North America

How to Plan the Perfect Road Trip from Portland to Seattle

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Are you interested in seeing the second tallest year-round waterfall in the United States and entering hidden tunnels to uncover a sea of haystack rocks? In this post, we will share our road trip guide from Portland to Seattle, including our favorite places and restaurants along the way.

 

oregonroadtrip

Day 1

Portland, Oregon

We happened to visit Portland at the perfect time – their annual beer festival, Oregon Brewfest; Oregon Brewer’s Festival, which happens to be one of the longest running festivals in the nation. Keep in mind it occurs every July.

Favorite Places: Portland Japanese Garden, Portland Rose Garden, Portland Farmers Market in Goose Hollow

Favorite Restaurants: Blue Star Donuts, Stump Town Coffee

 

 

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Day 2

Columbia River Scenic Byway

Despite a rainy day, the Columbia River Scenic Byway was incredible with its abundance of waterfalls, lush forests, and overlooks.

For lunch, we stopped at the Thunder Island Brew Company for an amazing beer flight and food. Then we walked around the Marine Park at Cascade Locks to admire the view.

One of our inspirations for taking this trip was the movie Into the Wild. According to the story, Cheryl Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon) traveled 1100 miles on the Pacific Crest trail on a journey of self discovery and one of her last stops was the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon so we had to see it for ourselves. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book already, we highly recommend it!

On our way back to Portland, we stopped in Hood City to see the Fullsail Brewing Company and try local wines. The city was really cute and had an amazing view of the Columbia River Gorge.

Favorite Places: Multnomah Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Bridge of the Gods, Marine Park at Cascade Locks, Horsetail Falls, Oneonta Gorge, Elowah Falls, Crown Point Scenic Corridor

Favorite Restaurants: Thunder Island Brew Company , Fullsail Brew Company

 

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Day 3

Portland – Seaside

As we were driving along the Pacific Hwy W, I couldn’t help but notice how incredibly big the trees were. Being from Florida, where everything is flat, it was truly humbling to experience something so much bigger than myself. I felt like a tiny ant among these giants that have been living for thousands of years. If only these trees could speak, I can only imagine the stories they would tell.

Our first stop was Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City, OR, which is truly a magical place. There we enjoyed lunch at the Pelican Pub & Brewery which sits directly on the beach. Their beers have won numerous competitions and the food is great too. The view is even more remarkable as you overlook the beach, a large haystack rock, and sand dunes.

We witnessed a paddle boarder out near the rock and we felt terrified for him, because the waves looked so rough and he was right in the middle of an inlet. However, I imagine the view on his end outweighed the risks.

After lunch, we headed down the beach to the sand dunes and took turns running up the 70 degree hill until about halfway when we ran out of breath. The view from this point was breathtaking and well worth the climb.

We then walked over to the inlet and watched the rolling waves crash against the large rock formations. Watching the waves recede out to sea then come crashing back  was extremely humbling – actually if I could sum up the entire trip in one word it would be that: humbling.

Sadly, we had to get back on the road to make good timing, but we both agreed we would be back. (Side note: I definitely recommend staying here if you get to the coast late or decide to cover more of the southern coast of Oregon before making your way up to Cape Kiwanda). Shortly after we started driving, we saw a mother deer and her baby crossing the road.

We had a jam-packed day of stops along the coast. There are signs along the road for every site so you should have no problem finding them and discovering new ones. We probably stopped at 10 different places, but found ourselves completely wiped by the time we reached our hotel. In hindsight, I would probably only stop at 5-6 so you can make the most out of your time at each stop.

My good friend followed our itinerary a few months after and had the great idea to have a picnic on the beach. If you decide to do this, the perfect spot would be Oceanside.

If Kiwanda was magical, Oceanside is out of this world! There is a somewhat hidden tunnel at the north end of the beach in a cliff. Once you enter through the tunnel it opens up to a scene that you probably had on your screensaver at some point.

There were haystack rocks as far as the eye could see and sea lions sitting out on some of them. We felt like we were in Thailand or something (minus the sea lions). Just be careful about the tides as there are warning signs that the tide could make it hard to get back through the tunnel.

We wrapped up the day with a delicious dinner at Castaways and then crashed at our hotel in Seaside.

 

Favorite Places: Cape Kiwanda, Cape Meares, Arcadia Beach, Cannon Beach, Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

Favorite Restaurants: Pelican Brew Company, Castaways Restaurant

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Day 4

Seaside to Seattle

We spent the night in Seaside, OR, which I highly recommend to break up the drive. Even Cannon Beach would be a great place to stay. By the time we got to Seaside, it was late so we only got to explore in the morning before making our way up to Seattle.

On day 4, we had breakfast at Osprey Cafe, then got back to the open road. We would describe this drive as more “industrial” as we saw a lot of old factories embedded in beautiful waterfront towns. Crossing over one of the bridges, we spotted a moose wading through the water. Yes, it was definitely a moose, and if we weren’t driving over a bridge with no shoulders, we would have definitely stopped to take a picture. You are just going to have to take our word for it, but I will say we have been pretty lucky with seeing wildlife on all of our trips. After this trip, I became much more prepared with my camera so you’ll get to see these wildlife shots in our upcoming blogposts. Promise!

Our first stop of the day was Ape Caves. It was a long 2.5 hour drive out to the caves, but I highly recommend it. It was one of the highlights of our trip! (Note: Keep in mind you will likely have no service about an hour into the drive from the main road and there is only one gas station.)

You can bring your own light, but it is pitch black down there so make sure it is bright. Or you can rent one of their lanterns, which I think is way cooler! It was freezing too so make sure to wear a warm jacket and pants. We walked all the way to the “meatball” which formed around 2,000 years ago after a volcanic eruption.

Next, we drove back to the main road and headed over to the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center. This was a great option to check out before driving over to the Johnston Ridge Observatory because you can check the visibility beforehand. Like most days out of the year, the visibility was poor so we decided to skip out on the observatory.

Like fools we thought we could make it to Mt. Rainier park in the same day. Note: Do not try this! You will waste hours of driving east to the park before realizing it’s getting dark and you have to drive the same distance back all while making it to Seattle. If you are dead set on visiting the park, I recommend setting aside another day and drive from Seattle.

Thankfully, we were fortunate enough to have 2 days of clear visibility of Mt. Rainier, which apparently is a big deal since it usually only happens a couple dozens times a year. So we were not upset about missing out on the park, we were just happy to make it to Seattle at a decent time and have one of the best sushi dinners of our life at Nishino. If you’re into fancy cream cheese rolls, then this is not the place for you, but if you like authentic chirashi, then you should check this place out. We would go back to a Seattle just for this restaurant. Seriously!

Favorite Places: Ape Caves, Mount St. Helens Visitor Center

Favorite Restaurants: Nishino Restaurant

 

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Day 5

Seattle, WA

On Day 5, we bought a City Pass and explored all of the major sights in Seattle, WA.

Our first stop was the Space Needle. We were lucky to have clear skies and outstanding view of the city from the top. They have a little cafe at the top too where you can get light bites and drinks.

Right next door is the Chihuly Garden & Glass museum, which features an array of beautiful glass installations throughout the facility and garden. Then we explored the Museum of Pop Culture, which featured a Star Wars exhibit at the time. The museum also has these really cool sound booths where you can sing karaoke and play instruments.

The City Pass also included an Argosy Cruise in the harbor, giving a panoramic view of the city and Mt. Rainier on a clear day like the one pictured.

Lions, coffees, and bears…oh my! We wrapped up our first full day in Seattle with some adorable drinks from the Moore Coffee company. I got a Mexican hot chocolate (lion) and Adam got a regular latte (bear).

On day 6 of our trip, we woke up bright and early and headed over to the very first Starbucks across from Pike Place market at around 8 am. It was the perfect time to go as there was no line at all. If you are a Starbucks fan, then it is worth checking out as they have some specialty items there that you can only get at that store.

Pike Place Market was not open yet when we left Starbucks so we headed over to The Crumpet Shop. Adam had their lox and cream cheese crumpet and I got one with jam. It was really delicious! If you are a foodie like us, and still have some room left, you can walk over to Beecher’s for some cheese tasting afterwards.

Later, we explored Pike Place Market and its many novelty shops. There, we discovered Daily Dozen Doughnuts, a stand that serves amazing mini doughnuts. Needless to say, we ate a very small dinner that night, but the food spots were hard to resist in this area!

Since our flight was not scheduled until around 10 pm, we hit up one more spot that day – Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting. It was quite the experience for coffee lovers due to its size and coffee bar where you could order coffee flights. It was the perfect ending to our incredible trip!

All in all, we spent two full days in Seattle, and I think that’s plenty of time. If we could change anything, it would have been to spend one full day at Olympic National Park and drive north of Seattle rather than exploring the city for two days. I have heard that there are a lot of beautiful nature sites outside of Seattle, but our trip ended here. As if the Oregon coast isn’t enough reason to return, this gives us another reason to go back and explore Washington’s coastline on the way up to Vancouver (stay tuned!).

Favorite Places: Space Needle, Seattle Aquarium, Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour, Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), Chihuly Garden and Glass, Pike Place Market, Museum of Flight, Seattle Great Wheel

Favorite Restaurants: Il Corvo Pasta, The Crumpet Shop, Taylor Shellfish Farms, Storyville Coffee Company, Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting (for the experience), Moore Coffee Shop, Harbor City Chinese Restaurant , Starbucks Pike Place Market, Daily Dozen Doughnuts, Cupcake Royale, Beechers Hand Made Cheese

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Written by: Via Litvack

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