My Notebook of the amazing places I have visited and the memories and experiences I don't want to forget.
In 2011 we decided to visit the West Coast of America again. However this time we decided to travel North from San Francisco, CA through Oregon and Washington.
This was our itinerary:
3rd-7th September: San Francisco
We flew into SFO and spent 4 nights in the City. We had been before but there was no way we were going to leave after 1 night, after all San Francisco is the best city on earth! We visited places we loved last time round as well as discovered some new top notch places.
This time round we managed to also investigate the coffee scene in the City, visiting places like Blue Bottle Coffee. We discovered new Mexican spots like Don Pistos. We also had time to sample some excellent cocktails in Bourbon and Branch, a speakeasy type bar with superb decor and style and more importantly amazing drinks. We took the opportunity to further explore the city taking in some new sights like Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower, which we did not have time to visit last time, and discovered new places in neighbourhoods we had visited previously.
This visit to San Francisco in 2011 was probably the time when I really got into good coffee and great cocktails. Since 2011 every city I visit or re-visit I’m on the look out for great coffee and great cocktails. A day out in London is not complete without a great espresso or flat white and a libation, preferably a great cocktail. It was this trip to San Francisco that started all that.
7th-8th September: On the Road – We picked up our hire car and headed north towards Oregon, stopping in Redding, CA for lunch. Our overnight stay was at the Seven Feathers Resort in Canyonville, Oregon. We chose it as it was on route and had good reviews. The hotel was pleasant, there is a Casino attached to the property not our sort of place but perfect for an overnighter.
8th September-9th September: On the Road – After leaving Canyonville early we headed to Woodburn Premium Outlets for some retail therapy, then onwards to Morton, WA our next overnighter before exploring Mount Rainier National Park the following day.
9th September: Mount Rainier, WA
After getting up early and a quick breakfast we drove to the Mount Rainier National Park, stopping in Paradise, WA – what a cool name for a town. We managed to squeeze in a short hike along the Nisqually Vista Trail. Then drove to Sunrise, WA (another cool name for a town!) where we hiked the 3 mile Sourdough Ridge Trail. As I love pretty much anything sourdough there was going to be no way I was not going to hike a trail named ‘Sourdough’, even though to my disappointment there was no baked goods at the end!
Mt Rainier National Park is beautiful, it is amazing how many National Parks there are in these western states. We really enjoyed our time here and saw some beautiful scenery. As it was early September the weather was still very nice, it was pleasantly warm and the wild flowers were still out and the trees and hills were green. It was a fantastic time to see the park.
We left the park around 4pm and drove on to our first big City since leaving San Francisco.
9th – 12th September: Seattle, WA
We were in Seattle for 3 nights, long enough to see the major sights, but when we left I still felt like there were so many things I wanted to see, placed I wanted to visit, coffees I wanted to try! We stayed in the Pan Pacific Hotel, and we were very happy with the location and the room, it was great and if I went back to Seattle I would stay there again.
Now I must confess before visiting Seattle the impression I had of the city was this constant gloomy, rainy place full of dive music bars playing Nirvana and other grunge bands, with locals happy to drink weak and dull Starbucks coffee. Probably due to the way it is portrayed in the media (film/tv). I left the city with a total different perspective: The City is beautiful, the coffee is great, it does get warm and sunny (sometimes), the food and beer scene is great.
The city is uniquely positioned with some wonderful nature and wilderness in close proximity. You have the breathtaking Olympic National Park to the West, Canada (Vancouver and Vancouver island) to the North, pure wilderness and the setting of the fictional town of Twin Peaks to the East, and other incredible national parks and appealing towns to the South.
During our visit in September 2011 the Pacific North-West was having a bit of heat wave with temperatures in the high 20’s to low 30’s Celsius. When we were in Seattle it was t-shirt wearing weather. We did all the usual tourist activities such as visiting the Experience Music Project (which had a special exhibition on Nirvana at the time and was very absorbing and engaging) and Pike Place Market. The Market is both fun and interesting; I would love to have a market like it near me. The quality, size, variety and freshness of the fish and other items for sale is astonishing.
One of my favourite neighbourhoods that we visited was the Pike/Pine area north-east of downtown. The neighbourhood is full of great independent coffee shops serving proper coffee. People assume Seattle is full of Stabucks however years ago Starbucks was just one of many small independent coffee shops. Starbucks just decided (rightly or wrongly depending on how you look at it) to turn itself into a multinational global brand. So coffee culture is still big here, probably unsurprising as I can imagine in the cold gloomy winter months there would be nothing more comforting than indulging in a nice big ‘cup of joe’ in one of the many unique coffee shops. It is I think the weather that has contributed to the love of coffee in this area, and probably the same reason why coffee is overtaking tea drinking in the UK. Anyway I digress. I did venture into a Starbucks in Seattle, but it wasn’t to make a purchase it was more for nostalgia. I went to the original and first Starbucks in the world ever in Pike Place Market. Despite my view of Starbucks (that being that they serve weak and tasteless coffee) their story is incredible. From this one small shop in Seattle, and in a relatively short period of time, Starbucks turned themselves into a multimillion international company. Although I myself do not like to drink in Starbucks, unless the Christmas season is here and then I can’t resist their eggnog lattes, I do appreciate that in Europe prior to the arrival of Starbucks people did not ‘go out for coffee’ and coffee shops were not commonplace. Now at least we can get good coffee and sometimes even great coffee in the UK. Saying all that if you are visiting Seattle by all means go and see the original Starbucks but my recommendation is skip their coffee and hunt out one of the many independent and often quirky coffee shops such as Bauhaus Books & Coffee, Zeitgeist Coffee or Cafe Vita and sample a truly great and flavourful coffee however you like it.
Seattle is also memorable because it was the first place I tried Mexican fusion cuisine. This was at a place called Marination Mobile. Marination Mobile fuses Mexican with Korean (‘Koxican’ or ‘Mexean’ if you like). In the UK both foods are not that well known, although Wahaca is leading the way in making good / affordable / fast Mexican food, and for me Korean food is fantastic and doesn’t get enough publicity in the UK. Fusing these two totally unconnected cuisines does sound weird however it really does work. Just imagine soft tacos with Korean piquant bulgogi pork with spicy slaw, or a kimchi quesadilla. Mmmmm! Don’t knock fusion until you’ve tried it and Korean and Mexican just go so perfectly with each other it’s definitely a win-win combo.
In addition Seattle embraces the craft beer trend, many of the beers we tried are produced in Washington State and we didn’t have a bad one during our trip. But more on craft beer in the Portland section….
So after leaving Seattle my impression changed; I now fondly remember the city as a warm sunny place with great craft beer, fresh produce, unique and fantastic coffee (minus Starbucks), and a fusion of cultures which is reflected in the food oh and of course Nirvana……
12th-13th September: Olympic National Park, WA
We left Seattle via the Car Ferry to Bainbridge Island. It was strange seeing the iconic Seattle skyline disappear on that particular gray morning.
We spent two days in Olympic National Park. On our fist day we visited Hurricane Ridge, hiking the 1.6mile (one way) Hurricane Hill trail which took a bit of effort but the incredible views and the sense of isolation made it worthwhile. From Hurricane Ridge we also walked the short Meadow Loop trail and the High Ridge Loop trail. We also stopped at Lake Crescent and walked the short Marymere Falls trail. Here it really felt like you were at the end of the world with the only sound being the sound of the woods (trees creaking, the wind, birds and animals scurrying around). It made me think of what the whole of the Pacific North-West looked like prior to the invasion of man.
After a night in Port Angeles, WA and a quick breakfast in town as well as my first ‘Red Eye’ coffee (drip coffee with an additional espresso shot) we made our way round the park. Stopping at Sol Duc River Valley and the Hoh Rain Forest. Both of these were quite touristy due to the main sights being very close to the car parks (not a long walk for those less inclined). Although there were more people here the scenery was still mesmerising and in my lifetime I doubt I will see trees that look like the trees in Hoh Rain Forest again.
We also stopped at Ruby Beach and this was the highlight for me. When we visited the sky was grey and there was a mist in the air, this just added to the atmosphere. The whole beach and coast looked like a prehistoric landscape, with huge piles of driftwood on the shore. I was half expecting a dinosaur to appear from around the rocks. It just seemed so desolate and untouched by man. It’s a shame that we only had a short time here.
We left the Park around 3pm, driving through Aberdeen, the birthplace of Kurt Cobain and headed south towards the next big city, Portland, OR.
13th – 16th September: Portland, OR
Portland’s motto is ‘Keep Portland Weird’ and you know what I agree. Portland is quirky but I think that is its appeal. It’s a working city, it’s not particularly pretty but it is eccentric, odd but in a good way and totally worth a stop. Where else can you get a donut in the shape of a voodoo doll or order something called a ‘Old Dirty Bastard’? I will tell you where Voodoo Donuts, stop in Portland just for one of their totally ‘over-the-top’ but ‘must-be-tried’ concoctions.
Also where can you visit bars that serve several local craft beers which all have their own unique taste, and then visit the next bar and discover another bunch of totally different yet local ales? There are literally hundreds of independent breweries making ales/beers all over the Pacific North-West and they are all really distinctive. Portland and Seattle are great places to try a variety of these, think pale ales, dark malt beers and hoppy brews. We just had to be careful and not have too many in one session as they are considerably stronger than their UK equivalent. It’s funny that in the UK historically American beer got a bad reputation for being bland, tasteless non-descript fizzy liquid, but that is because most people associate the US beer market with Coors, Bud etc. In fact the craft beer market across America, but particularly the Pacific North-West, has got a growing following and is becoming as well regarded as the wine market.
My conclusion on Portland: it’s weird but that’s what makes it so interesting. We had a great time here, the people are really nice and quirky, we had some memorable meals at great restaurants like Podnah’s BBQ but more importantly the food cart scene is crazy, there are some fantastic independent record stores, great coffee and the original Stumptown Coffee (now also found in New York and Los Angeles) and great bars and tap rooms with amazing beers. It’s just a shame that we didn’t have time to try them all!
16th-17th September: The Redwoods, OR & CA
After leaving Portland we travelled south via the coastal towns of Yachats, OR and Cape Perpetua, OR both with stunning scenery. We spent the night in Bandon, OR catching the sunset on the beach and then drove towards the Redwoods via Port Orford, OR and Samuel H Boardman State Park. After crossing the border into California our first close up of the redwoods came via the Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park where we walked the short 1/2 mile Stout Grove Trail. After driving through the town of Klamath, CA our next stop was Prairie Creek Redwood State Park were we drove the 8 mile Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway and stopped and walked the short Circle Trail. We stopped for the night in Mckinleyville, CA. The following morning we drove to the town of Eureka, CA for provisions and then through Humboldt Redwood State Park and the 32 mile stretch known as the ‘Avenue of the Giants’ stopping to complete the Drury Chaney Loop Trail, the Rockefeller Loop Trail and the Founders Grove Loop Trail .The trees themselves need to be seen to be believed, even photos do not really express their magnitude. We are like ants in comparison to these huge beasts they are incredible. There were areas where it was just the two of us and we really felt like we were the only two people there and nothing else mattered.
We left the ‘Giant’ trees behind us and drove further south towards the Wine Valley stopping for lunch in Santa Rosa, CA.
18th – 20th September: Sonoma, CA
Liking our wine we decided to stop in the wine country for a few days. We wanted to avoid the hustle and bustle of Napa and decided to stay in Sonoma as the place produced wine that was just as good but was not so touristy or so pricey. The main Sonoma Square is similar to an old wild west town, with shops all around the outside on white stilts and a big green space in the middle. While we were in town there was some sort of Mexican festival going on in the square, it was full of people, there was a band and a singer, people were dancing and eating Mexican snacks.
We did some wine tasting visiting Cline Cellars, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, Anaba Wines and others which by this point I could not remember. We had a great day, we hired bicycles and cycled around stopping for some great fresh tacos in a little place on the outskirts of town called Tortilleria Jalisco (897 W Napa St, Sonoma, CA), fully recommended. May not look like much but the food speaks for itself. The people we met in the wineries were lovely, not pretensions or snobby and the wine was superb.
Overall we left on a high; we travelled through 3 states (California, Oregon and Washington) and experienced a lot in a short period of time. I would love to go back, however as the world is so vast I am not sure if I would get the opportunity. Nevertheless I fondly look back at my time in the Pacific North-West and hope to be back…..one day!