Well we’ve been up and down the I-5 corridor I don’t know how many times but a dear friend asked me what are some great stops on a 10 day journey from Seattle all the way down the coast.
Here are some suggestions. As luck would have it USA Today just published a piece on this. And I agree with most of their recommendations.
A day in Seattle
First start in Seattle and take the light rail into downtown Seattle. It’s a good way to see the various neighborhoods and way cheaper than parking. End up in Westlake and stay in a romantic hotel there. Some great boutique ones at Inn at the Market, Hotel 1000, Hotel Anda.
If you stay by the water make sure to visit the Space Needle and enjoy the views and then take a walk around The city that Amazon built. Make sure to see the new terrariums right in downtown. If you are a movie buff catch one at the historic Cinema. And if you’ve never seen the locks up close, go to the Ballard Locks for both salmon jumping up the fish ladder and the chance to see boats rise up 30 feet in the air as they are dropped to the level of Puget Sound.
And for dinner, you have some great choices, but Matt’s at the Market is super romantic, or splurge with an amazing Canlis views.
A day in the Olympic Peninsula
The next day, get up bright and early and rent a car from Avis or one of the in town lots and make your way to the Bainbridge Ferry. Now you will make your way to the Olympic Peninsula, one of the most beautiful spots in the world.
Take at stop at Dungeness Spit, this is a six mile long, tiny beach that makes it way all the way out to a light house. It’s truly a great site to see the mighty Straits of St. Juan de Fuca and Vancouver Island off in the distance.
Now it’s up to the top of the world as you make your way to Port Angeles. The site of Raymond Carvers many writings (another obscure literary reference) and head up to the top of the Olympic National Park. The first of many parks, you will be visiting, enjoy the incredible view up top of wilderness.
If you have time, you can continue on to the Hoh Rain Forest, one of the largest temperate rain forests in the world and the site of the Ewoks of Star Wars fame (ok maybe that is just for the nerdy).
This is a long day, but in terms of where to stay, try either the Inn at Port Ludlow and make sure to try out the local Dungeness crab and local salmon if you can.
Day 3, head off to Portland
Get up early and it’s time to head to Portland, the hippest city on the West Coast. Take US 101 down past the Hood Canal (it’s not really a canal, but a massive inland waterway) and then get onto the I-5, but don’t get too comfortable, it’s time to head to Mt. St. Helens. The eruption was 40 years ago, the trees are still laid flat out everywhere. It’s quite a sight to see. If you’ve time, take a hike to the new cone just being formed and imagine what a 600 foot wall of mud was like.
You are probably tired now, but you are nearly on to destination of the evening which is Portland. Get in and find a funky place to stay like the Modera Inn and you can walk or trolley most of Portland. Make sure to get down to the Pearl District and take in the sights. There are lots of places to eat, but try the local cuisine on just about any street, but personally, I love knoshing at the many food trucks all over the place and ending up trying a bunch of the many microbrews that are there.
Day 4, through the wine country off or beach
You really have two choices here, head off on US-30 and go to the beaches or head to the wine country. The Willamette Valley is really coming up fast and is way less crowded than Napa or Sonoma in California. If you do go this way, you can spend a day visiting some of the top folks like Evening Land in Dundie, or find authentic family run wineries like Cristom and Bethel Heights farther south. Either way, you are going to enjoy some really great Pinot Noirs.
If you are ambitious, you can continue your drive down south and end up in Ashland, this is the land of the Shakespeare festival, so make sure to book some tickets and find a great B&B in that part of the world.
Alternatively, if beaches are your thing, slip past the the wine country and end up on the coast to some beautiful country on US-30. Visit Astoria and see the cute boardwalk and work your way down to Cannon Beach and it’s incredible Haystack rock. Visit the Lewis & Clark Museum and imagine what it must have been like to walk all the way from Missouri to Oregon. Seafood is the thing of the day and as you work your way down, you will see a massive Oregon Dune National Recreational Area. Stay there and then cut back over to I-5 the next day.
Day 5, welcome to Northern California
The ride over the Sierras into Northern California, is pretty and you have lots of stops that you can make. Visit Crater Lake for instance if you want to see a perfectly shaped island, it’s way too long to hike, but an incredible view of the caldera.
Then, you are in the land of the redwoods, so a visit to the Route 101 and the Avenue of Giants is not to be missed.
At the end of the day, you will end up in Napa and Sonoma, you could spend a week here, but it is a great spot to pick a winery and visit and make sure to have a great relaxing bath at the end of the day.
Day 6. Through San Francisco and beyond
This is another spot that you don’t really want to miss because there are so many things to do in San Francisco. The city by the Bay is another place where you could spend a week, but we will leave just a day for exploring.
The must do’s are to drive down through Marin and stop at the Golden Gate Bridge and take a walk across it. Yes, you can do it and it’s an incredible view of both sides of the Bay Area. Then get back in the car and take the famous ride through Lombard Street and make sure to take a ride in a Cable Car of course. And let’s face it, the Marina is touristy, but it’s touristy for a reason, so make sure to walk along the water, hit the Ferry Building and then it’s time to drive down Rt-280 and admire the beauty that is the San Andreas fault.
At the end, you’ll be in Santa Cruz, the funnest boardwalk this side of Coney Island which is not a bad thing.
Day 7. Slow and Steady over Route 1
Ok now time does slow down as you take a cruise down scenic Route 1, it’s long and windy, but worth it, you’ll end up at 17-Mile Drive and you’ll appreciate why the “have’s” spend their time at Pebble Beach. But please don’t miss the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it’s a unique spot where you will see how fast a Tuna can really swim or see sea creatures who live miles down in the water.
Then that evening, you will end up far down the coast and enjoy the Pacific views of the many B&B’s that are south of Monterey.
Day 8. On to big LA
This is a long travel day, but make your way down the coast enjoying the views, stopping to see the seals and then you are at Hearst Castle. A true monument to excess. And eventually you will end up in Santa Barbara, another great beach town and finally, you will crest the hill and be in the City of Angels.
This is another place where there really is too much to see, but you have to drive down Hollywood Boulevard, stop in Beverly Hills and wander the streets looking for stars, then head down to Santa Monica and the famous broad walk there.
Finally, it’s off to Orange County and end up at Laguna Niguel enjoying the life of the other half. Or if you are ethnically inclined, make your way to Little Saigon for some great Vietnamese food.
Day 9. Onto San Diego
Well, you are almost at the end of your trip, but that shouldn’t be so bad, make your way through Newport Beach and down the I-5 and before you know it you will be at the big Marine base and the local nuclear reactor (OK, those are again sites for nerds). But you will end up in Old Town in San Diego where you can catch a baseball game at QUALCOMM stadium or for the geeks, take a tour of the harbor on jet skis.