up Mount Storm King, an ominous name for a grueling but beautiful trail. It is uphill the entire way, climbing 2,080 feet in 1.5 miles. A set of ropes at the top help you up the steepest parts. With some exposure, it’s not for the faint of heart.

I sound like a broken record, but the views of the lake below and bay to the north of the park were just incredible. There were only about a dozen other people up there with us. What took probably 1.5 hrs to ascend took less than 30 minutes to descend. We stopped at the lake and Travis took a heard-earned dip.

We arrived at Sol Duc Campground in the late afternoon, rather exhausted and hung out in hammocks for a while. We had a sweet spot (#B59) that was spacious with a trail off to the nearby creek. Another trailhead signaled Sol Duc Falls, something we’d do in the morning. DO ALL OF THIS (and stay another three days to see more of the park if you’re smart).

Day 9

We had until 1pm to catch the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC on the north side of the park. Knowing it was a time crunch, we were slow to get going. After being on such a schedule for the past week, always with somewhere to be, we were both ready to just relax.

But the Sol Duc Falls trail came suggested by the visitor center, so we wanted to squeeze that in as our last hurrah. What we didn’t realize was the trailhead from our very own backyard was not the actual trailhead. It was supposed to be a quick 1.6 miles, but 40 minutes in we had to turn around, realizing we’d started well before the parking lot. It was a lovely trail and we saw a bit of “falls” but not the actual falls.

In the end, we were glad to get out in nature one last time before the epic journey home.

The ferries were fun and easy—first to Victoria, the island capital of British Columbia—and then on to Vancouver. We opted for a fancy dinner at Chambar (highly suggest) as our end to am amazing trip.

We didn’t have a place to camp considering there are no campgrounds in the city. We had to return the van in the morning so didn’t have time or energy to drive far, so we ended up parking on the side of the road in a quiet neighborhood near a public park, which I don’t think is illegal but made me feel a little weird to be honest.

We were up and at ‘em before anyone else but sad to be leaving Vancouver without properly exploring the city. It shall remain at the top of my bucket list. It was beautiful with the surrounding water and mountains and concentration of tall buildings and green city parks.

I’ll be back, Vancouver, and hopefully it’s to pick up a JUCY and head to Banff!


Thanks to JUCY for sponsoring a portion of this trip and inspiring me to get off the grid and live that #vanlife. Find out more at www.jucyusa.com and follow them on social media @JUCYworld.

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