12 Exceptional Stops on a Seattle to Portland Road Trip

Seattle to Portland Road Trip
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If you think you have to go as far as California to experience an epic drive, let me let you in on a secret: the Seattle to Portland road trip is a gem that you’ve got to check out. Despite being just about 3 hours long without traffic (but let’s be real, when does that ever happen?), it’s a drive I’ve done dozens of times and still find exciting.

Sure, it’s easy to zoom straight from Seattle to Portland, but taking it slow and breaking up the drive with some stops along the way is totally worth it. It’s a trip that offers a blend of natural beauty, cool small towns, and quirky roadside attractions, perfectly breaking up the drive south (because let’s be honest, there is always traffic in Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia!).

Since I’ve navigated this route so many times, I’ve got the inside scoop on where to pause for that perfect scenic overlook, the must-visit coffee shops, and where to snag some amazing local eats. In this guide, I’ll share a bunch of options for places you can check out along the way based on my own adventures on the road. I also include a sample itinerary to make your planning easier and to ensure you get the most out of your Seattle to Portland road trip.

Whether you’re new to the Pacific Northwest or a seasoned local looking to explore your own backyard, this Seattle to Portland drive has something to offer everyone.

Tips for a Seattle to Portland Drive

Heading on the ultimate road trip from Seattle to Portland? Here are some helpful tips to make the drive fantastic and full of fun.

Can You Drive from Seattle to Portland in a Day?

Yes, you can absolutely drive from Seattle to Portland in a day. Usually, the drive takes around three to four hours to complete, depending on traffic and road conditions. This doesn’t factor in pit stops along the way, which are recommended and likely the reason you’re reading this article.

How Far is the Seattle to Portland Drive?

The Seattle to Portland drive is around 175 miles if you use Interstate 5. However, if you make some stops at popular destinations like Cannon Beach, Mount Rainier National Park, and Mount Saint Helens, you can expect the drive to go up to 400 or even 500 miles.

Another option is to take the coastal route along Highway 101. This way, the road trip will cover over 200 to 300 miles, with some gorgeous vistas and charming seaside towns along the way. You can always extend your drive and do a road trip from Portland to San Francisco.

What’s the Best Time to Visit Portland?

The best time to visit Portland is between June and August. This is summer in this spectacular city, where temperatures range from the low 50s to the high 80s. One small caveat to the lovely weather is that it’s also peak tourist season in Portland.

During this time, many are drawn to the Rose City for its majestic display of blooming flowers, including dahlias and roses. Additionally, the city hosts some fantastic festivals, such as the Festival of Balloons in June, the Portland Craft Beer Festival in July, and the Dahlia Festival in August.

You’ll love visiting Banff from Seattle for a longer road trip.

Seattle to Portland Road Trip Map

12 Stops on a Seattle to Portland Road Trip

Seattle to Portland Road Trip - Portland

The great thing about driving along the Pacific Coast and Interstate 5 is the wide variety of interesting stops along the way. Here are some of my top recommended destinations along a Seattle to Portland road trip.

1. Tacoma, WA

tacoma art museum

Just 30 miles southwest of Seattle is the vibrant city of Tacoma. This port town is exciting, with its museum district, glass-blowing culture, and idyllic views. Too many people drive past this town, which is a mistake, in my opinion.

There is something for everyone here, from art lovers to foodies. To get your dose of culture, I recommend visiting the Tacoma Art Museum. It has wonderful exhibits of Japanese prints, European Impressionism, and contemporary local artworks.

Prefer to explore the local history? The Washington State History Museum offers an insightful way to do just that. It has displays about the state’s geological history, Native American culture, and early pioneering exhibits.

Lastly, if you’re looking for a great spot to eat, shop, or drink on your Portland road trip from Seattle, 6th Avenue is the place for you. Try the hot dogs at The Red Hot, grab some comics at Stargazer Comics, or find a unique vintage outfit at Scorpio Rising.

2. Point Defiance Park, WA

Point Defiance Park, WA

Just outside of Tacoma is Point Defiance Park, a stunning place to visit in the Evergreen State. There is so much to do in the park, whether that’s wandering through the Japanese and Rose Gardens or enjoying the wildlife at the Point Defiance Zoo.

There are also a variety of forested trails, a beach, the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, and the Wilson Way Bridge. You can also enjoy a picnic at the Point Defiance Park pond or have lunch at Anthony’s, the park’s only restaurant. I recommend eating here during your Seattle to Portland road trip because it has a beautiful view of the water.

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3. Gig Harbor, WA

Another spot I love to visit that’s just outside Seattle is the quaint Gig Harbor Waterfront. It’s an awesome spot to stretch your legs after driving, as you can meander across the waterfront or even check out some of the local shops and eateries. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Puget Sound and the region’s rich history, you’ll be delighted by the Harbor History Museum. It’s got some fascinating exhibits, including an old schoolhouse and a 65-foot fishing vessel called Shenandoah

Lastly, to enjoy the town’s scenery, visit the Skansie Brothers Park, where you can relax next to the water in the greenery. One of my favorite places to get lunch is at Tides Tavern, where you can get amazing clam chowder.

Want a longer trip? You’ll love the scenic drive from Seattle to San Francisco.

4. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, WA

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, WA

Next up, we’ve got Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge – a must-visit for wildlife spotting. Here, you can identify a wide variety of local fauna and flora, such as frogs, coyotes, deer, beavers, and loads of birdlife.

In fact, over 250 species of birds have been spotted here, including cackling geese, American pigeons, green-winged teals, and hummingbirds. It’s a beautiful spot to be for birdwatching, as there are over four miles of hiking trails, the Nisqually River Delta, and a wetland.

The Norm Dicks Visitor Center is a terrific spot to start, as you can learn about how the delta was formed or look out onto the wetland from a viewing platform. Plus, there are local volunteers who can answer any questions you may have and advise on where to spot certain animals on this stop from driving from Seattle to Portland.

I’ve been using Roadtrippers for years to help me plan out my trips and find fun stops along the way. Use my code “BTR5QTP” for $5 off when you sign up!

5. Olympia, WA

Another fun stop along the road trip to Portland from Seattle is Washington State’s capital, Olympia. This city is full of character, from the Washington State Capitol to the verdant fields of its many parks. There is quite a lot on offer here, from Saturday farmers’ markets to charming architecture. 

You can start out in Olympia’s Historic District, where you can check out some of the city’s oldest buildings, like the Old Capitol Building, Olympia National Bank, and Olympia Public Library. This is a great way to explore the downtown area, plus you can always grab a drink afterward at one of the district’s many watering holes.

Prefer to enjoy the city’s surrounding scenery? Pay a visit to Heritage Park and Marathon Park. These are adjacent to the Capitol Campus, so you’ll have some fantastic vistas of the Capitol Building.

Getting hungry? The Food Truck Plaza is the ideal spot to be, as you can try Latin street food and wash it all down with some locally-made cider. There are also a ton of breweries to choose from, and while I can’t list all of them, Three Magnets Brewing Co. is one of my favorites.

Looking for another fun drive? You’ll love the Vancouver to Seattle road trip.

6. Mount Rainier National Park, WA

rainier hiking

If we’re talking picturesque pit stops and looking for what to do on a drive from Seattle to Portland, one of the best has to be Mount Rainier National Park. This park centers around the 14,410-foot peak of Mount Rainier, which definitely should be on every Washington to-do list.

It’s the highest peak in the state, so if you’re up for a challenge, consider hiking up here. One of my favorite moderate hikes is Skyline Trail Loop (5.5 miles roundtrip), or you can do the easier Nisqually Vista Loop (1.1 miles roundtrip).

Opting for something easier? There are tons of fantastic things to do in the park. You could visit Reflection Lake, which is the perfect spot for photos and a bit of a break.

There are also loads of hiking trails, so whether you’re a beginner or a novice, you won’t have any trouble finding the perfect path for you. For an easy walk, the 3.4-mile Silver Falls Trail is an idyllic way to experience the park.

Prefer something a bit more challenging on your Seattle to Portland road trip? The 6-mile hike up to Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout is a brilliant way to see the park’s wildflowers and some exquisite views of Mount Rainier.

Make sure to buy your America the Beautiful pass ahead of time so you can easily enter all the national parks for a low price.

Craving another national park? You’ll love the Seattle to Glacier National Park road trip.

7. Mount St. Helens, WA

 Mount St. Helens, WA

This active volcano made headlines in 1980 after a major eruption that led to wide-scale damage, as it uprooted over 230 square miles of forest and killed 57 people. However, you can now visit the regrowth area, and I highly recommend it, as it’s one of the most unique things to do in Washington.

There’s a lot to see here, whether visiting the Forest Learning Center to learn about the eruption or exploring trails around the National Volcanic Monument. You can see the extent of the blast zone from the Elk Rock Viewpoint.

Head to the Castle Lake Viewpoint to see the lake created by the eruption. Another brilliant place to visit nearby is Coldwater Lake, with its boardwalk and picturesque views.

8. Vancouver, WA

fort vancouver

Onto the last stop on this list on your Seattle road trip to Portland – Vancouver, Washington. While it might not be as busy and large as the Canadian city of the same name, it’s still a charming stop on a road trip, plus, it’s just 10 miles south of Portland.

There are quite a few things to do in this town. Be sure to check out its culinary scene at the Vancouver Farmers Market on Saturdays (open between November and December) or simply relax along its waterfront.

A definite must-visit is the Fort Vancouver Historic Site, which was established as a fur trading post in 1825. Here, you can go on a guided tour of the site to learn about the British Hudson’s Bay Company or just take in a cultural demonstration.

9. Astoria, OR

oregon film museum

Astoria, Oregon, is a charming coastal town to stop at on this road trip. It’s famously known for its quaint Victorian homes and for being the ending point of Lewis and Clark’s expedition.

You could relive these cinematic moments at the Oregon Film Museum, which has exhibits on Twilight, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Shining, and Free Willy. I didn’t know what to expect the first time I came here, but I ended up spending over an hour looking at all the exhibits they had.

It’s also the setting of the renowned film The Goonies (which has filming locations all over the area). That’s not Astoria’s only highlight; it’s also got fresh seafood, parks, and a fantastic beer scene (Fort George Brewery is always my go-to when I’m in town).

There are three museums to visit for history buffs: Columbia River Maritime Museum, Heritage Museum, and the Flavel House Museum. These are all brilliant ways to learn about the town’s heritage and pick up some interesting road trip trivia

10. Seaside, OR 

Seaside, Oregon

Another quaint town on the Pacific Coast is Seaside, with stunning beaches, quirky museums, and some of the freshest seafood. Start your time here with a walk on the Seaside Promenade along the water’s edge, where you can appreciate the Oregon shoreline.

Afterward, you can either go for a swim at Seaside Beach, shop at the Seaside Carousel Mall, or enjoy some freshly caught fish at Dooger’s Seafood and Grill. Spend some time exploring Lewis and Clark’s history at the Turnaround, a commemorative statue celebrating their expedition. 

If you’d rather appreciate some of the local wildlife, you can pay a visit to the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge, Ecola State Park, or the Saddle Mountain Trail. No matter what you’re looking for, there’s a bit of everything on offer in relaxed Seaside.

Love the water? You’ll want to go on a Seattle to Crater Lake National Park drive.

11. Cannon Beach, OR

Cannon Beach

One of the best highlights of the Pacific Coast is definitely Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock. It’s a fantastic place to stop, especially if you’re driving along Highway 101.

Whether you’re appreciating the incredible marine life by tide pooling or simply walking along this wonderful beach, it’s so idyllic to be here. If you’re looking to snap some pictures, visit the beach at sunset.

One lesser-known aspect of Cannon Beach is its thriving craft beer scene, so you could always do a brewery hop and visit Pelican Brewing and Public Coast. There is also some delicious food in Cannon Beach, whether that’s the dark chocolate-covered Oreos at Bruce’s Candy Kitchen or a warm beverage at Insomnia Coffee.

Looking for a shorter trip? You can also do a Seattle to Cannon Beach drive.

12. Tillamook, OR 

tillamook factory

The cute small-town vibes continue in Tillamook, a town famous for its namesake, Tillamook Creamery. If you’re a lover of all things dairy, I recommend a visit to the creamery, where you can get a taste of their ice cream and peek inside at how it is made. It’s also kid-friendly, and my boys loved “milking a cow” and “driving” a Tillamook dairy truck.

Another fantastic foodie highlight is the Blue Heron French Cheese Company, where they make some delectable cheese, freshly baked bread, and tasty homemade soups on offer at their deli. A must-try is their Blue Heron Brie, especially paired with a glass of local Oregon wine.

Filled up and feeling energized? There are many outdoor places to explore, whether on a hike to Munson Creek Falls or visiting Cape Meares State Park and National Wildlife Refuge.

Want more? Head out on a road trip from Portland to San Francisco to extend this.

5-Day Itinerary for a Seattle to Portland Road Trip

Seattle to Portland Road Trip - Itinerary

I’ve gotten a lot of requests from readers to make a longer itinerary that shows them the best parts of driving from Seattle to Portland. This includes stopping at a national park and going to the coast, but you can easily shorten this into a two or three day trip by staying overnight in Olympic and Astoria only.

Day 1: Seattle to Olympia

Driving time: 2 hours

Mileage: 90 miles

The Seattle to Portland road trip starts with a stint along Interstate 5. You’ll leave Seattle and drive along this highway for the whole day, so you don’t need to stress too much about directions.

Instead, you can focus on the incredible sights, like Puget Sound and picturesque islands. Need to fuel up with food before driving again? Head to Zylberschtein’s for classic Jewish fare, such as bagels, home-smoked pastrami, and delectable baked goods.

Now, you’ll drive for around 30 miles until you reach dazzling Tacoma. This is the perfect place to brush up on your general knowledge by visiting a few museums. If you’re limited on time, the Museum of Glass is definitely the best one to visit for some incredible glass art.

Next, you’ll go to Point Defiance Park, a brilliant spot for kids, as it has a zoo and an aquarium. However, it’s also great for adults, as it has stunning gardens, forested trails, and a beach.

Just a 10-mile drive after that, and you’ll be in Gig Harbor. This is the ideal place to stop for lunch, as it’s the last town you’ll be in before getting to Olympia. Susanne’s Bakery & Deli has some fantastic options, like paninis, croissants, cakes, and scones.

You’ll then head to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, which is another 26 miles away. This is an awesome opportunity to see some wildlife or even just go on a quick walk.

The last stretch is only nine miles to Olympia, where you’ll fall in love with the delightful architecture and stunning scenery.

For an excellent place to rest, book a night at DoubleTree Olympia. They’ve got an indoor pool and BBQ facilities, and it’s only a minute’s drive from the Olympia Farmers’ Market.

Day 2: Olympia to Mount St. Helens

Driving time: 4 hours 

Mileage: 200 miles

Day 2 involves a whole lot of driving and hiking, so you’ll definitely want to bulk up at breakfast. I recommend heading to Martin Way Diner, an iconic eatery in Olympia. From potato hash to French toast, many options guarantee you won’t leave hungry.

The first stretch of the drive will be to Mount Rainier National Park, a highlight of Washington State. It’s a great place to visit in the state, but it involves driving for 65 miles. If you decide to take this detour, I’d conserve energy by going up the Mount Rainier Gondola for unforgettable views.

I’d recommend packing a lunch, especially if you’re road-tripping with kids. You’ll thank me later, as the next stint involves over 110 miles of driving (read my list of quick road trip snacks to avoid tantrums).

At Mount St. Helens, it’s fun to explore the Forest Learning Center and its several viewpoints and walkways.

A great place to stay near the volcano is Timberland Inn & Suites, which has flat-screen TVs, an indoor pool, and free Wi-Fi.

Day 3: Mount St. Helens to Astoria

Driving time: 1 hour and 20 minutes

Mileage: 65 miles

Day 3 is much more relaxed, as you’ll only drive around an hour without stopping unless you need to refuel or use the restroom. In Castle Rock, you can enjoy a leisurely brunch at El Compadre, which opens at 11 a.m. It has delectable Mexican food, like enchiladas, huevos rancheros, and burritos, so you’ll leave with a smile.

Next, you’ll drive for around an hour as you pass over the Lewis and Clark Bridge and along the Columbia River. You can take your time along Route 30, appreciating the unique vistas and charming towns.

Once you get to Astoria, visit the Oregon Film Museum for a fascinating look into the state’s movie history and to learn some fun facts. Prefer to enjoy some local beer? Fort George Brewery offers tastings and tours.

Looking for somewhere to sleep? Lloyd Hotel Astoria Bayfront is a luxurious option with complimentary breakfast, pristine rooms, and excellent service.

Day 4: Astoria to Tillamook

Driving time: 1 hour and 40 minutes

Mileage: 65 miles

If you’d prefer to skip your hotel’s complimentary breakfast, then head to Coffee Girl, where you’ll find delectable pastries and strong coffee, which opens at 7 a.m. sharp. Next, it’s time to get the show on the road, with a 17-mile drive to Seaside.

This charming seaside town has all you expect from its namesake, like a picturesque promenade, the freshest fish, and incredible natural surroundings.

Roughly eight miles from Seaside, you’ll be at Cannon Beach. This is where you can enjoy the stunning Haystack Rock and beachfront, fuel up at one of its charming coffee shops, or enjoy a fruity beer at Public Coast.

Onto the last stretch of driving, which will be around 40 miles, and you’ll get to the terrific Tillamook – home to renowned dairy products and majestic vistas. Whether you visit Tillamook Creamery or Blue Heron French Cheese Company, you’ll find brilliant local eats.

A charming place to stay in this idyllic town is The Ashley Inn of Tillamook. It’s got comfy beds, a fitness center, and is pet-friendly (on request).

Need some entertainment? Check out these road trip trivia questions.

Day 5: Tillamook to Portland 

Driving time: 1 hour and 50 minutes

Mileage: 90 miles

For breakfast, there are quite a few options to choose from. If you want a classic breakfast bright and early, head to Fern Restaurant & Lounge. Is exceptional coffee more your thing? Cabin Coffee Company is the place to go; plus, they have terrific bagel breakfast sandwiches.

Now that you’ve got a full belly, let’s end the road trip with some easy driving along Oregon Route 6. You’ll pass through Tillamook State Forest, which you could definitely take a detour to.

However, if you want to continue driving, it’ll be an 80-mile stretch until you reach Vancouver. Here, you can grab lunch at the Vancouver Farmers Market (if you’re arriving on Saturday) or one of its many delectable eateries. If you’d like to learn more about the town’s history, pay a visit to the Fort Vancouver Historical Site.

Lastly, take a 10-mile drive down the I-5 until you reach the buzzing city of Portland. There’s so much to do here, from meandering through the Portland Art Museum to going on a sightseeing cruise of Portland.

To end the road trip in style, book a night at Hotel Lucia. It’s got 24-hour room service, a nightly Craft Beer Hour, and is in the heart of downtown Portland.

Which of these Seattle to Portland road trip stops are you planning on going to?

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