2-Week West Coast Road Trip

It's a good thing I love car rides because my family's road trips are no joke. We have no qualms about spending 15 or more hours in the car and then jam packing a week's worth of activities in a city into one day. While I sometimes feel like I need a vacation from my vacation at the end of a trip, I can't imagine a better way to see the country or spend time with my family. 

This past summer my family and I packed up the car drove off to see what the West Coast of the United States had to offer. In 14 days we drove 5,500 miles, were able to see 14 states and managed to do even more than we planned! In order to maximize our time away we planned our vacation to coincide with weekends and holidays (the 4th of July), and despite landslides and wild fires plaguing the West at the time, our trip couldn't have gone any smoother. Here is a map that shows the basic outline of our route; we basically drove in one giant circle! 


Driving Time: 4 hours

We left on a Friday afternoon right after my mom got off work to shed a few hours off the next day's long drive. We started in Overland Park, KS and ended our drive in Sioux City, IA right after sunset. We spent the night at the New Victorian Inn & Suites.


Driving Time: 11 hours

We hit the road bright and early the next morning with our sights set on Montana, but we made quite a few stops along the way. It's these kind of sights that we would've missed had we flown and started our trip in Seattle. Our first stop was Wall Drug in South Dakota for lunch; my family and I took a trip to South Dakota several years ago, so we didn't take too long stopping here again.

We then stopped to see the Chapel in the Hills in Rapid City, SD. The chapel is an exact reproduction of the Borgund Stave Church in Norway, and sitting against the Black Hills, it was a beautiful and peaceful place to get out of the car. 

Two hours later we stopped at Devils Tower. Considered sacred by some American Indians, this geologic feature was actually much more fascinating than I expected it to be. We also saw a couple Texas Longhorns and tons of prairie dogs when we drove into the park. 

After that quick stop, we jumped back into the car for another three hours until we got to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. We were able to squeeze in right before closing, and while we weren't able to drive around the loop, we were allowed to explore some of the grounds. The audio tour of the grounds that we weren't able to see also entertained us during the remainder of our drive to our hotel. 

We checked into the Riversage Billings Inn in Billings, MT, which was approximately one hour away from the monument. Not wanting to go out to a restaurant for dinner, we swung by Burger King which turned into an event in and of itself...let's just say we ended our night listening to drama about drugs and stolen vans while we waited for our food...


Driving Time: 15-20 hours

Another one of my favorite parts about road trips is the opportunity for spontaneity, and that's exactly what day three was all about! At one point during our drive the previous day my sister asked where Yellowstone is, and after realizing how close it was to our route, we decided to take the three hour detour south. Thank goodness we did too because it was by far one of the most breathtaking stops of our entire trip. If we had thought about it beforehand we probably would've tried to allow ourselves more time in the park, but you can read more about everything we saw in 4 hours HERE!

I should also mention that our drive through Yellowstone resulted in a nearly unbearable driving day. We departed from Billings, MT in the morning and Seattle, WA was our destination. My mom ended up driving for 20 hours this day, and I would never recommend that to anyone. We pulled into Seattle at The Maxwell Hotel at nearly 2 a.m., which was far from ideal, but thankfully it was one of the nicest hotels we stayed at our entire trip, so falling asleep was a piece of cake! 


Driving Time: none

Despite pulling in late the night before, we woke up early to get the most out of our day in Seattle. We walked the city hitting must-see spots like the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, Olympic Sculpture Park and the pier. I also tried King crab for the first time, and it was so delicious! I went into tons of detail about my day in Seattle HERE, so be sure to check that out too! 


Driving Time: 3 hours

The fifth day of our trip was the 4th of July, and since we didn't have a long drive ahead of us, we started our morning off in Seattle very slowly with some Starbucks and seeing Fremont Troll. We then hit the road for quick drive down to Portland where we spent the afternoon with some family that lives right outside the city. As evening approached, we went downtown, picked up a box of doughnuts at Voodoo Doughnut and then watched fireworks along the river.

While the doughnuts were super yummy, Portland was, for lack of a better word, sketchy...we ended up heading back to our room at the AC Hotel (stunning place by the way!) earlier than expected because we didn't feel safe, and then we watched people drop sparklers from the top of the parking garage across the street. Let's just say I was happy to leave the next day! 


Driving Time: 7-8 hours

After our day in Portland, we drove down into California. Unfortunately the Pacific Coast Highway was closed for most of our route, but we were luckily able to experience a little bit of it in Northern California on our drive to the Redwood Forest. Seeing the Pacific Ocean meet the sky was honestly one of the prettiest sights our entire trip!

We made it to the Redwood National and State Parks in the early evening. The forests gave off such an eery yet enchanting vibe as we drove and walked through them. I talked all about our time in the Redwood Forest HERE if you want to read/see more! We pulled into Eureka, CA right before the sun set and stayed at the Red Lion Hotel. The hotel was very nice and spacious, but I'd definitely recommend staying on the other side of town. It's much more commercialized and seemed like an overall better place to stay. 


Driving Time: 6.5 hours

San Francisco was our destination for our seventh day, but we made a couple stops on our way to the city. After we left Eureka in the morning, we drove down the Avenue of Giants to get another look at the Redwoods, and then we jumped back on Highway 1 to stop at Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. It was extremely foggy, but we spent some time strolling along the beach before grabbing some lunch and getting back on the road. I talked all about my experience at Glass Beach HERE.

It took us about four hours to drive down Highway 101 from Fort Bragg to San Francisco. Surprisingly, we hit minimal traffic upon entering the city, but the hills we had to drive up and down to get to our hotel were scary! We stayed at Hotel 32One, which was super tiny (my mom may have crushed my wrist trying to get the luggage cart out of the elevator) but centrally located in Union Square which proved to be very convenient.

Once we settled into our hotel, we decided to make the most of our evening in San Francisco and walked through Chinatown before spending a few hours at Pier 39 for dinner and shopping.


Driving Time: none

Despite the day starting off rough (tired + hungry is not a good combination), our full day in San Francisco ended up being one of my favorite days of our entire trip. When I was there, the only word I could think of to describe the city was "happy." Everything and everyone was so vibrant. We started our day off at the Golden Gate Bridge, ate lunch with family, went to Alamo Square and Lombard Street, and then concluded our day with a sunset bay cruise. I went through our full itinerary HERE if you're interested! 


Driving Time: 7.5 hours

Following our exhausting day in San Francisco, we got back on the road to head to the next big city: Los Angeles. Approximately 2.5 hours into our drive we stopped in Monterey, CA to check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Ever since I saw the aquarium on TV when I was a kid I've been dying to go, but I think it's safe to say we were all a bit disappointed. It was a very nice aquarium based on conservation, and the sea nettle exhibit was beautiful. But it was rather small, and we agreed that we had seen better aquariums across the U.S.

Once we left the aquarium we had 5.5 hours of driving ahead of us, and we ended up arriving at our hotel, the Inn at Venice Beach, after dark. Thankfully we didn't hit any traffic, but we were all still exhausted from the day before and driving that we just walked to the restaurant next door for a relaxed dinner before going to sleep.

DAY 10

Driving Time: none

Our longest stop throughout our entire trip was in LA where we stayed put for two full days. The first day was my sister's birthday so we ventured into the city hitting major tourist attractions like Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive and The Grove. I shared everything we did in the city in more detail HERE.

DAY 11

Driving Time: none

We spent our second day strolling and biking around Venice Beach. In the morning we walked along the canals, and then after lunch we biked to Muscle Beach and Santa Monica pier before settling down and soaking up the sun on the beach. We also enjoyed everyone's favorite meal of the entire trip at C&O Trattoria for dinner. Click HERE and HERE to read more about the restaurant and what we did all day in Venice. 

DAY 12

Driving Time: 5.5 hours

The 12th day of our road trip was when we slowly started to head back toward Kansas. From LA we drove to Nevada to see Hoover Dam and stay the night in Las Vegas. My mom and I have a keen interest in history, especially when traveling, so going to Hoover Dam, going on a tour of the facility and walking around the outside was awesome for us. The dam was so much bigger than I had ever imagined, and we were able to walk into Arizona and see the beautiful, turquoise Lake Mead on the other side as well.

After seeing the dam, we drove a quick 45 minutes to Las Vegas where we checked into the Tropicana hotel. The hotels in Las Vegas are massive to say the least, but after finding our room we went and relaxed by the pool for an hour. The intense, Nevada heat was exactly what I needed to feel rejuvenated for the tail end of our trip!

Once it finally got dark we walked the Las Vegas Strip. It was fun seeing everything lit up, and we made it to the Fountains of Bellagio just in time to watch the show to one of my favorite songs of all time: "Your Song." We then concluded our night with a quick dinner at rather rambunctious bar and grill before heading back to our hotel.

DAY 13

Driving Time: 11 hours

Approaching the end of our road trip, we spent the entire day heading back north all the way to Colorado. On our way through Utah we made a brief stop at Arches National Park, and even though it was one of our shortest stops our entire trip it was also my favorite. The sandstone arches and formations were stunning, but unfortunately, our time was cut short due to a downpour of rain. Although, I will say the rain made for some spectacular sights. As it poured, little red waterfalls appeared off the rock formations, and red streams rushed along the road. This is definitely a place I want to go back to and could see myself spending more time in one day.

From the park it was a 3.5 hour drive to our hotel in Aspen. The drive into Aspen was a little tricky, but our hotel, the Inn at Aspen, had these awesome neon lights that made it super easy to spot in the dark! 

DAY 14

Driving Time: none

Our last day of our trip in Aspen was more of a rest day than anything. It was also a rainy day, so a lot of the things there were to do were no longer an option. We ended up spending the entirety of our day eating and shopping, which was fine by me! I went into more detail about everywhere we went HERE

After our peaceful day in Aspen, CO we made the 11.5 hour drive home to Kansas City. Looking back I still can't believe how much we did and saw in two weeks, and in the moment it felt like it flew by! So that wraps up my family's huge West Coast road trip, but if you have any questions be sure to leave them in the comments below! 

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