Travelling down the West Coast of the US

West Coast US
A look at some of the sights you might see on the West Coast.

You’ve finally decided to do it: see all of the great cities and beautiful landscapes along the West Coast of the US. You’ll travel by auto from rainy Seattle, Washington, the birthplace of grunge, to hot and sunny San Diego in southern California. You could take Interstate 5 all the way down; that’s the fastest route. However, the best way to see the west coast is to take Highway 101 and Highway 1 along the coast. Leave time for sightseeing, plan plenty of side trips, and avoid scheduling your holiday during the winter if you plan to camp or hike in Washington and Oregon.

The adventure starts as soon as you touch down at the Seattle–Tacoma International Airport.

Washington has the city of Seattle, forests and mountains. Start by spending time in the city. You’ll find delicious locally brewed beer and good food in the pubs. Be sure to catch a gig; Seattle is known for its live music scene, and for good reason. The Space Needle is fun, if touristy, and the Pike Place Market in the city centre may be the longest-operating farmer’s market in the US.

West Coast Portland Weird
Find out why “Keep Portland Weird” is a popular West Coast catchphrase.

The Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains are to the east, and they are absolutely stunning. The best way to experience Washington’s coast is to take Highway 101, which begins in Olympia, south of Seattle, toward the north. It may seem like backtracking, but it is well worth the small amount of extra time it takes. Highway 101 loops around the Olympic peninsula and through a series of stunning forest parks and small towns. Take it all the way to Oregon.

Like Washington, Oregon is mountainous and forested. And a highlight of any visit to the West Coast. It has a single large city, Portland, which is well worth the trip away from the coast. Portland is a centre for laid-back urbanists, and it has a sophisticated and relaxed culture. Be sure to visit the city centre, the old town and the Pearl District. After exploring Portland, go back to enjoying the Pacific Coast along Highway 101. If you love camping and hiking, then don’t miss Oregon’s enormous national forests. The 101 will take you straight through the Redwoods National Park, where you can see some of the most majestic trees in the world.

West Coast US
It’s good to be a seal in La Jolla, Calif..

Northern California has the state’s wine growing regions and the city of San Francisco. The Napa and Sonoma Valleys are just to the north of San Francisco, and the tours and tastings are unmissable for wine lovers. San Francisco is famous for its huge and lively Chinatown, for its food and for its fun, liberal, Bohemian culture. Yosemite National Park is to the west of San Francisco and is worth a visit, if you have time.

Transfer to Highway 1 south of San Francisco so that you won’t miss Big Sur and the rest of the magnificent California coastline on the way down to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, explore Santa Monica and the Hollywood Hills by car. Go on a studio tour, shop the designer boutiques in Beverly Hills or explore the city’s many ethnic neighbourhoods.

Finally, drive the rest of the way down the West Coast to San Diego, on the Mexican border. Visit the famous San Diego Zoo. Enjoy the fantastic Mexican-style food, and don’t forget to spend some time on the beach.

It’s advisable to arrange services such as Avis car rental in the US prior to travelling. Having a car will give you the freedom to choose to stay in a city, in a scenic and out-of-the-way town or in the wilderness. You’ll be able to plan your routes according to the weather, and you’ll have an opportunity to get off the beaten track.

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Los Angeles is Perfect for Alternative Thanksgiving

Have a mammoth time at La Brea Tar Pits. (Wikimedia Commons)

There’s nothing fun about sitting around with a belly distended and sore from overindulging on turkey, mashed potatoes and the other traditional Thanksgiving food. It’s a ritual that I’ve grown to like less every year. A few years ago, I stumbled on a great "alternative Thanksgiving" idea:

Go to Los Angeles.

My wife wanted to visit her sister, who was attending Cal Arts in the Los Angeles area. We arrived to find the city virtually abandoned. I guess all the transplants who moved to the area seeking fame and fortune fled back to their ancestral homes for turkey and stuffing.

The infamous LA traffic? Virtually non-existent. Long lines? Nope, none of those either.

That makes Thanksgiving weekend the perfect time to explore LA. And you won’t even have to do dishes.

So what’s there to do? Plenty, even beyond the beach and the theme parks. Despite the holiday, you’ll find plenty of open businesses, restaurants and attractions. Here are a few off-beat ideas to get you started: Continue reading


5 Things to Do in 48 Hours – San Diego Edition

There’s no shortage of stuff to do in Southern California. Any visit will keep you occupied. But there’s more to San Diego than a zoo and Sea World. I didn’t get too far off the beaten path on my recent visit, but I dug up a few fun things with a minimum of repetition from previous trips. You can even think about skipping the hotels and just camping in San Diego – for real! Give these options a shot, and you’ll have some genuine fun.

IMGP4536Visit the Port Brewing/Lost Abbey Tasting Room – If you’re used to the mass-produced, watered-down swill that we often call “beer,” the offerings from Port Brewing/Lost Abbey tasting room will set you on the right path. All these beverages pack serious and distinctive tastes. The Port selections are more American-style, with big, hoppy India Pale Ales taking center stage. The Lost Abbey lineup features Belgian-style ales. The best way to get started is with a flight – one flight will set you back $4-$7, depending on the staff’s mood, I guess. Either way, you’ll get a super taste of craft brew goodness. Pick up a shirt while you’re there! Oh, and try the Angel’s Share even if it’s not on tap. It’s nothing less than spectacular. If you’re not already indoctrinated, it will change everything you thought you knew about beer.

Go to the San Diego Wildlife Park – Admission to the San Diego Wildlife Park is $37, which is steep. But it’s also a bit outside the San Diego proper hurly-burly, and the drive is a big part of the appeal. It’s a good way to do some walking, too. That said, the animal selection is a bit skimpy. I’m a bit put out that there’s not a single wallaby or kangaroo there.

My new friend at the Lost Abbey tasting room.
My new friend at the Lost Abbey tasting room.

And it seems like everything is an attempt to get you to drop even more cash – I really resented the $9 parking, though I got a giggle at the goofiness of Segway tours. But they have some cool exhibits, and you can easily take an entire day there. Bring your own snacks, though!

Tour the USS Midway – Aircraft carriers are fun, especially when they’re right in the middle of everything. The Midway is right near the Gaslamp District and Seaport Village, and very close to the trolley stop. General admission is $17, a pretty good bargain to see a historic ship and gawk at some awesome aircraft. Watch Top Gun beforehand and be sure to wear your Ray-Bans. That’s right, Iceman … I am dangerous!

Check out the Gaslamp District – The Gaslamp is a great place to do a little shopping and grab some food. It’s got a pretty agreeable blend of chains (my crew is a big fan of the Puma store) and independent businesses. It’s lively eventhe night after Christmas. I was especially impressed with a store called Hatworks, where the friendly staff set me up with a hat I wish I’d had in Australia and New Zealand. Should be perfect for Iceland!

Birds and beach scenery.

Stroll around La Jolla – Yeah, it’s hoity-toity and just slightly snooty (okay, more than slightly). But it’s also really pretty. And you can get some great photos of beach scenery and seals. And who doesn’t like seals, aside from those baby seal clubbers? Don’t be like them – go be nice to the seals (which means staying away and letting them do their thing while you take photos). If you work up an appetite, you’ll have no shortage of choices. I particularly liked Little Korea.