Although we have both traveled reasonably extensively, we sometimes feel we have seen surprisingly little of North America. There are so many amazing places to see and visit in our own (albeit extremely big) back yard. The challenge has been that flying from Toronto to the west coast isn’t that much shorter or less expensive than flying to Europe, so we’ve usually chosen Europe.
We both love British Columbia and the Pacific Coast of Canada, but hadn’t really seen the US Coast. So for this vacation, we flew into Seattle, rented a car, and drove south along the coast to San Francisco. Unfortunately, this was during our “lets not bother taking pictures, I mean, we remember being there so what’s the point” phase. Sort of like how Picasso had his Blue period, but completely different.
Additional pictures are available in our US West Coast gallery (Click Here).
We walked along the wide paved waterfront trail, passing patio restaurants, tourist shops, and the big cruise ship terminal on the way to the artsy Olympic Sculpture Park. If it’s a clear day, you’ll be rewarded with nice mountain views. Afterwards, we explored the famous Pike Place market, which is a great place to stop and have a seafood lunch. Don’t leave without seeing the throwing fish routine they do for the tourists! In the afternoon, we checked out the Space Needle and strolled through Belltown, stopping to have a drink on one of the many patios. Seattle has a ton of good restaurants to choose from. We had dinner at a really good sushi restaurant in Belltown, Umi Sake House. We stayed at the well-located and reasonable priced Warwick Hotel.
For those Nirvana fans reading this article, we also stopped by Kurt Cobain’s former house and the park next door that still has many tributes carved into the bench. A bit morbid, but a key part of Americana to anyone who wore a flannel shirt or tried to grow their hair out in the early to mid 90s. We stopped short of driving to Aberdeen (where Kurt Cobain was born) to see “Come as you are” on the town’s Welcome sign.
We drove two hours south of Seattle to Mount Rainier National Park. There are tons of day hikes of all distances and levels of difficulty. We did the amazing Skyline Trail Hike in Mount Rainier’s Paradise Park. This hike is a fairly easy 5.4 mile loop with some fantastic views. After the hike, we grabbed lunch at a great little restaurant, Copper Creek Inn, in nearby Ashford, Washington. We drove two hours south to Portland, where we stayed at Hotel Monaco (part of the funky Kimpton hotel chain).
Portland is a cool, funky city. One of our favourite things to do here was to eat from the huge selection of food carts. The city seriously doesn’t even need restaurants! We took a long walk from downtown to the visit the International Rose Test Garden and Portland Japanese Garden, both within Washington Park. After a food cart lunch stop back downtown, we strolled along the waterfront esplanade for a while, checking out the river and the city’s several bridges.
Portland is known for its micro-breweries so make sure you try a few. Trevor loves trying out new beers so we made the obligatory stop at Deschutes Brewery, where he tried a flight of their beers. We would also recommend Voodoo Donut – ask for their low-cal, fat free donut 😉
From Portland, we drove one-hour south to Evergreen Space & Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. Trevor loves war history so this was an interesting pitstop for him. The key attraction is Howard Hughes’ Spuce Goose plane, built entirely with wood. Afterwards, we drove east over to the coast near Lincoln City to see the wonderful scenery along highway 101. We stopped for an ocean-view lunch in Depoe Bay, the whale watching capital of Oregon. During migration season, (late March to June) you can apparently see 600+/hr whales from the shore!
After lunch, we checked out the exhibits and views at the nearby Whale Watching Center and then walked along the strip of souvenir shops. We next drove roughly a half hour south to check out the famous aquarium, Oregon Coast Aquarium, in Newport. We stayed overnight in an oceanfront room Inn at Nye Beach in Newport. This is a great place to stay if you want to stroll along the beach and have good restaurants within walking distance.
From Newport, we drove one-hour south to Florence, Oregon and stopped at the famous sea lion caves (Click Here). We were unlucky that day and didn’t get to see any as they were all outside of the caves swimming, boo. South of Florence, the scenery switched to miles upon miles of sand dunes (almost 50 miles!). We didn’t go dune buggying but stopped at John Dellenback Dunes Trail along the highway for a one-hour walk along the loop trail to the beach where we had fun climbing up an enormous sand dune. We discovered pretty quickly that you can’t slide down these things! In Coos Bay, we checked out the Cape Arago State Park, where we got a great sighting of sea lions. After stopping at some great viewpoints in both Port Orford and Gold Beach, we arrived in Brookings, Oregon where we stayed overnight at the oceanfront Best Western Plus.
We got up early in the morning to head out to Redwood National Park so we could beat the crowds on the popular Boyscout trailhead. The trail was completely empty when we arrived around 9am. The trail is 5.3 miles out-and-back and takes you past enormous old-growth redwood trees. We didn’t see another person on the trail until the turn-around point, but the trail got much busier as we got closer to the start again. After the hike, we drove about an hour and a half to Six Rivers Brewery in McKinleyville where we stopped for lunch and Trevor again enjoyed a flight of their craft beers. After lunch, we had a three hour drive to Mendocino, where we would be kicking back and relaxing for a couple of days. We stayed at Alegria Oceanfront Inn & Cottages in Mendocino for 3 nights, which we highly recommend.
After several busy days and long hours on the road, we dialled it down several notches while in Mendocino. We strolled along the beach behind Alegria. We walked along the cute little village, stopping to browse in several stores. We went for a walk along the coast to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, where we were met with some great views. We treated ourselves one day to a one-hour massage in town at Mendocino Massage.
We drove three hours south from Mendocino to San Francisco. Along the way, we stopped at the famous Russian River brewery in Santa Rosa (Santa Rosa is also a great possible daytrip from Mendocino). Russian River Brewing is the Holy Grail for anyone into craft beers, and is almost impossible to find in retail stores due to very limited retail distribution in the US. We stayed at the Galleria Park Hotel in San Francisco before flying out the next day.