PNW Trip 8 Day Itinerary
April 6, 2016 9:09 AM   Subscribe

I'm taking my first trip to the Pacific Northwest! Most of the itineraries I've seen are for a 9-10 day trip, but we only have 8 days, counting departure day. Trying to make the most of our time without cramming in too much. What are your must-sees for 8 days? We are likely sticking to Oregon & Washington, and want to see a mix of cities and coastline.

More details:

-flying in and out of Portland
- definitely want to see Seattle, and maybe/probably Eugene?
- I LOVE beaches and the coast, but my wife is not as beach-strolly as me so I don't want her to be too bored

My tentative idea right now is:
Fly into Portland, arrive at night so this isn't a day I'm counting

Days 1-3 : rent a car and see BEACHES? Right now I think driving south to the Oregon Dunes and then following the coast up to Cannon Beach sounds great: but I'm worried this is too much driving and beaching to do in 3 days. Is it? Should we add another day? Is all of this must-see or could we get away with a smaller swath of coast?

Specific recommendations of beaches, lodging, attractions, etc along the coast are welcome! We are on a smaller budget for hotels.

Day 4: arrive back to Portland, return car and take the train to Seattle? (We'd rather do this than more driving)

Day 5: Seattle

Day 6?? TBA - should we spend another full day in Seattle? Can we see something nearby without having a car?*
Day 7: also TBA but should probably take the train back to Portland in afternoon

Day 8: Fly out of Portland at night, so we can spend all/most of this day seeing Portland

*I think we'd really like to avoid renting a car in WA - we don't want to drive from Portland to Seattle and it seems like a lot of fuss to rent 2 separate cars.

In general, we like "lighter" outdoor activities, city sightseeing, we like food/bars/etc but not really looking for the new, hot, elbow to elbow type places. I would LOVE to do whale watching.
posted by nakedmolerats to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Days 1-3 : rent a car and see BEACHES? Right now I think driving south to the Oregon Dunes and then following the coast up to Cannon Beach sounds great: but I'm worried this is too much driving and beaching to do in 3 days. Is it? Should we add another day?

Driving from Portland to the Oregon Dunes in Florence is a full day's drive, more or less. It's too far south, I don't think that should be your target.

Go, Portland -> Astoria -> Cannon Beach -> Cape Meares. You could even stop at Cannon Beach and head east, skipping Cape Meares, but that area is beautiful. Astoria is also beautiful, I think I want to retire there.

There's a funky McMenamins hotel/resort in Gearhart. Haven't stayed there, but I want to try it.

Note that Seaside, Oregon, is pretty much just a tourist trap.

Now, I love Newport, Oregon, for everything, but that's also a little far south for what you're trying to do.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:24 AM on April 6, 2016

Portland is awesome, Seattle is awesome, but the trip in between them is long and is not awesome unless you make an effort to see Mt. St Helens or Mt. Rainier. 8 days is plenty of time to enjoy one of those cities and the nature around, but definitely traveling between kills a day (4 hrs minimum each way, so 8 total hrs of travel without stops or breaks).
If I had 8 days centered in Portland I would enjoy the city for a couple of days, drive the coast all the way down to the redwoods np, head north to stop at crater lake, maybe go east to bend or north to mt hood and the columbia gorge, back to Portland to relax and fly out.
I would save Seattle, the Cascades and San Juan islands for a separate trip.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:35 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Redwoods/ Crater Lake sounds like a great trip too, but when I google-map it comes out to about an 18 hour round trip - I don't know if we want to drive that much in a week.

We don't necessarily mind the train trip to/from Seattle. We like trains.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:13 AM on April 6, 2016

I've done that drive up the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, and there's not much in the way of beaches or even towns, for that matter. I wouldn't recommend the Peninsula as a substitute for oregon beaches. Hit Seaside or Cannon Beach, Rockaway, Manzanita, Newport, Lincoln City, or yes, you can make it to Florence.

If you want to see Eugene, stop there for lunch on your first day, then drive over to Florence. Spend the night in Florence, and go for a dune buggy ride on day two. Head northward and spend night two in Newport or Lincoln city. On day 3, you can either take a quick way to Portland and be there in 2 hours, or you can meander up the coast to Pacific City or Tillamook, and head over from there. This will put you back in portland about dinner time on day 3. Or if you're enjoying the coast, keep heading north.

Yes, you can take the train up to Seattle, and hang out for a day or two, but if it were me, I'd be ready to stop moving for a couple days, and set portland as my home base, and do a couple day trips. Columbia River Gorge, Mt. St. Helens, Wine country. Plus Portland itself.

From downtown, if you really want a train ride, you can take the MAX to the zoo, or to Orenco Station. Or depending on Amtraks schedule, you might be able to do a day trip to Seattle.
posted by hydra77 at 10:26 AM on April 6, 2016

Skip Eugene. It doesn't have the density of things to do in walking distance that, say, Madison does, and you can probably find a Portland equivalent of any particular activity you had your eye on in Eugene.

Personally, I'd go from Portland to McMinnville (maybe with a stop for wine-tasting?) to Lincoln City, and then drive along the coast to Newport and stay in the Sylvia Beach Hotel. My sister and I thought this was the greatest place ever when we were in middle school (books! a B&B full of books!) Possibly, adulthood would make it seem like only the fifth-greatest place ever, but I'd be willing to take that risk.

I would also dedicate most of a day to hanging out in Powell's.

The train from Portland to Seattle has lots of lovely views. Make sure you pick a train that originates in Portland/Seattle; otherwise, delays can accumulate. (A forty-five minute delay due to freight train traffic isn't that unusual.)

Seattle's very much a city of neighborhoods; as someone who used to live there, I find the idea of hanging around downtown kind of weird. One thing you can easily do from downtown is catch a ferry to the islands. This might be a lot of public transit in a row, but the views are lovely. Maybe schedule that trip to Powell's to fall the day before you leave for Seattle?
posted by yarntheory at 10:35 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you want to do whale watching the best place to do this is in the San Juan islands from a Seattle home base. If you have $$$ the absolute best possible option would be to fly the seaplane to a charter boat. Kenmore Air offers such a tour at $359/person. The seaplane is spectacular, whale watching is spectacular, if this is a once in a lifetime trip I would cut a day from Oregon beaches for this easily. Your wife will likely be beached out after two days. I agree that you can also skip Eugene. I also agree with wine tasting, the Willamette Valley in Oregon has fantastic pinot noir.

Keep the car, drive to Seattle, just take the I-5 north from your most southernly beach and you will be there in 4-5 hours. This is the most time efficient way to travel. A car will allow you to save money on Seattle hotels by staying further out from downtown. Also, it will give you access to such sites as the Arboretum. I like renting a canoe from the UW Aquatic Centre to explore the Arboretum. You can also just drive and park at Pike Place market to avoid hilly walking.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:47 AM on April 6, 2016

We stayed at the Shiloh Inn in Newport if you wind up going that way, and it was a really nice beachfront view for a lower price than I think you'll typically get for a beachfront hotel. Also, the trip that OHenryPacey describes is very similar to one we did a couple years ago--coast down as far as Eureka (mainly to visit relatives), inland back up through Mt Shasta, Crater Lake, Bend, and Hood River. We also did it in about 8 days which was a little short for all we squoze in and a fair amount of driving, but you do what you gotta do.
posted by drlith at 11:02 AM on April 6, 2016

Just an anecdata point--a couple I know moved to the PNW last year and originally planned on moving to Seattle. After three hours there they left and cancelled all job interviews that would require living in or near Seattle. They said that Seattle seems like a decent jumping off place to get out of the city and do other things, but Seattle proper was a snoozefest that they described as "culturally anemic." YMMV.
posted by xyzzy at 11:05 AM on April 6, 2016

Seattle proper = culturally anemic/bleached, for sure. But no one visits or lives in Seattle for the culture - you come to Seattle for the only US city that has mountains/forests/ocean all combining together with better, fresher food than you'll find in the rest of the country.

even so: Seattle >>>> Portland.

So, there are two seasons for whale watching around Seattle because there are two main species of whales to see (though humpbacks and minkes and fins are out there too!).

* Gray whales hang out in the spring.
* Resident orcas hang out in South Puget Sound late may-mid fall, and transient orcas hang out in South Puget Sound rarely all year round. Orcas of both types like hanging out around San Juan/Whidbey/Orcas Islands.

Most whale watching companies depart from Anacortes, the Olympic Peninsula or Friday Harbor. I've had great experiences with the larger boat charters, like Mystic Sea Charters and Island Adventures - Island Adventures is one of the few that departs from Downtown Seattle. Make sure you know what whales you're looking for before you buy your tickets!

You also don't need to get on a boat if you have the patience to watch from shore. Orca Network's Facebook page lists updates almost instantly so you can track pods and zip over to whatever park they've been sighted at.

* Seattle is really good at food. You truly can't go wrong. Use Eater to narrow down your choices.

*If you're downtown, take the West Seattle Water Taxi over to Alki. Eat amazing Asian-Hawaiian food at Marination Ma Kai and then rent bikes, kayaks or SUPs until you're in need of Marination's shave ice & cocktails.

* UW Waterfront Activities Center is a cheap thrill. Stop at the Montlake Market for beer and sandwiches and coconut paletas for your journey.

*The bestest most beautifulest thing are the San Juan Islands. If you're renting a car you have no reason to not go visit. You really should plan to stay at least a night on the islands. Go to San Juan Island and drive to Lime Kiln to see the orcas from shore or book a whale cruise from Friday Harbor. Go to the San Juan Island Distillery and taste liquors with all kinds of fun foraged ingredients. Then take a ferry from Friday Harbor to Orcas Island - eastbound ferry trips are free - and stay at the hippie mecca that is Doe Bay Resort. Soak naked in hot tubs while watching otters find their dinner. Drink cocktails at Barnacle and eat sticky buns from Brown Bear Bakery. Make sure you make a reservation for your ferry ride.

* If you have no car and you still want to go to the San Juan Islands, no problem - the Victoria Clipper has a shuttle to take you from Downtown Seattle to San Juan Island with an optional wildlife viewing tour some days of the week, May-October.

* If you have a decent rental and you'll be up here on a weekend, make a reservation for Goldmyer Hot Springs. It's a bit of a trek, but the actual hike is easy, flat and bordered by a pristine tropical-turquoise river. AND THEN you're rewarded with a lovely soak INSIDE A CAVE. no joke.

* If you are going to go to the Olympic Peninsula, there are three essential stops: Hurricane Ridge, the Hoh Rainforest and Ruby Beach. None of these stops require you to walk more than a quarter mile from your car to be awed in totally different ways, but there are trails if you are inspired to see more.
posted by bravecanary at 2:49 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update! We decided to limit our trip to just the Oregon coast and LOVED it.

We flew into Portland and drove west to Seaside, and then south down the entire rest of the coast. We had planned on stopping at Bandon, but on a whim we decided to drive down to CA to see the redwoods, which was definitely worth it - the coast south of Bandon was STUNNING.

Some of our favorite things:
-The Pelican Pub in Pacific City is right on the beach!
-whale watching in Depoe Bay!
-hiking at Ecola State Park
-tidepooling everywhere!
-the Prehistoric Forest of dinosaur statues on 101!

On the way back to Portland for our flight, we stopped in Eugene at their raptor center (cool!) and McMinnville to see their awesome air&Space museum that houses the SPRUCE GOOSE!
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:33 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

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