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The West Coast is easily one of the most beautiful places in the United States. The states that make up the West Coast (California, Oregon, Washington, plus Hawaii and Alaska) have unique climates, which create some of the country’s most stunning destinations. There are so many great things to do on the West Coast that it’s hard to narrow it down.

So to help you, I’ve partnered with travel bloggers who have visited the lovely Pacific coast to share our favorite bucket list items, hidden gems, and must-dos.

Whether you’re taking a West Coast road trip, or just need some travel inspiration, let’s dive in and explore the best of the West!

Click here to read the top 49 things to do on the West Coast including come of California's most iconic activities, Oregon's hidden gems, the best things to do in Washington beyond National Parks, all the incredible places to discover in Hawaii, and things to add to your Alaska bucket list!
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Things to do on the West Coast

If you’re planning a trip to the West Coast, it helps to visualize where all the best activities are. Peep the map below to get an idea of how spaced out everything is, because the West Coast is a BIG place!

Location matters when planning your vacation activities so don’t spread yourself too thin.

Things to do in California

1. Learn to rock climb in Joshua Tree National Park

Most visitors flock to Joshua Tree National Park, one of southern California’s famous desert destinations, to enjoy curious boulder-strewn scenery and the distinctive yucca plants the park is named for. A smaller group of adventurous visitors are drawn by the world-class rock climbing, and you can join them! Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect place to work on your climbing skills or even take your very first outdoor climbing class.

Several reputable guide companies offer a range of outings, from half-day group classes to full-day private sessions. Prices aren’t cheap – you’ll pay between $150 – $200 or more per person depending on the size of your group – but you’re paying for a highly experienced guide in whose hands you will literally put your life.

Definitely book in advance, and make sure you know where and when to meet your guide once arriving at the park. Don’t worry if you don’t have climbing equipment; they’ll bring a harness, helmet, and climbing shoes for you to use.

Once you meet up with your guide, expect to spend some time going over safety protocols and learning how the gear works. You’ll probably get a few technique pointers and then you’ll be turned loose to clamber up the famously grippy Joshua Tree rock (securely attached to a top rope, of course, so you can’t actually fall).

As your skills improve, you’ll be able to climb more interesting routes and maybe explore different rock formations in the park. Hopefully you’ll finish your day out in the California desert sunshine feeling tired and proud of your adventurous efforts. 

By Alissa at Exploring Wild

woman rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park
Bet you didn’t know you could learn to rock climb in Joshua Tree National Park.

Related read >> One day guide to Joshua Tree here

2. Indulge in wine tasting in Temecula, California

Although Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley tend to steal the spotlight when it comes to wine regions in California, wine tasting in laid-back Temecula, California, is a must-do experience on the West Coast. 

Temecula, also known as Southern California’s Wine Country, is located just a one-hour drive from San Diego and roughly a 1.5-hour drive from Los Angeles. Temecula’s beautiful countryside boasts over 44 wineries—and more wineries continue to appear in the area year after year.

Almost every winery in Temecula can be found on De Portola Road and Rancho California Road. Since both these roads run from all the action in Old Town Temecula, transportation to and from the wineries is a breeze!

During your time in Temecula, you can book an all-inclusive wine tasting tour, which usually costs between $100 to $150 per person. However, many visitors prefer going on self-guided wine tasting tours in Temecula, allowing you to choose your own wineries and pace while spending as little (or as much!) as you’d like on wine samples. 

Some of the best wineries in Temecula to check out during your visit include Wilson Creek Winery, known for its sparkling almond wine, Somerset Winery, popular for its late weekend hours and upbeat atmosphere, and Robert Renzoni Vineyards, an Italian-style vineyard with spectacular views of Temecula’s wine country. 

Regardless of which wineries you choose to visit in Temecula for your wine tasting excursion, you’re bound to have a wonderful time! 

By Brittany of Travel by Brit

woman's hand holding a half full wine glass in front of the camera with vineyard in the background
California is known for their wine region so don’t miss out if you’re visiting the West Coast.

3. Explore Santa Catalina Island off California’s Coast

Santa Catalina Island is only an hours’ ferry ride from bustling LA, yet it feels like a different world. And that is exactly why a day trip to Santa Catalina Island is a must do if you’re in the area.

The island, mostly referred to simply as Catalina Island, is laid back, largely car free (instead they use golf carts!), has some beautiful beaches, good snorkeling and might even remind you of a Caribbean island.

Rent a golf cart to explore the island, have lunch in Avalon, Catalina Island’s main town, and then go snorkeling or kayaking in the beautiful waters around the island.

Or simply relax on the beach… because that is what Santa Catalina Island is all about: a relaxed day trip away from the bustling cities of California.

The most common way to get to Santa Catalina Island is by ferry, and there are four ports to travel out of; San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach, or Dana Point. The ferry usually costs about $75 for a round trip (discounts available for seniors and children).

But, if you are looking for something unique, you can also book a helicopter ride to Santa Catalina Island, which will get you there in just 15 minutes. A helicopter ride will cost upward of $250 though.

By Sanne of Spend Life Traveling

view of round tan building with red roof on the beach with pathway on the left leading to it
One activity on Catalina Island is the casino in this unique round building.

4. Be a kid at Disneyland

One of the best things that you can do on the West Coast of the USA is to go to one of the Disneyland Parks in Anaheim to experience all that Disney has to offer including some amazing amusement park rides. 

Disneyland Park is made up of two parks – Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park. They are next to each other so you can easily walk between the two.

Each Disneyland park offers entirely different experiences. For the most part, Disneyland has rides and shows based upon traditional Disney characters and movies, like Cinderella and Pirates of the Caribbean.

On the other hand, Disney California Adventure is a newer park and it highlights California with themed areas like Buena Vista Street, Hollywood, and the Pier (now Pixar Pier). It also has themed lands for more recent Disney movies and characters like the Avengers Campus and Cars Land.

However, there are exceptions. For example, Disneyland has recently opened a whole new section with rides and experiences dedicated to Star Wars, called Batuu.

No matter what your age, everyone should try and go to Disneyland at least once in their life. It is crowded and expensive, but it does make you feel like a little child again when you see the fun and exciting worlds that Disney has created. In addition, there are fantastic rides for people of all ages and temperaments.

Unfortunately, tickets are very expensive. The more you go, the less you pay each day, but regardless, expect to pay around $105 for a one day ticket to one park, or $165 for a one day ticket to access to both parks. Children under 9 years old pay less and children under 3 years old are free.

By Nicole of Go Far Grow Close

Pixar's Cars themed cafe at night in Disneyland amusement park in Anaheim
Grab a bite at Flo’s Cafe in Disney’s California Adventure park!

>> Don’t forget to bring the best Disney souvenir!

5. Go hiking in Griffith Park in Los Angeles

If you’re a native of Los Angeles or just passing through the city on your travels, hiking at Griffith Park is a must. It is a staple of the L.A. lifestyle and one of the most well-known urban parks.  This wide-open area with iconic hills and mountain range has many trails to take you all over.  You also have the Greek Theatre for the intimate music concert and Griffith Observatory for the avid stargazer. 

One of La La Land‘s most iconic musical numbers takes place in Griffith Park near the observatory.  Nothing beats a view of the city from here.  Whether it’s during the day for the bright sun or in the evening with the city alight.  This also takes you to within distance of the iconic Hollywood sign for your Instagram-worthy photos.

Luckily this whole day activity is free. There is plenty of street parking. But it’s easy to get lost with all the different trails. You could get turned around.  Be sure to grab a map (phone or paper), guidebook, or even a friend to join you.  Early mornings are recommended if you want to avoid crowds.  You’ll see plenty of runners, hikers, walkers, cyclists, and all sorts of visitors coming through here daily.

Take it all in when you are here because nothing beats that west coast sunshine and weather.  You’ll be wanting to come back for more after this.

By Nicholas of The World Overload

view from above of Griffith Park in Los Angeles with the many hiking trails
There are so many great hiking trails in Griffith Park in LA.

6. Study the cosmos at Griffith Observatory

One of the best free things to do in Los Angeles is to visit the iconic Griffith Observatory, which sits on Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park.

For those wanting an energetic start to the day, a walk through the canyon-like Griffith Park up to the Griffith Observatory is a great way to explore the surrounds of Mount Hollywood and the unique Los Angeles natural vegetation.

Once at the top of the slope where Griffith Observatory is located, incredible views of Downtown LA and the ocean can be spotted, so ensure you spend some time walking around the observatory to take it all in. The views alone are worth the visit.

The Griffith Observatory itself is free to enter and explore. You might remember this famous domed landmark from the film La La Land, which has caused the public to fall in love with it all over again.

One of the most famous and interesting exhibits in the observatory is the breathtaking Focault pendulum which can be spotted as soon as you enter. There are also telescopes to look through, a planetarium, and multiple exhibits for space lovers and cosmos enthusiasts to further their knowledge of the universe.

The Griffith Observatory is fantastic to visit day or night and real enthusiasts may even want to arrange a visit at both times to make the most of the stunning views in the clear of day and then return for some star-gazing at night!

By Emma from Emma Jane Explores

view of Griffith Observatory at night with the Los Angeles city lights in the distance and a clear blue sky
Griffith Observatory is amazing in the day but is even more stunning at night!

>> Driving to Griffith? Read my local’s tips for parking at Griffith Observatory.

7. Step into another culture at the Huntington Library and Gardens

Located in San Marino, California, The Huntington Botanical Gardens are just a short drive from Los Angeles.

With no less than 16 themed gardens to explore, it’s a perfect place to relax and spend time outside in the open air, while discovering beautiful plants, flowers and trees from around the world. 

The Huntington themed gardens include the Japanese garden, Australian garden, herb garden, rose garden, jungle garden and many more. Take your time exploring them, and best get there early, as there’s a lot to see.

Some of the best gardens to visit are:

The Desert Garden, that has a colorful, delightful display of succulents of all kinds.

The Japanese Garden, which is exceptionally pretty and beyond the plants also lets you visit some traditional Japanese houses.

The Chinese Garden,  a.k.a The Garden of Flowing Fragrance, is the place to calm down and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.

While you’re at the gardens, pay a visit to the Huntington Library as well, to see its collection of rare documents and photos. The Huntington Art Collections which are part of the same complex are also well worth a visit. 

How to visit The Huntington: Tickets should be booked in advance. An adult ticket is currently $25 on a weekday and $29 on weekends. There are occasional free admission days advertised on the Huntington official site.  

By Tal Bright from Bright Nomad

Japanese garden with green grass, small pond, highly arched wooden bridge, bonsai trees, and Japanese blossoms
One of the best areas is the Japanese Garden in the Huntington.

>> Check out more beautiful gardens in Los Angeles.

8. Admire art at the Getty Museum

The Getty Museum is one of the most popular museums in Los Angeles and a must-do when visiting the West Coast of the United States.

The museum is free to visit but there is a small parking fee in case you arrive by car. From the parking areas you’ll be taken up to the museum which is located on a hill in a tram.

The Getty Museum is very large and you can easily spend an entire day here. In addition to the priceless art collection, the incredible views of the city will be enough to take your breath away. The Getty has both changing exhibits and a permanent collection which is so large and varied that there is guaranteed to be something for everyone.

The museum also offers daily workshops and classes that can be booked in advance online. They fill up fast so make sure to plan ahead. You could learn a certain art style, join a photography class or a guided tour through the museum. These workshops are always popular and a great way to make more of your time at the Getty Museum.

It’s also the perfect spot to take Instagram photos in LA, so be sure to pair your photos with these California-inspired captions. Definitely add it to your list of things to do.

By Victoria of Guide Your Travel

Getty Center in Los Angeles, free museum in los angeles, free things to do in los angeles, what to do for free in los angeles, budget travel guide los angeles
The architecture and views at the Getty Center in Los Angeles are just as impressive as the art.

9. Embrace your inner-nerd at the Vasquez Rocks

Sci-fi movies that are set in outer space are actually shot around the world or on a sound stage. Luckily, one of the most popular “out of this world” locations is right in the heart of Southern California. 

Just outside Los Angeles is the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park and its rock formations that have been featured in movies and numerous TV shows and films. 

From afar the formation looks like a ridged back of a wild boar that juts up into the sky. The park is right on the San Andreas fault line which pushed the rock up over the years. It also helps that the park is covered in sand and rocks so it adds to the otherworldly vibe. 

One of the most popular series to film there is Star Trek. Both the TV shows and the movies have scenes set at the rocks. It isn’t uncommon to see Trekkies dressed in costume taking pictures at the spot where Captain Kirk once stood. Some people even have their weddings in the park, it is really a beautiful spot regardless of its Hollywood past. 

It is free to visit the park and it is open from sunrise to sunset. Though it is probably better to visit first thing in the morning or later in the day because it gets really hot! Visitors should make sure to bring water and use sunblock. There are many marked trails and they are easy walks since the terrain is mostly flat. 

By Bernadette of Live a Relaxed Life

Jagged rock formations in the California desert most well known from Star Trek
Grab your Starfleet uniform and head to the Vasquez Rocks!

10. Relax at the Ojai Valley Inn

The charming town of Ojai, California sits in a quiet valley at the foothills of the Topa Topa Mountains. Only an hour and a half from Los Angeles, but a world away. Just being in Ojai makes you breathe deeper, feel lighter, and appreciate the beauty of nature. So, a relaxing spa day in Ojai should rejuvenate even the most stressed-out bodies and souls.

You can splurge for the luxurious Ojai Valley Inn where the least expensive massage is $250/hr, but there are other reputable spas that will be less than half the price like The Day Spa of Ojai ($88) and Ojai Massage ($100).

If possible, arriving early will enhance your spa day. Have a cup of tea, relax, meditate, experiment with the lotion samples and oils in the gift shop. There’s nothing worse for relaxing than rushing to get to your appointment…except rushing to leave it. Take time to enjoy your surroundings, sit in Libbey park, or walk in a field of mustard. 

Although the budget-friendly facilities will not be a grand resort like the Inn, you will enjoy it, and have leftover funds for a drink or a snack at an Ojai restaurant while watching the mountains change color just before sunset.

By Denise of Chef Denise

view of a spa pool with lounge chairs on each side and palm trees and mountains in the background in California
Treat yourself at the spa in Ojai, California.

11. Observe San Simeon’s elephant seals

Not only is San Simeon, CA the gateway to the scenic, rugged Big Sur area and home of the impressive Hearst Castle, it’s also home to the Piedra Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery.

These absolute massive marine mammals live up to their name. Male elephant seals clock in at an average of 5000 pounds, although they’re known to top out at more than 8000 pounds. The seals sport large proboscises, somewhat reminiscent of elephants’ trucks.

It’s not hard to see elephant seals if you’re in the San Simeon area. You’ll find them congregating on sandy beaches about a five-minute drive north of San Simeon on Highway 1. While you can see seals year-round, they’re most ubiquitous in January, April, and October.

There’s no cost to visit the San Simeon elephant seals. Although there’s an official elephant seal observation platform, the seals lounge all up and down this stretch of California shoreline, so you’ll find them wherever you pull over.

There’s something magical about hiking down the Boucher Trail near the Piedras Blancas lighthouse and stumbling about a hidden cove absolutely filled with seals. (Don’t worry, the hike follows a cliff and keeps you at a safe observation distance.) With the Pacific ocean crashing below and the rolling coastal hills behind you, a visit to the San Simeon seals handily beats any zoo experience. 

By Ada from Beyond Yellow Brick Blog

elephant seals on the beach with two seals sitting upright and facing each other on the shore
Please respect this magnificent animals by maintaining your distance and observing with your eyes only.

12. Discover California’s best coastal town: Big Sur

Weaving its way past groves of giant redwood trees, around rugged seaside cliffs and through charming coastal towns, the drive through Big Sur along California’s iconic Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is something every trip to the west coast should include.

Dubbed the longest stretch of undeveloped scenic coastline in the contiguous United States, the drive stretches between Hearst Castle and Monterey and includes highlights like Bixby Bridge, Pfeiffer Beach and McWay Falls.

Perhaps the most spectacular of all Big Sur things to do is McWay Falls, an 80 foot waterfall falling directly onto a beach at the foot of the Pacific Ocean. Visiting the falls is free, but try to arrive early in the day for open parking.

Next, make your way to Pfeiffer Beach, known for the huge rock arch that sits in the middle of crashing surf. Further up the beach, the sand turns a unique shade of purple due to the manganese garnet rocks in the cliffs.

Round off your trip with a drive over Bixby Bridge, one of the most photographed bridges in all of California. For the best viewpoint, pull off at the parking lot on the north side of the bridge (on the coastal side of the road) and take the dirt path down the cliff.

While most Big Sur attractions are free, the area is notorious for expensive lodging. Even camping can set you back upwards of $100 per night! Still, if you can afford it, it’s more than worth the splurge given how much there is to do in the area. These Big Sur Airbnbs offer magnificent views and cater to a range of budgets.

By Jenna of Up and Away Magazine

tall bridge along mountainous coast of California near Big Sur with hills on the left and ocean on the right on a clear sunny day
You may recognize Bixby Bridge since it’s one of California’s most photographed spots!

Related read >> Places in the US to travel to in summer (Big Sur is on this list!)

13. Take the iconic 17-mile drive

Without a doubt, driving the famous 17-Mile Drive is one of the best things to do on the US West Coast.

Iconic 17-Mile Drive on the Monterey Peninsula in California is one of the most scenic drives in the world. The 17-Mile Drive is a historical road of unique beauty that goes through an exclusive and prestigious neighborhood with multimillion-dollar residences, world-famous golf courses, pristine nature, and superb ocean views.

The 17-Mile Drive connects the beautiful towns of Pacific Grove and Carmel-by-Sea on the Monterey peninsula. This legendary loop route is famous as one of the most romantic drives in the USA. It is a must-stop on the scenic drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Twisty 17-Mile Drive features some of the most awe-inspiring spots in the USA well-worth visiting. Besides must-see beautiful sandy beaches and stunning dunes, there is plenty of marine wildlife (like sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals, seagulls, pelicans, and cormorants) and picturesque seasonal wildflowers along the way.

In addition, there are also a few picnic spots with picnic tables on the route.

Some of the most popular stops are pristine Spanish Bay Beach and sandy Moss Beach, world-renowned golf courses (like Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Links at Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill Golf Course), wonderful Del Monte forest, Cypress Point view, the famous Lone Cypress (a landmark of California), and the ghost tree at Pescadero Point.

There are four entrance gates to the 17-Mile Drive: the Pacific Grove Gate, the Country Club gate (on Forest Lodge Road), the Hwy 1 gate (at Exit 399 A), and the Carmel Gate (on San Antonio Ave). There’s an entrance fee of $10.75 for a vehicle. But the ticket is reimbursed with a purchase at one of the restaurants along the way. Bikes are free to enter without charge, but motorcycles are not allowed. 

To make it short, if you are looking for a must-have USA west coast bucket list experience, look no further than scenic 17-Mile Drive in California!

By Milijana Gabric of World Travel Connector 

lone Cyprus tree growing out of coastal rock with ocean in the background
The iconic Lone Cyprus along the 17-mile drive is a natural wonder!

14. Kayak in Monterey Bay, California

California’s Monterey Bay is beautiful when viewed from the shore, but experiencing it from a kayak is a whole other level. Visitors to Monterey can get up close and personal with sea otters, paddle through kelp beds, and get a unique view of Monterey from the water all from the rental of a kayak. Southern California’s great weather year-round makes kayaking in Monterey one of the best things to do on the west coast USA.

Visitors of all experience levels can rent kayaks on Monterey Beach. Double sit-on top kayaks are $35 per person, and single sit-on top kayaks are $45 per person. Rentals are available for up to 4 hours, from 9:00am to 5:00pm, and can be made via walk up only. Safety vests are provided, and paddling and safety instructions are given before the activity begins. 

When renting a kayak in Monterey Bay, great viewpoints are presented of the harbor, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Cannery Row.

Besides sea otters, visitors may also spot seals, sea lions, small marine invertebrates, and maybe even the occasional dolphin or whale. The safety of both Monterey visitors and marine wildlife is key, so kayakers are advised to keep a safe distance when enjoying the wildlife. 

No matter the length of stay in Monterey, getting out on the water is a must. The length of the activity is very flexible. Visitors can paddle out and back in about an hour if time is limited, or they’re welcome to take the whole 4 hours if they choose.

The area is famous for being a gorgeous beach town, and getting a unique view out on the water is an experience to remember. 

By Olivia from the Girl With Blue Sails

two women kayaking in the Pacific Ocean in orange and red kayaks.
Monterey Bay has wonderful outdoor activities like kayaking.

15. Birdwatch in the San Francisco Bay Area

The San Francisco Bay Area of California is an ideal west coast destination for bird watching.

Many people think of birding as an activity that requires an incredible amount of patience or at least a willingness to lay down in the grass or sit silently in a hide for hours. Bay Area bird watching is perfect for opportunistic bird watchers; people who like birds but want to keep a casual eye out rather than turn it into an obsession.

There are a variety of hiking and cycling trails (all free) along the SF Bay south of the City of San Francisco all the way to San Jose perfect for bird watching.

Look for easy-to-spot ducks like shovelers, teals, and ruddy ducks. Expect to see flocks of waders at low tide like American avocets. Watch flocks of birds sweep up from the water against a backdrop of planes landing at San Francisco Airport in Bayfront Park in Millbrae.

Birds of prey like red-tail hawks and osprey and various owls are common sightings in Shoreline Park in Mountain View, not to mention belted kingfishers surveying the scene near the water. Hummingbirds with heads that seem to change color with the changing light are a delight to behold.

Make sure to get up early for a San Francisco Bay Area bird walk. The early bird catches the worm after all! 

By Jennifer of Sidewalk Safari

Flocks of birds flying around an airport with a lake in the foreground.
I bet you didn’t know you could spot so many birds in the San Francisco Bay Area…I sure didn’t!

16. Watch the sunset in San Francisco

If you’re looking for the best things to do on the West Coast, you can’t miss seeing at least one sunset in San Francisco!

San Francisco is famous for its eclectic and vibrant culture, its natural beauty, and all the opportunities to soak up the history of the city. Besides amazing architecture, delicious food, and lots of great outdoor activities, it’s also known for one thing: The Golden Gate Bridge.

If you want to combine that iconic landmark with a gorgeous sunset, there is no better place to do it than Marshall’s Beach. This narrow sandy beach is the closest one to the bridge but it does require a bit of an effort if you want to reach one of the best Instagram spots in San Francisco.

The beach is only accessible on foot via the Batteries to Bluffs Trail. The closest parking lot is Langdon Court near the Golden Gate Overlook, from where it takes around 20 minutes to get down to the beach.

Marshall’s Beach is quite small and it’s dotted with lots of pebbles and boulders which makes it even more beautiful. Due to the hike it requires, only a few people make it down there so the beach feels totally secluded. On top of that, it’s entirely free to visit it but swimming is not recommended due to the strong currents.

Enjoying one of California’s best sunset views, especially from such a stunning place like Marshall’s Beach, is no doubt an experience you’ll never forget!

By Kriszti of She Wanders Abroad

view of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco at sunset from the West side
Sunsets in San Francisco are stunning especially from this prime location on Marshall’s Beach.

17. Cycle the Golden Gate Bridge

Considered one of the most famous sights in San Francisco – the Golden Gate Bridge is a Californian icon. The bridge is about 2.1 miles long and at its highest point is a whopping 2,737 meters tall. It was constructed back in 1937 and for a time was considered the longest bridge in the world.

It’s no surprise then that one of the most popular things to do in San Francisco is to cycle across the ‘Golden Gate’ as it’s affectionately known by locals. 

You can rent a bike from numerous bike rental stores in downtown San Francisco, the average cost is $29 for a few hours. If you’re not a confident cyclist, electric bikes are also available for rent for a little more $$$. The cycle across the bridge should take about 25 minutes each way but that’s not including time to stop and take photos of San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz, which is highly advised!

On the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge is the picturesque town of Sausalito, so, spend some time here before cycling back, or if you’re feeling tired you can catch the ferry from here back to Fishermans Wharf with your bike. 

Worth noting is the Western side of the bridge is for cyclists only, but it’s two-way so cyclists will be cycling towards you too!

By Aimee of Snap Happy Travel

bicyclist's view of the front of their bike traveling on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco California
Grab a bike and hit the road to venture over California’s most iconic bridge.

18. Witness the firefall in Yosemite National Park

If visitors have only got one day in Yosemite, it is best to time it around the phenomenon that takes place for just a few days in February. The Firefall is a once in a lifetime sight and should be added to all bucket lists. 

If visitors are unsure what the Firefall is exactly, it is a breathtaking sight that occurs when conditions are just right. It can be seen at Horsetail Falls in Yosemite when the sun is setting. The light bouncing off the snow makes the waterfall look like it is on fire. Hence the name, Firefall.

There is no extra cost to watch the event in Yosemite. However, visitors have to pay an entrance fee to the park which is around $35 per vehicle. The park is usually quiet in winter, however, it can be particularly busy around the time the Firefall is expected. 

Due to its popularity, the National Park has made some adjustments to where visitors can see it. Visitors should head to El Capitan Picnic Area before the sun sets and find a good place to stand. Visitors can park at Yosemite Falls and walk to the picnic area, or the free shuttle bus is available. 

As the event is dependent on the right conditions it is impossible to know the exact dates visitors can see it. However, scientists are able to give a rough estimate and the Firefall is expected to be seen between 10-28 February 2022. If visitors time their visit just right, they may be lucky enough to experience the breathtaking sight at Yosemite.

By Katie from Travel Mad Mum

waterfall in Yosemite National Park that glows orange like fire due to sunlight
This breathtaking scene only happens during a select time at Yosemite, so be sure to time it right!

19. Ski in Lake Tahoe, California

Lake Tahoe is the place to be in California for those looking for winter adventures. The famous lake is the ultimate destination for skiing, snowboarding, and numerous snow-related activities.

Spread over California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is home to over 10 ski resorts, including Northstar, Heavenly, and Kirkwood, among the most popular resorts and the renowned Palisades Tahoe (formerly named Squaw Valley), where the 1960 Winter Olympics took place.

Lift tickets price vary from resorts, ranging from $50 to over $200.

Other winter activities include riding a gondola in Heavenly (about $90 for an adult), riding a horse sleigh through the forests (from $50 for an adult), or going dog sledding (from $90 for an adult) in Truckee or Kirkwood. Snowmobiling is another widespread activity for adrenaline seekers (from $160 for a single rider). Finally, hikers will want to try snowshoeing (rent from S$30 or buy from $100).

Looking for other cool fun things to do in Lake Tahoe in winter? Why not build an igloo or spend the night camping under the stars? Or learn how to snowkite along the Martis Valley. Skydiving (from $200) and helicopter rides (from $250) will be the perfect way to admire the stunning landscape from high above. 

By Patricia from Ze Wandering Frogs

skiiers and snowboarders going down the snowy mountains in Lake Tahoe California during winter
Hit the slopes in Lake Tahoe!

20. Take a scenic drive through the Avenue of the Giants

One of the most impressive natural wonders in the western United States is the coastal redwood tree. These majestic trees are among the largest beings on the planet and often grow to over 300 feet tall. A great way to see these massive trees up-close is by taking a drive along the Avenue of the Giants.

Located in Northern California’s Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the Avenue of the Giants protects some of the last remaining stands of old-growth redwood trees. Stretching for 31 miles along a byway near Highway 101, this scenic route is a fantastic introduction to the park and to these magnificent trees.

When driven from north to south, the trip begins just south of Rio Dell and ends near the town of Garberville. An official auto tour is available that includes 8 viewpoints along the route, including the park’s visitor center and several stands of old-growth trees. Founder’s Grove is a must-see destination in the park and features the towering 346-foot-tall Founder’s Tree.

Driving through the Avenue of the Giants is free. The area is also home to a variety of kitschy tourist attractions that may cost a small fee. For example, you can drive your car through the Shrine Drive-Through Tree (for $10) or shop for sasquatch-themed souvenirs at the Legend of BigFoot gift shop.

By Katy from A Rambling Unicorn

redwood trees towering above a road
This magnificent trees have to be seen to be believed!

Best Activities in Oregon

21. Go tide-pooling at Haystack Rock

One of the best things to do on the West Coast is tide pooling at Haystack Rock. Haystack Rock is a large rock on the Oregon Coast and is one of the state’s most recognizable landmarks. It is home to vibrant sea life and lots of different birds. Visiting Haystack Rock is one of the best things to do in Cannon Beach.

The best time to tide pool at Haystack Rock is at low tide. The water levels will be the lowest making it the best time to see the sea life in the tide pools. You can expect to see starfish, sea anemones, crabs, limpets, and nudibranchs in the tide pools.

At low tide, there is a Haystack Rock Awareness Program that runs on most days. Haystack Rock is considered a Marine Sanctuary and this program raises awareness about the area. There are lots of volunteers on hand to answer any questions you have.

The best place to get down to Haystack Rock is at the end of 2nd Street near the downtown Cannon Beach area. There are residential streets that are closer to Haystack Rock. Just make sure there aren’t any “no parking” signs where you park.

There is no cost to visit the tide pools at Haystack Rock. It is on a very accessible public beach making it really easy to visit. After checking out the tide pools, be sure to spend some time enjoying the beautiful beach.

By Candace from CS Ginger

things to do for kids in Oregon include tidepooling at Haystack rock where you may find a starfish like the one shown here
You never know what you might find while tide-pooling!

22. Soak in Umpqua Hot Springs

The west coast of the United States is home to some of the country’s most beautiful hot springs. One for your bucket list is Umpqua Hot Springs, located in the southwest corner of the state. Oregon’s lush Umpqua National Forest is chock full of epic hikes, stunning waterfalls, and you guessed it – Umpqua Hot Springs. 

Nestled in the woods, you must hike a short 0.4-mile trail to reach the hot springs, meaning you’ll earn your soak! One you arrive, you’ll notice a handful of pools, each with varying temperatures of water. The hotter water is near the top, while the pools get progressively cooler as you go downhill. 

This hot spring is undeniably beautiful, but be warned: the water is a bit murky and the bottom of the springs is made up of mud and algae-covered rocks. Additionally, this hot spring is popular and can get quite busy.  As long as you know to expect less than pristine waters and potential crowds, you’ll have a great time.

Be sure to carry everything you brought back with you, including trash. Sadly, as natural landmarks like this get more well-known, it’s not uncommon to find trash littering the area.

The cost to visit Umpqua Hot Springs is a $5 parking fee (or it is free if you have an annual Northwest Forest Pass). 

By Katie Diederichs from Go Wander Wild

natural hot springs overlooking a river and forest in Oregon
Hot springs with a view? Sign me up!

23. Indulge in Portland’s foodie scene

If you’re making your way up the West Coast or looking for an incredible West Coast weekend getaway, Portland is one of the best cities you can pick! Portland is known for its proximity to the outdoors (it’s garden central!), but it also has fantastic museums and its incredible food and craft beer scene is unparalleled! There’s a reason it’s named one of the top foodie cities in America.

Head to Mississippi Avenue to get a feel for Portland’s quirkiness and indulge in great eats from the start. You really can’t go wrong. Try Jamaican food at Jamrock, Mexican staples at Por Que No?, beer at Stormbreaker Brewing, and the truffle fries at Little Big Burger are to die for!

For other iconic Portland eats to try, visit VooDoo Doughnuts, which originated here. Then to compare, head to Blue Star Donuts, which is most locals’ preference over VooDoo.

Salt and Straw, the famed ice cream shop with unique flavors like Wild-Forged Berry Pie, started in Portland in 2011 and grew to have a pretty intense cult following…so much so that you can find Salt & Straw at Disneyland!

Lastly, check out Pine State Biscuits in the Alberta Arts District, known for their filling biscuit sandwiches.

By me (Alanna) from Periodic Adventures (this site)

Donut box of 6 donuts, 2 of 3 flavors each.
These are the famous Blue Star Donuts!

24. Brush up on your history at Fort Clatsop

For anyone who’s passionate about history, visiting Fort Clatsop should be a requirement on an Oregon coast road trip. It’s one of several sites within the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park. Located southwest of Astoria, this site marks the final stop for Lewis and Clark on their trek to find a northwest passage to the Pacific Ocean. 

The explorers reached the coast in November of 1805 and by December 24 were sheltered in a fort along the Netul River. Today’s Fort Clatsop is the third replica on the site.

Before exploring the rooms of the fort or walking the hiking trails, spend some time in the Visitor Center. Displays detail the reasoning for Lewis and Clark’s Voyage of Discovery as well as tell the stories of the explorers themselves, including Sacagawea. 

Outside, you can hike a short 0.9 mile trail to a canoe landing on the Netul. Interpretive signs provide insight into the Corps of Discovery. There are longer hikes as well, including one that extends all the way to Sunset Beach State Recreation Area, 6.5 miles away.

There is a $10 entrance fee for Lewis and Clark National Historic Park and it’s good for seven days. 

By Theresa from The Local Tourist

entrance to historic fort in Oregon USA with green pine forest surrounding
If you need a history refresher, don’t skip Fort Clatsop in Oregon.

25. Check out the famous Peter Iredale Shipwreck

Do not miss the most iconic shipwreck on the Oregon Coast, the Peter Iredale Shipwreck. In October of 1906, the four-masted sailing vessel ran ashore at Clatsop Beach after hitting a strong wind shift and current en route to the Columbia River.

The Peter Iredale is one of the most photographed shipwrecks in the world, due to its easy accessibility. At low tide, you can walk right up to its skeleton. It is fascinating to explore the rusty and barnacle-covered remains left from years of deterioration from the wind, wave, and sand. Luckily, this shipwreck had the best-scenario ending, with no fatalities. 

Be sure to check tide charts to avoid disappointment and make sure your visit will be at low tide. At high tide, the shipwreck is surrounded by water. 

The shipwreck is located within Fort Stevens State Park. You must buy a parking permit to be able to enter. Parking permits are $5 for one day or $30 for a year. A daily parking permit is good at all state parks for the entire day of purchase.

The parking is right off the beach and the shipwreck is not too far of a venture from the parking lot.

By Debbie from World Adventurists

rusted and run down shipwreck on Oregon coast
This famous shipwreck dates back to 1906!

26. Drive the Oregon Coast

Are you looking for a coastal journey that includes sandy beaches, picturesque rocky coastline, and sitka spruce forests perched on bluffs above the Pacific Ocean? If all that sounds good to you, then an Oregon Coast road trip should be at the top of your list of things to do on the West Coast. 

The road trip will take about eight hours, which means it’s best to have at least three days to explore the entire coast. 

With less time, you can do a portion of it, and the northern portion is probably the most convenient option given its proximity to Portland. The southern Oregon coast, which  is much more rugged and wild, is a long drive from any major metropolitan area. 

Starting from the northern border of Oregon heading south, you’ll start off by passing through Astoria, a charming town that sits at the northwestern tip of Oregon and is home to two of Oregon’s best craft breweries (Buoy and Fort George), and making your way to Cannon Beach. 

In Cannon Beach, you’ll find Haystack Rock, a huge sea stack that sits just off the coast on a wide, sandy beach and is home to a colony of endangered puffins.

Continuing south, you won’t want to miss a stop in Tillamook for a stop for amazing cheese and ice cream at Tillamook Creamery.

Then you’ll drive through a series of coastal towns before arriving in Cape Perpetua, which is one of the most stunning stretches of coastline in the entire country. 

Further south, you’ll run into the Oregon Dunes, where the neverending sand dunes meet the beach, and Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor, where you’ll notice that the coast starts to get more rugged, trading sandy beaches for rocky sea stacks and dramatic cliffs. 

Be sure to get a 5-day Oregon Pacific Coast Passport for $10, which is good for a number of locations on the route.

By Matt from West Coast Wayfarers

view of a sandy beach with grass growing out of mounds of earth and a mountain in the distance
The Oregon Coast is one of the most scenic areas in all of the United States.

Things to Do in Washington

27. Explore Mount Rainier National Park

One of the very best things to do on the West Coast of the USA is visit Mount Rainier National Park. Located in Washington state, less than 2 hours from Seattle is this magnificent national park. While Mount Rainier steals the show, there’s a lot to see and do in the park.

To get to the park, you’ll need to rent a car and pay the entrance fee ($30). If you have an America the Beautiful Pass, it will get you into the national park for free, which is helpful in saving money if you’re planning to visit more than 2 federally protected lands within one year.

Mount Rainier National Park is 236,000+ acres, so there’s a lot to see. You could spend just one day or over a week exploring the park! Drive incredible mountain roads, chase waterfalls, see beautiful lakes with Mount Rainier reflections – it’s truly an incredible park.

One of the top hikes is Skyline Trail in Mount Rainier National Park. It has spectacular views of Mount Rainier. Late July through mid August is the park’s wildflower season and it’s absolutely beautiful! Fall foliage starts in mid-September, when you can see brilliant reds and oranges along the trial. Expect to see lots of stunning scenery during this hike! 

If you’re looking for an easy hike, take the Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls. It’s about 1 mile round trip and provides beautiful views of the falls and mountain. For those serious about hiking and in decent shape, the full Skyline Trail Loop is one of the best hikes in the Pacific Northwest! It’s 5.5 miles for the full loop, and gains 1700+ feet in elevation. Come prepared with plenty of water and protein to get you through it. 

By Nikki from She Saves She Travels

trail leading up a green hill with a snowy mountain in the background
Mount Rainier National Park is full of hikes with breathtaking views!

28. Discover Seattle’s Underground

The Seattle Underground is a historical walking tour of Seattle that highlights its pioneer history. Located in Seattle’s famous Pioneer Square neighborhood, this one-hour tour takes Seattle visitors on a walk back in time, diving underground to see the city that existed before its present day iteration.

Founded in 1851, the city of Seattle was actually built at sea level, which proved problematic for sewage and drainage. After the great fire of 1889 that destroyed many of Seattle’s original buildings, the city was rebuilt at a much higher level, burying many of its early buildings underground.

The Seattle Underground tour explores some of these early buildings, through store fronts, public houses, and saloons. This family-friendly historical walking tour of Seattle also features stories of the early settlers of Seattle, and their impact on local Native Americans communities. It also mentions women and Chinese immigrants in the early days of Seattle.

The Seattle Underground Tour costs $15 for adults and $12 for senior citizens and children 12 and younger. Tours run approximately every 15-20 minutes throughout the day, from 10 am until 5 pm daily.

Seattle Underground is not only educational but also incredibly interesting and engaging for Seattle visitors. It’s certainly a unique way to spend an afternoon in Seattle.

By Astrid from the Wandering Daughter

view of old destroyed cross street underground Seattle that had been burned in a fire
Seattle had a whole city that is now underground, making it a unique travel destination on the West Coast.

29. Take a peaceful walk through the Hall of Mosses

Olympic National Park is the most diverse national park in Washington state, boasting craggy beaches, soaring mountains, and impossibly green rainforests. And if you’re looking to explore it on foot, one of the best hikes in Olympic National Park is the Hall of Mosses, tucked away in the incredibly lush Hoh Rainforest. Not only does the Hoh Rainforest offer an otherworldly beauty, but it also holds several accolades, being named both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve and serving as the rumored shooting location for the classic movie, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.

Plus- did you know that Olympic is the only U.S. National Park that has temperate rainforests within its footprint? The 1.1 mile Hall of Mosses trail weaves through the rainforest, passing by 300 foot trees, dripping with moss overhead, cartoonish mushrooms, and primeval ferns that are likely as tall as you!

If you’ve never been in one of Washington’s rainforests, buckle up- it’s literally like traipsing through a fairytale forest.

To explore Olympic’s epic scenery, you’ll pay a $30 entrance fee per vehicle that’s good for up to a week- or you can invest in an annual America the Beautiful Pass for just $80, that will get you into all of the U.S. National Parks!

By Jessica from Uprooted Traveler

woman looking up at trees in a forest covered in moss in Washington
Wandering through Olympic National Park’s Hall of Mosses is such a serene experience.

30. Hike Mount Storm King in Olympic National Park

Hiking Mount Storm King in Olympic National Park will probably be the highlight of your visit! This five-mile hike is steep, and there’s little relief until you reach the top. Most of the hike is through a gorgeous shaded forest with a few peeks here and there of the lake but this steep walk is the easy part. Before you can summit, you’ll have to conquer a bit of a hectic rocky area that’s even steeper!

You’ll have to scramble up a craggy part of the mountain with a few slippery areas. Seriously, take care here, there are some high drop-offs. There are even some ropes to assist you but some of them are looking a bit rough. You’ll even notice a bit of a “graveyard” of community gloves before the rope section to assist you up without the rope burn.

This part of the hike is kind of sketchy but once you make it up, you’ll know it was worth it. The views over Lake Cresent are stunning from Mount Storm King! Take a breather here before heading back down since the rocky part is equally a sketch on the way down.

If going up the rocky bit is too much, you’ll still get some good views just before it, so don’t be totally discouraged from this hike! One big tip to keep in mind is to get here earlier rather than later. The summit is pretty tiny and narrow with steep drops which means not many people can fit up there. This is a popular hike so just getting here earlier will award you with a more relaxed experience. You don’t want to wait in line to summit.

One last tip would be to take the time to explore Marymere Falls which is just a short add-on to this hike and should be done after Mount Storm King.

The cost will vary depending on which pass you have. You can get a day pass for Olympic National Park, the annual pass, or the American The Beautiful National Park Pass. This is a busy area so trying to get away without paying is a bit of a risk! 

*If you’re going with the day pass option note there isn’t a booth to pay for one near this hike so get it online or the day before when you’re driving around!

By Nina from Washington is For Adventure

female hiker standing at the summit of Mount Storm King in Washington with a lake in front and green mountains surrounding
The views from the summit of Mount Storm King are unforgettable.

Related read → Washington national parks itinerary

31. Whale watch on San Juan Island

Washington state is one of the premiere places to go whale watching in the country. Located in the cold, pristine waters of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, there are many species of whales that are continually migrating through the area, such as orcas, minke, humpback, and gray whales.

During the summer months, there are a few really good spots to pick up whale watching tours: Port Townsend, Anacortes, and Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. From private tours running about $700 per boat (six people) per day or larger boat tours which cost about $60-80 per person, there are many tours to take you out to find whales. 

The only thing is the season is pretty short, and the boats will not go out during inclement weather, so it’s a good idea to book as far in advance as possible, and be willing to stay a few days if the weather looks like it won’t cooperate.

A more adventurous way to see whales is kayaking, either on your own or there are also group tours that do this as well. A day’s group kayaking tour can cost about $150 per day. However, there are plenty of multi-day tours as well which would increase the chances of seeing whales, if you are up to it.

Finally, lots of people have spotted whales right off shore, especially on San Juan Island. Just take your binoculars and a picnic and enjoy the beaches. However, the chances of seeing a whale this way is much riskier. The tours are all in communication with each other and if a whale is spotted, the boat will go there.

Whale watching in Washington is a bucket list item, and it’s a great way to spend a summer’s day.

By Corinne Vail of Roving Vails

people kayaking with a whale at the surface
Wildlife is plentiful in Washington!

32. Tour the Tulip Fields in Skagit County

The West Coast has an amazing variety of options to choose from and visitors who spend time in the far northwest corner of the US are in for a real treat. Skagit County is located about an hour north of Seattle and is one of the most beautiful areas in all of Washington.

What makes Skagit County particularly special are the acres and acres of tulip fields that bloom every spring, bringing over a million tourists to the area. The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival takes place every April and showcases flowers in every color of the rainbow.

Whether you come for the day or make it an overnight trip, you’ll want to plan plenty of time to explore the display gardens at RoozenGaarde and Tulip Town. Bring your mud boots and you can spend some time strolling through the tulip fields, too. 

Of course, the tulips take center stage, but you’ll also find plenty of other flowers in bloom such as daffodils, iris, crocus, and hyacinth.  You’ll find plenty of photo opportunities and will want to make sure you come with your phone (or camera) fully charged! 

Admission for the festival is $15 per person. The official dates of the festival are from April 1-30st, however, the weather has the final say in how long the tulips are in bloom. If it’s a sunnier spring than normal, the flowers will bloom earlier and will be gone by the end of April, so be sure to plan your visit accordingly.

By Karee of Our Woven Journey

tulips in many colors like purple, pink, white, and orange
Get your camera ready because you can’t resist snapping a million photos of these gorgeous tulips.

33. Learn about the Pig War on San Juan Island

Never heard of the Pig War? It’s time to change that! Journey to scenic San Juan Island north of Seattle for a history lesson you’ll never forget. Visiting English Camp is one of the very best things to do on San Juan Island.

Today, the camp on the northwest side of the island memorializes the 15 year stand-off between the Brits and Americans over…an errant pig. The story goes like this: A British pig wanders into the garden of an American and makes short work of his potato crop. Seeing as this pig was a repeat offender, the American farmer shoots him. The British pig owner says, “Why did you kill my pig?” And the American replies, “It was eating my potatoes!” “It’s up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig!” retorts the Brit.

This triggered a serious territorial dispute between the Americans and Canadians (British occupied at the time) because the watery boundary between the two nations ran right through the middle of the channel between nearby Vancouver Island and the Washington Territory. Happily, no shots were ever fired and the dispute was eventually settled through arbitration.

Travelers can tour the historic buildings here—it’s free—and then head to nearby Roche Harbor, a historic upscale boating marina that was once home to a Salish community back in the 19th century. Today, American and Canadian flags both fly here to help us all remember the spirit of international cooperation. The wide deck at the resort over the harbor makes the perfect spot at sunset to contemplate the events of the Pig War and how we can each do our part today to negotiate a compromise when it really matters.

By Christina from Explore Now or Never

small white building with brown thatched roof and rustic wood fence on green tall grass with a lake to the right and mountains in the background
If the history isn’t for you, the views are beautiful!

Alaska Activities

34. Kayak to an ice cave

Alaska’s wild landscapes, filled with glaciers and wildlife will bring out the explorer in you. One of the most exciting bucket list experiences is the chance to see a glacier ice cave.  

While glaciers are massive and quiet, there is a lot of activity going on underneath the surface. In the case of Mendenhall Glacier, water melting within the glacier has formed an ever changing ice cave that you can visit.

Embark on a kayak or canoe adventure with an experienced guide who can keep you safe. Since the glacier and caves are always changing, the guides will let you know if you will be able to safely go inside.

First you will paddle across Mendenhall Lake, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the stunning area. After pulling the kayak ashore at the base of the glacier, you will don helmets and get a short safety lecture. 

The entry to the cave is small but it opens up into a large space with turquoise ice that’s dripping so much you’ll be surprised at the amount of melting water. That melt makes the cave walls and ceiling shiny and bubble shaped. You’ll be mesmerized by the beauty as well as the knowledge that you are standing under a glacier.

The private 6 hour day tour is $399 per person and worth every penny to experience the glacier up close with all its ice caves, magnificent crevasses and amazing blue color. 

By Jenifer from The Evolista

woman in yellow kneeling inside of a turquoise ice cave
Look at the magnificent color inside the ice cave!

35. Take a boat ride in Resurrection Bay

A boat ride on Resurrection Bay in Seward, Alaska is a bucket list item for your Alaska vacation. Located on the southern edge of the Alaskan Kenai Peninsula, Seward and Resurrection Bay are surrounded by towering mountains and massive glaciers that line the coast.

There are a few different ways you can take in the beauty of the bay. One option is a whale watching and wildlife tours, a great experience for the whole family. For the extra adventurous visitors,  kayaking excursions  allow you to get right up next to the glaciers. Prices range depending on the experience and length, but typically start at $100 for a 5 hour day cruise and $400 for an all day kayaking trip out to Aialik Glacier.

One of the most memorable parts of the journey is the Cove of the Spires, an area of giant rock faces projecting out of the water. You will most likely see puffins nesting in these rocks and flying around the boat! You will also see some incredible glaciers along the shores and there is a high chance of seeing whales during the first half of the summer.

Out of all of the things to do in Seward, a boat ride in Resurrection Bay is an activity that shouldn’t be missed. The bay is incredibly beautiful, full of wildlife and is sure to make for a memorable experience.

By Lydia of Lost With Lydia

green forest mountains with boulder in the center of a lake
Much of Alaska’s natural beauty is best observed from a boat!

36. Hike to a glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park

If you are planning a trip to Alaska, you need to include Kenai Fjords National Park.  This park is located in Seward, Alaska.  Seward is a common cruise port stop, making it easy to visit.

There are two parts of Kenai Fjords; one is only accessible by boat, the other is an amazing hike to Exit Glacier.  Let’s focus on the amazing hike to Exit Glacier.

Exit Glacier is an easy 1-1.5 mile hike (depending on how far you go). It is a straight shot from the parking lot and small visitor center located on-site.  The trail starts out pretty flat but does gain elevation as you near the Exit Glacier overlook.  

There are really no words to describe how beautiful Alaska is, this hike is no exception.  As you hike you will cross a river, journey in a beautiful forest, and climb a mountain.  Seriously, how much better could it get! 

As you approach the Exit Glacier overlook, you will be able to see the glacier’s blue tint.  Glaciers are blue because of the dense ice and the way they reflect and absorb light.  The denser the ice the bluer they will appear.  

Once you arrive you have the option to hike a little farther to another vantage point. Both overlook areas are phenomenal. Sadly, over the past 20 years, Exit Glacier is slowly melting, but it is still massive and impressive for the time being.  

Kenai Fjords National Park is one of the best National Parks in the west and visiting Exit Glacier is an incredible free adventure.

By Lisa from Planning Away

lush trail leading to a glacier
Hiking to a glacier has to be on your West Coast bucket list!

37. Discover the final frontier of the USA by kayak

Are you looking for an epic, bucket list-worthy adventure? One that will fill your lungs with fresh air, your nose with the scent of pine, and your camera with enough pictures to make even National Geographic photographers envious? An adventure that will take you off the beaten tourist circuit and into a vast wilderness that only few dare to venture? If this sounds like your idea of a good time, you’ll have a blast sea kayaking amongst glaciers in Alaska. 

Imagine sitting in a sea kayak, paddling along a calm bay, dodging the occasional iceberg or growler, listening to the ear-splitting CRACK of a glacier breaking right in front of you as a bald eagle soars overhead. Alaska is known as the final frontier of the United States and has ample opportunities to get up close and personal with the rugged terrain.

Alaska has numerous glaciers, but most of them require either a helicopter ride or hours of insane hiking to get close to, let alone access. There are sea kayaking companies that are cheaper than a helicopter ride, easier to navigate than insane hikes, and put you together with like-minded adventurers. A day-long excursion out of towns such as Whittier and Anchorage will cost about $350 per person, and the memories and photos will last a lifetime.

By Rachelle of Adventure is Never Far Away

woman kayaking from behind in turquoise lake with glacier in the background
Get out on the water in Alaska and see these incredible views!

38. Ride the Glacier Discover Train

Riding the Glacier Discovery Train with the Alaska Railroad is easily one of the top experiences in all of Alaska. Starting from Anchorage, the train runs along the Turnagain Arm – where you’ll have the chance to see mountain goats and, if you’re fortunate, Beluga Whales.

From there, you cut through the Chugach National Forest with lush towering trees and cascading waterfalls, which all give way to impressive glacier views – and even the occasional bald eagle, bear, and moose. 

The best part about the trip is you can customize your experience to suit your tastes. If you want to cozy up and simply enjoy a relaxing and scenic train ride through some of Alaska’s most stunning landscapes, you can stay on the train and ride it all day. If you are the more adventurous type, you can hop off to do a glacier float or a glacier cruise before catching the train on its return leg. For those seeking a moderate level of activity, there are chances to get out and take nature walks to see glaciers or go blueberry picking, depending on the season.

Everyone has the opportunity to stop to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, which is the top-recommended stop on the Glacier Discovery Train.

This train route, packed with wildlife opportunities and glacier views, is a local favorite, and one of the best experiences in the West Coast.

The base rate for a round trip adventure from Anchorage to Grandview is $152 per person. However, the cost varies depending on how you customize your day. Everything, including add-on excursions such as visiting the wildlife center, can be booked through the Alaska Railroad on one ticket.

By Susanna from Curiosity Saves

view of a blue and yellow train going around a curve with Alaska scenery to the left and behind the front of the train including forests and snow capped mountains
Scenic train rides are such a unique way to discover a destination so this Glacier Discovery Train won’t disappoint!

39. Explore the Alaska backcountry by ATV

One of the ultimate bucket list adventures in Alaska is also one of the least well known. While many people visit Denali National Park, take a wildlife cruise out of Seward or look for northern lights in Fairbanks, renting an ATV and exploring the wild Alaska backcountry is truly an experience not to be missed. 

There are thousands of miles of trails throughout the Alaska wilderness that can be explored by ATV.

Experience wildlife up close and personal without the large crowds found at many of the national parks. You can join a tour or rent an ATV to explore on your own from Delta Junction for as little as $175 per day. Then choose your trip and be sure to book one of the backcountry cabins to turn it into a multi-day trip.

Cabins from the forest service or BLM may be as cheap as $25 per night depending on the location. Be sure to reserve well in advance as these get fully booked up months in advance during peak season. Many of these cabins can even sleep large groups so this is truly a budget friendly adventure if you bring some friends (or family) along. 

By Lina from Bucketlist Places

ATV with green hills in the background
Looking for a unique activity in Alaska? Try exploring the backcountry by ATV

Things to Do in Hawaii

40. Step into another world at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The star attraction of the Big Island of Hawaii is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 

This natural landmark, a UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserve, is home to two active shield volcanoes. The first one is the Mauna Loa, which is the largest volcano in the world. Secondly, there’s the highly active Kilauea, which has erupted multiple times in recent years.

It has several craters, some of which can be visited. There’s one that even has a hiking trail leading through it and that’s the Kilauea Iki (meaning little Kilauea) pit crater. This sensational 4-mile Kilauea Iki hike follows a loop trail that first leads to through the lush rainforest of the northern rim. Then it descends along the nearly vertical crater wall to the solidified crater lake. The transition between the crater rim and floor is quite challenging but well worth the effort.

Standing inside the crater of an active volcano is an unparalleled experience. You can feel the heat coming through the crater floor and see the steam coming through the vents. The crater floor is cracked and dotted with ohia trees that seem to thrive on this fertile soil. Words can’t describe how spectacular it is to feel the activity right underneath your feet.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located just half an hour from Hilo on the island’s windward side. Entrance costs $30 per vehicle. If you plan on visiting the other Hawaiian National Parks as well, you could opt for the $55 Tri-Park Annual Pass.

By Vanheel from CospoliClan

view of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with bright sunny partly cloudy skies and smoke escaping an active site
Whether you see an active volcano or hike the crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must-do!

41. Snorkel with manta rays

If you’re visiting Hawaii’s Big Island, an absolute must-do activity is to snorkel or dive with manta rays.  Kailua-Kona is one of the best places in the world to see these incredible creatures. 

There are several operators who run nightly manta ray snorkeling trips from the nearby Honokohau Marina to Makako Bay AKA “Manta Heaven”.  A large circle of spotlights has been set up on the seabed, about 30 feet below the surface.  As it turns dark, the lights are turned on.  The lights attract microscopic, invisible plankton, which is the manta rays’ main food source.  Soon afterwards, these enormous rays swoop in to scoop up all that food. 

There are two options.  Certified divers can kneel on the bottom around the lights, while snorkelers hold on to large rafts on the surface.  This keeps everyone safely together and provides stability, so that they can focus on the show at hand.  The manta rays swoop and glide around, often turning upside down and skimming close to the surface, so whether you dive or snorkel, you will get to see them up close.

This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list experience.  The manta rays are in the area all year round, though obviously they are wild animals and seeing them is not guaranteed. In January and February, the swells are often bigger due to the winter winds, so there is a greater chance of trips being cancelled.  So, it’s best to go March – December.  Snorkeling trips typically cost about $145 for adults and $135 for kids 7-13.  Kids under 7 are not able to participate, because it’s dark and there can be swells.

By James Ian from Travel Collecting

woman snorkeling in crystal clear blue water with a sting ray under her in the sand
Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in Hawaii! *Note this photo is not a manta ray…gotta keep it scientifically accurate.

42. Bike on Haleakela Volcano

Haleakala is a volcano on the Hawaiian island of Maui. From the city of Paia, you can join a tour that will outfit you with bikes and helmets, drive you up to the top of Haleakala (or at least, the starting point near the top as bikers are not allowed to start at the exact summit), and drop you off to ride down the mountain at your own pace.

The views over the valley and out to the ocean are incredible, and the excitement of knowing that you are biking down a volcano is very exhilarating. Plus, you’ll pass through and by different points of interest – a favorite was bicycling through a eucalyptus grove!

The first half of the ride you won’t really need to pedal much, but the second part does become more flat so you’ll get to use those legs. Still, since you are going downhill, there isn’t much hard pedaling you need to do, which makes it a great activity for people of almost all fitness levels. 

This activity costs between $100-200, depending on what company you go with – I recommend Maui Sunriders. And when you get back to the city of Paia after your bike ride, stop at the Paia Fish Market in town and get their blackened opakapaka – it’ll be one of the best fish you’ll ever eat!

By Stephanie of The Unknown Enthusiast

biking in Hawaii on a volcano
Bet you didn’t think a volcano could be green! Grab a bike and see for yourself.

43. Drive the Road to Hana on Maui

There are a number of famous road trips to take on the West Coast, but one of the best has to be the Road to Hana on Maui in Hawaii.

This 64-mile drive can be completed in one day but it will take many hours. This is because there is so much to stop and see on this scenic drive! Most people drive from East to West, but you can go either direction. The road ends in Kahului and Hana, although it continues even further to Kula.

If you’re traveling East to West, here are some recommended stops to make.

The first stop is one of the best and most popular at Twin Falls. There’s actually multiple waterfalls and a super fun rope swing!

At mile 10, visit the Maui Garden of Eden, an arboretum created by Maui’s first certified arborist. The details are beautiful and the views are even more so!

Some of the most incredible mountain and beach views can be seen from Wailua Valley Lookout at mile 18.

Don’t miss one of Hawaii’s only black sand beaches, Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach. Reservations are now required, but it’s worth the hassle! You’ll find this stop at mile 32.

Make sure you stop in the towns along the away for fresh fruit, juice, and popsicles! And the best part, the Road to Hana is free (minus your gas)!

By Alanna (me) from Periodic Adventures (this blog)

black sand beach with turquoise water and lush green forest surrounding on Maui Hawaii
Maui’s stunning black sand beach along the Road to Hana is a must do!

>> Don’t feel like driving? Book a guided Road to Hana trip here.

44. Discover the Molokai Leper Colony

Beneath the shadow of the Kalaupapa cliffs lies a place unlike any other in Hawai’i. On this quiet peninsula overlooking the Pacific Ocean is the Molokai Leper Colony, where people with leprosy were forced into exile. The sheer beauty of this landscape makes even the most jaded traveler stop and stare.

You used to be able to reach the colony by foot or mule, but the 2.9 mile trail descending 1700 feet along the tallest sea cliffs in the world was washed out so now the only option is to fly into Kalaupapa airport and begin your tour from there.

The Molokai Leper Colony is the most visited historic site in Molokai. Every year thousands of people visit this historical place, and once you arrive you’ll understand why many choose not to hike the trail; Kalaupapa is brimming with steep cliffs and dense foliage.

Visitors can take a guided tour through numerous sites, including the historic church where people with Hansen’s disease would worship. The tour ends with a picnic lunch on Kalawao beach where the landscape will take your breath away.

Visitors will need a permit to enter Kalaupapa National Historic Park which can be obtained by your tour company. The tour including flight costs $197 from Hoolehua Airport in Molokai, $399 from Maui or Oahu and $595 from Kona.

By Casandra from Karpiak Caravan

high elevation view of the coast of Hawaii with turquoise blue ocean surrounding
The stunning views of the Molokai lookout are worth a trip!

45. Snorkel in Hanauma Bay in Oahu

Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is a must-do activity during a trip to Oahu. The islands of Hawaii are well known for their clear water and incredible biodiversity, and Oahu is no exception. One of the most popular snorkeling spots on the island of Oahu is Hanauma Bay.

Hanauma Bay is named after two Hawaiian words- “hana” meaning bay and “uma” meaning curved. Hanauma Bay is historically one of the most popular snorkeling spots on the island. After being such a popular tourist spot for so many years, Hanauma Bay was declared a marine life conservation area in order to help protect its unique ecosystem.

In order to visit Hanauma Bay, you must make reservations and purchase your ticket in advance. The entrance fee is $25 and there is an additional parking fee of $3 per vehicle. If you do not have your own snorkeling equipment, it is available to rent for an additional $20. 

In an effort to preserve Hanauma Bay’s ecosystem, all visitors are required to watch a short informational video upon arrival. As with the rest of Hawaii- be sure to only use reef-safe sunblock while in the water and be respectful of the reefs and wildlife.

By Shannon of Traveling Teacher Girl

picturesque beach in Hawaii
You can’t tell me you don’t want to dive in and snorkel in Hanauma Bay.

46. Admire the views from Diamond Head trail

One of the most fun and beautiful experiences to do on Oahu Island and visiting Honolulu area and attractions is to hike up the Diamond Head trail through to the top to see magnificent views from above of the surrounding area. The views of the city skyline, beaches and coastline areas on the southern and eastern side of the island is definitely worth the effort. 

This must do experience in Honolulu is one of the most popular hikes to do in the park and entrance is only $5 per person and an additional $10 for parking if you bring a car.

After you park head out to the information center for maps and talk to the rangers for any questions you may have about the park and hike. It is fairly straight forward and a little bit of a work out first on paved trail that changes to dirt and gravel when you start the incline portion and then transitions to stairs and a fun dark tunnel experience and another flight of circular stairs before you head out to the observation areas.

From the top you’ll be rewarded with fabulous panoramic views of the city below and entire southeastern section of the island. 

If you start heading down, follow the exit trail along the south rim route with more amazing views around you and the trail eventually connects direct to the main portion of the uphill trail.

Needless to say bring sunscreen and water for those extremely hot days or go very early or later in the afternoon to catch the start of the sunset in the area which you might be lucky even though closing hours in the bottom park entrance is at 6pm but they let you descend to your comfort level.

By Noel with This Hawaii Life

Hawaii hike through the mountains to lookout
The views of Hawaii from Diamond Head Trail are incredible.

47. Run with the dinos at Kualoa Ranch

One of the coolest things to do in Hawaii is an ATV tour. While they have them on almost all of the Hawaiian islands, the best place to do it is at Kualoa Ranch on Oahu. This is a popular movie site where they filmed Lost, Jurassic Park, and much more.

You’ll actually ride in a UTV that can seat up to 6 people. This makes it a lot of fun for families or groups of friends.

While it’s really neat to see the different filming sites (there’s lots of signage), there are also movie props set up in special photo areas. But, the real reason you’ll want to do this 2-hour ATV tour at Kualoa Ranch is for the epic views.

Kualoa Ranch was originally purchased by a doctor who lived on the island and was worried about how over-developed Waikiki was getting. So, he bought the land in an attempt to preserve some of “Old Hawaii.” Well, it worked. You’ll get to traverse through 3 valleys on Oahu that are free from over-commercialization. No matter where you look, you’ll truly be in awe of the sweeping mountain, valley, and ocean views.

And don’t worry about this being too adventurous. This tour is open for kids as young as 5 years old and it’s easy to drive the path to avoid potholes for a smoother ride. Tickets start at $69.95 for kids ages 5-12 and $144.95 for everyone ages 13 and older.

By Marci of Hawaii Travel with Kids

line of ATVs touring the mountain valleys where Jurassic Park was filmed on Hawaii
If anyone sees a lost Jeff Goldblum, please return to me.

48. Take a photography tour on Oahu

Whether you’re a photography enthusiast of any level, or just looking for something a bit different to do in Hawaii, it is worth including a photography tour on your Oahu itinerary.

Oahu Photography Tours run a selection of tours on the island and have a range of times and days of the week to choose from. Each tour is conducted by a professional photographer who will offer tips and tuition throughout the tour, whether your equipment is a smart phone, Go Pro or the latest DSLR.

You’ll be taken to specifically selected locations on the island ideal for photography. This may include the North shore where you can shoot the Pipeline waves and try the famous food trucks, or you can choose an early start and head out for a sunrise tour which completes a circuit of the island, or the sunset tour is great for getting onto US time if your flight arrives early morning.  

All the guides are local so the big advantage you will get is visiting some amazing spots which you may not have considered or visited otherwise. Another plus is that transportation is included so this is great for people who don’t want to hire a vehicle to see parts of the island outside of Oahu.

Tours range in length from 5.5 to over 10 hours, with prices starting at $89.95 per adult.

By Holly from Globeblogging

bright orange and yellow sunset against a blue partly cloudy sky at the beach in Hawaii
Hawaii is already so picturesque so learn how to capture these moments right with a photography tour!

49. Soar over the Na Pali Coast

The Na Pali Coast on the island of Kauai in Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It’s known for its towering sea cliffs, narrow valleys, lush rain forests, and massive waterfalls. There are many ways to experience the majesty of the Na Pali Coast, whether it’s a sight-seeing cruise, driving to overlooks, or hiking trails, but the most bucket list-worthy of them all is riding in a helicopter over the coast.

Aside from the thrill of riding in a helicopter, you get to fly through Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and then onto the awe-inspiring Na Pali Coast. These areas are protected by the state of Hawaii, so you get to witness completely untouched wilderness and marvel at the forces of nature that created such amazing formations.

As a bonus, you get to see popular Hollywood filming locations for movies and TV shows like Jurassic ParkLost, and King Kong. If you’re a big fan of Jurassic Park, one of the tour companies, Island Helicopters, offers the unique experience of landing at Manawaiopuna Falls, a.k.a Jurassic Falls, the iconic waterfall from the scene where the group first lands on the fictional Isla Nublar.

Regular tours cost around $200 or the tour with the Jurassic Falls add-on costs $362 per person. But rest assured, this is one bucket list experience that is worth the hefty price tag! 

By JJ from The Minivan Bucket List 

Kauai coast with orange, brown, and green colored mountains clashing into the turquoise ocean
You may recognize this stunning scenery from Jurassic Park!

Looking for more travel ideas?

inspirational travel photos of California
Beauty in nature at the Manzanar National Historic Site in California…another great place to visit on the West Coast

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This epic West Coast bucket list is full of incredible destinations, things to do, places to discover on the West Coast including Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California.
Click here to read the top 49 things to do on the West Coast including come of California's most iconic activities, Oregon's hidden gems, the best things to do in Washington beyond National Parks, all the incredible places to discover in Hawaii, and things to add to your Alaska bucket list!
The West Coast has no shortage of unforgettable things to do so read travel bloggers' picks for the 40+ best activities on the West Coast including the best things to do in California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska! These are experiences you have to add to your travel bucket list and put on your West Coast USA travel list.
This Ultimate West Coast Bucket List goes beyond the typical travel recommendations with hidden gems in California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. These epic places to visit on the West Coast need to be on your travel bucket list for the USA.

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  • Get Your Guide – Check out Get Your Guide for a one-stop-shop for booking travel activities.
  • – This is my favorite hotel search aggregator, specifically for reading reviews. On, the reviews can be searched for keywords like WiFi, breakfast, pool, amenities, etc.! So helpful!
  • Anti-pickpocket bag – Worried about having your valuables swiped? PacSafe makes the best travel bags with zippers and straps that lock and with mesh steel enforced fabric.
  • Give the Gift of Travel – This is the perfect gift for travelers in your life! Tinggly allows you to gift experiences around the world, perfect for birthdays, weddings, or anniversaries.
  • Staycation Idea – Check out Resort Pass, which gives you day passes to resorts so you can use their pool, spa, and fitness center, a great staycation idea!

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Recent PhD graduate and hyper-planner of Periodic Adventures, my goal is to share travel inspiration, budget tips, detailed guides, and fun travel stories!


  • I cannot wait to go back to the USA to be able to visit all the places that are in your article! I have enough activities for a very very long trip 😀

  • Terri

    I cannot wait to visit some of these West Coast places like Yosemite! Great list.

  • I haven’t had the chance to travel to the west coast yet, but it looks amazing and there are so many places to visit and things to do! Can’t wait to plan a trip here.

  • I have done many of these experiences, but I would still need to get to Alaska, Hawaii and those tulip fields. I am looking forward to exploring Big Sur and Monterey in a couple of weeks.

  • So many amazing places! I grew up in Washington and we lived in California recently for a few years. You hit all of the great ones!

  • I still haven’t been to the West Coast yet, so this bucket list will definitely come in handy! I’d love to visit San Juan island and check out the Seattle Underground!

  • This is perfect timing. My friend and I are planning a trip to Washington/Oregon in April. Bookmarking this to help us plan our trip. Thank you!

  • As a West Coast resident and traveler for over 20 years, I gotta say you hit nearly everything here! Although personally I would have had a few more Oregon stops, but I’m a bit biased because that’s where we are😉. Love that you included the Peter Iredale and the Coast drive – so much to see! Great, thorough post.

  • I did not know about the elephant seals. I am gonna read more about it.


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