2012 March – Washington-Oregon-Vancouver

Day 1 – To Vancouver, Canada

On the first day, we decided to head North to Vancouver from Seattle/Bellevue, where we were staying. As we braved the winds and incessant rain, we soaked in the greenery of the state despite the gray hue. Canada border is about 2 hours from Seattle and then Vancouver another 30 minutes from there. We have heard great stories about Vancouver’s beauty and the liveliness there. .. maybe later in the year that might be the case, but for right now all we saw was a gray and rainy city. Not to let that come in our way, we used our imagination and pretended it was summer and still enjoyed the drive around the very modern city.

Our first stop was the Banana Leaf Restaurant for lunch in Vancouver – a good mix of Malaysian and Vietnamese cuisine. From there on, we headed over to the famous Stanley Park that is spread over 1001 acres. It was opened in 1888 by David Oppenheimer in the name of Lord Stanley of Preston, the Governor-General of Canada. It is more than 10% larger than New York City’s Central Park and almost half the size of London’s Richmond Park. Driving around the park in the bitter cold and rain was not particularly fun, but we still managed to use that opportunity to jump out at every sightseeing spot (and there were quite a few of them – Siwash Rock, Totem Poles, Lost Lagoon, Second & Third Beaches) and take some good pictures. The picturesque Prospect Point at the highest spot in the park, gives a fabulous view of the bridge, the bay, the city, the trees. There is a nice little cafeteria there where we had some hot cocoa by the fireplace and enjoyed the surrounding view via the ceiling to floor glass windows.

We flew the previous night from San Antonio to Seattle, a flight of about 3 hours. As expected, Seattle was rainy and grey, unexpectedly a tad too much for the month of March though. We had expected to see the first blooms of springs there, but it was mostly snow and water everywhere. Nevertheless, that did not dampen our spirits and we set off early next morning for our adventures.

Vancouver is a very cosmopolitan city, brimming with life. Wish the weather had cooperated and we had more time to cross over the bay into Victoria Island, but we still made the best of our time there.

Day 2 – To Portland, OR

Our most favorite part of the trip happened on Day 2… the drive to Oregon. If you think Washington is green, wait till you get to Oregon. The trees are so much more densely packed and the greenery around there, anywhere, defines the word green!

Since we had a long day ahead we started early in the morning, and headed towards the shore. The interesting thing about Washington beaches is that you can drive on the beach, which is what we did at Ocean Shores, WA – about a 2.5 hour drive from the city of Seattle.

Thanks to the weather, the beach was deserted, but that didn’t deter us from spending some time driving around there, mostly staying inside the car though. Brrrrrr!

From there we headed south along the coast on the beautiful Highway 101 Road towards Seaside, OR – a boardwalk town on the coast. The small town is simply put, outstanding! With its unique boutique shops close to the beach, hotels overlooking the ocean, boardwalk area, it’s an ocean lover’s delight. Don’t forget to try the home-made fudge there in one of the stores. We decided to get off our perpetual diet and engage in some gluttony there, throwing calorie counting out the window.

Pretty close to Seaside is Cannon Beach which is a must-do if you are in the area. There are two parts of the beach – the State Park area ($5 entry fees) and the free beach area a little bit further to the west. Being short on time, we just stopped at whatever came along first and didn’t regret it for a bit. Even though it was plenty windy there too, the rugged coastline, the sumptuous hikes, the ginormous fir trees and the cawing seagulls – everything made it worth our while there. Besides getting pulled over by a cop (for speeding of course) and crossing an over-flooded creek in our rental sedan, bulk of the drive eastwards to Portland replete with beautiful flowers and scenery was positively the highlight.

By the time we got into Portland, it was getting dark but we could still see the beauty of the city in the form of downtown lights. Time to rest now… too much driving for a day!

Day 3 – Mount Hood, OR and Mount St Helens, WA

Portland is just a beautiful city overall. Apparently it does not get too much snow in winters and the then the summers are just absolutely gorgeous. We drove through the downtown area and enjoyed the view of the looming Mount Hood in the background. (I had always thought it was Mt St Helens in the pictures!). Even though it was not on our agenda, it looked so foreboding that we immediately included it in our itinerary for the day. It meant driving 2.5 hours to the East and then back, but when had that deterred us in the past?

Glad we decided to take that route because the Columbia River Gorge, running along the border of Washington and Oregon is spectacular. There are several waterfalls along the way – most of them right off the freeway with free access. In the interest of time, we stopped at only one of them, which was, coincidentally, also the best one. Multnoman Falls is about 30 miles East of Portland, and is right off 84-East. An easy .5 mile to the second base of the falls, there is so much mist in the air by the waterfalls that the trees around there seem straight out of a rainforest with heavy growths of moss on them. The top of the falls is another easy hike a mile up and must be wildly spectacular, but we decided to forego it for this time.

Further to the East and then 30 minutes south on 35S along the beautiful scenic highway is the formidable Mt. Hood, tallest peak in Oregon. The best vantage point for the giant is Timberline Lodge, along 35 S and then a two mile detour up the mountain. It is also a ski resort area, and has several gift shops, rest areas etc. Even though we were not prepared for the kind of snow that was up there… being up-close and personal with Mt. Hood was an awesome experience in itself. Right by the entrance to the road leading up to the Lodge, is another pathway that leads to the Mirror Lake which apparently gives great views of the mountain and it’s reflection in the lake. However, we were told at the visitor center that it was frozen and we needed heavy snow boots to trek in the area, so we ended up foregoing one more scenic spot there… (Moral of the story… unless you want to go skiing, visit that area in summer).

We drove back to Portland, and then took I-5 North towards Seattle. On the way we could see Mt. St. Helens off to the East. We debated whether or not we should see it up-close because by then the visitor centers had closed (It was 4 PM). Nevertheless, in the true spirit of our family vacations, we decided to take a 27-mile detour off the freeway to head to Coldwater Lake, from where apparently we could see Mt St Helens up close. However, 15 miles into the detour the road conditions became quite treacherous with slippery snow on the road and not a soul in sight (We did see some wildlife though, a herd of elk crossing the street). So, we bid adieu to close encounters with Mt St Helen, gave up the quest and turned around. Had it not been past 5 PM, we would have definitely made a dash for Mt Rainier but safety first, so we came back home to Seattle.

Day 4 – Seattle Downtown

Today was a relatively easy day for us considering the amount of driving we did in the past 3 days. Seattle downtown is indeed very picturesque, full of life and laden with tons of activities and things to see and do. Our first stop was indeed the famous Pike Place Market, where we got a chance to see the fish being “thrown” by the vendors. Fun! Fun! Swung by the First Starbucks store ever and soaked in the few sun rays that we managed to find today.

Even though Space Needle is a major attraction there, we just walked around it, instead of taking the elevator up and decided to spend more time in its lesser known neighbor, the Seattle Science Museum. It was a treat for the kids and adults alike, like any other museum. The highlight would have been the Tut Museum and Exhibit, which unfortunately we could not see as it was not set up yet (arriving for the last time in the US in May-2012).

The evening was spent at the Luther Burbank Park in Bellevue, technically a “Doggie Park” but awesomely beautiful …

All in all, a peaceful, quiet day, relative to all the other ones.

Day 5 – Mount Rainier

Back on the road again! We took the 2 hour drive to Mt. Rainier National Park on a Sunday. Even though it was a cloudy and snowy day, we took the risk and drove down to the park, hoping it would clear up. Luckily it did – even though we had to rent chains for the car at the entrance to the park as it was a requirement.

Set in the Nisqually River Basin area, Mt Rainier is the highest peak in Washington at 14,417 feet and a foreboding sight, visible from Seattle downtown on any clear day (of which there aren’t too many there!). Driving carefully along the windy snow-laden roads, we entered the park and went straight up to the Paradise Visitor Center – all roads after that were closed anyway. Even being so close to the mountain, unfortunately we could not see even a tiny glimpse of the peak. It was all overcast. We did, however, have loads of fun in the snow with the Snow-tubing and sledding etc. Needed to get out of there before it got too dark, so we did.

Day 6 – In & Around Seattle

Another easy day … we went to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks that are a complex of locks that sit at the west end of Salmon Bay, part of Seattle‘s Lake Washington Ship Canal. They are known locally as the Ballard Locks after the neighborhood to their north. The main purpose of these locks is to prevent the mixing of sea water from Puget Sound with the fresh water of the Salmon Bay. It is also used as Fish Ladder for the salmon crossing over from Puget Sound to the salmon Bay. Visitors to the locks can observe the salmons’ progress through windows along their route. Although the viewing area is open year-round, the “peak” viewing time is during spawning season, from about the beginning of July through mid-August, and so, yet again, we missed seeing the bulk of fish swimming upstream, but still managed to catch a few of them (The Sword Salmons) that frequent that area in March.

Had plans of going to the Boeing Plant north of Seattle, but decided to take it easy for the rest of the trip and chill out with family and friends instead.

5 Favorite things about the trip:

  1. Portland, OR
  2. Mount Hood, OR
  3. Cannon Beach
  4. Seaside, OR
  5. Pike Place, Seattle

Some Don’ts or recommendations:

  1. Late March is still not spring in the area. Be sure to pack very warm and expect to see tons of snow on the mountains, sometimes even on the roads leading up to the mountains
  2. If traveling in winter/early spring, take chains for your car. Rent them or buy them from the city as they will get expensive as you approach the mountains. This is a requirement in some of the park.
  3. In Stanley Park, Vancouver – parking is not free. Even though there was not a soul in sight, and it was windy and cold, we got a ticket for failing to display the parking ticket on our dashboard. We had totally missed seeing the parking meters all over the place.

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