It may not be as iconic as Route 66, but the West Coast’s U.S. Highway 101 makes for the ultimate road trip, especially if stunning ocean views are your thing. The highway, stretching from Olympia, Wash. to Los Angeles, is chalk-full of charming towns, lookout points, natural parks and landmarks. Here are just a few places you may want to stop along the way:
Santa Barbara, Calif.
A gorgeous old Spanish city, Santa Barbara retains its colonial influence in its white stucco and red-roofed architecture and historical Spanish Mission. The coastal city has great upscale shopping and dining, not to mention Julia Child’s favorite taco stop, La Super Rica.
This little Dutch town seems oddly misplaced in the heart of the Central Coast’s wine country, but perhaps the incongruence is partly why we love it so much. Danish pastry shops, cobblestone streets and windmills make you feel like you’re actually in Amsterdam.
San Luis Obispo, Calif.
This is much more than your typical college town. San Luis Obispo is filled with great hiking, food and craft breweries. If you stay overnight, everyone will tell you to book the most well-known lodging on the Central Coast, the Madonna Inn, with 110 outrageously themed rooms.
Golden Gate Bridge, Calif.
This one sort of goes without saying, but many people head to the 101 with the sole purpose of seeing the rust-colored suspension bridge—and what a sight it is. I’ve lived near it for 25 years and still feel a rush when I drive over it. (Pro tip: If you have time, park at one of the ends and walk across the bridge to take in more of the view.)
Redwood National and State Park, Calif.
Up by Eureka, California, this park boasts the tallest trees on Earth. How’s that for a superlative?
This town, perched on the river of the same name, is perfect to slow down and enjoy some water activities like river rafting, fishing or kayaking. You can also drive through Klamath’s top tourist attraction: a massive redwood with a hole carved out, big enough for cars to fit through.
Oregon dunes, Ore.
The Pacific Northwest offers some of the most stunning coastline of the whole highway, and the Oregon dunes are well worth seeing if you’re up that way. These 40 miles of windswept dunes are the largest expanse of its kind in North America. In the dunes themselves, you can go off-roading, horseback riding, hiking, camping and more.
Cheese lovers, rejoice. This town is centered around its dairy business, and one million cheddar fanatics visit the Tillamook factory annually. Let’s just hope they give out samples.
Cape Disappointment National Park, Wash.
This could be the biggest misnomer of all time, since Washington’s coastline is anything but a letdown. This park, located on Long Beach Peninsula, boasts 27 miles of pristine coastline, complete with two lighthouses. You’ll notice that the Pacific coastline of Oregon and Washington is much more rugged and less populated than California’s—we’ll leave it to you to decide which you prefer. Just don’t forget your raincoat up here!