Ancient cedar forests, monolithic rock structures, wide-open beaches, Pinot Noir, and all the craft beer and single-origin coffee you can drink
Pacific Northwest is best—at least that’s what thousands of Instagram tagged posts suggest. A quick search for #PNW, #PNWonderland, and other variations on the theme brings up millions of photos of breathtaking forests, dramatic suspension bridges, wide-open beaches, waterfalls, and a drone shot or two of a winding road with a single car practically engulfed on either side by towering trees. But the region’s magnificent beauty is best discovered beyond the feed: Here’s how to do a road trip from Vancouver to Oregon’s Central Coast.
Fly into Vancouver and check into the Fairmont Pacific Rim, a sleek glass tower on the water’s edge with views of snow-capped mountains. Nearby is Stanley Park, a green oasis with miles of walking and biking paths surrounded by century-old trees. Also within the park is the Vancouver Aquarium, which houses more than 50,000 animals from around the globe, including sea lions, walruses, and penguins. Don’t miss Vortex, an art installation by Douglas Coupland that explores the ocean plastic pollution crisis. Back at the Fairmont for dinner, score a table at Botanist, the hotel’s recently reimagined restaurant, where 250 plants, gauzy window treatments, and curvy furniture in peach and sky pastels create a cheerful ambience. Try the Pretty Bird, a gin, berry, and bubbles concoction served in a glass bird perched on a nest.
The next day, adventurous travelers can start their morning with a walk across Capilano Suspension Bridge, which stretches 450 feet above a river. The park also features First Nations totem poles and a cantilevered walkway that clings to the granite cliff high above a canyon. Back in Vancouver, stop for a coffee and an avocado smash or açai bowl at 33 Acres Brewing Co., a brewery where concrete floors, white walls, and blond wood tables set the scene. Try a 6-ounce glass of 33 Acres of Sunshine, brewed on site, before heading out.
Hop in the car and head south to the border, a 40-minute drive from downtown Vancouver. Once you’ve crossed the 49th parallel, it’s about a two-hour drive to Seattle, where lunch will be the first order of business. Head to the recently expanded Nordic Museum, which integrates Nordic sensibility into every aspect of its functional design, programming, and exhibits. The museum’s publicly accessible cafe, Freya, serves old-school and inventive favorites from Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Try an open-face rye sandwich, or smørrebrød, with smoked salmon and pickled veggies.
If you’re in the mood for a brew, you can’t go wrong with the coffee or beer in Seattle. For the former, a local favorite is Victrola Coffee Roasters, which has four locations across the city. For the latter, kick back at Redhook Brewlab with a pint of Big Ballard IPA by the cozy fire pit. Check into the historic Fairmont Olympic Hotel, which may be set in a 1920s Italian Renaissance–style building, but perfectly balances old-world glamour with midcentury-modern style in the updated guest rooms.
Next up is Portland, a three-hour drive south. Check into the Kimpton RiverPlace, which offers views of boats bobbing in the marina from many of its guestrooms, as well as from the King Tide Fish & Shell restaurant. Leave your car with the valet and book a guided tour with Pedal Bike Tours, which will take you on a leisurely ride through town to three breweries. Along the way you’ll cycle across the trendy Pearl District, past Stumptown Coffee, Powell’s Books, and other spots worth a closer look. Dinner reservations are a must at Nomad.PDX, a tasting-menu-only restaurant helmed by Chef Ryan Fox, who regularly ventures into the Oregon countryside to source ingredients needed to create a 10-course menu.
Drive on I-5 South and within an hour of Portland you’ll be in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where rolling hills punctuate wide-open fields. With grazing horses, quaint little towns, and rural dusty roads surrounded by dense forests that lead to gorgeous vineyards, this is the heart of Pinot Noir country. Contact Adelsheim Vineyard, one of Oregon’s first winemakers, to book a guided trek through the vineyard followed by a cheese and wine tasting. Beaux Frères is a second-generation winery that partners with French-family-owned Maisons & Domaines Henriot to product a Pinot Noir that Wine Spectatorlauds for its impressive clarity; transparency; and focus on blackberry, raspberry, and sassafras flavors.
The Willamette Valley has lots of B&B options, including Abbey Road Farm, which features three converted grain silos that house five bedrooms. For something unique, reserve one of 19 classic trailers—including Airstream, Shasta, Neutron, and Avion beauties—offered at The Vintages Trailer Resort. Each trailer comes with a pair of cruiser bikes to explore the 14-acre resort, which features a swimming pool, outdoor lawn games, and dog park. Make your way into the bustling wine town of McMinnville, where the Granary District is home to 10 wineries, breweries, tasting rooms, restaurants, and coffee roasters. Book a table for dinner at Thistle and partake in the “Chef’s Whim” menu, a multicourse dining experience for the adventurous.
Continue west toward Gleneden Beach on the coast and check in to Salishan Resort, a rustic luxe lodge with rooms overlooking the golf course and Siletz Bay beyond it. Each day the resort offers activities including sunrise yoga; forest bathing; interpretive guided hikes along wooded coastal trails; and bocce, croquet, and other lawn games. Their former chef, Rob Pounding, now heads the Blackfish Café in Lincoln City, whose menu focuses on local seafood fare. Try the cioppino of Northwest seafood or the Parmesan-crusted local rockfish.
Head back up the coast to Portland to end the trip. Along the way you’ll witness a geologic mix of sandy beaches, rocky shores, and towering capes rising from the sea. Stop at Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area in Pacific City to witness spectacular wave action and climb the sand dunes, do doughnuts on the beach, and pose for photos in front of a sea stack named Haystack Rock, one of three such geographic features along the coast. Lunch at Pelican Brewing is a must, and a perfect place to grab a Captain of the Coast ale with views of the monolithic rock, which stands 327 feet—about 92 feet taller than the more well-known Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, which is just a 90-minute drive north.
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