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Our US West Coast road trip itinerary

Planning your US West Coast road trip itinerary may be a bit challenging. Check our guide how to plan a perfect route.

Planning the US West Coast road trip itinerary IS a challenge. There are so many amazing attractions but within long distances. However, we managed to visit four states in less than 3 weeks: California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. We started in Los Angeles, but of course, you can customize the entire route to take off in eg. San Francisco. Let’s see how our West Coast road trip itinerary looked like.

Our US West Coast road trip itinerary

Tip: When planning an itinerary, we always use Google Maps and its suggested driving times, taking into account photo, lunch or coffee breaks. While the USA is a huge country and getting from one point to another may take ages, driving a car is pleasant – the freeways and main roads are wide and relatively empty (the only crowded roads are these next to Los Angeles and San Francisco). Find out more about renting a car in the US.

Day 1-3. Los Angeles

Upon arrival we decided to stay in Los Angeles for 3 days, so we had some time to rest after a long flight and jet lag recovery. I sincerely admit that the first impressions of the US weren’t spectacular at all. We found the most popular attractions like the Walk of Fame, Hollywood Boulevard, the famous Hollywood sign, Rodeo and Mulholland Drive a bit disappointing.

However, we strongly recommend you visiting one of the local film studios. We decided on the Universal Studios. It combines a big amusement park with a film studio trip. You will visit Hogwarts in 3D and drink some amazing Butter Beer, take a boat ride through Jurassic Park, participate in the Transformers fight, and finally drive down the Wisteria Lane from ‘Desperate Housewives’. If you are lucky, you will even see film shooting live! This place is definitely worth a visit, but given the number of attractions, you should come just before the opening and spend the whole day there. If you’re tight on time – think about buying a priority ticket, which allows you to get on the rides without standing in line.

Tip: If you are visiting the Walk of Fame, go dining at Toi On Sunset – amazing Thai restaurant with rock’n’roll twist, what a quirky design!
Butterbeer Harry Potter World

Michal enjoying his butter beer 🙂

Universal Studios tourHollywood sign

Day 4. Palm Springs 

Most tourists don’t include Palm Springs in their West Coast road trip itinerary and go straight to Las Vegas. However, we decided to visit this city anyway. This town is considered to be the pearl of modernist architecture and is also one of Los Angeles’s favorite weekend getaways. The villas look really amazing – no wonder Marylin Monroe was also such a big fan of Palm Springs.
Tip: Next to Palm Springs, there is the Coachella Valley – maybe it’s worth planning your trip to spend a few days on the world-famous festival? You can also explore Joshua Tree National Park located nearby (we only drove through it). If you have more time, head to the south to San Diego and Tijuana in Mexico.

Palm Springs Coachella

Day 5. Route 66 & Las Vegas

The road between Palm Springs and Las Vegas impressed us a lot, and here we found the coolest part of Route 66 (check out where exactly!). We planned only one day to spend in Las Vegas – we treated it more like a “curiosity” than a typical sightseeing spot. The Strip, the street with some of the city’s most famous hotels and casinos, pictures of quirky chapels for express weddings and a selfie with the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign are a must. In the evening we went to the casino, where we looked hypnotized at the gambling slots swallowing hundreds of dollars in seconds. We also went clubbing to The Bank – if you are planning a night out, don’t forget to take your passport or driving license (security checks if you’re 21 years old, surprisingly your driving license is considered more reliable than ID).

Tip: Where to stay in Las Vegas? You can choose the hotel overlooking the Venetian canals (The Venetian), stay in the Roman palace (Ceasar’s Palace), in a pyramid (Luxor) or in a room with a view of the Statue of Liberty (New York, New York). We decided on the Bellagio hotel, famous from “Ocean’s Eleven” movie, with spectacular fountains in front of it. You must try their Breakfast Buffet for 25 USD – really delicious and actually definitely cheaper than eating out in some restaurant on the Strip. Remember that the prices of accommodation during weekends increase, sometimes even twice!

Route 66 signLas Vegas the Strip hotels

Day 6. Hoover Dam, Route 66 & Grand Canyon

It’s a bit hard to get up after all night long party, but unfortunately the road to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas is quite long (about 5 hours). On the way there, stop at the Hoover Dam, which produces energy to supply power to 3 states. While driving US-93 road to the Grand Canyon, turn left in Kingman to visit historic Route 66. Here you will find a bit more commercial version than in the Palm Springs area, but it’s a good stop for old cars lovers.

how to get to Hoover Dam Route 66 signsold cars Route 66

How to get to the Grand Canyon? We decided to take a look at the so-called South Rim of the Grand Canyon, as the North Rim didn’t fit into our planned West Coast road trip itinerary. There are actually 2 good points to admire the Grand Canyon from the south. First is the Skywalk at Eagle Point (glass bridge over the edge, ticket about $ 80). You can also stop at the Tusayan lookout point (Road 64 is leading there, you have to turn left in Williams). We chose the second option, because it was closer to the attractions planned for the next day. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit the Grand Canyon around an hour before sunset. Otherwise it may be hard to even get on the viewing platform! The view itself is breathtaking, I honestly say that this is probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And the Colorado River down there is so tiny!

Tip: It’s very difficult to find accommodation next to the Grand Canyon in high season, you must book it at least a few months in advance. You can also stay in Las Vegas and take a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon directly from there.

how to get to the Grand Canyon

Day 7. Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend

The area between the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley was probably the least populated region in our entire West Coast road trip itinerary. We didn’t have cell coverage there almost at all and there are only a few places to spend a night. Nevertheless, it’s still worth coming here as the views are simply spectacular. Read about how to plan a visit to Monument Valley.

Monument Valley tour

Near Monument Valley, you will find probably the most picture perfect place in the USA, beloved by photographers – the Antelope Canyon. If you arrive here in the morning, the sun rays will illuminate the slopes, exposing the unusual orange layers. I hope you will be more fortunate – when we reached the place, it turned out that the canyon is flooded! On the other hand, we have good reason to visit Utah again.

Horseshoe Bend, located nearby, was a consolation prize for us. This is a place where the Colorado River makes a 360 degrees turn, creating a picturesque bend. The view is really impressive, even in the heavy rain.

Horseshoe Bend

Our itinerary ran close to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and from time to time we could see signs pointing at some of the most interesting attractions. We had more time than planned (because of the flooded Antelope Canyon), so we visited the famous pinnacles. These rock formations look like in the picture below, hard to believe that it’s all only thanks to erosion.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Tip: If you have time, it is worth to add Zion National Park to your West Coast road trip itinerary. It’s considered as one of the most underrated parks in the United States. However, many of our friends have confirmed that in fact, it’s really spectacular. We will definitely tick it off on our next trip 🙂

Day 8. Death Valley

Death Valley was our next stop. We spent the night in the charming village St. George on the border of Utah and Arizona, and we headed in the early morning back to California. Find out more what to see in Death Valley.

Zabriskie point Death Valley

Day 9. Sequoia National Park

We quickly escaped the wilderness and isolation of extremely hot Death Valley. On the next day we visited green Sequoia National Park (it was pretty cold as well!). Learn more about how to plan a visit to Sequoia National Park.

Sequoia National Park

Day 10-11. Yosemite National Park

If you’re outdoor lovers, you just have to include Yosemite National Park in your West Coast road trip itinerary. Spectacular mountains, stunning waterfalls and awe-inspiring views are waiting for you. Find out what you must see in Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite National Park

Day 12. Lake Tahoe

Most tourists after visiting Yosemite, go straight to San Francisco, but we decided to make one more stop at Lake Tahoe. I remember that since I was a teenager and I got a postcard from this place, I started dreaming of visiting this amazing lake. The crystal clear, turquoise water of a lake surrounded by thousands of spruces is an unforgettable view. Fun fact – the area around the lake is a very popular ski resort. It’s a good idea to stop at one of the beaches for lunch. Beware of the bears that really love to swim here and don’t pay much attention to people at all! Also stop by one of the lookouts on the hills nearby – the panorama is stunning.

Tip: Take a break and eat breakfast at Sprouts – definitely the best we had in the States, made from organic ingredients mostly. Try their French Roast coffee and go for unlimited refill option – it’s so delicious. What a difference after all these donuts in plastic bags served for breakfast in motels!

Volkswagen campervanLake TahoeSouth Lake TahoeLake Tahoe from the above

Day 13. Napa Valley

If you love wine (who doesn’t?), don’t miss this place. Napa Valley is one of the most famous wine regions in the world. It’s good to add one relaxing day to your pretty intense West Coast road trip itinerary, just to do nothing except wine tasting. How to choose the winery? Read more about wineries in Napa Valley.

Tip: Napa Valley is a very popular place for a romantic or a girly weekend getaway from San Francisco. Prices of accommodation from Friday to Sunday are really high, it is worth to stop here during the week.

Napa Valley wineries

Day 14 – 15. San Francisco

We spent two days in San Francisco, one totally on shopping… For Europeans, the US is a great place to do some shopping, especially when it comes to clothing, cosmetics and electronics. It is worth visiting outlet villages, such as San Francisco Premium Outlets. My hits: Tory Burch shoes for $ 40 and Kate Spade bags for $ 100. TJ Maxx is also a great shop for bargain hunters and it’s located almost in every city. For example, I saw there Michael Kors Jet Set bags for $ 100 🙂 Kitchen Aid fans can hunt for a mixer or blender for about 30-40 $. Please, just don’t burn them by plugging in European socket – adapter is needed ;). More practical tips for shopping in the USA coming soon!

Find out what to see in San Francisco.

San Francisco cable cars

Day 16 – 18. Pacific Coast Highway

We spent next days exploring one of the most scenic drives in the world, the Pacific Coast Highway. During 2 or 3 days you can easily see all the attractions of Pacific Coast Highway.

Tip: Before hitting the road, check here if the Pacific Coast Highway is accessible. A few months ago, the highway was severely damaged. Unfortunately, it is currently impossible to drive without any detours. Sometimes this route is also closed due to the infamous California fires.

Big Sur bridge

Day 19. Santa Monica

We spent the last day in the States relaxing on the beach in Santa Monica. It was a perfect, quiet day, just perfect after intense driving the previous days. Highly recommended!

Santa Monica beach

What else would you include in West Coast road trip itinerary?

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Planning your US West Coast road trip itinerary may be a bit challenging. Check our guide how to plan a perfect route.

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    shussey27
    August 5, 2017 at 10:27

    This has long been a dream of mine! My husband wants to do it on a Harley Davidson but your Volkswagen looks like a great choice! Did you hire it?

    • Reply
      Magda
      August 8, 2017 at 17:33

      No, unfortunately not 🙂 We hired Dodge Charger, we only saw this super cute Volkswagen somewhere on the way 🙂 Harley seems like an awesome idea!!

  • Reply
    The Middle Age Wanderer
    August 5, 2017 at 11:08

    It’s been a while since we’ve been there. Brings back great memories.

  • Reply
    Siarra Chantal Turner
    August 5, 2017 at 15:47

    Your visit to Universal Studios brings back serious memories for me, as an avid Harry Potter fan, that was the main pull.

    Thanks the tips about the Pacific Highway…I have plans to make that drive next year.

    • Reply
      Magda
      August 8, 2017 at 17:32

      Oh yes! Wizarding World of Harry Potter was definitely a highlight of our trip!

  • Reply
    Marissa Deen
    August 5, 2017 at 23:27

    What a great itinerary!

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