An Epic Road Trip Out West
In search of the best national parks, coastal drives, and craft brews, Michaela Trimble takes to the Wild West on an epic road trip from Seattle to Lake Tahoe.
Days 1-2: Drove 169 miles from Seattle to Portland
Upon touching down in Seattle, I hopped in my rental car and booked it two and a half hours to Portland. First stop? Hotel deLuxe, just steps from the city’s upscale Pearl District and Nob Hill neighborhoods. The swank stay is a tribute to Hollywood’s Golden Age, from the glam decor (antique Czech crystal chandeliers, vintage film photos) to the vinyl-rimmed bar at the sultry Driftwood Room, which dates back to 1954.
Coava Coffee Roasters Brew Bar + Bee Local
I kicked off the following morning with a killer cup of joe at Coava Coffee Roasters Brew Bar in the burgeoning Central Southeast Industrial district. In typical Portland fashion, the single-origin beans are sourced from local farmers and co-ops. Fueled up, I skipped over to Bee Local, one of the leaders in the small-batch honey scene that’s gaining traction across America. The raw honey comes from some pretty weird places (this is Portland after all) like a hive in founder Damian Magista’s backyard as well as an urban apiary on the rooftop of the fine-dining restaurant Renata (climb up to taste it straight from the comb). My favorite flavor? Cherry Wood Smoked Honey, which has notes of deep cherry, leather and tobacco.
Craft Brewery Crawl in Downtown Portland
No trip to Portland is complete without sampling some of the city’s craft beers. I started the evening at the rooftop of 10 Barrel Brewing to try the pub’s Apocalypse IPA then ventured across the street to Rogue Distillery and Public House, where the flights range from 4 Hop IPA to 8 Hop IPA. Before calling it a night at Hotel Lucia, I threw back one last nightcap at Pepe Le Moko, an intimate cocktail and tapas bar below the stylish Ace Hotel Portland.
Day 3: Drove 80 miles from Portland to Cannon Beach, OR
Netarts Bay and Jacobsen Salt Co.
I hit the road early for the salty, cold waters of Netarts Bay, nestled along a pristine portion of Oregon’s rugged coast. Once there, I took a break at Jacobsen Salt Co. to tour the first salt factory in the Pacific Northwest. After browsing the varieties, I finally landed on the pinot noir-infused salt (it’s heavenly) and the pure Himalayan pink salt as savory souvenirs.
The Pacific Coast Highway may be famous for its SoCal section, but the northern part is just as gorgeous. Bordered by patches of wildflowers, every curve from Netarts Bay to Cannon Beach reveals jaw-dropping ocean views. My destination for the day: Stephanie Inn, a cozy retreat with an oceanfront library, a nautical chart room and a restaurant helmed by resident chef Aaron Bedard. The regional dishes of Dungeness crab cakes and wild King salmon (fished from Oregon’s Columbia River and slathered with house-cured bacon puttanesca sauce) were worth the trip alone.
Taking advantage of the rare sunny day (it’s usually foggy here), I set out to explore the five-mile stretch of sand, which is punctuated by the striking Haystack Rock, and the charming town, where shingled storefronts, art galleries, and low-key eateries line the streets. I stumbled upon the Cannon Beach Book Company, home to the best travel non-fiction selection I’ve ever seen, and pocketed a novel to read with a crisp ’67 Blonde Ale at Public Coast Brewery.
Days 4-5: Drove 243 miles from Cannon Beach to Bend, OR
Smith Rock State Park
During the drive to Bend, I made a pitstop at the quaint Jim Dandy Farm Market to peruse the rows of colorful flowers and organic produce. Settling on a healthy snack of fresh fruit (no road trip junk food here!), I continued on to Smith Rock State Park. Here, I laced up my hiking boots and took off down the trails toward Misery Ridge Loop — the strenuous, steep climb was fitting of its name, but the hours of sweating and swearing were worth it for the panoramic vistas at the top. (I could see all of Oregon’s major peaks, including Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, Three Sisters, Broken Top and Mount Bachelor!)
McMenamins Old St. Francis School
Ask any Oregonian about McMenamins, and they’ll rave over the quirky beer-centric brand. Known for its collection of 65 bars, breweries, music venues, cinema pubs and historic hotels, I couldn’t wait to bunk down at the classrooms-turned-guestrooms in the Bend outpost. Each property has its own set of kickass amenities, and this one didn’t disappoint with a pub, brewery, movie theater, and acoustic stage scattered within its three buildings. I even discovered secret hallways, doors and rooms, like the Broom Closet speakeasy on the top floor of the Art House.
While the Colorado River gets all the fame for its world-class rapids, the underrated Deschutes River has impressive waves of its own. This was my first-ever whitewater rafting experience, but I knew I was in good hands with Sun Country Tours. So, throwing my nerves aside, I piled into the boat to speed full-throttle down the Class III rapids in the Big Eddy, a route just three miles from downtown Bend. A few hours later, when my adrenaline finally dropped, I rewarded myself with a cold one at Deschutes Brewery.
Days 6-8: Drove 482 miles from Bend to Lake Tahoe
Crater Lake National Park
The last leg of the journey was the farthest, so to break up the car time, I planned a detour to Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. The scenic area is a hidden gem of the northwest — with glacial ridges circling the clear cobalt blue water of America’s deepest lake. (I also happened to visit during the national parks’ centennial celebration — score!) After snapping some photos of the mirror-like lake and Wizard Island, I wandered over to the rustic-luxe Crater Lake Lodge to snuggle into a rocking chair on the terrace that hovers over the volcanic rim. From my perch, I watched the sunset while sipping a glass of wine and tucking into an artisanal cheese board of brie, Tillamook cheddar and Rogue Creamery oregonzola blue.
Worn out from the long day, I was excited to check into the hipster-chic Coachman Hotel in South Lake Tahoe. The nouveau motel had a quirky layout — the reception desk doubles as a bar — and I quickly joined the fun, young crowd at the pool and hot tub area, buzzy lounge, beach volleyball courts, and outdoor fire pits to roast late-night s’mores.
Buzzing from a morning jolt of Stumptown coffee at the hotel, I set off to the Mount Tallac Trailhead in the 64,000-acre Desolation Wilderness. The alpine landscape was covered in towering trees and snaking streams as I made my way up the steep, rocky ascent. Upon reaching the summit, 9,735 feet above sea level, I was met with 360-degree views of the Lake Tahoe Basin, which stretched as far as the snowcaps of the distant Crystal Range — a stunning ending to my week-long adventure.