Are you the type of traveler who likes to check all the “must-sees” off your list? Or would you rather take a risk on a lesser-known vacation itinerary than fill up your travel schedule with the potentially crowded classics?

Either way, knowing which spots have garnered local, national or even global attention can help you plan your travel season. The West Coast gems below have been recognized this year on lists of the country’s or world’s best, by travel publications and companies such as Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor.

Some of world’s best beaches

A Lonely Planet book released in February, “Best Beaches: 100 of the World’s Most Incredible Beaches” ventures from a black sands bay in Antarctica to a “slice of heaven” in Australia and UNESCO site in the island nation of Mauritius. But international travel isn’t required to start exploring the top 100: Beaches in Washington, Oregon and California are each featured, too.

The closest of the 12 U.S. beaches that made the cut is Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park. Located on the Olympic Peninsula, a 3?½-hour drive from Seattle, the beach is known for its sparkling red minerals found in the sand, tide pools, sea stacks and an untamed, rugged feel.

The Lonely Planet editors behind the selection didn’t hold back their poetic streak when describing the beach, which “looks like a giant emptied his pockets on the shores of Ruby Beach,” with tree trunks “strewn like matchsticks,” sea stacks clustered “like crumbled chocolates” and “a colorful assortment of agates, garnets and sea glass [adding] a touch of glitter to the captivating mess.”

One state south, the Oregon favorite Cannon Beach was also celebrated as a destination for “beachgoers seeking wildlife and amazing sunset views.” From downtown Cannon Beach, there’s a nearly 4-mile stretch of beach, with the famous Haystack Rock rising up 235 feet at the edge of the shoreline.

California’s Pfeiffer Beach, El Matador State Beach and Venice Beach are also featured in the book, adding to the heavy West Coast presence.

2 of country’s best state parks

The global lifestyle magazine Time Out skipped over Washington in its March list of “10 best state parks in the U.S.” but highlighted two other West Coast spots.

Closest to home is Oregon’s Ecola State Park, nearby the aforementioned Cannon Beach. Ecola stretches out along 9 miles of coastline, drawing visitors primarily for sightseeing and hiking, although picnicking, tidepooling, surfing and wildlife-watching are also popular. As Time Out noted, the park has also provided a scenic backdrop for films such as “Twilight” and “The Goonies.”

Farther south, California’s Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park was praised for its “many incredible photo-taking ops” and its Waterfall Overlook Trail, which leads to an oceanfront overlook where you can watch a waterfall plummet 80 feet to the sandy cove below. Other spots on this side of the country that made the list: Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park, Alaska’s Chugach State Park and Texas’ Big Bend Ranch State Park.

'Best for West Coast exploration'

Narrowing down the “The 12 top places to visit in the USA in 2024” may seem like a daunting task, but that didn’t stop travel writer Bailey Freeman. Her Lonely Planet article, published in February, includes New Orleans as “Best for foodies and art lovers” and Santa Fe, New Mexico, as “Best for Indigenous history and culture.”

Taking spot No. 5 and described as “Best for West Coast exploration” is the Pacific Coast Highway. Though the name sometimes refers specifically to Highway 1 in California, Road Trip USA’s recommended Pacific Coast Highway route stretches over 1,600 miles through Washington, Oregon and California. It’ll take roadtrippers past major cities and natural wonders like the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and Redwood National and State Parks.

A most-spectacular castle

Whether it’s the way they bring history to life or remind us of the fairy tales we grew up on, many travelers find themselves drawn to castles.

In February, Tripadvisor compiled 10 of the world’s most spectacular ones that are open to the public. The list starts off with Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle, which “looks like it came straight out of a fairytale” and stretches from Osaka, Japan, to Mexico City.

The U.S. may not be the first country to come to mind when you think of spellbinding castles, but the newest destination on the list, completed in 2007, is in Napa Valley, Calif.

Inspired by 14th-century medieval architecture, Castello di Amorosa, a Tuscan-style castle and winery, includes 107 rooms, a moat, a drawbridge, five towers, courtyards, a chapel, stables, an armory and even a torture chamber. Castello di Amorosa offers several tour and tasting options, starting at $60 for adults and $25 for youth ages 2-20.

According to Tripadvisor, “travelers recommend visiting during the harvest season from August through October when you can enjoy the full wine-making experience from farm to table.”


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