Although PNW technically stands for ‘Pacific Northwest’, we’re thinking of changing it to ‘Perfect Next Wander.’ Okay, that was cheesy, but we really can’t get enough of the indie vibes, notorious foodie scene and the NATURE (it’s so beautiful it deserves the emphasis). That’s why we’re laying out the perfect pit-stops on your next road trip from Portland to Seattle (or vice versa). Even though there’s only 145 miles of concrete separating the two cities, driving the I-5 corridor provides the makings of an epic road trip. Instead of doing the drive in three hours, take a full day (or more) to stop, linger and enjoy the journey.
Lan Su Chinese Garden
Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden is a great place to kick off the road trip: It’s peaceful, it’s beautiful and it’s small enough to see everything in an hour. The site’s “Garden of Awakening Orchids” is considered the most authentic Chinese garden outside of China. There’s even a contact-free, phone-based scavenger hunt to keep the kids occupied.
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge
Waterfowl abounds at this 5,300-acre stretch along the Columbia River, making it a popular spot for birdwatchers and dads who like making duck noises. A 2-mile self-guided hiking trail offers great vantage points, especially in spring and fall when sandhill cranes migrate through the region. Fun fact: The refuge also is home to the most intact archaeological site on the lower Columbia.
Mount St. Helens
It’s not exactly right off I-5, but Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument definitely is worth the visit. While most mountains in the region look like triangles, this one looks like an empty ice-cream cone. The volcano exploded and turned the sky grey in 1980, leaving a horseshoe-shaped crater now partially filled by a lava dome and glacier. The area, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, is open to the public year-round. The visitor center in Castle Rock provides information about the history of the park. Most trails are moderately strenuous.
Chehalis-Centralia Railroad & Museum
Get your best choo-choo sounds ready for a ride on the steam trains at this iconic destination. A restored 1916 locomotive runs train cars 6.5 miles from the depot in Chehalis southwest to Milburn, then back. The journey rolls through forests and past farmsteads and country homes. Dinner and holiday-themed train journeys are available. The depot itself has a small museum that tells the story of train history in the region.
Olympic Club Pub
This old-timey pub in Centralia dates to 1908 and today is a great spot for burgers, pizza and beer. Menu items incorporate fresh seasonal ingredients from local farms, you know we love a good farm-to-table vibe. There’s also a pool hall with seven original Brunswick billiard tables and shuffleboard.
Olympic Flight Museum
Vintage planes and helicopters are on display at the Olympic Flight Museum, an underappreciated spot at the regional airport in Olympia. The museum features more than a dozen aircraft in all, including some that date back to the 1950s. The facility itself sits inside an old airplane hangar.
Museum of Glass
Look but don’t touch at Tacoma’s Museum of Glass, which provides a comprehensive look at glass blowing as an activity. Traditional exhibits take you through the history of blown glass and introduce you to local artist Dale Chihuly (and his proteges). On the ground level the museum has a working “hot shop” where visitors in stadium-style seating can watch professionals ply their craft during live demonstrations.
West Seattle/Alki Beach
Finally, on the approach to Seattle proper, head west toward the West Seattle peninsula and stop at Alki Beach Park. You’ll find a sandy beach greeted by the gentle waves of Puget Sound. This is a great spot for ferry-watching, and locals say it offers the best perspective from which to gaze east upon the Emerald City. Considering how the buildings glimmer in the distance, we couldn’t agree more.
Not sure where to stay? We’ve got you covered. In Portland stay at either the Hotel Vintage Portland or the RiverPlace Hotel. In Seattle, snag a room at either Hotel Vintage Seattle, Hotel Monaco, or the Palladian.
All photos courtesy of Unsplash.