A Tried-&-Tested Guide To The USA’s Pacific Northwest

This summer, SL’s managing lifestyle editor Heather Steele embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime US road trip. An off-the-radar alternative to its neighbour California, the Pacific Northwest stretches from the Cascade mountains in the east to the dramatic Pacific coastline in the west, taking in the picturesque states of Washington and Oregon. If you’re looking for a trip that combines cool city experiences and great restaurants with whale watching, wine tasting and outdoor activities, this is one well worth bookmarking. From Portland and Seattle to lesser-known hotspots worth the scenic drive, here are the best places to see and book in the USA’s ‘Upper Left’.
By Heather Steele /

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Backstage Bar, Portland
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PORTLAND, OREGON

Where To Stay

In vibrant Portland, all the big hitter hotel groups are here. In classic The Hoxton style, its recently opened property in Old Town Chinatown embraces a mid-century modern aesthetic. Each bedroom features rich walnut panelling, artwork curated by local gallerist Upfor and eye-catching ceramics by Clay Factor. For morning espressos and evening cocktails, ground-floor Lovely Rita’s is the place to go, while rooftop restaurant Tope combines city views with excellent tacos. For a similar look and feel in a different neighbourhood, Ace Hotel has taken over the old Clyde Hotel in Downtown and offers a modern take on 70s styling, alongside a collection of chic communal spaces to relax in.

For a true Pacific Northwest (PNW) experience, get organised and book a room in one of McMenamins’ quirky venues. The group takes over old saloons, breweries, schools and historic buildings across Oregon and Washington, turning them into atmospheric accommodation and bars. In Portland, you’ll find Crystal Hotel on the edge of the Pearl District, which pays homage to the same building’s century-old Crystal Ballroom venue. Guests get use of the subterranean saltwater soaking pool and can enjoy old-school cocktails in the neon-clad, speakeasy-style Annex Bar. Elsewhere from McMenamins, Kennedy School has 57 bedrooms, five bars and restaurants and a cinema sprawled throughout the former faculty; and White Eagle Saloon & Hotel offers vintage interiors and live music. If you’re looking for a classic stay, the Kimpton Riverplace, Hotel de Luxe, Woodlark and The Nines are all good options.

Where To Eat & Drink

Talk to any local, and they’ll tell you the best thing to do in Portland is dive into the incredible food and drink scene. The city is as famous for its high-end experimental food as its ‘pods’ – clusters of diverse street-food carts dotted all over. It’s also the home of the craft coffee movement. A fairtrade latte from US-famous Stumptown Coffee Roasters is a must, while other great places to get your morning fix include Case Study Coffee Roasters, an atmospheric spot opposite the central library, the art-filled Never Coffee Lab or Oui Presse in ultra-cool Hawthorne. Naturally, coffee and doughnuts go hand in hand – and Portland is also renowned for the latter. Voodoo Doughnut has the longest queues – and you’ll see plenty of people walking around with bright boxes of its colourful sprinkle-topped creations – but locals really rate vegan-friendly Blue Star, Pip’s Original Donuts & Chai and Sesame Donuts, which is more of a sweet/savoury hybrid with a decent selection of bagels.

If you’ve done Portland right, you’ll need a decent breakfast or brunch the morning after a night exploring the city’s cool bars and live music scene. By night, we recommend Hawthorne’s Backstage Bar – housed in the old Bagdad Theater and brought back to life by McMenamins – and the selection of taprooms in the Alberta arts district. The next day, for something casual and on-the-go, Fried Egg I’m In Love’s collection of food carts are more than worth the wait time. Purveyors of the city’s best breakfast sandwiches, I ordered its signature – the Yolko Ono – which comes with a perfectly runny fried egg, homemade pesto, parmesan and a hand-pressed sausage patty. Truly excellent brunch can be found at Toki in Downtown. A modern Japanese restaurant, the kitchen serves everything from a steamed bao burgers to grilled pork belly, scrambled egg and American cheese sandos. Make sure you order a bloody mary, which is made with kimchi juice to give it an Asian twist.

Given the proximity to California, there are plenty of great Mexican restaurants to be found. The best we tried was Güero on cool 28th Avenue, a vibrant neighbourhood spot that focuses on tortas – Mexican sandwiches. I loved the Pollo Pibil torta (achiote-marinated chicken, avocado, pickled onion, coriander and lime mayo on toasted telera) and the fresh pineapple salad with habanero, citrus and coriander. Buy a bottle of its carrot and habanero salsa on the way out. Another must-visit is Kachka, a modern Russian restaurant. We loved its cool interiors, interesting vodka-heavy martini list and menu that spans everything from smoked aubergine and pine nuts on rye to pickle plates. The chive-and-cheese dumplings with a cherry jus were so good we ordered another plate.

After something straight-up and classic? Dating back to 1913, Dan & Louis Oyster Bar is a low-key nautical-themed pub that sells big platters of seafood, great prawn cocktails and bowls of chowder; Huber’s is a gorgeous art-deco café that is credited with creating the aged-rum Spanish Coffee cocktail (which are served, with flair, tableside); while Normadie and Arden are two of the city’s best-rated fine-dining destinations.

The Hoxton Hotel, Portland

What To See & Do

One thing that’s rightfully unavoidable in Oregon is heritage woollen brand Pendleton. These days its colourful blankets can be found everywhere from five-star hotels to tasteful lodges, and Portland has a number of its stores to stock up on the ultimate PNW souvenir. For fragrances, Olo on 28th Avenue sells beautiful scents mostly inspired by the local area – imagine ‘Wyeth’ made with pine resin, salt water and moss or ‘Arboreta’ with green leaves, birch, fir and white musk. Then there’s Frances May, an independent boutique across the road from Toki which supports local brands and stocks the likes of Batsheva X Laura Ashley, Ganni, Isabel Marant and Ulla Johnson. A bonus if you’re thinking of doing a spot of shopping: unlike many states, Oregon does not have a sales tax.

Portland International Rose Test Garden
NIK ALBERT/UNSPLASH

To build the appetite to get round all those food carts, you’ll need to get your steps in. The beautiful International Rose Test Garden can be found at the top of Washington Park. Launched in 1915, it began life as a preservation centre for European-grown roses during WWI and now grows over 10,000 varieties. I also recommend undertaking the 4T Trail, which stands for trains, trails, trams and trolleys. The self-guided urban nature tour of the city takes around four hours and involves hikes, views and a journey on an aerial tram. If you’ve got time, make like a true Portlander by escaping the city for a day trip along the Columbia Gorge out to Mount Hood or to spectacular Multnomah Falls.

Further steps can be accrued inside Powell’s City of Books, which covers a full block and holds more than 1.5 million volumes. Regardless of whether you’re a bookworm or not, this epic independent bookshop is an essential stop-off on any Portland itinerary. As well as coming out with an armful of books by PNW authors, we made sure to visit the secret, top-floor rare books section, which is all tiffany lamps and beautiful first editions. Finally? No trip to Portland is complete without a visit to ice-cream parlour Salt & Straw. Make sure to reward all that walking with a double scoop. I went for the fig cheesecake and Arbequina olive oil flavours.

Kachka, Portland
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Olo Fragrance, Portland
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Salt & Straw, Portland

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

Where To Stay

Sitting at the edge of picturesque Puget Sound, Seattle is a series of vibrant neighbourhoods punctuated by lakes. If you’re after a central location in Washington state’s largest city, a chic and modern bedroom and a huge bathtub, book Hotel 1000. Just minutes from buzzing Pike Place Market – more on that later – and close to the Monorail that takes you up towards some of the most popular museums and attractions, it’s a smart base for a weekend-long stay. Other modern, noteworthy hotels include the mid-century inspired Hotel Theodore, the Thompson Seattle – which has a great rooftop bar – the Four Seasons, which has an impressive infinity pool with views over the city, and newcomer the Lotte, which has been designed by French architect and designer Philippe Starck complete with a luxe spa.

For something quirkier and more affordable, Citizen M recently launched its Seattle outpost next to Lake Union in the centre of the city; the retro-styled Palihotel offers tastefully colourful spaces in an industrial space; and Hotel Sorrento offers a vintage feel and old-school hospitality in refined spaces that make the most of the building’s 1909 original features.

Palihotel, Seattle

What To Eat & Drink

For a caffeine fix, Espresso Vivace is a place for real coffee connoisseurs and Ghost Alley Espresso is a fun hole-in-the-wall that serves great coffee and bubblegum – for anyone wanting to get immersive with the adjacent gum wall. Take your espresso with you as you roam the food halls of Pike Place Market, which have been there since 1912. If you’re lucky, you might catch one of the famous fish-throwing spectacles down at the many seafood counters.

For food on the go, I can’t rate Piroshky Piroshky highly enough. A Russian bakery that’s been at Pike Place since 1992, locate the queue for the first ever Starbucks on the waterfront then join the smaller one next to it for delicious fresh-out-the-oven bakes (such as a fish-shaped pasty filled with smoked wild salmon, cream cheese, dill and onion or one filled with egg, hash brown, bacon and cheese) to enjoy on a walk along the piers. We were also impressed by Salumi just off Pioneer Square, which feels like a proper Italian-American deli. Here, the team serves substantial focaccia sandwiches filled with your choice of salami, plus mozzarella, herb and caper spread, garlic spread, roasted onions and pickled bell peppers.

One street up from Pike Place, you’ll find excellent French spot Le Pichet. A classic relaxed brasserie with bistro chairs and chalkboard menus, this is a lovely little place for a laid-back lunch over a cheese and meat platter and a carafe of wine. Nearby, you’ll find Damn The Weather, a cool music-focused bar and small plates/pasta restaurant that’s open late. For something celebratory or high-energy, get a cab over to Ballard, a cool neighbourhood on the northwest of Seattle. As well as some excellent shopping (especially at heritage menswear boutique Filson), indie breweries, the must-visit ‘fish ladder’ – where we saw seals – and the outstanding National Nordic Museum, you’ll find The Walrus & The Carpenter, a brilliant restaurant and oyster bar serving boat-fresh seafood, inventive small plates and a concise but strong cocktail list.

For more exemplary drinks and dishes, head to Canon. Dark and atmospheric, the team was number six on the World’s 50 Best Bars list a few years back and continues to mix creative concoctions in ever-more creative vessels – including its signature serve, which comes in a small, smoking canon. Far from being gimmicky, this makes what could be a serious drinking spot relaxed and fun – especially when dishes like crispy pork salad or crab and peach gazpacho come out of the kitchen.

For a final blowout dinner, get yourself over to Alki Beach. On West Seattle directly opposite Seattle’s famous waterfront, you’ll witness that classic Frasier skyline, albeit with a few more skyscrapers these days. As well as a lovely beach, you’ll find Il Nido, a lovely modern Italian restaurant in a renovated cabin by the water. The service is excellent – as are the negronis – but the main reason to book a table is for the pasta, which includes a sensational tagliolini dish with butter, lemon, parmigiano and caviar. Reservations open 30 days ahead, so make sure you set a reminder.

The Walrus & The Carpenter, Seattle
Pike Place, Seattle
UNSPLASH/BEN DUTTON

What To See & Do

Whether you’re in Seattle for a weekend or a week, a CityPASS is well worth the money. The card gets you access to several of the biggest attractions for a discounted price, including MoPop – an essential music and pop culture museum that focuses on some of Seattle’s most famous musical exports, from Nirvana to Jimi Hendrix. The museum is right next to the iconic Space Needle, which for 2022 has been repainted orange around its observation deck in honour of its original 1962 look. As well as incredible views over the city, Puget Sound and across to volcanic Mount Rainier, there’s a chic cocktail bar and revolving restaurant, both of which must be booked ahead. At the foot of the Needle, the Chihuly Gardens & Glass have been designed by and are dedicated to the art of Dale Chihuly – the man behind the colourful glass chandelier in the entrance of the V&A – who’s originally from nearby Tacoma. An Instagrammer’s dream, the gallery’s artefacts are by turns impressive in colour, intricacy and scale.

Known as the Emerald City because of the evergreen landscape that surrounds it, there’s so much to see and do in Seattle that involves getting into the wilderness. The city is a hub for whale watching. Alki Beach is a good place to see them offshore, and is just a short drive or water taxi trip away from Downtown. It’s a popular spot for seals and their pups to rest, making it a draw for orcas in the autumn and winter months, but transient whales can be seen here year round – just don’t forget your binoculars. FRS Clipper runs boat tours directly from Seattle. Its popular full-day tour includes a pass underneath the historic Deception Pass bridge and a stopover in Friday Harbor on the San Juan Islands. A half-day tour is a great option for those who have limited time or are focused solely on spotting whales.

Kenmore Air, Seattle
Pioneer Square Seattle

For the ultimate look at Seattle, the views from Kenmore Air’s scenic seaplane tours are unforgettable. Board a floatplane on Lake Union for an exhilarating take-off, leisure flight and gentle landing back on the water. Along the way, you’ll get up close with the Space Needle, see the houseboats of Lake Union and even get a glimpse or two of a couple of tech billionaire’s mansions. There’s also a year-round service going out to the San Juan Islands and back.

For something a little less high-octane, a daytrip to Woodinville Wine Country is a must. A cool new alternative to Napa, the charming town is western Washington’s wine epicentre – and only a 30-minute drive from Downtown. There are more than 100 wineries and tasting rooms pouring there (including Chateau Ste. Michelle, the state’s first winery), ensuring there’s something for every type of wine drinker. And if you’re continuing your PNW journey, it’s the ideal place to pick up a few bottles as you head out into nature.

Space Needle, Seattle
Port Townsend, Washington
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AND FOR SOMETHING FURTHER AFIELD…

Olympic National Park, Washington

While you can get away with public transport in and between Portland and Seattle – we took the scenic Amtrak train between the two cities – you’ll need to hire a car if you’re heading elsewhere. A half-day drive from Seattle, Olympic National Park is one of the US’s greatest natural wonders. At its best from June to September, this vast park has striking nature in spades – from the country’s only rainforest to mountains, lakes, meadows, forests, coasts and rare habitats. For a true experience, book a lodge at one of the park’s four resorts a year in advance – we loved doing a spot of swimming at Lake Crescent Lodge, while natural hot springs can be found at Sol Duc resort. Otherwise, there are a number of hotels and accommodation options just outside the park – we loved the look of these coastal A-frame lodges ­up in Whisky Creek Beach in the northwest of the park.

Port Townsend

Port Townsend is a beautiful Victorian town on the edge of the sea, just a few hours from Seattle and Portland. Whether you’re after an excursion or fancy a stop-off on the way to Olympic National Park, this pretty and peaceful town is another good place for whale watching. On our excursion with Puget Sound Express, a friendly and exceptionally knowledgeable team tracked a pod of orcas and two grey whales. Finistere is the place to book for dinner – we loved its modern take on classics such as devilled eggs and fusilli with clams, saffron cream and breadcrumbs – while there are incredible, massive sourdough slices being churned out at grab-and-go kiosk Waterfront Pizza. On the accommodation front, we stayed at Fort Worden State Park, an ex-military base where guests can stay in former officers’ quarters. Novel and in keeping with the rest of the town’s striking wooden Victorian architecture, the individual cottages are minutes away from a lovely beach where two miles of shoreline play home to bald eagles and river otters.

Suttle Lodge, Oregon
NATALIE PULS PHOTOGRAPHY

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

A magnificent natural wonder, Crater Lake is a huge glacial body of water inside a collapsed volcano. While the national park is open year-round, it’s best to visit in the summer when the snow around the 33-mile rim has (mostly) melted. Visitors can drive the entire perimeter, taking in various vistas and sites, and there’s one spot where a moderate trail will take you down to the shoreline for a bracing dip. Like all national parks, if you want to secure accommodation on site, you’ll need to book around a year in advance. Although we recommend staying at Union Creek Lodge, a 1938 Twin Peaks-style wooden lodge around 30 minutes away from the park gates. Not only is it rustic, atmospheric and tranquil – and there are some lovely walks from the lodge itself – Beckie’s Café just over the road dates back to 1926 and serves excellent all-American homecooked meals such as steak and eggs, local wines from Crater Lake Cellars and a cracking daily changing selection of hot pies with ice-cream. Trust us, a slice of hot cherry pie is what you’ll be craving after a day of exploring.

Astoria, Oregon

Another beautiful Victorian town – so pretty that it’s famous for its colourful Queen Anne-style wooden houses – Astoria is on the Columbia River, just on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Oregon has been the backdrop to many films and TV shows over the years – think The Goonies, Into The Wild and Stand By Me ­– so it makes sense that the small but fan-focused Oregon Film Museum is here. After a quick look around, check out the town’s many cool boutiques and bookshops, before heading to Bowpicker for a revelatory local twist on fish and chips – fried albacore tuna. The coolest hotel in town is the boutique Norblad – which is all vintage furniture and desirable design classics – and for dinner, book a table at Carruthers, a former haunt of shipping magnates, for stylish American classics and a cocktail or two.

Olympic National Park
NATHAN DUMLAO/UNSPLASH
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
JAMES FITZGERALD/UNSPLASH

Sisters, Oregon

The town of Sisters has been so well preserved it now takes on the charming look of a Wild West-style outpost, with a main road crowded either side with wooden-fronted shops, saloons and restaurants. But these days, it’s all about Suttle Lodge in Deschutes National Forest. A former holiday camp dating back to the 1920s, the resort is 20 minutes from Sisters and has everything you need to fully relax. Each of the beautifully designed lodges comes with Portland’s Maak Lab toiletries, Suttle Lodge X Pendleton blankets and its own kayak for exploring the site, while paddleboard and bikes can be hired down at the lake. The waterside lodges come with decks stocked with Traeger grills, sunchairs and a wood-burner for toasting marshmallows. Don’t fancy cooking? The main lodge houses the Skip Bar cocktail lounge, while the Boathouse is especially good for breakfast – think smoked trout and egg sandwiches with pickled pepper cheese and greens – as well as tempting homewares to stuff into your suitcase. On that note, don’t forget to visit Camp Sherman down the road for lovely walks and a visit to its old-school, well-stocked village store for everything you need to create a feast back on the deck. Heaven.

How To Get There

American Airlines resumed its direct, daily service from London Heathrow to Seattle-Tacoma international airport on 30th October. New for 2022, direct flights are also available from London Heathrow to Portland international airport.

For more information, visit VisitSeattle.com & TravelPortland.com.

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