The Best Coast

The Best Coast is a west coast travel guide with a difference. Sub-titled 'A Road Trip Atlas', it doesn't use photos but instead has hundreds of beautiful illustrations by the author and artist, Chandler O'Leary.

Illustration from The Best Coast west coast travel guideAll Illustrations by Chandler O'Leary

If Route 66 is 'the highway that's the best', then according to O'Leary the west coast is the best coast, and looking at her wonderful illustrations it would be hard to argue.

Illustration from The Best Coast west coast travel guideIllustration from The Best Coast west coast travel guide

The Author

According to her publishers, 'Chandler O'Leary is an illustrator and lettering artist, and a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. She is the co-author of Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color and the author of an illustrated travel blog called Drawn the Road Again. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, and spends every spare moment traveling America's winding back roads, sketchbook in hand.'

Illustration from The Best Coast west coast travel guideIllustration from The Best Coast Travel Guide

Introduction: Hit the Road

Right from her Introduction, 'Hit the Road', I think we and the author would get along. She loves road trips. She loves roadside attractions. She believes that the journey is the destination. She prefers the back roads.

Is PCH a back road? Well, yes, as you can get from San Diego to Seattle on the interstate, if the only point of the trip is to get from A to B as quickly as possible. Using the coastal route is a great deal slower... and much more interesting and scenic, of course.

Illustration from The Best Coast west coast travel guide

How to Use this Book

'This book is not your typical guidebook,' the author writes. For example, you won't find Disneyland in there, but you will find historic amusement parks and vintage roadside attractions, all the things that make road trips fun.

It's very often the unexpected that makes a trip special. For example, we'd no idea what to expect the first time we stopped off at the elephant seals' beach after visiting Hearst Castle. Would we really see elephant seals? Wow, we did, hundreds of them, and now we can't go by without stopping, to see what they're up to. And yes, they're in this book.

Elephant seals Illustration from The Best Coast west coast travel guideElephant Seals

Travel Tips

Although it isn't a regular guidebook, the book does include lots of stuff that you'll find in conventional guidebooks. For instance, there's a very helpful two-page spread of Travel Tips, full of sensible advice if you're driving the west coast, like change your oil before you set off, buy annual park passes to save money, and keep your gas tank full as there are stretches where there's a long way between gas stations.

Illustration from The Best Coast west coast travel guide

Pack Your Bags

There's then a page of packing tips for clothing, footwear, ID and so on, as if you travel the length of the west coast you'll be going from probably damp and chilly rain forests almost to Mexico. If you venture inland you might encounter everything from snowy mountaintops to desert conditions.

Illustration from The Best Coast west coast travel guide

The Coastal Route

The author divides the book into two main parts, The Coastal Route and what she calls The Inland Coast. This is a route that parallels the coast highway, going through Palm Springs, Bakersfield, Sacramento, Eugene, and Portland, and ends with a spread on Vancouver in British Columbia - well, if you're going to be thorough and follow the highway from border to border, why not pop into Canada at the end?

The book covers both routes from south to north. Is this the best direction? Well, you'll find our own thoughts on that on our driving page.

The Coastal Route begins with a few Trip Stats, like the fact that there are six national parks within reach, that the author's favorite state park is the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and there are three trees you can drive through (and a fourth if you do the inland route all the way to the border).

Illustration from The Best Coast west coast travel guide

City Guides

Most places get a two-page spread, though there are longer entries for the major cities: San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Portland, and Seattle.

The book does mention major sights, like Hearst Castle, but you don't get any practical information so you will need a regular guidebook too. (The best one we've found is from Moon).

Illustration from The Best Coast west coast travel guide

Every page, even the usually-boring practical information pages, is a pleasure to read thanks to the illustrations and the author's informal writing style. It's as if she's talking just to you personally, and sharing her first-hand advice, in order to make your road trip better.

Unlike conventional guidebooks, which you keep with you for reference and dip into when you need the information - what are the opening hours for Hearst Castle, what are the best budget motels in San Diego? - this is a book that you'll read for pleasure, and you'll be making notes as you go: Hey, when we're in Oceanside we have to stop and see the pier!

Illustration from The Best Coast west coast travel guide

You can see from the sample illustrations here, just what a lovely book this is. Don't worry about the white space on some of them, those are full of text in the actual book. The design and layout is also a delight, the text is very readable, and the illustrations speak for themselves.

Illustration from The Best Coast west coast travel guide

More Information

The Best Coast is published by Sasquatch Books at US$24.95 and CAN$24.95, as is the companion collection of 32 postcards, Greetings from the Best Coast ($14.99). 

You may have to buy two - one set to send to friends from the road, the other set to keep for a souvenir with a difference. 

Other books pages

  • One of the best guides to West Coast RV Parks, covering campgrounds in California, Oregon, and Washington, is West Coast RV Camping from Moon Guides.

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  • Books About the Pacific Coast Highway in California, Oregon and Washington including travel guidebooks, route guides, restaurant guides, and many more.

    Books About the Pacific Coast Highway

    Books About the Pacific Coast Highway in California, Oregon and Washington including travel guidebooks, route guides, restaurant guides, and many more.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Guides. Book and ebook hotel guides to PCH

    Pacific Coast Highway guides include our own printed book and ebook guides to the best hotels along the PCH, available in paperback, PDF and Kindle formats.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel reviews an Olympic Peninsula Travel Guide published by the Beautiful Pacific Northwest website.

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  • The Frommer's Guide to Seattle has good information about the city and side excursions to the Olympic National Park and elsewhere, plus free city and area map.

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    The Frommer's Guide to Seattle has good information about the city and side excursions to the Olympic National Park and elsewhere, plus free city and area map.

  • The guide to California Bed and Breakfast Inns lists over 250 boutique hotels, wine country cottages and more.

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  • Review of the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trips book from Lonely Planet, which includes a California Driving Guide, by the Pacific Coast Highway Travel website.

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    Review of the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trips book from Lonely Planet, which includes a California Driving Guide, by the Pacific Coast Highway Travel website.

  • Northwest Wine Country is a food and wine lover's guide to vineyards, fine dining, accommodation, restaurants in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, British Columbia.

    Northwest Wine Country

    Northwest Wine Country is a food and wine lover's guide to vineyards, fine dining, accommodation, restaurants in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, British Columbia.

  • Lighthouses of the Pacific Coast, published by Voyageur Press, is a guide in words and pictures to historic lighthouses along the Pacific Coast Highway.

    Lighthouses of the Pacific Coast

    Lighthouses of the Pacific Coast, published by Voyageur Press, is a guide in words and pictures to historic lighthouses along the Pacific Coast Highway.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel's California Camping book review rates the 20th anniversary edition of Moon's complete guide to over 1400 tent and RV campgrounds.

    California Camping Book Review

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's California Camping book review rates the 20th anniversary edition of Moon's complete guide to over 1400 tent and RV campgrounds.

  • One of the best California coast guides is the California Coastal Access Guide, describing the coast’s beaches, National Parks, State Parks, with many maps.

    California Coast Guide

    One of the best California coast guides is the California Coastal Access Guide, describing the coast’s beaches, National Parks, State Parks, with many maps.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel reviews the book Culture Trails by Lonely Planet, which has a section on Vintage Hollywood alongside 51 other perfect weekends.

    Culture Trails

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel reviews the book Culture Trails by Lonely Planet, which has a section on Vintage Hollywood alongside 51 other perfect weekends.

  • Greetings from California is a beautiful coffee-table book which describes the legends, landmarks and lore of California, including the Pacific Coast Highway.

    Greetings from California

    Greetings from California is a beautiful coffee-table book which describes the legends, landmarks and lore of California, including the Pacific Coast Highway.

  • The Napa and Sonoma Guidebook to California Wine Country is from the Moon Handbooks’ travel guide series with reviews of wineries,vineyards, and wine tastings.

    Napa and Sonoma Guidebook

    The Napa and Sonoma Guidebook to California Wine Country is from the Moon Handbooks’ travel guide series with reviews of wineries,vineyards, and wine tastings.

  • West Coast Road Eats is a road food guide covering the Pacific Coast from California through Oregon to Washington, giving the best road trip food stops.

    Road Food Guide

    West Coast Road Eats is a road food guide covering the Pacific Coast from California through Oregon to Washington, giving the best road trip food stops.

  • The Green Guide to the USA West from Michelin covers California, the Pacific North West, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, New Mexico, and even Kansas and Alaska.

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    The Green Guide to the USA West from Michelin covers California, the Pacific North West, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, New Mexico, and even Kansas and Alaska.

  • Epic Drives of the World from Lonely Planet describes 50 of the world's most exciting road trips, including, of course, the Pacific Coast Highway.

    Epic Drives of the World

    Epic Drives of the World from Lonely Planet describes 50 of the world's most exciting road trips, including, of course, the Pacific Coast Highway.

  • The Michelin Guide to California is a gourmet's guide to the best restaurants along the Pacific Coast Highway and elsewhere in California.

    Michelin Guide to California

    The Michelin Guide to California is a gourmet's guide to the best restaurants along the Pacific Coast Highway and elsewhere in California.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel reviews the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip guide from Moon covering California, Oregon and Washington

    Pacific Coast Highway Moon Guide

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel reviews the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip guide from Moon covering California, Oregon and Washington

  • This John Steinbeck California Guide, A Journey into Steinbeck's California, shows readers how towns like Monterey, Carmel and Salinas influenced the author.

    John Steinbeck California Guide

    This John Steinbeck California Guide, A Journey into Steinbeck's California, shows readers how towns like Monterey, Carmel and Salinas influenced the author.

  • The Michelin Green Guide to California covers the whole state and is good on maps, the sights, major cities and towns, less good on hotels and restaurants.

    Michelin Green Guide California

    The Michelin Green Guide to California covers the whole state and is good on maps, the sights, major cities and towns, less good on hotels and restaurants.

  • Vintage Hollywood in Los Angeles is an extract from the Lonely Planets book Culture Trails.

    Vintage Hollywood

    Vintage Hollywood in Los Angeles is an extract from the Lonely Planets book Culture Trails.

  • Moon's Spotlight Guide to the Olympic Peninsula covers hotels, restaurants, and sights, including Forks, the Olympic National Park and other places.

    Guide to the Olympic Peninsula

    Moon's Spotlight Guide to the Olympic Peninsula covers hotels, restaurants, and sights, including Forks, the Olympic National Park and other places.

  • The Washington State travel guide from Frommer's covers hotels in Seattle, driving the Pacific Coast Highway, Olympic National Park, where to eat and more.

    Washington State Travel Guide

    The Washington State travel guide from Frommer's covers hotels in Seattle, driving the Pacific Coast Highway, Olympic National Park, where to eat and more.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel's book review of Insider's Guide to San Francisco guidebook by Jill Loeffler, publisher of the San Francisco Tourism Tips website.

    Your Insider's Guide to San Francisco

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