How to Plan the Ultimate Seattle to San Diego Road Trip (2024)

west coast road trip itinerary
This post may contain affiliate links, including for the Amazon Associates program, which means I may make a small commission at no expense to you.

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 and go on many fun Seattle road trips. 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.

This road trip from Seattle to San Diego includes some of my favorite places. Take your time to plan your trip and adjust the stops as needed. You can always skip one or two of these stops if you want to spend more time in a specific city.

Here are some tips for planning your west coast trip, suggested itineraries, and details about each location.

This post has been updated and is accurate as of February 2023.

Tips for Driving From Seattle to San Diego

toyota prius prime big sur

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

Seattle to San Diego Road Trip Time

The driving time from Seattle to San Diego if you didn’t stop at all would be about 19 hours, but don’t do that to yourself. You won’t be able to see any of these fun stops along the way, much less have any time to eat or sleep. That’s why this article will show you different ways to break up your drive.

Seattle to San Diego Distance

The distance from Seattle to San Diego is about 1,255 miles if you stick to I-5 (again, not seeing any fun places on the way there). I like to note both time and distance because some people like to say they’ll drive X amount of hours before stopping, while others have a mileage goal to achieve before stopping.

How Many Days Does It Take to Drive From Seattle to San Diego?

Based on the above information, you could do a west coast drive from Seattle in one day, but it’d be pretty miserable. That’s why I recommend breaking it up and doing at least 3 days minimum, if not more. Further down, I have examples of itineraries you can follow to see how you can split up your time.

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 begin in Washington state, where you can explore mountains and forests, and 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.

No matter which way you go, you can decide to do all of these stops or just a few. Read through the recommended ones and pick out the ones that excite you the most.

The Best Time for a Road Trip From San Diego to Seattle

You can do a west coast trip 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.

Hotels will be cheaper in the spring and fall, but summer will have better weather, so you’ll have to decide what’s more important.

seattle ebook cover 2

Looking for the ultimate Seattle travel guide written by a local that tells you all the best places to go and what to see? My new ebook is now live, so click here to buy your copy!

Choosing a Rental Car When Driving From Seattle to San Diego

road trip california

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 could go on bumpy roads. However, I wasn’t worried about that and knew a standard car would be fine with this trip.

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

You’ll also want to consider which vehicle will have the best gas mileage (which was important when I did my road trip around Vancouver Island). 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 driving so you’re ready to use them when you stop.
  • Camera – You don’t miss out on some of the fantastic 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 ones 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 essential 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 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. 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.

DayStart and Stop Points
Day 1Seattle to Portland
Day 2Portland to Redding
Day 3Redding to Petaluma
Day 4Petaluma to Los Angeles
Day 5Los 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.

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

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

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

Short on time? Here’s how to compare Seattle and Portland to pick where you want to go.

Seattle to San Diego Road Trip Map

Here’s a visual to see exactly where you’ll be going on this Washington to California road trip.

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

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 if you want to extend your trip before you head out.

Things to Do in Seattle

If you just have a day, make sure to stop by Pike Place Market (where you’ll find some of the best gifts from Seattle). While it may seem like a tourist trap, I still enjoy going there for fresh flowers and produce. While you’re there, check out 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

There’s nothing better than taking the ferry to Bainbridge Island on a sunny summer day in Seattle. 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.

Buying a Seattle CityPASS is a great way to save money on ticket costs, as you’ll be able to see multiple Seattle attractions for one price!

When you return, 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 or my 3 day Seattle itinerary if you’re staying longer.

There are also many cheap things to do in Seattle if you’re on a budget.

Where to Stay in Seattle

  • 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)

2. Gig Harbor

west coast itinerary gig harbor

Your next stop 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 slowly.

Things to Do in Gig Harbor

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 just to 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 taking 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 an authentic gondola from Italy.

Top off your night with dinner at Brix 25 before continuing your Seattle to San Diego road trip itinerary.

Where to Stay in Gig Harbor

I love using Roadtrippers for all my road trips because they show you all the fun stops to make along the way. You can get $5 off if you sign up with my code BTR5QTP.

3. Olympic National Park

backpacking olympic coast

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.

Things to Do in Olympic National Park

You can soak in a hot tub, walk through a rainforest, and visit the coast 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.

If you have time to extend your trip, go on a road trip around the Olympic Peninsula as well.

Where to Stay in Olympic National Park

You could also change up this trip and head east to go on a Seattle to Glacier National Park road trip at this point.

4. Long Beach

west coast trip long beach

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.

Things to Do in Long Beach

You’ll also get to drive on the beginning of the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway, one of Washington’s best scenic drives. Take a long walk along the beach or take 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 view 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. You’ll easily see why it’s one of the best weekend getaways from Seattle.

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

Where to Stay in Long Beach

5. Astoria

west coast itinerary astoria

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.

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.

You’ll love the Oregon Film Museum if you’re into movies, 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.

You can also extend this and head to the ocean to embark on an Oregon Coast road trip.

Where to Stay in Astoria

6. Portland

portland road trip

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 vacation.

Things to Do in Portland

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 breweries like Upright Brewing or Ground Breaker Brewing. Head to Von Ebert Brewing for burgers, wings, salads, and more for dinner during Portland in the summer.

If you have time, check out one of the many Portland day trips you can go on in the area or how to spend 3 days in Portland if you’ll be there for a bit.

This is a great part of your trip where you could decide to add on a few days and book a Portland weekend getaway to explore more of the area.

You can also head out on a Portland to San Franciso drive from here, which is particularly pretty during fall in Portland.

Where to Stay in Portland

7. Eugene

activities in willamette valley river trail

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.

Things to Do in Eugene

Downtown Eugene is full of hip eateries, kid and dog-friendly breweries, and local shops.

During football season, check out a University of Oregon football game for a unique experience if you’re in town. 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.

Where to Stay in Portland

8. Bend

bend road trip

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.

Things to Do in Bend

You can go parasailing, hiking, or canoeing to release 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, and I always try to stay in them when I can make 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.

Where to Stay in Bend

9. Redding

california road trip redding

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

Things to Do in Redding

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.

Where to Stay in Redding

  • Hilton Garden Inn Redding includes a restaurant on-site and free cookies in the lobby for a snack, plus they’re close to the freeway. (rates start at $115 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
  • Comfort Suites Redding has an indoor pool and a fitness center. (rates start at $93 per night)
  • One-Bedroom Home – This small house is great for a quick stop on your road trip and has a deck and patio to enjoy. (rates start at $136 per night)

10. Petaluma

downtown petaluma sunset

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

Things to Do in Petaluma

There are dozens of wineries to visit in Petaluma and 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.

Where to Stay in Petaluma

  • Hotel Petaluma is a restored boutique hotel from the 1920s that is in the heart of downtown Petaluma. (rates start at $93 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
  • This Spanish/Mediterranean Casita is separate from the main home, with an eat-in dining area in the equipped kitchen (rates start at $155 per night)

11. San Francisco

big sur san francisco

San Francisco is always a fun city to stop in, whether for a day or a few days.

Things to Do in San Francisco

You can visit places like Alcatraz Island to visit a former prison and learn about its history. Fisherman’s Wharf is another fun place to stay by the water and buy seafood when 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 drive over to Tahoe to enjoy all the fun summer activities in Lake Tahoe or the hikes in Tahoe.

Where to Stay in San Francisco

  • 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 1890s San Francisco Victorian has 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom and a 6 foot jacuzzi tub. (rates start at $225 per night)

12. Monterey

road trip monterey

Monterey is a beautiful city to stop in on your west coast road trip from Seattle on the California coast.

Things to Do in Monterey

Head to Cannery Row to go wine tasting, have lunch, and enjoy sitting on a bench while watching boats go by.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can go scuba diving in Monterey Bay and see jellyfish, seals, etc. 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.

Where to Stay in Monterey

13. Los Angeles

los angeles road trip

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.

Things to Do in Los Angeles

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 locals skateboarding or doing yoga on the beach.

One of the best places in the area to go for a hike is 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 and a popular stop on a road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

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

I also recommend heading down to visit Huntington Beach for surf, sun, and delicious seafood.

Where to Stay in Los Angeles

14. Temecula

west coast road trip temecula

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 come to an end.

Things to Do in Temecula

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. Stop by Crush and Brew for dinner and then head to the speakeasy in the back for a specialty cocktail.

Where to Stay in Temecula

15. San Diego

san diego road trip

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.

Things to Do in San Diego

Head to La Jolla to relax on the beach or kayak in the ocean. I rented a kayak when I was here and went out with my brother to explore the water, which was a bit windy in the afternoon. You might want to go. in the morning for less of a breeze/waves.

Head to the Pacific Beach neighborhood at night to check out the nightlife. There are plenty of restaurants near the beach, such as the Pacific Beach Fish Shop or Amplified Ale Works Kitchen + Beer Garden. Head to PB Ale House for a nightcap and to celebrate your road trip from Seattle to California!

Where to Stay in San Diego

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 (2024)

  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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.