Don't let the weather or the prevalence of teen vampire novels set in the Pacific Northwest put you off visiting. The destination takes in the US region to the north of California and to the south of the Canadian border (some interpretations even include British Columbia in Canada) and this is a lesser-visited gem, with rugged landscapes, towering mountains and spectacular lakes. This is also prime road trip territory, where you can take your time driving up from San Francisco to Seattle through Oregon and Washington (State, not D.C; if you find yourself in front of the White House you've taken a serious wrong turn).
En route, you'll pass thriving vineyards on the sunny eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains, temperate rainforests further upstate and lakes and waterfalls in abundance in Olympic National Park.
Talk of rainforests, lakes and waterfalls might indicate a healthy amount of rain, and we're not going to lie - there's plenty of precipitation in the Pacific Northwest - but the silver lining to this particular raincloud is that this translates to lush green landscapes and a slew of watersports from white water rafting and kayaking to kitesurfing. Back on dry land there's hiking, cycling, mountaineering, skiing (from November to April) and generally gawping at the sheer magnificence of the Mount Rainier and Mount St Helens National Parks.
So far so rural, but the Pacific Northwest's urban centres are every bit as intriguing as their country cousins. American coffee shop culture (and grunge, remember that?) began in Seattle with the launch of Starbucks, and Seattle and Portland are now home to countless artisanal coffee roasteries, the natural habitat of the region's skinny-jeaned hipster population. In a similar vein, the Pacific Northwest also produces some excellent craft beers, and this is the epicentre of the farm-to-table and locavore (only eating locally sourced produce) movements in the US. It's safe to say that wherever you go in the region you will be well fed and watered. It is even possible to enjoy a 'damn fine cup of coffee' and a slice of cherry pie at Twede's Café, the old school American diner made famous by David Lynch's seminal Pacific Northwest-set Twin Peaks.
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What are the best ways to discover the Pacific Northwest?
Pacific Northwest holidays make excellent road trips – after a few days exploring northern California and its wondrous sights, get onto the legendary Highway 101 and meander up the US west coast. Roll down your windows and take in the towering mountains, thick forests and crashing waves of Oregon’s dramatic shoreline as you make your way to Portland, the Pacific Northwest’s second biggest city after Seattle. An urban hotspot of trendy eateries, hip coffee shops and a thriving indie music scene, Portland is a prime destination to let loose. Next stop on your road trip is Seattle, Washington State’s largest city and home to a compelling blend of nature, culture and urban magnetism. Make your way there at your leisure, diving into the region’s spectacular scenery as you go. Stop off at Ecola State Park and marvel at the thousands of puffins on Cannon Beach, or if you’re visiting between April and May or October and November, get on the whale trail at Olympic National Park and spot the majestic mammals in their natural habitat.
Who are Pacific Northwest holidays best for?
Pacific Northwest holidays offer a world of possibility, whatever you’re into. An abundance of national parks, awe-inspiring landscapes and animal life sit perfectly alongside modern cities at the forefront of the food, drink and music scenes, to create a stay that’s guaranteed to deliver. Adventurers can drink in the possibilities of outdoor adventure, from climbing the soaring Cascade Mountains and skiing the slopes of Mount Hood to kayaking in the San Juan archipelago and waiting quietly to spy bald eagles, killer whales and harbour seals. If an urban jungle’s more your thing, Seattle’s ever-changing music and art scene and Portland’s world-famous coffee bars and hipster shops will keep you on your toes.
Special Things to Do in the Pacific Northwest
Visit Seattle’s world-famous Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market is one of the city’s most iconic places to visit, where over 225 local artisans sell their wares inside an open-air plaza that lines Elliot Bay. Dodge flying salmon as fishmongers toss them between each other, pick up souvenirs from local craftsmen, be wowed by street performers and try to pick somewhere for lunch from the hundreds of amazing eateries. Foodies are in their element here – fresh clam chowder with warm sourdough, mac and cheese, fresh crab sandwiches and hot donuts are just the tip of the gastronomical iceberg.
Journey through Oregon’s wine country
Sink into Oregon’s fruitful wine country with a tour of the state’s best wineries. Enjoy a scenic bike ride through rolling vineyards, relax on sprawling decks as you sip on a chardonnay or pinot noir in front of snow-capped mountains and brush up your vino knowledge with expert sommeliers.