The Best Road Trips in America: The Best of the Pacific Northwest
With its beautiful scenery, bohemian cities, celebrated regional fare, and world-famous beer and wine, the Pacific Northwest is like nowhere else in the country, or—frankly—on earth.
Road Trip Itinerary: A Loop Around the Best of the Pacific Northwest
This week-long road trip will give you a solid sampling of what the region has to offer, through temperate rainforests, along windswept beaches, up ancient mountains, and past crystalline lakes. And while the great outdoors is what beckons many to this little corner of America, this itinerary will also give you plenty of time to hang out in cities such as Portland and Seattle, both of which have thriving culinary scenes and plenty of unique experiences.
At a Glance:
Starting Location: Seattle, Washington
Ending Location: Seattle, Washington
Miles Traveled: 1408
Suggested Duration: 6 nights
States Visited: Oregon, Washington
Stop 1: Seattle to Port Angeles, Washington
Stop Locations: Seattle, WA to Port Angeles, WA
Total Travel Time: 6 hours
Total Miles: 258 Miles
Recommended Route: Get up early and make your way to the Hoh River Rain Forest, one of the most photographed stretches of the Olympic National Park. Then trace your route back part of the way to Port Angeles, where you’ll spend your first night.
Along the Way:
Town: Sequim is a little old mill town that sits at the base of the Olympic Mountains, overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Stop for a stroll or a bite to eat in the compact city center. If you come on a Saturday, don’t miss the chance to browse for local produce and crafts at the Sequim Farmers Market.
Eat & Drink: Stick around for lunch at Dockside Grill, which serves everything from fish-and-chips to oyster po’ boys, all with fantastic views over the Sequim Bay.
Nature: Take in towering spruce and hemlock trees in a rainy stretch of the Olympic National Forest called the Hoh River Rain Forest. For the best views without much effort, consider a hike through the 0.8-mile-long Hall of Mosses loop trail.
Eat & Drink: Treat yourself to a fancy dinner at the swanky C’est Si Bon, with its changing menu of Franco-Northwest fusion fare and its fantastic global wine list.
Stay: Spread across two manicured acres overlooking the sea, the Victorian Sea Cliff Gardens Bed & Breakfast features elegant, antiques-filled rooms and suites, some with whirlpool tubs.
Stop 2: Port Angeles to Portland, Oregon
Stop Locations: Port Angeles, WA to Portland, OR
Total Travel Time: 6 hours
Total Miles: 323 Miles
Recommended Route: Head south along Highway 101 to I-5, taking a detour to visit the Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mount Saint Helens before continuing on to Portland, Oregon.
Along the Way:
Town: Although it’s the capital of Washington State, Olympia is best known for its bohemian atmosphere and easy access to the great outdoors. Learn about wildlife at the Wolf Haven International wolf sanctuary or take a three-mile hike along the Ellis Cove Trail, which runs through the wetlands of Priest Point Park.
Eat & Drink: Stop for an early lunch at Our Table, a popular downtown spot, where locally sourced ingredients are used to create elegant versions of hearty modern American fare.
Detour: Famous for its 1980 eruption, Mt. St. Helens is a must-see for anyone interested in national history. You can learn about the eruption at the Johnston Ridge Observatory or explore the subterranean Ape Cave, the longest continuous lava tube in the continental U.S.
Photo Op: The best-known attraction in the Columbia River Gorge, Multnomah Falls is also one of the most photogenic. At 620 feet tall, it’s the second-highest year-round waterfall in the US, and while you can hike up to the top of the falls via a mile-long trail, the best photo ops are conveniently right by the parking lot.
Do: Just south of the Oregon-Washington border, Portland is known for its free-spirited atmosphere, great dining, and ample opportunities to get out in nature. The city deserves more than just an overnight visit, so if you can, stay longer.
You don’t even need to leave the city limits to experience the area’s natural beauty, with highlights such as Forest Park, the Japanese Garden, the International Rose Test Garden, and the Lan Su Chinese Garden all within a few minutes’ drive from downtown.
While plenty of people come to Portland just to soak up the atmosphere (and sample the great food and beer), book-lovers won’t want to miss Powell’s City of Books, the world’s largest new-and-used bookstore on the planet, occupying an entire city block. If you’d rather spend more time in nature, make your way out to the nearby Columbia River Gorge, known for its ample hiking opportunities and beautiful waterfalls.
Eat & Drink: For your first night in town, make a reservation at Departure Restaurant + Lounge, which is as known for its great city views as it is for its fantastic cocktails and delicious Pan-Asian fare, served tapas-style.
Portland is as known for its food carts as it is for its restaurants, most of which are situated in little groupings, known as pods—make sure to have at least one food cart meal while in town as part of the quintessential Portland experience. And if you’re a fan of beer, don’t miss the chance of trying out some of Portland’s local microbrews—popular options include the Upright Brewing tasting room and Hair of the Dog Brewing Company.
Over the past couple of decades, Portland has gained a reputation for its donuts owing largely to the tourist-fave Voodoo Doughnut with its curiously shaped (and arguably gimmicky) pastries. However, locals in the know are more likely to send you to Blue Star Donuts, with its cakey, gourmet donuts, including some stand-out vegan options.
Stay: Portland has tons of hotel options to choose from, from the quirky to the swanky. If you’re looking for an unusual stay, consider McMenamins Kennedy School, an old schoolhouse turned hotel where you can sleep in refurbished classrooms. If you’d rather be downtown, the Heathman Hotel is an old-Portland classic, with elegant rooms and a popular afternoon tea service.
Stop 3: Portland to Newport, Oregon
Stop Locations: Portland, OR to Newport, OR
Total Travel Time: 4 hours
Total Miles: 188
Recommended Route: Head out to the Oregon Coast via highway 26, which will take you through the forested Coastal Mountain Range before eventually joining up with Highway 101. Stop in Cannon Beach before continuing south along the coast to Newport.
Along the Way:
Town: One of the most popular and easily accessed towns on the Oregon Coast, Cannon Beach is known for its art galleries, boutiques, and–unsurprisingly–seafood restaurants. It’s also home to the oft-photographed Haystack Rock, one of Oregon’s most iconic natural features.
Eat & Drink: One of a handful of Pelican Brewing outlets along the coast, the Pelican Brewing Company offers a wide variety of microbrews on tap and a menu of seafood-heavy pub fare, including a popular clam chowder.
Roadside Attraction: Oregon’s cheesiest attraction, the Tillamook Cheese Factory is open to visitors for free self-guided tours. After your tour, you’ll get the chance to try all sorts of free cheese samples; just save room for ice cream, served at the Tillamook ice cream parlor.
Do: Famous for its Dungeness crab, Newport is one of the busier cities on the 101, with plenty more to do than just strolling the sand. Star attractions include the Yaquina Head Lighthouse (the tallest on the Oregon coast) and the Oregon Coast Aquarium, with its underwater tunnel and seabird aviary.
Eat & Drink: Offering some of the best views in Newport, Georgie’s Beachside Grill ocean-facing restaurant serves a reasonably priced seafood-dominant menu in a casual set up.
Stay: One of the sleeker options on this stretch of the Oregon Coast, the Inn at Nye Beach offers contemporary rooms, many with views out over the sea.
Breakfast: Stop by Panini Bakery, a snug bakery and coffee shop, for delicious espresso drinks, fresh-baked pastries, and fresh-squeezed OJ.
Stop 4: Newport to Bend, Oregon
Stop Locations: Newport, OR to Bend, OR
Total Travel Time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Total Miles: 332 miles
Along the Way:
Town: Home of the University of Oregon, Eugene is the state’s second-largest city and boasts lots of great dining and green spaces without the crowds of Portland.
Eat & Drink: Eugene has had a strong hippie influence since the 1960s, and nowhere can this aesthetic be found more than at the vegetarian Morning Glory Cafe. The lunch menu focuses on soups, salads, and sandwiches, and the café’s sweet-and-savory breakfast offerings are served well into the afternoon.
Detour: Rather than heading straight for Bend, head south to the only national park in Oregon: Crater Lake National Park. Spanning over five miles in length, and with a depth of 1,943 feet, this ancient caldera lake is the deepest in the country.
Do: Central Oregon’s main economic hub, Bend is a small, but quickly growing city celebrated for its sunny climate and easy access to year-round outdoor recreation. Along with a cute downtown area full of shops and restaurants, you’ll find ample parks, hiking areas, and even a couple of museums—don’t miss the High Desert Museum, a family-friendly cross between a living history museum and a zoo.
Eat & Drink: Housed in a Craftsman-style bungalow, Ariana Restaurant is a chef-owned fine-dining spot offering European fare with a Northwestern twist, along with an extensive wine and cocktail menu.
Stay: A short jaunt from the city center, in the grove of ponderosa pines, is Pine Ridge Inn. This cozy spot features homey rooms with gas fireplaces, mini-fridges, and microwaves. Some have whirlpool hot tubs.
Breakfast: Before you hit the road, grab a fresh pastry and a cup of joe made from beans roasted on site at Lone Pine Coffee Roasters, an airy roastery/coffeeshop.
Stop 5: Bend to Leavenworth, Washington
Stop Locations: Bend, OR to Leavenworth, WA
Total Travel Time: 5 hours 30 minutes
Total Miles: 311 miles
Recommended Route: Head north into Washington State on Highway 97, and continue driving until you reach the Bavarian-inspired town of Leavenworth.
Along the Way:
Town: Just north of the border with Washington, the little town of Goldendale serves local rural communities and travelers passing through on their way to or from local attractions such as the Goldendale Observatory State Park and the Maryhill Winery.
Eat & Drink: Situated at the St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery, St. John’s Bakery provides an unusual alternative to the diner fare that dominates along Highway 97, with everything from sweet baklava to savory lunch treats such as spanakopita.
Roadside Attraction: If you want to see England’s most famous Neolithic site but don’t want to fly across the Atlantic to do it, fear not: You can still get your Stonehenge fix at the Stonehenge Memorial, a full-scale replica built in 1918 as a WWI veterans’ memorial.
Do: Designed to look like a Bavarian village, Leavenworth is most popular for its shopping, dining, and general atmosphere—it’s especially popular around Christmastime, though the Kris Kringle vibes are year-round here, particularly at the Nutcracker Museum and Shop. Its location due east of Seattle also makes it a popular jumping-off point for regional outdoor activities, from winter snowshoeing to summer rock climbing.
Eat & Drink: German fare features heavily on the menu at cozy Mozart’s Restaurant, where you’ll find everything from wild boar bratwurst to fondue.
Stay: A short drive from downtown Leavenworth is Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort. This lodge-style resort offers rooms and cabins (some with bunkbeds), plus an on-site spa with treatments and a dry sauna.
Breakfast: In the heart of Leavenworth is The Gingerbread Factory. This cute bakery offers espresso drinks and a variety of gingerbread cookies and houses as well as classic breakfast pastries such as marionberry scones and cinnamon rolls. There’s also a small indoor seating area designed to resemble a forecourt (complete with an artificial tree adorned with heart-shaped cookie ornaments) for those who want to dine in.
Stop 6: Leavenworth to Seattle, Washington
Stop Locations: Leavenworth, WA to Seattle, WA
Total Travel Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Total Miles: 118 miles
Recommended Route: Make your way west on Highway 2 and on to route 522, stopping in the wine town of Woodinville before making your way back to Seattle.
Along the Way:
Town: Home to over 100 wineries, distilleries, and cideries, Woodinville is a must-visit for anyone itching to try some Pacific Northwest wine. You pick up winery maps and get information about local events at the Woodinville Visitor Center.
Eat & Drink: The Bistro at Hollywood Schoolhouse features a French-inspired menu created with locally and raised ingredients and, of course, a huge wine list. In the true Pacific Northwest style, there’s even dog-friendly seating on the outdoor patio.
Do: Seattle offers a ton to see and do, from visiting the first branch of Starbucks at Pike Place Market, to strolling through some of its many area parks. And while Seattle is a relatively big city by Pacific Northwest standards, many of its star attractions are grouped together at the Seattle Center area, including the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), Chihuly Garden and Glass, and—of course—the iconic Space Needle.
Eat & Drink: Situated in the Queen Anne neighborhood, Eden Hill Restaurant is a romantic spot offering whimsical tasting menus that change frequently, but all draw from the produce of the region.
Stay: Smack dab in the heart of Pike Place Market, the boutique Inn at the Market offers spacious, contemporary rooms, many with views out over the Puget Sound. If you’d prefer something more intimate, the Shafer Baillie Mansion Bed & Breakfast in the Capitol Hill area offers old-fashioned rooms done up with lavish antique furnishings, including four-poster beds.
Breakfast: In Seattle’s Phinney Ridge area, north of downtown, Coyle’s Bakeshop is the place to go if you’ve got a hankering for a croissant worthy of a French boulangerie or a big slice of cake. If you’d prefer a more savory start to the day, consider a rosemary cretzel, a hybrid between a croissant and pretzels.