June 22, 2018
Alaska is a breath-taking place to visit, so unique to other states in the U.S. No wonder it is a favorite of many Travel Goal Getters. In Summer 2015 our family went on the popular Inner Passage cruise from Seward to Vancouver and travelled to California, Washington and Oregon for an amazing 2 week trip to 4 states. We share the details to help you plan your own Alaska/Pacific Northwest Trip.
Los Angeles – Anchorage
Days 2 – 9
Alaska Cruise – Juneau – Skagway – Icy Strait Point – Ketchikan
Gastown is a historic district of Vancouver very close to the rental car pick-up. We parked and walked around, peeking in trendy fashion and tourist shops. The famous Old Steam Clock at 305 Water Street was fun to see and drew a small crowd when it went off every fifteen minutes. Next we drove to the immense Stanley Park and stopped for lunch. There are several restaurants throughout the park. We ate at the Prospect Point Cafe. We wouldn’t recommend the burgers or hotdogs but the homemade fruit popsicles were delicious! All parking is paid-parking even spots along the street but only $1.75 hour and you can use a credit card. We drove just outside the park to Yes Cycle to rent some bicycles. Yes Cycle has a few complimentary parking spots in a garage behind the shop. They were already taken but there was other parking in the garage at a reasonable rate.
Yes Cycle swiped our credit card, gave us a waiver to sign, fitted us for helmets, helped us pick out our bicycles and sent us on our way. Easy! We rented some single bikes for $7 an hour and a tandem bike for $14 an hour. There are no bicycle rentals actually in the Park, but Yes Cycle and several others nearby have a clearly marked quick path to Stanley Park. The Stanley Park bike path is incredible! It is a one direction loop that goes around the perimeter of the park along the Sea Wall. There are a few spots that you have to get off your bike and walk – but it makes for a nice break. These spots also have drinking fountains which was easier than getting water bottles out of our backpacks. The ride is appropriate for anyone who can ride a bike – all ages. We returned our bikes in exactly one hour, which was only possible because we didn’t stop much on the loop. The bike return was just as easy and we hopped back into the car and returned it at about 2:30 p.m. The agent gave us directions to walk several blocks to the Airtrain and we rode it two stops to the Amtrak Station. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at the A & W located in the train station. We are glad we got there when we did because although our train did not leave until 5:00 p.m. we had to wait in line for a Customs check before we boarded.
Amtrak Cascades was a great way to travel from Vancouver to the Seattle area. The scenery was beautiful as most of the ride was right along the coast. Crossing the border was quick. Agents boarded the train and checked passports and we were on our way – maybe a 15 minute stop. The train has a Cafe Car with concession type food. We stayed in our seats most of the time but went to the car next to the dining car which has tables to make it easier to play a game of cards. We got off at Everett Station, north of Seattle which made our train ride about 4 hours. At the station we called the hotel, Holiday Inn Everett, which provided complimentary transportation to and from the station.
We left Boeing about 1:30 and headed to Pike Place Market in Seattle. We parked right downtown at City Parking at 1401 2nd Avenue. It is supposedly the best place to park because it is free parking for 2 hours if you make a Target purchase. The catch is if you are there longer it is regular rates which still weren’t too bad. $20 for the afternoon. We saw some fish being thrown to customers and saw the famous ‘Rachel the Charity Pig’. We forgot to bring some chewing gum so we bought some at a news stand to stick on the Gum Wall. We saw the original Starbucks and the long line of people waiting to go in. We passed on the coffee because we had a 10 block walk to the Underground Tour that started at 3:30. (We should have moved our car closer.)
The Underground Tour was fantastic! There is a little bar inside the waiting area. If you buy a drink then you are given priority seating for the start of the tour. We hadn’t had our local Seattle Brew yet so it was perfect to grab an ale and water for the kids as we waited for the tour to start. The tour guides explained the interesting history of the city in an entertaining way. There were some adult-oriented parts of the tour, but the tour guides handled it perfectly keeping it still appropriate for kids. We did our 10 block hike back to car, loaded up, and drove to the Space Needle. In the car we purchased our Space Needle tickets on-line to avoid having to stand in line to purchase tickets.
We found some parking on the street behind the Needle and used Google Maps to find a nearby pizza place – Pagliacci Pizza (550 Queen Anne Ave North) which was delicious, inexpensive and hit the spot! We went to the Space Needle at our tour time and showed our ticket bar code on my phone to get in line to go up. We still had to wait, but one less line! Be sure to look out the windows as you can see a little bit of the nearby Chihuly Glass Garden.
We spent about an hour looking around once we got to the top. We were a little early, but if you go at sunset you have the opportunity to see the city in daylight and at night. If there is a long line at the top of the Space Needle, go down the stairs to the restaurant level and wait there. The elevator attendant will make sure you get on the elevator on the way up before it fills up. A surprise bonus was playing at the Experience Music Project (EMP) playground which is located close to the base of the needle. You can’t miss the colorful architecture of the EMP building. After our long day we headed to a hotel near the Seattle Airport.
Mount St. Helens – Columbia River Gorge
We crossed into Oregon on I-205 and much to my chagrin there wasn’t an easy way get a photo with a “Welcome to Oregon” sign. We stopped at the first exit and discovered Rossi Farms, which has been farming in Oregon since 1880. We purchased some fresh rasberries and celebrated visiting my 50th state. Later we found out that Rossi Farms is part of a Fruit Loop driving tour that you can take around Oregon to family farms and wineries. We drove on to Multnomah Falls which is part of the Columbia River Gorge. Both directions of Highway 84 splits with a parking area in between. The sign approaching the exit said the lot was full but we drove in anyway and found multiple spots open. We were there on the weekend and it was very crowded. It is a short walk to view the beautiful falls from the bottom then another short hike to the upper level for viewing. There is a nice visitor’s center with clean bathrooms! For the return trip west to Portland, we got on the two lane Historic Columbia River Highway. Just a little bit up the road was parking for Horsetail Falls. We hiked the main trail uphill until it got to Ponytail Falls, a cool little waterfall that you can hike behind. When we got back to the van to continue our trip we had to go back on the main highway because there was an accident on Columbia River Parkway, so we were unable to go to the Vista House which has some picturesque views. Sadly there are often accidents on this two lane road because drivers are distracted by the beauty and don’t keep their eyes on the road!
We couldn’t go to Oregon without going to the Oregon coast that so many people rave about. We left the Columbia Gorge area and drove straight past Portland and arrived in Lincoln City, Oregon about 3 hours later just before dark. I accidentally double-booked rooms for the night. Ashley Inn and Suites was kind enough to allow us to cancel our reservation without the required notice. This was our first Oregon Angel who prevented us from paying for 2 hotel rooms for the same night. Although we didn’t stay there, the people were nice and the hotel facility looked cute and very clean. We did stay at D’Sands Condominium Hotel which was fabulous, being located right on the beach. The hotel room overlooked the ocean. The beach had an eerie ocean mist and rocks extending into the ocean. As soon as the sun went down people lit campfires along the beach using charred logs that were already on the sand.
Our next stop was Evergreen Aviation in McMinnville, Oregon. This is an AMAZING facility. Its main attraction is the Spruce Goose, the largest plane that ever built that belonged to the eccentric aviator Howard Hughes. The Museum has so much more! The giant facility is full of different planes and a great children’s area with interactive flight games. We took a private tour by a museum volunteer to go into a B-17 ($10 per family). Then we took another extra tour ($20 for four people) to go into the cockpit of the Spruce Goose. My family had come that far to see the Spruce Goose – there was no way we were not going to go inside. The people that worked there were all very nice and informative. You could tell they enjoyed sharing their knowledge of the planes and history. The Musuem has a separate building of Space history including an SR-71. Next door was the Wings and Waves Waterpark which has an incredible 747 on top of the building with water slides coming out of it. It was very difficult for us to press on with our trip without staying to see the rest of the Museum. One could spend a full day or two at Evergreen. Our admission was free since we areASTC Members. The Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) passport programs allows you free or discounted admission once you purchase a membership at a participating museum.
We headed back to Portland about 2:00 p.m. and went straight to the Comfort Inn near the Airport. Portland traffic was awful. It didn’t seem to matter what day or time we traveled, it always took more time than it should to get where we were going. After freshening up we went to Hopworks Urban Brewery for our first “Share an Ale and a Travel Tale” All Fifty Club event. It was great to visit with fellow travelers. The brewery served awesome pretzels and some great brews and was a nice way to appreciate the local brewery, organic, sustainable living culture of Portland.
I cannot stress enough that in Portland it takes more time to get places than you think! Filling up the car with gas was an adventure, because in Oregon, by law, gas stations attendants must pump your gas. We were chastised for trying to do it ourselves. Returning the rental car was easy as it is right at the airport. Our last adventure was at the Starbucks inside the airport. They had a bicycle that you could pedal to blend your own frappuccino, but the bike chain had fallen off. My Boy Scout sons repaired the bike for them so the free coffee drink tasted that much sweeter. So concludes our Pacific Northwest vacation. Our return trip was bittersweet as we didn’t want the vacation to end, yet we were ready for a rest!
Most people know that you have to plan in advance for an Alaska trip due to limited availability and short season, but the same goes for Washington and Oregon. I was surprised to find sold-out hotels and peak-season pricing at many of the locations. Most car rental companies and hotels have cancellation policies of 3 days in advance, so even if you have not finalized your itinerary make some reservations. Minivans and larger vehicles were booked quickly so reserve yours early.