We didn’t realise we were driving the epic Pacific Coast Highway 101 road trip, from Seattle to Los Angeles. After a while of being the trip, we realised we were going to be driving Highway 101 the entire way.
We’d originally planned to take a trip along the entire West Coast of America, not realising until we saw the same sign every day – Highway 101 Southbound!
Pacific Highway 101 winds around incredible national parks, through giant redwoods, next to scenic coastline, past towns and villages, not to mention across three states on the West coast of America.
It was definitely the ultimate USA Road trip with kids. We did it over a period of nearly a month in an SUV from Rental Cars and switched to a camper van half way through.
We picked up a car from Seattle and dropped it off in San Francisco before doing the last leg in a camper.
It cost us around 45 USD to fill the tank and it generally lasted around three days.
We could pay tolls ourselves online or we got billed at the end by the rental company.
I personally didn’t want to drive, I am not as confident as my husband with driving on the other side of the road.
However hubby took to it like a duck to water. He has been driving a lot longer than me! Here is our summary of what we got up to on the ultimate Pacific Coast Highway 101 road trip itinerary.
Looking for more road trip inspiration? Check out Our Favorite Road Trips Around the World!
PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY 101 ROAD TRIP
Highway 101 Washington to California
We arrived into Seattle on the Amtrak train from Canada and collected our car straight away and began to look at the Highway 101 Washington map.
It was a little bit of a mission on the train with all of our stuff so we were happy to be loading up into a boot again.
Whilst on Highway 101 North, in Seattle, we stayed on the outskirts of the city and visited some cool places such as the Museum of Flight and an awesome view point of Seattle skyline from the western shore.
We also visited downtown, Pike Market and the waterfront, both are ‘must see’ places in Seattle. We didn’t have time, but there are also some great day trips from Seattle. Read a more in depth guide to the best things to do in Seattle with kids here.
Union & Olympic National Park
Next stop on our trip and our first proper encounter with Highway 101 was on route to Union. A beautiful little town based on the banks of a fjord just twenty minutes from Olympic National Park.
We visited the area predominantly to see the park and hike some trails but we ended up loving Union so much it was hard to leave.
The fjord was full of life and had some incredible sunsets. We stayed at the cutest little cottage that had a private pontoon on the water.
The drive to Olympic National Park from Union is breathtaking and I would say don’t leave it off your Highway 101 road trip planner.
A beautiful lake with soaring pine trees and rolling mountains made for some great shots.
We loved the staircase hiking trail. It was nice and easy with the kids and featured a suspension bridge and the perfect river to swim in. We also saw lots of fresh bear poop, although we didn’t see one. There are so many things to see on Highway 101.
Pacific Coast Highway 101 Oregon Road Trip
After our short time on Highway 101 Washington State, our first stop in Oregon was Portland. This cool city with eco vibes, lots of parkland and many cycling routes took us by surprise. It houses, hands down, the best museum we have ever been to with little ones.
Our daughter loved Portland’s Children’s Museum, it’s definitely worth a visit. It teaches kids about every day roles in society in such a clever and playful way. Other highlights include renting a Surrey to ride around the waterfront, taking an aerial tram and visiting nearby waterfalls.
Lincoln Bay was our second stop on the incredible Oregon coast US Highway 101. This was one of my favourite parts on West Coast Highway 101, because the road runs so close to the ocean.
The drive is so scenic along the way. We stayed in a really reasonable beachfront room. It was basic but so worth it for the views.
Just a little further along the coast is Depoe Bay. It’s famous for a pod of grey whales that have made the area their home. It was so awesome to have the chance to see them.
The whale watching centre have binoculars or it’s a good place to take a boat tour.
On our way to Bandon we also stopped off in Florence to see the Sea Lion Caves. Although we didn’t get an up close look at the sea lions, the cave was quite impressive. It’s the largest sea cave in the world and there is an elevator that takes tourists into it.
Next stop on the Oregon coast was the beautiful Bandon, most certainly the Highway 101 scenic drive. Its named after a coastal town in the south of Ireland.
Being Irish, I could see the resemblance between the two! Bandon Town was also very cute with a number of restaurants, cafes and bars. It had an Irish feel to it, it really felt like home, which was nice.
The coast has dramatic rock formations just off the beach. It made the horizon unique from other scenic views along Highway 101. We had a walk along the beach at sunset, it was incredible.
Highway 101 California Road Trip
Halfway through the California portion of the road trip we switched to a Jucy Camper van rental. California can be an expensive destination and renting a camper van in California provided us a lot of freedom and helped us keep to our budget.
Redwood National Park
It wasn’t long before we got to experience the highway 101 attractions, California State where we spent most of our time. Our first stop was in the Redwoods National Park. It’s one of the best places to visit along Highway 101.
We were booked to stay in Elk Meadow Cabins, Redwoods State. I hadn’t thought much of the name until we turned up to find dozens of elks hanging around our cabin.
It was so special and meant we spent the day admiring them rather than getting out and exploring. There really is so much to do off Highway 101 Northern California!
We had the cutest little two bedroom cabin, fully equipped with a kitchen and two bathrooms. We also had a patio with a BBQ where we made dinner whilst watching the herd.
It was a great location to see the Redwood National Park and there are plenty of easy trails nearby for families.
I was blown away by the redwoods. We felt dwarfed as we drove past and it was another spectacular scenic drive on Highway 101! There are some short detours off the highway that really get amongst the forest, it’s totally worth it if the kids can hack the windy road.
We stayed at Redwoods River Resort. They are rustic cabins with log burners. Each are themed differently. We stayed in ‘Wolf’. Just about everything had a wolf on it from the wallpaper to the coffee cups.
The little cabins had a BBQ and an outdoor kitchen in this stunning state park location.
It’s the best place to stay for nature lovers. We roasted marshmallows in the evening after our hikes in the local area and our little one played in the massive onsite playground.
There was a big swimming pool too. We arrived mid-week but I can imagine its a popular place on the weekend with families.
There are some funny things to do nearby, like the drive-thru tree and confusion hill.
Mendochino was so different from Leggett and Redwoods. Based on the Californian coast, this very charming, pretty little town was quaint is and one of the stunning highway 101 attractions .
There were lots of cafes, restaurants and boutique shops. The wooden fronts of all the buildings were painted in pastille colours with a backdrop of aqua blue coastline.
There are some beautiful trails around the Mendochino cliffs and a nice beach near the town that is ideal for kids. We stayed at Little River Inn just ten minutes outside the town.
It had a classic Victorian feel to it and had stunning views from all most of the rooms. We had a big deck where we spent our evening sipping on local Californian red wine when the kids were tucked into bed.
San Francisco blew my mind, most people say it’s the best place to stay along Highway 101! I’ve only been to two or three places (out of 88 countries) where I left thinking that I could live there.
It was a pretty impressive entry to the city crossing the Golden Gate Bridge early morning. The cloud was low and we could only see some of the bridge but it made it quite picturesque.
There is plenty to do in San Francisco from the beaches to the waterfront and parks, it’s quite an outdoorsy city. If you are spending some time exploring it might be worth investing in a city pass. They include hop on hop off tours, bike tours and bike rentals and entry to most the sites. You can check out prices here.
We spent some time on Pier 39 looking at the hundreds of sea lions. Man they stink! We also had a look around some of the boutique stores in the area.
We had a photo shoot on Crissy Beach which is an awesome spot to get a good view of Golden Gate. It was only a few minutes drive from Hotel Zephyr where we were staying.
It’s a funky building predominantly made out of recycled materials. Featuring a van cafe, giant ‘connect four’ and a fire pit in the garden, it’s the best chill out spot after a busy day of site seeing. You can check rates and availability here.
We had been staying in self-catering places up until San Francisco, so we really missed having a kitchen. The best thing as a young family on a road trip in California is vacation rentals.
It makes life so much easier with the kids. Not to mention having our respective rooms so we don’t have lights out at 7pm for everyone.
If you are doing it in an RV, checkout the Santa Cruz area! We wanted to visit Burns State Park but the road was shut at the time due to a landslide on the west coast road.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is not typically one of the places to visit on highway 101 coast road trip, it’s a bit of a drive inland, but worth it if you have the time. Yosemite has been high up on my travel agenda for some time.
Whether you drive through for a day, or stay in a campground – the Yosemite Glacier Point is most impressive.
I also loved the Yosemite Falls but its very busy over the weekend and best visited early morning during the week. The sheer rock face of Half Dome is jaw dropping.
It’s such a pretty drive but also long and needs to be planned well. Especially as weather can change easily in the park. We stayed at a campground inside which helped us to see lots more and keep drive times down for the kids.
After an amazing few days inland at Yosemite, we were ready to head back to the Californian coast and get back on our Highway 101 trip. We left on a whim not really sure where we were heading.
So many of our followers suggested Monterey as another one of the Highway 101 sights so we decided to go. If you are an ocean lover the beaches are some of the best places to stop on Highway 101. There are also amazing whale watching opportunities in Monterey.
The Aquarium seemed to be a big hit with most so we brought the kids. They loved it! Even the 4 month old was stimulated by the surroundings.They have an ingenuous kids area, tidal pools and some incredible species. It was expensive but totally worth it.
Just after Santa Barbara, Carpinteria is another cute coastal Californian town, a little similar to Mendochino. They had a farmers markets going on, lots of independent shops and a camp site with beachfront views.
There were hundreds of dolphins in the water swimming past where we had parked up on the state beach campsite. We just spent one night, but it was really relaxing place to respite from traveling Highway 101.
If you are looking for one more town that comes recommended in California, San Luis Obispo is a place many suggested just off the highway road.
Our last and final stop was in LA. There are loads of things to do so be sure to check out this list of some of the best family days out in Los Angeles. We stayed in downtown Hollywood at the Hilton Gardens Inn. We were predominantly relaxing after a busy few weeks of driving but we did manage to see Hollywood Boulevard and the views of the city from the heights.
I found it quite full on after being out in the wilderness for a while. It’s quite a crazy place in a good kind of way. If you plan on spending time in LA seeing the sites, it can be expensive so we highly recommend investing in a city pass – you can check out what the city pass includes here. You can also pick up theme park tickets here.
Some people continue onto San Diego to complete Hwy 101 in its entirety. We ran out of time before needing to move onto our next destination!
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I love to hear your thoughts, leave a comment and I will get back to you.
Disclaimer: We worked in partnership with a number of clients throughout this trip. In particular Visit California and RentalCars.com. As always all views expressed our entirely our own and have not been influenced in any way.