We loaded up the family, plus Emily’s parents and sister, and headed out for the West Coast of the United States. What an adventure! We started in the Northern part of Washington, even making it into parts of Canada on our Whale-watching tour, and ended down the coast in San Francisco. Here is our 12-day itinerary with our recommendations and things we want to do next time. This is “How We” did the West Coast!
Day 1 – Travel Day
We left Salt Lake City early Friday morning with a quick stop in Boise, Idaho (Panera!), and then on to our final destination of day one, which was the Tri-Cities area of Washington State. We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in Richland, Washington, after traveling roughly 11 hours.
Hotel: Holiday Inn Express in Richland, Washington; Breakfast included with stay
Day 2 – Snoqualmie Falls then Downtown Seattle
We left Richland bright and early and drove approximately 3 hours to Snoqualmie Falls. The drive was GORGEOUS through the Snoqualmie Pass, and we were greeted with green trees everywhere with a little snow even. Snoqualmie Falls is a must and a stop that can be as quick or as long as you like. Oh, and this started our fascination with Big Foot!
Our next stop was the Seattle Washington Temple which is located in Bellevue, 20 minutes outside of downtown.
Then on to Pike Place Market for the rest of the day.
Pike Place Market is the ultimate farmer’s market – fresh flowers, food, veggies, fruits, seafood, etc. It has everything from breakfast, lunch, and dinner — so come hungry! We spent about 3 hours here before starting the Seattle Underground Tour.
This underground tour came highly recommended, and while we enjoyed it, keep in mind it is a lot of walking with a lot of stairs.
Last stop of the day was to Kerry Park that offers beautiful views of the Seattle Skyline. Looking for the perfect photo op of Seattle? This is it.
Hotel: Holiday Inn Express North Seattle Shoreline; Breakfast included with stay. This was a decent hotel and we opted to stay here because it was more affordable, but for a little bit more you could stay in a safer, nicer area.
DAY 3 – Ferry to Bainbridge Island
We had hoped to visit Vancouver, British Columbia, but our passports did not come in time, so off to Bainbridge Island we went. While we were sad not to be able to go to Canada, we fell in LOVE with Bainbridge. What a gem!
We took the 30-minute ferry ride from Seattle to Bainbridge and then walked to shops and restaurants. From Mora’s Iced Creamery, fresh seafood to many fun stores, including an epic toy store, we thoroughly enjoyed this charming island. You can take your car on the ferry, but we opted to explore by foot since everything is in walking distance.
Be sure to catch the views of Seattle from the ferry — you won’t find a better one. This was our view coming back into Seattle.
Hotel: Holiday Inn Express North Seattle Shoreline; Breakfast: Yes, included with stay.
Day 4 – San Juan Islands
We got up early and headed for the Port at Anacortes. The hour-long ferry ride to Friday Harbor was amazing. For this desert-born fam, we found the ferry rides a highlight — we saw porpoises, jellyfish, octopus, and an otter on our ride. We opted to drive the van onto the ferry this time, which we were then able to drive around the 15-mile wide island to fully explore.
Hotel: Holiday Inn Express Burlington; Breakfast included with stay
DAY 5 – Whale-Watching Tour
We jumped on a small boat and headed out passed the San Juan Islands into Canada in search of our orca friends. It was AMAZING!! The company we toured with, Mystic Sea, recently merged with another company and is now Puget Sound Express. We recommend checking Groupon for tickets first.
Our tour, which was advertised as a 4-hour excursion, doubled because there were two pods of orca whales passed the U.S. border near Sydney, British Columbia. We didn’t mind at all. It was a bucket-list item to see these killer whales in the wild. Truly breathtaking.
Then we drove 4 hours to Astoria, Oregon. Had we known that our Whale-watching tour was going to take all day, we probably would have stayed in Burlington another night.
Hotel: Holiday Inn Express & Suites Astoria; Breakfast included with stay
DAY 6 – Seaside, Oregon
Next we spent the day in Seaside, Oregon, which was a bustling town on the 4th of July. Fireworks are often restricted along the coast, but Seaside is one of a few beaches that allows fireworks. And boy do they let loose. People come from all over the coast to enjoy the fireworks over the ocean. This ended up being a great choice for our family, as evident from the picture below of our daughter plugging her ears. We pulled in at 11 a.m. and people were shooting off their large, loud aerial fireworks and it did not stop until well after midnight.
The next morning was much more enjoyable, although the firework crowd did leave some large holes in the beach from their bonfires. There is lots of shopping, restaurants, and even a little aquarium.
Hotel: Best Western Plus Seaside Oregon, Breakfast not included.
DAY 7 – Cannon Beach, Oregon to Tillamook to Depot Bay to Lighthouses
One of our favorite stops along the trip were the Tide pools at Haystack Rock along Cannon Beach.
We saw so many starfish, anemone, and other sealife.
Then on to Tillamook, about an hour from Cannon Beach, for a factory tour and some yummy cheese and ice cream!
On our way to the lighthouses we literally saw whales right off the roadway in Depoe Bay. So we pulled off for an hour to watch. We are becoming obsessed with whale-watching and could do it for hours.
And then down the coast to the Yaquina Head Lighthouse.
From Yaquina we drove an hour to the Heceta Beach just below the lighthouse. Our kids had a blast running on the beach. Our son even found a shark tooth. It is important to remember . . . never turn your back on the ocean. The Pacific Northwest is known for large and unpredictable waves and rip currents. Watch your children very closely.
Hotel: Holiday Inn Express Springfield, Oregon; Breakfast included with stay
DAY 8 – Wildlife Safari to the Redwoods
Today’s drive took us from Eugene, Oregon, to Eureka, California. We had many fun stops along the way. The first was the Wildlife Safari Park in Winston, Oregon.
Wildlife Safari is not your typical zoo. You’ll get to get to see ostrich, watusi cattle, lions, bears, elephants, bison, zebra and much more. All from the comfort of your own car.
Our next stop just happened and that was the beautiful Redwoods. Unlike other national parks where you pay to enter, the Redwoods are just there scattered along the Pacific Coast Highway. The trees are just incredible. There really aren’t words to describe. You must drive the Pacific Coast Highway for so many reasons, but the Redwoods would be near the top of the list.
Our first time at the Redwoods was amazing. We highly recommend the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. You’ll get off the freeway for this scenic drive, which will add 30 minutes to an hour to your drive depending on your stops. It’s hard to explain the Redwoods and the pictures just don’t do justice to the size of these gigantic trees. Notice the picture with our van above. Incredible.
Hotel: Holiday Inn Express & Suites Eureka; Breakfast included with stay
DAY 9 – Redwoods to San Francisco
We got up early and were super excited to explore the Redwoods some more. We enjoyed hiking around the Avenues of the Giants.
There are many campgrounds and trails in the area. You could spend a few hours to a few days or more. It is totally dependent on what you want to do.
Then we drove about four hours to San Francisco for the rest of the day. We didn’t have a lot of time here, but enjoyed every second of seeing the City by the Bay, from the Golden Gate Bridge to Lombard Street and Fisherman’s Wharf.
We took in the views from the Golden Gate View Point from the north side. There are several little viewpoint spots as you wind your way to cross the bridge. When we were there the police had closed traffic making it a one-way street. It was very crowded and parking was very limited. Bathrooms were also very limited and not great. With that said, we still would highly recommend the visit.
Then over to Lombard Street, aka the “crookedest street in the world”, where unfortunately our 12-passenger van exceeded the size limit to navigate the eight hairpin turns. But we parked and walked down and back up this unique street.
Gotta ride a cable car when in San Francisco.
And a stop to Ghiradelli Square? Yes, please!
Ghirardelli is located a few blocks west of Fisherman’s Wharf. And well worth the lines for the free sample of chocolate and our family’s favorite brownie sundae.
Fisherman’s Wharf of San Francisco is pretty cool, as were the views of Alcatraz (from a distance!). Boudin, which is part of the Wharf, is a great option for lunch, dinner, or even just for a loaf of their delicious sourdough bread.
This was the end of an amazing and truly epic trip. We cannot wait to go back. We hope this helps you plan your Pacific Northwest Road Trip. Please reach out via Facebook with any questions.
Hotel: Holiday Inn Sacramento Rancho Cordova; Breakfast not included