3 nights and 1200 miles later – Road trip from Seattle, WA to San Diego, CA

Two weeks ago, I started my road trip from Seattle, WA to San Diego, CA. It was my first very long road trip in the US. At first, I was just going to punch-in my destination into my GPS and drive along whatever route it suggests. However, after talking to friends who already took a similar road trip, they advised me to research taking the scenic route instead of the plain and dull I-5 highway. I became intrigued about the scenic route and my research indicated that it would be a longer but much more enjoyable trip.

What follows is my short story where I share my adventure and some tips I learned along the way. Since this is my first road trip from Seattle to San Diego along the Pacific coast and with little to no experience driving along the coast, I am hoping that this article proves to be useful for others who also are looking to embark on a similar experience.

If you don’t want to read my short story, please check the “take aways” section below for a list of useful tips that make your road trip more pleasant.

Day 0 – Tuesday night

I started my trip on a Tuesday at 6:30PM from Seattle. I had to arrive at my destination (San Diego) by Friday night the same week.

Everybody living in the Seattle area agrees that 6:30pm is the worst time to drive south towards Tacoma because of the traffic. I did not care, I had to start driving in all cases.

After ~2:30 hours, I took the nearest exist off the I-5 to stop at the Monticello Motel which is a couple of miles before Portland, Oregon.

Staying at the motel by the end of the first day marks the real start of the road trip ritual (drive during the day, have lunch along the way, and rest in a motel during the night). This is when you realize that you will be sleeping at a different place every night, away from home.

The staff at the Monticello were very nice people. The lady, from Indian origin, was friendly and courteous. The motel was also affordable and luckily I managed to book the last room.

Day 1 – Wednesday: Driving in Oregon

In the morning, I had my breakfast nearby the motel in Oregon and then I started driving West to take the US-101 coastal highway. I drove on 99-W all the way until I reached Lincoln City along US-101. From that moment on, I would continue driving south on US-101 for the following couple of days.

During the day, I made a lot of stops along the way. I had no idea what to expect, and to be honest, I had so many concerns:

  • Is the US-101 dangerous and isolated from civilization?
  • Will I find a gas stations every so often?
  • Will there be plenty of motels along the way?

After all, I did not plan my road trip in details. I just knew where to start from and where I wanted to arrive at. The GPS does not even offer the US-101 as a possible route when going down all the way to San Diego. It only offers I-5.

Boy, how naïve I was! The route along US-101 was actually very populated and saturated with RV camping sites, motels, all sorts of restaurants, shops and gas stations every 10-20 miles. There was no way for me to get stranded or feel any sort of danger.

The road was, not only very scenic along the Pacific but also, very well maintained. Tax payer money well spent. I extend my respect to all those responsible for maintaining and keeping the scenic route very safe and well maintained.

The weather was horrible though. It was raining most of the day and it was foggy, but that did not prevent me from enjoying the majestic ocean and beautiful rocks on the shores along the way.

At night, I stopped in a Super 8 motel on the top of a hill. By now, I drove more than half of Oregon and slowly approaching California.

Day 2 – Thursday: Crossing to California from Oregon

In the morning, I was determined to reach California and possibly get the closest I can to San Fransisco before the sun sets.

The more south I drove, the better the weather became. By 12pm, I crossed into California.

When I reached California, I entered the Redwood state park. In Oregon, all I saw was the ocean, however in California, most of the view was that of the beautiful forrest and long trees. I was surrounded by nature.

The road was zigzagged. I made sure to respect all the speed limits and be 100% present while driving.

Just because the weather was better today, I enjoyed the drive more than yesterday.

By the end of the day, I stopped by the town of Healdsburg. Of course and as I said before: I had no plans for my road trip and what a surprise it was this beautiful town. At night, after I checked into my room, I went for a walk and ended up in downtown Healdsburg. A lovely downtown with lots of restaurants and pubs.

Day 3 – Friday: Driving to San Diego

After I woke in Healdsburg in the morning, I did my calculations and I had no more time to continue driving along the US-101 and instead I had to take the faster route and merge back into I-5 and take the direct route down South.

I did not feel sad that I had to drive a dull highway because I had my fair share of the scenic view and after all perhaps I would find I-5 not so dull after all, and I was right.

For the most part of it, the I-5 had only two lanes. The speed limit was 70 mph for cars and 55 for trucks. The right lane was for slow traffic and the left lane for passing.

An hour and half before reaching L.A, the highway broadened. There were 5 or more lanes. The scenery was very interesting. People drove like crazy though. I felt like in a car racing video game. People were driving so fast, sometimes 80+ mph. I took my precautions and always drove on the rightmost lane.

Around 6:30pm, I entered L.A and it took me 10 minutes to dread it and swear not to go through L.A again! Why? Because I got stuck in traffic for ~2 hours just to go through it!

For 3 days I was driving 55mph on average but when I reached L.A I started driving an average of 20mph. Those two hours felt like eternity especially that I wanted to use the restroom ;).

After I passed through L.A, the rest is uneventful and smooth. Thank God for this safe trip. Mission accomplished.

Take aways and tips to help you survive a solo road trip

  • If you use Booking.com or some other generic booking sites, I advise you not to use those sites for small businesses. Booking.com and co take a cut when you book and the owner of the business does not earn as much.
    • I prefer to book directly with the motel owners so they make more money without paying any commission to the middleman.
    • Use Booking.com and co when staying in fancy and big names hotels.
  • For people living in Seattle, when you reach Oregon and want to refuel, please stay in your car! The clerk at the gas station will come and refuel for you. It is illegal to refuel on your own like you do in other States.
  • When driving along the US-101, pay close attention to the road and not the scenery. There will be lots of designated stops along the way for you to park your car safely and take photos.
  • If you have an R.V, the US-101 is a boon. If I ever have my own family or its equivalent, I would rent an RV and repeat such a trip and take my time to enjoy it.
  • Do not worry about gas stations, there will be plenty along the road.
  • Be patient. A long solo road trip can be spiritual in many ways. Enjoy the company of yourself and nature.
  • Your iPhone’s camera is a joke if you want to capture the beauty of nature. It is futile. Just stop and enjoy the moment with your bare eyes. Be humble in front of the old, big trees and rocks.
  • Roads might be under maintenance along the way. If it is the case, expect to be signaled and wait for 10-15 minutes for the traffic from the opposite direction to pass.
  • The I-5 with two lanes can be stressful especially if other drivers are impatient. Here’s my strategy for you to remain calm, safe and positive:
    • Keep driving on the right lane instead of passing left and right all the time.
    • Put your car on cruise control with 55mph or 60mph and relax. 4+ hours stretches will feel like a breathe if you don’t race along like the majority of drivers you will encounter.
    • Sandwich yourself between two trucks (allow plenty of safe distance) on the right lane so that fast drivers don’t harass when you are driving on the left lane (even if you respect the speed limit).
  • When the sun sets, find the nearest motel and sleep. Start early the next day. You don’t want to waste the beautiful scenery and drive in the dark.
  • In my opinion, driving on US-101 in Portland is more dangerous when it is raining (more curved roads, very close to the ocean, low visibility, foggy, etc.) than driving along US-101 in California.
  • The advantage of driving the US-101 as opposed to I-5, is that on the US-101 there won’t be two miles that look the same.

These are all the tips I could share with you. I hope you found this article useful. Please let me know if you think I should add more useful tips for future newbie adventurers.

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