A Weeklong Road Trip in the Pacific Northwest

I don’t know about you, but planning a vacation is probably one of my favorite things to do. And perhaps one of the best trips I’ve ever planned was the honeymoon my husband and I took back in July 2015: a Pacific Northwest Road Trip!

When we were deciding where to honeymoon, we both agreed that we’d like to stay within the U.S., but we also wanted to go somewhere neither of us had ever been. So, we chose the Pacific Northwest! And since it was far too difficult to choose just one part of the PNW, a road trip seemed like the way to go.

And let me tell you, dear readers, it was fantastic! This is such a beautiful region of the United States, so if you ever find yourself out that way, check out our itinerary and resources below for ideas to plan a Pacific Northwest road trip of your own. 

  • Day 1: New York, NY – Seattle, WA – Portland, OR
  • Day 2: Portland, OR – Mount St. Helens
  • Day 3: Portland, OR – Florence, OR
  • Day 4: Florence, OR – Pacific Coast Highway – Tillamook, OR
  • Day 5: Tillamook, OR – Historic Route 30 – Waterfall Alley – Centralia, WA
  • Day 6: Centralia, WA – Mt. Rainier – Crystal Mountain – Seattle, WA
  • Day 7: Seattle, WA

Day 1: New York, NY – Seattle, WA – Portland, OR

We flew roundtrip in and out of Seattle, so once we arrived at the airport, we got a rental car and hit the road for Portland, OR, which is about a three-hour drive from Seattle. After our long flight, we mostly just wanted to get to our hotel and start relaxing, so we stayed off the side roads and opted for the straight shot down I-5. The scenery is still lovely, though, with plenty to see and enjoy.

For our first couple of nights, we stayed at McMenamin’s Kennedy School. McMenamin’s is a super-fun hotel chain out West that specializes in taking old properties and converting them into hotels. As the name suggests, the Kennedy School was indeed once a school!

A friend had stayed there before and recommended it, but we were mostly sold by the fact that they brew their own beer and have pool tables on site. Two of our favorite things! It’s a really quirky but also very fun and low-key hotel, which is just the kinda place we like.

Kennedy School Pool Table and Bar
One of the bars and pool tables at the Kennedy School

The Kennedy School also has plenty of food options, and we had dinner our first night in the Cypress Room (and even caught the end of happy hour!) Mostly, we used our first night to get our bearings, rest up a bit, sample some beer, and relax before the long days of driving we had ahead of us!

Day 2: Portland, OR – Mount St. Helens

We started our first full day with a VERY delicious breakfast at Pine State Biscuits. There are few breakfast options I love more than biscuits and gravy, so if that’s your jam, too, go check these guys out. You won’t be disappointed!

Once we were fat and happy from our biscuit breakfast, we started to make our way up to the Mount St. Helens – Johnston Ridge Observatory. It takes a couple hours to get there from Portland, and although the first part will be on I-5 again, the second part takes you along some winding and hilly roads as you work your way up the mountain. There are plenty of little overlooks and cutouts where you can stop off and take photos, and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking.

Mount St. Helens Pullout
One of the lovely views from a pullout on the way up to the observatory

When you reach the observatory, you have an excellent view of the mountain (which is about 4 miles away), and the exhibits inside the visitor center will help you to understand the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens and how it changed the landscape. The volcano is still active, and we could definitely see a bit of steam coming out of it while we were there! There are hiking trails and tours available as well if you want closer views and a more in-depth introduction to the mountain.

Mount St. Helens from Johnston Ridge
Mount St. Helens from Johnston Ridge Observatory
Mount St. Helens Flowers
It took quite some time before anything was able to grow near Mount St. Helens again, but these guys were thriving and beautiful during our visit!
Mount St. Helens Tree Stumps
The remnants of some of the trees that were destroyed in the 1980 blast.
Mount St. Helens Wildflowers
More beautiful wildflowers!

While winding our way back down the mountain, we stopped off at an adorable spot called the Fire Mountain Grill. There is a lovely patio out back with a beautiful view of the river. We enjoyed some burgers and had their specialty for dessert: homemade cobbler! YUM. As you might imagine, there aren’t a lot of dining options on the drive up and down the mountain, so if you want to build lunch into your day, this is a fantastic place to do it.

Fire Mountain Grill View
The view from the patio at the Fire Mountain Grill

When we got back to Portland, we decided to head into downtown to wander around for a bit and see some of the sights. We particularly enjoyed stopping in at Powell’s Books, which bills itself as the world’s largest independent bookstore. If you’re into books, you can spend quite a bit of time (and money!) here, so beware!

After, we went to check out Cascade Brewing Barrel House. A friend really liked this place when she had visited Portland and bought us a gift card for our wedding. They specialize in sour beer, which we had personally never had prior to our visit here in 2015 (we started seeing sours EVERYWHERE since then, though).

We sampled a ton of different beers, made a dinner out of a bunch of their snacks, and mostly just enjoyed sitting in the sun on their patio. Once we had our fill, we headed back for one more night at the Kennedy School before heading for the coast in the morning.

Day 3: Portland, OR – Florence, OR

While planning our trip, it didn’t seem like we could go all the way out to the PNW without going to the Pacific Ocean for at least some part of the week. So on our third day, we headed southwest to Florence, OR, which is about 180 miles from Portland.

To get started, we headed south for a couple hours to Eugene, OR where we stopped for lunch at the Delicatessen at Falling Sky Brewing. Mike loves a good sandwich, and the pictures we had seen online of theirs made them look too good to pass up. And they were just as good as we hoped they’d be!

Sandwich from the Delicatessen at Falling Sky Brewing
Our yummy lunch from the Delicatessen at Falling Sky Brewing!

From Eugene, it was another hour straight to the west to get to Florence, where we checked in to our hotel right on the beach. We stayed at the Driftwood Shores Resort and Conference Center, which was also a nice but laid back kind of place. Our beach-front room provided us with gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean, though, sadly, it was waaayyyy too cold when we were there to take a swim in the ocean. 

Driftwood Shores Resort
The view from our room at Driftwood Shores

And so we decided to head out and drive along the water a bit to see what all we could find, and this led us to the South Siuslaw Jetty. It basically juts out like a little peninsula, with the ocean on one side and the Siuslaw River on the other. We pulled off several times to hop out and take pictures, and our favorite stop was when we saw a bunch of folks kiteboarding. For as windy as it was when we were there, they have been having a blast (and must have also been a little bit crazy, too!)

Driving to the South Siuslaw Jetty
Driving to the South Siuslaw Jetty
South Siuslaw Jetty
Atop some dunes on the South Siuslaw Jetty
Florence Oregon Kiteboarders
Kiteboarders having a blast!

After, we headed into a cute little downtown area, where we walked around a bit and admired the pretty bridge that crosses over the Siuslaw River. Since it was getting close to dinnertime, we checked out some menus at a few places and settled on the Bridgewater Fish House and Zebra Bar. The decor was certainly eclectic, with lots of zebra prints scattered about, but it was also PACKED which seemed to be a good sign.

Siuslaw River Bridge
Siuslaw River Bridge

And as it turned out, the food was amazing! I opted for their shellfish cioppino, which is an unusual choice for me, but I loved it. In fact, it’s probably one of the best meals I’ve ever had. I can’t recall what Mike had, but I’ll never forget that soup, and their crusty sourdough bread was equally amazing.

Driving to the South Siuslaw Jetty
Sun setting on Florence, OR

After dinner and a quick dip in the pool and hot tub back at the hotel, we wrapped up yet another lovely day in the PNW!

Day 4: Florence, OR – Pacific Coast Highway – Tillamook, OR

This is the day I was most excited for because our plan was to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway from Florence, OR to Tillamook, OR, which is about 120 miles north. This was going to be the true road trip day where I had researched lots of places we could stop but where I hoped we’d also find lots of other places we’d just see and decide to stop.

And we got off to a good start because not long into our trip we saw a sign for a scenic overlook. We ended up driving several miles up on top of a hill which offered unbelievable views of the ocean down below. There was a cute road-side stand where we stopped and grabbed some coffee and before long we were back down on the PCH and headed north again.

Pacific Coast Overlook
Surprise overlook find on our drive north. What a view!

Our next couple stops took us to the Seal Rock State Park, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, and the Devil’s Punchbowl, among several other random stops along the way. I had bought Lonely Planet’s The Pacific Northwest’s Best – Trips 33 Amazing Road Trips before our trip, and all of these places were highlighted as points of interest and none of them disappointed! 

Seal Rock State Park
Seal Rock State Park
Climbing at Seal Rock
We didn’t partake, but we enjoyed watching people trying to climb the rocks at Seal Rock State Park
Seal Rock Park Ocean Rocks
Beautiful rocks in the ocean at Seal Rock State Park
Oregon Coast Aquarium Eel
An eel of some sort from the Oregon Coast Aquarium
Oregon Coast Aquarium Jellyfish
Lots and lots of jellyfish to see at the Oregon Coast Aquarium
Yaquina Head Lighthouse
Yaquina Head Lighthouse
Yaquina Head Lighthouse
The beach at Yaquina Head Lighthouse
Yaquina Head
The view from Yaquina Head. Such a pretty place!
Devil's Punchbowl
Devil’s Punchbowl

The scenery along the coast is incredible, the road is winding and even pretty hilly in some places, and there are endless things to do and see. And despite our trip being only about 120 miles this day, it took us the entire day to get up to Tillamook because of all the beautiful places we stopped.

When we finally arrived in Tillamook, we went straight to the Tillamook Creamery because they make lots of cheese and ice cream there, and those are two more of our favorite things! We sampled lots of different cheeses and enjoyed watching the workers packaging cheese on the production line down below us.

Tillamook Creamery
Look at all that beautiful cheese!!!

Before calling it a night, we took a local’s suggestion and headed out to Netarts Bay to have dinner at the Schooner Restaurant and Lounge. It’s right on the water, and we were able to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful sunset with cold drinks and good food. Couldn’t have been the better end to a fantastic day on the road!

Netarts Bay
Netarts Bay

Day 5: Tillamook, OR – Historic Route 30 – Waterfall Alley – Centralia, WA

Tillamook is due west of Portland, but to get back to the city you need to travel through the scenic roads of the Tillamook State Forest. The views are incredible, and we marveled at how much the temperature changed as we went up and down the hills in the forest. An hour and a half later, we were back to Portland and continuing on east to Historic Route 30.

Route 30 View
One of the incredible views from Historic Route 30

We made a brief stop first at the Vista House, a historic building built above the Columbia River with views for hundreds of miles. We checked out the observation deck and enjoyed the view briefly before continuing on our way. There is a little museum and visitor center inside if you’re looking for a bit more info about the area, but we knew where we were headed next, which was the 9-mile stretch of Highway 30 known as Waterfall Alley.

Columbia River
The Columbia River as seen from Vista House

Though there are several waterfalls you can visit, we limited ourselves to just three, doing short hikes at each stop to take in the sights. The highlight was the Multnomah Falls, which are the highest falls in Oregon at over 600 feet high. They also attract the largest crowds, so be prepared to wait to park (also keep your eye out for people walking on and near the roads in Waterfall Alley — there are a lot of hikers in the area!)

Latourell Falls
Latourell Falls
Latourell Falls Bridge
Latourell Falls Bridge
Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls
Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls, over 600 feet tall!
Multnomah Falls Bridge
The Multnomah Falls Bridge is probably the most photographed place in Waterfall Alley

After spending a few hours chasing waterfalls we headed back up I-5 to Centralia, WA where we stayed at another McMenamin’s property called the Olympic Club. This place is just as fun and quirky as the Kennedy School, though perhaps slightly more interesting (it used to be a brothel back in the day.) It also didn’t have en suite bathrooms which meant we had to walk down the hallway to use the toilet and shower! It ended up not being so terrible in the end, but be prepared if you stay there yourself.

The hotel has a restaurant and bar on-site, a movie theater, lots of pool tables, and more of their house-brewed beer. It’s also right next to an active train track, which didn’t really bother us, but they give you earplugs just in case you’re a light sleeper. We personally loved our stay there. Can’t say it wasn’t memorable!

Day 6: Centralia, Wa – Mt. Ranier – Crystal Mountain – Seattle, WA

We got up bright and early the next morning to head out to Mt. Rainier National Park. Though we didn’t do much in the park itself, we did go in and drive through quite a bit of it. The section we chose was the southern part of the park, entering at the Nisqually entrance. We traveled through Longmire and Paradise and then eventually made our way out to WA-123 where we started heading north. There were lots of hills and turns and crazy switchbacks and a startling number of places with no guardrails whatsoever, but this is the stuff road trip dreams are made of!

Driving Mt. Rainier
Heading uphill!
Mt Rainier Lake
So many pretty places to stop off in the park
Mt Rainier Lake
The peak!
Narada Falls
The beautiful Narada Falls, found between Longmire and Paradise

Ultimately, our main destination for the day was Crystal Mountain, a nearby ski resort, which has a gondola that takes you 2,500 feet up to the summit where you are treated to magnificent views of Mt. Rainier and several other peaks in the Cascades. We stayed up there a while and had lunch on the patio at the Summit House. I don’t expect you’ll find many places to dine with a view quite so spectacular as the one from the Summit House! If you’re in the area, I highly recommend making a stop here because it was one of the highlights of our trip!

Crystal Mountain Gondola
The Crystal Mountain Gondola takes you up 2,500 feet to a final elevation of 6,872 feet!
Crystal Mountain Gondola
The ride to the top is totally worth it!
Summit House Flower Boxes
The Summit House is surrounded by boxes of beautiful flowers
Cascades
More of the Cascades can be seen from the summit
Grassy Crystal Mountain
I could sit and stare at this view forever!

Eventually, we had to come back down from the mountains and head back out to the highway because we were off to Seattle for the last two nights of the trip. We stayed in a comfy little suite at the La Quinta Downtown, which was reasonably priced and pretty centrally located for all we wanted to do in the city, so no complaints from us!

Day 7: Seattle, WA

Seattle Postcard Mural
Greetings from Seattle!

We started our day in Seattle at Pike Place Market. If you’ve never been to Seattle, this is a pretty popular place to visit on your first trip. Lucky for us, a friend had bought us tickets for a market food tour so that we could really enjoy our Pike Place experience! 

We tried doughnuts and smoked salmon, chowder and cherries, some fantastic cheese and much, much more. It was such an awesome introduction to Seattle, and you should add this tour to your list when you make it to Seattle.

Seattle Bubble Gum Wall
The infamous (and disgusting!) bubble gum wall in an alley under Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market Sign
Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market Fish
Lots of seafood!
Pike Place Market Interior
Wandering inside Pike Place Market

After the tour, we wandered through the city a bit and eventually made our way over to the Space Needle. Neither of us felt the need to go up inside it, but we were intrigued by the garden right next to it. This is where the Chihuly Garden and Glass is housed, and we liked what we saw outside so much that we decided to buy tickets to go in and see what else they had inside.

And what a pleasant surprise! Neither of us was familiar with Chihuly’s work, but we are both huge fans after our visit. Check out my previous post for more details and photos from the garden. It’s so amazing!

Seattle Great Wheel
The Seattle Great Wheel in downtown Seattle
Space Needle and Chihuly Sculpture
The Space Needle with some beautiful Chihuly glass beneath it
Chihuly Glass Boat
One of the many gorgeous displays inside Chihuly Garden and Glass

As it got closer to dinnertime, we headed over to Lake Union for the final adventure of our weeklong honeymoon in the fabulous Pacific Northwest. For the evening, we decided to pack a picnic and rent our very own little electric boat so we could cruise around the lake for a couple hours. Lake Union is lovely, and there was so much activity around us to keep us entertained. We had an absolute blast that evening, and it was the perfect way to wrap up our trip!

Lake Union House
I loved this adorable little house on Lake Union!
Lake Union Windsurfer
The Space Needle is visible from pretty much everywhere in Lake Union
Lake Union Seaplane
One of the hazards of boating in Lake Union – avoiding seaplanes as they take off and land!

The next morning we headed back to New York, and although it was good to be home, we were both a little sad to say goodbye to the Pacific Northwest. There were so many places we didn’t get to see and many, many more things we didn’t get to do. But we covered a lot of ground and really felt like we saw some of the best the region has to offer.

So, if you love a good road trip and like being able to see a little bit of everything, consider heading out to Washington and Oregon. Whether you want to see cities, mountains, rivers, oceans, waterfalls or a little of it all, the Pacific Northwest has something for everyone.

Go hit the road, and let me know what else you find in this magical part of the USA!

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Resources

Hotels

  • McMenamin’s Kennedy School, Portland, OR – Located in a former school, brew their own beer, pool tables on site, lots of bars and restaurants on site, too!  Rooms aren’t fancy, but the place is very fun and low-key which suited us just fine.
  • Driftwood Shores Resort and Conference Center, Florence, OR – Beach-front hotel on the Oregon coast, with indoor pool and hot tub and onsite restaurant and lounge with ocean views.
  • McMenamin’s Olympic Club, Centralia, WA – Quirky hotel in a building that used to house a brothel. Brewery, restaurant and bar, pool tables, and movie theater all on site. Be warned, there aren’t any en suite bathrooms!
  • La Quinta Downtown, Seattle, WA – Comfortable and affordable downtown hotel that’s centrally located and within walking distance to many Seattle attractions.

Food and Drink

  • Pine State Biscuits, Portland, OR – Great for breakfast, especially biscuits and gravy!
  • Fire Mountain Grill, Toutle, WA – Adorable restaurant on the road up to Mount St. Helens. Good burgers and excellent homemade cobbler, all with a lovely view of the river from their back patio.
  • Cascade Brewing, Portland, OR – Downtown Portland brewery specializing in sour beers. They have tons of options to take home in bottles, too.
  • Delicatessen at Falling Sky Brewing, Eugene, OR – Delicious sandwiches and sides all made from scratch and, of course, plenty of yummy beer on tap.
  • Bridgewater Fish House and Zebra Bar, Florence, OR – Fantastic seafood restaurant in downtown Florence, OR with zebra-themed decor. Get the crusty bread and cioppino!
  • Tillamook Creamery, Tillamook, OR – Mac and cheese, ice cream, and more! Tour the creamery and see cheese being made on the production line.
  • Schooner Restaurant and Lounge, Netarts, OR – Dine on the patio alongside the Netarts Bay. Plenty of local and seasonal ingredients and lots of seafood!
  • Summit House, Enumclaw, WA – Take a gondola up to the summit of Crystal Mountain at 6,872 feet and dine on a patio with breathtaking views of Mt. Rainier and the Cascades.
  • Pike Place Market Food Tour, Seattle, WA – Enjoy a guided experience at Pike Place Market complete with lots and lots of delicious samples!

Things to Do

  • Mount St. Helens – Johnston Ridge Observatory – Four miles from Mount St. Helens, the Johnston Ridge Observatory has an excellent view of the mountain, a great visitor center, tours, trails, and more, making it the ideal spot to enjoy your Mount St. Helens visit.
  • Powell’s Books, Portland, OR – Independent bookstore in downtown Portland.
  • South Siuslaw Jetty, Florence, OR – Plenty of dunes, beaches, trails, and people-watching to be had here!
  • Seal Rock State Park, Seal Rock, OR – Seaside park with trails, interesting rock formations in the water, gorgeous views, and plenty of wildlife sightings!
  • Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, OR – Great aquarium with a shark tunnel, sea lions, penguins, otter, jellyfish, and more.
  • Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Newport, OR – Oregon’s tallest lighthouse, built in 1873. Climb to the top or venture out onto the rocky beach in search of tide pools.
  • Devil’s Punchbowl, Otter Rock, OR – Walk onto the overlook to see this collapsed sea cave or wander the nearby trails.
  • Tillamook Creamery, Tillamook, OR – Mac and cheese, ice cream, and more! Tour the creamery and see cheese being made on the production line.
  • Tillamook State Forest, Tillamook, OR – Beautiful forest with lots of hills and curvy roads to offer a scenic drive between Tillamook and Portland.
  • Historic Route 30, Oregon – A 70-mile scenic road alongside the Columbia River Gorge, which will take you to the famous Waterfall Alley east of Portland.
  • Vista House, Corbett, OR – Built in 1917, the Vista House is a great place to take a break along Route 30 and enjoy some spectacular views of the Columbia River. 
  • Multnomah Falls, Corbett, OR – Perhaps the most popular waterfall along Route 30, the falls are Oregon’s tallest at more than 600 feet!
  • Mt. Rainier National Park, Ashford, WA – An active volcano standing at 14,410 feet above sea level with plenty of winding roads and hills to climb. Take the stretch through Longmire and Paradise over to Route 123 for an especially exciting drive.
  • Crystal Mountain Gondola, Emunclaw, WA – Ride 2,500 feet up to the summit of Crystal Mountain to a final elevation of 6,872 feet. The ride and views at the top are outstanding!
  • Pike Place Market Food Tour, Seattle, WA – Enjoy a guided experience at Pike Place Market complete with lots and lots of delicious samples!
  • Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle, WA – View the spectacular glass artwork of master glass artisan, Dale Chihuly. 
  • The Electric Boat Company, Seattle, WA – Rent a private boat and cruise around beautiful Lake Union.

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