After the unexpected wonders of Idaho our road trip took us ever further West towards the Pacific Ocean for the first time. For many Europeans the Pacific North West represents the most liberal and familiar part of America. Nirvana, Frasier, Greys Anatomy…chances are you’ve seen and heard a fair bit of this region of the States growing up.
Our first stop in the Evergreen State was Spokane, the state’s second biggest city. There’s nothing especially remarkable about Spokane and if it hadn’t been on route I doubt we’d have stopped, but we’re glad we did. It’s a compact place, we stayed in the Davenport in downtown, a departure from the previous evening’s lodgings in the belly of a giant beagle, the Davenport is one of Washington’s grandest hotels. It’s nice enough, but has nothing like the character of some of the B&Bs we’ve stopped in. Of more interest are its selection of pubs and bars nearby. We sampled a few beers in the Post Street Ale House just across the street, and then headed back to the Davenport itself for a cocktail in the Peacock Lounge. If you time it right you can catch happy hours in both!
After a walk around downtown, taking in the sights and smells of the food market in the riverside park and marvelling at the waterfall that runs through the city, it was time for dinner. We’d been looking forward to the Steam Plant Grill all day, its a big restaurant inside an old (funnily enough) steam plant. Apart from the excellent food and extensive beer menu (we went for the sampler where you can try nine different brews) its an exciting place to be, you can even go inside the old steam towers. Thoroughly beered up we took the two block walk back to the hotel.
Next stop on our trip was Seattle, about four hours west of Spokane. We paused for lunch in Ellensburg, a small town about 90 minutes from Seattle and had a giant burger at the Yellow Church Café, before ploughing on. Seattle was the biggest city so far on this road trip so we’d allowed a little (but only a little) extra time, booking two nights at the Ace Hotel. Cheap it is not, but given the location and the quality of the place its actually very reasonable. Plus you get to make your own waffles in the morning. The LA Angels were in town and our first night’s entertainment was watching them take on home town heroes the Seattle Mariners. It was our first taste of live baseball and its an experience not to be missed (even if there was only one home run in the whole game).
Despite being a big city, Seattle’s not that hard to walk around. From the hotel we walked to the iconic Space Needle, whizzing straight up to the top to take in the spectacular view – beware sufferers of vertigo, the lifts are glass! Next-door is the fantastic Experience Music Project where you can see Hendrix guitars, Cobain cardigans and much much much more besides. The highlight for us was the interactive sections, where you can have a go at playing drums or bass guitar on some famous tracks, and also the bonus horror film exhibition.
From the Space Needle we walked back along the waterfront to Pike Place Market where after checking out the world’s first Starbucks we had a couple of great cocktails at the Zig Zag Cafe. Dinner was a short stroll away at the Steelhead Diner. We’d been looking forward to this place for a long time, and unfortunately it didn’t live up to the billing. It was packed, but fortunately we’d booked, so straight to our table we went. Where we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally a waiter turned up, took our order, delivered it and left us without cutlery for a good 10 minutes. The food, a couple of steaks and some crab tater tots to start, was really good, but it was badly let down by the service.
Despite ending on a disappointing note, we left Seattle sure in the knowledge that it was one of our favourite big-city experiences in America. It is friendly, compact, varied and very cool. It might be tucked away in the far north-west, but don’t let that stop you checking it out. We weren’t done in Washington yet though…
We headed north out of Seattle to Everett, for one reason only: Boeing. Josh is something of a plane nut and a friend had arranged for a VIP tour of the production plant here, and it was every bit as fascinating as we’d hoped. We were lucky enough to get down on the floor of the factory where normal tours are taken to viewing platforms. Getting up close to the giant aircraft on the production line was a real treat.
From there we needed to go even further west, to the Olympic National Park, which meant a short ferry ride from Edmonds to Kingston and a pretty long drive thereafter. Our first stop in this beautiful National Park was Port Angeles, home of Bella Italia, the restaurant made famous by the Twilight movies. This most touristy of activities was actually quite fun, and the food was pretty good too (obviously Hannah had to have the speciality mushroom ravioli). Port Angeles itself is very small but there was a really cool little thrift store just down the road from the restaurant.
We carried on round the peninsula even further into Twilight country (this was not a deliberate Twilight foray!) until we came to La Push beach. La Push is a short walk from the main road, about 15 minutes or so down a muddy track, but its the best 15 minutes you’ll spend on the peninsula. The beach, when you get there, is stunning. We arrived just as the sun was setting and it’s hard to imagine a more perfect setting, it was truly spectacular. Our hotel for the evening was just a half hour drive from La Push at the Misty Valley Inn, in Forks. Unsurprisingly this B&B is set in a lovely valley and run by a very friendly couple who had a couple of great dogs when we visited. As ever with American B&Bs the breakfasts were enormous and delicious, and watching the squirrels and jays eating their own breakfast on the balcony, with the misty valley in the background, was so nice.
We were incredibly lucky with the weather in Washington, since it has a reputation for being a little on the rainy side. When the sun shines its a very pretty part of the world. You could spend weeks in this state alone, it has forests (including a rainforest!), mountains, lakes, big cities, small towns, great food, great people, great beer….we could go on, but we won’t!
Rate the State
Good for: Pretty much everything, it’s an incredibly varied State.
Bad for: Sunseekers, its quite a long way north.