West Coast Road Trip – 1700 Miles of American Grandeur

west coast road trip

Mt Hood in August, CashArtBlog

Having just completed a fantastic west coast road trip from Spokane, Wa., to Southern California, I thought I would share some of the highlights (and there were many) from a west coast road trip that covered small towns, big cities, mountains, beaches, wildlife, forests, deserts, rivers, the windiest road I have ever been on in my life, some 1700 miles, and 3 wrong turns…

I don’t know why for sure, (I suppose partly the ocean, partly the adventure and romanticism of it) but I had always wanted to take a west coast road trip down highway 101 and highway 1 from Washington to Southern California. So when my 19-year-old daughter informed me that she had been accepted into the Disney College Program, and would start working at the Mouse House  in Anaheim, I thought that was as good of an excuse as any other.

In sharing this west coast road trip with you, I will not bore you with the family details, or every little stop we might have made, but focus on the route, the beauty, and points of interest, so that you might be inspired to take your own road trip some day. Whether you’re an artist, photographer, illustrator, writer, vacationer, or just looking for a new adventure, there is plenty to see taking the route we did. I like road trips because they get me out of my comfort zone, I like to explore new places, and you don’t have to go to an airport…and if I happen to add a little social commentary from time to time, I won’t hold that against me if you won’t.

West Coast Road Trip – Day 1

west coast road tripWhen we go on a trip, we usually leave around 6am, and so it was this time. Leaving Spokane on a Saturday morning bright and early with a stop at The Rocket Bakery, a popular local bakery and espresso spot before heading out-of-town.

The plan was to make it to Lincoln City day, a beach town 470 miles away on the Oregon Coast on the first day, and we did. The highlight of this first day of our west coast road trip was driving down the Columbia River Gorge, which I have many, many times, and it never gets old.

West Coast Road Trip Highlights –  Spokane to Lincoln City

A lot of people may not care, but I find it fascinating to see the huge fields between Spokane and the Tri-Cities. The crops, the machinery and the never-ending sky because of the flat terrain give a feeling of immense space. The sky seems to go on forever. But alas, I have traveled this way many times, and for me, it is an area to make time, not take time. Besides, when I think of a west coast road trip, I don’t think of the big blue sky of Eastern Washington.

west coast road trip

The Columbia River Gorge, westbound on I-84

The Columbia River Gorge. Heading west from Umatilla on highway 730, and then getting on I-84, the drive along the gorge starts out with the mighty Columbia River on the right, with a view southern Washington across the river to the far right, and kind of a flat, dry Oregon on the left. As you drive west, You get to see just about everything…small towns, dams, river barges, bridges across the river, dramatic cliffs, and if you’re lucky, the majestic Mt. Hood will show itself if the weather cooperates. (It was clear and beautiful as ever on this day.) A newer scene to this first part of the Gorge are wind farms on both sides of the river. I hope they provide enough energy to make the sight of them worth it. 

At The Dalles, a good-sized town about halfway down the gorge, the landscape starts to change from dry and gold and become much more lush and green. Heading west from The Dalles one starts to get to the “windsurfing capital of the world,” near the town of  Hood River. I don’t think I have ever been through here on any road trip without seeing at least one windsurfer on the river in this area.  This time there were twenty or so…including windsurfers with parachutes…it looks like a ton of fun, and there never seems to be a shortage of wind. Further down of note is Bonneville Dam, which, oddly enough is near the town of Bonneville.

west coast road trip

Multnomah Falls, watercolor sketch

Further west is the grand, the beautiful, the must see more than once,Multnomah Falls. I have seen the falls  several times, but had travelled through the Gorge on many a road trip before finally taking the Historic Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway. This narrow, two lane road (highway 30) scoots just south of the interstate and takes you past more waterfalls, including Multnomah, hiking trails, and picnic spots. This Scenic road is lined with trees, is calm and beautiful, and on this Saturday in August, more freaking crowded than I had ever seen before. Seriously, If you ever get up this way, do yourself a favor and at least stop by Multnomah Falls. There are plenty of places to take good photos, walking paths, a walking bridge, and a trail up to the top of this 620 ft. beauty. There is also a restaurant, gift shop, hiking trails, and bathrooms! It is around this area that it starts to “feel” like a west coast road trip.

Also on the scenic highway 30, is the Vista House at Crown Point. The Vista House was built in 1916, recently remodeled, and sits high atop a cliff called Crown Point. From this viewpoint, the scene is nothing short of spectacular. One can look West, North, and East, forever, and is well worth the excursion. If there is someone you are with that has long hair, be sure and go to the Vista House….the wind up here will make that person’s hair do things you never thought possible, and make sure you have your camera ready!

Portland, Oregon is a City that I have been to many times, did my college internship in, and I like Portland. But for this day in our west coast road trip, it was all about getting through Portland as quickly as possible, and getting to the coast. Lincoln City was our destination this day, and to get there involved the first of my three wrong turns, (I shall blame this one on a new route, no map, overconfidence and bad signage, costing us about 45 minutes) going through lots of little towns, (which all seemed to have great nurseries and landscaping stores) lots of weekend traffic, and our first and only Dairy Queen stop of the trip.

Winding down the first day of this west coast road trip, we roll into Lincoln City with a few hours of sun left, we hit the beach, and shared it with hundreds of other people. (It is Saturday and it is August, I expected nothing less). However it was freaking’ cold. That wind was blowin’ good, but all the cool kites, the smell of the ocean, and the sound of the waves made it all OK. It was time to find something to eat, and get ready for tomorrow. 

West Coast Road Trip – Wrapping up Day 1 

For the artist, photographer, traveler, adventurer, or the curious, this part of our west coast road trip has a diverse palette of landscape, cityscape, color, natural and man-made wonders.. I had seen almost everything on this first day of the trip several times before, so I wasn’t as  excited about this day as I was about the next several. The Columbia River Gorge was definitely the star of this day, and if you haven’t been, I recommend it in spades.

Next: West Coast Road Trip Day Two – Lincoln City to Crescent City 

Beaches, Sea Lions, two Lighthouses, and more…  


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