There’s no place like America’s Pacific Northwest. From cosmopolitan cities with world-class amenities to stunning seascapes, beaches, rainforests, and mountain ranges, this corner of the world truly has something for everyone.
One of our favorite road trips links two of the region’s largest cities: Seattle and Portland. On this route, you’ll get the best of the region for an experience you won’t soon forget. Pack your cooler, gas up, and get ready for a great time!
We can’t help but love Seattle; there’s so much to see and do.
While Pike Place Market is tops with tourists, it remains a treasured institution for locals, too. You’ll want to peruse the offerings and perhaps pick up a gorgeous and reasonably priced bouquet of flowers.
Hit up the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass, and Museum of Pop Culture (all quite close to each other) for an epic day. Or stroll Elliott Bay, stop in for oysters at any of the seafood shacks, and then head up to the Seattle Art Museum to take in its incredible collection, including impressive temporary exhibits and Native American works.
A tour of the city’s underground passages near Pioneer Square will give you a feel for what life was like here before the Great Fire of 1889; even more adventurous travelers might consider these quirky Seattle options.
As for dining, you can’t go wrong with seafood, given the city’s proximity to the water. We also appreciated the Asian influences on the cuisine, especially at the city’s small, inexpensive ramen houses. Ooink in Harvard Market was a favorite!
For a home base that’s close to everything, take a look at the Paramount Hotel.
Pro Tip: While Seattle is a great, walkable city, the streets coming up off Elliott Bay’s piers are quite steep. Consider an Uber or taxi from the piers if mobility is an issue.
Head south on Interstate 5, and in no time, you’ll hit Tacoma, Washington. While not quite as cosmopolitan as its neighbor to the north, Tacoma has a vibe of its own.
Consider a stop at LeMay — America’s Car Museum. This spot is a favorite of admirers, collectors, and enthusiasts, with flashy models of all makes, models, and ages on display.
If cars aren’t your speed, check out Antique Row, downtown near Ninth and Broadway. And for a true taste of kitsch, drive by Bob’s Java Jive. This 80-year-old structure, shaped like a giant coffee pot, was first built as a restaurant. It’s now a beloved dive bar where locals still gather for live music.
Travel 30 more miles south on Interstate 5, and you’ll arrive at Washington’s capital, Olympia. It’s worth a stop to stretch your legs at the Capitol Campus, which includes the historic Governor’s Mansion.
If you want to get out in the lush evergreens and on the water, a picnic and amble along Ellis Cove in Priest Point Park is worth considering.
For a quick bite before getting back on the road, Pizzeria La Gitana has you covered. But if you’re spending the night, Swantown Inn & Spa is a charming option housed in a Queen Anne mansion. On-site therapy sessions are available at the day spa.
Take Interstate 5 south about an hour or so from Olympia, and you’ll arrive in Longview, Washington. The area near this small town is where, in 1849, settlers petitioned Congress to become a state called Columbia. In the end, Congress decided that the name might be confused with the name of the nation’s capital, the District of Columbia. Instead, the state was named for George Washington.
Longview’s Lake Sacajawea features 3.5 miles of easy walking trails and is worth a stop. Keep an eye on the water, and you might be lucky enough to spot an otter or two!
When you’re ready to head west toward the coast, take U.S. Route 30 across the iconic Lewis and Clark Bridge over the Columbia River, which you’ll skirt during the remainder of your trek to the coast. Look down, and you might see a barge full of timber headed toward the coast. This area has long been known for its old-growth forests.
A half hour west of Longview is the tiny village of Westport, Oregon. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss The Berry Patch on the right-hand side of the road. This is a must-stop. Have lunch, or just go in for a slice or two of the amazing berry pie. Huckleberry, marionberry, boysenberry — you name it, they’ve got it here, baked up and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top! You’ll pass the bakery on the way to the adjacent gift shop, where you should absolutely stock up on jelly, jam, and syrup to take home.
Another half hour down U.S. Route 30 is the seaside town of Astoria, where the Columbia River finally meets the Pacific Ocean. This gorgeous spot sits near the place where the explorers Lewis and Clark ended their epic expedition across the country in 1805. You can visit the fort where they wintered before heading back east; it’s now a national historical park.
Astoria is also full of movie history; fans of the cult classic The Goonies might have a sense of deja vu during a visit here, since most of the film’s scenes were shot in and around town.
Astoria is chock-full of charming Victorian homes built for its first settlers, fur traders and river captains. The town center features art galleries, boutiques, and cafes. For an incredible overlook, head to the Astoria Column, where adventurers can climb to the very top and toss a balsa-wood plane off for good luck.
Our favorite place to grab a bite is Buoy Beer Company, a brewery with delicious locally caught, raised, and harvested seafood and produce.
Astoria is a great place for an overnight stay, with many bed and breakfasts and fantastic homesharing options.
Ecola State Park, Oregon
From Astoria, take the sea-hugging U.S. Route 101 south 40 minutes to Ecola State Park. The entrance road takes you through lush Sitka spruce forests that are home to deer and elk. Take the road all the way to the dramatic bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and keep an eye out for gray whales in the water below. Ecola is along their winter/spring migration route.
Make sure you take the time to drive back down and explore Cannon Beach on foot; you’ll see the impressive Haystack Rock from Ecola, but you can’t access it from the park. The rock and adjacent beach are home to birds and all varieties of tide-pool marine life. Keep in mind that these spots are pristine because they are protected. Look, don’t touch, and be careful.
From Cannon Beach, take U.S. Route 26 about 90 minutes east (through much of the gorgeous Clatsop State Forest) to Portland, Oregon’s largest city. It’s got a funky vibe, and there’s plenty to see and do.
Stroll the Saint Johns neighborhood with its boutiques and shops; hit the Portland Saturday Market, which features locally made art, jewelry, and woodworking; and be sure to stop by Powell’s Books, a store so big you’ll need a map to find your way through.
Washington Park is home to the city’s Japanese Garden and International Rose Test Garden, and the Pittock Mansion, just outside the city center, is worth a visit to see what life in Portland was like for the wealthy during the turn of the 20th century.
After all that strolling, you’ll deserve a treat, and there are no better than the ones you’ll find at Voodoo Doughnut. For a fun but luxe stay, check in to the Hi-Lo Hotel, housed in the historic Portland Pioneer Building.
You can also use the city as a jumping-off point for an epic wine-tasting adventure in the nearby Willamette Valley or for a day trip over to Multnomah Falls.
Pro Tip: Take the time to eat locally whenever you can. The Pacific Northwest is renowned for its seafood and produce, and you’ll want to make sure you get your share before you have to head back home.