Travel SOS: driving in the US

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in the USA has long been a dream of Tom’s, so in this week’s Travel SOS, Lee Mylne has some tips to keep him on the road.

Q. Tom
We’re planning to self-drive along the West Coast of the US and I understand that the roads are pretty easy to drive, but is there anything we should consider before we go? Do we need to have an international driving permit? Should we plan our route or simply go where the notion takes us?

A. First things first, Tom. It is always a good idea to have an international driving permit (IDP) if you are planning to drive overseas. In California, it is ‘recommended’ that you have an IDP (in some countries it is a requirement) for renting a car, but the law changes from state to state, so it really is a good idea to have one to ensure you are covered. Some car rental companies will also require it. Be prepared, and get one.

The IDP must be issued in Australia, and you must also carry your Australian license with you. You can get a permit from your local state or territory motoring club (RACQ, RACV, NRMA or similar). You don’t have to be a member, and the cost is $39.

Don’t be tempted by online offers of international driving permits, as these are likely to be scams using forged permits, and that could cause you legal problems if you were found to be using one while on your holiday. The only authorised IDP issuing bodies in Australia are the state and territory motoring organisations.

If you are not already, it is also well worthwhile becoming a member of a local Automobile Association of Australia (AAA) club because this will give you reciprocal rights in the US which might come in handy. Ask your local club for details.

route 101 coast road

As for the trip itself, I think it’s always a good idea to have at least a rough itinerary worked out. It sounds as if you’re planning to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, along the coastlines of California, Oregon and Washington – and I confess to being a bit envious.

You will probably fly into Los Angeles and then head north on the highway, working your way up the California coastline and into the Pacific Northwest. The touring route ends in Olympia, Washington.

route 101 freeway sign

The Pacific Coast Highway is 2735km (1700 miles) and the first part in LA will take you along Route 101, through Hollywood. It then winds through Malibu and along the dramatic coastline of the Big Sur from San Simeon. One thing you might like to stop for a look is William Randolph Hearst’s grand Hearst Castle situated high above the California coast. 

You’ll drive the stunning Monterey Peninsula, home to the old fishing town of Monterey – forever immortalised by the town’s favourite son, Nobel Prize-winning novelist, John Steinbeck. It’s also home to the Monterey Jazz Festival. Stop off in quirky Carmel-by-the-Sea, where Clint Eastwood was once the mayor. 

Plan to spend a few days in San Francisco before heading across the Golden Gate Bridge to continue your journey. The California redwood forests will also be a highlight. If you’re keen to get out of the car and do some walking, the Redwood National Park and the massive Humboldt Redwoods State Park offer plenty of options.

taking picture of the pacific coast

As you drive further north, the Pacific Coast Highway will shadow the Oregon coastline. Stop at Cannon Beach, known for its tidal pools and rock formations. The Oregon Dune National Recreational Area has the largest expanse of sand dunes and stands 500 feet above sea level.

When you hit Washington State, you’ll discover Olympic National Park, with its rugged coastline and glacier-capped mountains. If you’re a fan of the Twilight series, the town of Forks is where author Stephenie Meyer set her books.

At Olympia, the road turns inland for Seattle, which has its own attractions including the Pike Place Market and The Space Needle.

You will have your own ideas of what to do and see along the West Coast, but I really recommend building in some time for spontaneous side-trips. Half the fun of a road-trip is flexibility.

Drive safely and enjoy your big trip!

Here are some websites you might find useful in your planning:

Do you have a travel question for Lee? If so, email your Travel SOS to [email protected]

Related articles:
Driving in Spain
Avoiding car hire problems

- Our Partners -


- Advertisment -
- Advertisment -