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Oregon & Washington to California Trips, Part 1
Several people a year write to the VirtualTourist forums asking about trips from Oregon and Washington into California. This tip is an attempt to consolidate the suggestions into a single location, as well as provide some useful links.
First of all comes the transportation: how do you plan to make this trip?
Car rental? One way rentals are quite expensive, and in fact during the peak tourist months many car rental agencies in Seattle will not grant one way rentals even to Portland, Oregon (let alone California), and those that do usually add quite a lot to the one-way rental fee. If you are able to find a one-way car rental then great! If not, then don't be surprised. Make sure there is a car rental that will work for you before you make firm plans, however as sometimes it isn't easy.
Also, one-way rentals out of Vancouver BC into the USA, or vice-versa, are usually impossible. You will probably need to take local transportation (train, bus, boat or combination) for this part of the trip if you are planning it one way.
Or, are you doing this without a car?
You can take the train from Seattle to Los Angeles, through Portland and Eugene. However, it doesn't travel along the Pacific Ocean coast. It does travel along Puget Sound for a brief time and can be beautiful in that section. Intercity buses to California also take Interstate 5, which is the least attractive route. Therefore, if you want to see the scenery the coast or east of the Cascades, you will need to take local buses to, from and through those areas from the Interstate 5 corridor. This will add a bit of time to your trip beyond what you had planned for a direct through route.
Oh, and about the time required for this trip: just for the Olympic Peninsula segment of Highway 101 some people are disappointed that they didn't leave more time for it, even if they took a week to do just that section. Therefore, for an entire coastal trip to "see everything" you are almost always going to have to decide what you like best and prioritize what you want to see as you won't have time to see everything, unless you have a month or so. See the section below about trip time.
Second of all, but probably of primary importance: the weather.
Please understand that the weather on the Oregon and Washington Coast is extremely unpredictable. Witness the photo above, taken at Tokeland, Washington in August of 2013. Generally there can be clear weather in summer months, but certainly it isn't guaranteed, and even if the weather is clear there is always a fairly cold wind blowing off the water. Even in Puget Sound, which is somewhat sheltered, there is a fairly cold wind on the water. Come prepared for some areas to be cold, and understand that you might get rain or fog even in summer, and generally a cold wind is a given. Any other time of year this type of weather is very likely to happen, and yet there are always a few spectacular days of sun every season that are amazing, especially in winter. When those days happen is anyone's guess.
Now, let us move on to your trip time: those of us who live on the Oregon and Washington coast for our entire lives have spent quite a lot of time exploring all there is to explore here, and still not seen everything. Trying to advise someone what to see in a matter of days, when you really need several months at minimum to "see it all" is really a difficult task. There are over 40 state parks on the Oregon coast alone, and each has their own unique features that make it the favorite of some people, while someone else has another park that is the favorite for another reason. Thus, trying to tell someone what is "best" is a long and time consuming task and really depends on the person doing the traveling. Therefore, it is really best that you do a bit of research into the various coastal towns and look through some maps to see what strikes your fancy. All of us here on VirtualTourist did so because we like being part of a community of travelers, but at the same time it is difficult to answer questions posed by those who haven't even started doing a bit of research, and don't even know the approximate distances and travel times or even the location of the roads. Please, help us help you and look at a map before making a general request to the forums, so that you can ask more pointed questions about locations that seem interesting to you.
It is very very difficult for us who do not know you to decide what you would prefer to eliminate from your trip, and you will have to eliminate something as there is too much to see in a limited time.
Which brings us to Route Selection:
Many people who have asked about "Driving Down the Coast from Seattle to Portland into California" don't seem to understand that Seattle and Portland aren't even on the coast. Interstate 5 is likely your fastest option from Seattle to Portland and south into California, but it isn't very scenic for most of the way. (Seattle and Portland can both have nightmare level traffic jams on Interstate 5 so sometimes other options may have been better, but you won't know that until you are stuck in one for several hours.) True, it is where the population centers are, and if you are after cultural attractions such as music and plays rather than scenery this may be your best bet.
The "Take Highway 101 down the coast" crowd hasn't looked at a map either. Highway 101 only goes down the Oregon and Washington coast in places, and in many others you will have to take lesser used and slower coastal roads if you want to truly stay on the coast and see the Ocean scenery. For example, between Tillamook and Pacific City, Oregon highway 101 only spends a small amount of time on the coast. Instead, from Tillamook you have to head west on local roads to hit the Ocean. Staying on highway 101 through there gives you a nice view of lots of trees that have been cut down and a bit of farm land, and that is pretty much it.
There are, in fact, quite a number of different possible options for driving from Oregon and Washington into California. As an additional example, if you want to see some highland dry country (see photo 2 of this tip) it is possible to drive east from Seattle and head south on one of the eastern north-south roads, such as highway 97 or even 395 if you have the time to got that far east. You can take US Highway 2 or Interstate 90 to get to central Washington to head south, depending on what you want to see (Wenatchee? Yakima? Goldendale? Warm Springs? Bend? Klamath Falls?).
Route selection does need to take into account the time of year and the weather, however. For example, the roads to Crater Lake are closed most of the year due to snow, as they are pretty high in the mountains. Roads over the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and Washington require tire chains during the winter, most of the time. Sometimes even the low elevation route along the Columbia River between Portland and The Dalles requires tire chains. Roads between Interstate 5 and Highway 101 can be closed due to snow, and a couple of them close completely for winter. Sometimes, people get lost on remote forest roads and die there because they get stuck in a remote area. Also, keep in mind the east side of the Cascades has far fewer people, so there are some long distances with no gas stations or places to spend the night or other traveler resources. You will want to plan a bit more on these routes.
However, as long as this time of year is taken into consideration and adequate time is allowed, there is no problem taking a very circuitous route and exploring the areas along highway 97, parts of Interstate 5, and parts of the coast as well. There aren't a huge number of roads between these areas but there are enough that you are not limited to one choice.
With all these different options possible, you can begin to see how hard it is to advise someone without knowing even some of the basics of what they want to see (high desert east of the Cascades? The cities of the Willamette Valley and Puget Sound regions? The scenery along the Coast? A mixture?)
It is not possible to even include all these into a single VirtualTourist tip limit of 10,000 characters. So, to continue this tip, please also see:
My Road Trip Down the Washington Coast tip
My Oregon Coast tip.Related to:
- Road Trip
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I had only one day to visit Philadelphia, but with intensive and planned use, I think that I saw the essential. A very nice city, that I describe in PhiladelphiaRelated to:
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
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The western part of the USA is dramatically cut by a few rivers, creating depressions several hundred meters high. Remembering colonization it's easy to understand why it took so long, with so many deaths and sacrifices. Grand Canyon is worldwide known, but it is not alone, and for instance Brice and Zion canyons are also impressive.Related to:
- Historical Travel
A suggestion for an Oahu intinerary:
- Honolulu & Waikiki Beach
- daytrip to Pearl Harbor
- hiking to Diamond Head
- my favourite beaches were Kailua and Lanikai - there are true Hawaiian dream beaches !
- Shark`s Cove is a great snorkeling area
- on close-by Turtle Beach (do not confuse with Turtle Bay) you will surely see huge sea turtles
- the japanese Byodo-In temple
For more detailed tips, see my Hawaii VT Page!
Hawai: Honolulu/Waikiki area
In my humble opinion Honolulu and Waikiki should be visited, but the rest of Oahu deserves more time than the greater area of the capital city. Nonetheless, there are many interesting things to see and do even here:
- strolling through downtown Honolulu with its impressive skyscrapers
- taking in the vista from the panoramic viewing tower at the Aloha Tower shopping centre
- the only royal palace in the United States !
- the golden statue of King Kamehameha, in front of the courthouse
- Waikiki Beach ("been there, done that!")
- hiking to Diamond Head (great view of Waikiki Beach from here)
Pearl Harbour: To me, the most intense memory. I spent a whole day here, there is lots to see (USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Bowfin submarine, the USS Missouri Battleship which saw the capitulation of Japan 1945 AND the Gulf War, an warplane museum, movies and exhibitions on the Pearl Harbour raid. This is the one place you must visit if you are interested in history.
Hawai: Big Island
A Big Island itinerary could include the following activities:
- the Volcanoe National Park in the southeastern corner of the island is a must-see
- Green Beach in the southwestern corner of Big Island
- the "Place of Refuge" open air museum with historic Polynesian buildings
- Manta Snorkeling near Kailua-Kona
- basically ALL beaches north of Kailua-Kona
- horse-riding with "Paniolo Adventures", northwestern part of Big Island
- hiking or canoeing to the Cook monument - the best area for snorkeling !
For more detailed tips, please see my Hawaii VT page. This is just a suggestion of an itinerary.
We visited the Houston Zoo during a longer flight stopover, and it was worth the effort. Although at the time (August 2013) some parts of the zoo were not accessible due to building activities, the zoo was attractive, the enclosures in good condition and the range of exotic animals quite impressive - my favourite part: the apehouse. The zoo also has a 4D-cinema with short animal-themed movies (with added sound and movement-effects), and a collection of life-sized Lego Animals !
Alaska: Kenai Peninsula
The Kenai peninsula - though only a tiny spot on the Alaska map - is probably the most rewarding area (and also easily accessible by car). A great for hiking, cycling, boat trips, horse riding and also a hub for excursions to Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks.
My favourite parts of the peninsula are:
- Seward: world-class aquarium, beautiful murals, and base for marine-animal-viewing boat trips; close to Exit Glacier also a good base for many hikes along the southern Seward Highway(Lost Lake, Carter Lake, Ptarmigan Trail etc.)
- Cooper Landing: good base for hikes (Resurrection Pass, Russian Lakes etc.) and raft trips on the Kenai River
- Homer: base for air transport to Lake Clark and Katmai. horse riding, and the great vista of the Homer Spit.
Denali is to Alaska what Yellowstone National Park is to the "lower 49" states of the USA. The chance to see wildlife is very high if you go there. Denali can not be explored by private car, instead you have to use a shuttle bus system. It is advisable to reserve tickets early in the "access center" near the entrance as the early morning rides tend to fill up quickly. There are also commercial themed tours, but they are more expensive and in my opinion not worth the money.
The bus drivers let you off for hiking anywhere in the park, except for designated areas where hiking would not be safe or the wildlife should not be disturbed. On the way back, you can hitchhike any shuttle bus who will take you on as long as it got space. Keep in mind that the complete journey as a roundtrip would take a full day. If you intend to go hiking, I would not drive further than Toklat River or Polychrome Mountain. There are no maintained hiking paths except for the park entrance area. Hiking is easy though as the park road will always serve as a reference point - you won`t lose your way.
The drivers will also indicate wild animals they spot on the road. We were quite lucky to see grizzly bears, moose, caribou, dall sheep, ptarmigans and golden eagles. It is not easy to spot them though as the animals blend in quite well with the landscape.
Alaska: Anchorage area
Anchorage - the largest city in Alaska, but not the capital (which is Juneau) - was the logical starting point for your Alaska roadtrip as Juneau is rather isolated and requires a ferry or airplane transfer from the panhandle to the greater Alaska area. Anchorage is a convenient hub for travelling in Alaska, but not such an interesting city in my opinion.
Still, its location is marvelously embedded within great natural surroundings. The Alaska Museum and the Native Heritage Center are two first-class cultural sights within the city limits. Anchorage is criss-crossed by many cycling paths. Many hiking opportunities are close, like Flattop Mountain, Potter`s March and Eagle River, and extensive parks within the city (for example Kincaid Park) allow for hiking, cycling and big game spotting. Another worthwhile visit is the Russian-Orthodox cemetery of Eklutna, which combines orthodox faith with native Athabascan beliefs (painted "spirit houses").
A possible itinerary could be to visit the Native Heritage Center and the Museum on day one and hike Flattop Mountain, visit Potter`s March, Eagle River and Eklutna on day two.
Washington District of Columbia!
Before the first half of the 16th century and until 1791 the region known as Washington D.C. was occupied by Native Americans and during these years it was also the beginning of European exploration. An exploration that culminated in the settling of various grand manors and small towns.
Finally in 1791 George Washington declared the area a Federal region. He employed L'Enfant to lay out the city and another surveyor, Andrew Ellicott, to survey the bounds of the Federal tract, 10 miles square.
L’Enfant’s plan was an ambitious one and beyond the scope of understanding of some influential men of the time. L’Enfant was fired. However eventually, it was his grand scheme of things that prevailed and the city today is much the same as L’Enfant had envisioned.
Washington D.C. is beautiful in the same kind of way Paris is beautiful. Wide boulevards, grand architecture, lush parks and gardens and full of art and history.
A weeks visit would not be enough to see all there is to see, but even a day spent here will be full of awesome sites and experiences that make a vacation worthwhile. Though hotels and restaurants are very expensive for the visitor, many Museums, Monuments, Memorials and Art Galleries are open to the public free of charge. So, it sort of balances out.Related to:
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
The Statue of Liberty
My second day in New York (during the first one I was busy looking for accommodation) I made an excursion that, I guess, is the first one that any tourist does in that city: The Statue of Liberty
In Manhattan I boarded the ferry to Liberty Island
In those times (year 1984) you could get up inside the statue, what I did.
In the same excursion I also visited Ellis Island museum.
I liked to read the history o the immigrants coming from Europe to New York, and to watch the black and white pictures showing the long lines that they formed when disembarking with their suitcases and bags, writing down their names at the controls.
There were many nationalities listed in the documents of the Immigrants, mainly Italians, English, Irish, from Scandinavian countries… but I did not find Spaniards (Spanish people preferred to migrate to Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela and Spanish speaking countries).
The ferry to get to those islands offered me wonderful views over the skyscrapers of New York.
Back in Manhattan Island I felt that by visiting the Statue of Liberty I had accomplished my duty as a tourist in New York.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
- Museum Visits
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The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland
A visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum has always been on my must-see list ever since it was opened. However I kept putting off my visit to this extremely popular attraction for the simple reason that I wanted another reason to visit Cleveland besides just seeing this museum. Therefore I waited until the Cleveland Art Museum's renovation was completed (or nearly completed) and for one of my Toronto sports franchises (the Blue Jays or Raptors) to visit Cleveland. The time was not right until July 2013 which was when I finally made my visit to Cleveland and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Why was a visit so important to me? Well I guess like many people from my generation Rock and Roll is very close to my heart. As people who know me well might tell you when take an interest in something I tend to be a completest and want to know it well. I have always being reading up and listening to old recordings to recording artists who have had influence on the genre. The Rock and Roll Hall fame is an excellent place to acquaint yourself to these artist. There a great deal of information on these early performers and many listening stations were you can listen to recordings by the likes of Robert Johnson and Howlin Wolf.
The rest of the museum if full of memorabilia of recording artist such as Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and on word to more recent stars like U2 and R.E.M. Special attention is paid to the Beatles (whom my father once met) and the Rolling Stones. Many artist's artifacts are rotated around or at least I assume so. Hence there was lots of memorabilia from The Who but hardly anything of Led Zeppelin (my favourite band after the Beatles). Also the was a certain absence of Bob Dylan which is very hard to believe since I consider him at least the equal of the Beatles or the Stones in importance.
I did walk away with some complaints. The café is awful! As for some of exhibits there is little on the history of the video and how it shaped the genre. Why not show how video actually originated back in the 60's. Ricky Nelson is credited with the first "promotional film" for a song but you will not learn that here. The Beatles recorded many such promotional films for there songs like "Strawberry Fields" and "Hello Goodbye". Some mention could be made of this. Finally as for selection into the Hall, there is a little too much emphasis on mediocre American bands (The Pretenders!) and too many overlooked British bands (Roxy Music for one).Related to:
- Museum Visits
A "jug" of alcohol is not the same in the US
Some bars will serve a “jug” of wine. This equates to about two glasses of wine but it might be cheaper that buying a "bottle" in a bar. It is probably smaller than a carafe of wine. Better to buy a bottle in a "chemist" or liquor store and drink it in your hotel room.
The jug illustrated cost US$18Related to:
- Theater Travel
- Budget Travel
Queues and photo opportunities
At almost every tourist site you will have to queue. The reason you have to queue is not because of the crowds but, because you are lining up for a photo shoot. You will be photographed against a blank canvas and then a contrived backdrop is inserted. The average price of each photo is $20- $25. At some tourist sites you can buy the image/jpeg rather than the photograph.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
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