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Tuesday, 01 May 2018

Portland, Seattle and Vancouver: The Pacific Northwest’s Premier Road Trip

Written by Maureen C. Bruschi
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My husband and I grew up on the Northeast Coast. We crave cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, experience the energy of Broadway shows in NYC, and stroll the Jersey shore beaches. When we decided to investigate how our neighbors on the Northwest Coast live, we weren’t disappointed.

The two of us enjoyed everything from wandering through Portland’s Japanese and Rose Test Gardens in Washington Park, snacking on local mussels and cockle clams in Seattle’s Fish Market, to exploring Vancouver’s west coast rainforest and artistic totem poles in Stanley Park.

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First Up, Portland

After a flight from New Jersey to Portland, Oregon, we rented a car and began our 11 day northwest road trip. If you’re a bookaholic, don’t miss Powell’s City of Books – the world’s largest new and used bookstore. Stocked with over one million books, Powell’s Books occupies an entire city block in the Pearl District. Powell’s helps you navigate through its 3,500 sections with its detailed map highlighting its color-coded rooms.

After a book purchase at Powell’s, we wandered through Chinatown’s gift and import shops, before picking up the Waterfront Park Trail by the Willamette River. Here you’ll find (if you don’t blink) the smallest park in the world, Mills End Park, a circle measuring 2 feet across with a total area of 452 square inches across. In 1948, the park was originally slated to become a site for a light pole. When the light pole never showed up, Dick Fagan, a local columnist, planted flowers in the hole and named it after his newspaper column, “Mills End”.

On our second day, a Hop-On-Hop-Off trolley was an easy way to explore the city. While the trolley stops at 14 attractions in Portland, a driver/guide describes the charms and fascinations of the city. We hopped off the trolley at Washington Park’s Rose Test Garden, one of the oldest and largest rose test gardens in the country, and understood why Portland is referred to as the City of Roses. A drizzly day didn’t deter us from wandering around the park which has over 10,000 rose bushes and stunning views of the city.

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Within walking distance is the Japanese Garden known as the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan. We followed zigzagging streams and cozy walkways, discovering an authentic Japanese Tea House and unique garden styles. One garden style, the Flat Garden, represents the beauty of each of the seasons: the Japanese maple for autumn; the 85-year old weeping cherry for spring; the black pines for winter; and the cool “water” of the raked gravel for summer.

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In the afternoon, the trolley dropped us off on the waterfront at the Aerial Tram. The tram lifted us up to Marquam Hill from the South Waterfront for a spectacular view of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Tabor and Mt. Hood across the Willamette River.

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Our final day in Portland included a morning drive along the Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway. We followed the Mt. Hood Scenic Loop by the Cascade Locks over the Bridge of the Gods into Washington State. Mountains towered over us as we followed a twisting route to Stevenson, a vital stop for steamboats from the 1850s to the 1920s. Stevenson provided the enormous steamboat boilers with wood cut from the town’s surrounding forests.

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Originally we planned to tour Multnomah Falls and Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls. Unfortunately the tour was cancelled due to a reckless wildfire. Instead, we explored Silver Falls State Park in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. Hiking shoes helped as we trekked to three waterfalls weaving through dense forests along the park’s Trail of Ten Falls. For me the 177-foot South Falls waterfall held a magical endless beauty as our group rambled behind this massive falls as water tumbled from above.


Mt. Rainier Rules

We made a slight detour on our way to Seattle, Washington with a stop at Mt. Rainier, located at the center of Mount Rainier National Park. The enormity and magnificence of this active volcano, surrounded by stunning rivers, mountain lakes, waterfalls and wildlife was well worth the trip.

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When we left Portland temperatures were in the high 50s. As we entered Mt. Rainier National Park and began our drive up the scenic, winding road toward Mt. Rainier, temperatures dropped quickly, snow appeared and warning signs alerted us to snow avalanches, debris flows and rock falls. Paradise Jackson Visitor Center and Paradise Inn provided a close-up, panoramic view of snow-capped Mt. Rainier with several of the mountains 25 glaciers streaming down its slopes.


Seattle’s Underground, Downtown and Waterfront Rocks

A two and a half hour drive from Mt. Rainier took us to Seattle. If you’re looking for a little history and lots of laughs, head over to downtown Seattle’s Pioneer Square District. Choose from a number of underground tours that will bring you up to speed on the history of Seattle, dating back to the mid-1850s.

During that time, Seattle’s Pioneer Square was plagued by drainage issues. When a fire destroyed the area in 1889, Seattle decided to reshape the town and fix the drainage problem. The town was built one to two stories higher than the original town leaving passageways and buildings underground. Our tour guide took us through these underground passageways and tunnels, passing through buried storefronts and sidewalks. He added his own comical views on the plumbing and toilet disasters that hounded Seattle residents during the early days.

A visit to Smith Tower, Seattle’s first skyscraper, gave us spectacular 360° views of the city as well as a step back to the Roaring 20's. On our way to the elevator that carried us to the observatory deck, we passed Smith Tower’s Roaring 20's radio station, entertainment hall and switchboard room, discovering life in 1920's Seattle.

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Pike’s Place Market by the waterfront has something for everyone from handcrafted clothing, jewelry and Polish pottery to gourmet chocolates, specialty foods and flying fish in the outdoor fish market. Fish vendors’ (known as fishmongers) are well-known for their flying fish antics, always a crowd pleaser. Prior to wrapping up a customer’s fish purchase, a fishmonger tosses an entire fish through the air to another fishmonger. Chanting and chasing customers with fish are part of the fishmonger’s pranks that sends the crowd scattering.

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We caught the Washington State Ferry, housed at Pier 52, for an afternoon trip to Bainbridge Island. Downtown Bainbridge Island is filled with shops, restaurants, art galleries, museums and wine tasting rooms. From the ferry terminal, a ten minute walk takes you from one end of the town to the other. If you visit the island, don’t miss a stroll along the Waterfront Park & Trail on your way back to the ferry.

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A quick and inexpensive ride on the Seattle Center Monorail, built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, shuttled us from 5th Avenue and Pine Street to Seattle Center. A number of key attractions are found here including the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass. Many folks visiting Seattle Center choose to simply relax and enjoy the fountains and sculptures spread out around the grounds.


Escape to Vancouver’s Parks, Markets and Unique Neighborhoods

Our first full day in Vancouver was a wet one. We picked up The Vancouver Trolley Company’s Hop-On-Hop-Off tour at Canada Place and listened as our guide described the hot spots in Vancouver including Stanley Park’s 1,000 acres of wildlife and trails downtown. We hopped off at False Creek Ferries by the Burrard Street Bridge and took a ferry to Granville Island.

Granville Island has lots to offer including a maritime museum, numerous art galleries and specialty food retailers. But our focus was on the indoor Public Market. We could easily have spent the entire day there. Aisle after aisle offered fresh meat, seafood, coffees, teas, specialty foods and baked goods. One aisle was lined with fresh fruit and vegetables, while another vendor specialized in Asian bean salad, Vegetarian chili, and a Mediterranean salad. Mouthwatering marinated lamb souvlaki was my favorite. My husband ate an early lunch of succulent pickled herring.

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We headed to Stanley Park the next day as the rains subsided. The hop-on-hop-off trolley helped us maneuver through the park as we passed lush gardens, rambling trails, and cultural attractions. We trekked along the seawall which runs along the shore of Coal Harbor with a view of downtown Vancouver. 

Stanley Park’s detailed totem poles represent British Columbia’s First Nations’ (native peoples of Canada) tribes, clans, families or individuals. The tallest and grandest totem pole is called the “Rose Cole Yelton Memorial Pole of the Squamish Nation,” honoring Rose Yelton and her family who lived in Stanley Park until 1935.

We spent our last evening in Vancouver strolling around Gastown, the oldest section of the city. White-globed lamp posts along cobblestone Water Street reflect off Gastown’s 19th century buildings giving the area an old time feel to it. Don’t miss the Gastown’s Steam Clock, the world’s first steam powered clock. Listen for the clock’s Westminster Chimes each quarter hour, while a whistle sounds hourly.

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When our journey was over, we had traveled over 1,700 miles in eleven days savoring the sights, smells and experiences along the way. Most of all, we understood our neighbors along the Pacific Northwest Coast definitely know how to live.

©Maureen C. Bruschi


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If You Go:

Portland, Oregon:
Hotel: Hampton Inn, 9040 Se Adams, Clackamas, OR 97015; phone (503) 655-7900
Red Star Tavern, 503 S.W. Alder St., Portland, OR 97204 (503) 222-0005
23 Hoyt Restaurant, 529 NW Twenty Third Ave. Portland, OR 97210 (5030 445-7400
Hop-On-Hop-Off Portland Trolley Tour:; (503) 241-7373

Seattle, Washington:
Hotel: Hampton Inn Seattle/Southcenter, 7200 South 156th St., Tukwila, WA 98188 (425) 228-5800
The Crab Pot, Pier 57, 1301 Alaskan Way, WA; (206) 624-1890
Café Nola, 101 Winslow Way East, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110; (206) 842-3822

Vancouver, British Columbia:
Hotel: Metropolitan Hotel, 645 Howe St., Vancouver, BC;; (604) 687-1122
The Old Spaghetti Factory, 53 Water St., Vancouver, BC; (604) 684-1288
The Flying Pig, 102 Water St., Vancouver, BC; (604) 559-7968
The Lennox Pub, 800 Granville St., Vancouver, BC; (604) 408-0881
Vancouver Trolley Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour; (604) 801-5515

Portland International Airport Area:
Candlewood Suites Portland-Airport, 11250NE Holman, Portland, OR 97220; (503) 255-4003

Last modified on Tuesday, 01 May 2018