Take In The Beautiful Pacific Northwest Coastline On This Road Trip Route

When it comes to scenic road trip routes, the U.S. is overflowing with possibilities, and one of the most beautiful routes you'll encounter is the one along U.S. Highway 101. Also known as U.S. Route 101 or just U.S. 101, this highway stretches from the city of Tumwater, Washington, all the way down to Los Angeles, California. It crosses San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and covers over 1,500 miles across three states. That includes Oregon and its entire coastline, which is all owned by the state. This means the beaches are open to the public, and you can take in some incredible views of the Pacific Ocean along the way.

Tumwater neighbors Olympia, the capital of Washington state, and it's only about an hour's drive south of Seattle. If you want to keep from putting too much mileage on your car, flying into Seattle and picking up a rental car there might be a good place to start. You can visit the Space Needle, plus the benefit of driving north to south is that it will put you in the outer lane. Since 101 is mostly a two-lane highway, you'll have a better view on that side, without as many cars crossing between you and the Pacific Coast.

When you get down to California, Highway 101 becomes the famous Pacific Coast Highway. While they may be slightly less well-known, however, the parts of 101 that wind through the Pacific Northwest still offer an abundance of sights worth checking out.

From Washington to Oregon

Highway 101 begins by looping around the Olympic National Forest on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. This is where Cape Flava, the westernmost point in the contiguous U.S., is located. It's also part of Olympic National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the country's longest stretch of wilderness coastline this side of Alaska. The park also contains several landmarks in the National Register of Historic Places, including the Enchanted Valley Chalet. The visitor center is in Port Angeles, which the highway passes through en route to Lake Crescent.

If you have time, you can detour south 17 miles from Port Angeles to catch a sweeping view of mountain glaciers at Hurricane Ridge. Back on the highway, "Twilight" fans will likely want to stop in the rainy little lumber town of Forks. Here, you can follow the "Twilight" map to see locations, costumes, and props featured in the popular vampire movie series. Other places of interest along 101 in Washington include the mossy Quinault Rain Forest and Aberdeen, the birthplace of grunge music, where you can tour sites associated with Nirvana's late frontman Kurt Cobain.

Chinook Point is the notable campsite where early American explorers on the Lewis and Clark expedition first saw the Pacific Ocean in 1805. Not far from there is the Astoria-Megler Bridge, the longest continuous truss bridge in North America. It will carry you across the river to Oregon and the town of Astoria, another Pacific Northwest location made famous by Hollywood.

From Oregon to Northern California

Astoria served as the setting for "The Goonies," and it was later a shooting location for films like "Kindergarten Cop" and "Free Willy," which The Oregon Film Museum spotlights. First founded as a fort in 1811, Astoria is also historically significant as Oregon's oldest city, as well as the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. And just outside the city is Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.

From Astoria, you can continue along Highway 101 to Cannon Beach, which is arguably the best budget-friendly beach in the Pacific Northwest. Another possible detour, just 90 minutes or so from there, is Portland, Oregon, where you can get drinks at a theater pub or visit Powell's City of Books. With about a million books on its shelves, Powell's takes up a whole city block and markets itself as the world's largest new and used bookstore.

Once you rejoin the highway, you'll be able to enjoy views of the Pacific Ocean as it runs south from Newport along the Siuslaw National Forest. In Florence, the drive begins to incorporate oceanfront sand dunes, where the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area provides one of the world's biggest temperate expanses. The stretch of coastal highway between Port Orford and Brookings is known for its sea cliffs. And, as you cross over into California, you can see the Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City, driving down through Redwood National Park and other parts of the Golden State.