How to Plan the Ultimate Seattle to San Diego Road Trip

west coast road trip itinerary
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The west coast of the United States is one of the most scenic places in the country. From the mountains of Washington to the sandy beaches of California, there’s so much to put on a west coast road trip itinerary. That’s why you’ll love taking a Seattle to San Diego road trip at least once in your life.

I’ve been lucky enough to explore dozens of different destinations from Washington to California in the past few years. Based on my experience, I decided to compile all of these destinations into a Seattle to San Diego drive that others could follow to explore this side of the country.

Some of my favorite places are included in this road trip from Seattle to San Diego. Take your time to plan your trip and adjust the stops as needed. You can always decide to skip one or two of these stops if you want to spend more time in a specific city. Here are some tips to get started on planning your west coast trip, suggested itineraries, and details about each location.

Tips for Driving From Seattle to San Diego

Here are a few things to keep in mind before your Seattle to San Diego drive (or a San Diego to Seattle drive).

Which Way to Drive on a West Coast Road Trip From Seattle

If you have the choice, I recommend starting your trip from Seattle and heading south from there. A Seattle to San Diego road trip lets you start in Washington state where you can explore mountains and forest, and then end up in sunny California.

However, there’s nothing wrong with doing a San Diego to Seattle road trip as well. You can decide and adjust the itinerary based on where you’re starting from.

Best Time for a Road Trip From San Diego to Seattle

You can do a west coast trip during any time of the year, but you should be aware that Washington and Oregon can get the occasional snow in the winter. While this west coast road trip itinerary mainly has you sticking to I-5, there are parts you may be going on less traveled roads, so be aware it may be icy.

That said, the best time for a west coast road trip is from April to September. You’ll have drier weather during this time and be able to enjoy your stops outside more.

Choosing a Rental Car When Driving From Seattle to San Diego

If you need to rent a car for your trip from Seattle to San Diego, you can easily do that in Seattle. There are multiple places to book from, and you can do everything online. When I did my road trip from Seattle to Yellowstone, I wanted a car that was able to go on bumpy roads. However, I wasn’t worried about that with this trip and knew a standard car would be fine.

Compare the prices and see what type of car will work best. I recommend getting a medium-sized car so it’s comfortable and can fit down smaller streets and parking spots.

You’ll also want to think about which vehicle will have the best gas mileage. Here are several reliable car rental companies to check out for your Seattle to San Diego road trip:

West Coast Road Trip Packing List

Make sure you’re well-prepared for your Seattle to San Diego road trip before you leave. While I have a comprehensive road trip packing list tips post, here are a few essentials I recommend for this trip:

  • Emergency roadside kit – If you’re renting a car, you may have roadside assistance that you can call. Otherwise, I recommend throwing in an emergency kit to help with any issues that may come up.
  • USB car chargers – Charge your phone and camera while you’re driving so you’re ready to use them when you stop.
  • Camera – You don’t miss out on some of the amazing scenery you’ll see on your road trip from San Diego to Seattle.
  • Reusable coffee mug Don’t waste paper cups every morning and just bring your reusable one instead to fill up.
  • Snacks – Staying fueled with healthy snacks like trail mix and protein bars will prevent you from crashing.
  • Reusable water bottle – Staying hydrated is important when you travel, but don’t waste dozens of plastic water bottles in the process. Many restaurants and cafes are more than happy to fill up your water bottle.

Some people enjoy taking their road trip a day at a time and seeing where they end up that night. That gives me anxiety personally, so I’ve listed my suggested stops, places to check out, and hotels to stay at.

Need help planning out your road trip? I’ve been using Roadtrippers for years to see exactly how long it’ll take from one point to the next and also to find new places to add to my itinerary!

Itineraries for a Seattle to San Diego Drive

The best part about going on a Seattle to San Diego road trip is there are many different options as far as where to stop and how long to go for. Some people may be visiting this side of the country for the first time and want to go on a Seattle to California road trip for 2 weeks. Others may have less time and want a west coast road trip itinerary for 5 days.

5 Day West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

You can plan to do a Seattle to San Diego road trip itinerary in 5 days, but you’ll be very rushed. While I’ll give a sample itinerary below, you can save a few hours by having Los Angeles be your last stop on your west coast roadtrip from Seattle.

Day Start and Stop Points
Day 1 Seattle to Portland
Day 2 Portland to Redding
Day 3 Redding to Petaluma
Day 4 Petaluma to Los Angeles
Day 5 Los Angeles to San Diego

7 Day West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

If you have a full week, you’ll love this itinerary for a 7 day road trip from Seattle. You’ll get to spend several days in Washington, Oregon, and California to see the best of what they have to offer.

Day Start and Stop Points
Day 1 Seattle to Long Beach
Day 2 Long Beach to Portland
Day 3 Portland to Eugene
Day 4 Eugene to Redding
Day 5 Redding to Monterey
Day 6 Monterey to Los Angeles
Day 7 Los Angeles to San Diego

10 Day West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

Here’s the breakdown of your 10-day west coast road trip. Some of your drives will be short to the next destination, while others will be a bit longer, but I promise they’re worth it!

Day Start and Stop Points
Day 1 Seattle to Gig Harbor
Day 2 Gig Harbor to Long Beach
Day 3 Long Beach to Astoria
Day 4 Astoria to Portland 
Day 5 Portland to Bend
Day 6 Bend to Redding
Day 7 Redding to Monterey
Day 8 Monterey to Los Angeles
Day 9 Los Angeles to Temecula
Day 10 Temecula to San Diego

14 Day West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

If you’re lucky enough to have time to go on a 2-week west coast road trip from Seattle, you’ll get to stop at some amazing places. Here are my suggested places to visit during your 14 days.

Day Start and Stop Points
Day 1 Seattle to Gig Harbor
Day 2 Gig Harbor to Olympic National Park
Day 3 Olympic National Park to Long Beach
Day 4 Long Beach to Astoria 
Day 5 Astoria to Portland
Day 6 Portland to Eugene
Day 7 Eugene to Bend
Day 8 Bend to Redding
Day 9 Redding to Petaluma
Day 10 Petaluma to San Francisco
Day 11 San Francisco to Monterey
Day 12 Monterey to Los Angeles
Day 13 Los Angeles to Temecula
Day 14 Temecula to San Diego

15 Stops to Make on a Seattle to San Diego Road Trip

Here are 15 places on the west coast that you won’t want to miss. Pick and choose as you wish to make the trip your own!

1. Seattle

west coast road trip seattle

Where to Stay:

  • Hilton Seattle is in the middle of downtown and close to the Space Needle, Westlake Center, and plenty of shopping. (rates start at $87 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
  • Hotel 1000 is a modern hotel with a restaurant and bar, and is centrally located by the piers, Pike Place Market, and the general downtown area. (rates start at $255 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
  • Quiet Seattle Center Condo – This Belltown condo has free parking (a rarity!), a pool, and is within walking distance to places like the Space Needle. (rates start at $155 per night)

If you’re starting in Seattle, I recommend spending more than one day since there’s so much to see. There are many day trips from Seattle to go on if you want to extend your trip before you head out.

However, if you just have a day, make sure to stop by Pike Place Market. While it may seem like a tourist trap, I still enjoy going there for fresh flowers and produce. While you’re there, check out the Le Panier for French macarons and stop by Pike Place Chowder for some delicious seafood chowder.

You can also walk around or take a taxi to see the following tourist attractions:

  • Chihuly Garden and Glass
  • Space Needle
  • MoPOP (Museum of Pop Culture)
  • Seattle Aquarium

On a sunny summer day in Seattle, there’s nothing better than taking the ferry to Bainbridge Island. You’ll have beautiful views of Puget Sound and can check out the cute little town near the ferry dock. There are plenty of Seattle Instagram spots here to enjoy.

When you get back, head to the Smith Tower for happy hour while watching the sun go down over the city. You can check out my one day in Seattle itinerary for more ideas of how to spend your day in the city.

2. Gig Harbor

west coast itinerary gig harbor

Where to Stay:

Your next stop when on a road trip from Seattle to San Diego is only a short drive from the city. However, you’ll love relaxing in this small town to start your US west coast road trip off slowly. If you’re here in time for breakfast, stop at Netshed No 9 for a hearty breakfast with a view of the water. After that, walk around the shops in town and grab a cup of coffee.

The city of Gig Harbor is a great place to just relax and enjoy walking along the waterfront. You can grab food to go from one of the restaurants and enjoy a picnic on a bench. I love nothing more than getting a latte in the morning and walking through town as it slowly opens up.

If you love boutique shopping, there are many places to check out while you’re here. On a sunny day, I recommend going on a boat tour of the area to see the water and learn the history.

For a romantic way to see the area, book a tour with Gig Harbor Gondola, where you’ll have a friendly gondolier take you down the harbor in a real gondola from Italy. Top off your night with dinner at Brix 25 before continuing your Seattle to San Diego road trip itinerary.

3. Olympic National Park

rain forest things to do in olympic national park

Where to Stay:

One of the most amazing national parks in Washington is Olympic National Park, so you’ll want to stop here if you have time on your west coast trip. You can soak in a hot tub, walk through a rainforest, and visit the coast, all in 1 day at Olympic National Park.

There is also a good variety of Olympic National Park hikes to explore, whether you’re looking for a short one to stretch your legs on or a long, challenging hike. This stop is one of the most scenic ones in nature on your trip, and I recommend stopping here if you’re going on a 10-day west coast road trip. This is a great family-friendly vacation in Washington as well.

4. Long Beach

west coast trip long beach

Where to Stay:

You’ll head down the state to the Washington coast next. Visiting Long Beach is a must to add to your west coast road trip itinerary, as it has a lot to offer for a small town on the water. This is one of the longest beaches in the country, so you’ll love adding it to your list of places to see in Washington.

You’ll also get to drive on the beginning of the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway, which is one of the best scenic drives in Washington. Take a long walk along the beach or go on a horseback riding tour of the area. It’s also a great place to fly a kite, so bring your own or rent one while you’re there.

For a casual lunch, stop by Pickled Fish, where you can fuel up and have a view of the Pacific Ocean. If you’re in the mood for a pint, head over to North Jetty Brewing to try some of the local beer.

You can also catch live music at the restaurant at the Adrift Hotel. It’s a fun way to taste local seafood, see a small band, and have a view of the Pacific Ocean as well.

Alternatively, you could visit Ocean Shores instead, which is north of Long Beach and has a beach town charm all its own.

5. Astoria

west coast itinerary astoria

Where to Stay:

Many people haven’t heard of the town of Astoria, yet they’ve seen it many times. It’s been featured in dozens of movies, including The Goonies, Free Willy, and more, and there are plenty of things to do in Astoria.

Astoria faces Washington and is right on the Columbia River (seeing a theme with places by the water yet?). Walk through the town to see historic buildings and stop by Pier 39 to see the Bumble Bee Cannery Museum, which had a huge impact on the town’s growth.

If you’re into movies, you’ll love the Oregon Film Museum, where you can see old film sets and even pretend you’re in a movie. For wood-fired pizza and local beer, head over to Fort George Brewery. To watch the sun go down, drive up to the Astoria Column to have a view of the entire city. Stopping in this charming city is one of the best things to do in the Pacific Northwest.

6. Portland

portland road trip

Where to Stay:

I always prefer to visit small cities over larger ones, but Portland’s a fun city to stop in for a day on a Pacific Northwest road trip. You’ll have to stop at Voodoo Donuts to start the day, as they’re one of the most famous things to do in Portland. If you love books, head to Powell’s City of Books, where you could easily spend an hour or two.

There are dozens of food carts in Portland, so you won’t have to walk far to find one for lunch. Oregon produces some great beer, so stop by a few of the breweries such as Upright Brewing or Ground Breaker Brewing. For dinner, head to Von Ebert Brewing for burgers, wings, salads, and more.

If you have time, check out one of the many Portland day trips you can go on in the area or how to spend a weekend in Portland if you’ll be there for a bit.

7. Eugene

activities in willamette valley river trail

Where to Stay:

Most people put Portland on their itinerary for a west coast road trip from Seattle for at least a day, but make sure to check out Eugene on the way south on your Seattle to San Diego road trip. Downtown Eugene is full of hip eateries, kid and dog-friendly breweries, and local shops.

If you’re in town during football season, check out a University of Oregon football game for a unique experience. If kids are with you on your trip, they’ll love spending time at the interactive Eugene Children’s Museum. You can also take a stroll along the Willamette River.

8. Bend

bend road trip

Where to Stay:

Many people stop in Portland and then keep going to California, but Bend is a place that’s becoming popular for an Oregon vacation. I recommend stopping here for a day during your west coast road trip from Seattle. The area is known for its outdoor activities and beer, so take advantage of both by adding this to your west coast trip itinerary.

You can go parasailing, hiking, or canoeing to get out some pent-up energy from driving.

Bend is also known for its famous Bend Ale Trail, which features 16 different breweries from the area. While you probably shouldn’t visit all of these in just a day, check out at least a few of them. Some I recommend include Sunriver Brewing Company or Boneyard Beer.

For dinner check out The Blacksmith to sample local seafood and beef.

Oregon is known for its chain of hotels and restaurants called McMenamins. I always try to stay in them when I can due. The rooms are well-decorated and they have plenty of activities to do. In addition to a restaurant, they also tend to have a bar or two in the hotel.

9. Redding

california road trip redding

Where to Stay:

Many people stop in Redding on the way down California since it’s right off I-5, but it’s worth it to spend some time exploring the area by adding it to your west coast road trip.

Head to Whiskeytown Lake to go hiking, kayaking, or swimming. There are also many hikes north of Redding in the Shasta Cascade region. Redding is an outdoor lover’s dream with how much there is to do.

When you’re ready for food, head to downtown Redding to The Mosiac and enjoy seating on their outdoor patio. After, take a walk along the Sacramento River and see the Sundial Bridge.

10. Petaluma

downtown petaluma sunset

Where to Stay:

Sonoma and Napa are popular places to go wine tasting but don’t overlook Petaluma on your Seattle to San Diego road trip. This adorable town is in Sonoma County and much less crowded than Napa Valley. Staying here is also generally more affordable during your road trip from Seattle to San Diego.

There are dozens of wineries to visit in Petaluma and the surrounding Sonoma County. When you’ve had your share of wine, you can head to downtown Petaluma for dinner or to go shopping in some of the boutique stores. You won’t want to miss this town on your 7 day west coast road trip.

11. San Francisco

big sur san francisco

Where to Stay:

  • Bay Bridge Inn is a modern hotel within walking distance of many attractions. (rates start at $88 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
  • SOMA Park Inn is downtown and has a view of the city. (rates start at $90 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
  • This 1890’s San Francisco Victorian has 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom and a 6 foot jacuzzi tub. (rates start at $225 per night)

San Francisco is always a fun city to stop in, whether it’s for a day or a few days. You can visit places like Alcatraz Island to visit a former prison and learn about the history of it. Fisherman’s Wharf is another fun place to visit by the water and buy seafood when you’re on a Seattle to San Diego road trip.

Some other areas to check out when you’re in San Francisco include:

  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Painted Ladies
  • Golden Gate Park
  • Muir Woods

If you want to extend your trip, you can always take a drive over to Tahoe to enjoy all the fun summer activities in Lake Tahoe.

12. Monterey

road trip monterey

Where to Stay:

Monterey is a beautiful city to stop in on your west coast road trip from Seattle that’s on the California coast. Head to Cannery Row to go wine tasting, have lunch, and enjoy sitting on a bench while watching boats go by.

If you’re really feeling adventurous, you can go scuba diving in Monterey Bay and see jellyfish, seals, and more. I’ve been diving in many different areas, but this is one of the most scenic ones. There’s a shop right by the water so you can gear up and walk straight into the water.

For a unique twist on Latin food, stop at The Haute Enchilada for a meal. You can also take a walk down Fisherman’s Wharf to sample seafood the local restaurants give out, buy taffy, and stop in the souvenir shops.

You only have a few days left on your west coast road trip itinerary, so you might be a little tired at this point. I suggest taking your time in Monterey to relax and enjoy the beautiful views while you’re here.

Alternatively, Monterey is a great base to go on a Big Sur day trip, so you could spend a day exploring the coast on your road trip from San Diego to Seattle.

13. Los Angeles

los angeles road trip

Where to Stay:

Los Angeles is a crazy city that’s always busy but it’s still worth a stop on a Seattle to San Diego road trip. Trying to drive in Los Angeles can be tough with how crowded it is, but I do recommend spending a day exploring it.

My favorite breakfast there is an acai bowl, which you can find at dozens of different health shops around the city. After that, head over to Venice Beach to hang out on the beach and people watch. I love seeing some of the locals skateboarding or doing yoga on the beach.

One of the best places in the area to go for a hike is at Runyon Canyon. You’ll have a great view of the city and probably run into a few celebrities on this popular route. This is a great spot to get out any energy you may have from sitting in the car.

At night, head to Griffith Observatory to watch the stars to end the night. You’ll love this part of your west coast trip itinerary.

If you have time and want to extend your trip, you can easily do a day trip to Joshua Tree from Los Angeles.

14. Temecula

Where to Stay:

There’s no reason to go to crowded Napa when you can enjoy the beauty of Temecula Valley. You’ll enjoy spending a day relaxing as your road trip starts to comes to an end.

Spend a few hours at Robert Renzoni sampling local wine and having lunch outdoors during your Seattle to San Diego road trip.

Head to downtown Temecula to browse the shops, such as the Temecula Lavender Co. and Old Town Sweet Shop. For dinner, stop by Crush and Brew and then head to the speakeasy in the back for a specialty cocktail.

15. San Diego

san diego road trip

Where to Stay:

After you’re done exploring Temecula, it’s time to head to your final destination – San Diego. You may need to get to the airport at this point, and you can likely drive straight there to return your car when driving from Seattle to San Diego. However, there are plenty of things to do in San Diego if you have more time.

Head to La Jolla to relax on the beach or go kayaking in the ocean. You’ll see plenty of seals lounging in the water.

At night, head to the Pacific Beach neighborhood to check out the nightlife. There are plenty of restaurants near the beach to go to. These include the Pacific Beach Fish Shop or Amplified Ale Works Kitchen + Beer Garden. Head to PB Ale House for a nightcap and to celebrate your trip!

By now, you should have a good idea of what you want to put on your itinerary. You’ll see some amazing parts of this coast whether you take a Seattle to San Diego road trip or a San Diego to Seattle road trip.

6 thoughts on “How to Plan the Ultimate Seattle to San Diego Road Trip

  1. Sharon Glascoe says:

    This post is giving me some serious wanderlust. Great post with all the places to visit.

  2. Marcie says:

    I stayed in Astoria last year for the first time! It prompted me to watch The Goonies (which I had never seen before!) and we enjoyed the quaint town. I think I need to head to Gig Harbor to explore!

  3. Astrid Vinje says:

    We drove from Redding to Monterey along Highway 1, and it was beautiful! We love road tripping through the West Coast!

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