As far as I am concerned, this is another of those “Bucket List” items. We have made this trip a few times now and have watched as the highway changed from a narrow winding two lane road to a straighter multi-laned road. It is still winding in places, but it still retains the original character. And I still love the ride.
From Calgary, it is easy to get to the coast. The road is all good, but in some places it is slow, so we usually take 3 days to arrive. First day is a stop at Spokane, second is Whidbey Island, staying at Oak Harbour. In the morning we go south to Coupeville and west to catch the Washington Ferry to Port Townsend. If you like, Whidbey Island is an interesting place and worth a visit on its own, and if old buildings and harbours are your thing, do stop. In Oak Harbour, you will do better with a private motel compared with a chain.
From Port Townsend it is clear sailing going around and through rain forest in Olympic National Park. Check out Hurricane ridge, and Sol Duc Hot Springs. Stay at a motel or a B&B in Forks, the town used in the Twilight movie series. Food is not a problem in Forks, there is a good basic seafood place, a great Mexican restaurant, and if Chinese is on your list, you will be well served all from the main street, which is the highway going south. In case you are interested, spend a day touring this area, go north-west to Neah Bay, and into the Makah Indian Res. Going there will get you to the furthest North and West part of the 48 States! If you feel up to it, drive out to the parking area and walk out to the coast and take in Cape Flattery and the lighthouse on an island offshore. Get information at the Indian center for this trip. There is a fee to cross and enter the reservation. You will also find a very good museum based on the life of the Indians in the area as you come in to the east side of Neah Bay. Not a bad restaurant on the water just west of the museum.
Also do not miss the area and town of La Push on the coast west of Forks on a good 2 lane highway.
If rain forest is interesting for you, turn off east to the Hoh Rain Forest, part of the Olympic Park. If you have a National Park pass, entry is free, otherwise there will be a fee.
Continue south, stopping as you desire to view the ocean and the beaches, enjoy the ride, there is little traffic, and a lot to see. Take whatever detours you think look good toward the ocean, they are all good, Don’t wait too long to arrange a place to stay if you didn’t reserve the night before. The Internet is useful here, or an 800 number will get you a place to stay from any of the national chains. Weekends on the coast can be a bit dicey with hotels booked up, and higher prices. Book ahead where possible, we have found out the hard way this is a good practice.
Just as you are going to depart from Washington, take a detour and look into a visit with Ilwaco, Seaview, Long Beach, and Cape Disappointment. Cross the Columbia River at Astoria. Stay at Astoria if you like, but we found it much more reasonable a few miles further south. at Seaside OR. If you can find it, stop at the tourist travel center, and pick up a copy of the highway 101 map mile by mile, everything you need for the Oregon ride will be listed.
As you wend your way south, you will see a few roads that will offer a detour to a small town right on the coast, be sure to take some of these, they are very picturesque!
Don’t miss a stop at Tillamook and a tour of a the Tillamook Cheese Factory. There is a restaurant, store, samples and a rest room on site. You can choose to continue on 101, or try taking the highway west to Cape Lookout, Oceanside, Netarts, (nice roadside eatery here) and all the way down to Cape Kiwanda, a motel and food, (We stayed there), continue along to Pacific City and 101.
The whole highway 101 is a great experience, check out the various attractions along the way, In Newport there are a number of marine exhibits. Stop and check them out. There is a lighthouse and state park there, plus good accommodations, and great food. Check out “The Whales Tale” for sea food! They have the best Clam Chowder on the Oregon Coast according to the National Geographic Traveller. I agree! You need to get under the bridge, drive a short way and get out and walk. That noise you will hear is all the Stellar Sea Lions resting, and fighting at the wharf. You can view them from the dock. Check at the motel for attractions in the area, they abound in marine exhibits, and shopping.
These are not necessarily in order, but don’t miss Seal rock where you descend by elevator down to a cave where hundreds of seals are sleeping, fighting and mating. There is a lighthouse there as well, Check in at Devils Elbow, Cape Perpetua, and take the side road up the hill to a lookout of the west coast. It is an easy drive and walk up there. Don’t miss the state parks going south on 101, Hug Point at low tide, is one, Bandon is good, Gold Beach for lunch at a shopping mall on the water, it is a fish house run by a woman from Alberta! Excellent value, don’t miss the pecan pie there. Beside the place is a sunken ship, that has quite a history, it is all on a billboard beside the wreck. Don’t miss a short stop at the Sand dunes either
I could go on forever about the Oregon coast and all it offers, but by now you will have the idea. Continue south into California. Try a visit at Crescent City, a town that was almost wiped out by a tsunami generated by the earthquake that happened in Anchorage Alaska. Stay at any one of the hotels that interest you, there is a new one right on the water, but it is a bit pricey. Again look at the wharves in the evening and you can get up close and personal with the sea lions. Not too close, they are still wild. The Best Western right on the highway is a good bet, and they have reasonable food on the premises. The sea food at other places may be of more interest however. Stay in Crescent City overnight, and in the morning, continue south into the Redwoods National Park. Use a local map and tour the area, the trees are awesome, at 2000 years old and 20 feet across. If you continue south of the park, there are some old areas outside the park where you can look at a “Tree House” Drive through a cut in a tree, for a fee of course. This all assumes that the fog has not come into town. It gets very thick and I suggest unsafe to drive in. If it is nice, do go on this drive, take your map and try some of the side roads. One other thing, if you imbibe, liquor is cheap in California. Just north in town is a shopping center west of the road, where you will find both a liquor store and a grocery. Buy at the grocery. Tequila on sale 1.75 L bottle $26.00 or so, Vodka same size $16.00, for Smirnoff.
So there it is, I have just scratched the surface here, with a few of the highlights. We don’t go much farther into California, the prices on everything rise the farther south you go. The road is very old and winding, so we come back home. Come back any way you like, I-5 is one possibility, I don’t care for it, too many hills, trucks, and curves. Retrace your steps and enjoy the Pacific again, turn off at Portland and head inland. If possible try the road along side the Columbia River up on the south side of I-80 south of the interstate. It is historic and pretty with all those waterfalls you see in the travel magazines.
Or there is always the Mount Saint Helen road that will take you to the mountain, and the Welcome and information centers. It is a great visit, BUT do not try it on a day when the clouds are low. The fog is so thick, you will not see past your hood.
If you bypass the Mount Saint Helen route, try coming up past Yakima. The traffic is not bad here. Hotels to stay are OK, try the Holiday Inn in Yakima, and the food is OK. From there you go east to Hayden, Idaho. There is a nice Holiday Inn there with a great Mexican restaurant around the corner. There is also a huge mall just north where there are just tons of buys. Going home from there is a snap, straight north crossing into Canada on highway 95 into Kingsgate.