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The United States is a great country to travel around by car. Whether you have a lot of time or not, there is always a road trip that fits your needs. That’s why we’ve created this USA West Coast Road Trip Itinerary for you. In just 2 weeks’ time, you’ll see a lot of the highlights the West Coast of the USA has to offer.
The USA is one of the first countries where we saw the scenery change every two or three hours. One minute we were in de desert sweating our butts off and the next we were freezing. That’s what makes this USA West Coast Road Trip so worth it! Even though some stretches might seem long, you won’t get bored.
The West coast of the USA is spectacular and in two weeks you’re able to visit quite a few highlights. We’ll share our route and tell you everything you need to know to make a road trip yourself!
Where to start
Basically, you could start anywhere on the route that you see above. Because it’s a circle you’ll get to all the highlights. So it depends on where you’re coming from. We started in Los Angeles, just because that was the cheapest flight we could find. We were a bit apprehensive because people said driving in Los Angeles is crazy, but we managed just fine.
Just make sure that you check the weather in Death Valley because the route does cross that for a bit and sometimes the heat gets so bad that they close off the National Park. It becomes a safety hazard. The same goes for the forest fires which sometimes hit the Los Angeles area or in our case the San Fransico area.
We loved the start in Los Angeles because we drove on route 66 and immediately had the right road trip vibe. There is something about this road that we’ve seen in movies a million times. The ghost towns along the route made the American vibe complete.
Where to rent a car
There are a lot of different companies where you’re able to rent a car. We decided to go with Alamo and it was the best choice. Usually, when you head over to the rental car booth they give you a set of keys and that’s that. But Alamo send us to the parking lot and told us to pick our own vehicle! Of course, within the range of what we booked. But still, this was the first time this happened.
There were a lot of cars to choose from, so we could take into account the amount of luggage that we were bringing with us (2 big backpacks and 2 small ones). We sat in a couple and picked one that we thought was best for our USA West Coast Road Trip
A couple of things to keep in mind:
Bring a credit card because almost all rental companies charge a deposit as a damage waiver/extended protection. Make sure you read the small print and know what is covered and what’s not. You don’t want to end up in an accident and lose a lot of money.
Some companies have unlimited mileages which is great if you’re planning a road trip. You don’t want to calculate how much you’ll drive beforehand or have to skip a detour because you’ll go over your miles. The charge for extra miles is usually pretty expensive and not having to think of this gives you peace of mind.
Most rental car companies in the United States require the driver to be 21 years or older. In some states, you’re able to rent a car if you’re 18 years or older. Some companies have additional fees as long as you’re under 25, so keep this in mind. Do some research to make sure you get the best deal.
Where To Stay
This was the first time during our world trip we decided to stay at motels. When we arrived at the first one we were a bit apprehensive because of everything we’ve seen in series or movies. But it turned out to be quite nice. It’s not that different from a hotel, other than that you park your car in front of your room.
Most motels offer breakfast, although breakfast is a big word. They’ll have coffee and usually a lot of sweet treats. Sometimes we were lucky and they had cereal or waffles or bagels. Check the reviews when you’re booking a motel because people will usually let you know. If they only have a coffee bar you could get some breakfast at the supermarket or leave early and find a diner along the route.
The smaller and more unknown the town usually the cheaper accommodation you can find. And don’t forget about Airbnb for the cities! A lot of people will offer a guest room or garage for a better price than any hotel you’ll find.
Los Angeles – 2 nights
If you start and end in Los Angeles take some extra time to visit LA itself. It’s a huge city and there is a lot to do. Go check out the Hollywood sign, just be aware it’s quite a maze to get to the sign itself. It’s a lot of one-way streets and dead ends. Visit the Griffith Observatory/Park for an amazing view of the city.
But if you’re more of a beach person there are several to choose from. Go hang out at the beach and visit the pier. It’s a nice vibe to start your road trip. Santa Monica Pier, Zuma Beach, and Venice Beach are all close to Los Angeles so it depends on what’s closest to your accommodation.
Maybe the thing that Los Angeles is most famous for is Sunset Boulevard with its humongous palm trees but don’t forget about the Hollywood Walk of Fame either. To see the stars with handprints and signatures for real is something else.
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Take enough time to do everything you want to do and make sure your road trip starts in the morning. The drive from Los Angeles to Flagstaff is about 8 hours via the original Route 66. We left just after breakfast so we could take in the scenery and not drive in the dark and miss anything.
Flagstaff – 2 nights
If you drive from Los Angeles to Flagstaff you have a choice of following the new highways or driving on the original Route 66. The interstate weaves around Route 66, so you can also combine the two as we did. If you would follow Route 66 all the way to the end you would end up in Chicago, which is something that’s still on our bucket list.
Although this drive is quite long it’s totally worth it! The scenery changes all the time, so you won’t get bored. And along Route 66 you’ll find ghost towns, but also some small towns that people still live in with diners and everything. You might even spot a freight train or two. Just keep an eye on petrol stations, because they are scarce along the old Route 66.
We chose Flagstaff because it’s close to the Grand Canyon, so if you stay for 2 nights you’ll have time for a day trip. For us that was enough, but if you want to see more of the Grand Canyon stay an additional night.
It’s about an hour from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon visitor center. We left right after breakfast to stay ahead of the heat a bit. This is especially important if you want to hike into the Grand Canyon. There are several hiking routes and you’ll find that information at the visitor center. They will also let you know if one of the hikes isn’t recommended due to the weather. Don’t take the info lightly because people have been injured (or worse) because they thought it wouldn’t be too bad. The temperature rises as you get deeper into the Grand Canyon and it’s hard to imagine that when you’re standing on top.
You have the choice between visiting the North Rim or the South Rim. The visitor center is part of the South Rim and it’s usually the most crowded part. We’ve noticed that most people stay on the platforms and don’t go hiking, so it’s less crowded on the trails. There is also a Skywalk which is at the Western part of the Grand Canyon.
There are several parking spaces along the road through the Grand Canyon Area where you can park and walk to the platforms for a different view. But the views get quite stunning from the car as well. We really took the time to see different parts because we had the whole day and it was just an hour to get back to our motel. We saw beautiful red rocks on our way to the Grand Canyon and stopped at a couple of shops. You’ll find a lot of indigenous people who run shops and sell dream catchers and wooded statues. This used to be their land and it’s special to learn about their history as well.
St. George – 1 night
You don’t go to St. George, Utah for the town itself, but it happens to be an excellent stop if you want to visit the Horseshoe Bend and/or Glen Canyon Dam on your way to Las Vegas. The drive from Flagstaff to the Horseshoe Bend is about 2 hours and from the Horseshoe Bend to St. George is about 2,5 hours. So you’ll have plenty of time to wander around or visit both the Horseshoe Bend and the Glen Canyon Dam. We only this the first but regret it to this day.
The horseshoe bend is a phenomenon by itself. It’s something else to stand at the top and feel like you’re king of the world. When we visited you could wander all the way to the edge and we discussed how many people had fallen down there over the years. Since then they’ve been working on safety and you’re not allowed to get as close anymore.
It gets pretty busy but if you walk a bit away from the crowd you’re able to enjoy the scenery. We saw some people on the river down below with canoes, which is a totally different experience but worth it as well. But for a day trip that’s a bit much.
Glen Canyon Dam has the option to stop and see the interior, just like Hoover Dam in Las Vegas. It’s less famous and a bit cheaper and you get the same experience. You’re driving by it if you follow our route, so make a stop here and enjoy. Just remember when you’re crossing a state border and there is a time difference.
Las Vegas – 2 night
From St. George, Utah to Las Vegas takes about 3 hours by car. The drive is a bit boring compared to the previous days because you’re driving through the desert. But when you see Las Vegas arise out of nowhere, now that is spectacular!
There is a lot to see and do in Las Vegas so depending on what you would like to see and do stay 1 or 2 nights. We opted for 2 nights because the drive was quite long and took a big portion of the first day. This way we had all the time in the world to do the things we wanted to do.
You can’t go to Las Vegas without visiting the strip. It’s like a world trip in one visit with all the different statues they’ve replicated. But there are a lot of shops to check out, a lot of restaurants to try out, and of course, a lot of casinos to gamble at. We went to see a variety show which made us laugh to tears, but there are a lot of shows to choose from.
We like to get a real feel for a city so we drove away from the strip as well and saw another side of Las Vegas. One with a lot of homeless people and a lot of poverty. Yes, Las Vegas looks shiny and happy, and fun, but don’t let that fool you.
Mammoth Lakes – 1 night
We wanted to visit Yosemite National Park so we looked for an overnight to stay close to the entrance. We ended up in Mammoth Lakes. The drive from Las Vegas to Mammoth Lakes takes you through a part of Death Valley. If you’re in the right season make a stop to check out this desert. We couldn’t because of the temperatures above 100 degrees, but the drive was worth it as well. Such a strange feeling to see such a desolate area.
We crossed state borders and this time we were asked to stop. They checked if we brought fruit or any of the other prohibited items on their list. For us, this was a bit of a surprise because we’re still in the united states. But just like speed limits vary from state to state and time zones are different apparently border patrol varies as well. Fortunately, it didn’t take long and it’s another experience to add to our list.
During check-in in our motel, the guy told us we were right in time for the autumn colors at June lake. We hadn’t heard of this but we know to listen to locals that recommend beautiful things. So on our way to Yosemite National Park, we drove the June Lake Loop. In late September the trees start to change color and it’s beautiful to see.
Yosemite National Park
From Mammoth Lakes, we take the Tioga Pass to Yosemite National Park. This pass closes in winter so check if it’s open before you decide to drive this way. Otherwise, you’ll end up driving the whole road back and you need to take a big detour to reach Yosemite National Park. There are plenty of places to stop along the pass to enjoy the views and walk around Yosemite National Park.
Because we only had 1 day and still had a drive to Fresno for our motel we couldn’t hike as much as we would have liked. If you have the budget stay overnight or find a motel closer to the park. Because there is a lot to see and do in this park.
If you’re into mountaineering maybe a climb up to the Half Dome is up your alley. We just watched the people going up there from a distance. There are a lot of waterfalls in the park as well. We went to the visitor center which had a movie with background information about the importance of the national parks.
Fresno – 1 night
We spend 1 night in Fresno because it was the closest to Yosemite National Park with affordable accommodation. Our goal was to head to San Fransisco next. After spending all day in Yosemite we’re glad we chose this as our overnight stay.
The next day we drive onwards to San Fransisco. Because of forest fires, we changed our accommodation to Santa Cruz. Our Airbnb host was right in the area that was affected by the forest fires. You might want to drive onwards to San Fransisco instead of Santa Cruz. But it’s only an hour’s drive from Santa Cruz to San Fransisco so if you want to avoid the crowds and are looking for cheaper accommodation this will just do.
San Fransisco – 2 nights
As with any big city you want to take at least 2 nights in this area to explore San Fransisco. Visit the Golden Gate Bridge, get aboard one of the trams, and go up the steep streets. You could take a day trip to Alcatraz and visit the prison where they kept Al Capone.
Or maybe you just want to walk around and visit Fisherman’s wharf or Union Square. Don’t forget about Chinatown either. And try some of the local food or buy some street food. There is a lot to choose from so it all depends on your budget. San Fransisco is not cheap, but it’s worth a visit.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to visit because the forest fires were so bad and the air quality was in the reds. We definitely will visit somewhere in the future, because we read so many great things about San Fransisco.
Highway 1 – California
From San Fransisco you could drive to Los Angeles in a day, it’s about 6 hours if you drive via the interstates. But you could also drive the scenic Highway 1 which follows the coastal lines of California. We intended to do this, but unfortunately about an hour in the road was closed and we had no choice but to go back to the Interstate.
But it’s a nice scenic drive and you’ll drive through some coastal towns where you’re able to stop for lunch or just a coffee break. It’s a lot more fun to do this even though it takes a bit longer because the interstate for 6 hours gets quite repetitive. We decided to not head to Los Angeles right away but get as close as possible. We ended up in Thousand Oaks, which is a nice small-ish town with cheaper accommodation than Los Angeles.
A 2-week USA West Coast Road Trip
Well, that concludes our two-week road trip itinerary for your USA West Coast Road Trip. If you don’t have a lot of time this road trip will get you the most of your time without feeling stressed or crowded. The West Coast of the USA is versatile and has a lot of different faces which makes it a lot of fun for a road trip. You won’t get bored because the scenery changes and all the highlights are not too far apart.
If you have a little extra time just add a night to your favorite places. As we said in the beginning, you could start at any point in this itinerary but Los Angeles or San Fransisco makes the most sense. You’ll be able to get a nice rental car and start your trip the right way.
Let us know if you have any questions, we’ll be more than happy to help you. And if you have any great additions to this itinerary share them in the comment section!
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