Eight days road tripping the Pacific Coast Highway - highway 101/1 - all the way from Vancouver, Canada to Los Angeles, California.
I’d been planning the Pacific Coast road trip in my head for years. It was high on my bucket list, and anything in my top five usually takes a little more time to get to, because I want to do it right, so I put it off until I can make it perfect. But then I usually realize there is no perfect way or time to do trips like this, so I end up going on a whim. This was wasn’t so much a whim, but I also didn’t want to plan too much. The best road trips are left to spontaneity.
I brought my go-to adventure partner along, my brother Kalen. He lives in Vancouver so first I had to make the trek there from Saskatchewan (it’s only a 2-3 day drive through the Rocky mountains and it’s beautiful, I highly recommend).
After a couple days in Vancouver catching up with friends, we set out to the border on a sunny Monday morning. Monday’s are a great day to start a road trip because you get to think about everyone else starting their work week while you’re starting an epic journey and it makes it that much sweeter (if you’re cruel like me).
We decided to skip exploring all the major cities en route because we didn’t have time to spend more than an hour in each one, and those places need a lot more time than that dedicated to them. Besides, I like small towns better anyways.
Washington was exactly as Twilight as I imagined, with cloudy coastline and misty forests. We ended up not spending long in this state, and missed out on Olympic National Park, so I’ll save that for a different trip.
Oregon was full of moody towns, rugged coast, striking bridges and witchy vibes (although that might’ve been because Halloween was just around the bend).
Our first stop was Astoria, after we crossed the Columbia River aboard the enormous Megler Bridge that separates Washington from Oregon. Astoria was very hilly. Possibly the steepest hills I’ve ever been on. The flatlander side of me was terrified that my car was going to flip over backwards while I was driving upwards, which I know is ridiculous. But seriously, who can make a living on such a steep slope?! How do they keep their fruit from rolling off the counter? I don’t get it.
We spent two nights in Oregon, one at Cape Lookout and one at Sunset Bay State Park. In Cape Lookout it was raining so we opted for a yurt (“you got the only yurt available for months, you guys should buy a lottery ticket with that luck!” said the campground host lady). Sunset Bay had adorable campsites for not too steep of a price. They even had bathrooms with running water and garbage bins! (I’ve been scarred by the lack of amenities in $13/pp/night New Zealand campsites).
One must-stop place is the Tillamook Creamery. You can take a self-guided tour and watch actual live cheesemaking happening. The best part is at the end when you get to sample a bunch of their cheeses. In fact you can even skip the tour and head strait for the cheese line (highly recommend). When we were there, there was no one watching the cheese samples. Huge mistake on their part.
We stopped at the Yaquina Head lighthouse near Depoe Bay because a lady at an information centre in Canon Beach told us we would probably see whales, and what’d’ya know, we saw whales! I believe they were gray ones. They were very far away and underwater most of the time, so it was hard to tell, but google told me they were most likely gray whales.
The fourth day we found ourselves in California. A man in an Oregon State Park had told us that the Oregon coast was far superior to the California coast, because it was more dramatic and less flat and boring. I would have to disagree. The California coast was just as spectacular, and a little more sunny, which puts it ten points higher on my rating scale. Kalen would probably say he liked the Oregon coast better, but he’s a Vancouverite and used to the drizzle.
We spend our first night in California camping at the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park at their Gold Bluffs Beach Campground. It was by far the best campground we stayed at. It is a bit of a windy drive through some redwoods, but worth it, and the road is very good. The campsites were all in an open area with the ocean in the front yard and a huge cliff on the backside.
The next day was spent touring the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We drove along the Avenue of Giants and stopped for a couple of small hikes. They big trees. I love trees.
After Leggett we hopped back on to Highway 1 and made for the coast. The road was incredibly windy (as in curvy, not windy like blowing gusts of air) and hilly (as in hills, not….I got nothin’…) for quite a few miles so if you are prone to car sickness, I’d plan a different route. Once we finally reached the coast it calmed down a bit.
That night we stayed somewhere south of Fort Bragg. The signs and Google told us we were staying at an RV park, but our eyes and ears told a different story. This place was a full blown trailer park, but if’s, and’s or but’s. Not saying that’s a bad thing. It was just little bit more Miller Lite and yelling than we expected. Kalen had misplaces some of our utensils earlier in the day when we stopped for a picnic (he might tell you it’s my fault, but he’d be lying), so he made a quick trip to the dollar store to replace them and then cooked us some delicious fancy ramen followed by some blackberries stolen from the trailer yard (sorry, campsite) across the road. Disclaimer: There are no pics of this place to corroborate my story, but you’ll just have to believe me and form a lovely picture of long trailers, rusty pickups and broken swing sets in your mind.
The next morning we set out for Mendocino, which was high on our list. If you know Kalen and I, you know we love Murder, She Wrote (if you’re unfamiliar with it, slap yourself across the face and then check it out here). Some of the episodes were filmed in Mendocino, including a lot of the overhead shots of the town and the outside shot of main character, Jessica Fletcher’s, house. You best believe we found that house and took selfies in front of it (which I won’t post, you’re welcome). Other than that, there wasn’t a lot of homage to the show (we can forgive them as it’s been 20 years since it last aired), but Mendocino was still a great little town and we went on a nice walk along the coastal headland.
After that we drove all the way to Monterey, through San Fransisco, over the Golden Gate Bridge (where we failed to stop to take a photo of it because of Kalen’s slow navigating (I may have overreacted to that, but I can blame it on hanger)). In Monterey we opted for a motel instead of camping, so we booked at the cheapest one we could find, the Thunderbird. It was not bad at all upon first inspection, but in the light of the next morning we noticed some bugs that we hadn’t seen the night before. But I’ve stayed in worse.
After Monterey and Carmel by the Sea we cruised down the coast, stopping in Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Parks. We stopped at the Hearst Castle for a tour which ended up taking a few hours. The place is huge and beautiful and in a two hour tour saw less than half the rooms. Hearst used to keep a sort of zoo on his property but these days all that remains are some zebras and if you’re lucky you can catch a glimpse of them from the highway mingled in with the cattle.
We were kind of at a loss where to stay that night, as we hadn’t booked a campground ahead of time and it seemed they were all booked up. I was browsing the ol’ Google Maps when I came across the Madonna Inn. Kalen got real excited at the mention of it, and they were having a last minute deal, so we decided to book in there. No regrets. It was amazing.
Located on a huge property with multiple buildings, it was very large, pink and tacky in the best way possible. All the rooms are themed differently, and because we booked last minute we didn’t get much of a choice and were placed in the “Sir Walter Raleigh” room. I’m not even going to pretend I understand this theme, but the room was nice, if not a little odd. I expected the inn to be gloriously gaudy in a rundown way, but it was not at all decrepit. The rooms were very nice, as was the pool area and all the other buildings. If you are ever in San Luis Obispo I would very much recommend staying here
After regretfully leaving the Madonna Inn we meandered along the coast until we found ourselves in our final desintation, Los Angeles. We hit up a couple of tourist spots - the Santa Monica Pier (basically just a lot of people, birds and loud noises) and Venice Beach (also a lot of people, birds and loud noises). Not my favourite kinds of places, but that’s ok because we got to visit some family while in town.
The next day after a stroll on Hollywood Boulevard, Kalen flew back to Vancouver and I continued on my way to Joshua Tree National Park and then home to Saskatchewan! Obviously not in one day, that’s not possible unless you drink and lot of red bull and eat a bowl of cocaine. Which I did not. I took a few days and visited some beautiful places along that route - check them out HERE!
Budget US travel tip: groceries - Kalen was under the impression that Trader Joe’s was some sort of magical land of dirt cheap, organic, healthy products, so that’s the first place we stopped for groceries. He was wrong. Organic and healthy, yes; dirt cheap, not even close.
Next we hit up Safeway, always a classic. After scouring the aisles for the deals of the week, we got a basketful that we thought was going to be a steal of a deal. Wrong again. Apparently in Safeway if you don’t have the loyalty card, you don’t get the deals (are all stores like that and we just never noticed?!). It cost almost as much, if not more than Trader Joe’s.
Bi-mart was our next try, and there is where we hit the deals jackpot. Quality was not on par, but who cares when you’re travelling, right? The deals are all that matter, and these ones couldn’t be beat! Or so we thought…..until we stumbled upon a Grocery Outlet. That’s right. There are actually grocery stores called Grocery Outlet, and they are cheaper than any outlet store you’ve been to. Needless to say, this was our go-to shop for the rest of the trip.
Take care pals!