After jaunting around BC and visiting some of the places around Vancouver, we still had some time to kill before our apartment became available. Since we had a brand new motor, we decided to head South of the 49th parallel and explore some more of Washington State and Oregon.
I have been to Washington State many, many times and most often the destination was Seattle for a bit of culture, shopping and to gaze at the space needle. Even in the last 14 years living in London, we would quite often find the airfare from Heathrow to Seattle was much cheaper than travelling direct to Vancouver, so would use that airport to arrive and then travel the 2 hours North to British Columbia. We planned to stop in Seattle this time, but wanted to travel first through rural Washington down to the Oregon Coast.
The US/Canada border is unusually quiet these days. In Michigan earlier this year when we crossed through the busiest land crossing between the two countries, the Detroit/Windsor tunnel, there weren’t really any delays even in the busiest summer season. Going through the West Coast Peace Arch crossing, which is a beautiful park adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, it was not much different. No one was really there. Time of year helps, but with the Canadian dollar in the doldrums, Canadians are not going South as much to get their gas and groceries. It’s not so cheap anymore.
Our first stop was Bellingham, a lovely, quintessential American town, which is a real locals place that has great coffee shops and restaurants. It’s the kind of place that I could see myself settling in, and property is certainly much cheaper than what is going on a half hour North of the border. We had a quick stop at one of our favourite coffee shops, Woods Coffee, and a little walk along the beach before heading further South.
We headed onto Whidbey Island in the North part of Puget Sound in order to catch a ferry across the bay to the town of Port Townsend, which turned out to be a well heeled centre full of weekenders from Seattle. The town is full of early 20th century brick buildings and old painted murals, indicating its past as a remote outpost on the Olympic peninsula, which is quite a contrast to the modern glass buildings that occupy most of the West Coast. We happened to visit when the town was hosting its annual film festival, which is quite a big deal, so there were all sorts of culture vultures wandering the streets, wearing their film passes on brightly coloured lanyards.
Due to the film festival, we were regulated to one of the only hotels available, which was on the outskirts of town and resembled the The Overlook Hotel from The Shining. We had to traipse through huge cavernous communal areas, adorned with fireplaces and random bits of furniture to get to our room. And there seemed to be an absence of any other guests….should have checked TripAdvisor before booking!
Surviving our stay, we were glad to get on the road to the Oregon Coast. I had been to the Portland area before and travelled through the I-5 corridor to California, but visiting the coastal towns was new. We cut towards Astoria and soon as we crossed into Oregon but decided to stay a little further South in a coastal resort called Seaside.
As we drove into Seaside, we could see the sand dunes along the boardwalk but not the beach itself. As soon as we got out of the car, we heard the roar of the ocean. Following the sound, we scrambled over the boardwalk sinking into the soft sand, and were presented with one of the largest and most beautiful beaches we had ever seen. We both stood awestruck, with our mouths open as we stared towards the water, just as the sun was dropping into the Pacific. Amazing.
Seaside itself is a bit of kitschy, old style resort where you can get your fish and chips for a beach picnic, or play games in the arcade, which is a bit of fun. However, for some sophistication, we headed 10 minutes South to Cannon Beach, which is another stunning beach, alongside a lovely town reminiscent of a Cape Cod village, which was another surprise. Clapboard homes surround a quaint town centre full of restaurants and coffee shops. Very unexpected.
This part of the Oregon Coast was the setting for The Goonies, and the area really plays that connection up. The kids in the film lived in Astoria, and end up at Cannon Beach, so it is common to see the odd Goonie fan taking pictures of filming locations.
It was the scenery that entranced me, I could have walked along the beaches all day, listening to the sound of the waves. I have been to the beaches in California, and in my opinion Oregon’s are far, far better.
It was a shame to leave the Oregon coast after only a few days, but I’m sure we will be back. We had to get going back North for a stop in Seattle before heading home. Seattle is a wonderful city, far grittier than Vancouver, but somehow a bit more accessible, and certainly shares the Pacific Northwest ethos. We only had a short time on this trip, but we always stop in some favourite haunts, including Pike Place Market, where fish stall workers toss salmon to each other and sell enormous Alaskan king crab. It’s a great setting that overlooks Puget Sound which is full boat traffic and ferries travelling to the islands.
After this short American visit, I just have to mention politics briefly ( I know, sorry), but this election is doing strange things to our Southern neighbours. I would consider Washington and Oregon to be very liberal places in the American spectrum; yet as soon as we crossed the border there were huge Trump signs on the farmland adjacent to the highway. Chatting to a shop owner in Seaside, he unleashed a spew of venom towards Obama, and as a male, was appalled at having to contribute towards women’s healthcare, and then proclaimed that he was voting for Trump (he did admit that Trump is a maniac, so that’s something).
Watching the debates and American media over the last couple weeks, it’s very clear that Americans are faced with an difficult choice to make; at this point neither candidate is preferable. It’s been entertaining, but frightening as well – who knew The Donald would get this far?
We’ll be watching from a safe distance to see how this plays out.