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First-time West Coast Seattle / LA Road Trip in mid-June (RV or SUV? Where to stop by?)

Hi all,

We are a group of 3 Canadians (males, young 20s) looking to explore the west coast of the US for the first time. We are looking to go on a road trip from June 4-12 along the west coast but wanted to raise a few questions to anyone who might have done a similar trip.

  1. Where should we begin from? Seattle > LA or LA > Seattle? I realize this might sound trivial to ask but I think it could impact the availability of the RV / SUV and the cost (I'm assuming it might be more expensive to rent an RV from LA to drive to Seattle, but that there could be more RV options to choose from in LA). In terms of interests, we definitely lean towards spending more time in LA, so I also feel like starting in LA and spending time there first would be better than if we were to get there last and realize we didn't have enough time left to explore.

  2. To rent an RV or a Car? We don't necessarily have a budget so the cost isn't in consideration. I'm more so thinking about parking (in the city, anywhere, etc.), safety (is it safe to park in [any city along the way] in a parking lot), the hassles that come with an RV (none of us have been on an RV trip before), and the current availability to campgrounds.

  3. Where should we stop by? We're outdoorsy but also like going out at night and socializing with others (can we find similarly aged people at an RV campground?). Would like some pointers on cities / parks / points of interest to stop by given our time frame of ~8 days.

Any tips are welcome! Thank you.

Posted by
7135 posts

My suggestion is going to be to go with the car (it doesn't even really need to be an SUV) instead of the RV. There are a few reasons. You will find parking/driving/seeing some sights much easier with a car than with an RV. The price of gas is at an all time high. You could probably save enough in gas to pay for a least 1-2 nights in a hotel.

Coastal( meaning by the ocean) driving is often on winding two lane roads. A car makes for a better driving experience. Finally, most campgrounds are not going to want people partying and socializing after "campground quiet hours." If you know you are going to want to do this, plan to stay elsewhere. Also, many campgrounds have been reserved for months.

You only have 8 days so , as with almost any trip, you are going to have to choose your experiences. I realize that when you say "West Coast" you may be describing the entire states of Washington, Oregon, and California. When I think "Coast", I think ocean. Probably you are really looking at Seattle, some time at the Oregon Coast, driving through California and some time in LA with 8 days.

Posted by
1034 posts

Without getting too far into the nitty gritty you may want to consider whether you really want to drive 1100 miles in 8 days. Yes, you can do it, but if you know you want to spend a few days in LA first, then that gives you only 5 days to drive to Seattle. And you will be spending most of your time in the car, not actually doing anything during those 5 days. I do think you should start in LA and head north. The scenery, redwoods, rocky coast, etc. all improve as you head north. An RV would be a pain in LA, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle (basically, any city). Hard to park, hard to navigate and potentially a robbery target. Any state or federal campground would probably require reservations, be more remote and may already be filled for the summer. The private campgrounds (KOA's, for example) would be unlikely to provide the night life you enjoy. And if you have never cleaned the blackwater tank of an RV or boat maybe this is not the time to find out how it works.

Posted by
3020 posts

As a Californian, just a few random thoughts-
If you're driving along Hwy 1 in the Big Sur area, I think an SUV would be easier to navigate the winding but scenic roadway. Also, I'm not sure where you would park an RV in San Francisco, [assuming your going there] altho you could always park at a BART stop and commute into the city. But, staying in the city is much more fun!
I'm in San Diego, so I'd recommend starting out here; our beaches are delightful and we don't have the craziness of LA. Our downtown Gaslamp area is very trendy and popular with the younger crowd.
Why don't you list your important stops and we can add more specific suggestions? Are you focusing on cities: San Francisco, Santa Barbara, LA, and/or going to Yosemite, where you would need reservations of some type?

Please note that our weather is not the sunniest in the spring, as we have May-Grey and June-Gloom in Southern CA, as the marine layer comes in as just sits around.

Safe travels!

Posted by
3643 posts

Some years ago for a TV show I drove a big RV from Los Angeles to Mendocino. Let me tell you, it's a lot of work. And you won't know true fear until you're driving up Big Sur in a moving van, which is hardly moving much to the consternation of those behind us. And San Francisco was less than a joy.

I also learned the first rule of RVing - never back up. Also learned the second rule, once you park and hook up in an RV park for the night, you're not going anywhere! Unless you happen to tow a car.

As others have noted, I think your plan is a little too ambitious. Using Fodors and Frommers guidebooks, and perhaps info from the AAA and CAA, you should probably decide whether to do Seattle-SF or LA-SF in a roomy car. There will be more than enough to do on those two routes, with plenty of outdoor opportunities.

Posted by
19 posts

We've made the LA-Seattle drive a few times. I would suggest driving a car, but bring camping equipment, so you have flexibility. With the cost of gas right now, I don't think renting an RV is worth it. Some campgrounds charge more for an RV than for "car camping", and driving an RV in any of the major cities will be extremely difficult. There are some beautiful state campgrounds in Oregon & California, but you will probably need reservations.
Some "Must See" stops:

1) Depoe Bay, Oregon - you can watch gray whales from the main street that runs through Depoe Bay. People bring lawn chairs to watch the whales, including babies, from the sidewalk.
2) Cape Foulweather, OR - great views of the ocean & whales from up on a bluff.
3) Eugene, OR - a cool city with a laidback vibe & a great street fair on Wed., Thurs., & Fridays They also have a Voodoo Donuts store, without the big lines that the Portland store gets.
4) Yachats, OR - nice little town on the Oregon coast, near Cape Perpetua for hiking, etc. IA couple of the resturants offer love music on Fri. or Sat. nights.
5) Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park (east of Crescent City, California) - redwood trees, lots of hiking; camping is available, but you should probably book ahead
6) Point Reyes, CA - more beautiful views!
If you choose to drive Highway 1 through northern California, be aware that it is a very narrow, curvy road with lots of hairpin turns. Distances do not equal travel times. It's a beautiful route and worth driving, but it takes more time than you might think. Also, not very RV-friendly.
7) San Francisco (of course!) - beautiful city, lots to do, LOTS of HILLS (horrible place for an RV). Public transportation is great, so you can stay a little bit outside the city, park at a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station, & go all over the city via BART or city bus.
8) Santa Cruz - beach town with a boardwalk & carnival-type rides, etc.
9) Monterey, CA - nice beach city, with a colony of elephant seals nearby
10) San Luis Obispo - college town, great street fair every Thurs night with lots of food vendors
11) Pismo Beach
12) Santa Barbara & Carpinteria - 90 miles north of LA, but it can take 2-3 hours to get to LA, depending on the time of day & traffic conditions. Try to hit the LA area after 9 a.m., before 2 p.m., or after 7 p.m., to avoid wasting time on the freeway.
13) LA - You'll need a car here, as LA does not have great public transportation. And like San Francisco, trying to park an RV anywhere close to LA will be a nightmare. There are some hiking trails in Griffith Park, and the Observatory in Griffith Park is very cool. Try to get to Venice Beach while you're in the LA area. It's become a bit "upscale", with lots of bars, restaurants & shops. If you keep walking, you'll see a bit of the hippie vibe that it was known for.

Hope this helps!

Posted by
7561 posts

Native Californian here who has made that trek more than once.

First off gas prices are awful right now. You are in your 20’s. Don’t go into debt by renting an RV.
Settle for a SUV and share the rental. Pack light.

First, Map out CA camping grounds.

Second, LA isn’t what you think it is. I’ve lived here longer than you’ve been alive. Worst and largest homeless population in the country. Public transit is now the preferred spot for homeless people to camp out and there’s not enough monies for better security to remove these individuals from the trains. LA isn’t hip and happening, it’s decaying after being mismanaged for years.

Third, so if you want to hang out in the megalopolis then do it on the West side by the coast. Santa Monica or Venice. That way you can start your drive North on Hwy 1.

Fourth, be prepared to use Hwy 1 and Hwy 101 on your way North.

From South to North Places to stop are San Diego, Oceanside, Huntington Beach, Malibu, Santa Barbara ( look out for Prince Harry) Morro Bay, San Simeon ( Hearst Castle), Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park, Carmel, Pt Lobos, Pacific Grove, Monterey, Aptos, Nisene Marks State Park ( to see some redwoods) Capitola, Santa Cruz ( check out the Big Dipper on the Boardwalk; wooden roller coaster). Visit Anno Nuevo then camp at Big Basin or Butano State Park Or Bean Hallow.
Half Moon Bay. Visit Gray Whale Beach. Then into the City. See if the SF Giants are playing. See if there’s music scheduled in Golden Gate Park.

Leave the City. Head to Pt Reyes, Bodega Bay, Gulala River Redwood Park, Bowling Beach, Elk, Mendocino, Ft Bragg, Drive Thru Tree Park outside Legget, Garberville, Humbolt Redwoods, Trinidad, and Crescent City. You should also try to visit Mt Shasta in the North, San Diego in the South.

BIG STATE. Obey the various speed limits. Prepare for Coastal fog. Buy and carry an actual paper map. Have extra batteries, phone chargers and cables, gum, fleece, jeans, shorts, bandanas, cash, credit or debit card, bottled water, snacks, and first aid kit.

Safe travels.

Posted by
3469 posts

Couple of caveats.
You have 8 days. LA to SF, most of a day. SF to Portland, most of 2 days. Portland to Seattle, 1 /2 day. The ratio of car time to “explore” time seems unfavorable. Those times are for using U.S. 5, an interstate. Fast, but dull. Highway 1, in particular, is mostly quite slow going, but so-o scenic. U.S. 101 goes through many small towns where you must slow to 25 mph.
Summer is the time when road repairs are done. Therefore, you may encounter slow downs and/or periods of outright stopped traffic. You may be able to get information in advance and plan alternate routes, but there aren’t many places to get from one n/s highway across to another.
Other posters have listed some of the wonderful West Coast places to stop. You will have a much better trip if you cut your itinerary in half; either Seattle to SF or SF to LA.

Posted by
363 posts

I agree with Roslyn that cutting the trip in half would be wise. I drove last summer from San Francisco to Seattle over four days, mostly right along the coast and I mostly spent my time driving. Looking back, I wish I had had more time so I could have done more sightseeing, more exploring, more hiking, more nosing around some of the towns. It would have been easy to fill eight days along this stretch.

Posted by
778 posts

I am a native Californian and have made the drive from LA to Seattle many times. Like the other posters, 8 days is not enough to make that drive without spending the entire time driving. I would suggest that you break the trip up and focus on LA to San Francisco and or San Francisco to Seattle. Each of these segments allow you time to really enjoy the places you are visiting, take the coastal route rather than 101 or 5. I also agree with the rest of the posters to take an SUV and some camping gear if you want to mix up hotels and camping. Driving an RV is not only expensive, but it will be a challenge in places like LA, San Francisco, and along the highway to Big Sur.

Since you want to spend time in LA, I would start there and rent a car: minivan or SUV will give you more space to spread out, but if you are driving, you can also get a nice intermediate size car.

Sample Itinerary might include (for the LA to San Francisco)

  • LA (2 days): I would recommend staying in Santa Monica, near the beach, some really nice bars/clubs--but more low key than downtown LA and you are by the beach. It is easy to hop onto 1 from there as well. Drive up 1 to Santa Barbara.
  • Santa Barbara (1-2day): Again, you can stay by the beach. Within walking distance from the beach is the "Funk Zone", bars, wineries, and restaurants. This is the place that I really like to go whale watching and if you have time combine a trip to the Channel Islands. Like the Galapagos of California. For low-key vibes and great Seafood, Brophy Brothers is my favorite place.
  • Pismo (1 day): Great low-key beach town, ATVing, eat at Splash Cafe for great clam chowder.
  • Big Sur (1-2 days): If you like the outdoors, this is some of my favorite hiking in California and it is worth the time to enjoy. This is a great place to camp and if you don't bring camping gear to rent one of the yurts. On the way, you might consider stopping in San Simeon to visit Hearst Castle and don't miss the Elephant Seals which are just north of the Hearst Castle.
  • Santa Cruz (1 day): I would recommend stopping off in Carmel and/or Monterey, especially if you like to visit the Aquarium, but Santa Cruz is the place I would recommend for someone your age. You can mix up here time surfing at the beach, hiking in the mountains, and there are really nice low-key bars/restaurants.
  • San Francisco (1-2 days): I personally like San Francisco. If you want more outdoors, you can either take 1/2 day to go to Muir Wood or go to the Presido. If you want nightlife, like LA, you will find it here. For me, the fun places are in the Mission, awesome food, some of the best street art in the country. Depending upon the day you arrive, the Food trucks are back at Fort Mason, California Academy of Science has its Thursday 21+ over night, and there is so much more to discover.

If you want more specific recommendations, let me know.

Posted by
1763 posts

I would note that mid- June in Oregon is sketchy at best for "good" camping weather (and I say this as a native Oregonian and an avid outdoor camper). I agree you don't have enough time to do any of the west coast justice in 8 days. If you want to focus on Oregon specifically, I'd suggest flying to Portland, spend a day or so, rent a car, and do one of two loops:

  • over to Astoria (very hip these days), south along the coast to about Yachats (many good suggestions above, plenty of outdoor activities), loop back up through the Willamette valley for plenty of beer and winery opportunities, perhaps do a quick Columbia River Gorge jaunt, fly back from Portland. OR
  • drive up the Gorge to Hood River, over Mt. Hood to Bend (high desert, different than the greenery you think of in Oregon, plenty of outdoor activities including possibly late season skiing), back over to the Willamette valley for the beer/wine, fly back from Portland.

That would fill 8 days easy, and you'll be very rushed. The prior posters do not jest about 1) slow going on the coastal highways during summer; 2) the not spectacular scenery if you use I5 as your main route; and 3) camping reservations are likely long gone. PM me if you have specific questions, happy to help.

Posted by
5891 posts

I've driven between Seattle and LA in three days, on I-5 at freeway speed. A friend did it in two but much was in the dark. My wife and I drove from here (just south of Seattle) to LA over eight days along the coast and had time for some sightseeing and seeing friends, but no hiking or camping. I agree with others that LA to SF would be a great trip, especially in June. From SF you could venture a little further north to Point Reyes or the Napa Valley, or maybe all the way to Mendocino. An RV would be a big mistake for all the reasons others have given. By all means take route 1, along the Big Sur coast, rather than 101 inland (it's not bad but not as scenic).

@Claudia -- Good list of provisions for these lads -- but why gum?

Posted by
850 posts

I have lived in L.A., San Jose, Napa, and Seattle about 35 years combined. I have family and friends up and down the coast, and have made the drive you're planning on every major road. 1, 101, 5, 72, 99, etc, I have driven them all for fun and work. The drive from Seattle to L.A. can easily be done in one very long day going down I5. With 3 drivers it's not even hard. But that's no fun.

If you get an RV, you're pretty much constrained to camping, and mostly rural sites at that. Many of which are already getting reserved. At your age I don't recommend it. Spring for a hotel room, it will be more comfortable, better sited for social life, and much more flexible.

Second, consider what you want to see. Yes, the coastal roads will give you glimpses of the ocean and the beaches, but a huge portion of the drive along Highway 101 in Oregon has no ocean view, and in CA it becomes a major road (south of Eureka) but turns miles inland.

If you want to see scenic views and camp, then yes, stay along the coast with all the retirees and families.

I suggest you focus on cities that can show you the West Coast but let you socialize with people your age.

Seattle is a major tourist area and has multiple large universities and a relatively young tech industry crowd.
Portland is much the same except much smaller and more dedicated to not being "Seattle".
Eugene is a major university town with a good nightlife and a focus on microbrews.

If you drive to the Oregon coast from Eugene it's a nice drive, you can stop and rent some ATVs and play on the huge sand dunes, and then go down the coast to Coos Bay. From there you can go south on the coast and see the redwoods and rain forest, or come back inland and drive one of the most scenic parts of the country between Medford and Redding.

San Francisco is always good.
Santana Row in San Jose is well worth visiting on a Friday or Saturday night. Kind of like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, but more laid back.
Santa Cruz is for surfing college students and is much more laid back.
San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara have good university nightlife. And they are on good beaches.
In the Los Angeles area I'll suggest you look around Brentwood/Santa Monica for the beach, or Pasadena. Both are walkable, and attract a good, young, crowd.

You might want to put out some feelers via social media. There's a good chance you can find some local connections.

Posted by
128 posts

Keep in mind that the Seattle area weather is dicey until after July 4th. It then becomes absolutely glorious during most of July and August. Unfortunately, with climate issues, wildfires have changed that equation a bit and there are times when bad air quality due to fire smoke can impact enjoyment of this beautiful area in the summer. Last year the Puget Sound was spared the wildfire smoke, but the year before it was pretty awful at times. The Oregon coast is spectacular. If you had enough time in the Seattle area, a trip to the San Juan Islands would be wonderful. It does seem like you are trying to cover a vast area in a fairly short period of time. Good luck with your travel planning.

Posted by
1621 posts

I would scale it back to Portland to San Francisco. Maybe continue down to Big Sur, then go back to SF to fly home. And definitely not in an RV. Finding available camp sites is not always easy in the summer, especially on the coast. Those that take reservations are probably already booked.

The drive along the coast will be gorgeous, but slow going and very curvy in areas.

Popular stops along the OR coast: Newport, Brandon. Neither of which will be too exciting at night.

Along the CA coast, definitely take some time and stop at the Redwoods. Crescent City is near several groves. We love Jedediah Smith State Park. Continuing south, take the Newton B Drury byway, just off the 101, for a gorgeous drive right through the forest.

Posted by
14513 posts

I see the OP has not returned to comment on the advice given or ask more questions. I just hope they decided against the RV. It will be nearly impossible to find reservable campsites along the coast at this point, and one definitely does not want to attempt this drive in an RV without reservations.