Pacific Northwest road trip
November 9, 2014 6:05 PM   Subscribe

We want to drive from Contra Costa County, CA, to Anglicon 2015 in Seattle. We'd like an interesting drive up and back down that balances sights and time, and would like to hit Portland along the way (and maybe tiptoe into Canada after Seattle). We have lots of specific requests, so we'd love some help.

I've looked at the previous Asks, and they're either old or sufficiently different from our goals. We'd like help planning a route up and back, where to stop and visit and eat, and where to stay. Here's the situation in detail (!!!):

From: Contra Costa County, CA

To: The DoubleTree near SeaTac for Anglicon (British TV etc., not the Church of England), June 12-14.

Goals: Visit friends in Portland and Seattle, see some interesting/different scenery, eat some good food, get a bit of a feel for life in the PNW.

Travel method: Prius full of snacks and Big Finish audio. I'll do all the driving unless there are some long, flat, safe parts. I'd prefer no more than 7 hrs per day, plus stops.

Time: Leave after May 20, return by June 27. Maybe spend 10-14 days on this?

Must do: Portland, Seattle.

Would be nice: Columbia River Gorge, Olympia National Forest, some part of Canada (even if it's just Vancouver).

Like: All kinds of food, scenery, gentle hikes/walking, museums, gardens, quirky shopping, local color, bookstores.

Hidden agenda: If there's anything cool connected to community colleges in Portland or the greater Seattle area, let me know!

Do not need: Major NorCal detours, since we can do those some other trip.

Do not want: Strenuous hikes, serious backpacking, luxury hotels, camping, excessively exciting roads, roads where the passenger gets a lovely view while the driver white-knuckles it.

Budget: The DoubleTree is $132 + tax. For the non-convention nights, I'd prefer to pay less in order to maximize the number of days we can spend traveling. I like character more than style; all we need is 100% nonsmoking rooms, a big bed, power outlets, wifi, parking, and AC (if there's even a ghost of a chance it'll be over 79F). I'll be checking AirBnB and TripAdvisor, but recs are welcome. 1 or 2 nights at a really awesome, more expensive place could also be cool.

I've driven much of the California coast from Fort Bragg to San Diego, though I haven't been north of where Highway 1 turns inland some miles north of Fort Bragg. If there are compelling reasons to do portions of the coast on the drive up or back, please tell me what they are and also (please!) provide suggestions for what route to follow.

On my brief previous trip to Seattle (I zipped in and out of a professional conference), I enjoyed some parts of Pike Place Market plus the crumpet shop nearby, Teahouse Kuan Yin, Maneki, and Pink Gorilla. (The Uwajimaya was not sufficiently different from Mitsuwa/Nijiya/etc. to be very interesting, though.)

It's our first time going to the PNW for real, so please tell us everything! I would especially appreciate specific route + stop suggestions for the travel between the Bay Area and Portland/Portland and Seattle.

P. S. Memail me if you're also going to Anglicon and would like to meet up!
posted by wintersweet to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'll say that that time in June should be great for waterfall viewing in the Columbia River Gorge. The flow will be high and there should be wildflowers. There are many to see right off the Columbia River Highway with not much and/or easy hiking. It's an easy day trip from Portland, or you could even go for just a taste for a half day on your way from Portland to Seattle.

(OK, it's not really on the way from Portland to Seattle, but it's not really much out of the way either.)
posted by sevenless at 6:32 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Highway 101 along the Northern CA and Oregon coast is a must. Redwoods, Redwoods, Redwoods. The coast is really beautiful and quite different than down south. My husband and I just took this trip a few months ago. The thing to remember about Highway 101 is that it is very curvy and takes quite a bit longer to get up to Seattle than taking say, Highway 5. But Highway 5 is so boring. I say go up the coast if you have the time and then hightail it back home on Highway 5. If you are short on time you can always start on the coast and then cut across to Highway 5 in Oregon. Are you camping or staying in hotels? Here are some really good stops: Trinidad, CA, Patricks point, CA. Gold Beach, OR has the jet boat rides up the Rogue River which is really fun but touristy. Bandon Dunes. Coos Bay is a neat little town.We always stop at Newport, OR to go to the Rogue Brewery Pub House on the waterfront. If you are interested in aviation, there is a museum in Tillamock, OR. Also, all along the way are Brewpubs to visit. Very fun, I'm jealous.
posted by koko13 at 6:37 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I've spent a lot of time in the Mendocino area and in various NorCal redwood parks--is the coast really THAT different?

No camping; hotels/inns/B&Bs only, please. :)

Also, I should note that we totally want to geek out on this trip, so geeky suggestions are also very welcome.
posted by wintersweet at 7:17 PM on November 9, 2014

I'd say drive up 5, and, at Springfield, OR, go east towards Bend (check road conditions as there might still be snow). Bend is great. It's got a nice downtown, and the Museum of the High Desert is great.

Then, from Bend, go to Hood River. Hang there for a day or two, and then take a slow day through the Columbia River Gorge to Portland.

Portland has lots of fun hotels, but also lots of Airbnbs, too, so I suggest the latter.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:46 PM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My vote would be to visit with your friends in Portland, then drive to Seattle for the Con, then head north, taking I-5 both directions. The coast roads are gorgeous, the Olympic Rain Forest is stupendous, but the driver has to pay A LOT of attention, and driving up (or down) the coast adds a major amount of time. Plan those trips for later. If you're geeking it, stay on 5 and move right along.

How old are you? I and most of my friends have driven straight through from SF to Seattle at one time or another, but we were young and it was worth it. You could go straight to Seattle, then catch Portland on your way back.

If you've never been to Vancouver, this would be the time to visit, since you're more than halfway there. It's certainly one of the most beautiful cities in the world, incredibly diverse, and as a bonus: Canadian. Do some online searching; there are all kinds of discounts on hotels and everything else, most of them from the BC Tourist Board. The current exchange is $1 Canadian = 88 cents American. Bring passports if you have them, makes it easier to get back in the U.S. (go figure) Don't visit if you have outstanding warrants or convictions for DUI; they won't let you in.

Then on the way south (or north), stop in Bellingham. Yeah, I live here, so I'm prejudiced, but it's such a great little town! You got your local color (the Fairhaven District); Village Books & Michael's Books & Henderson's Books; coffee houses with geeky coffee opinions & more brew pubs with outdoor seating than you can shake a stick at (including a kombucha brew pub); several waterfront parks to stroll through; the Pickford Film Center and the Idiom Theatre and the Upfront Theater (check out their websites -- can't believe we've got such amazing things happening in a small town). Huge variety of restaurants, many of them organic/non-GMO/fair trade/shade grown. I think your best bet is staying in an AirBnB here, but they come and go like spring flowers, so wait til closer to the date to book.

A wonderful thing to do is drive from Bellingham to Anacortes and take the ferry through the San Juan Islands. You can walk on, and get off in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island and just walk around the (touristy) town, or you can take your car -- more $ -- and drive around Orcas and/or San Juan Island. They're working ferries, rather than tourist attractions; it's hard to believe you can see so much beauty in one day for the price of a ticket.

If you decide to include the Columbia River Gorge, give yourself several days. These are Western distances out here. And don't worry about heat, at least west of the mountains. June is the month we usually spend whining "WHEN are we going to get SUMMER?" It's still beautiful, but damp -- it is a marine climate, after all. But you might luck out; sometimes June is Heaven.

You are going to have such a good time! Portland, Seattle -- you turn a corner and there's another heartstopping view, or piece of public art, or interesting coffee shop or ethnic restaurant. Just those two cities could get you happily occupied for your whole trip.
posted by kestralwing at 8:35 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you end up driving up I-5, I'd recommend stopping in Central Point for Rogue Creamery cheeses and Lillie Belle Chocolates.

If you go up the coast, Robert's Book Shop is a terrific rabbit warren of used books in Lincoln City.

I liked Vancouver a lot. We stayed at the Blue Horizon Hotel. A quick check looks like around $160 a night in June for a queen bed. I really liked the central location. We walked all over and had a particularly good visit to Granville Island Public Market. Take a short jaunt around False Creek on the darling little Aquabus water taxis.

Have fun and travel safe!
posted by Beti at 8:52 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Having driven all along the Oregon and Washington coast I can't remember white knuckling it at any point but then I'm currently in HI and actually quite enjoy driving round the windy, hilly roads that pass as highway in these parts, your comfort level may vary. Personally, I'd make a detour to Mnt Rainier NP. Very beautiful drive and park and plenty accessible walking.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:21 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here's how I'd do it.
  • Day 1 -- Drive north from the Bay Area using I-5 as your main N/S highway. US-101 and California 1 both have their charms but you have indicated you'd like to weight your trip with things that are farther from your normal stomping grounds and I-5 will give you the quickest route north through California. It's about 5 hours to Ashland, Oregon, just over the California/Oregon border, and if you're into theater you could make your first day on the road a short one (5 hours driving, not allowing for traffic) and enjoy a play at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Since you have some extra time and it'll probably be a beautiful summer day, maybe divert off the highway for an hour or two near Mt. Shasta to take a hike in a wildflower meadow on the dormant volcano.
  • Day 2 -- If you're up for a slightly longer day driving, head north again on I-5 until you get to one of the Oregon state highways that follow river courses towards the coast (e.g. 42 or 38) and cut over to 101 and drive the beautiful Oregon Coast, stopping in Cannon Beach for the night. Google Maps says ~8 hours of driving, but allow all the extra time you can for stopping and gawking at beaches, scenic overlooks, lighthouses, etc. Time it so you arrive in Cannon Beach in time to check into a hotel, have a nice dinner, and walk along the beautiful beach at sunset.
  • Day 3 -- Start the day in Cannon Beach with some coffee and pastries but get on the road early and head over the pass towards Portland -- you can be there by mid-morning and spend all day and night exploring the Rose City.
  • Option One -- Book a second night in Portland but leave the city in the morning and drive out I-84 to explore the Columbia River Gorge during the day, returning to the city for a second night of city dining and culture.
  • Option Two -- Spend half the day on additional exploration in Portland, then head to Seattle; it's only a few hours more up I-5.
Break for the Con you are attending.
After the Con:
  • Day 1 -- Take the Bainbridge ferry from downtown Seattle; you're headed to the Olympic Peninsula. Stop for early lunch in Port Townsend, continue to Port Angeles and turn south to follow the road to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. Take an afternoon walk on Hurricane Ridge, returning to Port Angeles to stay the night (unless you can get a late afternoon or evening ferry to Victoria, BC, in which case proceed directly to Victoria without the evening in Port Angeles.)
  • Day 2 -- The next day take the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC. Stay somewhere near downtown so when evening comes you can walk around the Inner Harbor and out to a restaurant or pub and just generally, enjoy the beautiful provincial capital. Try to hit the Royal BC Museum and definitely don't miss Butchart Gardens.
  • Day 3 through ??? -- After a day in Victoria, drive to the end of the Saanich Peninsula and take the ferry to Vancouver. You can find interesting things to do in Vancouver for as long as you have time to spend, but certainly take a walk in Stanley Park and visit a couple of different neighborhoods to get a feel for the variety of the city.
My proposed itinerary is notably short on Seattle time, which is regrettable because there's really quite a lot to do there: my theory is that it's deserving of a complete visit on its own. I've also, of necessity, had to skip Mount Rainier and also the North Cascades (including Mount Baker, probably my favorite area of Western Washington) but your time isn't infinite and some of the things I would advise as highlights of those areas may well still be snow-covered in June. In any case, this trip would give you a very good variety of Pacific NW experiences and, I would hope, leave you wanting more.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:14 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ashland is a really lovely little town to walk through, even if you're not into theatre. Nice array of shops and restaurants, little coop organic grocery for snack re stocking, and Lithia Park is beautiful. I think I5 through to Redwood City (Shasta) is beautiful.

Arcata is also a great little college town. If you haven't taken 101 that far north know that the drive was fine and the scenery very reminiscent of Harry and the Hendersons. It's wetter up there than it is around Ft Bragg/Ukiah... Much greener, misty, etc.

Have fun!!
posted by jrobin276 at 2:21 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: kestralwing, I'm going to turn 37 in December, but even when I was much younger, I was already Too Old for driving all the way through--really, 8+ hours of driving a day makes me super unhappy with life. I'd rather find a happy medium between stopping at every awesome park along the way and blowing all the way up there in one go, you know?

Thanks for all the suggestions so far!
posted by wintersweet at 8:38 AM on November 10, 2014

I like staying at the Bluebird Guesthouse in Portland -- it's a nice homey B&B and it's across the street from a nice Brewpub for a good dinner.
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:43 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

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