Ever since we got back from our oh so amazing road trip along the USA West Coast. I’ve been getting a lot of questions about where we went, how we went there and what our favorite parts were.
If you’re looking to plan the perfect trip this blog post is a good start, I think! From exploring ice caves near Seattle and using AirBnB to find perfect stay, to horseback riding in Palm Springs and the perfect place to eat brunch or watch a drive-in movie. From finding peace and quiet in a desert cabin and eating the most delicious ice cream to scouting campsites and old time photo boots. I want to go back!
First things first, our route. We had 5 full weeks in total, because we really wanted to take our time. We left October 1st and I cannot tell you enough what a perfect travel month October is. All of nature is starting to turn golden, most tourists are back to work, Seattle doesn’t have too much rain, the desert is not too hot and it’s practically the only month of summer in San Francisco.
We flew United Airlines to Seattle and returned from LA. Our travel schedule:
Seattle (5 nights)
Portland (5 nights)
Astoria (day trip)
Beverly Beach State Park (1 night)
Sunset Bay State Park (1 night)
Cape Blanco State Park (1 night)
Redwoods KOA (1 night)
San Francisco (6 nights)
Santa Cruz (2 nights)
Pfeiffer Big Sur SP (1 night)
Pismo State Beach (1 night)
El Captian State Beach (1 night)
Ojai (1 night)
Palm Springs (2 nights)
Joshua Tree (2 nights)
Los Angeles (5 nights)
We really wanted to have enough time in each big city to explore. Ride bikes around town, meet new people and get to feel at home a little. If I could reconsider anything in our schedule, I would choose an extra night in Ojai or Joshua Tree over 5 nights in LA but that’s because we definitely loved that peace and quiet of being out in the middle of nowhere better than the rush of the big city.
For the trip, we chose to hire a medium sized car at Hertz. We wanted a car rental company that was big enough to be in every city we’d pass in case of emergency car break downs and one that was located at both airports for convenience and this was the cheapest. Mind this: renting a one way car is not cheap. And parking is expensive in most cities. Good thing the gas fares are reasonably low compared to NL, but be ready to put the rental car high on your list of expenses. But the money spend on hiring a one way car was totally worth it, the freedom was GREAT and we couldn’t have done this without our own car. Just driving those beautiful roads was half of the fun! We drove about 3000 miles in total, through three states. We brought our own TomTom (updated with a USA map) to save on navigation – but we also had a ‘real’ map with us just in case. Don’t forget to look up the USA traffic rules and regulations before you hit the road.
The white markers in the map at the top were set places we planned on visiting. In between we opted for camping, for the love of adventure and being close to nature, but also to cut back on costs. Campsites are about $30 per night. Reserving your (huge!) campsites ahead is highly recommended. October is still in season and almost all campsites we stayed at were fully booked. Try to book about 2 months in advance. We mostly used the brilliant website Hipcamp to find campsites that fit us and our route, we loved using their website to make reservations and read about the best hikes etc. No spon, just really liked the site.
In the end we didn’t end up hiking much because it was a lot of work packing up the tent, driving to the next campsite with a lot of photo stops and putting the tent back up before it got too dark to cook, even though we purposely never put more than 4-5hrs between every campsite (we love sleeping in I guess). We did roam the campsites because (almost) all of them were beautiful little parks in themselves. Pay attention to poison ivy.
Cooking was romantically done on a campfire, you can light fires on your campsite pit and buy the wood for about $6 when you check-in. Unfortunately we couldn’t make a fire everywhere because of drought, so keep this in mind when you’re traveling during the summer. Make sure you only burn wood from the same area to prevent diseases from spreading.
We pre-saved some one pot recipes on our phones and brought extra chargers because there’s no electricity on site. For groceries we went to Wholefoods, for us it was even more important to eat organic in USA because their regulations about food and what pesticides are allowed on them are different than in Europe.
For a tent and supplies we went to Walmart. We bought everything we needed for about $200. We left this in LA at the end of our trip and hopefully made a homeless guy very happy and warm for the winter to come. It’s not very eco approved to do it this way but we didn’t see another way as bringing all your own camping gear from home on the flight is super expensive (and heavy). We were really happy we bought an extra blanket because it can get pretty cold at night in October! We brought a Bobble water bottle from home, this has a charcoal filter and was one of the best things we brought with us as the tap water in USA is very high on chlorine (among other stuff, probably).
We both really loved the camping and being on the beautiful roads, especially along the Oregon coast. There is nothing like that hazy light and the rough coastal lines! I must say that the days spend camping went by the fastest because we were packing, driving, stopping for photo’s and unpacking all day and turned into bed early because it got so dark out. We did watch a billion stars, made campfires and sat around it talking about dreams and plans, played guitar, looked at the sun set and rise on the beach, brewed the best coffee, read books, walked through the Big Sur river, found the most romantic little cabin and drove down the amazing 101 (and yes, the O.C. soundtrack was stuck in my head). I’d do it again in a heartbeat! Best places we’ve visited along the way:
∆ Big Sur Bakery (really good food, nice atmosphere, super hip and busy) – 47540 Hwy 1
∆ McWay Falls (super pretty stop in Big Sur, great views)
∆ Cannon Beach (big rocks in the ocean, hazy light, perfect Oregon beach)
∆ Santa Cruz Boardwalk (super cute little amusement park)
∆ Big Sur River (bring a chair and sit in / by the river with a beer – heaven!)
∆ Bixby Bridge (gorgeous viewpoint and 1931 built bridge along HWY1)
Camping in between cities was great, but our trip actually started in Seattle. What a great, great city! Everywhere you go you can see the mountains down the streets (I LOVE mountains) and all the people we met were so friendly. We pleasantly stayed at the beautifully designed Ace Hotel, which was in a really nice neighborhood. There’s a reduced fare parking lot 2 blocks down from the hotel so it was fairly easy to park our car, but street parking is also free until 8am. As we were severely jet-lagged we were up and about around 7am each day so chose the free street parking most of the time. We rented city bikes a couple of blocks down the street at BPA Bikes (2312 3rd Ave), they were reasonably priced and even though Seattle is pretttty steep those bikes were a joy.
Our favorite neighbourhoods were Fremont and Ballard because they were quiet and cute, like little villages attached to the big city. We did not like the busy city centre and stuck to the more quieter areas. We especially loved asking locals about their favorite spots. One night we went to get these crazy good sandwiches at a little local sandwich shop in Fremont (Paseo) and rode our bikes to the Aurora bridge to watch the sun go down and eat them by the water. So peaceful, we felt right at home here.
We had a lot of really good food here! Here are some of our favorite spots we visited. When navigating in the USA, the letter with the street name tells you at what end of the street your destination is. So 1st Ave N(orth) can be far away from 1st Ave S(outh) – or E Broad Street can be far away from W Broad Street. We’ve definitely made the mistake ‘let’s walk, it’s on the same street!’ only once ;-)
See & Sleep
∆ Ace Hotel (not expensive, great design and location) – 2423 1st Ave
∆ Space Needle (awesome view!) – 400 Broad Street
∆ EMP museum (great music museum) – 325 5th Ave N
∆ Pike Place Market (you kinda have to) – 85 Pike Street
∆ Discovery Park (insanely big and gorgeous park, hike to the beach/lighthouse) – 3801 Discovery Park Blvd
∆ Golden Gardens Beach (only ‘real’ beach in Seattle, great on sunny days) – 8498 Seaview Plaza NW
Eat & Drink
∆ Sitka and Spruce (beautiful interior, we had awesome dinner here, but $$ and make reservations) – 1531 Melrose Ave
∆ Stumptown Coffee (when in Seattle, have a lot of coffee) – 616 E Pine Street
∆ Oddfellows Cafe (we had lunch here twice because it’s so good) – 1525 10th Ave
∆ Milstead and co (great coffee) – 770 N 34th Street
∆ Il Corvo Pasta (supposedly the best pasta in town) – 217 James Street
∆ The London Plane (beautiful place for breakfast, lots of light) – 300 Occidental Ave S
∆ Walrus and Carpenter (pretty oyster bar) – 4743 Ballard Ave NW
∆ Paseo (oh my gosh best pulled pork sandwich I ever had in my life, prepare for a long line though) – 4225 Fremont Ave N
∆ Slate Coffee (real cool and good coffee bar, try the deconstructed espresso) – 5413 6th Ave NW
∆ Damn The Weather (hip cocktail bar) – 116 1st Ave S
∆ E Smith Mercantile (store and apothecary) – 208 First Avenue S
∆ Moorea Seal (cool curated store in a quiet street) – 2523 3rd Ave
∆ Les Amis (women’s clothing store) – 3420 Avenston Ave N
∆ Freeman (great man’s clothing store) – 713 Broadway E
∆ Totokaelo (real $$ but gorgeous designy store) – 1523 10th Ave
∆ Glasswing (pretty pretty pretty store) – 1525 Melrose Ave
Big Four Ice Caves
During our stay in Seattle we had a little day trip to the gorgeous Big Four Ice Caves, about an 1,5h drive up to the border. This hike was our first hike ever and we immediately fell in love. We go on walks here in NL but it’s nothing like this, there were no signs of human life as far as our eyes could see. Crazy!
After Seattle we went on another day trip to Rattlesnake Ledge. The first photo at the top of this blog post was also taken here. This was without a doubt one of the best views I’ve had so far! It was a pretty heavy hike for us newbies, about 1h going up and up and up on this narrow steap path (when you’re looking up at the mountain you’d never ever believe you would be able to walk all that) but when we finally got there we were so proud and overwhelmed. Wow! Make sure to get there early because when we went back down it got pretty busy. And bring snacks and plenty of water & snacks!
In Portland we stayed at our first AirBnB address. It was beyond any expectations. A gorgeous plant filled home with a cat called Cowbear and a dog called Donut, hosted by creative couple Emily (macrame artist) and Adam (screenprinter and designer). Their house is located in a real great neighborhood near Alberta and Mississippi street – which quickly became our favorites. And can I just say… dream kitchen! We hated leaving here!
We rented bikes again as Portland is super bike friendly. We rented ours at a place called Everybody’s Bike Rental (305 NE Wygant), real nice staff and pretty bikes. When we were in Portland, PDX Design Week was happening so there were a lot of open studios, we went to visit some of them which was real fun and inspiring. Besides that we mostly just rode around the city, hung out at ‘our’ house, had food and ice cream and did a lot of shopping.
We can highly recommend using AirBnB to book a stay with locals. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, it’s people renting out their homes, spare rooms, garden sheds, tree houses, caravans (you name it). On their website, you search for the city and area you want to stay in and all the available homes pop up. It’s a bit of a search to find a real nice place to stay but if you’re not to picky it’s easy. It adds so much more to your travels than your average boring hotel! Of course we splurged on hotels too as this was our honeymoon but I’d choose AirBnB over hotels most of the time. Visit their website HERE.
Portland has really vibrant areas, there are a lot of creative people around and there’s a really nice music scene too. There are food trucks on the streets and a lot of weird people. One thing you also need to know is that Portlanders love their breakfast. Prepare for lines. Some of our favorite places in Portland:
∆ Photo Booth at the Ace Hotel (great old school film photo booth) – 1022 SW Stark Street
∆ The Columbia River Gorge (you can’t leave without driving there, see some waterfalls and incredible views) – take the 84 east
∆ Burnside Skatepark (if you’re a Tony Hawk lover) – underneath Burnside Bridge
∆ ‘Keep Portland Weird’-mural (Portlandia must) – on the parking lot across from Voodoo Donuts, between Burnside and Ankeny
Eat & Drink
∆ Tasty ‘n Sons (best brunch of my life, I’m not kidding) – 3808 N Williams
∆ Bollywood Theater (real good Indian food in the best neighborhood in Portland) – 2039 NE Alberta Street
∆ Sweedeedee (real cute brunch place, nice atmosphere and food) – 5202 N Albina Street
∆ Pok Pok Thai (kind of weird interior but yummy thai food) – 3226 SE Division Street
∆ Canteen (breakfast, juices, salads – all organic) – 2816 SE Stark Street
∆ Por Qué No? (taco’s!!!) – 3524 N Mississippi Ave
∆ Clyde Common (slighty more chique restaurant, but good and pretty) – 1014 SW Stark Street
∆ Salt & Straw (best weird ice cream I’ve ever tasted, try strawberry balsamic vinegar with black pepper) – 838 NW 23rd Ave
∆ Stumptown (coffee) – 1022 SW Stark Street
∆ Heart Coffee (more coffee) – 2211 E Burnside Street
∆ Voodoo Donuts (hip donut place that makes your teeth unhappy, but yum!) – 1501 NE Davis Street
∆ Sip Juice Bar (juice place obviously) – 2210 NE Alberta Street
∆ Lowell (real nice store with beautiful handmade stuff, sweet owners) – 819 N Russell
∆ Beam & Anchor (bring a wallet or cry, so much good stuff) – 2710 N Interstate Ave
∆ Imogene & Willie (if you’ve ever wanted to splurge on a jeans) – 1306 W Burnside Street
∆ Tanner Goods (pretty men’s store) – 1308 W Burnside Street
∆ Pistils Nursery (plant heaven!!!) – 3811 N Mississippi
∆ Mississippi Records (awesome vinyl place) – 2210 NE Alberta Street
∆ Hand Eye Supply (design/illustrator supplies) – 23 NW 4th Ave
∆ Alder and co (beautiful store with clothing and other stuff) – 616 SW 12th Ave
∆ Poler (one of the many great outdoor stores) – 413 SW 10th Ave
After Portland we went on a day trip to Astoria, or what must be known as antique heaven. It had little antique shops in every street, my vintage loving heart was crying at the sights of all the good stuff we couldn’t take with us ;-) We had great lunch at the Commodore Hotel. Astoria is also where the Goonies was filmed so we visited the filming location (which was pretty lame) and wandered around the harbor (super nice and moody) before we drove to our first campsite.
Oh San Francisco, we had such a nice time here! We stayed at an AirBnB in the bustling Mission District, where countless taco joints meet small hipster shops. We went to see live music and wandered around the streets, visited a farmers market, learned about the history of the city and the different districts, visited Alcatraz, went to the beach, had sooo much good food and hung out with new friends. It is such a great place to be in your 20s and we have fond memories of this place. However, San Francisco is at the top of the world’s most expensive places to live in. It’s not easy to stay at a cheaper place in a great location. Right now there is a lot of gentrification and (illegal) evictions going on, an insane insane amount of homeless people in the streets (I was shocked every day), small shops having to close up because the rent is getting sky high… Please choose to shop small when you’re here to support the creative locals.
Wild SF Walking Tours
One of the best recommendations I can give you is to take a Wild SF Walking Tour. Or all of them. The guides are awesome and they give you a funny, quirky and musical tour that balances stories about social justice and the history of the districts you’ve chosen (we only did the Mission/Castro one). It’s definitely the best way to get to know the city and spend an afternoon talking to other travelers looking for an alternative way to explore San Francisco. You can secure your desired tour online, they also have a pay what you want tour so suitable for any budget. Click HERE to visit their website and learn more.
Another thing we kind of (re)discovered here is Yelp. It’s so easy to use, it basically lets you in on the best restaurants / bars / coffee places in your vicinity. It has menus, photos and reviews. Comes in handy when you’re feeling hungry and want to know what the locals think is the best place to go. Our top favorite street was Valencia street, all the great little shops and restaurants are on there.
∆ Alcatraz (make reservations, go early and take the audio tour, it was really good and impressive) – Pier 33
∆ Painted Ladies (kind of lame, but bring food and drinks to have lunch in the park across from them) – Alamo Square
∆ #thatSFtree (Instagram famous tree, gorgeous view and nice little hike) – on top of Mount Davidson
∆ Outer Sunset beach (quiet spot to watch the sun go down from and dip your toes in the ocean) – Great Hwy/Fulton St
∆ Mission Murals (there are a lot of great and interesting murals in the Mission District) – More info on google
Eat & Drink
∆ Outerlands (real nice restaurant with amazing food in Outer Sunset) – 433 Mason Street
∆ Trouble Coffee (nice coffee bar in Outer Sunset) – 4033 Judah St
∆ Tartine Bakery (best bread and amazing pastries) – 600 Guerrere Street
∆ Bar Tartine (restaurant by the same owners as bakery) – 562 Valencia Street
∆ Tacolicious (really loud but nice American style taco’s) – 741 Valencia Street
∆ The Mill (beautiful breakfast spot, serves insanely good toast) – 736 Divisadero Street
∆ Four Barrel Coffee (hip coffee spot) – 375 Valencia Street
∆ Sightglass Coffee (another one) – 270 7th Street
∆ Dynamo Donuts (donuts, obviously) – 2760 24th Street
∆ Bi-Rite Creamery (reallll good ice cream) – 3692 18th Street
∆ Dante’s Weird Fish (not sure if they’re still in business, but amazing fish & chips) – 2193 Mission Street
∆ Taqueria Cancún (may be the best taco spot in town) – 2288 Mission Street
∆ Pakwan (crazy good Indian/Pakistani food, ohhh I want it now) – 3180-82 16th St
∆ General Store (‘I want to have it all’-store in Outer Sunset with the best garden) – 4035 Judah Street
∆ No (vintage shop) – 389 Valencia Street
∆ Paxton Gate (gardening, taxidermy, antique and vintage furniture, jewelry, books, etc) – 824 Valencia Street
∆ Virachoca (pretty store by day, basement turns into venue by night) – 998 Valencia Street
∆ Heath Ceramics (gorgeous earthy ceramics and coffee) – 2900 18th St
After camping for 5 days we arrived at Ojai (sounds like oh, hi ;-)) Ojai is a beautiful town in a valley just outside Los Angeles, it’s like the town people move to if they want to get a dog and a garden and some quiet time instead of the city rush. It has cute quirky shops, sweet and relaxed people, nice food, beautiful vineyards, avocado’s and citrus trees grow on the side of the roads… We stayed at the Rancho Inn, a real cool place that knows how to do styling right. It wasn’t very busy when we were there and the swimming pool was already closed but I bet they have amazing summer soirées. Boy, were we glad to have a decent hot shower and a super soft bed to sleep on for a night! We had a great 1,5 days here and I’d go back there in a heartbeat.
Sleep & See
∆ Ojai Rancho Inn (such a pretty place and softest beds) – 615 W Ojai Ave
∆ Meditation Mount (so quiet, perfect place to watch the sun set over the valley) – 10340 Reeves Road
Eat & Drink
∆ Chief’s Peak (cutest bar on the rancho inn’s parking lot) – 615 W Ojai Ave
∆ Coffee Connection (local great coffee bar) – 928 E. Ojai Ave
∆ Hip Vegan (reallll yummy vegan food) – 928 E Ojai Ave
∆ Farmer & Cook (great lunch place) – 339 West El Roblar Drive
∆ Shop Summer Camp (perfect lifestyle store located in an old gas station, sweet owners) – 1020 W Ojai Ave
∆ Bart’s Book Shop (this place is a dream… open air bookstore (!) I could stay for hours) – 302 W Matlija Street
After Ojai we drove off into the desert and arrived at Palm Springs. A town filled with great architecture / condo’s, golf courses, palm trees, cacti… Your view is a mountain range that’s crazy steep and beautiful, you can get up there with a cable car if you like. The afternoon light is insanely good. This town is also supposed to have great vintage shops but we didn’t get to see those because we almost never left our hotel. I did get my dream date though: horseback riding through the desert together. We visited Smoke Tree Ranch, they have walk in times for group rides. We went for 2 hours at 8am, there was nobody else there so we got a private ride. Per-fect! Their horses are really well trained, we got to wear cowboy hats and our guide was nice.
We stayed at the Ace Hotel again, this one is such a hipster’s paradise. It has the most perfect pool area and I’d come here again just to sit by that pool all day. The restaurant is pretty good too, a little too expensive if you ask me but hey, we were splurging anyway. There’s also another old school photo booth, beautiful rooms that include vinyl players and huge showers, the interior design is on point, there’s free bike rental, a spa, bingo nights and lots of photogenic corners. We actually got a free upgrade here – oh my this was so good. Think room service breakfast on our private patio with the fireplace on.
After Palm Springs we drove to Joshua Tree. I can honestly say this was the most special place we’ve both experienced. We rented a basic desert cabin from the lovely couple behind JT HOMESTEADERS and it was a dream. It was so quiet it hurt our ears, we were able to cook our own food again, we watched the sun rise from our bed, looked at the moon and stars through binoculars, slept in a hammock on the porch, showered outside, used a compost toilet and enjoyed endless views. You hear coyotes howl at night and sometimes rabbits hop by. It was so so so peaceful and beautiful.
One our way here we visited a little western town called Pioneer Town, you can only enter by foot or on horseback and it looks like a western movie. So cool! It’s closed on Wednesday’s and Thursday’s but the restaurant Pappy & Harriet’s (53688 Pioneertown Rd) is supposed to be a lot of fun. We also shopped for some great vintage clothing at Hoof and the Horn in Yucca Valley (55840 29 Palms Hwy).
Joshua Tree National Park
The national park is amazing, it has the craziest big rock formations as far as your eyes can see. When you’re from a country as flat as the Netherlands, this is the greatest thing! Upon entering the (enormous) park, you pay a small fee, receive a map and you’re good to go. We decided to hike Hidden Valley which was nice and short, but Skull Rock is supposed to be great too.
When we arrived in LA we were getting a little tired from all the traveling around and we decided to take it slow. Los Angeles is huge, like nothing you can imagine. It’s overwhelming, especially after the peace and quiet of Joshua Tree. It’s convenient to plan your day and the spots you want to visit close to each other so you won’t have to drive around all the time. Try to not drive between 6am-10am and 4pm-7pm, because you’ll be stuck in terrible traffic the entire way. Our AirBnb was located in the creative part of Downtown which is a really nice area to stay in. We did get to do some cool stuff but I must admit we also got take out pizza and stayed in our room one night because we were so tired of going out all the time ;-)
LA has some pretty cool amusement parks. We went to the Santa Monica Pier, got on the tiny roller coaster and had fish and chips, just because it felt like a movie date-thing to do. We visited Universal Studios which was awesome (but expensive). It was great to ride around the actual studio lots, get in all the rides and watch live shows. Harry Potter World will open in 2016 and I was pretty bummed it wasn’t there yet ;-) And then there’s Disneyland, too!
These were some of our favorite places in and around LA:
∆ Museum of Jurassic Technology (beautiful, dark, quirky museum, go there!) – 9341 Venice Blvd
∆ Griffith Observatory (hands down best place to watch the sunset, parking is hard though) – 2800 E Observatory Road
∆ Vineland Drive-In (this was like in the movies, around $9 for two movies and they sell buttered popcorn) – 443 N Vineland Ave
∆ Los Angeles Zoo (beautiful and quiet little zoo, nice walk and cool animals) – 5333 Zoo Drive
∆ Mulholland Drive (we didn’t do this but it’s supposed to be beautiful) – from the 405 to the 101
∆ Upstairs Bar (hippest cocktail bar on the rooftop of the Ace Hotel, great views) – 933 S Broadway
Eat & Drink
∆ Bar Ama (great tex-mex food, pretty venue) – 118 W 4th Street
∆ Moonjuice (hip, experimental and pretty juice bar) – 507 Rose Ave
∆ Sugarfish (great sushi in DTLA) – 600 W 7th Street
∆ Wurstküche (awesome wurst place) – 800 E 3rd Street
∆ Handsome Coffee Roasters (beautiful coffee spot) – 582 Mateo Street
∆ Pie Hole (best pie of my life) – 714 Traction Ave
∆ Pizzanista (biggest pizza of my life) – 2019 E 7th Street
∆ Blue Bottle Coffee (great coffee place, we got our caffeine fix here every morning) – 582 Mateo Street
∆ Zinc Cafe (good lunch or brunch) – 580 Mateo Street
∆ Intelligentsia Coffee (good coffee place to spot celebrities) – 3922 W Sunset Blvd
∆ Otherwild (sadly closed when we were there but beautiful stuff) – 1932 Echo Park Ave
∆ Poketo (great gift shop) – 820 E 3rd Street
∆ Fingerprints Records (we didn’t get to visit but supposed to be great) – 420 4th Street, Long Beach
I feel so incredibly blessed that I’ve got to experience this trip alongside the one I love and it truly was a life changing thing. We’ve never been so far away from home before and the travel bug definitely got to us. We’re dreaming about returning here already. If there’s anything else you’d like to know about traveling the USA or our trip, just ask me in the comments and I’ll try to reply to you. Thank you for reading! X