The Best Coast Book Review

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.

All 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.

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.'

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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).

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!

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.

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. 

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