I’m not a fan of the phrase “bucket list.” I’m not sure why. Maybe because a bucket seems so small. There’s no way a bucket can contain everything I’d like to see, do, and experience.
But, I suppose if I had a bucket with a finite number of items, a Pacific coast road trip would be in it, near the top, waiting to be poured into my memories.
(So maybe a bucket list isn’t finite after all, because once you scoop an item out, there’s room for more. Hmmm.)
I’ve now scooped out that west coast road trip. It is no longer something I want to do, but something I have done.
In one of my more impulsive moments, I took a one-way flight to San Diego, rented an SUV, and drove north until I reached Seattle, whence I took Amtrak’s Empire Builder back to Chicago.
Literally, planes, trains, and automobiles.
Also, crazy. Exhausting. Epic.
I’d only been home for two weeks after my 14-day Chicago to Denver road trip when I headed to O’Hare Airport, but after surviving cancer in the middle of a pandemic, and not wanting to waste any time, I thought, why not?
Following the road along the Pacific Ocean is one of the most scenic drives in the United States and in the world, with sandy beaches, rocky beaches, cliffs, bluffs, stacks, blowholes, seals, sea lions, rain forests, giant trees, giant bridges, and so much more.
Life is short. Take the trip.
Frankly, I’m still processing everything, but I can tell you that this drive along the Pacific Ocean is one of the best things I’ve done.
Would you like to follow along?
Pacific Coast Road Trip Route
First things first: my route. It’s pretty simple. I drove as close to the Pacific Ocean as possible.
My trip began in San Diego and ended in Seattle:
- US-5 from La Jolla to Dana Point
- CA SR-1 – the Pacific Coast Highway – from Dana Point in Orange County to Leggett in Mendocino County (portions merge with US 101)
- US 101 from Leggett to Seattle
Pacific Coast Road Trip, Day 1
Start: San Diego
End: El Capitan State Beach, Santa Barbara
I arrived in San Diego on a Tuesday night. The flight was late, but not by much. By 11:11pm I was eating Del Taco queso nachos in bed.
Two comments on that: one, between Del Taco and Taco John, I’m ruined for Taco Bell forever.
And two, although I tried not to drip any nacho gunk on the bedspread, it wouldn’t have mattered. Let’s just say that hotel was a decent place to sleep, and that’s it.
Except I didn’t sleep. Not much. Was I too excited? Nervous? Overtired?
Probably all three. I knew I had a lot of errands to take care of in the morning and I’d have a long drive ahead of me.
I did not know how long.
I woke up at 4:45 am on Wednesday morning. I tried writing, but all I could think about was everything I needed to do.
Plus, the room had no coffee maker! Travesty!
By 6:30 I’d taken my first sunrise picture, and by 7:00 I was on one of San Diego’s beautiful beaches. That first feeling of toes-in-sand is the ultimate stress-reducer.
After watching some southern California surfers wait for waves and catch a few, and then strolling around piles of freshly deposited kelp, I headed to the dollar store.
I would be car camping for four nights, and possibly seven. Instead of disposables, I bought inexpensive utensils, etc. I could either pack them or donate them before boarding the train the next Thursday in Seattle.
Then, Walmart. The thrills continue! I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find a lantern, something to pad the back of the SUV, a cooler, and deciding whether to buy a one-burner propane stove.
No luck on the lantern. I got an $11 sleeping bag pad (to go under my sleeping bag. Why it took me so long to figure that out, I’ll never know), picked up an Igloo on sale for $23, and skipped the stove. I also stocked up on beverages and ice.
Properly outfitted, I drove to La Jolla to meet my friend Sarah. We had a delightful lunch at Great Maple, kvetching, commiserating, and catching up on hugs. It’s good to have friends who don’t need to be constant to be continuous.
And now, my Pacific coast highway road trip could begin!
There was no parking at La Jolla Cove, or anywhere in the coastal town, which meant I kept going.
I took I-5 up to Oceanside for a hand pie from High Pies. You might recognize the house; it’s prominently featured in Top Gun.
There was a line. No surprise, since their grand opening was the previous Friday and Maverick opened that week.
Plus, as I discovered, they make each pie to order.
Thirty minutes for a $3 apple pie the size of a playing card. Worth it?
This time, yes.
Finally, back on the road. It was about 2:30pm and I had a lot of ground to cover.
The only stops I made were a quick dip into Trader Joe’s in Crystal Cove for provisions (surprisingly, the prices were the same as at home), a gas station to use the bathroom, and another gas station to fill the tank.
(Don’t ask me how much it was to fill half a tank unless you want to make me cry. And you’re not mean like that, are you?)
Related: How to use GasBuddy to save money on fuel
Although the drive took hours, it was fine. I stayed on CA-1, driving through Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Venice Beach, all the beaches, through Los Angeles, and past LAX.
After several hours, however, I was more than ready to drive a few miles without stop lights.
That happened as soon as I took the curve past Santa Monica Pier. The road, and the vista, opened up.
Sort of. It was cloudy, and would remain cloudy the rest of the day.
The upside was I didn’t feel bad about skipping every opportunity to stick my toes in the sand, again.
It also meant missing the sunset at my beach state park campground wouldn’t be an issue. Sure, the sun set, I just couldn’t see it, even if I had gotten there in time.
I pulled into my spot around 9 or 9:30. It took a bit of time to get arranged, but I was finally reading in “bed” by around 10:30. I slept fairly well, considering.
Was it a good first day? Yes. It did what it needed to do.
Pacific Coast Road Trip, Day 2.
Start: El Capitan State Beach, Santa Barbara
End: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur
Because I’d gotten to my campsite so late the night before, I had no idea what the campground looked like.
I’d specifically booked a beach campground so I could see the sunset, but that didn’t work out. I’d hoped to get up early and explore.
I halfway succeeded. I was up early alright, but it was drizzly and generally icky, so instead I drove around the park to see what I could see.
It was foggy enough that, even though I could hear the ocean and knew it was practically close enough to fall into, I couldn’t see it.
That meant one thing: time to hit the road.
CA-1 curved inland. Enough people had suggested visiting Solvang that I took the whopping 2.5 mile detour to mini-Denmark.
I’m normally a black coffee gal, but Solvang seemed like a fancy drink kind of town, so I ordered a latte laced with Valrhona ganache at Good Seed Coffee Boutique.
I drank the almost-too-pretty-to-drink drink, wrote a bit, and then got back on the road.
Next stop: Santa Maria for some ice and snacks.
Then San Luis Obispo. I found a pleasant park with a playground and a gazebo, ate my leftovers from lunch the day before, then scouted local breweries.
Antigua was a couple blocks away, so I popped in for a flight. If I lived in SLO, I’d be there all the time: Airy vibe, the most comfortable barstools I’ve ever sat on, and blues music as the soundtrack.
Bambi Banys, who owns Antigua with her husband, was sitting at the end of the bar and she told me that if she’s going to be there every day, she wants to be comfortable and to hear music she can listen to for twelve straight hours.
Makes me want to be there every day, too.
And the beer? Delicious. I got a flight and loved the Hazy Baby IPA so much I bought a four-pack. At $16, it’s not cheap, but it’s worth it.
Next: driving. And driving. And driving. CA-1 angled back towards the coast and the sun I had enjoyed during my lunch and beer break hid behind clouds. That’s OK. It was still stunning.
I skipped Hearst Castle in San Simeon (only because of timing), but pulled over when I saw a sign for elephant seals at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. If you want to see seals, this is where to find them.
(They kinda stink and they sound like they’re farting. A lot. Yes, I giggled, because I’m 12.)
Bambi suggested I stop at Ragged Point, so I did. It’s a quirky resort, gas station, cafe, and overlook.
The site was formerly part of the Hearst Ranch. In the early 1960s, a couple of intrepid road trippers, Wiley and Mildred Ramey, bought the land from a carnival owner and then built a motel.
I got out, used the restrooms that are, thankfully, open to the public, oohed at the view, and resumed my journey.
It was already quarter ‘til five and I had no idea how long it would take to get to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
Time and distances elongate on the PCH. It’s a function of narrow, winding roads and the need to pull over at every WOW, and there are a lot of WOWs, especially in California’s central coast.
I finally made it to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and it was still light out. The ranger told me my campsite, which was the last one available when I booked it the day before I left Illinois, was her favorite.
Located in between the Pine Ridge Trail and Post Creek, it felt like I had the woods to myself.
After a quick trip to Big Sur Taphouse to let my husband and mom know I was alive, I settled in for the night.
Settling in meant building my first ever campfire. 52 years old, and I finally built a campfire!
I popped open the back of the SUV, sat inside, and had a picnic from items I’d picked up at Trader Joe’s: cheese, charcuterie, and a tomato mozzarella salad with a glass of Vinho Verde.
Day 1 had been long. Day 2 was, too, but for different reasons. After a day of gorgeous views, windy roads, time to relax, and learning a new skill in a bucket-list place, I knew I’d rest well.
What would Day 3 bring?
Pacific Coast Road Trip, Day 3
Start: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur
End: Samuel P. Taylor State Park, Marin County
Sleeping on a thin pad and a sleeping bag in the back of an SUV is not the most comfortable thing in the world, but when you wake up in Big Sur, achy joints are no big deal.
I considered starting another fire – because I could! – but I knew I had a date with a friend in Sausalito at 3:30.
Instead, I hiked for a bit up the Pine Ridge Trail and around the campground, then took a quick shower.
Quick, as in three-and-a-half minutes.
California’s in a drought, and a dollar gets you one token, which turns on the water. The water was hot, the pressure was good, and the time limit made sure I didn’t waste any of either.
I was soon on the road and passed Bixby Bridge, otherwise known as the bridge everybody (pronounced e-ver-ee-bo-dy) wants to see, wants to get a picture of, wants to say “Look at me! I was there!”
Including me. Naturally. I got my own picture with the Big B and then I was off, again, winding and wending my way north.
My camping fee at Pfeiffer provided free access to other California State Parks. Since I had limited time, as I left Big Sur a ranger told me to skip Andrew Molera and go to Point Lobos State Park instead. “It’s amazing,” he said.
He recommended Whalers Cove and the cabin museum, which tells the story of the small port, the abalone industry, and how A. M. Allan rescued Point Lobos from a fate as a subdivision.
I drove around Carmel a bit, but that seemed like a town that requires a few hours, so I kept going and stopped in Monterey.
I found a free parking spot two blocks from the historic square. Both the Pacific House Museum and the Custom House are free, so I got a quick dose of history before taking a few moments to listen to seals bark at each other. Those suckers are loud!
Soon I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, a thrilling experience. I don’t know if it was its iconic beauty or the length that was so exciting – although I knew a bridge I’d take a few days later would make that crossing seem short.
Five minutes later I pulled into Fish in Sausalito and hugged a friend I hadn’t seen since my wedding seven years ago.
Fish tacos and a kolsch for me, fish and chips and lemonade for him. He’s another friend I rarely talk to, but it was like no time had passed.
I seem to have a lot of friendships like that, where the communication is intermittent but the affection is ongoing. Those low-maintenance relationships are a comfort.
After a long, lively conversation, I continued northwest. He’d told me the route would take me through cute town after cute town. I felt like I was, as my friend and fellow author Bull Garlington calls it, “quainting.” (Read his book The Full English.)
I passed the Indian restaurant my friend had recommended, still full from our late lunch/early dinner, and pulled into Samuel P. Taylor State Park.
I didn’t know who Samuel P. Taylor was when I booked the last campsite available the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, but I’d find out in the morning.
The campsite arrangement was odd. I parked on the road, then walked down a dirt path into a site shaded by towering redwoods along Lagunitas Creek.
It was chilly, but because I had no camp chair and the stone picnic table was several feet from the deep fire pit, I skipped building a fire.
By 7:30 I’d decided not to head back out for samosas and garlic naan and curled up with an Elizabeth Peters book and a handful of Hershey’s miniatures.
Pacific Coast Road Trip, Day 4
Begin: Samuel P. Taylor State Park, Marin County
End: Sue-Meg State Park, Trinidad
I climbed out the passenger side rear door, strapped on my hiking boots, and went for a walk. I’d noticed a short trail on the campground map and headed in that direction, walking through the campground.
Redwoods provided shade and each spacious site had a large picnic table, a deep fire pit, a hearth, and a box to store firewood.
I found the trail. Interpretive signs introduced me to Samuel P. Taylor, an early entrepreneur who built the first paper mill on the Pacific coast in 1856.
Taylor turned redwoods into newsprint, supplying every San Francisco newspaper. I passed ruins to a bridge and then turned back.
Surprisingly, my cell service worked. I checked in and ate a bagel with lox, which was distinctly appropriate because salmon spawn in Lagunitas Creek, which flowed past my campsite, before driving to Point Reyes National Seashore.
The visitors’ center displayed information on the flora and fauna and man’s impact on both, and the area’s early prominence in butter and cheese production.
The most influential family was the Shafters, who divided their land into tenant farms and labeled them A through Z.
I would see some of these historic ranches on my drive into the clouds to the lighthouse… which I did not see due to said clouds.
Plus, it was the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and there was no place to park, even with the blah weather.
Was it worth the extra hour of driving time to get to a lighthouse I didn’t get to see?
I got back on CA-1 and followed it up the eastern side of Tomales Bay, whose waters are chockfull of oysters.
I passed several “shuckeries” (don’t know if that’s what they’re called, but that’s what I’m calling them) before stopping at a pull-out.
I parked behind a pickup truck. Two men stood by the open tailgate, pulling oysters out of a plastic bag and using a knife with the tag still on it to shuck giant shells.
It looked like one was instructing the other how to do it. He poured mignonette sauce on it, slurped it down, then popped open an IPA.
It seemed like a quintessential Tomales Bay scene.
CA-1 cut inland, then returned to the ocean at Bodega Bay. I drove through the Sonoma Coast, inundated with beauty.
The sun shone most of the rest of the afternoon, giving me a blue sky over the blue sea. I pulled over again and again and again, breathing in the salty air and soaking in the rhythmic waves.
I drove through Mendocino and Fort Bragg. Finally, at Leggett, CA-1 ended and I joined US-101. I’d take that coastal road the rest of the way.
It was 7:20pm and I hadn’t eaten since my bagel and lox that morning, so I found the last California In-N-Out Burger in Eureka. Like many Midwesterners, it’s my tradition to stop at the chain when I’m out west.
The burger’s fine, but why I really stop is the fries. Freshly cut, not greasy, they’re freaking addicting.
It was after eight when I pulled into my campsite at Sue-Meg (formerly Patrick’s Point) State Park.
Located at the entrance to the campground and with a long pull through and no trees, my spot was utilitarian. No problem. I’d be sleeping soon, anyway. I walked two minutes to the Rim Trail and overlooked Agate Beach before turning in for my last night on the California coast.
Pacific Coast Road Trip, Day 5
Start: Sue-Meg State Park, Trinidad, CA
End: Florence, OR
Location, location, location.
(I know. That’s trite. But I was TIRED.)
My campsite at Sue-Meg State Park near Trinidad may have been nondescript, but its location made it a prime spot.
The drizzle continued after an overnight rain. I donned my jacket and walked the fifty feet to the trail.
Plants quickly blocked the clear path; water dripped from every leaf, frond, and flower.
The rain made the forest a neon sign. Moss covered bark, and ferns and leaves tried to block the way.
LUSH! it screamed.
VERDANT! it proclaimed.
The trail’s name fit: it followed a rim high above the thrashing waves.
Can you guess what I did next? If you answered: “Drove north,” ding ding ding!
Soon I entered Redwood National Park. I stopped at the visitor center which, helpfully, had signs with trail locations, difficulty, and length, as well as which ones were part of one of three northern California State Parks (and therefore required an additional fee).
I chose the trail that led to where the park began: Lady Bird Johnson Grove. It’s a short trail to the site where the conservationist dedicated the park back in 1968.
Short, but mighty. I have never seen anything like those trees in my life. A Smart car could park inside one. These were Mother Nature’s skyscrapers.
I didn’t know where I was staying that night, but I knew it would be in a hotel.
My hips ached. I needed a shower. I needed to not have to put shoes on every time I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
And I wanted to be around people.
Mom called, and since I was driving and needed to focus on the road, I asked her to find a brewery for me in Coos Bay. She did, and I had a destination.
Even though Sue-Meg State Park to Coos Bay was less than two-hundred miles, it took me seven and a half hours. One look at the photos will tell you why, and I didn’t even stop at every pull-out and overlook.
By five I was at 7 Devils Brewery and Tap Room drinking a McCullough Mocha Stout (at mom’s request. She’s got great taste.).
I met Will, who’d moved to the area from Baton Rouge to work as a golf pro at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. His 30th birthday was approaching and he told me I was the first to wish him a happy one.
I then went to their Waterfront Alehouse location and met a young man traveling the opposite direction on the 101.
We gave each other tips on must-see spots and then went our separate ways, he to camp overnight in a parking lot, and me to a motel in Florence.
As I neared the bridge into the coastal town, one of the fattest rainbows I’ve seen led the way.
After four days in California, I spent the night in Oregon. The next night I’d be in Washington. Only two and a half more days and my Pacific coast road trip would end.
Pacific Coast Road Trip, Day 6
Start: Florence, OR
End: Long Beach, WA
In 2018, Jim and I spent the night in a crappy motel in Florence, Oregon, and then drove up the coast. We didn’t know where we’d be that night, but we figured it would be somewhere near the Columbia River.
On this solo trip, I stayed in a slightly better crappy motel in Florence and then drove up the coast.
It’s the same drive, the same road, but it most certainly was not the same trip.
As I say throughout my presentation on planning road trips, each one is unique.
Even if you drive the same road and make the same stops, you’re not the same person you were the last time, and the place will have changed, too.
Sometimes it’s imperceptible. Sometimes there’s a welcome sense of familiarity.
Others, and this happened to me, you experience a different part, you see another side.
On our Oregon coast road trip, we found the last open campsite after frantically searching for anyplace to stay. Talk about stressful! I didn’t want a repeat performance, so before leaving Florence I booked a motel in Long Beach, Washington.
After a hot shower and a warm breakfast, I was on my way by nine. It was raining. Again.
I knew it would be a long day. There’s simply so much to see; the young man I’d met the night before had the right idea when he scheduled four days for the Oregon leg of his trip.
I had two.
Because of that, even though I wanted to see Heceta Head Lighthouse again, I satisfied myself with the overlook.
A few miles north of Florence the sun came out, and after a quick admiration of the Muriel O. Ponsler Memorial State Scenic Viewpoint, I stopped at Thor’s Well.
We passed right by it in 2018, even though we’d been on the lookout for the landmark.
Turns out it’s not marked from the road. I lucked out by pulling over at an overlook south of Cape Perpetua Visitor Center and saw a small sign.
For forty minutes I soaked in the majesty of the ocean as she picked and chiseled the rocky shore.
I scampered over basalt, marveled at the lime-green moss, gasped at the thousands of California mussels that clung like toddlers as waves tried their best to dislodge them.
I could have played for hours. But, since I did have a room that night, I needed to keep going.
I skipped the visitor center and instead viewed the Devil’s Churn overlook across the street.
My next stop was Yachats and an overlook of the Cape Perpetua Marine Protected Area.
Then, Seal Rock. The unincorporated community is named for the Seal Rocks, which are named for the pinnipeds that nest there.
Clam chowder called my name and an hour later I was in Newport, one of Oregon’s scenic coastal towns. Within a few minutes, I had a cup of world famous Mo’s in the original location with a Rogue kolsch back.
The soup was rich and full of clams, which made a cup the perfect size.
Next: Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.
This headland extends a mile into the Pacific and is the site of the 1873 Yaquina Head Light, previously known as Cape Foulweather Lighthouse.
Admission, which includes the well-designed interpretive center, is $7. Because it’s a federal site, you can also use an America the Beautiful Access Pass.
I purchased one of those on my way in and picked it up on my way out.
After a stop at Devil’s Punchbowl, I kept going until I reached Tillamook. I don’t care how many times I drive the Oregon coast, I will always stop at Tillamook.
Last time I went they were building the new visitor center; now it’s open with a museum and large windows so you can see the operations.
I got my huckleberry ice cream fix and then, once again, got back in the car and drove north.
A ranger at Yaquina Head suggested visiting Seaside, so that’s where I stopped next. I wanted to see Haystack Rock again, but I wanted to see a sunset, darnit, so I needed to keep going.
Seaside is a festive town with the feel of a carnival.
I visited the Lewis & Clark Salt Works before finding a spot a couple blocks from the beach.
Bubbles floated over the top of a statue of the explorers; a man dipped two sticks and some string into a bucket of sudsy water, and when he lifted the contraption, the liquid became shimmering balls.
Stores advertised taffy and $2 ice cream, but I’d already had my frosty treat.
I crossed the interminable Astoria Bridge over the Columbia River into Washington. The sun dropped lower and lower, but I knew I still had a couple hours until it would set, so I made a quick stop at Middle Village, another Lewis & Clark Site, before checking in at Inn at the Sea.
Dinner options on Memorial Day in Long Beach, Washington, are scarce. Long Beach Tavern was one of the only places open at 7:30pm.
Fortunately, it was right next to my motel. I ordered bay cocktail shrimp and a Lighthouse pizza with jalapenos.
The shrimp came out quickly, but the pizza didn’t.
As I waited I had a nice conversation with a woman who’d moved to the town with her husband a few months before. They wanted a simpler life, so they sold most of their stuff and moved to the beach.
Shortly after they moved they both got COVID and had to isolate in their tent for two months. Sounds hellish, but she was upbeat and seemed to take it all in stride.
I checked the time and started to fret. I did not want to miss that sunset! The bartender knew that was my goal, and she told me they’d put the order in, but the kitchen had missed it. She said if I drove, I could go watch the sunset and the pizza would be ready when I returned.
I made it! Thank goodness you can drive on that Long Beach, because that’s the only way I would have been able to see it.
Six days on the coast and I finally saw a gorgeous, colorful sunset.
An hour later I curled up with my laptop and my pizza. I’d left Florence thirteen hours before.
And what a good thirteen hours they were.
Pacific Coast Road Trip, Day 7
Start: Long Beach, WA
End: Olympic National Park
One thing I tried not to do on this trip was backtrack, but when you’re ten minutes from a place called Cape Disappointment, you make an exception.
I finished my leftover pizza and wrote a bit before driving to the beach, and then driving on the beach.
Even though driving on the beach is permitted, it felt wrong, and I didn’t go far.
Instead, I found the World’s Largest Skillet and the World’s Largest Chopsticks before driving south.
Captain John Meares christened Cape Disappointment’s evocative name in 1788 because he couldn’t find the mouth of the river that would later be called the Columbia.
The park has a Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and the oldest lighthouse on the Pacific coast, but I knew it would be a long drive so I skipped both.
Looking back, I wish I’d taken the extra hour, but I planned to camp in Olympic National Park that night and I didn’t know how busy it would be.
I did stop at Beard’s Hollow for a quick overlook, and then visited the other lighthouse.
North Head Lighthouse was completed in 1898. It’s only two miles from the Cape Disappointment lighthouse, but was necessary to keep southbound ships safe from the Columbia’s savage currents.
Cape Disappointment is a Washington State Park, and as such, a Discover Pass is required for access. A one-day pass is $10, which provides entrance to all Washington State Parks for the day.
It’s a quick walk past the Lighthouse Keepers’ residences, which are now vacation rentals, to the white tower.
On the way back to the parking lot, I noticed a snail crossing the path. I’d seen a slug the day before at Cape Blanco; as Jim said, this was just a slug with a house.
A family was reading the interpretive signs and I approached the dad. “I don’t know if your children will be interested, but there’s a snail crossing the path up there.”
Zoom! The three girls made a beeline. I kept going, but turned to see them all hunched over the gastropod.
I left the peninsula and followed 101 through Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and around Willapa Bay.
I began seeing clearcut hills and log-laden trucks. In Raymond, I found their destination: Weyerhaeuser lumber mill.
Seeing those logging trucks and all that cut timber dismayed me, until I learned that 100% of the company’s forests – and they’re the largest private landowner in North America – are certified to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and that 100% of their timberlands are reforested.
Half an hour north, I came across an historical marker for the Cosmopolis Treaty Grounds.
The marker recognizes the site where chiefs of the Quinaults and Quillayute tribes entered into a treaty with Washington Territory Governor Stevens in a process that began in 1854. Congress ratified the treaty five years later.
That sign, plus the signs I’d seen the day before declaring the land north of the Columbia River was unceded Chinook territory, makes me want to learn more.
One thing I did learn is that the Chinook are an unrecognized tribe and have been fighting for recognition for decades.
Soon I crossed a river called Humptulips.
I had randy visions of inappropriate greenhouse behavior, but the origin of the name is more PG.
According to the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation’s Revisiting Washington, humptulips is a “Quinault word Ho-to-la-bixh, meaning “hard to pole.”
Soon I entered Olympic National Forest, exiting towards Lake Quinalt and the Rain Forest Nature Trail.
There’s a parking fee of $5, but the America the Beautiful pass I’d purchased the day before covered it.
The short trail wound through groves of Douglas Firs, some as old as 900 years. Interpretive signs explained what a coastal temperate rain forest is, the wildlife that calls it home, what other plants grow in the environment, and how fallen trees fuel life, among others. I also got a whiff of the aptly named skunk cabbage.
Down the road another trail led to the World’s Record Sitka Spruce. It would be one of three giant trees I’d see that afternoon.
Another was simply named Big Cedar, and the third was the World’s Largest Red Cedar.
On the map, I saw a place named Forks. What better place to stop to eat? After an elk burger and a Silver City red ale at Blakeslees Bar & Grill, I continued following 101.
While I would have loved to go all the way to Neah Bay at the very tip of the state, I simply didn’t have the time or the energy to add another hour.
For a solid week I’d driven hours each day on winding, narrow roads. I was exhausted.
After a quick stop along Lake Crescent and another in Port Angeles, I entered Olympic National Park.
They didn’t open campground reservations until June 2. It was May 31. Would I be able to find a site?
Um, yeah. That wasn’t a problem. A ranger at the Kalaloch Ranger Station suggested Heart O’ the Hills Campground.
Located just past the entrance, it was wide open. There are several loops, and two of them were completely empty.
I backed into my lush space, built a fire, and began cleaning up what had been my home for the past seven days.
Essentially my road trip was over, although I still had one more leg to go.
Pacific Coast Road Trip, Day 8
Start: Olympic National Park
End: Seattle, WA
This was it! The final bit of my Pacific coast road trip. I didn’t have far to go.
Technically, I didn’t have far to go any single day, but this time I wouldn’t be stopping every few miles.
The last day’s drive would be even shorter than I’d originally thought. Instead of following 101 down to Olympia and up through Tacoma, I’d get to Seattle a much faster way:
So now my trip would be planes, trains, automobiles, and a boat.
I packed up, rolling my sleeping bag and stuffing it into my suitcase. I put the hammock, which I hadn’t been able to use a single time, in as well.
There were several items I had to get rid of. I gave my unopened 2.5 gallon jug of water to a family and my sleeping pad to the camp host. I left three lovely pieces of firewood in the pit, a gift for whomever used the campsite next.
After filling up the tank on Bainbridge Island I went straight to the dock.
The ferry left at 11:30; I arrived at 11:23. I couldn’t have timed it better.
Thirty minutes later, I rolled off the boat and into Seattle. That morning I’d switched my rental car return location from the airport to an Avis next to the Space Needle.
Tip: if you’re returning a car to that location, pull into the garage entrance off John Street and park on P2 or P3.
It’s not marked anywhere, so I pulled into a paid parking lot across the street, where a shirtless man with his shorts and underwear hanging halfway down his backside stumbled around with a nearly-empty bottle of Jack.
After he headed towards me, I pulled out and found another place to stop so I could call and find out where to put the car.
I checked into my hotel, returned the car, and walked the three blocks to Hyatt Place. (Shirtless man had been replaced by a security officer.)
Ah, to be still! To be clean! I took a long, hot, shower, then began organizing my bags because the next day I’d board the Empire Builder.
After emptying the cooler of the last few items into the refrigerator, I wiped it down and gave it to the bellhop. I couldn’t take it with me, and it had only been $23. I saved much more than that because I could keep food and drink cold.
Dinner was poppers fried in beef tallow at The 5 Point Cafe, a dive bar that opened in 1929.
I ordered a Monorail sandwich to go, planning to eat half of it for lunch the next day.
Then, a pint at TeKu. If I’d had even slightly more energy I might have stayed longer; that place has cooler upon cooler of craft beer, but no way, no how.
I still had at least 45 hours on a train in my future.
What a trip. What a whirlwind.
Would I do it again?
Yes; I’d dearly love to revisit and spend much more time at countless places along the coast, and I’d love to see them with my husband.
But, I wouldn’t do it on this schedule. This much solo driving in such a compact period of time was intense. A blast, but intense.
The most important question is: Am I glad I did it?
Am I glad I made the crazy decision to fly into San Diego and drive up the entire coast by myself in eight days?