Back in July, Katie and I went on a road trip down the West Coast with our great friend Lindsey and Katie’s brother Kyle. We flew into Seattle and spent two weeks driving down the unexplainably beautiful Pacific Coast Highway all the way to San Diego. It seemed like we did it all, from incredible snow capped mountains in Washington’s Olympic National Park and bridge jumping into the frigid water of Crescent Lake to the rugged terrain of Big Sur and Joshua Tree, and yet there is still so much left to explore. Lindsey was our planner extraordinaire and we wouldn’t have done nearly as much as we did if it wasn’t for her. That being the case, I find it fitting that she helps guide you through this amazing trip.
Lindsey, the floor is yours.
Planning a trip down the West Coast seemed like an easy task at its inception, but I quickly realized the endless possibilities Washington, Oregon and California offered. As with any trip, the hardest decision to make was omitting things we wouldn’t have time for. I think we did a pretty great job at creating full days without feeling rushed from place to place.
In an effort to give ourselves as much freedom as possible to explore and veer “off route,” the idea was to create a rough itinerary with plenty to do but also plenty of flexibility. To start, everyone tabled suggestions of places and things they wanted to see and I attempted to create a schedule that incorporated as much as possible. The result, in my opinion, was the trip of a lifetime :)
Our trip began as a 4:00 am blur that involved two flights, a layover at Chicago Midway, and a mad rush to secure a rental car at the Seattle airport. Our only “must-do” in Seattle was Pike Place Market. We spent all morning winding our way in and out of the historic marketplace and down to the gorgeous waterfront.
Like any respectable Seattle first-timer, we collectively decided to do the Space Needle that afternoon, which seemed like a touristy decision but ended up being totally worth it. For a mere $26 we enjoyed fabulous views of the city. Seattle is hemmed in by mountains and water, and only when you see it from above do you truly recognize it as an engineering phenomenon.
Katie scored us a great AirBnb in a tiny neighborhood on the outskirts of Seattle called Ballard. On the drive there, we stopped at the local Discovery Park, home to arguably the best views of the Olympics, the Cascades and Puget Sound. That evening, we explored the neighborhood of Fremont, which included a walk over to Gas Works Park and a great dinner at Red Star Taco Bar.
Now, the East Coast has parks, but the West Coast has PARKS. ONP boasts nearly one million acres of wilderness begging to be explored. The best spot in the whole park is Hurricane Ridge, which offers a panoramic view of the Olympics and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which separates the US from Canada. The sights are nothing less than a true reflection of glory.
Treasure can be found in the valleys of ONP as well. Pine trees extend as far as the eye can see. We didn’t think twice about jumping into the brilliant waters of Lake Crescent, a lake that was formed from a glacier with water as clear as the Caribbean. Eventually, we wound our way to Hoh River Rain Forest, and set up camp for the night. The Hoh Rain Forest is spellbinding. Giant spruce trees are everywhere, covered in moss so thick the drooping branches create an enchanting canopy of green. The next morning, we hiked along the Hoh River for about an hour and then began driving towards Portland. On the way, Kyle and Katie saw a sign for a place called Ruby Beach and boy, are we glad we stopped. What an amazing first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean! The combination of driftwood, sea stacks and rocky shores made Ruby Beach seem like a whole different world.
Probably the hardest decision we had to make on our itinerary was whether to cut in to Portland or stay on the coast for the duration. We wanted to hike around the Columbia River Gorge, so Portland was a natural stopping point - and a weird one at that.
Our Airbnb was located pretty far outside Portland proper. We ventured into the city for dinner at Old Town Pizza and couldn’t pass up stopping in at the iconic VooDoo Doughnuts for dessert. We were exhausted from two long days at ONP and decided to rest up for the next days’ hike.
Every day in Portland should begin with a Pine State Biscuit and a cup of Stumptown Coffee. Breakfast on FLEEK. We couldn’t wait to get back to the great outdoors, so after breakfast we began our trek towards the Columbia River Gorge. Just outside of Portland, the Gorge is bordered by the Cascades to the north, and Mt. Hood to the south, with the Columbia River running through the bottom of the canyon. Above, the Historic Columbia River Highway winds around the base of Mt. Hood and provides spectacular views of the Gorge. The Highway is dotted with waterfalls every few miles. We spent the day hopping in and out of the car, hiking and wading our way back to the gorgeous Latourell Falls, Multnomah Falls, and Oneonta Falls. The Highway runs all the way to the town of Cascade Locks - a popular stopping point for hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. We ate lunch in the shadow of the iconic Bridge of the Gods at Thunder Island Brewing Co.
After lunch, we headed back to Portland to explore local thrift stores. Hawthorne Street in Portland is the way to go - plenty of shopping, food, and of course, more donuts. That evening we enjoyed a pretty drive back to the coast chasing the sunset to Newport, Oregon to end day 3.
The more I read about the Oregon coast the more excited I was to see it. The Oregon coast is marked by charming fishing towns right on the water, the downtowns built up around the extensive docks. We spent most of the morning in the town of Newport, the dungeness crab capital of the world. We biked up and down the fishing dock and along the water, watching fishermen catch huge crabs for their Fourth of July celebrations. Of course, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try some crab of our own at the highly recommended Local Ocean Seafoods.
Driving and marveling down the 101 on the Oregon Coast is spectacular. It is impossible to capture the beauty in words. One of the neatest things we saw was Thor’s Well. The laziest of days ended with one of the best surprises of the trip, an incredible sunset at our campsite in Humbug Mountain State Park.
We had decided to do a full day of driving on the next day in order to avoid a long drive on the Fourth of July because, AMERICA. It was difficult to determine where to stay the night, but we ultimately decided to camp for one more night on the coast at Salt Pointe State Park. In retrospect, we probably could have stayed farther inland and shortened this drive a bit. Highlights of the drive included crossing into our final state - California, the Redwood forests (complete with an obnoxious rendition of “This Land is Your Land”), elk sightings, and of course, amazing coastal views. A somewhat disappointing sidenote - Redwood Forest National Park is full of tourist traps. Don’t pay to drive through a tree. Just don’t. Also, Orick, CA might be the scariest place I’ve ever been.
I completely underestimated San Francisco. I didn’t expect to be overly impressed by any of the three major cities we visited. I certainly enjoyed Seattle and was entertained by Portland, but San Fran totalllllly blindsided me. What a truly amazing city - the perfect blend of new and old, city and town, grunge and class. And the colors! The pastel of the row houses in front of a layer of sky and water, the omnipresent Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Exploring San Francisco for the last two days of our trip was action packed but never not impressive. We made a grand entry into the city over the Golden Gate and never looked back. From Pier 39, Lombard Street, Union Street, and Chinatown, to riding streetcars, shopping, and lazily meandering through the Ghirardelli Factory - I fell in love with all of it. I’ll be back, San Fran, I’ll be back.
If you ever want to feel the crushing weight of FOMO in its strongest articulation, plan to leave an epic road trip a week before it’s over. (What was I thinking.) But even as I half-heartedly sat on the midnight plane for North Carolina, it was hard to be sad after the week of memories I had just made with three of my best friends. Hopefully this trip inspires you to put yourself in the way of beauty - see Wild, by Cherly Strayed. I think you’ll find its tough to be disappointed. :)
Thanks Linds. We couldn't have done it with out!
We spent the rest of the night after Lindsey’s departure planning the 2nd half of our trip and trying to think like Lindsey in order to make the rest of our trip as great as the first half. We made a quick pit stop at The Missing Sock in San Fran, and then ventured off to Half Moon Bay, a beautiful beach town just south of San Francisco. We found a little off-the-map place called Martin’s Beach, parked on the street instead of paying $10 for parking and walked down to the somewhat abandoned beach town.
Throughout the entire first half of our trip, we wanted to see a whale. Every place that had any water (yes, even just rivers) we would stare out in hopes that we would see a fin or a spout or something moving in the water. No luck. Ever. There was one time Katie was so convinced she saw a whale she apologized to the rest of use for being the only one to see it. (We’re still not sure what she saw.) All that to say, I spent the better part of three hours letting the Internet convince me that we were guaranteed a whale sighting at Moss Landing. We saw sea otters, but no whale. Not everything you read on the internet is true.
We couldn’t wait to see Big Sur. After liking hundreds of photos of the famous coastline on Instagram, it was amazing to finally see it with my own eyes. Big Sur starts with the impressive Bixby Bridge, and the sights only got more and more majestic.
Most campsites in Big Sur are first come/first served, so we were eager to get a spot and settle down for the night. After procuring a campsite, we hopped back in the car in search of a beautiful Big Sur sunset. We found a great spot on the side of Hwy 1 to stop and look for whales and what do you know?! We saw spout after spout in the distance all the while hearing the barks of sea lions below. FINALLY! Later, we discovered the hidden gem of Pfeiffer Beach, which might be hard to find, but not for those with a trusty Fodor’s guide book. Words can barely describe the beauty of this beach. From the purple sand to the towering rocks, as a photographer, this place was my dream. But then again, what part of this trip wasn’t my dream?
The next morning we woke early to avoid the crowds that would surely be making their way to the Big Sur River Gorge. We had the entire gorge to ourselves. We hiked and jumped off rocks and dove into swimming holes and every once-in-a-while one of us would say “I wish Lindsey was still here.” It was great to get in a peaceful morning hike before driving to Los Angeles.
We had originally planned to camp in Big Sur for two nights, but after discovering the area was much more touristy than expected, we decided to head further south. Since most campsites between Big Sur and L.A. were first come/first served, we didn’t take too much time to stop and see the sights. But we had to make time for McWay Falls and to see the elephant seals which, by the way, are some of the most disgusting animals in the world. But nevertheless, entertaining. This is the one and only night we spent in a hotel and it was kind of accident. Eager to get to Los Angeles, we passed up campsites in Carmel, Malibu and Santa Monica, then backtracked only to find the sites had been taken. Oops. But hey, we got a nice shower and we got our charge on.
Los Angeles welcomed us with a somewhat disappointing foggy and smog filled morning. Unphased, we had fun biking around Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier. We stumbled upon (but purchased nothing) on Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills, and eventually met up with our LA hosts Jon and Jenna, friends of Kyle and Katie’s from college. They showed us around Hollywood Boulevard, Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which is possibly more packed than Disney World in the middle of the summer. You know that didn’t stop us from being starstruck tourists.
The Griffith Observatory treated us to incredible views of downtown LA, Santa Monica, and the Hollywood sign that night. We explored the planetarium and then made it back down to Hollywood Blvd in time for a Wednesday night service at Mosaic, Jon and Jenna’s church. Katie and I had been traveling for a few weeks prior to this trip, so it was refreshing to spend time in worship with fellow believers.
Our night in LA ended with an improv show at the infamous Upright Citizens Brigade Theater on Franklin Street. Improv is one of our favorite things, and going to a UCB show made this trip that much greater!
Trekking south, we drove inland and met up with some of my great friends Austin and Shirlee in Redlands, CA. They were kind enough to host us and give us a home cooked meal - which we hadn’t had in weeks!
Joshua Tree was an absolute must do for me. So many admirable photographers have worked in this inspiring park and I was eager to have my chance to capture its beauty. Austin and Shirlee agreed to let us create some portraits of them in Joshua Tree. I was in heaven. The rocks and the light and everything about Joshua Tree was just spectacular. We left the park just as the sun was setting, making the award for “Best Sunset of WCRT 2015” an even closer call.
You might have seen our SOS on Facebook requesting a place to stay in San Diego. Within 30 minutes we didn’t just have a host, but a former-YQ-alumni-host named Jaime. (YQ - if you know, you know.) To put it simply, she was awesome and hilarious. We’re thankful to have made a new friend in Jaime.
San Diego reminded us of Tampa - palm trees, beaches and amazing weather. The world famous San Diego Zoo was a treat (thanks to Jaime for the coupons), but each exhibit definitely made us miss our precious Molly more and more. Afterwards, we hopped the trolley downtown to experience the experience that is ComicCon at the San Diego Convention Center. SO. MANY. WEIRDOS. We finished the night in the Gaslamp Quarter and Downtown San Diego.
The final day of our trip was spent returning unused (and gently used) camping items, repacking our bags and making one final stop at Ocean Beach before heading off to the airport. As the trip of a lifetime came to an end, we shed our tears and said our goodbyes, sending Kyle back to Virginia with many hugs.
We boarded the plane thinking we could put away our cameras and get some shut eye, but boy were we wrong. As we lifted off the San Diego runway, we saw one last amazing view of the pacific coast. After a layover in Las Vegas, our flight back to Tampa took us over the outskirts of both Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon, which got us thinking - #wcrt2016???
Looking back over this trip, I’m reminded of not only the amazing things we saw, but the unforgettable memories we made with two of our favorite people in this world - from our terrible harmonies to pop songs to coming up with killer Instagram captions to relearning how to use a paper map because we had no cell service. If you ever have the opportunity to do even part of this trip, DO IT. While our roots will always be on the East Coast, we can’t deny that there is some truth to the idea that the West Coast is the best coast.
We came away from this trip with not only thousands of photos, but hours and hours of video. Check out this short recap video we made with some of the highlights of the trip.