The ideal route for a US West-Coast road trip
Are you planning a US West-Coast road trip? Let me help you out with this 2,5-week budget-proof itinerary! Our route combines city, nature, and beach visits. You will be spending time in famous cities, such as LA, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. During this route, partially spent on Route 66, you will explore incredible National Parks such as the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, and Monument Valley.
I have included all of our money friendly US hotels and motels plus the total amount we spent on this trip. Are you ready for an adventure of a lifetime along the pretty US West-Coast?
Preparation is the key to a fun, hassle-free road trip so you might want to check out my road trip checklist to make sure you have an unforgettable experience.
Amsterdam – Los Angeles – San Francisco
Day 1: Amsterdam to Los Angeles
Accommodation: Coral Sands Motel
After a long flight, on which Michel and I held a major movie marathon, we finally arrived at LAX airport. We picked up our rental car and during the drive to our motel I expected to see huge villa’s, beautiful roads with palms, and famous celebs casually walking outside. To be honest LA looked grey, a little dirty, and not so glamorous at first sight. When we got to the motel room we fell asleep immediately…Oops!
Day 2: Hollywood – Beverly Hills – Rodeo Drive – Sunset Boulevard
Accommodation: Coral Sands Motel
After some much needed sleep we were filled with loads of energy. Let’s have breakfast and go for a hike at 6 am? Why not! This is LA! We parked our rental car and went for a walk to see the lovely Griffith Observatory and spotted the Hollywood sign along the way. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this location if you are only looking into taking close-up photos of the Hollywood sign. Check out this website that shows you some of the best places to get that Insta snap.
After that we went for a hike at the Runyon Canyon Park and followed the ‘I Just Want To Take A Selfie’ trail in which we saw beautiful view points. This hike was pretty steep at times and a lot of people use it as their daily work-out. Being this early we did not expect so many active people. Make sure to bring enough water and to chill on one the benches so you can enjoy the spectacular views. This is the perfect trial if you want shareable photos but are not into hiking all day.
In the afternoon we drove to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the TCL Chinese Theatres to spot some of the famous Hollywood stars. The Hollywood Walk of Fame is divided into different streets which makes it a little noisy and less appealing. We also noticed quite some homeless people, trash on the ground, and cheap looking bars and shops in this area. This street was not as glamorous as I expected!
At the TCL Chinese Theatres, we checked to see if our shoes fit Ryan Goslings (Michel’s size matched!) and we compared our hand sizes with Meryl Streep (I matched!) and Johnny Depp. I think this area is worth a visit but don’t expect to be jaw dropped.
We really enjoyed this lush looking neighborhood, because it was green, full of flowers, and peaceful. I didn’t photograph all the gorgeous homes (it felt a little intruding), but I did capture the fancy Beverly Hills Hotel. Back in the day this hotel had famous guests like: Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe and John Lennon.
Beverly Hills is what I imagined LA to look like. After our visit we briefly stopped at Rodeo Drive (window shopping only, lol) and drove back to our motel while cruising on Sunset Boulevard.
Day 3: Los Angeles – Marina Del Rey – Venice Beach – Santa Monica – Malibu – Santa Barbara
Accommodation: Super 8 Santa Barbara
We explored multiple beaches in LA. It’s hard to rank them, but these are my favorites:
1. Venice Beach (lots of events/performances, diverse shops and beach bars, boardwalk where you can go skating/rollerblading /cycling, and the beach is fine too).
2. Santa Monica (spacious beach, the fun Santa Monica Pier, boardwalk with musicians and diverse restaurants).
3. Malibu Colony Beach (not too busy, cool beach houses, nice lunch spots, and awesome place to find shells).
4. Marina Del Rey (lovely port area with expensive yachts, but felt a little dated and focused on elderly).
After that beach tour we drove to Santa Barbara, which offers seven beaches but we ended up only driving passed them. As you might have noticed, we had already seen quite some of them that day! It was time stretch our legs and explore this gorgeous city filled with affordable cool clothing shops and diverse restaurants. Santa Barbara is very well-organized, clean, and has lovely boutiques.
Day 4: Santa Barbara – Pismo Beach – Big Sur – Monterey – Pacific Grove
Accommodation: Pacific Gardens Inn
After spending a few days in LA, enjoying the sun and exploring the coast, our road trip had yet to begin. After leaving Santa Barbara we noticed a slight climate change for the first time. The landscape started to look a more green, rough and stretched-out. It was time to change our beach outfits into jeans and sweaters!
Day 5: Monterey – Santa Cruz – San Francisco
Accommodation: Days Inn
The next day we slept in for a bit (our jet lag was finally over – yaay) and we decided we wanted to get to San Francisco without too many stops. Monterey was a little boring (we felt there isn’t a lot to do or to see) and we headed to our next stop in Santa Cruz. This city seemed quite similar to Santa Monica: a theme park, a boardwalk and a beach. The weather was a little chilly, so after a quick walk we got back into the car.
Before we arrived in San Francisco we ended up in a major traffic jam. It took us over an hour before we managed to reach the Golden Gate Bridge. At the time of its opening in 1937, it was both the longest and the tallest suspension bridge in the world! We took a few photos at the view point but didn’t cross the bridge, because it was noisy (a lot of car traffic passes by) and we didn’t want to leave the car behind.
San Francisco – Las Vegas
Day 6: San Francisco
Accommodation: Days Inn
The next day it was time we checked out the famous Lombard Street. This street is a one-way block on Russian Hill between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets, where 8 (!) sharp turns are said to make it ‘the most crooked street in the world’. The design was intended to reduce the hill’s natural 27% grade, which was too steep for most vehicles in the 1920’s. It kinda looks crazy nowadays, don’t you think?
At the top we noticed a traffic caution sign which recommends a top speed of 5 miles per hour. It must be a pain to drive here. On top of that it has become a major tourist attraction, receiving around 2 million visitors per year and up to 17,000 per day on busy summer weekends. I would recommend NOT to take your car, lol!
Another highlight was our visit to the Painted Ladies. This is the row of Victorian houses at 710–720 Steiner Street that you can find across from Alamo Square park. These houses were built between 1892 and 1896 by developer Matthew Kavanaugh, who actually lived next door in the 1892 mansion at 722 Steiner Street. This block has appeared in many movies and TV shows. In real life the houses were just as gorgeous! If you can’t get enough of this view, visit the relaxing Alamo Square Park and have a picnic.
Michel love odd architecture, structures, and buildings so we had to take a closer look at the Transamerica Pyramid. This futuristic looking building is located at the Financial District, has 48 floors, and is the second-tallest skyscraper (the highest is the Salesforce Tower) in the skyline of San Fran. I have to admit walking those steep steps is challenging but the higher you get the more rewarding the views are!
After strolling around in the Financial district we explored a lot more neighborhoods. Each has its own district culture, feel and charm. These is a list of our favorites ones:
- Marina (fashionable with a front-row view of the bay)
- Alamo Square (perfect to walk your dog and/or have a picnic in the park)
- Fisherman’s Warf (spot the seals and great for old-fashioned family fun)
- North and South Beach (book shops and miles of shoreline)
- Mission District (melting pot of cultures, cuisines, and cool kids)
- Haight-Ashbury and Lower-Haight (art galleries, vintage shopping, and organic cafes)
San Francisco officially identifies 36 (!) different neighborhoods. Within these 36 are a large number of minor districts, some of which are historical, and some of which are overlapping. We used the Airbnb website to learn more about the different areas. Their handy filter makes it easy to create a selection based on your interests.
Day 7: San Francisco – Sacramento – Lake Tahoe – Mammoth Lakes
Accommodation: Motel 6
After some quality time in San Francisco it was time to pack our bags again. San Francisco had positively surprised us and we loved exploring the diverse neighborhoods. Before we left we knew a big weather change was coming up because headed towards Death Valley. During our road trip we learned to always wear different layers and made sure our car was filled up with good stuff (we loved Whole Foods!). You definitely don’t want to see me hangry, lol.
After leaving Sacramento we had a glance at Lake Tahoe (gosh it’s so blue!), had lunch, and relaxed on the beach. Then we drove to our motel in Mammoth Lakes. During our drive we snow on the mountain tops for the first time!
Day: 8 Mammoth Lakes – Death Valley – Pahrump
Accommodation: K7 Bed and Breakfast
The next day it was time to explore Death Valley! Before we headed towards the National Park we made sure we had enough gas. We filled up our Kia Rio and bought some groceries (bring extra water). Before visiting Death Valley, please prepare yourself as it can get extremely hot in this area.
This rough and dry landscape was so different from anything we had seen before. Lots of wide open spaces, endless looking roads, and mountains without snow.
We stopped at the visitor center to learn more about this interesting desert area. In the afternoon we picnicked at a random camping area and we noticed it was getting even warmer…
We didn’t feel like doing any of intense activities the park has to offer, so we kept driving through the park and pulled over wherever we felt like.
Las Vegas – San Diego
Day 9: Pahrump – Las Vegas
Accommodation: Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino
Las Vegas baby, here we come! We left early in the morning to visit the city that NEVER sleeps.
This is how we spent our day in Vegas:
- Watched the Bellagio fountain dancing to its music
- Walked on The Strip and checked out the different (tourist/crazy) shops
- Visited the famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop
- Saw many (not so beautiful) wedding chapels
- Gambled a dollar each at a slot machine (and did not win anything)
- Checked out lots of extravagant hotels
- Took a photo at the famous ‘welcome to fabulous Las Vegas‘ sign
Vegas turned out to be really fun if you are open to all the madness. It can feel overwhelming, crowded, and intense at times. We saw all the highlights by foot because we’d missed some serious exercise the last couple of days. With ‘serious’ I mean we walked 35 km that day. Oops! If you don’t feel like walking a marathon in the heat there is a free tram, which makes exploring very easy!
Our guide was super friendly and showed us the way in this maze of narrow paths. The diverse color tones makes this canyon really stand out!
We had a blast discovering funny (animal) shapes along the way and taking photos. The guided tours usually contain about 6 people which means you don’t have someone else’s camera in front of your noise and there’s enough time to ask questions along the way.
Antelope Canyon – Horseshoe Bend
To top this day off we visited another mind-blowing place: Horseshoe Bend. The view point is accessible via hiking a 2.4 km round trip from U.S. Route 89.
Day 11: Page – Monument Valley – Flag Staff
Accommodation: Howard Johnson Inn
After seeing amazing pieces of the US nature, we were ready for some more. Our visit to Monument Valley Tribal Park was another unforgettable experience. We bought tickets to explore this area by ourselves which turned out a piece of cake using the free map!
The landscape felt overwhelming, not just by its beauty but also by its size. It was like being on the set of a Western movie. I could imagine Clint Eastwood riding his horse here and chasing the bad guys, lol!
Our Kia had a little bit of trouble driving the routes, that mainly consist out of loose sand, but luckily we managed (and ended up with a car covered in orange sand!). In the evening we arrived at Flag Staff (another fun city that is worth a stop) with big smiles on our faces.
Day 12: Flag Staff – Grand Canyon – Seligman
Accommodation: Supai Motel
The next morning we drove to the Grand Canyon National Park and visited the South Rim. This side of the Grand Canyon allows you to experience the canyon from close and there’re two dozen viewpoints. Each has their own unique attributes, and many allow you to peer all the way down into the heart of the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River.
We bought tickets at the entrance, parked the car and took the free map with us. The landscape is truly impressive. We picnicked while staring at all the different layers and colors of the canyon.
In the afternoon we followed a short trail to get closer into the heart of the canyon. Always prepare yourself before you go hiking! We loved this rough colored diamond and enjoyed every minute of our hike.
We visited 3 typical Route 66 towns:
All of these towns had their own vibe and were worthwhile visiting. We saw lots of bikers and every store owner looked like it could be one of them as well. We should have brought our leather jackets to blend in!
San Diego – Los Angeles – Amsterdam
Day 14: Joshua Tree – San Diego – Mission Bay – Old Town – Balboa Park
Accommodation: Ramada Limited Sea World
After driving for 2 weeks it was time to relax. We chilled at Mission Bay, visited the old town and Balboa Park (go see this stunning park!). San Diego city is extra special to my boyfriend, because he lived in La Jolla between the age of 7-11. Michel was my personal tour guide that day!
Day 15: San Diego – La Jolla – Del Mar – Torrey Pines
Accommodation: Ramada Limited Sea World
We spent this day driving to Michel’s previous homes and schools. It was really nice, and sometimes emotional, that Michel was able to show me his former neighborhood and places his family lived. I had only see it on photos and seeing everything in real life was such a cool experience.
Day 16: Ocean Beach – North Park – Laguna Beach – Redondo Beach – Hermosa Beach
Accommodation: Seaside Motel
We spent our last full day relaxing at Ocean Beach, a very neat beach with surfers, beach bars, and cool modern shops. In the late afternoon, we headed towards the artsy and upcoming North Park (check out the local market!). We kept bumping into cool street art. We spent the rest of our day visiting other beaches and we danced (in my imagination – Michel is NOT into dancing at all) during the sunset on Hermosa Beach. Any La La Land lovers out there?
After 2,5 weeks of road tripping, our US West-Coast dream trip was over. We spent our last day chilling at a few beaches, because we couldn’t decide on just one beach #firstworldproblems!
This US West-Coast road trip costed us €2500 in total which comes down to about €75 a day. Our main costs were food and drinks (go to a local supermarket to save money) and gas. We booked our flight and rental car as package deal at British Airways. As for the accommodations we didn’t need much luxury. All of the places mentioned above also came with free parking (parking in big cities can be really expensive!).
We flew back home with great memories and just ‘a few’ things I bought at the mall (thank you Michel for letting me use your suitcase as well). The most important thing for us was enjoying this adventurous journey on the road together. Following this itinerary and I bet you will have a blast as well!