Despite my recent wanderings, I still tend to think of myself as a fairly typical Central Californian. By that I mean, it’s sometimes very easy to never leave the state and still get the (unfounded) feeling you’ve seen everything you need to see. Growing up in Fresno, CA my family rarely traveled more than a four-hour drive from home. If you want mountains you head to the Sierras or, better yet, Yosemite. The beach? Monterey, Santa Monica, Big Sur, all within four hours. Need a big city weekend? San Francisco and LA are both about the same distance from home.
As such it’s pretty common to let the rest of the country fall into easily labeled stereotypes. Case in point, the Pacific Northwest. For as long as I can remember I’ve always thought of Oregon and Washington as more or less an extension of Northern California, with the notable exceptions of Portland and Seattle. A vast sea of pine trees…with a Space Needle somewhere near the northern most point.
Even when comparing the cites in question I was previously blinded by a (very) vague idea of two large conglomerations of outdoorsy people, one set that likes to ride bicycles and one set that gets rained on a lot. (I’ll let you guess which one’s which.) Despite having passed through both cities at one point or another in my life, all it had ever amounted to was a drive-by sightseeing, so my stereotypes remained intact. That is, until I had the opportunity to take a little road trip through the Pacific Northwest a couple weeks ago. (Or as I liked to call it, Northern Northern California.)
There are an awful lot of similarities in the scenic landscapes of the three states, but all that really means is there’s a surplus of breathtaking scenery in the top-left US. There are more beautiful evergreens than a team of professional stick-shakers could ever shake said sticks at and the shorelines make decades of accomplished coastal landscape painters look like unimaginative junior college dropouts.
This does, however, in some twisted way, mean that the stereotypes in question here have some solid basis in reality. But the same is not true for those notable metropolises (metropolii?), Portland and Seattle. True, there are a ton of bikes in Portland and Seattle does get more than its fair share of rain, so if you were going to ask me which one I liked more before this road trip got started it would have been a no-brainer. My bicycle is my most prized possession and I don’t like being wet unless I’m in swim trucks.
That was before I got slapped in the face with a heavy dose of reality and a maple bacon donut.
Portland is weird. Weird in a good way…but weird nonetheless. In a four hour period I managed to get lost on their roadways no less than three times, get hit up for food by a troupe of homeless kids (But it had to be vegan. I know, kinda picky for homeless kids, right?), had a beer on the back patio of a local pub with my dog and, most importantly, ate a maple bacon donut at a hallmark of Portland dining, Voodoo Doughnuts. (The donut was good, the shop smelled like rotten feet.) Overall, totally not what I was expecting.
Seattle on the other hand was a clean and bustling city, surrounded on three sides by mountains and looking out on the Pacific to the West. It reminded me of San Francisco…if San Francisco were cleaner and less claustrophobia inducing. In the couple of days I had the opportunity to spend there I was shocked by how nice the weather turned out to be and pedestrian/dog friendly the town in general seemed. (Which isn’t to say I didn’t see a drug deal go down first hand within an hour of landing on Seattle soil, they just seemed much cleaner than the average drug dealer I tend to picture. So, there’s that.)
Suffice it to say, Seattle is my new favorite town in Northern Northern California.
Easily one of the two most amazing bookstores I’ve ever been to and WELL worth the many hours you’ll end up wandering around their stacks. (The other amazing bookstore being The Strand in Manhattan.)
Yes, the shop is dirty and in a nasty part of town and yes it smells like unwashed bodies inside but you’re missing out on a cultural phenomenon if you don’t check it out and grab one of their delicious donuts.
A dog friendly brew pub with plenty of excellent beverages on tap and a bevy of furry friends out back sniffing each other’s butts (I’m talking about the dogs.)
Don’t miss out on one of the best bowls of clam chowder on the waterfront. Frankly, the waterfront is the main attraction here though. Take some time to walk around!
This one’s a no-brainer. You’d be missing out on too much if you skipped this place. From fish tossing to fresh fruit to live music to the original Starbucks it’s all within a block.
I have never seen so many great happy hour specials in such a close space before in all my travels. Do your homework and you can find exactly what you’re looking for at a great price. (There’s even a couple dog friendly joints in town!)
Brett normally can be found blogging at amtrekker.com.