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Border to Border: These are the Essential Road Trip Stops Along I-5

There’s a lot to see off the many I-5 exits between California and Washington!

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.


Interstate 5 is the main highway of America’s West Coast, running parallel to the Pacific Ocean and U.S. Route 99, all the way from Mexico to Canada. The states that the I-5 goes through include California, Oregon and Washington. It runs through some pretty cool cities too: Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego just to name a few. It also happens to be the only continuous Interstate highway to touch the borders of both Canada and Mexico. These are just a few of the best stops along I-5!

 

Where to Stop on I-5 in Mexico

Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

A great place for some shopping and dining south of the border

This busy town is just across the border, and is a great day trip from San Diego. Image courtesy of Viator

Since I-5 is the only border-to-border highway that actually touches both Mexico and Canada, if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can start in Tijuana, Mexico. It’s a short drive from San Diego, and you can either drive across the border or walk the distance. There’s some great shopping and cultural options to experience in this border town as well.

 

Can’t-Miss Attractions on I-5 in California

Balboa Park

Experience the cultural side of San Diego

1549 El Prado | San Diego, CA | balboapark.org

Stunning architecture, garden and pond of Balboa Park Botanical Building in San Diego, California
Balboa Park is home to many of San Diego’s cultural attractions, but it’s also a great place to walk and relax as well. Source: Shutterstock. 

I-5 then takes you into San Diego. You could literally spend days exploring San Diego since there are so many things to do here, but the one must-see attraction in the city is Balboa Park. San Diego’s natural history museum, air and space museum, zoo, science center, and art museums can be found set among the gardens here…and that’s just naming a few attractions you can check out. It’s worth at least visiting their legendary zoo or the Automotive Museum!

And if you need a hotel in San Diego, look into the Manchester Grand Hyatt, the Hotel del Coronado, or The US Grant.

 

 

“I can't believe this huge and beautiful park is at the center of San Diego! It's massive with a lot to do... and it's super accessible since it's right in the middle of the city.” - Yelp Review

 

South Carlsbad State Beach

Catch some sun or do a little relaxing on this popular beach

7201 Carlsbad Blvd | Carlsbad, CA | parks.ca.gov

Experience Cali’s world-famous surf and sun from beautiful Carlsbad State Beach just off of I-5 in California. Image courtesy of @hgicarlsbad on Instagram.

Surfing, fishing, camping and beach access for day-use visitors make South Carlsbad State Beach a great place to spend some time. If you can, stay to watch the sunset over the water: there’s nothing quite like it.

 

“The ocean views are stunning and they have these beautiful wood stairs that go down to the beach. The best time to swim is in the afternoon when the tide is out… Also lots of surfers here too. Love it.” - Yelp Review

 

Mission San Juan Capistrano

This historic landmark built over 200 years ago is worth the visit

26801 Ortega Hwy | San Juan, CA | missionsjc.com


You can sign up to have a tour and see one of a kind religious artifacts and historic items. Image courtesy of KCET

Next, pay a visit to Mission San Juan Capistrano. The history of Spanish missionaries coming to California is important, and also sobering; there are 2,000 inhabitants of this 18th-century mission buried in unmarked graves, mostly Native Americans. The ruins of the old stone buildings are also quite fascinating to see, especially the Spanish Colonial Baroque-style church.


“It has been lovingly restored and the interior main garden area is beautiful. I loved the central pond, the exhibits, the chapel, bells and the ruins of the great church which was gorgeous.” - Yelp Review

 

Six Flags Magic Mountain

Get your thrills at this park that’s fun for all ages

26101 Magic Mountain Pkwy | Valencia, CA | sixflags.com/magicmountain

If you’re looking for a fun time off the I-5, stop by Six Flags for guaranteed fun time! Image courtesy of @mikohao0601 on Instagram.

If Disney isn’t really your scene, then you might be more into Six Flags Magic Mountain, also right off I-5! Here, it’s all about the intense roller coasters. In fact, it has the most coasters of any theme park in the country. In addition, there are also thrill rides for those of all ages, and some water rides too.

 

“The EXTREME Park.  More roller coasters than any park in the country. Look up fun in the dictionary and you will find a picture of this place.” - Yelp Review

 

 

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

Take in the beautiful fields of flowers under a blue California sky

15101 Lancaster Rd | Lancaster, CA | parks.ca.gov


Thousands of bright orange wild poppies bloom in Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
Talk about a pop of color as you drive along the California highway! Source: Shutterstock.

There’s tons of natural beauty along I-5. Between late winter and early spring, Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve explodes with brightly-hued flowers, mostly poppies. Seven miles of trail make for awesome wildflower viewing, or for a good place to stretch your legs after long hours in the car.

 

“Pictures and videos cannot capture the experience of walking thru a sea of poppies. It's surreal and if you happen to be in the area when they're in bloom - You're welcome! ” - Yelp Review

 

Last Place James Dean Stopped

Take a trip back in time and pick up some James Dean-themed accessories

Intersection 33 & 46 | Blackwell’s Corner, CA 


James Dean made his last stop at a small gas station in Blackwell’s Corner in 1955, but the small community still keeps his memory alive. Image courtesy of Trip Advisor.

If you’re into James Dean, history, pop culture, or offbeat roadside attractions, the Last Place James Dean Stopped in Lost Hills fits the bill quite nicely. James Dean died at the young age of 24 in a car crash while driving in his famed “Little Bastard” Porsche Spyder, not far from this gas station. There’s a 50’s themed diner and general store, all bedecked with the legendarily handsome actor’s likeness.


“Awesome place for anyone who followed the life and death of James Dean... Very moving and highly recommended. The monument is close by but not the actual crash site. I have the crash site coordinates here: N 35° 44.053' W 120° 17.147'” - Yelp Review

 

New Idria Ghost Town

View old mining buildings and tour a town that is no more

New Idria Rd | New Idria, CA 

The New Idria Mercury Mine is the largest structure in the town that’s still standing. Image courtesy of @forgottencalifornia on Instagram.

New Idria Ghost Town, built around a former mercury mine, was only abandoned in the 1970’s so there are still nearly 100 buildings left, although they’ve been vandalized quite a bit. It’s not as rustic as some ghost towns, but it’s a cool place to stop and take some gritty pictures.


 

“If you’re looking for a little riskier side trip, the New Idria Ghost Town should be on your itinerary… Once a town built around a quicksilver mine, today the town is abandoned and the water and ground is considered toxic. A trip to the town will get you some pretty neat photos, but the BLM has been known to close the road, so we can’t always guarantee you’ll make it to the town.” - Roadtrippers Review

 

O’Neill Regional Park

Take a break and enjoy some local flora and fauna

30892 Trabuco Canyon Rd | Trabuco, CA | ocparks.com/parks/oneill

Hop off of I-5 and stretch your legs on one of O’Neill’s beautiful hiking trails. Image courtesy of @chelseaannecross on Instagram.

Another nice place to stretch your legs is the O’Neill Regional Park in Trabuco, CA. It’s perfect for camping, or if you pick up some food, for a nice afternoon picnic. If you have time, you can also enjoy the swimming and boating here and at the other nearby reservoirs!


 

“What an amazing hidden gem of wilderness just a short drive away from the town of Rancho Santa Margarita!” - Yelp Review

 

Folsom Prison Museum

You won’t get the blues touring this intriguing part of the U.S. penal system

Learn how the prison was constructed and how prisoners went about their daily affairs. Image courtesy of California Through My Lens.

Whether you’re a Johnny Cash fan or not (the singer famously played a show for the prisoners here in Folsom), you’re sure to find the Folsom Prison Museum interesting. You can see inside an old cell, and look at handmade weapons crafted by the inmates at one of California’s most notorious lockups.


 

“For a prison museum, I'd have to say that my experience was epic, from greeting the prison guards to seeing all the original watch towers, toilets, chains... The history is unimaginable!” - Yelp Review

 

National Yo-Yo Museum (aka Bird in Hand Toy Store)

If you’re a fan of Around the World or the Pinwheel, you’ll want to check out this museum!

320 Broad St | Chico, CA | birdinhand.com


If you have a soft spot for classic toys or indie shops, yo-you have to stop at Bird in Hand just off of I-5 in Chico, CA. Image courtesy of @rvcalifornia on Instagram.

If you keep driving up I-5, you’ll reach Chico, home of the National Yo-Yo Museum! Located in a super-cool indie toy store, the Yo-Yo Museum boasts the world’s largest yo-yo, 80 years of yo-yo artifacts, and hosts the National Yo-Yo Championship each year. It’s a super cute and fun way to kill an hour!


 

“This place is great to waste time in and great for gifts.  Has such random/cool stuff and they don't glare when you are playing with all the cool toys either.” - Yelp Review

 

Shasta State Historic Park

Tour the historic buildings of a once-vibrant California gold rush town

15312 Hwy 299 | Southwest Shasta, CA | parks.ca.gov

Old equipment on display at Shasta State Historic Park in Redding, California
Think you’ll find any gold on your visit to this town? Source: Shutterstock. 

The town of Shasta, which was active during the mid-19th century, is mostly abandoned today. However, the old buildings have been preserved at Shasta State Historic Park. Step back in time at the jail, the store, the church, the museum, the post office, and the school.

 

“Really cool place! And also interesting information about California's gold rush. ” - Yelp Review

 

 

Lake Shasta Caverns

You won’t see anything like these caves anywhere else on the I-5!

20359 Shasta Caverns Rd | Lakeshead, CA |lakeshastacaverns.com


These stunning caverns are the perfect road trip stop. Image courtesy of @bayarea_buzz on Instagram.

The stunning Lake Shasta Caverns, which must be reached via a boat, are one of the coolest attractions in the area. As you traverse the system of caverns, you’ll learn about their fascinating history and see all kinds of wild rock formations. It’s a bit of a trek, with about 600 stairs total, but it’s well worth the effort.

 

“Such a wonderful experience! Our guide was knowledgeable and provided time for us to take photos so I didn't felt rush. Highly recommend.” - Yelp Review

 

Exciting Things To Do and See on I-5 in Oregon

The Oregon Vortex/House of Mystery

The laws of physics do not apply on these grounds once shunned by Native Americans

4303 Sardine Crk L Frk Rd | Gold Hill, OR | oregonvortex.com


Thousands of experiments have been conducted, but since 1930 when it was opened to the public, no one can explain what happens here. Image courtesy of TripAdvisor

Once you reach Gold Hill, OR pull over at the Oregon Vortex/House of Mystery, a 1930s-era attraction and roadside classic not far off I-5. Whether or not you believe in the scientific analysis of the “vortex” that causes the laws of physics to seem irrelevant (as I suspected in high school science class), it’s still a fun stop. Plus, they have a cute curio shop with offbeat oddities.


 

“There are so few simple roadside attractions left in today's fast-paced modern world, so it's refreshing to come across a folksy place like the House of Mystery where you get to hear about the old wives' tales surrounding the place.” - Yelp Review

 

 

Umpqua National Forest

Make sure to visit the 293 foot Watson Waterfall!

This waterfall provides some much needed natural beauty after a long stretch of highway driving. Image courtesy of @breyzeexplores on Instagram.

Next, bask in some breathtaking natural beauty at Umpqua National Forest. This massive woodland preserve is packed with shaded trails, fields of wildflowers, misty waterfalls, and cozy cabins. Even taking a quick detour to drive through this beautiful forest is a must!


 

“We loved it! It was quiet, clean and we had a lot of space. I would recommend this place to anyone.” - Yelp Review

 

Brass Ring Carousel Project

This museum is a must-see for anyone who loved, or still loves, taking a ride on a carousel horse!

503 1st W | Albany, OR 


Step back in time for a carousel ride at Brass Ring Carousel project carousel and museum. Image courtesy of @bctphoto on Instagram.

It’s free to tour Brass Ring Carousel Project, a carousel studio and museum, and it’ll amuse and entertain the young and the young-at-heart. It’s totally whimsical, and their dedication to preserving gorgeous old carousels is really neat to see.


 

“This a carousel project to create a merry-go-round.  They have reclaimed the old rigging from a Dentzel carousel and are refinishing it.  But the real COOL part is they are hand carving ALL the animals.  There is no way to describe the detail.  Impeccable. ” - Yelp Review

 

 

International Rose Test Garden

The perfect welcome to Portland


400 SW Kingston Ave | Portland, OR | portlandoregon.gov/parks


A fountain amid various shades of pink roses in the International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Oregon
Free public tours are offered at this park daily from May through September! Source: Shutterstock.

After that, if you keep driving up I-5, you’ll hit the city of Portland. The International Rose Test Garden is free, and you can’t deny that the best way to meet The City of Roses is in their rose garden! You can see all kinds of varieties of the flower here, and take in some awesome views of Portland.

“If you're lucky enough to visit Portland when the roses are in bloom, going to the International Rose Test Garden is a must! It's free admission and is just a beautiful place to wander.” - Yelp Review

 

 

Powell’s City of Books

A visit here is a great way to while away an afternoon amongst the books

1005 W Burnside St | Portland, OR | powells.com

Powell’s City of Books is a bucket list stop for any book-lover. Image courtesy of @carobookine on Instagram.

Need some more reading material for when you’re not in the driver’s seat? Powell’s City of Books is a legendary independent bookstore. It’s utterly massive, so if you’re looking for something in particular, grab a map. Otherwise, it’s just as fun to aimlessly get lost among the rows of books and stumble across something you never knew you needed.


And stay the night at one of Portland’s hip hotels: Hotel Zags, The Nines, and the Hotel Vintage Plaza are awesome spots.

“If you're a bookworm (or you just like exploring unique places), you should definitely plan on spending a big chunk of time here.” - Yelp Review

 

 

Awesome Stops on I-5 in Washington

Mount St. Helens Visitor Center

Learn all about the volcanic explosion as well as the resulting impact on the forest surrounding the mountain

3029 Spirit Lake Hwy | Castle Rock, WA 

Check out the step-in model of the volcano and track Mt. St. Helens’ current seismic activity! Image courtesy of TripSavvy

Whether or not you were alive when the Mount St. Helens volcano erupted in 1980 or not, it’s still a formidable sight to see. The Mount St. Helens Visitor Center offers amazing views of the dormant volcano, excellent exhibits, and even a trail. If you’re feeling daring, you can buy a permit to climb to the top and stare into the crater. It’s ideal for beginner mountaineers, but make sure you check up on the status of the volcano before you attempt to conquer it.


Millersylvania State Park

You’re going to get some amazing photos of this old growth forest close to the state capital 

12245 Tilley Rd S | Olympia, WA 

Millersylvania is renowned for its camping and beautiful views. Image courtesy of @wooz01 on Instagram. 

Ahh…back to nature, since the beauty along I-5 in the Pacific Northwest is legendary. The secluded forests and lake (complete with swimming beach!) at Millersylvania State Park are completely relaxing. It also has awesome camping if you find yourself so enchanted by the surroundings that you can’t pull yourself away.


“I love the trees and seclusion.  Great camping close to town with swimming areas for the kids, a dock to fish, nature trails, a snack shack, and boat rentals.” - Yelp Review

 

Lakewold Gardens Estate

Enjoy a leisurely stroll through these historic gardens

12317 Gravelly Lake Dr SW | Lakewood, WA | lakewoldgardens.org

Make sure to take time and visit all the garden “rooms” including the Shade Garden, the Rock Garden, the Library Garden, and the Knot Garden. Image courtesy of PBS.

After you cruise through Olympia, you’ll hit the city of Tacoma. Learn firsthand about Tacoma’s prominent past with a tour of Lakewold Gardens Estate. Developed by a shipping magnate as a country retreat in the early 20th century, the gardens were designed by the Olmsteads, the country’s most prominent landscaping firm (Frederick Law Olmstead designed Central Park!) Soak in the beauty of the well-manicured property as you stroll along.

“Gorgeous!!! Perfect place to explore.” - Yelp Review

 

Museum of Glass

Whether you want to pick up a souvenir or watch glass being blown, you’ll need to see this museum!

1801 Dock St | Tacoma, WA | museumofglass.org

See a dazzling array of glass art pieces when you visit Tacoma. Image courtesy of @thenewstribune on Instagram.

Glass isn’t just for cups, windows, and spectacles! The Museum of Glass is dedicated to the artistry of glassblowing. Cross the Bridge of Glass, lined with pieces by famed glass artist Dale Chihuly, and check out the museum. See some mind-blowing sculptures, watch live demonstrations, and be sure to check out the gift shop.


In search of a hotel in Tacoma? The Hotel Murano and the Courtyard in Downtown Tacoma are super nice.

 

“The Museum of Glass is a treasure for the city of Tacoma. The demonstrations in the working hot shop are educational and fun.” - Yelp Review

 

The Museum of Flight

Stop by and see one of the country’s largest air and space collections

9404 E Marginal Way S | Seattle, WA | museumofflight.org


Not many people have had the chance to see the Concorde, so don’t miss out! Image courtesy of TripAdvisor.

If glass isn’t your thing, then maybe jets are. You could spend a whole day in the massive Museum of Flight Air and Space Museum, but don’t miss out on the Concorde, Air Force One, the very first Boeing 747, and a space shuttle replica, among other things. Even if you don’t know a ton about planes, there’s something here to entertain you!

“This place is rich with historical artifacts. From the time the Wright brothers patented their first invention to the times of war. ” - Yelp Review

 

Market Theater Gum Wall at Pike’s Place Market

Visiting this famous market is a must, either for gum or seafood!

1428 Post Aly | Seattle, WA

It may be gross, but it’s also very grunge. Don’t miss the iconic gum wall when you pass through Seattle on I-5. Image courtesy of @lilcorners on Instagram.

And since I-5 passes through Seattle, you should stop at Pike’s Place Market. If you want something grungy to see in this punk rock city, head to the Market Theater Gum Wall. In November of 2015, it was scrubbed clean of chewed up wads of gum for the first time in 20 years. Over 2,300 pounds of gooey gunk was removed from the brick wall at Pike Place Market’s Market Theater. 



Naturally, the moment cleaning was complete, people began to add gum back to the walls. Help bring this weird local monument back to its former glory by contributing a piece!

Yes, it's absolutely disgusting.....and YES, it's a repulsive germ-filled alley covered in the remnants of saliva and bacteria. But it is also pretty darn cool to see in person!!! ” - Yelp Review

 

Space Needle

Take a trip to the top of this iconic Seattle landmark

400 Broad St | Seattle, WA | spaceneedle.com


No trip to Seattle is complete without visiting the Space Needle! Image courtesy of Cnet.

You can see the classic Space Needle from all across the city, but the view from the top is out of this world. Built in only 400 days for the 1962 World’s Fair, it remains one of the most iconic spots in Seattle!


Some cool hotels in Seattle include the Ace Hotel, the Palladian Hotel, and the Alexis Hotel.

 

“Is it touristy? You bet! Is it worth it? 100%” - Yelp Review

Howarth Park

This is the perfect spot for a beach picnic!

1127 Olympic Blvd | Everett, WA 

Howarth Park is a local favorite for hiking, biking, and water activities. Image courtesy of @arleyaguilarluna on Instagram.

As you leave Seattle and drive up I-5, you’ll find plenty of natural coastal beauty. Howarth Park in Everett is a total hidden gem. Get your toes in the sand and wade in the water at this quiet little beach.


“This is one of the best parks in the area! It is like a private little beach that not a ton of people know about.” - Yelp Review

 

Deception Pass State Park

Don’t be fooled by the name, this park’s beauty doesn’t deceive!

41020 State Rte 20 | Oak Harbor, WA | deceptionpassfoundation.org


Take in dramatic views of Washington’s Pacific coastline at Deception Pass State Park off of I-5 in Oak Harbor. Image courtesy of @kylehouck on Instagram.

Then take in awesome views of Puget Sound from Deception Pass State Park’s bridge, check out their well-established trails, or just relax on the beach. Bonus: you can camp here as well!


 

“It was so spectacularly beautiful. The scenery is just so amazing. I especially liked west beach. You get this breathtaking view of the waters from a higher ground.” - Yelp Review

 

Whatcom Falls Park

Gorgeous trees and waterfalls await you at this popular Washington park

1401 Electric Ave | Bellingham, WA | cob.org/whatcom-falls-park


Whatcom Falls is a beautiful background to a mossy stone bridge in Bellingham, Washington
No matter what comes your way as your travel down the I-5, this park will definitely impress you with its natural beauty. Source: Shutterstock. 

Cross the mossy stone bridge at Whatcom Falls Park built by the Washington Parks Association and check out the waterfalls, which make this park the perfect place for a shorter hike. You can also see the fish hatcheries where salmon are raised.

 

“Beautiful falls and park. Dogs welcome. Easy walk on the trail and plenty of parking.” - Yelp Review

 

Birch Bay State Park

Whether you decide to camp overnight or just take a day hike, this place is worth a visit

5105 Helwig Rd | Blaine, WA | parks.state.wa.us/Birch-Bay


Birch Bay State Park is known for its well-kept campgrounds just off the beach. Image courtesy of @chadhyams on Instagram. 

As you continue to head north, you’ll hit Birch Bay State Park, which has verdant old-growth cedar trees and tidepools filled with delicate and beautiful marine life, both of which are ripe for the exploring. It also features a campsite.


“This place is gorgeous! The families are well kept and the spots are good size.” - Yelp Review

 

 

Cool Things To Do on I-5 in Canada 

Vancouver Lookout

The view of the Terminal City from this landmark is breathtaking!

555 W Hastings St | Vancouver, BC | vancouverlookout.com

Soak in the 360-degree views at the end of your I-5 excursion! Image courtesy of 10best

Your final destination is Vancouver, BC in Canada. The glass elevator ride up to Vancouver Lookout provides the perfect prelude to the 360-degree panoramic views of Vancouver. Go at sunset or at night to see the city lit up in all of its splendor!

The Rosewood Hotel, the Metropolitan Hotel, and the Loden Vancouver are some really sweet hotels in Vancouver if you’re looking to celebrate your arrival in Canada.

“We always love to get above the city as much as we can. This is the perfect way to see the area.” - Yelp Review

 

Capilano Suspension Bridge & Cliffwalk

Do you dare walk end to end on this bridge?

3735 Capilano Road | North Vancouver, BC | capbridge.com

Visitors walk the jaw dropping Capilano Suspension Bridge amid lush forest in Vancouver, Canada
Seeing the forest from 110 above the ground is definitely an out of the ordinary experience! Source: Shutterstock.

The Capilano Suspension Bridge and Cliffwalk is another classic Vancouver tourist stop, and once you experience the adrenaline rush of crossing it, you’ll see why. The park also has a cliffwalk, ropes course, and more, so you can make a full day of taking in the temperate rainforest beauty of British Columbia.

“Gorgeous!! Beautiful!! Totally worth seeing =)” - Yelp Review

Don’t Miss a Thing When You’re Planning Your I-5 Road Trip

When planning your I-5 road trip, just be aware that in the summer there’s a significant amount of fog along the northern part of the route. The best weather is generally from September through early October, as well as late April and May. Also keep in mind that the summers are high tourist season, and road conditions in winter can be slightly precarious, especially up north. No matter when you go, the I-5 definitely has some amazing sites to see and experience along the way!


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