Epic US west coast trip

Sunday April 4, 2021 |
Epic US west coast trip

Vancouver, Canada

Long hailed as one of the most sustainable cities in North AmericaVancouver is a delight to explore on foot, even when cloaked in mist. The seaside city’s West End is topped by the huge Stanley Park, a 150,000-tree urban rainforest that’s hemmed in by a 8.8km-long seawall. It’s an easy cycle with a rented Mobi, Vancouver’s public bike share scheme, past the First Nations totem poles and under the Brockton Point lighthouse. When it’s time to refuel, dig into the city’s amazing foodie scene with a stop at the stalls at Granville Island Public Market before moving onto Vancouver’s fantastic breweries. The selection around Main St is particularly crawl-able: don’t miss Electric Bicycle BrewingBrassneck Brewery and 33 Brewing Experiment.

Where to stay in Vancouver

Canada’s first Indigenous arts hotel, Skwachàys Lodge, is a short walk or bus ride from Pacific Central train station. Rooms are stocked with eco-friendly toiletries, a ground-floor gallery displays beautiful Indigenous crafts, and stays support the Vancouver Native Housing Society social enterprise.

How to get between Vancouver and Seattle by train: Hugging Puget Sound for most of the journey, the Amtrak Cascades train runs twice a day between Vancouver and Seattle. It’s one of the most scenic stretches on the west coast. The trip takes about 4.5 hours, and there’s Wi-Fi, at seat plugs and a bistro car.

 

People shopping at Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington
Get a taste of Seattle’s foodie scene at Pike Place Market © cdrin / Shutterstock

Seattle, Washington

As entrepreneurial as it is eccentric, Seattle is thoroughly more hip than its roll call of big-name corporate HQs might suggest. To get a taste of the city in all its glory, make Pike Place Market your first stop. Quirky traditions reign supreme, from fish flying overhead to the 3000 pounds of colorful goo that are scraped off the Gum Wall every yearEat Seattle runs fantastic chef-led tours that dive right into the heart – and stomach – of the market. The iconic Space Needle is worth a visit, even if you’ve been before or are considering writing it off as too touristy: in 2018, it unveiled the world’s first and only revolving glass floor, 500 feet up in the air. Back downstairs is the Chihuly Garden & Glass museum, home to the artist’s most spectacular works of blown glass.

Where to stay in Seattle

On the doorstep of Pike Place Market, The State Hotel has a primo location and makes much of Seattle easily walkable, including the ferry dock and King Street Station where Amtrak trains arrive. The 1904 building has been retrofitted with a rooftop bar with unbeatable market views.

How to get between Seattle and Portland by train: Four Amtrak Cascades services operate between Seattle and Portland, taking 3.5 hours. Amtrak’s daily Coast Starlight train begins its journey in Seattle and stops in Portland after about four hours.

 

Visitors stand on a bridge at Columbia River Gorge near Portland, Oregon
A day trip from Portland to the Columbia River Gorge is a must © rybarmarekk / Shutterstock

Portland, Oregon

Portland has long been the PNW’s hipster hub, with endless spots for top-notch coffee, craft beer and food truck grub, but what seems to get less press is just how wonderfully-wild huge swathes of the city remain and how easy it is to explore without a car. A walk through the undergrowth in the aptly named Forest Park feels more remote than you’d expect on the edge of a city of nearly 650,000, and a day trip to drool over the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge is an absolute must. Leave the logistics to Around Portland Tours, which runs a hike and bike experience that’s the best way to see this natural treasure up close.

Where to stay in Portland

Across Burnside Bridge from Portland’s Union Station is the first US outpost of Iceland’s KEX, opened in 2019. There are private and shared “poshtel” rooms, a rooftop space and of course a Scandi-style sauna in the basement.

How to get between Portland and San Francisco by train: Hop on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight for an overnight journey to California. Consider booking a sleeper car so you arrive rested, and as a bonus, meals in the dining car are included. Connecting buses to get into San Francisco proper run from Emeryville and Oakland, or you can take the BART, the Bay Area’s subway system.

View of Alcatraz down a steep street in San Francisco, California
San Francisco is a delight to explore on foot © NYC Russ / Shutterstock

San Francisco, California

San Francisco has so much crammed into its 47 sq-miles and plenty of innovative ways to get around without a car. Ride the historic wood-lined cable cars, take the ferry out to Alcatraz or stretch your legs on a hike around Lands End, where a path follows a long-abandoned train line used to take early 1900s pleasure seekers out to the Sutro Baths. Even eight-switchbacked Lombard St, incorrectly called “the world’s crookedest street,” has considered implementing a $10 entry fee and reservation system, but foot traffic will stay free.

Where to stay in San Francisco

Hotel Emblem is in the heart of it all, and it’s a short – and not too uphill – walk from Powell St BART station. It’s also accessible from the cable car. San Francisco’s quirkiness is infused into the hotel’s core, with a Beat Generation-inspired bar, in-room typewriters and walls painted with Jack Kerouac quotes.

How to get between San Francisco and Santa Barbara by train: From Emeryville or Oakland, Amtrak’s Coast Starlight continues south, pulling into Santa Barbara after about nine hours. The section between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara is arguably the most scenic of the entire west coast journey, perfectly-timed for golden hour and a sunset arrival. Heading south, nab a seat on the right side of the observation car, and you’ll be glued to the window for hours.

 

View of Santa Barbara from Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara has beautiful architecture and a postcard-perfect setting © S.Borisov / Shutterstock

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