West coast road trip day 5: Los Angeles

Finally made it to Los Angeles!

green and red cactus, succulents, and various desert plants
desert plants

The climate and environment changed slowly but steadily for the entire drive down the coast. You can see the dramatic differences more easily when comparing pictures from when we left to when we arrived. The Pacific Northwest is – as you’d expect – much more green, wet, and cloudy. Southern California is – also as you’d expect – dry, dusty, sunny, and hot. We haven’t seen any evidence that it actually rains here so far, although theoretically it must rain at some point. Right?

mexican food restaurant and painted mural on building with city street in foreground
tacos everywhere

It’s true that tacos are on every corner in LA. So is interesting artwork.

front yard of house with desert plants and dry dirt
local plants

Cactus and succulents are also on every corner, and literally line the streets. The landscaping varies from one house to another, but this type of yard is not unusual at all here.

I’m posting these pictures late, but we made the 1,100+ mile trip down highway 101 in about five days. It was incredibly scenic, and we barely scratched the surface – we could have easily extended the trip to 10 or 15 days and done it at a much slower pace, and we still wouldn’t have seen everything. It’s hard to top driving along a scenic coastline next to the Pacific Ocean, from beach towns to dense forests of ancient redwoods.

Going from Seattle to Los Angeles is a bit of a culture shock, separate and apart from the major change in climate. The city is a lot bigger and seems more chaotic (although to be fair, we just arrived, so everything is unfamiliar). And to take an example at random – drivers here are much more aggressive. Whereas in Seattle they are safe and courteous almost to a fault, in LA they will speed, tailgate, and frequently blow through red lights. Of course, we’re originally from Chicago, so these things are not quite as big a culture shock as they otherwise might be.

We’re only in LA for 12 months, and we plan to make the most of it. Expect more posts and pictures as we explore the city and surrounding area in southern California!

West coast road trip day 4: the “avenue of the giants”

On the fourth day of our road trip from Seattle to Los Angeles, we drove through even more redwoods in northern California. In Humboldt Redwoods State Park there is a long stretch of road you can take, separate from highway 101 but more or less parallel to it, that winds through the forest. It’s called the “Avenue of the Giants,” appropriately, and it’s spectacular.

view upwards towards the sky in a forest of tall trees on all sides
pretty tall trees

It’s definitely slower than 101 because of narrow turns and occasional stops (plus everyone is driving for the scenic view, and going very slowly as a result), but it’s worth the extra time. You just have to envision yourself as being in a parade, going no more than 20 mph, and you’ll be just fine.

sign for humboldt redwoods state park
welcome

There are other areas you can branch off and visit in this large state park, too, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to do anything other than drive through from one end to the other. Something about this forest feels majestic, though, like you’re in a sacred place.

forest of tall redwoods
majestic redwoods

After this, we drove a few hours further through northern and then central California, passed through Santa Rosa, and eventually crossed the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco, for which we later received a bill for an unpaid toll in the mail. Well-played, bridge operator.

This was our last overnight stop before the final leg of the trip: SF to LA.

West coast road trip day 2: Oregon coast

After a brief interlude in Portland, we headed out the next morning for the Oregon coast and Pacific Ocean. We’ve previously been to Astoria and Cannon Beach in the far northwest corner of the state, and we had a long drive ahead of us, so we saved some time and went southwest through Tillamook to Pacific City, and drove south along the coast from there.

coastline with beach and large rocks in the distance on a cloudy day
rocky coast

The Oregon coast is beautiful, with a mix of beaches and high rocky cliffs. The coast is also dotted with seaside towns: some of the bigger ones as you head south are Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Newport, Reedsport, Coos Bay, and Port Orford – and at some point you eventually exit Oregon and enter northern California.

On the second day of our trip, we made it to town called Bandon, just south of Coos Bay.

But on the way down, we stopped for one incredible hike: Cascade Head trail. We heard great things about this trail and were looking forward to checking it out, especially since it was one of the few things we’d built in extra time for on the drive down. And then of course, just our luck:

trailhead sign stating trail is closed
closed?!

The trail was closed.

Well, we made it this far, and we weren’t going to let a sign stop us. We forged ahead on the trail – along with a lot of other people we ran into along the way – and I’m glad we did.

trail through a green forest with tall pine trees
cascade head trail

The trail started at ground level through a large forested area but had a pretty steady elevation gain. After a while, we emerged onto the top of a large hill with a grassy open plain – and a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean and the coast.

view from the top

We paused to rest and take a few pictures, and then began the journey back down. I would highly recommend this hike if you’re ever passing through the area. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay longer or check out nearby trails, but we had a long drive still ahead of us – and a baby whose patience was quickly wearing out!

West coast road trip day 1: Oregon zoo

As mentioned in my last post about general updates and major life events, we just moved from Seattle to Los Angeles about two weeks ago. While movers loaded and hauled away most of our stuff, we also needed to transport a car, and we figured it would be a good opportunity for a once in a lifetime scenic drive down the entire west coast, starting from near the Canadian border and ending quite a bit further south. We crammed everything we could into the car (including a 5 month old baby) and headed out from Seattle after a long and chaotic moving day.

The drive was just as scenic as expected, and more. We took highway 101 (aka the Pacific Coast Highway) pretty much the entire way down, which often follows the coast and is right on the Pacific Ocean (although some parts are further inland). If you google something like west coast and route 101, the first results that pop up are “The Classic Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip,” with “classic” being swapped out for other adjectives like “ultimate” or “epic,” depending on the particular article and the level of enthusiasm of its author.

hand drawn map of highway 101 along west coast
the route we took from seattle to los angeles (on the left, along the coast). image credit: fodor’s.

Regardless, it was an amazing drive. We went through incredibly scenic areas, from dense forests to rocky cliffs along the coast, and also visited several large cities after Seattle, including Portland and San Francisco.

We started the trip at a more leisurely pace on the first day by just driving from Seattle to Portland, and we spent some time sightseeing a bit before moving on. In particular, we visited the Oregon Zoo in Portland, which has won awards (many of them, in fact). It was impressive!

boardwalk into a green forested area
entrance to the oregon zoo in portland
three sea otters
sea otters
two giraffes standing under trees
how’s the weather up there?

We saw bears, bald eagles, sea otters, seals, giraffes, bats, monkeys and apes (including chimpanzees) and much more. It was also our daughter’s first trip to any zoo. Overall, it was a great start to a long and epic trip!