I recently returned home from a week-long Pacific Northwest road trip (PNW) and let me tell you, it was incredible. We spent 7 days exploring Oregon and Washington (September 18-25, 2020). I think this was the perfect amount of time to see the cities and explore the surrounding parks. This trip opened my eyes to how much there is to do here. You could easily spend a few weeks exploring the west coast on a road trip. If you’re looking to do a similar trip, definitely give yourself at least a week! A few days in the cities is not enough time – get out of the city and explore the PNWonderland! This blog post is going to cover everything we did during our week away aka the perfect itinerary for a Pacific Northwest road trip.
Disclaimer: This blog post is sponsored by Travel Insurance Master. I think it’s more important than ever to insure our trips and am thrilled to be partnering with one of the world’s leading travel insurance providers. I may earn a small commission if you choose to buy insurance through one of my affiliate links in this post. As always, all opinions written here are my own.
Getting To The Pacific Northwest
First, let me start out by saying you can’t visit Oregon without Washington. There’s no point in vacationing to Portland without seeing Seattle and vice versa. So, plan on stopping in both! I recommend flying into PDX and beginning your Pacific Northwest road trip by exploring Oregon and then taking the train or a car up to Seattle. After a few days in Seattle you can fly home from there.
Pro-tip: Flying in and out of two different airports may sound complicated, but did you know that purchasing two one-way tickets is one of the best ways to find cheap flights? We spent about $250 on flights in total. Would you believe me if I told you our cross-country flight from Seattle to Boston was $118? A steal!
Getting Around The Pacific Northwest
Like I mentioned earlier, I highly recommend getting out of the cities and exploring the PNW. The best way to do this is by renting a car. This will give you the flexibility to either A) Do a road trip or B) Do day trips from the cities. We actually didn’t rent a car because I have family in Oregon who were nice enough to bring us around – thanks Aunt Alina & Uncle Jim! In Washington, we rented a car for a day through an app called Get Around. Basically you can rent someone’s car for a day for like $20-$30. I don’t think this is popular on the east coast, but it’s a great option out west. We were able to use our phone to unlock the car and return it easily in Seattle when we were done.
In terms of traveling from Portland to Seattle, its about 2.5 hours by car. We took the Amtrak, which was about a 4 hour long train ride. It was SO enjoyable! If you love train travel like I do, this is a wonderful option. It was scenic, clean, and so relaxing. Plus, it was only $28!
Both Seattle and Portland have impressive above-ground tram routes that will bring you around the cities quickly and efficiently. Both downtowns are fairly walkable, and if you choose not to rent a car, there’s always Uber! Although, having a car is definitely the easiest option for a Pacific Northwest road trip.
Where To Stay On A Pacific Northwest Road Trip
Before I get into our itinerary, I want to give a tip on where to stay. Like I do with any major city, head to Google Maps before booking and map out different hotel’s proximity to the major attractions. Portland is a smaller city, so really anywhere downtown is a win. I highly recommend the Pearl District – it’s central and super cute! For Seattle, I recommend staying as close to the Waterfront and Pike Place as possible. We stayed at a Hilton 10 minutes away from Pike Place and were able to walk everywhere.
If you’re leaving the city, I highly encourage you to stay in the parks! Check out all of the cool Airbnbs in the PNW!
The Perfect Itinerary For A Pacific Northwest Road Trip
Now on to the itinerary! I’m going to break it up by days, starting with Portland and ending with Seattle. Like I mentioned above, there is SO much to explore in the PNW and we only scraped the surface, however, we did cover a lot in one week. I recommend following a similar route for your Pacific Northwest road trip!
Day 1: Fly Into Portland, Oregon
We flew into Portland very late at night on Friday, September 18 to kick off our PNW trip. Matt and I did this on purpose so that we would sleep well and get up early (thanks west coast time) to hit the ground running on day 2!
Day 2: Explore Portland & Columbia River
Voodoo Donuts and Powell’s Books
First full day! This morning Matt and I hit up a local Starbucks for a quick breakfast before making our way to Voodoo Donuts for the real treat. You can’t leave Portland without visiting Voodoo. Luckily for us, there was no line when we arrived, but this place can get packed! They’re known for their speciality donuts, so do yourself a favor and stray away from the glazed. I ordered a Oreo, fudge, cream-filled chocolate donut and WOW. Talk about a sugar rush.
After Voodoo, Matt and I explored the local area, checking out a craft fair and the tree-lined streets before making our way into the Pearl District. Located on West Burnside Street, you’ll find the famous Powell’s Books! This place doesn’t open until noon, so we did some thrifting this morning, and made our way to the shop right at noon. To our suprise, there was already a giant line, so get there early! Powell’s is the largest independent-owned bookstore in the WORLD! It has nine, different colored rooms, and over 3,500 sections. You can truly find a book for everyone in here.
We spent awhile browsing the famous stacks before making our way back to our hotel. At 1 pm, my Uncle Jim and Aunt Alina picked Matt and I up and brought us east out of the city to Multnomah Falls.
Located about 20-30 minutes east of the city is the Multnomah Falls/Columbia River region. Multnomah Falls is famous for being the most visited natural recreation site in the PNW! And I get why. There are two waterfalls here, connecting and running over rocks into a natural pool below. Between the upper and lower falls is a pedestrian bridge that tourists can hike up to and walk across. We weren’t able to walk there this time due to COVID-19 and social distancing concerns, but I remember doing this as a kid when we visited my family. You’ll feel all the mist in your face! At the base of the falls is the Multnomah Falls Lodge, a great spot to grab lunch, enjoy the views, and hit the restroom.
Pro-tip: The falls are free and open to viewers year-round.
Historic Route 30
After grabbing lunch and photos at the falls, we made our way down the river to the Columbia River Dam and salmon hatchery. The Bonneville Dam is one of the largest on the river. The river, by the way, separates Oregon and Washington and is super scenic!
From here, we drove along Route 30 – an absolute MUST on your PNW bucket list. Route 30 aka the Historic Columbia River Highway is a 75-mile long scenic highway stretching along the river. It brings you up windy roads, over mountains, and past TONS of waterfalls. I had no idea that Multnomah Falls was on this road and was only one of dozens.
We stopped at Horsetail Falls (looks like a horsetail…I hope you gathered that), Wahkeena Falls, Bridal Veil Falls (looks like a bride’s veil), and my absolute favorite – Latourell Falls. This waterfall was my favorite because unlike the others, you can hike right down to the base of this one and stand under it! Not only was it incredible to hear how loud the water is and to feel the cool mist on my face, but we were some of the only people here! Make sure you see this one on your Pacific Northwest road trip.
Towards the end of this road, making your way back to Portland, you’ll pass the Crown Point aka the Vista House! Head up here for incredible views of the river and mountains below. I loved the 360-views of both Washington and Oregon.
Dinner & A Show
From here, we made our way back into the city and ate dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Portland. I remember coming here in 2008 with my family and requested that we go back. You can get a four course meal for a fair price and the inside is very whimsical. I highly recommend it!
After dinner my Aunt and Uncle surprised Matt and I with last-minute tickets to Darcelle. They raved about this drag show, and after Matt and I both admitted to never seeing one, they decided to take us! And it did not disappoint. We sat in a rounded booth, ordered drinks, and watched the queens kill it on stage!
Fun fact: Darcelle is the oldest performing drag queen in the world! She’s 90!! You can read more about her here.
Day 3: Day Trip To Cannon Beach, OR
Time to check out the Oregon Coast – a completely underrated part of the PNW! Today my Aunt and Uncle were kind enough to pick up Matt and I and bring us to Cannon Beach! From Portland, Cannon Beach is 1.5 hours away. As I mentioned above, renting a car is key for a Pacific Northwest road trip, but my family was able to bring us!
Cannon Beach is a small coastal city in northwest Oregon. It’s famous for having no chain businesses – my aunt told me the only name brand sold in this entire town is Starbucks coffee at a local shop! This area is also famous for its long, sandy beach and gigantic Haystack Rock!
Haystack Rock can’t be missed. It’s 235 feet to be exact. It’s home to many seabirds, including puffins, and is surrounded by smaller rock formations. This scenery makes the perfect backdrop for any photo, and is a common spot for engagements!
Matt and I spent about two hours exploring the beach. I recommend going for a walk and dipping your toes in the chilly Pacific waters! Afterwards, we got lunch at the Wayfarer Restaurant and Lounge. It’s located right on the beach and was sooo good!
From here, we drove up to Ecola Point. My Aunt Alina kept saying a visit to Cannon Beach isn’t complete without coming here, so don’t miss it! Ecola State Park offers incredible views of the PNW coastline and the entirety of Cannon Beach. You can also see a small lighthouse in the distance from here.
We swung through Seaside, Oregon before making our way back to Portland. Seaside is the perfect PNW vacation destination for families as it has arcades, shops, mini golf, a playground, etc. My family and I had a day here when I visited in 2008!
Day 4: Explore Portland
Today was our last full day to explore the city, so we got up early and made our way to Washington Park. This park is located about 20 minutes from downtown, so we had to Uber. Our first stop in the park was the International Rose Garden. This garden is one of Portland’s most famous attractions and did not disappoint! The roses peak during the summer months, but even in September, it was incredible.
Fun fact: Did you know Portland is called the Rose City? Every June, there is a rose parade in the city where organizations show off their elaborate floats made from roses!
From here, we wanted to check out the Japanese Gardens, but would’ve had to take a bus to them, so we decided to leave. Next up was Alberta Street. Known for its murals, eclectic boutiques, and yummy cafes, this street was fun to stroll down! After lunch at a cafe, we ended up getting a treat at Salt & Straw – one of the best ice cream places I’ve been to!
Next, Matt and I made our way to Cathedral Park at sunset. This park is known for the impressive St. John’s Bridge. This suspension bridge resembles a cathedral and was super pretty at sunset.
The Cullen House
Our last stop of the day may have been my favorite one. On the way back to downtown, Matt and I stopped at the Cullen House, one of the most notable filming locations from the Twilight movie. This home is a private residence, but the owners allow photos to be taken from the street. If you’re visiting and are as big of a fan as I am, here’s the address to plug into your GPS: 3333 NW Quimby Street, Portland, OR.
Day 5: Twilight Filming Locations & Train To Seattle
Twilight Filming Locations
This morning we got up, checked out of our hotel, and made our way to the Carver Cafe in Carver, OR! Located about 30 minutes from downtown, this small town is home to several Twilight filming locations. In case you didn’t know, the PNW is full of them. The Carver Cafe is where Bella and her Dad eat out several times in the film. Matt and I got breakfast here and even got to sit at the same table they did in the film! The food here was great.
From here, we walked about 10 minutes to the Stone Cliff Inn, another well-known filming location. Behind the inn/restaurant are dense woods where several scenes were filmed. I had so much fun exploring here because there are plaques marking where scenes were filmed and which ones they were. It was PNW Twilight heaven up here. It doesn’t matter whether you’re #teamjacob or #teamedward, you have to come!
Amtrak To Seattle
We returned to our hotel downtown to grab our luggage and made our way to Portland’s Union Station to catch our train up to Seattle! This train station was one of the nicest I’ve seen. Our Amtrak took about 4 hours and was SUCH a good ride! It was clean, the seats were so comfortable, and there was plenty of storage for our things. Plus, the ride from Oregon to Washington is super scenic.
Pro-tip: Book your Amtrak ticket ahead of time and keep an eye out for deals. Our one-way ticket from Portland to Seattle was only $28!
We arrived at King Street Station in Seattle late at night, checked into our hotel, and grabbed pizza across the street before crashing in our beds.
Day 6: Explore Mount Rainier National Park
Today was one of the few full days we had in Washington, and knew we had to spend it at one of the several national parks in the area. We were torn between Olympic National Park and Mt. Rainier National Park, but ultimately decided to spend the day at Mt. Rainier. Both parks are about a two-hour drive from Seattle. Unfortunately, there’s no shuttle from the city to bring you to the parks, so you’ll definitely need a car for this portion of the Pacific Northwest road trip. Matt and I rented one for the day from Get Around from a local in Seattle!
Unfortunately, this day was super rainy (typical PNW), but we made the most of it! Mt. Rainier is HUGE. Like huge. The park is so large that it’s split into five sections. We decided to focus our time in Paradise. After getting a bit lost (totally my fault), we finally arrived to the Paradise Visitor’s Center around lunchtime. It was FREEZING! And raining. Bad combo.
We asked a Park Ranger for short hike recommendations and made our way to Myrtle Falls. Located only .5 miles from the parking lot, this was the perfect hike to do in the rain and was so scenic! Although the weather caused visibility to be poor (we couldn’t really see Mt. Rainier through the clouds), it also caused the park to be empty! It was nice to take in the scenery in peace.
From here, we drove to Reflection Lake. We had our packed lunches here and enjoyed the pristine PNW views. Next, we saw Narada Falls, another massive waterfall, before slowly making our way out of the park and back to Seattle! We enjoyed our day of small hikes, scenic rides, and waterfall-viewing, even in the pouring rain!
For dinner tonight, we went to Six Arms in Seattle. This place had such a fun vibe – yummy cocktails and great burgers. I highly recommend it if you’re in the PNW!
Day 7: Sightsee Seattle
Today was our last full day in Seattle and a full day of sightseeing! We started the morning by heading to Pike Place! Pike Place is probably Seattle’s most popular attraction. It’s a public city market that opened in 1907, making it one of the oldest continuously operated farmers markets in the US. I assumed Pike Place would just sell produce and meats, but we found local artisans, stunning dried flower bouquets, and so much more! Definitely set aside a few hours to explore here.
Matt and I also swung by the world’s first Starbucks, which is located right across the street from Pike Place. It was closed, but still cool to see! Next, we took photos in front of Seattle’s famous Gum Wall. I have no idea how this was started, but it’s a surprisingly photogenic alleyway full of gum. It’s a bit hard to find, so if you’re looking for it, find the pig statue at Pike Place and walk down the adjacent staircase. If you take a left you’ll find the alleyway and a small coffeeshop that sells Double Bubble gum – the perfect photo prop.
We took some photos here before returning to Pike Place to eat lunch at Lowell’s, one of the restaurants inside the farmers market. This three-story restaurant has waterfront views and delicious seafood. I highly recommend sitting on the top floor and ordering the fish tacos!
After lunch Matt and I walked 1.5 miles through the city to Seattle’s Space Needle! The Space Needle is located in the Seattle Center. This part of the city also houses the Chihuly Gardens and Glass Art Museum, the Museum of Pop Culture, the International Fountain, and more. Lots to do here!
The Space Needle is a 605-foot structure that was built in the 1960s. Once you take an elevator to the top, you will find a restaurant, bar, outdoor observation deck, and rotating floor. I highly recommend purchasing tickets online and in advance for this activity – you won’t want to miss out on seeing the view from the top! We relaxed at the hotel after a full day of sightseeing before dinner!
Day 8: Visit The Starbucks Reserve & Fly Home
Last day! Matt and I got up this morning, checked out, and made our way to the Starbucks Reserve. In case you’re unfamiliar with this, the Starbucks Reserve is basically a giant Starbucks factory. Coffee is roasted and brewed on location, there’s a larger menu, more food options, and way more seating. You can even take coffee classes! They are located in Seattle, New York City, Chicago, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Milan. We hung out here all morning before catching our flight from Seattle back to Boston!
Pro-tip: Have another day in Seattle? Do the Seattle Underground Tour! We didn’t have time to do this, but I’ve heard such great things.
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Hopefully our trip inspires you to create a similar PNW itinerary of your own! Like I mentioned above, Portland and Seattle can easily be combined into one, week-long Pacific Northwest road trip. I highly recommend visiting all the sites I outlined here along with some of the PNW’s national parks, waterfalls, and scenic trails. Enjoy the PNWonderland!
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