From Washington to the southern tip of California, the West Coast of America is full of incredible outdoor weekend destinations. Some of my favorite trips over the years have included weekend getaways out to the coast, to valleys in Washington, and into the Redwoods.
When it comes to summer travel, I always think of heading out on a road trip which is exactly the way we will be traveling this year. I know there is so much to see and so I wanted to offer up a few ideas for those weekend warriors or long-haul road trippers who are looking for something new. If you’re based in the West Coast area, you’ll be within a day’s drive to most of these locations.
I have one secret spot outside of Seattle that I’ve only spoken about a few times on the blog, so keep an eye out for that. Especially if you’re thinking of exploring up the northern part of the West Coast. Trust me, you’ll want to drive inland for this untouched national park and design accommodations.
As always, this summer we’re taking a pledge to travel safely and responsibly. So I’d recommend giving this blog post a read. It talks about everything you need to know as travel opens up in California and helpful tips for planning.
So here’s to exploring the open road and the beautiful outdoors on the West Coast. Now tell me, where are you itching to experience first?
9 Unique Outdoor Destinations Near The West Coast USA
1. Mendocino, California
People that I’ve met who’ve been to Mendocino always proclaim how much they love it. And then there are so many who have never been, and I do my best to convince that it is well worth the extra drive. It may be that it’s about an hour plus more north than most coastal destinations from the Bay Area, making it just a bit more effort to reach. But it is so worth it — the diversity in landscape, the range of accommodations, and the plethora of things to do make Mendocino a true gem.
Located on the Northern California coast, this coastal town sits on a quiet bay where the river pours into the ocean. From state parks to explore to kayaking up the river, Mendocino, for me, is one of those bucket list destinations. I’ve been a half dozen times and never tire of it. You can take a day trip to Fort Bragg or even go down the coast to the remote town of Elk, where along the way the sprawling headlands bump up right against the ocean cliffs.
Mendocino is perfect for a romantic getaway, weekend camping, or even a solo trip for those looking to disconnect.
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2. Methow Valley, Washington
This is my secret spot that I try not to tell anyone about. Methow Valley — I can’t even begin to describe how this haven has become our go-to for disappearing for a few days. We’ve been a couple of times where we turn off our phones, have a paper map, and just explore. What brought us originally to this valley about a three hour plus drive from Seattle was the architectural huts designed by our favorite architect firm, Olsun Kundig.
These self-sustaining huts sit on a valley, looking back at the mountains. You feel remote, you’re in nature, and you’re on your own except for the few other huts spread across the valley. I’d make the journey just to stay here. Nearby is the hip Mazama Store where you can get all of your supplies for a weekend break.
The Methow Valley is both a winter and summer destination — summers are for hiking in alpine elevations and winters are perfect for cross country skiers.
Read these posts:
- Architecturally Outdoors: The Methow Valley Guide
- 10 Photos To Inspire You To Visit The Methow Valley
3. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
The best of both worlds. Perhaps you want to be by the ocean but want the perks of city amenities. That is what Carmel-by-the-Sea is, or commonly known as Carmel. You’re within a ten to twenty minute drive to places like Point Lobos, Moss Landing, or Big Sur. But you can stay in seaside village that is full of incredible restaurants and wineries.
So for those that are looking for a breath of fresh air and access to restaurants, I’d say Carmel is one of the best spots on the West Coast.
Read these posts:
- 20 Best Restaurants In Carmel, California
- Best Things To Do In Carmel, California
- First-Timer’s Guide To Carmel, California
4. Redwood National and State Park, California
For those willing to make the extra drive and by extra, I mean almost to the top of California, then set your sights on Redwood National and State Park. One of the most biologically diverse parks in the State, you have access to the ocean and some of the tallest redwoods around.
It’s home to Fern Canyon (pictured below) where you can walk through this carved canyon, covered in ferns and running water. I’ve never seen anything like it.
I’d recommend staying a bit south of the park in Trinidad, where you’ll be by the ocean and can make the scenic drive to nearby sights.
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5. Cannon Beach, Oregon
It may be one of the most iconic beaches of the Pacific Northwest and certainly on everyone’s West Coast Road trip itinerary. This is Cannon Beach and there are several good reasons to set your sights here.
From a wild coastline to this calm beach, the surrounding landscape meets at this beach to create a picture-perfect postcard. If you’re interested in a small coastal town with some amazing breweries and restaurants, with access to the beach, then this is a must in Oregon.
Oregon has one of the most wonderful coastlines I’ve personally seen. Cannon Beach was my favorite area for the northern part of the state. And it’s true, there is a herd of elk that do live in the area and often take sunset walks on the beach.
Read this post:
6. Sonoma Coast + Valley, California
Perhaps you want to get out of the city and make a shorter drive to the outdoors. Well, I personally love the Sonoma Coast and valley area for exactly that. There is everything from the Russian River that winds through Guerneville out to Jenner, to the Santa Rosa Mountains.
There are plenty of ways to get outdoors here and enjoy it with space from others. Some of the best-designed Airbnbs in the woods are also here as well. So for those looking for a chic stay that is out in nature, Sonoma area may be a great fit.
Read these posts:
7. Mammoth Region, California
Nestled in the Eastern Sierras is the incredibly stunning area of Mammoth Lakes. The towering peaks of the mountains are contrasted with valley desert plains, where there are plenty of hot springs and lakes to enjoy.
For those looking to up-level their hiking game, may I suggest going a bit further south and exploring the Inyo National Forest, where you can hike through the John Muir Wilderness. It’s truly one of those places to immerse yourself in raw and often untouched nature.
Read this post:
8. North Cascades National Park, Washington
I think one national park that does not get enough credit on the West Coast is North Cascades National Park. A few hours from Seattle, this park is beautifully serene. The lake (picture above) is always that color where it almost looks fake.
You can stay near here, go out on the lake when it’s open, and hike the trails around here. The many times we’ve been here, we’ve hardly seen other hikers. It’s a nice spot to go for a long weekend and you could even combine it with the Methow Valley mentioned above.
9. Cape Meares, Oregon
Last but not certainly least is the more southern-central part of Oregon’s wild coastline. The Cape Meares section of the coast is easily reached with a two hour drive from Portland, making it a wonderful place to escape for a long weekend.
We stayed inland a bit near Tillamook at a wonderful Airbnb (pictured below) and spent time going out to the coast. It’s not highly populated making it feel remote and most of the time, it feels like you have it all to yourselves.
On the ocean, there are a few places to explore, go for walks on the beach, and hiking destinations.
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PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!
These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.
1. Book Your Flights
Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.
2. Book Your Accommodations
Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.
3. Book Your Tours & Experiences
4. Book Your Car
Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.
5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access
Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.
6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.
My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are: