Written by Yang Chen | Instagram Photos by ychen425
I recently had a chance to take some time off and road trip through the Pacific Northwest with a few friends and no real plan but a list of pre-booked B&B’s and list of must see sites from those who came before. When I first thought about the PacNW, the first things that came to mind were rain, the outdoors, and salmon, and while there’s definitely plenty of the above, check out the list below for some unique off (and on) the beaten path experiences that are often overlooked:
Day 1 – Seattle to Portland
The drive from Seattle to Portland typically takes about 3 hours and offers largely forgettable views compared to the ones you’ll see along the 101 once you hit Oregon & California. A little off the highway from Tacoma, you’ll find Little Jerry’s, a Seinfeld themed diner whose menu is divided into television season’s and offers up heaping breakfast places like the “Kramerica,” the “Mickey,” and the “Schmoopie” with deep-fried Twinkies (yes – Twinkies still exist and they’re even better deep fried and smothered in fresh whip cream and berries).
Day 2 – Portland Area
In Portland we took the advice of one bartender and opted for Blue Star over the popular Voodoo Doughnut that’s all too well known by tourists and it was probably one of the best gastronomic decisions I’ve ever made. The guys here really strive for quality over quantity and while their menu is more limited (read: refined) than Voodoo, these are probably some of the lightest, airiest, ready to float away in your mouth donuts you’ll ever have. Get a box to share, you won’t regret it.
A quick half-day side trip to the Wilmette Valley offers up some great Napa-esque views paired with awesome Pinot Noir’s that the region is known for. Try Archery Summit for some well-aged vintages and Domaine Serene for the quirky wrought iron wooly mammoth they have on site.
Days 3 to 5 – The Oregon Coast & Highway 101
There are lots of little beach and highway towns sprinkled along the Oregon Coast. Where you stop really depends on how much you want to drive each day and what scenic viewpoints you stop at along the way, below are a few of my personal favorites:
Nye Beach – Newport, OR
Wake up early for a morning jog along Nye Beach and you’ll be amazed at how relaxing listening to the sound of waves crashing but not being able to see through the thick, heavy fog is. If you time it just right and happen to catch low tide, what you’ll find are tide pools full of aquatic life like starfish, snails, sea anemones, a few dozen sea lions and lots and lots of mussels clinging to rocks and barnacles that would normally be buried during high tide.
Devil’s Churn at Cape Perpetua
There are lots of scenic view points and state parks along the way and honestly most will start to look the same after day one. Devin’s Churn, however, is a narrow channel between rocky cliffs that’s been carved by the Pacific Ocean over time. The waves come barreling down the channel, gaining momentum as the passage way narrows and finally crashes into you if you’re bold enough to stand on the rocks edge. If you need a little pick me up before you’re brave enough to try this, be sure to get a fresh ground espresso shot from the coffee shack at the top.
Oregon Sand Dunes
For some action, take a break from ocean view points and rent a sand board or dune buggy in the Oregon Dunes. My group signed up for a dune buggy tour from Sand Master Park and I’m not sure any of us knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into. Imagine racing up sand dunes, skidding through tight turns, and going down nearly vertical hills in an almost too flimsy metal frame at 35 mph and that barely describes how exhilarating this tour can be. As a note, be prepared to find sand in places you didn’t even know existed for the remainder of the trip.
Cape Argo Whales
You could pay for a whale watching tour (no sightings guaranteed) or you could try your luck at Cape Argo. During our 30 minute pit stop there we saw two pairs of gray whales diving along the coast along with a chorus of hungry sea lions. No matter what, it’s free and possibly one of the most beautiful sunsets you’ll find along the way.
Days 6 to 7 – The Redwood Highway to San Francisco
Entering California, Highway 101 moves slightly off the coast and winds through the hills of the Redwood Forest where you’ll find lots and lots of giant trees. Along the way, take a quick detour along the Avenue of the Giants which runs parallel and is actually the original Highway 101 before it was straightened out and widened to what you see today.
As a final meal before ending your trip, check out Bless My Soul Café in Eureka where Mama Janisse delivers authentic creole cuisine in this family-owned and run restaurant. You’ll find her spotlight on Diners, Drive-In’s, and Dives on continuous loop in the background (outdated commercials included), but if you can get over the fact that Guy Fieri’s face is literally stamped on the wall the food really hits the spot and may serve as inspiration for your next trip.