San Diego to Seattle

Summer time always makes me think about the many road trips I took as a kid. Summer vacation really just translated to my mom loading up the car with dog, camping gear, the the newest Harry Potter book, and my Grandma's birthday gift and driving north.

So naturally I want all summers to include a road trip. Bucket list goals: Monarch Butterfly migration along the coast, cue the aggressive-unrealistically-dreamy road trip prioritized around excellent-nerd-alert accommodations and not convenient driving.

The West Coast is so much more than California surf beaches -- it has been the epicenter for cultural trends that have had powerful influence on American history. Manifest destiny, gold-miners, beatniks and hippies, freethinkers, car owners, and "tree-huggers" have sculpted the built and natural environment that is the West Coast. With a carefully curated road trip throughout the coast, from Southern California north to Washington, you'll soak up the immense history of the West Coast while staying in some of it's most iconic dwelling typologies.

There is something to be said for the vernacular architecture of the West Coast and how it so-often relates to larger social commentary. From the mid-century mecca of the desert, to the agrarian influences of the homes hanging on the bluffs of the jagged coast, Gold Rush era Victorians and floor-to-ceiling single-paned glass, each is very distinct, yet so embedded in its place and culture.

Here are the best spots to stay during your West Coast road trip -- an opportunity to immerse in the urban, suburban, and rural architecture of day-to-day life in this vibrant region.

Do as the West Coast does. Enjoy the awe-some landscape and mild climate that blurs the indoors and out, an acute awareness of the place you reside, and the importance of protecting it. Immerse yourself in the varied vernacular of the coastal states and enjoy the ride.

Joshua Tree Casita

Joshua Tree, California

Built in 1958, this home in Joshua Tree was one of the original homesteads. The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed citizens to apply to own public land free of cost -- thank you President Lincoln. To think it was once possible to own land on the West Coast for free! “Free-soil” became available to anyone that wanted to own and operate land - in stark contrast to the South, where large tracts of land were bought, and required slave labor. Liberals have been in California long before it was #trending.

Where to book:

Off-Grid itHouse

Pioneertown, California

The itHouse by Taalman Koch Architecture epitomizes the work-smarter, not harder mentality of the West. Primarily prefabricated off-site to minimize embodied energy and waste, the off-grid house respects the delicate desert landscape while maximizing indoor-outdoor living. Al fresco dining is a lifestyle in the West, and there is no better place to practice this ritual than under the stars, off the grid.

Where to book:

Saddle Peak House

Topanga, California

Contemporary geometry, minimalist detailing, and just enough solid material to support this glass house that hovers atop the Santa Monica Mountains by Sant Architects leave you nothing short of starstuck. Sprawling views and fluid access to the outdoors dominate, while the residence exudes glamour.

Where to book:

Craftsman Mansion

Oakland, California

The architect of this impressive mansion, Bernard Maybeck, was the University of California’s first architecture professor. Maybeck came to California seeking opportunity after studying architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His father’s woodworking skills influenced his radical use of wood in buildings. Typical of the Arts and Crafts movement, his works were strongly influenced by the natural landscape, Spanish missions, along with Gothic and Japanese influences. Apparently, everyone is inspired by the landscape of the West Coast, and designed for indoor-outdoor permeability.

Where to book:

Eichler Ranch

Terra Linda, California

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The Terra Linda North Eichler Tract is the first and largest Eichler development in Marin, consisting of nearly 630 homes constructed between 1955-1961. Architects Ashen + Allen and Jones + Emmons were commissioned to design the post-and-beam single story ranch homes of the development. What better depicts the American Dream than suburban tract homes? Joseph Eichler brought modern high-design of custom and commercial projects into affordable homes--a visionary and advocate for middle-class america.

Where to book:

Timber Cove

Jenner, California

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A place for restorative meditation and finding tranquility, the Mendocino County coastline was sustainable before “greenwashing” was cool. The stunning Timber Cove Lodge, along with the Sea Ranch development, are part of a larger planning goal, requiring homeowners and guests to abide by specific conservation and sustainability criteria. In Sea Ranch, specific design guidelines include: requiring locally sourced materials, banning overhangs to avoid adding wind turbulence, and the roofs must bow-down to the prevailing winds. Timber Cover was originally designed in 1963 by Richard Clements Jr, and in 2016 the renovation by The Novogratz, Los Angeles based design firm partnering with Gensler was began.

This winter I camped at the nearby Stillwater Cove Region Park Campground, and each morning we ventured to Timber Cove to enjoy a fancy cup of coffee in a deep Adirondack chair and dog on my lap, overlooking the ocean. It was the ultimate luxury while camping, and I highly recommend you stop in even if you don't have a reservation for the night.

Where to book:

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Prefer a bit more seclusion than a lodge hanging over the vast Pacific Ocean? Check out Moonrise, a home within the Sea Ranch development designed by architect William Turnbull.

Where to book:

The Pink Lady

Eureka, California

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Humbolt County’s redwood forests brought lumber baron, William Carson, to strike rich during the rush west for gold in 1849. His personal home, the Carson Mansion, is one of the most revered examples of the American Queen Anne Style (read: gingerbread Victorian). When constructing his mansion Carson said, "If I build it poorly, they would say that I am a damned miser; if I build it expensively, they will say I'm a show off; guess I'll just build it to suit myself." The Pink Lady was built as a wedding gift to his son, directly across the street. Enjoy high tea in the parlour of this mansion while overlooking the audacious Carson Mansion.

Where to book: it used to be on but is not currently available for rent.

Lookout Tree House

Tiller, Oregon

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The West Coast takes wildfire season very seriously. In Oregon, where the economy once solely depended on lumber, the devastating fires of 1910 forever altered forestry -- early fire detection became a priority. To achieve early fire detection, lookouts above tree line were built, providing 360° views across the forests. There has been as many as 8,000 of these structures operating across the country. New technologies for fire fighting and detection have made these structures to obsolete. Enjoy (most of) the luxuries of modern glamping at this off the grid tower, modeled after the fire lookout towers by the owner in 2009.

Where to book:

Timberline Lodge

Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon

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The great outdoors are an intrinsic part of the West Coast lifestyle. During Roosevelt’s presidency, during the crisis of the Great Depression, work was created by developing the iconic lodges of the National Park system. To employ as many people as possible, the construction crew averaging 100 workers a day, rotated regularly. “Each workman on Timberline Lodge gained proficiency in manual arts. He was a better workman, a better citizen, progressing by infinitely slow steps to the degree above him” is an excerpt from the Federal Writers’ Project, referring to the builders of the lodge. A style all its own, the lodge is deemed “Rustic Cascadian”, designed by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, most known for the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. The Timberline Lodge is a symbol of historic preservation, genuine hospitality, and recreation providing modern luxury in the midst of the raw Cascade Mountains.

Where to book

Treehouse Point

Issaquah, Washington

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Treehouse designer, Pete Nelson has been building treehouses for decades. Beginning as a hobby and evolving into the Treehouse Point Bed and Breakfast it is today, consisting of 7 unique accommodations and other amenities. Sasquatch country has always had a flare for mystique with its folklore and legends. The quirky and beautiful character of these tree houses embody just that -- sasquatch country.

Where to book:

Rolling Huts

Mazama, Winthrop, Washington

Photo by Dereck Pirozzi via

Architecture practice Olson Kundig are masters at exposing how buildings work. The “herd” of mobile cabins lightly graze the restored natural landscape of the floodplain in Washington’s Methow Valley. The materials that construct these huts are natural, raw, and exposed--cork floors, plywood walls, sip panel roofing and steel structure.

Where to book:

#roadtrip #westcoast #california #oregon #washington


Samantha is an avid traveler and architecture addict. TRAC, the Travel Record of Architecture and Culture, came about when planning the next great adventure and she wanted to find a resource with modern and historic architecture in one place, mapped out. By day, she's living the dream, working at an architecture firm in downtown San Francisco.  

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