It’s been a long time coming, but I finally planned a trip to visit the Pacific Northwest. It’s one of those places I always envisioned myself living one day, even without ever visiting the area before. Some people might call it crazy, but I’m convinced that I used to live somewhere out there in a past life. I have an undeniable sort of homesickness for this region that feels all too familiar to me. It was a huge reason why I finally decided to not only plan a Pacific Northwest road trip to explore both Washington and Oregon, but also to see if my heart could find a second home out there.
My goal for the trip was to see as much as possible in one week. I usually always try to have some sort of a game plan for these kinds of trips, but lately my method has been to break down each place I’m visiting by what’s going on in the area and then leaving it open for suggestions from people living in the area. I used to be this EXTREME planner who had every hour – more like every minute – of a trip mapped out, but over the last few years I found it easier to have some form of a loose-based plan and make the rest up as I go along.
If I’m being honest, as much as I love the idea of road trips, spending a majority of your time in a car is not everything it’s cracked up to be. For one, I hate driving, so much that I will do anything to get out of it. This probably make me sounds like the worst road tip buddy, which is not too far off. Two, being stuck in a small constricted area for too long makes my anxiety go through the roof. Did I mention I’m not the best road buddy? Moral of the story though is that I’m glad my husband is willing to do most to all of the driving for these kinds of adventures. He is the real MVP!
While we might not have hit everything we wanted to see (granted it always seems this way when you try to do a road trip in the span of a week), here were some of my favorite spots along the way:
If it weren’t for a dear friend of mine recommending this area, Port Townsend might not have ended up on our radar during this trip. She knew I would fall in love with this area of the Olympic Peninsula, and she was right! I have nothing but love for seaport towns, and this one in particular with its Victorian-era feel and artistic community had a good mix of culture, art, nature and just about everything in-between.
Fort Worden State Park/Point Wilson Lighthouse
Fort Worden was originally designed as a military base to protect Puget Sound, but now it’s a state park where various events and classes are held at. There is also plenty of trails to hike out there, along with a gorgeous view of the shoreline. We visited some of the old bunkers while we were there and hiked out to see the Point Wilson Lighthouse. It was a good way to start the road trip with morning a hike, some history and of course, some lighthouse viewing.
Port Townsend’s historical downtown area has a true artistic and urban vibe to it. I love hanging out in small quaint downtown areas, especially ones that seem to have a lot going on. Besides walking around and checking out a few of the shops downtown, I usually find myself scouting out a local coffee house to take a breather, do some people watching and maybe write a little. It’s a great way to reset and talk to some of the locals about places you should visit while you are in the area.
Better Living Through Coffee & Live Music
To no surprise, there are no shortage of coffee shops in Port Townsend (each one overlooking the water I might add). One of the places we ended up staying for a while during the day was Better Living Through Coffee. We intended to only stop there for a quick rest but ended up staying a couple of hours because a group of local musicians showed up to have a Monday afternoon jam session. Apparently, this group plans to meet up at this coffee shop once or twice a month to play a series of instrumental folk music.
That was probably one of my favorite places to go in the area, but also another coffee shop that I loved was Velocity Coffee. They had an amazing salted spicy mocha (a combination of homemade mocha with cayenne pepper, cinnamon and topped with sea salt) that I still think about from time to time. Sometimes you just need a good combination of sweet, spicy and salty.
Harbors & Sailboats
Port Townsend is a huge sailing community. They are actually known for their wooden boat festival that they hold every year in September. Even though we weren’t visiting around that time, it was still fun to walk around some of the harbors downtown and look at all the sailboats.
Soak on the Sound
So, this was a last-minute addition to our final day in Port Townsend, but we ended up visiting this place called Soak on the Sound where you can soak in their salt-water bath tubs and then finish off with a sauna afterward. Apparently, it’s the Northwest’s only salt water bath house, which offers both a private soaking experience or a community tub area (the cheaper option). It’s wise to make a reservation because the community room can only accommodate 8-10 people at a time (and there is no time limit), but we didn’t make a reservation and got in just fine. If you are planning on doing the private room or getting a massage, I suggest calling ahead of time.
There is a lot of studies on doing daily salt-water soaks and saunas, so much so, that people see a tremendous positive impact on their both their mental and physical health.
Pre-warning: this is a clothes optional kind of place. By that, I mean people actually do strip down to nothing while they are there. I’d say if you’re not weirded out by strangers getting naked around you, then this place is definitely worth a visit.
Originally, Port Angeles was just a place for us to sleep after a long day of hiking in Olympic National Park, but this area ended up offering a lot more than we expected. First, we stayed at an awesome Airbnb, which is a farm that houses a mix of different animals that make your experience so much more special. They even have llamas and sheep that will come up to your bedroom window at different times of the day when you are there. The owner leaves food near your window, so if you feel like feeding and interacting with them you can. If you’re OK with waking up with a llama’s butt near your face (seriously though) and want an awesome view of the mountains while you are drinking coffee in the morning, definitely STAY HERE!
Besides our Airbnb, the downtown area had a decent number of restaurants and shops around to spend some of your time visiting after a long day of hiking, along with a gorgeous view of the water.
Olympic National Park
We spent only a few days hiking around Olympic National Park, and even though there was still so much we wanted to see while we were out there, this was probably one of my favorite visits to any national park I have ever been to.
The one hike we couldn’t do while we were visiting Olympic National Park was Hurricane Ridge. The day we tried to go, it was a complete whiteout and even if we wanted to brave the weather, we wouldn’t have been able see anything or enjoy it. Even though Dungeness Spit is not a part Olympic National Park, if you have time to make the hike (which is a 11-mile loop) out there to see the lighthouse, do it! You will also find some of the most gorgeous rocks out there. I sometimes will collect a few as a little token from each place I visit near the water.
One of our first stops in Olympic National Park was around the Lake Crescent area. We started off our morning with a hike to Marymere Falls, which is an old growth forest that leads to a 90-foot waterfall. It’s a good warm up hike, since it’s only a 1.5-mile loop. Once you get to the waterfall though, it’s worth hiking down near the bottom of the falls to get better view of everything from down below.
Another hike we took while were out there was Mt. Storm King, which is a steep switchback climb with about a 2,000 ft. elevation gain. It’s not the easiest hike if you haven’t hiked in a while, but it’s worth the gorgeous view of Lake Crescent once you make it to the top.
Sol Duc Valley
The Sol Duc Valley area has some of the best combinations of rain forests and waterfalls to go around. One of the best hikes we took was called “Lover’s Lane” (which is a 6-mile loop) to see the Sol Duc Falls. There is a shorter route to see the falls, but it’s worth taking the longer one to see and experience the park better.
We ended up staying in this area, at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort mainly because we wanted access to the hot springs there. The resort has a few different springs to soak in, ranging from a small mineral wading pool, a medium mineral pool and a large mineral fountain pool. Each ranging in temperatures, one being 90 degrees, to another being 99 degrees and the hottest being around 107 degrees. Besides the benefits of the mineral pools, this resort is a nice little getaway if you’re looking to stay in a small cabin in the woods. Also, there is no service or Wi-Fi out there, making this a perfect place to fully unwind and unplug for the day.
Hoh Rain Forest
One of our last stops in Olympic National Park was the Hoh Rain Forest. This part of the park offers a lot of short hikes, like Hall of Mosses (a 3/4-mile loop) and Spruce of Nature (a 1 1/4-mile loop) to take in the beauty of this area even more. Both hikes are relatively short but offer a beautiful scenic view of the rain forest. It’s definitely a picturesque hike to say the least.
After spending a few days in Olympic National Park, it was time to head down the coast, with our first stop being Rialto Beach. Since we were visiting in March, we heard you have a better chance of seeing whales since they are more active closer to the shore during this time of the year. While we didn’t get to see any whales while we were out there, we did walk along the shoreline and just enjoyed taking in the scenery.
Our next stop was Ruby Beach. Located right off the 101, this area was very similar to Rialto Beach with its similar coastal oceanfront views and various rock structures. Overall, it’s a good place to stop, climb over some trees to get to the beach and relax for a few hours.
Dead Man’s Cove & Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
As we made our way down to the Southwest side of Washington, our last stop before heading into Oregon was Cape Disappointment and Dead Man’s Cove. We didn’t get there until later in the evening, but we took a sunset hike out to Dead Man’s Cove to see the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. It was the perfect spot to end our long day driving down the coast of Washington.
If you’re a Goonies fan, you are going to love Astoria. This area basically screams Goonies because, well, the movie was filmed there. Not only that, but this relatively small port city is your first stop into Oregon if you are heading down from the coast of Washington. While Astoria might initially attract Goonies fans like myself to the area, this city has a lot of charm and character in its own right that keeps people around and coming back for more.
Oregon Film Museum
For all the movie lover’s out there, The Oregon Film Museum – housed in the old Clatsop County Jail – holds a lot of memorabilia from various films shot in the state of Oregon like the Goonies, the Ring and the Shinning (just to name a few). This old jail is where the opening scene in the Goonies was filmed at. You can even enter the jail cell and put the same sign around your neck that Robert Davi’s character (Jake) wore in the movie in the opening scene. I might have geeked out more than the other visitors there at the time, but it was such a neat experience.
Classic movies aside, they also have an interactive room set up with different stations, props and film equipment where you can film your own movie reals. Since I’m more of a behind the camera kind of gal, I kept trying to have my husband go act out a scene while I played camera woman/director (he wasn’t having it though). If you do end up filming a clip (which it does record everything), you can go to their screening room and watch your cinematic masterpiece come to life.
This downtown area has a lot to offer to visitors, that is worth taking a few hours to walk around and see everything. There is a lot of antique shops, breweries and food options (Astoria Coffeehouse and Bistro is AWESOME) and amazing walk along the pier overlooking the Columbia River as you watch some of the cargo ships come in going up the river before they head over to Portland.
Cannon Beach is a big vacation spot, but the main reason this place was on my list was – you probably guessed it – because of the Goonies. Not only does this small coastal city have a lot of character and one hell of a nice sandy shoreline, but it’s where Haystack Rock is located (a.k.a – the scene where the Goonies surfaced from the cave and watched the pirate ship sail away). So yea, I couldn’t leave this one off my list obviously. But other than that, this busy, but chill vacation town had a lot to offer during our short visit.
The older I get, the more I realize I’m not a city person – yet I live in Detroit. Anyways, there is something about being in a crowded city I’ve never visited before being over-stimulated by the people, noises, and smells that makes me overly anxious and leaves me drained by the end of the day. Usually I can keep these more intense feelings under control when I’m traveling, but I ended up experiencing one of the worst panic attacks I’ve had in a long time in the middle of downtown Portland. It was early in the morning, and I had just visited Voodoo Donuts (which by the way, the Vicious Hibiscus is the best donut there hands down!) before heading to the Saturday Market, when my husband and I couldn’t find our rental car. After walking around in circles, we somehow ended up in a real sketchy part of Portland, and I completely panicked and lost my cool – zero to 100 kind of shit – looking like some crazy person unleashed on the streets of Portland (probably still not the weirdest thing you will see in Portland, so basically I blended in).
Anyways, I broke down in the middle of the street and lost all sense of my cognitive functions trying to figure out where I needed to go. Once my husband calmed me down (which bless his damn heart that man puts up with a lot), I eventually remembered the name of the shop we were parked outside of and found our rental car. This was not one of my finest moments, but lesson to be learned – panicking like I did does not lead to a solution any faster.
Panic attacks aside, here were some of my favorite parts of Portland:
Council Crest Park
It was all by chance that my husband and I ended up in Council Crest Park. We are huge Lord Huron fans and in anticipation of their new album they had a location-based challenge going on in different cities all over the U.S. to hear one of their new songs that hadn’t been released yet. The location they had us driving to in Portland lead us to Council Crest Park. Side note, we looked like a bunch of weirdos holding their phones up in the air waiting for the app to match our location, but it was worth it!
Music purposes aside, this area is absolutely beautiful because it sits uphill overlooking the city giving you one hell of a view. I’m glad our favorite band lead us to this park! It’s quite the hidden gem of Portland if you’re looking to get out of the city.
Keep Portland Weird & Voodoo Doughnuts
OK, these are probably the two most touristy things you can do while you are in Portland, but the Keep Portland Weird mural and Voodoo Doughnuts are right next to each other, so if you’re looking to knock out some of the more common things to see and experience, these are good ones to do!
This is every book lover’s dream, considering Powell’s Bookstore is the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. I could spend hours roaming around any bookstore, but since I was only in Portland for less than 24 hours, I had to limit my time here unfortunately. If you can though, try to visit every section and floor while you are there.
The Witch’s Castle
Located in Forest Park, the Witch’s Castle is said to be where some of the original found-footage from the Blair Witch Project can be found. It’s short hike there and back, but it’s a nice escape from the city if you are looking for something more nature based to do in the area.
As you can probably guess, by the time we got to Seattle, I was already over being in the city. But with how Portland ended, I didn’t want that to affect the little time I had left in Seattle. I definitely preferred areas outside of the main downtown area. It’s worth it to go walk around Pike Place Market and view the Space Needle (I mean you have to do some touristy things while you are there), but if you are in the Queen Ann or Fremont area, those spots are definitely worth the visit.
Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market may be the prime touristy spot of the city, but it’s fun to walk around and see all the different vendors set up around the area. Whether you stop for some frozen yogurt, cup of coffee or pick up some fresh food in the area, there seems to be a little bit of everything for everyone there.
Capitol Hill was a little north of where we were staying, but we heard from our Airbnb host about an awesome Caribbean restaurant that we had to try out called, Rumba. This spot was probably my favorite place out of the whole trip that we ate at. I mean any place that feeds me a series of tacos and coconut drinks is hard to disappoint me, but if I’m ever back in this area I will be sure to eat and drink here again.
If you want a quiet morning outside of the heart of the city, the Queen Ann area is a nice location to go. It’s a quaint little artsy area with beautiful homes, and a beautiful downtown area to spend time walking around. There was cute little Cuban coffee shop in the area, El Diable Coffee Co., that had some amazing coffee!
Out of all the locations to visit in Seattle, Fremont was probably one of my favorite spots of all. When you get there, you have to pay a visit to the Fremont Troll, which is a huge public structure that lives under the bridge. It’s really neat to see in person!
Most of our time in this area though was spent walking around downtown and drinking. We started at Fremont Brewing Company and soon made our way to, Schilling Cider House (my new favorite cider house). This cider company had a huge selection of in-house ciders and other local ciders from around the area to choose from. Some of my favorite ciders were: 2 Towns Passion Statement, Chatter Creek Honey Ginger, Portland Cinnamon Spice, Schilling Grapefruit and Schilling Cold Brew.
Overall, this road trip to the Pacific Northwest was a solid adventure! I found so many different areas in both Washington and Oregon that I absolutely fell in love with, and could totally see myself either revisiting again someday or moving out there to stay for a while. Trips like these always have a way of revealing an inner layer of yourself to you that reassures you that you are where you are meant to be or sets in stone where you are heading next in life. It’s a neat thing to experience and for that, I will always be thankful!
Stay curious, be present, travel often!