Trying to decide if we should make this trip with our two teenagers. My husband and I have always wanted to see the Redwood Forest.
Planning this trip for the beginning of August. Flying into Seattle and making our way to LA.
Mt. St. Helens
San Fransico, CA
Los Angelos, CA
We may not make it back to the west coast for quite a while. What are the "not to miss" sights, best places to stay.
South of San Francisco, go to the Monterey Bay area and visit Carmel and then visit the area near Pebble Beach. If possible, follow the "17 mile drive" through this area. It is worth the time. Just before you get to the Monterey area, you will go through San Jose (the center of the famous "Silicon Valley"). Across from their main upscale shopping mall (Santana Row) is the "Winchester Mystery House" which is worth a look. It was built by Sara Winchester the widow of the famous Winchester who invented the rifle. To "hideout from spirits" she was instructed by a fortune teller to move from the east coast to the west coast and to build a house that would never be completed so they wouldn't know where to find her. This house is the result and it is odd in the extreme--stairways to nowhere, chimneys that don't go to the ceilings, trap doors that drop 40 feet to the ground, 80 step stairways to go up one level in the house, rooms with doors going in, but no way back out. lots of rooms with 13 windows, pantries in the kitchen that are less than 3 inches deep.
If you don't take the teenagers, go down to the city of Paso Robles and do a wine tour. Don't bother with the snootier, way overpriced wineries in Napa. Instead go to Paso Robles (or even go east to the Lodi area or to the Sierra Nevada mountain, gold-mining city of Murphys) and visit the wineries there.
IF you go to Paso Robles, just about 10 miles north of this on the coastline is the Hearst Castle--a must-see. Book your ticket early as they always sell out. Same is true for Paso Robles if you are there on a weekend--you must book your hotel early as they will all sell out. The small town of Cambria is between Paso Robles and Hearst Castle and is beautiful. Go to their moonstone beach and have lunch.
When you head south of Paso Robles to Los Angeles, stop at a small town called Solvang a short ways north of Santa Barbara. It's an old scandinavian town and the town looks exactly like you are still in Sweden and even has working windmills around town, as well as multiple bakeries and beer gardens.
On the far south side of Los Angeles, not far from Disneyland is Huntington Beach. Great small little town if you go by the beach (don't hang out by the inland, strip-mall like areas inland). South of here are Newport Beach, and then Laguna Beach. Laguna Beach holds a series of art festivals on every weekend from about mid-July to mid-August. Be sure to visit the ones you can, but in particular be sure to get to the "Sawdust Festival" which is just north of downtown. Get there about 2 pm, then park and stay into the evening when it gets almost magically surreal.
In Seattle, go to the Space Needle and go to the top, then at the bottom visit the EMP (experience Music Project), a special full--time exhibit that's like a music bootcamp and museum. East of town about 18 miles visit the Snomqualmie Falls (higher than Niagara Falls) but much easier to reach. Take a boat tour of Lake Union/Lake Washington on the weekend.
When travelling through Redwood National Park in northern California, look for a gigantic statue of Paul Bunyan. When you see it, you have arrived at the "Trees of Mystery" exhibition. For a small fee, you can go into this redwood area and see stuff you'll never see anywhere else. Redwood trees that are so enormous (some 280 to 300 feet tall) that will have 10 smaller redwood trees (still over 75 feet each) growing on its branches. 300 foot trees that were hit by lightning that exploded it and everything around it for 50 feet into tiny itty-bitty pieces none larger than 3 inches long, etc.
Also be aware that there are about 35 redwood parks in California--and most are within 30 miles of the coastline, as this (and in southern Oregon) are the only places the Coastal Redwoods grow. The largest of these large grow in Big Basin Park near Santa Cruz. There are also Sierra Redwoods, and in the Redwood Parks in the east side of the state, over 100 miles inland are the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, where the oldest and largest of all of the trees exist. These are hard to reach, so unless you plan a trip to Yosemite, and can go see these simultaneously, it is out-of your way. Those trees are over 10,000 years old.
The coastline in Oregon and N. California is some of the most scenic in the world, but it's easy to miss if you drive by on the major highways. Oregon is really nice since it's nowhere near as crowded as California and the south, and it's considerably cheaper too (no sales tax). Oregon has some of the most awesome whitewater rivers and waterfalls in the USA by the way.
As far as LA is concerned, it's basically a town of suburbs connected by a maze of freeways rather than a vertical city. San Diego is much more manageable and really nicer - esp. the beach area.
San Francisco is really the jewel of the West Coast in my opinion, but don't try to see it by car!