The Green and the Beautiful

The US has some stunningly beautiful spots, but I have to say my favorite of all of them so far is the Pacific Northwest (PNW).  I’ve spent a lot of my life in that area, and it still regularly plucks at my heart strings. Especially this time of year.  Feeling a bit nostalgic, I wanted to share some of my favorite places and things about that gorgeous area.


The last 1-1/2 years have been spent mostly enjoying the white sands, and warm, clear waters of the Caribbean.  It’s where I did most of my training as a diver, divemaster, and an instructor.  Tigger has never dove anywhere else.  We’re both crazy about the water.  As beautiful as the beaches are here, there is something to be said for the rustic beauty of the PNW’s coastline.  Be it Cannon or Newport Beach or Seaside in Oregon, or Ocean Shores, La Push, or the San Juan Islands in Washington, I always feel at home.  There is something so grounding about the smell of the salty air, the sound of the waves crashing against rocks, the sun- and salt-bleached driftwood, and the cry of an eagle mixed in with the noise from the sea gulls.  The frigid waters aren’t for the faint of heart, but that’s just part of the draw as well.

The rustic beaches on the Quileute Reservation near Forks (yes, there really is a Forks, Washington) are some of my absolute favorite beaches.  No white sands or warm water here, but tons of wildlife and majestic beauty.  You know you’ve entered the reservation territory when you see the sign stating “No vampires beyond this point.”  The Twilight Saga has immortalized First, Second, and Third Beaches.  (Why on earth they didn’t come up with more creative names, I’ll never know.)


There are amazing national and state parks all over the PNW.  In fact, the hundred or so small islands that make up the San Juan chain are all part of the state park system.  You can enjoy a close-up view of the majestic Mt. Rainier or stare in awe at the force of Nature as you stand at the overlook of Mt. St. Helen’s.  The drive to the latter is amazing as well.  The views of beautiful evergreen forests suddenly become more sparse and then open to a wide expanse of pure desolation as you approach the visitor’s center of the still active volcano.  If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, make sure to do the lava tubes hike.  Don’t worry, the lava isn’t flowing.  It’s perfectly safe and quite an experience.

One of my favorite spots in Washington is Lake Quinault.  This is part of one of the few temperate rainforests in North America.  I have spent many days and hours here and never get bored.  I love being surrounded by all the green and seeing all the different creatures that live there.  During spring and summer riots of different colors burst through the verdant surroundings as the wildflowers bloom.  It’s also the site of a restaurant that the best beer-battered onion rings I’ve ever had, and since it also serves Quinault blue salmon (the best there is in my opinion), it has a special place in my heart.


The people here are some of the friendliest I have met in the States.  Even in big cities like Seattle and Portland it isn’t uncommon to have total strangers smile and say hi to you as they pass you on the street, hold doors open for you, etc.  Kind of surprising since Seattlites are the most caffeinated people in the US.


The cooler, frequently wet weather makes fall and winter days just perfect for chowder and hearty stews.  Being a lover of seafood, I really miss things like fresh razor clams, Dungeness crab, and some of the most amazing salmon you’ll ever find.  Don’t even try to insult me by serving Atlantic salmon.  If it isn’t from the Pacific, I’m not interested.  Living in Washington has made me a total salmon snob.  Washington was also the first time I ever saw an espresso stand in a hospital lobby.  That’s when I knew for sure they were really serious about their coffee.  Seattle and Portland are both fairly ethnically diverse when it comes to food which makes it even better for foodies and food lovers.

If you happen to be spending time in Seattle, make sure to visit Pikes Market.  Not only will you find some great food, as well as my favorite place for pierogies, but the workers at the Flying Fish market are really entertaining to watch.  Just walking around the market is an experience by itself.


The Pacific coast is part of the migration path for several species of whales.  The San Juan Islands are also home to the only whale-watching park in North America.  The idea of watching whales from a park may sound weird, but you’d be amazed at how close some of them get to the island.  The islands have sudden, steep drops so the water very near the coastline is quite deep.  The biggest attraction are the migratory and residential pods of orcas.  The pods can get so close to the viewing area that binoculars aren’t required to see even small details.


It may seem odd that this flower would get a whole heading all to its lonesome, but the annual Tulip Festival is one of my favorite events in the PNW.  I enjoy it so much one year I flew from Colorado just so I could attend.  It’s a photographer’s paradise.  The fields and fields of color are something that just shouldn’t be missed.  If you plan right, you can be there when the tulips, daffodils, and irises are all in bloom.  Incidentally, if you want some truly awesome salmon, go to the Kiwanis salmon BBQ.  Seriously.

Easy to Visit

Getting there is super easy, especially from most places in the States. Both Washington and Oregon have large international airports. Portland’s (PDX) is my personal favorite. Not only is it one of the coolest airports I’ve seen, but it’s also a hub for low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines. Frontier also has a strong presence at both airports, but it’s hard to beat Southwest’s customer service and prices.  Plus Southwest’s lack of baggage fees.  If only they had more international destinations!

When in the US, I typically fly into PDX and rent a car.  Then I drive to Cannon Beach and Seaside before heading up north to “home.”  The drive is absolutely gorgeous.  I used to make sure to stop in Rochester to eat at my favorite Indian restaurant, but unfortunately it’s closed.  If you like to shop, you’ll want to pull off in Centralia and visit the outlet malls.  You’ll find some more further up north if you’re heading to the San Juan Islands or the Tulip Festival, but I like these better.  Not as crowded and typically better deals.

Make sure to also bring along your passport, passport card, or enhanced driver’s license, because it really isn’t that long of a drive or ferry ride to visit Canada while you’re in the area.  Both Vancouver and Victoria, BC, have some really wonderful sights as well.  If time permits, why not hop on over and visit our friends to the north?

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  1. Great post on PNW! We have lived in the gorge for 15years and at the coast on the Long Beach penn before that! Both are outstanding! Give us a shout for a local tour when you are back.

    We have always wanted to go to Hawaii. Any suggestions on what to see for a three week stay? We are hoping to house sit there this summer.

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    • Hawaii is rather diverse. It would really depend upon which island, and where on that island, you land.

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  2. There’s not many places I’ve been where I’ve said I could live here, but the Pacific North West was one of them. There’s such incredible variety of landscapes, habitats and environments within reach of each other from coast, to mountain to islands to forest etc etc. We’ve been talking about a trip back out to do some research amongst the National Parks out there. It’s funny how reading and looking at pics helps sharpen an idle dream…

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    • It is such an amazing place. In all the lovely places I’ve been throughout the world so far, I still often find myself pining for it.

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  3. Thank you for writing about this part of the world. It IS beautiful. I was asked recently what my favorite place in the world was, and after thinking about it, I actually said, “Seattle.” How lucky I am to be able to live here. And I’m not even that outdoorsy of a person, compared to most. I lived in Portland for a long time, too, and it is gorgeous. The coast is amazing, but don’t forget the inland areas, too. Wenatchee, the Blue Mountains, the Columbia Gorge, the John Day Fossil Beds. I’ve lived in this region for 20 years and there’s still so much to see that truly makes you feel the majesty of the natural world.

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    • It is definitely one of my favorite places on Earth.

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  4. I’m in complete agreement. The PNW is absolutely stunning. That goes for most of the Pacific coast, IMHO

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  5. Hi!!
    Great pictures, I wish I could take this shots, I really need to improve my photographs. I just discovered your blog and I loved it!! Keep up the good work!.

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  6. Nice write up on my favorite place in the world…the PNW. I was out having lunch with a friend the other day and she asked me why I stay in Portland. Without skipping a beat, I told her because I love it here. There are days when I want to live elsewhere and I might move in a couple years…but it’s hard. My family is here and I have built a good life for myself. The best part about living in Portland, though, is the number of people who are well traveled. I run into people all the time who have lived outside the US or traveled all over the world. It keeps me inspired.

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    • Portland is such a wonderful city. Really enjoy every time I visit there.

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    • It sure in the hell is! One of the few places I continue to feel occasional “homesickness” for.

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  7. I havent explored OR much but I have WA and Northern CA. And I love it. You really nailed it with this one. There is so much to see up there for anyone. For me, it is especially wonderful being that I come from the high deserts of NM and CO. The PNW is vastly different for me and very special.

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    • It took probably 4-5 winters in CO before I stopped whining every year. LOL I’m just so used to everything being so green, and unless you’re in the mountains CO gets pretty darn bare in the winter. A friend of mine who is a native Coloradoan used to roll her eyes at me. Now they live in OR. She came back for the holidays, and the first thing she said to me was: Ohmigawd! It’s so barren!


      Definitely two very different worlds.

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  8. Oh great. Make me miss my beloved Seattle and the PNW whydontcha!

    Seriously. Raised in the midwest (Chicago) I lived in the PNW for… between Coos Bay, Oregon, school at the U. of O. (separated by but a 4 year stint in Colorado) plus 25 years in Seattle (10 of them tucked on a wondrous isle – Vashon, a 15 min. ferry off the coast), I guess you could say I’m a diehard PNWer!

    Indeed, that was the toughest thing about deciding to move here to Vietnam – I so miss Seattle. Ah, but the good news is – I’ve now resettled (after 9 months in Saigon and a month in Mongolia) in a most idyllic spot – Dalat (a.k.a. “La Petit Paris”). Up in the mountains of Vietnam, it has a most unique climate. Unlike the swelter of the rest of the country, Dalat has a climate… much like the PNW! Springtime temps year round plus plenty of “misty” drizzle. Shoot, I’m even presently wearing a FLEECE jacket just like in Seattle! 😉

    So thanks for reminding me of my dear home town back in the States. But I’ve now found the next best thing – right here in Asia!

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    • Dalat sounds absolutely wonderful! Sounds like the best of both worlds: Wonderful Asian culture but PNW-type surroundings. We’ll have to come check it out!

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