When planning a road trip along the West Coast of the United States, the first question that always arises is, “Which route should I take?”. @crispict drove around the states of California, Nevada and Arizona during the summer and gave us his route, road trip tips and highlights of the journey. Come with us on the route that includes 3 states, covers 3,000 miles and logs about 33 hours in the car, depending on which route you take.
- Stop 1: Los Angeles
- Stop 2: Las Vegas
- Stop 3: Grand Canyon
- Stop 4: Death Valley
- Stop 5: Lake Tahoe
- Stop 6: San Francisco
- Stop 7: Back to Los Angeles
- Tips for the Road
Where to Stop
Stop 1: Los Angeles
We’re starting in Los Angeles, where there is plenty to see, especially if you have a rental car. If you’re a first-time visitor, head to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and TCL Chinese Theatre. Then drive to the Getty Center to see its iconic architecture outside and art collection inside. If you want to get some sun, go to the Santa Monica Pier or Zuma Beach where you can take a dip, ride some rides or just people watch.
What to see
A perfect panoramic viewpoint for Downtown LA and the Hollywood Sign is the Griffith Observatory in the Hollywood Hills. If you just want to enjoy the view and don’t plan on visiting the planetarium, you should visit on a Monday when it’s closed and there will be fewer crowds.
Stop 2: Las Vegas
Hop on Interstate 15 to make the 4.5-hour drive northeast to Las Vegas. Once there, you’ll more than likely end up on the famous Las Vegas Strip at some point. Hit the casinos or just walk around and people watch. If you want to get out of the heat, head to the Neon Museum and see iconic signs that are works of art. If the weather is cool enough, head to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area just to the west of downtown Las Vegas.
What to see
Plan ahead to see if there are any shows in Las Vegas that pique your interest. The range of entertainment is staggering, from comedy to spectacles like Cirque du Soleil to residencies from famous musicians. You can also check if there is any free entertainment at casinos or other venues in case you want to save your money for other things.
Stop 3: The Grand Canyon
After leaving Las Vegas, you can reach the Grand Canyon Village in about 4.5 hours of driving. You should definitely budget 1-2 days for a visit here due to the long drive and vastness of the canyon. If you plan to stay overnight, be sure to book as far ahead as possible, whether you need a camping spot or a hotel room. Once you get to the village, head to Yavapai Point for great views. You can also continue east on Highway 64 to the South Rim and Mather Point. There are multiple trails to conquer at the Grand Canyon, so be sure to come prepared with plenty of water and the right equipment.
What to see
If you’re looking for something cool to do around the Grand Canyon Village, head to Mohave Point to watch the sun set. From here you can see the Colorado River far below as well as parts of the Grand Canyon to the west.
Stop 4: Death Valley
If you’re doing this trip anytime outside of the summer months, then the next stop is Death Valley National Park. It will take you roughly 6 hours to get here from the Grand Canyon Village, but it’s worth the drive. The park clocks in at more than 3 million acres, and it’s more than just a desert. You can hike on sand dunes, salt flats and mountains or do some sightseeing. Just make sure to check the weather before you go as it can vary wildly.
What to see
Head for some sightseeing to the hills known as the Artists Palette. In an area showcasing various shades of brown, it may be a bit shocking to see hills “painted” with shades of red, orange, yellow, blue, pink and green resulting from volcanic deposits. If you can, plan to drive the scenic loop at sunrise or sunset for maximum effect.
Stop 5: Lake Tahoe
Our next stop on this wide-ranging tour of the West Coast is Lake Tahoe, straddling the border of California and Nevada. South Lake Tahoe is just over 5 hours north of Death Valley National Park on Highway 395. What to do here depends on the time of year and what your interests are. In the summer you can swim, boat or go hiking around the lake. In winter, this a popular spot for skiing and other snow sports. Explore nature in Emerald Bay State Park or get great views by riding the Heavenly Gondola. Ski bunnies can have their choice of resorts including Homewood Mountain, Northstar and Palisades.
What to see
History buffs can visit the Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum, which pays tribute to the group of people known as the Donner Party who perished while trying to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the mid-1800s.
Stop 6: San Francisco
From Lake Tahoe we’re going to drive about 4 hours southwest to San Francisco. Along the way you’ll pass through the state capital, Sacramento, before heading south to the Bay Area. Even if every road trip is an individual journey, you can’t avoid the typical tourist attractions. A tourist spot that’s worth the time in San Francisco is Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. The audio tour through the infamous former prison is in 11 languages and includes authentic background sounds and real stories of guards and inmates. Just be careful when booking the tickets because there is only one official provider: “Alcatraz Cruises”.
What to see
Among the top things to do in San Francisco are getting some food in Chinatown, driving down Lombard Street, walking around Golden Gate Park, biking across the Golden Gate Bridge and riding the historic streetcars.
Stop 7: Back to Los Angeles
If you have time, you should take highways 1 and 101 along the Pacific Coastfor the drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles. This route will take about 9 hours, versus about 6 hours using the fastest route. Passing by steep cliffs and rocks, Highway 1 goes along the picturesque coastal strip called Big Sur. The best way to enjoy the fresh sea breeze is in a chic convertible. If you take this route, check before you go as there are frequently rockslides closing the highway.
What to see
If you take Highway 1, stop in towns like Santa Barbara and Malibu along the way to either stay overnight or eat. If you have kids along (or not), stop in Monterey to see the sea lions lounging on the rocks and visit the famous aquarium.
Tips for the Road
During the road trip, you’ll spend a lot of time in the car. Therefore, you should think twice about what kind of rental car you want to book. A convertible is, of course, a lot of fun in the cities and on the coast, but you can’t take too much luggage with you. For the national parks, an SUV is usually better suited. In any case, pay attention to comfort!