West Coast Road Trip
June 14, 2007 10:19 AM   Subscribe

I'm preparing for a road trip that will take me up the California Coast, Oregon Coast, Washington (Seattle) and into Canada at least as far North as Whistler. Can you provide specific recommendations on where to stop? What motels should I stay at? What's interesting to see/do/photograph?

I know there have been a number of threads (1, 2, 3) on this exact topic. I've read them, and they've all given me great general ideas, but I'm finding it really tough to pick motels, so I'd really appreciate some specific suggestions.

For hotels, I like as cheap as I can get while still being generally clean, modern and comfortable. Free WiFi is a big plus.

For activities, I like:
  • Photography - natural beauty, interesting architecture, crowd candids, interesting wildlife or zoo life -- nothing too kitschy and very little that's too touristy
  • Art, especially modern - galleries, museums and places where art is clearly an important fabric of the community
  • Hiking and active stuff in nature - beaches, forest trails, urban
I'm leaving on the first Monday in July. So far, here's what I've got:
  • Monday (July 2) - Very fast drive North up the 5 to somewhere above San Francisco. I've already seen the stuff south of there, so this is just a power-drive to get me to my starting point (but where? Santa Rosa? Petaluma? Bodega Bay?).
  • Tuesday - Leisurely Drive North up the 1 to somewhere in Northern Cal. Avenue of the Giants, Lost Coast, (where to stay/stop and what to do?)
  • Wednesday (4th of July) - Leisurely Drive up to Southern OR (Newport?)
  • Thursday - Leisurely Drive up to Northern OR (Canon Beach? Lunch at Tillamook ?)
  • Friday - easy drive up to Seattle, stay with my parents for the weekend.
  • Monday - Vancouver (where to stay, what to do)?
  • Tuesday - Vancouver day 2 (what to do?)
  • Wednesday - Garibaldi Lake? (where to stay, what to do)
  • Thursday - Whistler -- I want to do their zip lines, other than that, where to stay, what to do?
  • Friday - back down to Seattle for the weekend
  • Trip back down the 5 - probably stopping at Portland, Crater Lake? Maybe Tahoe (if it's worth the detour?)
Anything else not to miss?
posted by willnot to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I wish you weren't in such a hurry to bypass Big Sur, even though you say you've covered it. One of the coolest places to stay is Ragged Point, not too far from Hearst Castle. Spouse and I spent one Christmas there -- didn't tell any family where we were, ate lunch at some tiny diner in some tiny town nearby. One of my all-time favorite Christmases (and I'm Jewish). Anyway, Morro Bay, Cambria, Ragged Point along the Central California coast are great. Further up is Mendocino, another favorite spot. Dang, you're missing the scenery by taking the 5!

Once you get to Oregon, there's lots to see all along the coast. We love Bandon, Cannon Beach, Newport. Tour the cheese factory at Tillamook and (I hope they still do this) get free samples. Oh yeah, in Cannon Beach, the funkiest little motel is McBee's cottages -- 1940s ambiance in what I guess was a "motor lodge" back in the day. It wasn't expensive when we bicycled the coast and stayed at McBee's about 10 years ago. Room was so tiny, we had to put one bike in the closet and the other in the bathroom so we could move around. Great time!

In Vancouver, we stayed in a Best Western hotel downtown (sorry, can't remember the name), and walked everywhere; found a market and got various foods there, took them back to our hotel room and ate on the balcony while watching yachts and ships come into and out of the harbor. If I could choose only one big city in North America to live in, it would be Vancouver. Clean, easy to get around, wonderful people. Sigh.

Well, I wasn't much help, was I? But your trip sounds fabulous, and I'm totally envious. Oh, one last thing -- don't go out of your way to see Crater Lake. We weren't too impressed, and we regretted spending the gas and time getting there, when we could have done more in Portland. Another sigh. Have fun!
posted by Smalltown Girl at 11:12 AM on June 14, 2007

You want to photograph crowds, but not tourists? Crowds are often made up of tourists.

Anway - I liked the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver. Yes, it's a little kitschy and touristy, but still beautiful and fun.
posted by clh at 11:14 AM on June 14, 2007

First as for Hotels, I've never been disappointed with any of the Shilo Inns, many of which are on the upper Oregon coast. If you're outdoorsy you might consider camping in any number of public campgrounds in Oregon and Washington. Might be tough to book a hotel room over the week and weekend of the 4th too.

In Newport, OR the Newport Aquarium is one of my favorite spots to visit. Keiko the Killer Whale used to be housed here. Depot Bay is great but some of the charm has been lost to time and touristy shops. Part of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" was filmed there.

If you like Art Galleries be prepared to spend some time in Cannon Beach. It's gone very commercial, but there is still lots of art there. Don't miss Bruce's Candy Kitchen for some taste bud delights.

There's a great short hiking trail around of Cannon Beach to Ecola State Park's Indian Beach where "Point Break" was filmed.

On the fourth of July you might want to try and push for Lincoln City. They put on a great fireworks show in the southern end of the town. (double check before departure to make sure). While in Lincoln City eat at Moe's for their great clam chowder. Or stop in at McMenamin's Pub for some of the craft brew beer that started the whole micro-brew craze. (Plenty of Art Galleries in Lincoln City too.)

When you come back down the I-5 don't miss the Rice Hill Ice Cream.

You might be interested in this article too.
posted by IndigoSkye at 11:23 AM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wednesday (4th of July) - Leisurely Drive up to Southern OR (Newport?)
I would recommend the Yachats Inn.

Yachats is about 25 miles before Newport, but the coast changes and is less nice. This motel is modest, but really really cozy and right on the ocean.

On the plus side, Newport has a lot more to do, like the Aquarium, the Rogue Brewery, and Mo's.

But I would return to Yachats to stay.
posted by Danf at 11:38 AM on June 14, 2007

I just got back from a great vacation in the Pacific Northwest. I'd suggest visiting Whidbey Island, if you have time. It's about a half hour drive outside of Seattle and a 15 minute ferry ride, and it's got gorgeous scenery and beaches, cute little towns, and nice people.

When in Portland, we stayed at The Kennedy School, an inn set in a remodeled schoolhouse, run by the McMenamins folks. They have a number of inns in OR and WA. It was great--really interesting space, good food, great beer, nice staff, very clean. Portland had great restaurants. The Japanese Garden, the International Rose Test Gardens, and Powell's Books are my don't-miss suggestions for Portland.

I haven't been to Canon Beach in years, but I remember it as being pretty fun, and gorgeous.

Mt. St. Helens is cool, if you're into that sort of thing.
posted by min at 11:40 AM on June 14, 2007

Check out this AskMe regarding delicious places to eat in/around Portland and the Oregon coast. Also, if you can squeeze your stay in Portland through the 14th, you'll be here for a super fun meetup!
posted by JohnFredra at 11:47 AM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Olympic Sculpture Park is a relatively recent (end of Jan 07) addition to Seattle's modern art repertoire.
posted by kanuck at 11:52 AM on June 14, 2007

On your way up the I-5 after Seattle, you might want think about stopping in Bellingham. There was a nice brewpub downtown there, also it is home to the American Radio Museum, If you're into that sort of thing. The park on the north side of town had a pretty good view of the bay.

Crater Lake was great (especially for pictures) when I stopped there last August, but it was one of the destinations on my list, so YMMV. There's a lot more vulcanisim in central/eastern Oregon than I thought.

It's not on your list, but the 101 (aka the PCH) does a loop around the Olympic Mountains, and is a beautiful drive. If you wanted to, you could get over to Victoria, BC, take the ferry to Port Angeles, and take the 101 back south.

If you do end up stopping on Whidby, Fort Casey State Park used to be one of three (main) coastal artlillery stations used to defend Seattle from attacking ships, until WWII.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 12:00 PM on June 14, 2007

my starting point (but where? Santa Rosa? Petaluma? Bodega Bay?).

Point Reyes. Hit Bodega Bay in the morning.

Avenue of the Giants, Lost Coast, (where to stay/stop and what to do?)

You're passing a lot on that day, including the great Skunk Train through the redwoods between Fort Bragg and Willits. There's a nice local art gallery in Elk, which is such a tiny town that most people drive past it without even realizing. Bodega Bay to Avenue of the Giants isn't a "leisurely" one day drive if you plan to do anything other than driving. For much of the trip, Hwy 1's narrow winding cliff edges prevent you going over 50, and it's common for thick summer fog to slow things more than that. But there's so much to get out and see along the coast, it'd be a shame to cram that whole stretch into a single day.

Keep in mind that 4th of July weekend is peak tourist time for the California coast (the rest too?). If you can find a b&b, motel, or campground that hasn't had that week booked solid since last fall, their rate will not be cheap.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:02 PM on June 14, 2007

Response by poster: I might have to try to make it to that meet-up. I was planning to be in Seattle with the folks that whole weekend, but it looks like it's only about 3 hours away.

Maybe I just do one day in Vancouver to make up for the day with the folks that I'd be losing. That wouldn't leave much time for exploring Vancouver though. Even 2 days probably isn't enough. Would I be better off doing 2 days in Vancouver and skipping Garibaldi lake, or 1 day in Vancouver and doing Garibaldi?
posted by willnot at 12:10 PM on June 14, 2007

I would also stay in Astoria, for your Northern Oregon Coast stop. The drive to Seattle the next day will be a GRIND. Then a lot of traffic once you hit Olympia.

For Vancouver, maybe the ferry over to Victoria, and the Provincial Museum.
posted by Danf at 12:10 PM on June 14, 2007

I like the Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, CA for a good place to stop and eat on the way up the coast. I'll second the Tillamook factory tour...they have great ice cream! If you have time on the way back you could try some of the smaller highways through Northern CA rather than taking I-5. Much more interesting, in my opinion, than dodging semis for hundreds of miles.
posted by kms at 12:12 PM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Google Maps puts Point Reyes down around Oceanside/San Diego. Is there another one up near San Francisco?
posted by willnot at 12:12 PM on June 14, 2007

I'll 2nd the Kennedy School in Portland and I'll 3rd the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport (especially good for jellyfish and otters).

Walk on the beach at Bandon. Park at the south jetty and walk south from there; great place to pick up rocks. Hiking in the dunes between Reedsport and Florence is good. Skip the Sea Lion Caves; it's overpriced.

1. A place called Sharks in Newport; open only for dinner I think.
2. Mo's in Florence and Newport for clam chowder.
3. A surprisingly good little Thai place in Winchester Bay.
posted by neuron at 12:14 PM on June 14, 2007

In Vancouver, take pictures of crowds (both locals and tourists) at the completely wonderfull Granville Island market. Also, buy (many!) delicious things to eat.

**Also, yes, Point Reyes is north of San Francisco.
posted by rtha at 12:15 PM on June 14, 2007

Google Maps puts Point Reyes down around Oceanside/San Diego

It looks like that's finding a street in Oceanside. Point Reyes National Seashore is considerably bigger.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:16 PM on June 14, 2007

Vancouver has a lot worth seeing, but as someone who grew up on the North Shore, I would advise avoiding the Capilano Suspension Bridge. It is basically a holding pen for the bussloads of guided tours that are continually being brought there, especially during the summer. Expect crowds and cheesy period costumes, complete with suspenders and flannel shirts.

As an alternative, I suggest Lynn Canyon, a few minutes east. It has a smaller suspension bridge, but it is free, and in my opinion, the canyon itself is more beautiful. As an even less developed alternative, you can take a short hike to Cypress Falls, in Cypress Canyon, which is the furthest west of the canyons. Also worth considering for a photo op is Cleveland Dam, which sits atop Capilano Canyon just above the suspension bridge. The views of the resevoir, and the twin towers of the lions above it are quite spectacular on a clear day.

At the top of Capilano Road is Grouse Mountain. The view from the top is incomparable and well worth a trip, either on the tram, or if you want a workout, up the Grouse Grind (aka, the stairmaster to hell). If you want great photos, plan to be there for sunset, which will be around 9:00. Also, in the summer, the ski area is host to facilities which rehabilitate grizzly bears and timber wolves.

Wreck Beach is also worth a visit. It's a clothing optional beach, but there are as many people clothed as naked, so there is no pressure to strip. If you head down the main stairs, you can walk around the bluffs of Point Grey and make your way to Tower Beach, which is a pebble beach featuring two towers erected to house searchlights during WWII.

Also, I would like to suggest one restaurant, Guu. This is an isakaya, a Japanase tapas bar, but the food isn't the typical sushi and robata, it's homestyle, and a favorite of homesick Japanese language students.

On the way up to Whistler, I suggest hiking up the backside of the Stawamus Chief. The views are spectacular, and the hike up is in a steep gully filled with boulders and walled with sheer slabs of granite, complete with 500 year old trees growing from cracks in the living rock. This one of my favorite places.

As for Garibaldi Lake, I would keep in mind that early July is typically the earliest you can avoid the snow. The snowpack this year is unusually deep and we have had an unseasonably cool spring and summer that is keeping around even longer. If you do decide to hike up to the lake, you should be prepared for snow, especially snow on the trail towards the top. I remember one heavy snow year where there was still patches of snow on that trail in August.

Whistler is where I have called home for the past few years. I would be happy to show you around if you'd like. If you mountain bike, you couldn't ask for a better place than Whistler, regardless of your ability level, there is something for you here. If taking a bike is a possibility, I would seriously recommend it.

Sorry I don't have any advice on hotels. Whistler is expensive, unfortunately, and with the Shoestring Lodge gone, I don't really know of any other places that are anywhere close to cheap besides hostels. I'd also like to extend an invitation to crash on our couch, if you'd like. Our place is small, but we do offer free WiFi. Unfortunately, in all likelyhood, both my girlfriend and I will be working on Friday, so it might not be that convienent.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:08 PM on June 14, 2007

"Wednesday (4th of July) - Leisurely Drive up to Southern OR (Newport?)"

Newport had a very nice fireworks show over the harbor on the fourth last year; we watched it from my father-in-law's small boat in the marina in the harbor, but I'm sure there are other places to see it. The fireworks were launched from this bridge. Also, my husband always finds the Rogue Warehouse Sale (held around holidays throughout the year, this time June 30 - July 4) to be very worthwhile. Beer in the wrong bottles is a great bargain! marked down hats, coasters, or t-shirts not so much.

"Monday - Vancouver (where to stay, what to do)? Tuesday - Vancouver day 2 (what to do?) "

One thing that made a weekend in Vancouver extra nice last winter was a day-pass on the False creek ferries that zip back and forth around Granville Island and other fun spots in the area. The Aquabus would also be fine, I'm sure.
posted by anitar at 2:33 PM on June 14, 2007

[expletive deleted] has great advice.
Bear in mind that vancouver to whistler is only a two hour drive. there are lots of parks and great hiking around Squamish and Garibaldi lake - the Chief is an excellent short hike - but you're on Whistler's doorstep. So it doesn't have to be an overnight stop.

Also, if you do make it to Wreck Beach, that means you're very close to the Museum of Anthropology, which I heartily recommend. Lots of great original native art - totem poles and sculptures and masks. It's $7 or so and you can do the whole thing in an hour or two. It's centerpiece is a breathtaking Bill Reid sculpture which is one of two you can find on the Canadian $20 bill (the other is in the international terminal at Vancouver's airport).
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:39 PM on June 14, 2007

I can't believe I forgot the Museum of Anthropology. That place fascinated me as a kid.

Another point Paul brings up that I meant to mention is how short the Chief hike is. The parking lot is right off the highway, and 3 hours round trip is perfectly reasonable for a moderately fit person. That includes an hour or so enjoying the view and wandering from peak to peak. I recommend hiking to the second peak (avoid the first), then making your way over to the third peak (the highest and most isolated) then heading down via the trail running down the gully between the second and third peaks. It's a nice, less busy trail, and it has some of the biggest old growth trees accessable in the area.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:41 PM on June 14, 2007

If you're really into art, wander around Granville island in Vancouver for a bit. The side with artist's studios and workshops and all, not the side where things are being sold. It's neat to be able to see an actual goldsmith. (There are plenty of artists, but that's what sticks in my head.)

And you might consider a hostel, if you're interested in cheap places to stay. I'm sorry I can't recommend a particular one.
posted by Margalo Epps at 7:39 PM on June 14, 2007

You could spend a whole week in Humboldt County. We discovered the town of Trinidad whilst roadtripping north from San Francisco, just south of the redwood parks. It's a tiny, close-knit place that doesn't have enough room or facilities for too many tourists at once. Arcata is a neat hippie college town nearby, and of course there's the national and state parks that dot the coast and the interior in the region.

Instead of I-5, take the ferry from Port Angeles and spend some time in Victoria.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:32 PM on June 14, 2007

I just did the drive from SF to seattle and LOVED every minute of it... seconding the lost coast brewery in eureka CA and I know eugene is a ways inland but it was worth the drive.
posted by Chris4d at 11:57 PM on June 14, 2007

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