6 Scenic Stops on a Seattle to Los Angeles Road Trip

seattle to los angeles road trip
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I love exploring Seattle, but it’s also a great jumping-off point for a number of road trips. While there are many short ones around the area, one of my favorites is doing a Seattle to Los Angeles road trip. It takes you all the way through Washington and Oregon and lets you see some of the best parts of the western areas of those states, including the ocean and national parks.

There are so many different places you can stop as you make your way down to California, and since I’ve done this drive several times, I thought I’d put together some of my favorite stops to make it easier for you. While I have a sample Seattle to Los Angeles itinerary for six days to fully allow you to appreciate all these places, you can easily cut that in half and just pick the top places you’re interested in.

With that, let’s get into planning your fun road trip! In addition to suggested cities to stop at, I give you specific attractions to see, restaurants to stop at, and even recommended hotels so you can plan this quickly and focus on the trip instead.

Quick Tips for a Seattle to Los Angeles Drive

downtown seattle

Before we get into the details of an exciting six-day road trip from Seattle to Los Angeles, here are answers to some questions you may have and a few tips to help make your road trip a success.

Thinking of heading in the other direction? Here are 11 stops to try on a Seattle to Banff road trip.

How Long is the Drive from Seattle to Los Angeles?

The drive from Seattle to Los Angeles is approximately 1,135 miles via Interstate 5. This is the most direct route, but you can take several detours along the way. if you want to. It can take anywhere from 17 to 20 hours to drive it in one go.

Travel time is a little harder to calculate, as it really does depend on how fast you drive and whether you want to rush to get there; plus, there are traffic, weather, and road conditions to consider.

Traveling to Big Sur next? Check out these 15 incredible stops on a Los Angeles to Big Sur road trip.

How Far is Los Angeles from Seattle?

The straight-line distance between Los Angeles and Seattle is approximately 1,000 miles. However, the road distance, as mentioned, is roughly 1,135 miles.

At least, that’s if you choose to take the most commonly traveled highway route. You could take endless detours that would greatly expand that distance.

When is the Best Time to Travel From Seattle to Los Angeles?

There’s no bad time to go on the drive to Los Angeles from Seattle, but some seasons will be easier than others. I’ve been in both the summer and fall, and I loved both of them for different reasons.

However, fall (September to November) is the best time to travel, in my opinion. Seattle doesn’t have too much rain yet, and you get some beautiful, warm fall days. It also won’t be as crowded as in the summer, so you won’t be fighting for parking spots. Fall also has its fair share of fans for scenery along the road.

Another good time to travel from Seattle to Los Angeles is spring, and I base that on a few factors. For example, it’s slightly cooler, the prices are lower than in summer, and spring does bring some extra flora to the scenery.

If your mood depends on the weather conditions, consider that summer (June to August) is the peak tourist season, with warm and dry weather. In fact, summer months are generally the driest. On the downside, it can be crowded, and prices for accommodation at many of the stops may be higher.

Winter (December to February) and early spring (March to May) typically see fewer tourists and holidaymakers, so attractions may be more affordable. Also, the roads may be slightly less jammed, with fewer people traveling.

So, in general, summer might be ideal if you don’t mind crowds. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option with fewer tourists, consider the off-peak seasons.

How Many Days Is Enough to Spend on a Road Trip to Los Angeles From Seattle?

One week on the road from Seattle to Los Angeles is a good amount of time. You could really stop anywhere along the highway and extend a road trip to literally weeks. Assuming you don’t live the totally carefree lifestyle of a 1960s beatnik, you can do a decent job of it in six to seven days.

Seattle to Los Angeles Road Trip Map

7 Stops Along the Seattle to Los Angeles Road Trip

downtown seattle pike place

It’s a great idea to take some time to properly plan your route and stops based on your interests and the amount of time you have for the road trip. Keep in mind that road conditions, weather, and other factors may influence your travel plans, so check for any updates regularly while you’re on the road.

Here’s my list of the best places to stop between Los Angeles and Seattle so that you can pick out your favorites.

1. Portland, Oregon

Portland

Portland is often referred to as the “City of Roses” because it happens to have an ideal climate for growing roses. The International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park features over 10,000 rose bushes and is a popular attraction for visitors. If you love flowers and roses, this would be a fabulous stop for you.

There is another pop-up that Portland is known for, which is food trucks. There are literally hundreds of food carts offering diverse and delicious cuisine throughout the city. This contributes to Portland’s reputation as one of the best cities in the world for street food.

As an aside, if you’re only going as far as Portland, here’s a different road trip to plan between Seattle and Portland.

While you’re here, find a food truck or two and try something from the menu. Visit the International Rose Test Garden and stroll along the Willamette River. For a real thrill, consider doing the Haunted Underground Shanghai Tunnel Tour. You may see Nina the Ghost, especially after a few tastings from the nearby breweries, which are part of the tour.

For something sweet and tasty, try a treat from Voodoo Doughnut, famous for its unusual and sometimes outrageous doughnut flavors. Pok Pok offers authentic Northern Thai street food. Here’s a hot tip: Try the Fish Sauce Wings or the Khao Soi.

2. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Columbia River Gorge

The visually stunning Columbia River Gorge was designated as a National Scenic Area in 1986. It was, in fact, one of the first areas in the United States to receive this designation. The gorge is known for towering cliffs, lush forests, and numerous waterfalls in the area.

The diverse landscapes make it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, offering hiking, windsurfing, and bird-watching opportunities. While this may be a little out of the way, I highly recommend it if you have the time, as it’s one of my favorite areas in Oregon.

You’ll also want to stop at Multnomah Falls, one of the most famous waterfalls in the region. It has the special distinction of being the second-highest year-round waterfall in the United States. It plunges a total of 620 feet, with an upper fall of 542 feet and a lower fall of 69 feet.

Multnomah Falls Lodge Restaurant offers standard family meals with a breathtaking view of the falls. Salmon is a favorite in the region, so be sure to try something involving that delicious ingredient.

You should also stop by the Thunder Island Brewing Company for a taste of local beer.

3. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

This is a famous lake because it is the deepest lake in the United States, reaching a depth of approximately 1,943 feet. More than that, Crater Lake has exceptionally clear and pure water, and it may well be the purest lake in North America due to the absence of rivers flowing into or out of the lake, preventing the accumulation of pollutants.

I took my kids here for the first time a few years ago, and they absolutely loved it. It’s a fun idea to visit Wizard Island, which sits in the middle of the lake, which you can visit via a boat tour. My boys loved talking about all the things they thought lived on this island (mainly a bunch of wizards).

Alternatively, if you’re up to a little extra driving, do the Rim Drive, a scenic 33-mile road that circles Crater Lake. It offers numerous overlooks and pullouts for visitors to enjoy the scenery. You could have a lovely roadside picnic in the afternoon if you like.

Looking for something to eat in a special location? The Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room has views of Crater Lake; reservations are recommended. I also highly recommend staying at the lodge, as it’s the only hotel with a view of the lake and such a relaxing way to wake up. We don’t usually stay right in national parks, but this was one of the few that I knew was worth it.

4. Redwood National and State Parks, California

Redwood National and State Parks (California)

Redwood National and State Parks, located in northern California, are home to some of the tallest trees on Earth. You cannot possibly be in this part of the world without taking some time to marvel at one of nature’s miracles on your Seattle to Los Angeles road trip.

Some of these giant Sequoia sempervirens (or Redwoods for short) specimens can reach heights of over 370 feet. Redwood National and State Parks are UNESCO World Heritage Site

It’s almost a life-changing experience to witness the awe-inspiring giant redwood trees in these protected areas. If you are in the area at night, consider staying out to watch the skies. Parts of the park are assigned Dark Sky Places, making it an excellent location for stargazing. The absence of light pollution enhances the visibility of the night sky.

Head to Crescent City for excellent sushi at Tomo Japanese Restaurant. Alternatively, the Restaurant at the Benbow Historic Inn is a high-end fine dining experience in a historic setting.

5. San Francisco, California

San Francisco

The city of San Francisco is a major hub for technology and innovation, with Silicon Valley located just south of the city. This is the home of many global tech companies and startups, contributing to its reputation as a global tech center. I’ve had so many long layovers here over the years that I know the city pretty well at this point.

There are several major landmarks in San Francisco that are famous within themselves, like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and Fisherman’s Wharf. If you have time, I recommend that you visit all of them. Alternatively, you can do a Big Bus San Francisco Hop-on Hop-off Open Top Tour.

Looking for something to eat? Head down to the Mission District and sample the brunch wares at Tartine Bakery. Upscale Vietnamese cuisine awaits you at the Ferry Building’s Slanted Door. For dessert, Bi-Rite Creamery is a popular ice cream shop with artisanal flavors in the Mission District.

There are so many great road trips that leave from here, including a Sequoia National Park road trip from San Francisco, a San Francisco to Yosemite National Park drive, a San Francisco to Las Vegas drive, and a San Francisco to San Diego road trip.

6. Big Sur 

Big Sur is mostly known for its dramatic coastal landscapes, towering cliffs, rugged mountains, and panoramic ocean views. The Bixby Creek Bridge is a famous landmark here and happens to be one of the most photographed bridges in California.

A large portion of Big Sur is located within the Los Padres National Forest. This lends it the additional appeal of a diverse range of ecosystems, from redwood forests to chaparral-covered hillsides.

A drive along the coastal cliffs of Big Sur is quite breathtaking. You could visit one of the oldest lighthouses on the West Coast, Point Sur Lighthouse, while you’re here. If you have the energy, try an Old Coast Road eBike tour, which takes you partly through the middle of a 7,100-acre cattle ranch. Watch out for cows!

Food time? Grab a burger or a steak on the cliffs at Nepenthe (it’s the most scenic place you can eat, in my opinion – I didn’t want to leave!), or dine by the river at Big Sur River Inn Restaurant.

Need more? You’ll love continuing on for a Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe road trip or a Los Angeles to Yosemite road trip.

Seattle to Los Angeles Road Trip: 6-Day Road Trip

Los Angeles Road Trip

Kick off your exciting road trip early in the morning, partly to get out of the city and onto the road quickly. The stages you will need to drive are relatively long, so prepare to spend at least half of each day cruising the highway.

Day 1: Seattle to Portland

Driving time/distance: 2.5 hours (174.1 mi) via I-5 S 

Get on the road and take in your first breaths of the Great American Pacific Northwest.

This part of the world is all lush evergreen forests and panoramic views of Puget Sound. Take the I-5 South, and as you go along, you’ll discover charming towns like Olympia and Centralia. Slow down as you pass by, and try to catch a glimpse of local life.

The road seems to stagger between urban and rural as larger towns like Tacoma disappear and the shape of Mount St. Helens begins to fill the horizon. Cruise along the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon. Eventually, Portland’s eclectic personality will welcome you with its artisanal culture, food scene, and iconic bridges.

Side fact: Here’s a fascinating bit of history to take in as you enter Portland. In the 19th century, city founders Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove both wanted to name the new settlement after their respective hometowns of Boston and Portland. After failing to agree, they decided to leave it up to a coin toss (Pettygrove won).

Where to Stay: Lolo Pass in Portland is conveniently located around one mile from the Oregon Convention Center and 1.5 miles from the Lan Su Chinese Garden. It has a shared kitchen, a business center, and personalized tour services on offer from the main desk. Rates start at $110 per night 

Day 2: Portland to Crater Lake National Park (Fort Klamath)

Driving time/distance: 4.5 hours (269.1 mi) via I-5 S and OR-58

Prepare to experience some extraordinary natural wonders as you leave Portland and head to the pristine beauty of Crater Lake National Park. Specifically, you’ll be making camp, so to speak, at Fort Klamath.

Heading out of the city, the road pushes through Oregon’s diverse landscapes, transitioning from urban charm to lush forests. En route, you’ll catch your first sight of the gorgeous Columbia River Gorge.

As you approach Crater Lake, your anticipation builds for when the sapphire-blue expanse of Crater Lake reveals itself. Fort Klamath, nestled near the park, offers a tranquil retreat in this context.

Side fact: Something to keep in mind… Native American Klamath tribes consider the lake sacred and have tribal stories surrounding its formation. One legend involves a battle between the sky god and the god of the underworld, resulting in the collapse of Mount Mazama, forming the basin that later filled with water to create Crater Lake.

If you’re starting from Portland, check out my Portland to San Francisco itinerary.

Where to Stay: Aspen Inn is a family-friendly property that seems to understand that a good family BBQ around a grill is as important to a road trip as gas is in the car. The inn boasts a lovely garden and a playground, enhancing the overall experience and making it a real soul-recharger. Rates start at $115 per night  

Day 3: Crater Lake to Redwood National and State Parks

crater lake sunset

Driving time/distance: 3.5 hours (178.1 mi) via OR-62 W and US-199 S

From blue waters to tall, majestic trees, California’s ancient redwood forests are some of the most famous in the world, and with good reason. Before you get there on your Seattle to Los Angeles road trip, though, there’s plenty of diverse landscape, glimpses of rugged mountain terrain, and lush greenery.

The first clue that you’re getting close is the scent of pine in the air.  This is a sure sign that you’ve successfully traversed the distance between two of the West Coast’s most awe-inspiring destinations.

You can also do a Seattle to Crater Lake road trip to change it up.

Where to Stay: Break away from the hotel scene and try Glenkirk, a beautiful homestay instead. You’ll love the inviting patio, where you can soak up the gorgeous surroundings while sipping on a beverage of your choice. Rates start at $115 per night  

Day 4: Redwood National and State Parks to San Francisco

Driving time/distance:  5.5 hours (337.2 mi) via US-101 S 

It might break your heart to leave these gentle giant redwoods today, but you’ll have to focus on the excitement of getting to San Francisco. This is still a great opportunity to marvel at the scenic coastal roads, though. There are rugged cliffs, crashing waves, and panoramic coastal landscapes, especially as you approach the coast.

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge will be a welcome sight as it welcomes you to the city by the bay. Here, you will need to add several more days to truly indulge in the diverse neighborhoods.

Side fact: One of San Francisco’s most famous institutions is its football team, the 49ers. The name refers to the impact of the gold rush of 1849 on the city’s development. Originally, this was a small settlement called Yerba Buena. The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in that year led to a massive influx of fortune seekers.

Where to Stay: Cow Hollow Inn and Suites is nestled in the heart of vibrant San Francisco. It’s just 16 miles from San Francisco International Airport and 22 miles from Oakland International Airport. Rates start at $99 per night

Day 5: San Francisco to Big Sur

big sur road trip

Driving time/distance: 2 hours, 25 minutes (146.3 mi) via US-101 S

Time to leave the iconic Golden Gate Bridge behind to wind along Highway 1’s sweeping curves. You guessed it—there are more stunning cliffs and coastline vistas to admire. If you really want to indulge, do a few quick leg-stretching stops at charming coastal towns like Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz.

Big Sur itself offers some terrific landscapes and even includes more awesome redwoods to gaze at. Make a point to see McWay Falls and Bixby Creek Bridge while you’re here.

Where to Stay: The Little European Lodge is cozily nestled in the scenic Carmel Valley and has a seasonal outdoor swimming pool. Rates start at $190 per night 

Day 6: Big Sur to Los Angeles

Driving time/distance: 5.5 hours (346.6 mi) via I-5 S

This is it! Last day before you arrive in LA! Cross the Bixby Creek Bridge, perched majestically above the crashing waves. This route is awesome, as it can reveal hidden coves, a few charming seaside towns, and views of the majestic Santa Lucia Mountains.

When you arrive in Los Angeles, you’ll notice the stark transition from coastal serenity to vibrant city life. This marks the end of the road trip, but hopefully, the start of a good few days in the City of Angels itself.

Fun fact: We all know that Los Angeles is regarded as the film capital of the world. Part of the reason this became so is that filmmakers migrated out west to take advantage of the abundant sunlight in which to film. Keep that in mind when packing for your trip, and don’t forget your sunscreen.

If you’re heading in the reverse direction, you can have just as much fun on a San Francisco to Big Sur road trip.

Where to Stay: CitizenM Los Angeles Downtown is at the center of it all, so to speak. Eat and drink your fill at the on-site restaurant and bar, and there’s an iPad in every guest room, adding a modern touch to your stay. Rates start at $190 per night

You’ll love all these Seattle to Los Angeles road trip stops!

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