Cali-Bound: Planning a Road Trip From Portland to LA

We’re Heading Down the West Coast and Hitting All of the Must-See Destinations… Stops Include Crescent City, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and More!

The West Coast is one of the best places in the country to do a road trip—there’s just so much to see and so many adventures to be had! From sand dunes and lighthouses to parks and historic neighborhoods, the destinations that you’ll find as you drive from Portland to Los Angeles are as eclectic as they are exciting. And whether you prefer big cities or small towns, there’s something for everyone on this journey down coastal Oregon and California. Now, let’s get started! 

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area 

📍 Reedsport (OR)

Miles and Miles of Sand Dunes to Explore

US-101 | Siuslaw National Forest |

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is located a little more than three hours southwest of Portland. Stretching 40 miles along Oregon’s coast, this extraordinary land contains tree islands, wetlands, beaches, and, of course, open dunes. Formed over time by wind, water, and uplifted sedimentary rock from the Coast Mountain Range, the dunes create a unique patchwork of ecosystems, and among the types of wildlife life that call the dunes and their surrounding area provides habitat to elk, black bears, sea lions, pelicans, and bald eagles. 

Hiking, biking, fishing, camping, and picnicking are a few of the activities that can be enjoyed in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Hikers should be warned that the dunes are breathtaking in more ways than one—while the piles of loose sand are visually stunning, they can be rather difficult to traverse. For many, the Oregon Dunes Visitor Center in Reedsport, where you’ll find brochures, informational displays, maps, and welcoming staff, is the ideal starting point before embarking on an expedition through the dunes. 

Battery Point Lighthouse & Museum 

📍 Crescent City (CA)

Climb One the First Lighthouses on California’s Coast

235 Lighthouse Way | Battery Point |

Crescent City, California, lies about three-and-a-half hours southwest of Portland, and with beautiful coastal scenery and an undeniable beach town charm, it’s a fun little place to stop as you head down the West Coast toward LA. Among the city’s top attractions are Redwood National Park, Ocean World, the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center, Crescent Beach, B Street Pier, and Beachfront Park. However, no trip to Crescent City is complete without a visit to Battery Point Lighthouse, a Cape-Cod-style lighthouse that was first lit in 1856. 

Open daily from 10 am to 4 pm, Battery Point Lighthouse is a must-see when in Crescent City, both for the structure’s historical significance and for the panoramic views from the top! Climb the tower, take a look at the personal quarters of the lighthouse keepers (Battery Point Lighthouse continues to be an active lighthouse), and learn more about the history of Crescent City with the help of artifacts, photographs, and displays. Because Battery Point Lighthouse is located on a tidal island, tours of the lighthouse and its museum are tide-permitting. 

Chandelier Tree (AKA Drive-Thru Tree)

📍 Leggett (CA)

Drive Your Car Through This Giant Sequoia Tree

 67402 Drive-Thru Tree Road | Leggett Valley |

As you’re making your way through Northern California, don’t pass up the chance to stop by Drive-Thru Tree Park, located in Leggett Valley. Owned and operated by the Underwood Family, Drive-Thru Tree Park offers road-trippers an experience that’s truly one of a kind: You can actually drive your car straight through a Giant Sequoia tree! 

The family has been maintaining the grove since 1922, and while travelers were already known to stop and admire the towering trees in the area, in 1937, the Underwoods decided to turn their secluded piece of forest into an extraordinary roadside attraction—by carving a tunnel at the bottom of one of their massive trees. After you take your picture passing through the hollow base of Chandelier Tree, you can enjoy a nice picnic beneath the forest canopy. In order to accommodate visitors, the park has places to park, picnic tables, restrooms, and even a gift shop. 

Golden Gate Park

📍 San Francisco (CA)

Multi-Attraction Park with Museums, Gardens, and Much More

501 Stanyan Street | Golden Gate Park |

San Francisco is about 10 hours south of Portland and around 6 hours northwest of Los Angeles. Among the most popular cities in the entire state, the “City by the Bay” is one California town that you don’t want to miss out on as you’re driving down the coast. Some of SF’s top attractions include Alcatraz Island, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Painted Ladies, Lombard Street, and the Aquarium of the Bay. Another place that you’ll definitely want to see is Golden Gate Park, a diverse entertainment hub that blends nature, learning, and city landmarks. 

With over a thousand acres, Golden Gate Park contains everything from gardens and museums to carousels and playgrounds. The most-visited parts of the park include the Japanese Tea Garden (the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States!), the M. H. de Young Museum (make sure you check out the observation deck for some of the best views of the park), Steinhart Aquarium (part of the California Academy of Sciences), and, of course, the legendary Golden Gate Buffalo Paddock (that’s right—there’s a herd of bison that live in Golden Gate Park!). 

Cannery Row 

📍 Monterey (CA)

Revitalized Canning District Made Famous By John Steinbeck 

Cannery Row | New Monterey |

Monterey, California, is a little more than five hours northwest of LA, and while it might not be as huge as cities like San Fran and La-La Land, it’s definitely still worth a stop. Seated along the edge of Monterey Bay, this dynamic city has just about everything that you could ask for from a coastal town: gorgeous scenery, master-level seafood, beaches, and village-esque neighborhoods. Among the area’s most famous districts is Cannery Row, a historic part of Monterey that’s evolved from a group of sardine-packing plants to a trendy centerpiece on the city’s waterfront. 

The novelist John Steinbeck was a frequent visitor to Monterey, and his novels Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday both feature the street that was once called Ocean View Avenue—later renamed Cannery Row. Today, Cannery Row is home to major attractions like the Monterey Mirror Maze and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. A couple of the many restaurants that you can find on Cannery Row are Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. (the original location!), Cooper’s Pub & Restaurant, Lalla Oceanside Grill, and Louie Linguini’s. If you’re looking to pick up some souvenirs, be sure to stop in some of the local shops, like Fine Art Turkish Grand Bazaar, Hatley Little Blue House, Mackerel Jack’s Trading Co., and many, many more! 

Bubblegum Alley

📍 San Luis Obispo (CA)

The Grossest Unofficial Landmark That You’ll Ever See

733 Higuera Street | Downtown |

The city of San Luis Obispo is about three-and-a-half hours northwest of LA, and with a number of historic properties and delightful points of interest, San Luis Obispo is a city that’s rich in both state heritage and hidden gems. A few of the city’s highlights are the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, Sunset Drive-In, the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, Mission Plaza, the Dallidet Adobe & Gardens, and the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum. However, while you’re in San Luis Obispo, there’s one place that you absolutely have to see—and that’s Bubblegum Alley

This oddball attraction is many years in the making: No one’s completely sure when it started, but some historians estimate that the tradition of sticking chewed gum to the walls of the downtown alleyway might have started as early as the 1940s. A colorful, disgusting, ever-growing work of art, Bubblegum Alley truly a sight to be seen, and you can even add your own piece of gum to the graffiti-creation after you’re done marveling at. (You’ll probably want to wash your hands, like, immediately afterward, though.) 

Stearns Wharf 

📍 Santa Barbara (CA)

Take a Stroll Down This Bustling Boardwalk 

217 Stearns Wharf | West Beach |

Just about two hours up the coast from LA, Santa Barbara is another A-List California beach town that you don’t want to miss as you’re closing in on the City of Angels. Between its still-visible Spanish colonial influence and its wide range of modern-day appeal, Santa Barbara is a fun place to take a break from the car and squeeze in a little more sightseeing. The top attractions in Santa Barbara include Old Mission Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Zoo, El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park, MOXI: The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. But with such an ideal spot along the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara warrants a trip to the beach for sure—and while you’re there, don’t forget to hit up Stearns Wharf, a historic pier that’s been entertaining visitors since 1872! 

Considered by many to be Santa Barbara’s number-one attraction, Stearns Wharf more than just a boardwalk—it’s become a symbol of the city itself. When it was first completed, it was the longest deep-water pier between San Francisco and LA, and with so much to see and do, it’s a quintessential part of the Santa Barbara experience. Restaurants, specialty shops, and other attractions are concentrated within walking distance… And let’s not forget about those spectacular waterfront views!

Mission San Buenaventura Historic Park 

📍 Ventura (CA)

Expansive Grouping of Historic and Archeological Sites

211 E. Main Street | Downtown |

Well, we’ve almost made it to LA—but there’s still one last stop that we want to cover before we finally get there. Only around an hour-and-a-half outside of LA, the city of Ventura is a versatile town that has everything from surfing and biking to historic sites and spacious parks. The most popular places to visit in Ventura include San Buenaventura State Beach, Ventura Pier, Surfer’s Point, the Ventura Botanical Gardens, Ventura Harbor Village, and Grant Park. But for those interested in the local history, make sure you plan a visit to San Buenaventura Mission Historic Park, a collection of historic properties and structures in Downtown Ventura. 

Open daily from 7 am to 5 pm, Mission San Buenaventura Historic Park includes original buildings, excavated sites, and open parkland. Some of the most notable sites that you’ll find here are Mission San Buenaventura, the San Miguel Chapel, and the Mission Aqueduct. Take a walk through the city’s history, and learn about the ways in which Ventura has evolved from its past while still honoring it. 

Tinseltown Is Sure to Leave You Starstruck! 

LA is one of the most-visited cities in the entire country—and once you get there, it won’t take you long to figure out why! Some of LA’s best-known attractions include Griffith Park, the Hollywood Walk-of-Fame, the Getty Center, and Santa Monica Pier. Basically, the City of Angels is one town where you’ll never be bored! That being said, you don’t want to rush there and risk missing out on all of the cool stops that are on the way from Portland. So, take your time and get the most out of your drive down the West Coast. (After all, they don’t call it the “Best Coast” for nothing!)

Albion Skeldon

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