Top 4 Summer Road Trips for 2022: West Coast Edition
We know there’s no shortage of places to go and things to see during the summer months. And with long days and warm nights beckoning us all outside, it’s no wonder that summer road trips are such a popular pastime across the United States. After all, why spend hours crammed into a dark plane or train on your way to your next summer vacation, when you could hit the open road and soak up every second of the journey along the way? Armed with plenty of sun protection for the drive, as well as your final destination, of course.
Recently, we shared four of our favorite road trips along the east coast, from winding paths in coastal Maine all the way down to the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys. Now, we’re shining a spotlight on four of the best road trip routes along the wild and wondrous West Coast. Wherever you may live, and wherever you’re headed next, these guides can help you make the most of every minute on your next summer expedition.
Pacific Coast Highway, San Francisco to Los Angeles
Whether you’ve seen it in movies, on the glossy pages of a well-worn travel magazine, or you’ve had the energizing experience of driving Highway 1 for yourself, there’s nothing quite like this iconic stretch of road. Winding its way along the California coastline for a little over 656 miles in total, it’s the longest continuous highway in the state. It’s also the second-longest in the entire country, just after Montana’s Highway 200 (which stretches a little over 706 miles in total).
More popularly known as the Pacific Coast Highway, this roadway is packed with jaw-dropping coastal vistas and one-of-a-kind stops from start to finish. One of the most popular routes for a weekend getaway spans San Francisco to Los Angeles—and while the highway does run both directions, heading southbound will give you unobstructed ocean views for most of the way.
This particular stretch of the PCH is around 420 miles depending on where you decide to enter and exit the highway, and it should take just under 8 hours to complete. But to really make the most of it, split the trip into two days (or even more) and enjoy a few stops along the way. The Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur—including the famed Bixby Bridge—are among the many postcard-worthy milestones where you may want to pull over and spend a little extra time. Just don’t forget the camera!
The Alaskan Highway, Seattle to Anchorage
Known familiarly as the Alcan, this 1,390-mile stretch of highway packs staggering views and numerous topographic changes along its lengthy route. Plan on at least five full days of driving if you attempt the full route in the summer—but more realistically, this road trip is likely to take 7-10 days by car, due in large part to its winding and often mountainous terrain. You can also experience shorter segments of the highway at your leisure without continuing all the way to Anchorage.
Decide you’d like to experience the whole jaunt? Once you get beyond the sights and delights of Seattle and Vancouver, you won’t find many chains or attractions along the rest of the route. But what the Alaskan Highway lacks in roadside amenities, it more than makes up for in sweeping views and incredible wildlife spotting (watch for bears, moose and other creatures throughout your journey). Simply put, there may be no better way to experience the untamed Yukon Territory—and no more suitable weather conditions for it—than this road trip in the summer.
Just note that to enter Canada, you may be subject to COVID testing requirements, border closures and other irregularities. So it’s best to double check entry requirements and road conditions before setting out on this unforgettable journey.
Highway 101, Coastal Oregon
This major north-south highway spans the entirety of Oregon’s Pacific coastline, running roughly 363 miles between the borders of California to the south and Washington state to the north. As the northerly companion to California’s more widely known Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 101 is every bit as stunning—as well as packed with unique stops along the way.
Depending on your starting point and how much time you have to spare, this entire road trip can technically be done in under 8 hours. But with dozens of state parks, scenic overlooks, small Pacific Northwest towns and other dazzling roadside diversions lining the route, why rush? You could spend four to five days exploring the coastline from start to finish.
Make sure to detour at picturesque Cannon Beach, perhaps best known for its stunning seaside rock formations that have been featured in numerous movies—including the iconic 1985 film The Goonies. There are also dozens of state parks and beaches dotting the coast, along with world-class golf courses and first-rate cliffside restaurants and hotels. So you’ll have plenty of places to explore on each day of your trip, no matter how long you want to spend on the road.
California Wine Country, San Francisco to Napa to Sonoma…and More
Another popular West Coast road trip combines the urban thrills of San Francisco with the bucolic charms of Napa Valley—but why stop there? While the initial segment is a short and sweet 50 miles and takes only around an hour to complete, there’s so much more to see and do in this region beyond Napa itself. By continuing on to Sonoma and adding stops at any of the countless vineyards and other charming towns nearby, this road trip can easily fill an entire weekend or even more.
From San Francisco, take the I-80 eastbound to Vallejo, then switch to California’s Highway 29. You’ll reach Napa in about an hour, soaking up charming countryside views along the way. From there, you’ll have the bounty of Wine Country all around you. Continue north to explore Yountville, Oakville, St. Helena, Calistoga and more—each with its own unique personality. And each with its own rich soil to match, enabling the region to produce an incredibly wide variety of world-renowned wines.
From there, head southwest to Sonoma for a more artisanal vineyard experience. Wherever you choose to stop along the way, you’ll find fresh farm-to-table restaurants and dazzling views in nearly every direction. With so many options all around, it’s easy to see why this is a favorite road trip among those who wish to explore more than simply points A and B. Here, any direction you choose is the right one.