Road trip San Diego to Seattle – deserts, beaches, mountains and waterfalls

I had about 9 days to make it from San Diego to Seattle, which isn’t much to cover the vast number of sites to see along this 2,000+ mi journey.  I’ll be the first to say that I didn’t spend nearly enough time at any one location for the “full experience”, but that wasn’t my goal for this trip.  I was looking for the cliff notes version, taking as many pictures as possible, sleeping as little as possible and just getting lost on the open road.  It’s the drive that made this trip, with the individual destinations just being the icing on the cake.

Trip Itinerary

  • San Diego
  • Death Valley
  • Eastern Sierra and South Lake Tahoe
  • Burney Falls
  • Luffenhotlz Beach
  • Redwood National Forrest
  • Smith River
  • Crater Lake
  • Toketee Falls
  • Multnomah Falls
  • Mount Rainier and Seattle

San Diego

San Diego has become more or less a second home to me over the past two years. The weather is perfect year round, beaches are beautiful, great craft beer selection, incredible surf, and there’s always something to do. I spent about 5 days there on this trip, working every morning and filling my evenings with dinners, drinks and time with my west coast friends.  There are so many great restaurants to choose from in San Diego but the best meal I had on this trip was at Poseidon Del Mar, a classy seafood restaurant overlooking the pacific ocean. The food was top notch along with the sunset we caught that night getting to see the green flash for just the second time in my life. Overall my time was pretty relaxing in San Diego, but the highlight of that visit was definitely my first time sky diving. I’ll be publishing a more in depth post about jumping out of a plane but for now feel free to check out the video.
Sunset dinner at Poseidon Del Mar

Sunset dinner at Poseidon Del Mar

Death Valley

Got up to Dante’s View just over an hour before sunset.  I had plans on joining up with an Instameet but got there a little late and couldn’t exactly figure out where they were.  After meandering around for 45 mins I began setting up my camera to catch the sunset along with dozens of other photographers.  I met a guy named Nate who also drove up from San Diego earlier that day to explore Death Valley.  One thing lead to another and we ended up car camping together before we caught the sunrise at Badwater the next morning.

Eastern Sierra and South Lake Tahoe

You know times are tough when you have to debate driving through the Eastern Sierra mountains to Lake Tahoe, or take the 1 through Big Sur to San Francisco.  The views between the two couldn’t be any more different but each just as awe inspiring.  Not catching a minute of sleep from the night before in Death Valley (being 6’2 and sleeping in a Toyota Corolla – not so comfy), I checked into the Hard Rock Hotel at South Lake Tahoe and called it an early night.  I woke up bright and early the next morning to get a workout in before meeting up with my friend Dorota and her sister for breakfast and some site seeing around Emerald bay. Side note: If you’re planning your own west coast road trip and have never driven the PCH through Big Sur I would HIGHLY recommend that route.  I haven’t spent nearly as much time in Tahoe as I have San Francisco which is why I chose this route.  Either way you can’t go wrong!

Burney Falls

After seeing just one picture of Burney Falls online I instantly knew it would be a place I had to stop on this trip.  The falls are just a short walk down a paved path and I can honestly say the pictures don’t do it justice.

Luffenhotlz Beach

I never even heard of this beach until a couple hours before arriving.  I reached out to my friend Alicia who moved from to New Jersey to northern California and she highly recommended stopping here before I made my way to Redwood National Park.  This beach seems to be a popular surfing spot with the locals and thought it was pretty cool that they bring their dogs and let them have a play date while the surfers are hanging ten.

Redwood National Park

There’s not really much to say about Redwood National Park other than these trees are f’in huge! The trees are actually so tall as you look up at them it’s hard to even see the top. To really get a feel for how big they are I recommend finding a dead one laying on the ground and walking the length of it. These trees average 1,500 years old and 300+ ft tall!

Smith River

On the border of California and Oregon, the Smith River is said to be one of the clearest rivers in the world. Yep, I’ll vouch for that!

Crater Lake

Crater Lake had without a doubt the most snow I’ve ever seen in my life. The drive up to Crater Lake was pretty surprising in the fact that there were basically no switchbacks or steep climbs like you would see in the Rockies. The ascent was slow and gradual going through dense evergreens with traces of snow which eventually turned into over 14ft of snow! Crater Lake is actually a collapsed volcano and is 1,943ft deep making it the deepest lake in the United States and ninth deepest in the world. It was an amazing site to see but I would love to go back in the summer when the sun is brightly shining as it’s suppose to be one of the bluest lakes you’ll ever see.

Toketee Falls

There are so many waterfalls in the Pacific North West it’s hard to decide on which ones to visit.  Luckily when I was grabbing dinner the night before in Grants Pass, OR I met a stranger who highly recommended stopping at Toketee Falls and it was well worth the trip.  Before visiting the PNW I imagined seeing green and blue everything with moss covering all the trees and rocks…Toketee Falls gave me just that.  I parked my car and hiked along a river for about 3/4 of a mile before reaching the falls.  The viewing point is a wooden observation deck supported by several large trees nestled deep in the forrest.  I arrived at around 2PM in the middle of the week so it was nice to have this place all to myself as I sat there for over an hour.

Multnomah Falls

The Columbia River Gorge is usually one of the first things that come to mind when I think about visiting Oregon. Unfortunately, it was down pouring all day (surprise, surprise) so visibility wasn’t all that great and most of the things I wanted to see were closed for the season but I still made it to Multnomah Falls. These falls are a massive 620ft tall and has two drops. Despite the crappy weather there was still a large crowd there that day. I would imagine the coffee stand and restaurant at the base of the falls attracts tourist no matter the weather conditions.

Mount Rainier and Seattle

It was bittersweet having this trip come to an end but Mount Rainier and Seattle definitely ended it with a bang. I’ve always seen pictures of Seattle with Mount Rainier in the background, but never realized how enormous this mountain actually is. I’ve experienced 14,000+ ft mountains while snowboarding in Colorado, but the big difference is that the Rockies have so many of these mountains whereas Mount Rainier stands alone making it stick out like a sore thumb. Surprisingly enough, Mount Rainier gets even more snow than Crater Lake averaging 52ft of snow per year making a large portion of the park inaccessible until after mid July. As for Seattle, it was a beautiful city with a lot of character. I could have done without the heavy traffic 24/7, but overall I had a pleasant experience. Not to mention that this city is just a stones throw from Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks making it great for both nightlife and outdoor adventures. Oh yeah, almost forgot to mention that Seattle also gave me the most memorable coffee of my life. 😉
  • Drot Ski

    Very much enjoyed reading about your trip and seeing myself included in there!
    Also chuckled at the most memorable coffee you’ve ever had part at the bottom! haha
    You’re getting pretty good at these photo taking things. too bad you didnt have these skills on our road trip! mwahaha