The best Highway 101 road trip route

Planning the perfect west coast road trip? Start here.

Car driving along the Pacific coast highway with a view of the ocean on a sunny day.
A trail passing between giant Redwood trees.

A west coast road trip is one of the great American vacations. Our Los Angeles to Seattle Highway 101 road trip will take you through striking landscapes, fascinating places, and diverse histories over its 1,540 mile span.

Unlike a PCH road trip, you can cover a lot of ground on a Highway 101 road trip without a huge investment of time. We’ll be starting our trip at the beginning of Highway 101 in Los Angeles, and driving 165 miles to our first stop on California’s Central Coast. Of course, you don’t have to start where we did—and feel free to go off-course to where your interest takes you.

So no matter if you’re looking into road trips from Los Angeles in summer or dreaming of a Highway 101 road trip from Washington to California, use this guide as a source of inspiration. And who knows? Maybe you’ll discover your new favorite vacation spot along the way.

People hanging out on a sandy beach near the shore with a wooden pier out leading out into the ocean.

California’s Central Coast

California road trips often start in the southland and opt to take the fast lane to the Bay area via the I-5. But staying on Highway 101 means you get to explore California’s serene Central Coast, a route that’s certainly worth the extra time.

Road trip activities on California’s Central Coast

  • Visit quirky Solvang, a classic California destination overflowing with old-world charm
  • Experience the extravagant luxury of Hearst Castle in San Simeon (the gold swimming pool is jaw-dropping)
  • See trees filled with migrating butterflies in Pismo’s Monarch Butterfly Grove during the winter months

Places to stay on the Central California Coast

Dirt trail passing through giant trees on a smoky day.

Redwood Coast, California

After all that sunbathing and sipping, it’s time to reconnect with nature. And what better place than the humbling California redwoods, where getting lost in the thousand-year-old trees feels more like finding yourself? The offbeat beach towns peppering Northern California’s coastline are the perfect spot to pull over for a night or two.

Road trip activities on the Redwood Coast

  • Visit some of the world’s biggest trees at Redwood National Park
  • Hike the ruggedly beautiful Lost Coast in Humboldt County
  • See some of America’s finest examples of Victorian architecture in Eureka

Places to stay on the Redwood Coast

Aerial view of Astoria, OR and the town with a large long bridge

Astoria, Oregon

Jump back on the 101 for about 450 miles and find yourself in Astoria. Once projected to be a major west coast city, fate had other plans for this sleepy, picturesque coastal town. Close to beaches, forests, and great restaurants, Astoria is the perfect spot to catch your breath for a few days and soak in the beauty of the Oregon Coast.

Road trip activities in Astoria

  • Climb the Astoria Column for panoramic views of the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean
  • Drive to Cannon Beach to see the famous Haystack Rock (and its resident Puffins), then check out a hiking trail or two
  • Grab a brew at Pelican Brewing and watch the Bar Pilots navigate one of the world’s most treacherous bodies of water

Places to stay near Astoria

A white lighthouse and a home with a large field overlooking the coast during the day.

The Olympic Peninsula, Washington

The northern end of the 101 wraps around the Olympic Peninsula, a natural wonderland brimming with otherworldly forests, challenging peaks, striking Pacific vistas, and even some unique vacation homes, too.

Road trip activities on the Olympic Peninsula

  • Wander the enchanting Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park
  • Explore the vibrant tidepools at Rialto Beach
  • Forage for Hamma Hamma’s famous oysters in the Hood Canal

Places to stay on the Olympic Peninsula

A view of Seattle, WA with the Space Needle and sky scrapers and a large mountain in the distance.

Seattle, WA

While it’s not technically on the 101, Seattle is only an hour away from Tumwater (where the highway ends), and is the perfect place to end your adventure. A bustling big city with stunning natural features, Seattle has something for every visitor (just be sure to bring your rain jacket).

Road trip activities in Seattle

Places to stay in Seattle

Highway 101 road trip FAQ

The Pacific Coast Highway (otherwise known as Highway 1 or PCH) is not the same as Highway 101. Although they meet briefly in Central California, Highway 101 and PCH combine for good in Northern California and continue up through Oregon and Washington as Highway 101.

It depends on how many stops you’ll be making, and what adventures you’ll get up to. If you were to drive non-stop, the total time it would take to drive Highway 101 is 30 hours, or about 1,600 miles. When planning a road trip up Highway 101, budget at least five days to get from one end to another (though a week or more is better for sightseeing and exploring).

If you’re driving for speed, not scenery, it’s better to stick to I-5.

The Washington stretch of Highway 101 is one of the most beautiful—and exciting—parts of the road.

Things to do on Highway 101 in Washington include:

  • Hike to the North Head Lighthouse in Cape Disappointment State Park (just don’t let the name turn you off from this stunning place)
  • Explore otherworldly mountains and temperate rain forests in Olympic National Park
  • Break out the binoculars and see some amazing birds (and, occasionally, whales) at the Salt Creek Recreation Area in Port Angeles
  • Visit the Washington State Capitol building in Olympia

You might also like...