This summer I experienced something that is pretty high on most peoples bucket lists. I took a road trip up the West Coast of America from San Luis Obispo (SLO), Ca through to Seattle, Wa. Honestly, I didn’t even realise what an amazing opportunity I was having at the ripe age of 21 until after it had happened.
San Luis Obispo
It is pretty common knowledge amongst my friends that I ADORE SLO. So it comes as no surprise that I invited my friends to stay with me there for a few days before we headed off on the road trip. I have previously written about the 10 best things to do in San Luis Obispo, but I added a few more to the list whilst she was visiting.
For any Vegan travelers in the area, Bliss Cafe is an absolute must visit. Everything on their menu is vegan and they have a large selection of gluten free foods which are all clearly labelled on their menu. Not only is the food delicious but the location is beautiful – It is situated in Downtown right next to the Mission and Creek.
We hiked The “P” which is located on the Cal Poly campus and overlooks the campus and city. It a super easy hike and a beautiful place to watch the sunset.
I couldn’t show them around SLO without going to my new favourite beach and getting an all over tan at Pirates Cove. This is a “clothing is optional” beach and after several trips there with Jacob, I had plucked up the courage and started to enjoy the freedom of life without clothes. As they hadn’t been exposed to this naked life in Chicago, we all opted to just remove our bikini tops. It was still a very fun and freeing experience.
If you’re feeling brave I would highly recommend a trip here, not only are the people relaxed and friendly, the scenery and beach itself is stunning.
A short drive up the coast and we reached Santa Cruz. We stayed here for one night at the HI hostel. The first night we explored the boardwalk and had lots of fun in front of distortion mirrors.
We ate at Saturn Cafe which was TO DIE FOR! It is a vegan diner with a great gluten free selection. The place has a really nice atmosphere and it was the perfect place to kick start our road trip!
In the day we visited the beach by the boardwalk, it is a nice beach, but personally I think no where near as good as those on offer in SLO!
For me, Santa Cruz was a great place to start our road trip. It was really fun but one full day in the boardwalk area was enough for me. I was eager to set off to explore the redwoods in the nearby area!
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
We only stopped here for a couple of hours on the way to San Francisco. We chose a short but famous walk – The Redwood Loop Trail (see more hikes here). It is just 0.6 miles but showcases some of the largest trees the park has to offer including; the Father of the Forest (circumference 66 feet 9 inches, height 250 feet) and the Mother of the Forest (circumference 70 feet, historic height 329 feet, current height 293 feet).
I loved walking around here, it was so still and peaceful yet there was an essence of life and energy emanating from the huge trees. I felt very vulnerable and at awe at their age and beauty.
We decided for dinner that evening, we wanted to eat amerced in nature. We picked a spot in the park to have a picnic. It would have been an enjoyable experience as I love eating outside, but the time of the evening and season meant that whilst we were eating our dinner, we were also being eaten by insects for their dinner.
California is famous for it’s redwoods and so this is an obvious place to stop. I would recommend spending more time here to explore all this place has to offer.
I won’t lie, I didn’t really enjoy San Francisco as much as I would have liked. I am very glad that we visited there, because I am always open to new places and experiences. I just found the city expensive and honestly, we often found ourselves struggling to fill our time. We stayed there for three nights in accommodation we found on Air BnB.
A must visit, which was the highlight of the city for me, was Alcatraz. You have to book your tickets online in advance and select a date and time slot for your boat ride across to the island. We were only able to do the day time tour which was so interesting and thought provoking but there are also night time tours that are apparently an entirely different experience.
The tour itself is an audio tour. You collect your headphones and player just after getting off the boat and can then walk the island at your own pace. You learn all about what life on the island was like both for the prisoners and workers, the escape attempts, and even the history including when the island was claimed by an Indian tribe.
Another cool place to visit is Dolores Park and the Castro District (Gay Area). The park has famous views of San Francisco and the Castro District is home to rainbow crossings and a whole host of interesting stores and people. If you’re after some originality and uniqueness this is the place to go.
Finally, I can’t talk about SF without mentioning the Golden Gate Bridge. I have a love hate relationship with this bridge. Upon our arrival in the morning, it was completely covered in the famous layer of fog. This was slightly disappointing because we were travelling around SF on busses which meant travel was very time consuming. But, everything happens for a reason and we decided to take a short bus ride to the Golden Gate Park, which turned out to be very beautiful and pleasant. If you’re in the area (which lets face it, if you’re in San Francisco you will be) you should check out this park. There is a gorgeous lake, a hike up past a waterfall and vibrant, colourful flower displays.
Eventually, in the evening just before sunset the bridge had emerged from the fog and we were able to see it. It was pretty spectacular and I felt like I was in a movie.
All in all, I didn’t really connect with SF on a deeper level. I felt slightly out of place and a lot of the things there seemed like you had to spend a lot of money to have fun. Saying this, I would like to go back and perhaps explore some of the less well known areas.
Mendocino National Forrest
This was a little detour that didn’t go to plan but I would suggest visiting. We read that it was one of the only national recreation areas in America that wasn’t accessible by a paved road. Of course we jumped at the opportunity for some wilderness after three days in SF. My suggestions are to look into Mendocino more than a quick google search and directions on iPhone maps. We ended up driving along a dirt path on the side of a steep cliff drop off. We didn’t see a single soul and ended up driving into a dead end. On top of this we were running out of gas, no one knew we were there, and it was getting dark.
We stopped a few times to walk around, and the forest itself was absolutely stunning, it was just we couldn’t find the visitors centre at all! Once we reached the dead end we decided we needed to get the hell out of there before we got stuck. On the way back we saw a bear (AN ACTUAL BEAR!!) run across the path in front of us. Luckily we managed to get out alive and after the scare and adrenaline rush, it was an experience that I treasure.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
My first piece of advice in regards to National Parks, is if you think you will be visiting a lot within a year (I mean why wouldn’t you?) then you should get the America The Beautiful Pass. It is $80 for the year and gets you into all the National Parks and Federal Recreation Areas. You can buy them from the pay desks at any of the National Parks.
When planning our road trip, we allowed just one day to explore this National Park meaning I for sure want to go back see a lot more of the place. We decided to cram two hikes into our time there. Here is a list of all the hikes available.
We did a hike that went up to a pool through a lush forest. The beauty of this hike, is that it has everything to offer. Areas that are stony and somewhat space like and other areas with an abundance of life and trees. The hike took us around 3 hours, with a stop at the top for a while.
Our second hike was around the lake. It was a lot easier with hardly any incline and was relatively short. You got beautiful scenes of snowy mountains reflecting off the stunning lake that was surrounded by trees.
Crater Lake National Park
Next stop and our first destination in Oregon was Crater Lake National Park. I can not describe how much I recommend making this a priority on your road trip. This whole experience was magical. We found a tipi to stay in through Air BnB which was on a farm. We were able to walk around and see all the animals, and we also had an outdoor cooking space. I really enjoyed this aspect as I love to cook and eat outside.
Crater Lake is breathtakingly beautiful, to the point it nearly brought us to tears when we first saw it. The lake is formed purely by rain water and it is so dazzlingly clear that it reflects everything off it’s surface – it almost looks like a mirror illusion. When we were there, there was still a lot of snow on the ground but it was also warm enough to be in a tank top and shorts – a very weird experience. We had planned to do a few hikes here but due to the snowy conditions, a lot of it was still closed off. We walked around the main viewing platform where we chose to do some yoga whilst overlooking the lake. The whole afternoon was so calming and surreal. I would love to go back when there is less snow in order to see more of what this park has to offer.
I have already written about how AMAZING the food is in Portland. There is so much to offer in terms of Gluten Free and Vegan food, we were spoilt for choice. Honestly, the main thing we did here was walk around the city to kill time before we could eat again.
One of the districts we all loved was the Alberta Arts District. It’s home to so many quaint, independent stores and beautiful wall art. We spent a whole afternoon walking around and admiring all of the talent Portland had to offer.
Speaking of art, if you’re a lover of books Powell’s Books is a must. It’s the largest independent bookstore in the world and it is HUGE! We could have honestly spent an entire day looking around. It has everything you could want from fiction, to cook books, to travel to niche books on technology.
Our final stop was Seattle, and we opted to use Couch Surfing to find our accommodation. Through this we were put in contact with a lovely woman who had an apartment very close to downtown Seattle. We didn’t have to pay anything to stay there and we got to use all the facilities in her accommodation including a roof top garden and a gym. We were pretty nervous to find somewhere to stay through this website but I highly recommend it, especially if you are travelling on a budget. We got amazing accommodation in an amazing location and we paid $0.
One thing we were really excited to do was visit Pike Place Market. Although it wasn’t quite what we expected (we were thinking it would have more street food) it was still crazy. The place is huge and there is so much going on, from fresh fish to craft stores. We spent a while browsing the different stalls and sampling foods. You can’t go to Seattle without stopping by this market.
We were advised by the people we were staying with to visit Bainbridge Island. The ferry ride boasted panoramic views of Seattle’s skyline and it didn’t disappoint. The ticket was only $8.35 and was well worth it. The island is so peaceful and hosts a load of independent coffee shops, art stores and food places. We spent a few hours exploring and tasting the food on offer.
Whilst we were waiting for our time to board the ferry, we got chance to explore the piers. There are so many crazy stores around there (one even had dead bodies in?!?!). It is super fun to walk around and explore the water front, it only took us around 1 hour and so is perfect to fill a little time.
One of my favourite places to go was Capitol Hill. It is the ‘Gay District’. There was a huge park which we lounged in and enjoyed the summer days. There was also loads of really cool stores and an AMAZING ice cream place called Frankie and Joe’s where everything was Vegan! They had crazy flavours like charcoal infused salted caramel and California Cabin(?) but it was so delicious and they even have gluten free waffle cones! (It is also super Instragram worthy!)
My final place you should visit in Seattle is Kerry Park. I personally wouldn’t really call it a park, it is more a large grassy area on the side of the road, but it overlooks Seattle and gives a wonderful view. It is a bit of a trek up a really steep hill, but you can relax and recover once you arrive and it is well worth the effort.
Share your experiences of the West Coast in the comments ↓
Happy Travelling ♥