From celebrity-filled Los Angeles and neon-lit Las Vegas to the abundant natural wonders of the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Canyonlands, the western United States has something to satisfy the interests of virtually every traveler. But it is a huge area and not one that can be easily visited in a few days, weeks, or even years.
The West of the continental United States is made up of two regions. The Mountain states include Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The Pacific states are California, Oregon, and Washington. Adrenaline lovers can get their kicks by heading to the Rockies to hit the famed slopes, while the traveler looking for the perfect spot to relax can go to sunny California for wine-tasting in Sonoma. The spectacular Pacific, from San Diego to Seattle, is a favorite destination, along with California's coastal cities. The West is bursting with gems that are too numerous to list.
People go to Las Vegas to get lucky. From the buzz of the casinos to the glitz of the hotels, bars, and nightlife, Las Vegas provides ample opportunities to press your luck with money, love, or getting into a blockbuster show, thereby making it a sure shot with tons of risk-taking travelers. If the excitement of the city gets to be too much, the spectacular canyons of Red Rock are just 30 minutes away from the city’s main strip and perfect for a day trip.
San Francisco is the place where many people have left their heart. And there's a good reason for that. From Golden Gate Park and the Golden Gate Bridge to the Embarcadero, the Ferry Building Marketplace, the Mission District, and Lombard Street, it's charm with a capital "C." It's also foodie heaven, no matter what your taste preferences.
Pacific Coast Highway
The Pacific Coast Highway, aka California Route 1, is renowned as one of the best road trips in the world. It snakes along the California coast for 656 miles from Leggett in the north to Dana Point in the south. The most traveled part of the route is between Monterey and Carmel along California's Central Coast and Big Sur to San Luis Obisbo. The view from the highway across the steep cliffs down to the Pacific is the stuff of legend. Stay a couple of days in Monterey or Carmel, check out the famous Pebble Beach road, and then start off on this unforgettable journey.
Route 66, the Mother Road, has been immortalized in song, on a TV show, and in legend. It was one of the first highways in the U.S. highway system and dates to 1926. The entire route was eventually replaced by interstate highways, and it's now strictly for tourists and is called Historic Route 66. It starts in Chicago, bends toward the southwest, and ends in Los Angeles. You can pick it up anywhere along the route, which takes you through Illinois and St. Louis, down into Oklahoma, across the Texas Panhandle and New Mexico, and into Arizona before its final leg crosses southern California and ends in LA.
California Wine Country
The two most famous parts of California Wine Country, Sonoma, and Napa counties, are less than 50 miles north of San Francisco. They are a perfect day trip or a longer peaceful getaway. You're in a land of mountains, valleys, rivers, forests, and, of course, vineyards. Wander along two-lane roads and enjoy the scenery as you search out wineries. Allow some time to discover Wine Country towns like Sonoma, Healdsburg, Petaluma, Napa, St. Helena, Yountville, and Calistoga. All have interesting boutique hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, along with great restaurants, which make for a memorable stay.
The Santa Inez Mountains form the backbone of Santa Barbara's spectacular setting, stretching west to the Pacific. Its downtown is noted for its white stucco buildings with red tile roofs, and if you didn't know better you'd think you were in Spain. Its Mission-style train station and Mission Santa Barbara (1786) are not to be missed, along with its many boutiques and appealing places to grab a bite.
Los Angeles, the City of Angels, has so many attractions that it takes a long stay to even scratch the surface. At the top of everyone's list are Disneyland (in Anaheim) and legendary Hollywood, which both are about fantasy of different kinds. Dig deeper and discover the San Gabriel Mission District, the birthplace of Los Angeles; Santa Monica; two world-class museums, the Getty and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Channel Islands just offshore. Drive south down the coast to Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, reminiscent of the French Riviera, to get a real Pacific Ocean experience.
San Diego is just 120 miles south of Los Angeles, and the drive takes you to this city known for its parks, beautiful coastline, and enviable climate. Check out Balboa Park, Coronado Island, and La Jolla Cove.
Yosemite National Park
California's Yosemite National Park is a natural wonderland of waterfalls, granite peaks, meadows, valleys, and an ancient stand of sequoias knows as the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Much of the park is inaccessible in the winter; check the website for park conditions and answers to questions about your visit before you go to this wondrous place.
Lake Tahoe sits atop the California-Nevada state line high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In the winter, it's a big ski destination, and in the summertime, it draws visitors who want to indulge water recreation at an elevation of 6,225 feet, surrounded by the quiet of the High Sierras. When you're not skiing or boating, check out Lake Tahoe's many restaurants and shops or play a few rounds of golf on one of Tahoe's world-class courses.
Santa Fe is a sparkling gem in the Sangre de Christo Mountains of northern New Mexico. It was founded by the Spanish in 1610, and its adobe architecture exudes this history around the Plaza and along its old, curving residential streets. It was named Destination of the Year by Travel + Leisure magazine for 2018, and its vibrant arts and culinary scene, along with its setting and history, are the reasons why.
The Grand Canyon in northern Arizona is just simply overwhelming. Breathtaking in scope and grandeur, it follows the Colorado River for 277 miles, is a mile deep, and in some places 18 miles wide. The spectacular colors and eroded rock formations of this canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, defy description. You just have to see it for yourself once in your life. The South Rim stays open all year, but the North Rim closes during the winter.
Canyonlands, Bryce, and Zion National Parks
The Colorado River is also the creator of the carved canyon landscape of the desert of southwestern Utah that is preserved in Canyonlands National Park. While you're in Utah, check out its unbelievable slot canyons that are some of the best photo ops in the United States. If you still want more of Utah's magnificent scenery, make stops at Bryce and Zion national parks.
For a full-on Colorado Rockies experience that's off-the-beaten-path, make a trip to Telluride, set in a box canyon in the southwestern corner of the state. In the winter, it's about all skiing all the time, along with cozy restaurants after a long and cold day on the mountain. In the summertime, it turns into a golf resort with an authentic Old West setting.
Gorgeous Seattle, on Puget Sound in the midst of evergreen forests and with views of the mountains, has a setting that's hard to beat. So go for the scenery and stay for the bookstores, coffeehouses, vibrant restaurant scene, Pike Place Market, and stunning views of Elliott Bay from downtown.