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Trip Ideas

Countdown to Summer: 9 Best West Coast Escapes

C'mon, admit it. The west coast is the best coast. There's the damn near perfect weather, the laid back lifestyle, the postcard-worthy beaches and don't even get us started on the eats. Still not convinced? Check out these 9 west coast getaways and you'll be California dreamin' in no time.

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Santa Monica

Anyone who says that no one walks in LA hasn’t been to Santa Monica. Though surrounded on three sides by America’s second-largest city, the artsy beach community has miles of bike lanes, car-free promenades and large, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks. Take a walk down the wooden planks of Santa Monica Pier and see local anglers fishing for mackerel while jugglers, sketch artists and other street performers put their talents on display. After, give your credit card a workout on Main Street's mile-long strip of galleries, restaurants and boutique shops. We love the one-of-a-kind turquoise jewelry and vintage pieces at Love Adorned and the wares from brands like Raquel Allegra and Lemlem at Lost & Found. Make your base Shutters on the Beach, which has a distinctive whitewashed shutter façade, three world-class restaurants and a museum-worthy art collection, including works by Hockney and Lichtenstein.

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Those “Keep Portland Weird” bumper stickers you see all over town don’t come from nowhere. Proof: Every June, thousands of cyclists take to P-town's streets to protest transport pollution while wearing nothing but helmets and body paint. But don't worry—if you prefer to keep your clothes on, Portlandia has something for you too. At Rontoms, you can play ping pong, drink local craft brew and listen to free live music on a buzzy outdoor patio. Bibliophiles will want to linger over the million-plus (yes, really) titles at Powell's City of Books, the flagship of the largest independent chain of bookstores in the world. Want to pick up some cool retro souvenirs? Check out Crossroads, a sprawling emporium of used vinyl from more than 35 individual record collectors. Shop for a classic rock or jazz record (their specialty) or skip the tunes altogether and opt for a cool vintage concert poster.

RELATED: 9 Best Hotels in Portland, Oregon

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Photo by Kodiak Greenwood


Big Sur

The 90 mile-stretch of craggy coastline that makes up Big Sur is undeniably one of America's most beautiful landcapes. Explore the redwood groves at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, hike to the beach and the McWay Falls, or go surfing at Sand Dollar Beach. You can also saddle up with Molera Horseback Tours for rides through Andrew Molera State Park. Tours range from one to two-and-a-half hours and take guests across flower-filled meadows and forests, then end with a ride along Molera Beach. Big Sur has plenty of stylish stays, and if you're looking to splurge, book a room at the eco-luxe Post Ranch Inn, a collection of 40 high-design cottages on a ridge 1,200 feet above the Pacific Ocean, or check into the rustic-chic Ventana Big Sur, with 243 private wooded acres.

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It may be one of the rainiest city's in the US, but come summer, Seattle is the place to be: the sunshine is out and beaches packed, the outdoor bars are in full swing, and the locals are deliriously happy. Pike Place Market is always a crowd pleaser with its fish throwing and stalls of fresh flowers, plus great restaurants like the recently opened Jarr Bar and Matt's in the Market. From there, you're a short walk away from Pioneer Square, where you can admire the neighborhood's Renaissance Revival architecture, take a history-packed Underground Tour or get your culture fix at galleries like Foster/White, home to the work of big-name artists like glass prodigy Dale Chihuly. If you're curious to check out the roots of the Seattle grunge movement, take in a gig at Belltown's legendary The Crocodile, where bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam once played.

RELATED: Our Favorite Hotels in Seattle Now

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Santa Barbara

If you can't make it to Northern California’s wine country, Santa Barbara County ⎯ which includes Santa Ynez, Los Olivos and the antiques-filled town of Solvang ⎯ is the next best thing. There are nearly 250 wineries in the area, but the standouts are Au Bon Climat, which has been making subtle pinot noirs for 25 years, and Kunin, known for producing small lots of Rhone-style wines. Another way to taste it all is on the Urban Wine Trail, a walkable trail downtown made up of 30 vineyards that turn out rich Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and more. Get over your wine hangover with wild boar meatballs and a slice of thin-crust truffle pizza at Cecco Ristorante, followed by a walk along Butterfly Beach.

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Laguna Beach

Equal parts glam (courtesy of its covetable location in Orange County) and boho (thanks to the artists and surfers who call the seaside community home), Laguna Beach has been luring travelers since the 1920s. Get in step with the beach town's artistic vibe with a walk down Gallery Row. Here, ateliers and galleries abound (local artist Ruth Mayer is a favorite), and the first Thursday of the month is reserved for the festive Art Walk, when the galleries stay open late. Cafés, restaurants and bars dot this walkable city—don't miss the lobster rolls and chowder fries (yes, that's clam chowder and bacon-covered frites) at Slapfish, and the Sonoma Valley wine flights and ocean views at Driftwood Kitchen. Now that you're ready to descend into a full on food coma, crash at the Pacific Edge Hotel, a 129-room surfer-themed hotel located on the softest swathe of sand in Laguna.

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Cannon Beach

Brimming with art galleries, shingled storefronts and charming family-owned restaurants, Cannon Beach has become one of Oregon’s must-see beach towns. Hit the more than five miles of sand between Ecola Creek and Arch Cape for unbeatable views of Haystack Rock, one of the state’s most recognizable landmarks, and after, grab a broiled shrimp sandwich and a slice of apple walnut cake from Lazy Susan Café. On drizzly days, check out the town's buzzing art scene at White Bird Gallery, the oldest fine arts gallery in town, and Bronze Coast Gallery, which displays lost-cast bronze sculptures. At the end of the day, there's no cozier place to unwind than at the Stephanie Inn. The warm interiors offer plenty of nooks to curl up in, from the oceanfront library and chart room to the lobby, which has a striking stone hearth.

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If you’re into Victorian architecture, salty ocean air and green meadow scenery, Pescadero is for you. Half way between Santa Cruz and San Francisco, the town may be small, but it's got coastal charm in spades, along with knockout natural scenery (sky-high redwoods and crystal-blue). During the day, head to Whaler’s Cove beach, where you can spot elephant seals and gray whales, plus the iconic 115-foot-tall Pigeon Point Lighthouse that towers over the landscape. Hungry? The nearby Taqueria y Mercado de Amigos, an unassuming taco joint set within a gas station convenience store, serves up pan dulce (sweet bread) and barbecued pork and cow tongue tacos (hey, don't knock it 'till you've tried it). At night, hang with the locals and listen to live bluegrass at the San Gregorio General Store.

RELATED: 11 Unexpected Beach Destinations

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Palm Springs

Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elizabeth Taylor—a who’s who of showbiz has long found solace in Palm Springs. Today this desert oasis is the perfect mix of modern and kitschy which attracts a hip L.A. crowd. Spend an afternoon wandering the Uptown Design District, where eye-catching boutiques (we love the Midcentury housewares at Christopher Anthony) are joined by retro-chic restaurants and bars. Bootlegger Tiki, Palm Canyon Drive's mixology-centered newcomer, has a 12-2 a.m. happy hour, kitschy luau-themed décor, and hangover-worthy cocktails (we love the cheekily-named Mango Unchained.) If live music is what you seek, check out Melvyn's at Ingleside Inn, the storied supper club-style hangout once frequented by Ol' Blue Eyes himself.

What to Wear on the West Coast

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