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West coast vacations may be peaceful or exciting, spent pampered like a princess in the center of a metropolis or living as one with nature. They can be a weekend or a month long, though you may not be blamed for extending your stay, and the area is suited for travel by plane, foot, and even train.
Though born and raised on the east coast of America, I can appreciate all that the west coast has to offer, and I think I’m part of the majority.
Huge cities dot the west coast. They may be seen as cultural landmarks, with the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco; creative powerhouses, with successful video game companies clustered around Seattle; or they may be taken as an opportunity to get away from the boredom of everyday life. From south to north, these cities will make all west coast vacations ones to remember.
San Diego is famed for its beaches and comfortable, year-round temperatures. Going late at night in the cooler weather is no problem either, as many of the beaches have fire pits free to the public. Shorebirds, harbor seals, and even dolphins share the beach with you, completing the image of a picturesque romantic getaway.
Once you’re ready to leave the beach, other San Diego attractions include Balboa Park, an expansive park home to the San Diego Zoo.
There is no shortage of sightseeing attractions in the famed LA. At any time of year, there’s the Hollywood sign, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and guided film studio tours. Even the Los Angeles airport, or LAX, is an experience, where you can hope to spot your most admired celebrity.
Film buffs may want to travel specifically in September to see the widely-respected LA Film Festival, and beer buffs may be interested in the International Commercial Beer Competition held each spring.
Coming further north, the weather is a bit cooler in San Francisco than in Los Angeles. In place of sunshine at Muscle Beach is the unique, haunting beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge hidden by fog. The historic landmark supports thousands of local commuters per day, but is also open to pedestrians looking for a stroll and unique photography opportunities. For a view of the bridge from the outside, there’s Baker Beach. While swimming is not recommended, the area is great for walks, picnics, and relaxing.
If you’re looking for more spookiness in your west coast vacations, visit the famed prison, Alcatraz. On an island just off the city’s coast, the prison has been shut down and transformed into a national park, with guided tours available.
In the state of Washington is the city as well-known for its cloudy weather as it is for the Space Needle, a 605 foot tall building appropriately described as a “saucer on a stick.” Seattle visitors may visit the observation deck for a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area.
Though they’re not quite as famous, Seattle also holds plenty of museums, ranging from the elegant Chihuly Garden of Glass, exhibiting glass art from artist Dale Chihuly, to the quirky Pinball Museum, where you can play dozens of vintage pinball machines.
Sometimes, as beautiful as they may be, time in a busy, urban area is the last thing we need. For those looking to reconnect with their wild side, there are plenty of national parks all over the West Coast where you may find fresh air, hiking trails, and campgrounds.
Crater Lake, about four hours south of Portland, Oregon, has two claims to fame: At 1,949 feet deep, it is the deepest lake in America. It was also formed in the aftermath of a volcanic explosion, and who doesn’t want to say they hiked a dormant volcano?
Crater Lake is best to visit in the summer, as extreme weather forces closures in the winter months. However, the park is open year round, and welcomes fishing, hiking, and camping. Boating is not permitted, but swimming is allowed in Cleetwood Cove, where it is safest to access the edge of the lake.
Because of the area's weather, the lake may not always have the best visibility. Thanks to the National Park Service, you can check beforehand via live webcam.
For the most thrilling of West Coast vacations, hike an active volcano. At 14,411 feet tall, Mount Rainier is the highest peak in the Cascades Mountain Range and offers hiking trails, fishing and boating, and climbing.
Experienced mountaineers can climb to the summit of Mount Rainier. While this may require skill and perseverance, it’s an incredibly rewarding experience. Permits can be obtained through the National Park Service.
Redwood National Park
You may find tall structures all over the west coast, but visiting the Redwoods in northern California may be the most breathtaking. A testament to nature, these trees grow to over 300 feet long and the park covers over 100,000 acres.
Popular hiking trails include the James Irvine Trail, Damnation Creek Trail, and the Boy Scout Tree Trail. There are also trails set aside for horseback riding, and in the summer, rangers lead kayak tours on the Smith River.
Coast Starlight Train
Technically, you’ll be inside, but Amtrak’s Coast Starlight Train allows you to see much of the west coast in one trip. The route covers Seattle, Portland, and Los Angeles in three days and cuts through deserts and mountain ranges. You get an unobstructed view of all of it through the train’s observation car.
Within the train is the Parlor car, a place to eat, drink, and socialize. Passing through wilderness, you can listen to park rangers describe the surrounding area as though you were on a guided hike.
There are plenty of options when planning West Coast vacations. Visiting any of these places is sure to be a great experience.