West Coast or Bust!
Our dream trip, 7 years in the making…and how we did it for $3000.
Rewind 7 years ago. My husband (boyfriend at that time) and I, were dreaming about driving the 101, beach camping, seafood eating, and honestly how in the hell we would ever do something like that! We dreamed, we talked, and then we put that on the back burner to simmer for a while.
Fast forward to December 2018… it was time!
But how? Initially we just started putting money away. A chunk of change every month for 6 months. Next came booking some key points along the way. We knew we wanted to drive Hwy 101 from North to South, this way we would be on the right side of the highway to enjoy optimal views. We had to decide our starting point, and that’s just what we did. The key to our success was FLEXIBILITY, we knew there was no way we could control ALL aspects of such a huge trip! So we reserved a total of 7 nights of our trip before we left. The rest you ask …? Well, my friends, that’s where the adventure comes in!
Adventure – an exciting experience that is typically a bold, sometimes risky, undertaking. To adventure means you have to be willing to get uncomfortable and then laugh!
Here are our main stops and tips/tricks along the way!
Make sure to click through the pics for all the fun!
Mt. Hood, OR. It took 2 days to get here. We may have gone a tad mad in the truck for 20 hours and 1300 miles. Tip/Trick-AUDIOBOOKS!!!! I use audible, we were pretty much entertained the entire way! Columbia Gorge area was breathtaking! It’s one of the places we truly want to revisit. We didn’t book our hotel for the evening until we were getting close (this also allows for more flexibility, booking on weekdays also makes it cheaper). We use a lot of points that we collect throughout the year when we make big purchases on our expedia card. That evening we talked to the locals in the Mt. Hood Brewery (BOMB Gluten Free PIZZA & Hard Cider) and decided on a trail to ride the next day. Pioneer Bridle Trail was just under 11 miles and was one helluva descent. Our 12 year old did great on this one! Beautiful option to hike to a waterfall along the way! This trail felt like riding through Jurassic Park! After our ride we made our way back down to the Columbia Gorge area, stopping for wine tasting along with way ($15 flight, price taken off the bottle we purchased) WY’EAST Vineyards, we bought the 2014 Pinot Noir. That evening we kayaked the Columbia River (Great thing about a road trip is taking along all the toys!), and then camped at Viento State Park (Cheap camping, right off the interstate-which I thought I would HATE! But ended up being one of my favorite sites of the trip. If you camp here, camp on the south side of the interstate, you’ll be right on a creek and in lush forest). We cooked dinner on our coleman stove with minimal fresh ingredients from a local grocery store and the frozen meat we packed with us in the YETI cooler (No we did not purchase that thing at full price…that’s another killer deal). We enjoyed a quiet evening around our campfire and slept amazingly well! Dreaming of all the adventures to come. The next morning we made our way to Multnomah Falls – Also free and a bucketlist item!
This little gem was a fluke! I’m telling you, the benefits to flexible reservations! We initially wanted to spend an evening in Portland but let’s get real here….I HATE BIG CITIES! Evoke anxiety attack here! So we decided to get to the coast ASAP instead of fighting traffic and paying an OUTRAGEOUS amount of cash for a hotel that wouldn’t be different than any other big city digs. This little piece of paradise looks like it came right out of a novel written by Nicholas Sparks’ West Coast brother. We forked out probably the most money for this hotel, but the $200 was worth the beach front balcony and the full kitchen! (Tip/Trick when looking for a hotel we always look for one with some sort of kitchen, this one had a full kitchen and we were able to refreeze our water bottles for the cooler–This way we don’t have to spend money on ice). That evening we scoured the beach for sand dollars and mole crabs. Free fun that elicits the best memories! We devoured our first basket of Halibut Fish’n’Chips alongside $1 beers (Find a place with a happy hour! Discounts GALORE!) Sam’s Seaside Cafe was within walking distance of our hotel and it did not disappoint! This town was very family friendly with ice cream shops on every corner, arcades, and many street performers. We can’t wait to go back!
Cannon Beach, OR.
Beautiful place…..WAY TOO MANY PEOPLE and not enough parking! Again, being flexible, we found a different vantage point and were able to enjoy the view from there 🙂
Nehalem Bay State Park, OR.
This was our first reserved site of the trip. We booked it about 5 months in advance, happened to get the first night free, so we paid $30 for two nights. The campground is situated right off the beach with a short but sandy dune hike to the water. Unfortunately….IT’s ALWAYS WINDY! We stayed an entire 4 minutes on the beach and then hightailed it back to the site. This type of camping was not primitive and there were quite a few people for the first night (free=people) but we enjoyed laying in our hammocks and resting for the day. The next day we checked out the river, still windy, and did some clamming and crab catching! This filled hours of our day and the best part? IT WAS FREE! Of course we threw back any clams we found because we didn’t have a permit. Eating was cheap…we kept it simple and in camp.
Depoe Bay, OR.
This was another impromptu stop along the way. While doing some research on one of our rest days at camp I started looking into Whale Watching! We went with the company Tradewinds Whale Watching Cruises, paid $20/ea and $10 for our son! The boat was a little bigger than the more expensive tours, but I didn’t get wet and we still got just as close to the whales! We saw around 4 whales in an hour and it was such a cool experience! We also saw Seals, Sea Lion, and a Mother In Law Fish. The captain and his crew were so great! (Make sure to tip your tour guides!) A great lunch and cold beer were served up at the local brewery (I’m starting to see a trend here…) and just like that we headed on down the coast once again.
Coos Bay, OR.
We found a cheap hotel on expedia and crashed here for the night (Tip/Trick – We also like to find hotels with free breakfast! This hotel had a great hot breakfast for free!) We trusted Trip Advisor to find us a great seafood restaurant and we were not super impressed. The Captain’s Choice Family Fish House was expensive and not what we were expecting. I think if you were to go with their fish’n’chips or a burger you’d fare ok. Otherwise save your cash and splurge somewhere else. We did find an awesome ice cream shop called Scoops Handmade Ice Cream!
Cape Arago State Park, OR.
Our first tidepool experience on the trip! The hubby and kido were bound and determined to check out tidepools, so this was a win for us. A short but steep hike led us to a beautiful area full of tidepools. We had to be up and out there early for the low tide. Check and see what the times are best with a quick google search. Again, this fun was FO-FREE! We saw so many different types of creatures! We spend three hours here and would have stayed longer if the tide wasn’t coming in. We also overheard students discussing the ocean–Did you know that the plastic they find most, off the coast, are shotgun shells? Who knew?
Crescent City, CA
This was our 2nd set of reservations of the trip. We camped at Millcreek Campground which resides in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. This site ran $35/night. We stayed 2 nights here. Great developed campground with bathrooms and potable water. This place was dreamy! Camped right, smack dab, in the middle of Redwood forest! We explored so much of the campground! After so long in the car we got in as many steps as possible! Just down the road is a cute little touristy and dated park. Trees of Mystery is an easy place to hike through the redwoods and learn the history when short on time. For a cheap fee we got more steps and the views were priceless. In the park a tramway takes you to the top where you will get to see where the ocean meets the treeline. To my surprise I met some celebrities! PCT hikers were enjoying the park as well and they were more than happy to share their experience thus far! Very inspiring! From the viewing deck you have the option to take the tram back down or hike a 1 mile trail back down to the bottom. This jaunt is NOT for someone who doesn’t like to walk or has weak ankles. It’s STEEP and Slippery! Shut down the ego and take the walking stick they offer, I sure wish I had! Also, don’t wear chacos…. Later that evening we explored more coastline in Crescent City….and you guessed it….more tidepools! Then back to camp for another cheap/fun dinner! It is seriously soooo much fun to cook outdoors! Our coleman two burner stove is one my favorite cooking gadgets that we own! It makes cooking real dinners so much more easier.
San Francisco, CA.
Our next stop along the way was the Big City! Now as you remember…if you’ve been reading that long… I’m not a fan of big cities. I mean when you’re near the Golden Gate Bridge you have to go see it right? We stayed nearly Berkeley, CA, which was less congested. After doing some research we learned that people’s vehicles were being broken into, even in valet parking. We also learned that the hotels came with big city pricing and even BIGGER Parking fees. $75 to park your vehicle AT THE HOTEL! WTF!?!?! So we opted for somewhere other than downtown. Used points to get a hotel free and it came with free breakfast! #WINNING We FINALLY found great seafood at a little place called Crawfish! All three of us shared a Combo Boil and some fried oysters (SO GOOD WITH HOT SAUCE!). We left fat happy, and a mess! Do yourself a favor and use Lyft…because parking is still horrendous in the Berkeley area! Back at the hotel we soaked in the hot tub and chit chatted with other travelers! Lean into the discomfort and meet new people! It’s fun!
Santa Cruz, CA.
This is it! This is what we’d been waiting for! The next morning we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and got some cool vantage points from the west, and then headed down Hwy 1 for a beautiful drive! Take the time to get off the main ways and drive this coastline. Stands for avocados 5/$1, beaches, kite surfing, and white capped waves kept us entertained the entire way! Pulling into Santa Cruz we were all starving. I forgot to mention, we also don’t eat fast food, so far in the trip fast and easy lunches had to be creative. My favorite place to stop is Trader Joe’s! We were able to find cheap, fast, easy, and healthy lunch and enjoy it in our truck while we waited for check-in time to come. We also did a little shopping for our meals at the hostel (Saving money all the ways!). Here is our 3rd and final reservation. We booked 3 nights in the hostel. For $109/night we had a private room with shared bathrooms (many other hotels go for greater than $300/night). Check out my post about hostel staying, it’s such a great way to travel. The HI Santa Cruz Hostel is modest and adorable! Situated TWO blocks from the beach, this place was perfect! (Tip/Trick-plan on walking A LOT! Parking is also crappy here. Once we found a spot we didn’t move the truck until we drove to Monterey) There is a ton of stuff to do in Santa Cruz. We explored the Boardwalk, a historic amusement park and arcade. Savored saltwater taffy and the BEST iced Coffee from Marini’s Candy Shop. Explored the Wharf–where we fished (Free as long as you are fishing from the pier!) and watched the sea lions. Paddleboarded and kayaked in the ocean. This is another spot we can’t wait to visit again!
Monterey , CA.
What’s a trip down this way without seeing the Monterey Bay Aquarium? It’s also where Big Little Lies takes place (Any fans here?).
Tip/Trick-Park downtown, $7/day (6ft max..our truck didn’t fit in the garage), and take the free trolley to the aquarium!
Again…SO MANY PEOPLE! Do you remember the scene from Finding Dory? That one were all the sea creatures are traumatized in the touch pools? Yeah…it’s legit. I was traumatized FOR THEM! Go to the back of the aquarium… more walking = less people! It was a beautiful place, I’m glad we went, but I don’t need to rub elbows with that many 4 year olds–EVER AGAIN! The coolest thing here (besides Dory and Nemo), was learning about the tidepools and the piers. It was neat to know that we had seen all of these things in the wild and that not many people get to experience that! It was a great way to end our time on the coast!
After two weeks on the road we were all missing home something fierce! We started on our way back and 9 hours later stopped in Mesquite, NV. Hotels are CHEAP CHEAP here! We aren’t huge gamblers so we took our nice hotel room, pool, and hot tub for a WHOPPING $48/night, and enjoyed every bit of it! The next morning we paid for our first breakfast of the entire trip! Yep, on day 14 we finally paid $28 for breakfast! Casino eating is cheap! We played with the idea of making two more stops along the way, but in the end decided to push the 11 hours home! Cue Audible here! Lunch/dinner this day was some chicken and a bagged salad from a City Market in Grand Junction, Colorado. This is another fast and simple meal on the go! It was the best feeling ever to climb into our own bed after 5 nights sleeping on the ground, 3 nights in a hostel, and 6 nights in hotels.