From caves filled with adorable sea lions to extraordinary lighthouses and scenic drives, you’ll want to cross off as many of these 25 bucket list items listed here as possible for one amazing West Coast trip.
When we hit the west coast on our full-time RV trip, Todd was super excited. Why you ask? Well, he’s from Washington state and hadn’t had the chance to show our kids the area he grew up in. We got to see one of his childhood homes, Mt. Hood where he used to go skiing and the Saturday market in Portland, OR where he grew up eating elephant ears. (More on that later.)
Little did we know just how blown away we would all be by everything there is to do on the west coast. There were definitely some locations and activities we missed and are kicking ourselves over, but boy did we do a lot! It was a trip of a lifetime and I can’t wait to share these bucket list items with you. Our west coast trip was absolutely incredible and we want yours to be as well.
Bucket List Ideas for West Coast Adventures
Whether you’re planning on spending a weekend, a week or a month on the west coast, I hope these ideas of what to see and do help you plan your trip and have an amazing time.
Alright, here we go…
Washington State Bucket List Ideas
#1 Whidbey Island
If you get the chance to take the ferry to Whidbey Island, we highly recommend it. The most popular way to get there is by car and it’s a short jaunt from the Seattle area where you’ll experience gorgeous scenery, sea life and more.
We ended up spending our day at the Fort Casey State Park and touring the incredible military forts. Fort Casey was once part of the nation’s maritime defense effort and along with two other forts on Admiralty Inlet, this area forms what’s called the “Triangle of Death”. This meant that no invading vessel could escape the guns from all three forts.
Speaking of guns…there are two historic guns on display. You can also tour the forts and get a taste of what it was like to live and work here. The history was astounding and our boys (and us) soaked it all up, learning along the way.
While touring the forts, we saw a nearby whale watching boat. As we were watching the boat, a whale jumped out of the water right before our eyes. We couldn’t believe it! We heard the people aboard the boat scream (happy screams) as they got up close and personal with the whale. Later we found out this boat belonged to an old family friend of Todd’s (ironic and crazy am I right?) and he sent Todd some pictures of the whale we saw.
So, if you’re wanting to do a whale watching tour, be sure to book with Spirit of Orca Whale Watching and Wildlife Tours.
Not only did we see a whale, but we also sat on the beach area and watched a ton of sea lions playing around in the water.
We ended our time at Fort Casey by touring the Admiralty Head Lighthouse. You can walk all the way to the top for a spectacular view, as well as soak in some more history by walking the different rooms of the lighthouse. There are videos playing, plaques to read and pictures to view. I’ve always been fascinated with what a lightkeeper’s life was like and you get a taste of it at this beautiful lighthouse on Whidbey Island.
#2 Seattle Space Needle
I had a chance to go up in the Space Needle and eat at the restaurant during a business trip. Having a slight fear of heights, I was a little nervous about what it was going to be like.
Well, long story short, I had to move to the back and close my eyes as we headed up in the elevator. A friend of mine said she actually passed out in the elevator one time on the ride up and I could feel myself getting dizzy and a little queasy. Yikes!
The restaurant experience was fun (although in all honesty, our table was disappointed with the food for the price) and as long as I didn’t look out the windows too much, I was fine.
Needless to say, I wasn’t able to fully experience the Seattle Space Needle.
But our kids sure did.
When we visited there as a family, we sent all three of them up. We just felt like it was one of those iconic Seattle experiences they needed to have. It’s not cheap though! I think we ended up paying around $37 per ticket. If you go earlier in the day, the ticket prices are a little cheaper.
#3 The Iconic Pike Place Market
Also located in Seattle is the Pike Place Market. It’s Seattle’s original farmer’s market, which started in 1907. I recommend visiting their the Pike Place website to plan your visit so you can make sure you see everything you want to see. We just showed up and it was a little overwhelming because of the crowds.
This is also where the very first Starbucks is located. One of our sons works at Starbucks, so it was pretty cool to see it. But the line was out the door, so we passed on ordering anything. We’re kind of familiar with their coffee anyway. 😉
#4 Cape Disappointment State Park and Lighthouse
If you haven’t had a chance to visit the beaches of Oregon and Washington, do what you can to make it happen. Growing up visiting the Texas beaches made the west coast beaches feel like a different world. Especially when the fog rolled in.
The Cape Disappointment State Park and Lighthouse are a must visit for photographers. It’s located in Ilwaco, Washington and no, it’s a not a disappointment! It’s quite the opposite.
How did it get its name? Here’s a short explanation via the state parks’ page:
Named for Captain John Meares’ first thwarted voyage to find the Columbia, Cape Disappointment is steeped in Northwest history. This is the place to explore U.S. military and maritime legacies and to experience the story of Lewis & Clark and the effect of their Corps of Discovery Expedition on Native American tribes.
We spent hours hiking and photographing this place. The walk to the lighthouse is gorgeous and well worth the short trek. I could include about 100 photos of it but narrowed it down to just one. Believe me, it was hard.
Oregon Bucket List Ideas
#5 Cannon Beach
Cannon Beach is one fun and amazing coastal Oregon town, located 90 minutes west of Portland. It’s been named by National Geographic as one of the world’s 100 most beautiful places. And yes, it really is that beautiful.
The beach is crowned by the Oregon icon, Haystack Rock.
And if you’re trying to figure out why this rock looks so familiar, it’s probably because you’re a Goonies fan. Yep, this is the rock that is featured in the opening scene when the Fratellis are fleeing from the police and then enter a race on the beach. It’s also shown in the film again when Mikey is pointing out some rocks in the distance.
There is so much to do in Cannon Beach, from shopping and eating to hiking and sea life viewing. I’m ready to go back for another visit! Who’s with me?
#6 Crater Lake
Todd had been dreaming of getting back to this place for almost 40 years. If you do the math (and know Todd’s age) he visited here when he was just 5 years old. Yep, I’d say it was time for another visit. Just look at it!
Related Reading: Exploring Crater Lake National Park
#7 Chase Waterfalls in Umpqua National Forest
Do you like waterfalls and green lush forests and ample opportunities to take some fantastic photos of nature? If so, a visit to Umpqua National Forest will take your breath away.
#8 Dunes National Recreation Area
If you’re still reading this (hi and thank you!) then you’re probably catching on to the fact that a lot of our bucket list includes outdoor recreation activities and parks, whether that’s state or national. Yep, we dig being outside and exploring natural wonders this great big earth has to share.
Before heading to Crater Lake and Umpqua, we spent some time at the Oregon Dunes. If dunes towering 500 feet above sea level, as well as water sports, sound like a fun time to you, then you won’t be disappointed when visiting the dunes. This natural wonder is just one of the many sites that make Oregon such a unique and incredible state.
#9 Sea Lion Caves
If your travels find you on the Oregon coast, a visit to the Sea Lion Caves is a must!
This is America’s largest sea cave, which just so happens to include some very fun to watch sea lions. Not only are they fun to watch, but to listen to as well. It truly is a sea lion beach party!
We ended up staying for at least a couple of hours filming and snapping photos of these amazing creatures, as well as just soaking in the gorgeous surroundings.
#10 Mt. Hood
Todd grew up only about 60 miles from Mt. Hood and spent time skiing on this mountain as a kid. He was pretty excited to be able to share this destination with us and we instantly fell in love with it and could see why it holds such a special place in his heart.
While visiting, we stayed at one of the Thousand Trails Campgrounds called Mt. Hood Village RV Resort.
For pictures as beautiful as the one above, visit Trillium lake. It gives you one of the best views of the mountain, plus you can’t beat the reflection of the mountain on the water.
Be sure to also visit the historic Timberline Lodge, which is known for being in the Stephen Spielberg film The Shining. Plus, it’s right on the Pacific Coast Trail (The PCT) and you can hike it as we did for a bit. Then you can say you’ve hiked part of the PCT. It just sounds cool.
#11 The Portland Saturday Market
The Portland Saturday Market is another childhood memory of Todd’s. (Are you counting how many times I’ve said ‘Todd’? This is the last time. Promise.) His mom used to take him there and he would indulge in an elephant ear. What are elephant ears and why would you want one? Well, it’s a giant fluffy dough topped with cinnamon and sugar, shaped like an elephant’s ear. And it’s delicious. And they are huge, so you might want to share!
The Portland Saturday Market has been around since 1974 and features 252 booths showcasing a variety of arts & crafts sold by local Pacific Northwest artisans.
There are also street performers everywhere. Our son Aaron was asked to participate in one. He bent over alongside several other participants while a man jumped over them. Because…why not?
California Bucket List Ideas
Ahhhhh….now it’s time for California. While I loved Washington and Oregon, California has a special place in my heart. I need sun and heat and more sun, so as we made our way down the coast of California, this Texas girl just got happier and happier. And let me tell you, we made the most of our time there.
#12 Joshua Tree National Park
So far, we’ve visited 15 National Parks (I think) and a few of those have made me feel like I’m on another planet. Joshua Tree was one of those. It also surprised me how much I loved it.
What do you do in Joshua Tree National Park? You hike, you rock climb if that’s your thing, you walk among the cacti, you watch the incredible sunset and you take approximately 1, 256 pictures of the Joshua Trees.
Just remember it’s the desert and it can get very hot. It can also get quite chilly in the evenings. The best times to visit are in the early spring where you’ll see desert wildflowers bloom or late fall when the sun does something spectacular.
If you’re wanting a camping spot, winter is your best bet to avoid crowds. We didn’t stay in the park and booked somewhere else, but noticed that all the campgrounds were full.
#13 Yosemite National Park
To say we’re fans of Yosemite National Park would be a huge understatement. I’m fairly certain there is no word in the English language to describe how much we love this place. If I was a five-year-old I’d say I wanted to marry it. So let’s just go with that, shall we?
I’ve yet to meet someone who’s been there that feels ‘meh’ about it.
One National Park we didn’t make it to in California that I wish we would have, was Sequoia National Park. There are so many things to do with kids there!
#14 Sailing Under the Golden Gate Bridge
I’ll never forget seeing the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time. We took a family spring break trip to Yosemite and San Francisco and when I saw it up close and personal, I was in awe. I’d seen it in movies and in pictures and knew I had to see it for myself someday.
For a stunning view of the bridge and for some good photos, go to Baker Beach. But just be sure you go to the non-nude beachside or you might be rather surprised to see naked men playing frisbee. Don’t ask me how I know this important information.
But, for a view of the Golden Gate Bridge like no other, consider sailing under it.
We went sailing with Adventure Cat sailing and not only was the crew the best of the best, but the views were also the best of the best.
I mean, sailing in the first place is just amazing! Plus the crew let our boys try their hands at the ropes. And then they stop right in front of the bridge for you to get the perfect photo.
I can not wait to do this again someday!
You can book your sailing trip with Adventure Cat Sailing. Tell them Julie from TREKKN sent you. LOL, just kidding. They won’t have a clue who you’re talking about! I’ve just always wanted to say that.
#15 Muir Woods National Monument
Just a slight jaunt from San Francisco is Muir Woods National Monument. On our first trip to San Francisco, this place was so crowded we couldn’t get in. So when we visited again, it was a weekday and early in the morning.
We’ve since heard that you need to make reservations to visit. Specifically, the website states:
Reservations are now required for all personal vehicles and shuttle riders visiting Muir Woods National Monument. Plan your trip today to experience the towering redwoods and abundant plant and animal life that call Muir Woods home.
Booking a reservation is well worth it to see this incredible redwood forest.
#16 Muir Beach
Just down the road from Muir Woods, is Muir beach.
The drive here from San Francisco is just stunning. You cross the Golden Gate Bridge and then drive along the northern side of the bay with views of Sausalito (a beautiful seaside town) and Alcatraz.
But just know that the last 10-15 minutes of the drive is very and I mean very curvy. If anyone in your car is prone to car sickness, you might want to give them something before you make the trek.
Be sure to bring your bathing suit, if you don’t mind cold water that is! Our youngest son isn’t phased by any water temperature it seems, so he spent hours skimboarding. There were also some surfers testing out the waves, as well as kayakers.
And definitely stay until sunset. It’s just beautiful.
#17 San Diego Zoo
We had always heard the San Diego Zoo was one of the best in America and guess what? It really is.
The first thing we did when we arrived was hopped on a tram to get an amazing aerial view of the zoo. We could see the gorillas from the tram, an animal we were all very excited to see. The zoo is sectioned off into different areas like the Australian Outback, Africa Rocks and Northern Frontier.
This is a zoo that is well worth your visit and is perfect for all ages.
#18 San Diego Safari Park
The San Diego Safari Park is equally as amazing and well done as the zoo is, but it’s a completely different experience. The animals have tons of room to roam and their environments are created to be as close to what their reality would be like in the wild. It’s a very unique experience, to say the least.
Our son snapped some incredible photos of the gorillas. Here are a few shots from his Instagram.
Some friends we were staying with while in San Diego live a few miles from the Safari Park and we could hear the lions roaring at one point. Talk about an amazing experience!
Visit the Safari Park website to purchase tickets and plan your visit.
#19 Eat Pizza in Little Italy
What is there to do in Little Italy in San Diego? Eat pizza of course!
We ate at NaPizza and had some of the tastiest pizza ever. Not only is their pizza amazing, but they care deeply about our planet and the community.
If you get the chance to walk around this community, we highly recommend it. We just so happened to be there on Halloween and were treated to so many dogs in costume, as well as some cute kiddos.
#20 Kayak in the La Jolla Sea Caves
We plan on writing up a more detailed post on this experience because it was so incredible. We went on a kayak tour of the sea caves in La Jolla with Everyday California.
I had no idea what to expect, but we just showed up and hoped for the best! It ended up being one of our most favorite experiences.
Our guides were amazing and made us feel very comfortable before we even got out on the water. As we were paddling out to the sea caves, they stopped a couple of times to give us the history and some facts about the area.
Once we made it to the caves, they brought us in two at a time. The water was so incredibly clear and we could see all kinds of different fish. As we were waiting for everyone to have their turn in the caves, there were sea lions on the rocks right next to us just chilling out. One baby was waiting for its mama, probably to come back with lunch.
You’re on the water a total of an hour, but the entire process from check-in to check-out took two hours.
Oh, and bring a waterproof camera or case for your phone if you’d like to snap some photos.
#21 Tour the USS Midway
Since we were roadschooling our 14-year-old, we took every possible chance to visit historical places that we could. The USS Midway ended up being one incredible history lesson.
The USS Midway was an aircraft carrier of the United States Navy, the lead ship of her class. She was commissioned at the end of World War II and operated for 47 years. She was decommissioned in 1992 and now sits in the San Diego harbor.
We spent a total of three hours touring the ship and still didn’t see it all. Your ticket purchase is good for the entire day, so you can leave to go eat lunch and then come back again to finish touring the ship. You just have to stop by the visitor’s center before you go back in.
If you have the time, be sure to take the tour all the way up to the Captain’s Chair. It’s a tight squeeze and there are plenty of places to hit your head, so just know that before you get in line. But once you’re there, you get the full view of what the Captain would see and it’s pretty dang cool.
#22 Rent Surfboards
While in Carlsbad, CA our boys wanted to do some surfing. They had taken some lessons from their cousin and were ready to try it again. We were in a small rental car while in this area, so trying to fit surfboards in it would have been impossible. But thanks to the handy internet skills of our boys, they found a shop that would actually deliver the boards and wetsuits to us at the beach.
We rented two boards and two wetsuits from South Pacific Surf. The owner was very knowledgable about what we would need, as well as incredibly nice. To rent the surfboards for two hours it was $25 a piece and $10 a piece for the wetsuits.
#23 Walk and Taste Wines Along the Urban Wine Trail in Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara was a city that really surprised us. We spent an entire day in the downtown area and had so much fun. You can check out our post titled ‘4 Things to do in Santa Barbara if You Only Have 24 Hours‘ for some ideas.
I’ve been wine tasting before, but being able to walk around in a beautiful city from wine tasting room to wine tasting room was a unique experience and definitely one of my favorites. Our boys were able to go along with us because every wine tasting room we visited was family friendly. They just sat inside either at a table or couches and chilled out while Todd and I had our fun.
Two of our favorite stops were Riverbench and Kunin. I bought a bottle from Kunin and was later contacted and told that the owner of the winery had passed away suddenly. So I opened that bottle of wine and drank it in memory of him with some friends. Cheers to you Seth.
#24 Rent a Surrey
A fun way to see the coast of Santa Barbara is to rent a Surrey from Wheel Fun Rentals. We biked around for a bit, stopped for ice cream and overall had a great time. (As you can see.)
They have a large selection of surreys for rent, plus mountain bikes and beach cruisers.
#25 Monterey Bay Aquarium
Last but definitely not least on our West Coast trip bucket list, is visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
We lived in Monterey for a year while Todd was in training for the military, so this place is close to our hearts. Living here was a dream!
Two of our kids were little while we lived here (and one didn’t even exist yet), so a yearly pass to the aquarium just made sense. I can’t tell you how many times we went there. It just never got old.
The aquarium is located right on the water on Cannery Row. Last time we were there, we went to the back of the aquarium outside and stood there watching seals swim and play around in the water. The aquarium and Cannery row can definitely be turned into a day trip. There are so many things to do in that area, including tasty restaurants and shopping. It’s a beautiful area and perfect for families.
Are you ready to plan one amazing West Coast trip now? We truly hope these bucket list ideas help you create an itinerary for an incredible trip to remember.
Oh, and don’t worry…we haven’t forgotten about you East Coast! You’re up next, so stay tuned.
Julie specializes in helping you whip up delicious meals in your tiny RV kitchen, as well as RV organization tips and helping fellow RVers make their RV feel like home. Her favorite RVing spot is in Banff National Park in Canada where yes, the water really is that blue and the people really are that nice.