A summer in the Pacific Northwest

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It’s easy to fall in love with the Pacific Northwest.

This little piece of North America – roughly from the bottom of Oregon to the top of British Colombia, depending on who you ask – is different to anywhere else I’ve been on the continent. It’s all thick forests and tumbling waterfalls, rugged beaches and high mountains. It’s cloudy and rains a lot, apparently – although I’ve rarely seen it myself – but the summers almost make up for it.

The people are different, too, especially in the cities. They’re down-to-earth, in the main. Even the hipsters seem friendly, the skinny jeans and skinnier moustaches not always the uniform of the pretentious as is so often the case elsewhere. There’s a shared love of the outdoors, music, food, beer, coffee. It’s no wonder I feel an affinity with them, I guess.

Waterfall

Seattle was the first city that I ever went to on the US mainland, to visit a friend back in 1998, and I’ve been coming back on average every couple of years since. A road trip down the west coast introduced me to some of the smaller towns in this part of the world, and once I discovered Portland two years ago my love affair with this part of the country was cemented.

I went back there last year as well, and left feeling dissatisfied. Not with the city – hell no, quite the opposite in fact. I was dissatisfied that I’d only had a week there. There were so many food trucks still to visit, so many craft beers still to try, so much coffee still to drink. I bought my ticket for this year’s World Domination Summit (WDS) and decided on the way back to Europe that things would be different in 2013. A month in Portland seemed pretty much perfect to me.

Casually slipping my idea into conversation with Lauren didn’t quite go as expected. Her previous experiences in the US had all revolved around big, flashy tourist destinations – Times Square, Disneyland, Hollywood, that kind of thing – and she had absolutely no interest in spending a month in any US city. It took several months of quiet perseverance before she agreed to go along with my plan – and even then she wasn’t exactly thrilled about it.

Seattle skyline

And so it was that we arrived in Seattle one sunny evening in late June. “You’re in luck!” my friends told us. “It’s just stopped raining”.

Indeed it had… for at least the next six weeks. In a region renowned for wet weather, we didn’t feel a drop of rain until early August. Whether we were taking the ferry to Bainbridge Island, eating tacos beside the water in West Seattle or drinking cold pints at a Portland brewpub, the only use for an umbrella would have been to fend off imminent sunburn.

We spent a week with my friends, eating and drinking our way through Seattle, before jumping on the Bolt Bus down to Portland. Opening the door to our Airbnb rental in the Boise neighbourhood a couple of miles north of downtown, I was instantly smitten by its rustic charm and cozy beauty. I didn’t even need to turn around to know what Lauren thought of it, the squeals of excitement carrying to all four corners of our appropriately-named Tiny House.

Apparently hesitations about wanting to spend a month in a city can be overcome by loft-style bedrooms and distressed-metal breakfast bars. Noted for future reference.

PS: If you’re also a fan of distressed-metal breakfast bars, you can use this link to get $25 off your first Airbnb stay!

I spent much of my first week in Portland embroiled in the whirlwind of my third WDS, the ever-increasing numbers of attendees leading to being stretched even thinner than previous years. Early mornings, late nights, old friendships rekindled over a wide selection of those famous craft beers.

I’d kind of expected to spend much of my month in the downtown area, just because I knew from previous trips that there were plenty of great bars, coffee shops and restaurants there. What I hadn’t realised, though, is that Portland – just like many of my other favourite places around the world – is a city of neighbourhoods, and by pure chance we’d found ourselves in a great one.

Quickly, then, our lives took on that kind of contented routine that you can only get when you’re staying somewhere for a while, with few things that you have to do each day and all day to do them in.

Several recommendations lead us to Tasty n Sons, and we were hooked from the first bite. I lost count of how often we went there for brunch during the month, but it’d be close to double digits. And that’s not including the times we ended up there for dinner as well. We tried to order several different ‘smaller bites’ each time, and never had a bad one. Even the weirder options (maple and cumin glazed yams, anyone?) were mouth-wateringly delicious. Just writing about it makes me want to go back there. For a week.

Khao Soi and Beer Lao

On the odd occasion we didn’t eat at Tasty n Sons it wasn’t hard to find somewhere else. There was a great Peruvian place nearby as well as a decent Ethiopian restaurant and possibly the best hummus and gyro place outside Greece. Ristrato Roasters managed a pretty decent flat white, and there was a bar with a great beer garden just around the corner.

A ten minute walk away lay Mississippi Ave, another street filled with wonderful places to eat and drink. Bar Bar served up delicious burgers and cold beer, Gravy managed to fit more food on a plate than I thought physically possible, and Mee Sen even offered the only khao soi I’ve seen on a menu outside northern Thailand. Footnote: it was pretty good, especially when washed down with a large Beer Lao.

When Lauren’s parents came out to join us during our last week in town, we basically led them on a tour of our favourite restaurants and pubs for the entire five days. Judging by the symphony of contented noises after every meal, I think they were impressed. Although given that this was the first time they’d met me, perhaps those noises could have just been their way of showing their displeasure at their daughter’s choice of boyfriend. It’s hard to tell these things.

Tacoma sunset

We’d originally planned to head over to the east coast after our time in Portland, but we were loving our summer in the northwest far too much to leave. Instead, we found another little Airbnb rental in Tacoma (loft style, naturally) and headed up there for a couple of weeks.

My local friends had given mixed impressions of this port city 30 miles southwest of Seattle, but – at least in the Old Town area that we were in – it actually seemed rather lovely. We ate and drank at the handful of nearby restaurants every day, walked or ran along the waterfront (probably the only piece of flat land in the entire city) and generally did little else except work and take long naps. It’s a hard life.

If we didn’t have a limited amount of time we could remain in the country I’d happily have stayed all summer, lapping up the beauty and laid-back brilliance of that part of the country for as long as possible.

I have a feeling that the next time we return to the US, that may very well be the plan. Portland and the Pacific Northwest, we’ll definitely be back.

18 Responses to “A summer in the Pacific Northwest

  • michelle
    8 years ago

    Portland added to the list, glad you both had a good summer and the food sounds great. Hopefully catch up when you make it to London.

    • If you’ll still be in London in 12-18 months, we’re pretty likely to be there… and yeah, that’s about as precise as I can get right now! See you somewhere in the world either way. 😉

  • going to Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver next month: a list of recommendations would be GREAT! 😀 of course, besides the ones mentioned in this article.

    -Maria Alexandra

    • I can’t really give many more rec’s than what I posted here – it covers most of the places I went! Take a look at my ‘USA’ category in the sidebar for a few other bits and pieces that I’ve written about the PNW. 🙂

  • Great post Dave, felt quite a bit of native pride reading it. Its a miracle you have positive reviews of Tacoma though. My guess is if you strayed from old town you would have changed your opinion.

    • I did kind of wonder that, to be honest. We were there primarily to work (and nap, obviously), so didn’t stray far from the Old Town. The suburbs on the way in and out of town didn’t look particularly great… but then again, what suburbs do? 😉

  • Krista C.
    8 years ago

    I live in the neighborhood of West Seattle and the Northwest is a paradise! I’m from Illinois and have lived here for almost 7 years and I try not to get spoiled, which is hard. I just spent a month in Illinois with family and I was so ready to get back to the gorgeous NW. Seattle and Portland are wonderful but getting out of the cities to the incredible Wilderness areas is paramount to really seeing the Pacific Northwest.

    • Totally agree – from the relatively small amount of wilderness area that I’ve seen in Washington and Oregon, it’s a gorgeous part of the world. Reminds me a lot of New Zealand and Tasmania in Australia, but different enough to know that I’m definitely not back at home! 😉

  • Super excited to try out some of these places! I’ll be up there in a week and cannot wait. I loved Seattle when I visited a couple of years ago. We went in the spring and luckily it only rained once the whole weekend and only in the morning. It was unseasonably warm and sunny the rest of the time. Perfect for biking on Bainbridge! There really is something about the Pacific Northwest. If I never get to settle in Europe I’d probably choose the Seattle area for sure.

    • I hear you on that – the PNW is one of the relatively few places that, if I absolutely had to base myself somewhere for several years, I’d be happy to do so. Portland in particularly, but Seattle too. The summer climate this year was perfect – cool mornings so I could run, but sunny and warm/hot by lunchtime every day. Loved it!

  • Dave, you came to Seattle during the best time of the year. I live in Seattle area and it’s beautiful here, I always look forward to coming home for the clean, crisp air!

  • Great post! I’ve heard amazing things about Portland’s neighborhoods. It’s neat you and Lauren got to experience a great one!

  • I live in Portland and if anyone wants tips on places to go, let me know! I showed Dave around a bit and I’m glad he took me up on my Mee Sen recommendation. 🙂

  • Glad you enjoyed Seattle! You’ve actually inspired me to at least spend a day in Tacoma sometime… I lived in Seattle for years and never gave it a chance!

    • It’s definitely worth a look – even if it’s just for clam chowder and beers beside the waterfront 🙂

  • Sounds like an amazing summer, man and very similar experience to our August in Brussels, being that the amazing rental we found online really made things. Even though I’ve never been to the PNW, I know it’s a place I would love. Good stuff.

    • The rentals made all the difference – if we’d been in a dirty hostel or sketchy neighbourhoods, it would have been a far less enjoyable few months!

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