Portland, Oregon

A 3-day break in Portland and it’s surrounding area

With a trip to Alaska booked for the main part of our trip, we decided to first spend some time in the Pacific Northwest. After flying to Vancouver on the West coast of Canada and spending a few days exploring there, we had caught the train south into the USA and Seattle for a 4 day visit and now we were back on the Amtrak heading South again, this time to the city of Portland in the state of Oregon.

Jim Dandy Diner

Although Portland would be our base, we had heard that Oregon state was really beautiful so had made plans to get out of the city too and explore some of the surrounding area.

With the Alaska portion of our trip being so expensive we had been trying to budget elsewhere so like in Seattle, we would be staying slightly outside of the city center to cut costs. Arriving at Portland’s Union Station from Seattle late afternoon, we found our way to the correct light rail stop and successfully made our way out to the suburbs to find our motel.

Deciding it too late to head back into the city that night, we instead called into the old diner across the road. Jim Dandy’s Drive In is a Portland landmark. Having opened in 1937, it is one of Oregon’s oldest drive-ins. We enjoyed a traditional burger and fries meal followed by one on the largest soft-serve ice creams I had ever seen!

Timberline Lodge
Posing with an axe at The Shining hotel

Our first full day in Oregon, we had booked a one day tour with America’s Hub World Tours through Viator to Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. We were picked up by our minibus transportation for day bright and early from our motel heading away from the city to our first stop of the day, Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood.

Timberline Lodge is famously the lodge used for exterior shots in classic horror film The Shining and as we approached, our guide told us that you could ask at reception for an axe to hold and pose for photos with it. Half thinking he was joking – who would hand over an axe to strangers in a hotel full of people?! – we thought we’d at least ask and see what they said and sure enough, we were immediately handed over a rather heavy axe, no questions asked and allowed to wander the immediate are of the hotel with it posing for photos!

The Bridge of Gods

After handing the axe back, we had a look around the common areas of the lodge and stopped by the small hotel store for some tax-free souvenirs before heading outside the back to take in the excellent views of Mount Hood. We then waited out the front of the lodge, taking in more epic views, this time of Mount Jefferson in the distance, until it was time to re-board the minibus and head to our next stop.

Stop number 2 was for lunch in the small city of Hood River. We had time to wander along the High Street before deciding on a nice cafe bar for lunch and even had time to grab an ice cream before being back on the minibus!

Mural at the Bridge of Gods
Multnomah Falls

Our next stop was down by the Columbia River at a place called Cascade Locks to see The Bridge of Gods, a bridge which connects Oregon state to Washington state. As well as enjoying the river views, we admired the mural painted on one of the bridge supports depicting the Native American ‘Bridge of Gods’ legend which the bridge is named after.

Then it was onto the main stop of the day, a visit to Multnomah Falls, part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. On the way into the park, we stopped at a few other waterfalls including Horseshoe Falls and then we were dropped near the Visitor Center from where we could walk to viewing points for the falls. We took the short hike up to Benson Bridge for a closer look at the falls before returning to the visitor center for some souvenirs!

Vista House at Crown Point

On the way out of the park, we stopped at one more waterfall, Latourell Falls, hopping out of the minbus briefly to grab some photos, then it was on to our last stop of the day, Vista House, a Columbia River Gorge observatory at Crown Point. It was a fantastically, sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky and the views across the river were absolutely beautiful.

From here, it was back to Portland where we chose to leave the tour rather than being dropped back at our out-of-city accommodation. We spent some time walking through the city to Pioneer Square and then down to the Willamette River, strolling a along the waterfront.

Union Station, Portland

The next day was to be another day spent exploring the state of Oregon rather in Portland city itself. We were once again up early, catching the lightrail into the city then finding our way to the bus station where we’d be picking up a service to the Oregon Coast.

Sculpture at Cannon Beach

Although small group day tours were available from Portland to this area of Oregon, we decided to save a bit of money by using public transport. It took a couple of hours to get to our first destination of the day, Cannon Beach. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on our side today but it didn’t stop us heading to the beach and walking to Haystack Rock, famously seen in cult ’80s film The Goonies.

Mural at Seaside

After our stroll along the beach, we took a walk along the main street calling in some of the many galleries and gift stores before catching the local bus to the neighbouring town of Seaside. Seaside was a huge contrast to the laid back calm of Cannon Beach, instead aimed at a younger crown with its arcades, amusement rides and tacky souvenir stores. Like Cannon Beach, it did still have a beautiful stretch of golden sand. After spending a bit of time having a look around, we went to a local restaurant for pizza before catching the bus back to Portland.

We had one more day in Oregon before flying to Alaska and we had allocated that day to finally explore the city of Portland properly! We began the day with a segway tour of the city. This was our first time riding segways, something we had always wanted to try and it was great fun! It didn’t take long to get used to riding them and we were soon zooming around the city!

Food truck

The tour took us down alongside the Willamette River then into the city to see some its highlights including the Portlandia sculpture, the Portland Theatre and, my personal favourite, Mills End Park, the World’s Smallest Park!

After the tour, it was time for lunch. Portland is famous for its food trucks so we went in search of some deciding on a sandwich from The Grilled Cheese Grill!

About to board the aerial tram

Next up was a trip on the Portland Aerial Tram. Although the tram’s main purpose is to carry commuters to the Oregon Health and Science University, we had heard it was a great -and cheap -way of seeing views across the city. We enjoyed our return ride, it was a fun and unusual way of seeing the city!

Portland Market

We spent the next few hours walking along the riverside towards the city’s Pearl District. Along the way we came across Portland’s Saturday Market and had a browse around the stalls. We also passed the Voodoo Doughnut store in the Old Town area. We would have loved to have sampled one its famous doughnuts but there was a huge queue outside and unfortunately, we didn’t have time to wait.

Instead we continued to the quirky Pearl District where we explored Powell’s City of Books store, the World’s largest used and independent bookstore and browsed in some of the other boutique and independent stores in the area. Then it was back to our motel to collect our luggage before heading to the airport for our flight.

Watch my vlog of my Portland trip here:

Mount Rainier National Park

Taking a one day tour to Mount Rainier National Park from Seattle.

Washington state is home to a number of National Parks and while on a 5 night city break in Seattle, we were hoping to get to see some of them. Trouble was, at this point, we had never driven in the USA and didn’t feel confident to hire a rental and take self-guided trip to these places and public transport wasn’t an option. So instead, we booked ourselves on a group tour offered by the company Tours of Seattle* to Mount Rainier National Park.

Arriving at Mount Rainier National Park

Having already taken a small group tour to Olympic National Park a few days earlier, we knew the drill as we waited outside our airport hotel for our transport for the day to arrive. Today’s minibus was more like a minicoach, much bigger than the one we had travelled to Olympic National Park on meaning a bigger tour group too but not too many with numbers hovering around the 20-25 mark. Our guide was fantastic and kept the day running smoothly while still offering the group various options on where we could go and what we could do.

No sign of the mountain peak – stopping at a viewpoint on the way up

Our first stop of the day was for 10 minutes at a supermarket for anyone that wanted to grab lunch or snacks for the day and then we were on our way to the park.

Looking for Mount Rainier

Unfortunately, this morning, the weather was not on our side and our guide explained that on cloudy or overcast days, Mount Rainier itself often became hidden from sight. But she said the weather was supposed to clear a bit later so there was a chance we would get a glimpse of the mountain then.

We entered the park at the Paradise entrance station and began to make our way up a steep, winding road through the park. Our guide pulled over on request at a couple of viewing points so we could get out, take photos and take in the scenery and talked to us about the park and its history as we continued on again.

The Henry M Jackson Memorial Visitor Center in Paradise
The closest we came to seeing the peak of Mount Rainier it peaks out behind a cloud!

Eventually, we came to the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center where we were to have our lunch and be set free to explore for a while. We spent some time looking at the exhibits in the visitor center before setting off on a circular hike on the Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls. While the sun had now come out, Mount Rainier was still shielded from our view behind a large low cloud gathered around it but the views across the park from the trail were still really pretty.

Narada Falls

As we drove back down, we pulled over at a few more view points then stopped to see Narada Falls. The sun was hitting the cascading water at the right angle to create a beautiful rainbow glistening above the falls!

A rainbow!
Longmire Suspension Bridge

Disappointed that the weather hadn’t clearer enough for us to see the elusive mountain yet, our guide said she had one more place she could take us from where the mountain was sometimes visible even on days when it wasn’t visible from the visitor center. We were told that stopping there would mean a bit less time at our last stop if the day but as we all wanted to maximise our chances of seeing the mountain, we agreed to give it a try.

So we were taken to Longmire Bridge, a suspension bridge over the Nisqually River. Disappointingly, Mount Rainier still wasn’t visible to us but it was a really picturesque spot to stop off at anyway!

Tall trees in the ancient forest

The last stop of the day was in the park’s lowlands at one of the ancient old growth forests where we spent some time walking through the Douglas firs, cedars and hemlocks then it was back to Seattle where we were dropped off back at our airport hotel.

A walk in the ancient old growth forest

Although we’d not been lucky enough to see Mount Rainier itself, we had had a fun day at the park and having seen the highlights, are planning on returning on a self-guided tour on our next visit to the area!

Watch my vlog of my trip to Mount Rainier National Park:

You can read about the rest of my trip to Seattle here and my day trip to another Washington state National Park from Seattle, Olympic National Park, here.

*Although we were guests of Tour of Seattle on this trip, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Visiting Olympic National Park

A day trip from Seattle to this stunning National Park

The National Parks of America are my favourite places to visit there so while on a 5 night city break to Seattle, we really wanted to fit in a visit to Washington states’ highly recommended Olympic National Park. Having never driven in the US at this point, we didn’t feel confident hiring a car and finding our own way there so instead we looked up day trips leaving from Seattle. We’d taken these types of tours before such as to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas so expected them to be plentiful but instead when we came to booking a trip, we struggled to find any operating. Eventually, we paid more than we would have liked to take a tour with Evergreen Escapes.

Bainbridge Island Ferry

On the ferry to Bainbridge Island

On the day of our tour, we were instructed to meet bright and early at a central hotel in Seattle. Right on time, our guide picked us up and we boarded a small minibus with 2 other groups, a family and a couple. From the hotel, we were driven the short distance to the waterfront where we boarded a car ferry to Bainbridge Island. Once on the ferry we were given a meeting point to wait at but could go and wander around the boat, buy snacks from the onboard cafe or go out on the deck. It was a chilly morning but we braved it outside for a while enjoying the views of the Seattle skyline.

Leaving Seattle in the distance

Back on the minibus, we continued our journey to Olympic National Park, briefly stopping once just outside of the city of Port Angeles for a comfort break.

Hurricane Ridge

The Olympic Mountains shrouded in cloud

Our first stop in the park would be at Hurricane Ridge. The minibus drove up the steep, winding road into the park and we were greeted at the top with beautiful views of the Olympic mountains ahead of us, pretty as a picture. From the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, the breathtaking views became clearer – snow capped mountains under the blue sky with the lush green forest below.

View from Hurricane Ridge

We had free time to look around the Visitor Center and take in the epic surrounding scenery before reconvening for an included mid-morning snack of tea and scones. We then took a short group hike around the area before reluctantly re-boarding the minibus and beginning our descent back down the long winding road. On the way down we made a couple if stops to take photos at various viewpoints, each time, the scenery taking our breath away.

In search of a waterfall

Stopping at a view point on the way down from Hurricane Ridge

From Hurricane Ridge, we continued west towards a waterfall stop but our guide got lost on the way (it was his first day leading a tour by himself!) and with time drifting by, the plan to stop there had to be abandoned for now. We were told we might have time on the way back. Instead we carried on to a stop at Lake Crescent. Our guide told us we’d be having our included picnic lunch here and gave us some free time to walk down to the lake while he set up.

Time for lunch

Ready for lunch

With the sun shining, the crystal clear waters of the lake against the backdrop of the lush green forest looked stunning. After walking along the lake edge, we made our way back to the minibus to find a picnic table had been set up with table cloths, place mats, plates and cutlery all laid out for us! Meat was barbecuing on a grill and there was plenty of salad and bread to help ourselves to. We all sat around the table for our forest feast and discussed the plans for the afternoon.

Lake Crescent

The Lodge on the bank of Lake Crescent

After lunch, we took a hike through the forest down to Lake Crescent Lodge, our guide talking to us about all the different trees and plants we were seeing. Once at the lodge we had more free time which we spent looking inside the lodge and walking at the lake edge. Meanwhile, our guide had gone to fetch the minibus and bring it closer ready to pick us up.

Back to Seattle

We were still hopeful we could fit in the waterfall stop we had missed earlier but due to a rush hour traffic alert, we instead had to continue on so we could make our ferry back to Seattle.

Seattle bound on the ferry

It had been a fun day and Olympic National Park was just as beautiful as we’d hoped. We’d only had chance to see a small part of the extensive park so having since conquered our fear of driving in the US, we are planning on taking a self-guided trip there on our next trip state-side so we can spend a bit more time at the places we visited before and make it to the parts we have yet to see!

Watch my vlog of my trip to Olympic National Park here:

Visiting Seattle

How I spent 2 days in Seattle

While in the US for a trip to Alaska, we decided to first spend some time in the Pacific Northwest.

Dinner at Denny’s

It was our first time visiting the state of Washington. We arrived at Seattle’s King Street Station early evening having travelled on the Amtrak from our first trip destination, Vancouver. Finding city center prices skyhigh in July, we instead had to stay at a hotel out at SeaTac airport. We easily found our way from King’s Street Station to the Light Rail station and it was about a 20 minute connection to the airport. Our hotel was walkable from the station but as it was already getting late at this point, we decided it wasn’t worth going back into the city that evening. Instead there were plenty of chain restaurants in the area so we headed to a nearby Denny’s for dinner.

Seattle waterfront
Queue outside the Original Starbucks

The next day we were up early and after breakfast at the hotel, walked back to the station to catch the Light Rail back into the city and start exploring.

Walking down towards the waterfront, we were shocked to realise just how hilly the city is. We spent some time taking a walk along Seattle’s picturesque waterfront, stopping to shop in some of the many souvenir stores and passing Pier 57 and the Seattle Great Wheel then made our way to Pike Place Market and the Original Starbucks store. Though neither of us drink coffee, Starbucks is always a frequently visited place for us on any of our trips to the US as it’s one of the few places where we can get a proper cup of hot English Breakfast tea!! So we just had to visit the Pike Place Store!

With my Starbucks’ purchase

There was quite a queue to enter the store but we willingly joined it. Staff members handed out laminates showing some of the souvenir items that could be purchased inside and if you didn’t want to purchase a drink, it was possible to go in without queuing just to see these and look inside! Once inside we got our cups of tea and had a look around before carrying on with our day.

Next up was Pike Place Market itself with it’s iconic red sign and clock face. We had a quick walk around the stalls there, soaking up the atmosphere.

Gum Alley

After looking around the market, we walked to the nearby Gum Alley. This odd, and pretty disgusting!, tourist attraction is exactly what it sounds like, a dark alley leading away from the market where the walls are absolutely covered in discarded chewing gum. We had come prepared, buying a packet of bubble gum from a nearby news store earlier that day, and added our own piece of chewed gum to one of the few spaces left! Then, as it was lunch time, we headed back to Pike Place Market and bought a corn on the cob each as a snack.

From the market, we walked back towards the station and the Westlake Center, a huge mall, for a bit of shopping and a post lunchtime snack of Mrs Field’s cookies. Then we caught the light rail back a stop to the Pioneer Square area where we walked to Occidental Square, strolled through the Waterfall Garden Park, past Smith Tower – the oldest skyscraper in the city – and visited the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park Museum.

Our DUCK Vehicle

With still plenty of our day left, we signed up for a Seattle DUCK Tour. Our crazy tour guide took us around the city telling us facts about it between blaring out a variety of pop tunes and making us quack on our duck quackers everytime we passed a Starbucks – there was a lot of quacking! Then, our vehicle became a boat as we took a trip across Lake Union before returning to dry land again.

The iconic Seattle Space Needle

That evening, we were hoping to take a trip up Seattle’s famous Space Needle so after our DUCK tour, we caught the monorail to Seattle Center. When we got there, we found a big food festival event was on bringing huge crowds to the area and tickets to the observation deck were sold out for the day. Disappointed, we booked a slot for a few days later but thought we might as well have a walk around the food festival and sample a few freebies while we were there!

Visiting Olympic National Park from our Seattle base

As the sun was starting to set, we caught the train back towards the airport and walked back to our motel. The next day we would have a very early start as we’d be taking a tour to Olympic National Park so we decided against a late night in the city! You can read about my trip to Olympic National Park here.

Day 3 of our Seattle and after a fun day trip to Olympic National Park, today we’d be spending another day in Seattle city. We began the day with a Seattle Underground Tour. This tour had come highly recommended to us as a ‘must do’ city experience but we were left disappointed as there was little to see and our guide’s humour repeatedly fell flat. Still it was at least interesting to hear some of the city’s history.

At the Crumpet Shop

After our tour, we returned briefly to the Pike Place Market area to have lunch at a cafe we had spotted a couple of days before – The Crumpet Shop! As Brits, Crumpets are a staple of our breakfast but we had never seen them in the US so it was nice to find an unexpected home comfort in the middle of Seattle. The cafe offered a huge menu of both sweet and savory toppings on their homemade crumpets and although it was a difficult decision, I went for a savoury butter and cheese topping with, of course, a nice cup of tea!

At the Museum of Pop Culture
Interactive exhibit at the museum

Lunch done, we caught the monorail back to Seattle Center and went to visit the Museum of Popular Culture. This museum was right up my street with a collection of music and film memorabilia. I loved the Fantasy Films exhibition with the original costumes from classic films such as The Wizard of Oz and The Princess Bride and seeing props from Star Wars in the Sci-Fi exhibition. They even had Gizmo from Gremlins and the saw from the original Saw film in the Horror area! Many of the exhibitions were interactive so as big kids, the museum kept us entertained for hours. A highlight was making our own music video, pretending to play instruments and rock out to I Love Rock n Roll!

Monorail to Seattle Center

By the time we had finished at the museum, it was almost time for our pre-booked time slot for the Seattle Space Needle Observation Deck. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at MOD pizza in the Seattle Center food court then went to check in with our observation deck tickets.

Enjoying the view

We’d picked a good time to go up to the viewing deck as the sun was just starting to go down over the city. The earlier cloud and rain had cleared leaving a beautiful evening to take in the views over the city from the iconic building.

From Seattle Center, we headed back towards the airport and our hotel for another early night in preparation for another early morning and national park trip the next day. For our final day in Seattle, we would be taking a tour out to Mount Rainier National Park.

Visiting Mount Rainier National Park from our Seattle base

You can read about my trip to Mount Rainier National Park here.

On our final day in the city, we’d be catching an late morning train to the city of Portland so after breakfast it was back to Kings Street Station to check in for our journey.

It had been a fun few days in the city and I’d definitely like to visit again in the future!

Watch my vlog of my trip to Seattle here: