The nearly three-hour trip when traveling between Portland and Seattle/Tacoma area is far more fun with a few stops along the 160-mile route.
While the majority of folks who live on the west side of the Cascade Mountain Range will find themselves driving along Interstate 5 between the two cities, drivers do have the option of a more roundabout path by traversing roads along the coast.
Regardless of which route you choose, there are lots of exciting possibilities along the way to take a break, grab a bite, learn a skill, stretch your legs amid lush forests, and even swing by a museum.
The gorgeous domed structure of the Washington State Legislature building is a standout landmark, easy to see from I-5 whether you're heading north or south. Designed by architects Walter Wilder and Harry White, the building was built in 1928, and it is well worth the time to stop and walk around the lovely structure as well as the surrounding buildings and park-like grounds.
Spend Time Outdoors
There are two fantastic wildlife refuges and big parks located right off of I-5. These green pockets are great places to get out and stretch your legs, let the dog and the kids burn off some energy, and sneak in a little nature time.
Renamed in 2015 in honor of the late Nisqually tribe leader, the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge on the banks of the Nisqually River was originally established in 1974 to protect migratory birds of the area. It's a beautiful spot for birdwatching and hiking.
The Fort Borst Park in Centralia is a 101-acre park at the confluence of the Chehalis and Skookumchuck rivers. In addition to the water tributaries, the park is home to several historic buildings, including the Borst homestead, schoolhouse, arboretum, and Fort Borst Blockhouse. It has fields for all manner of sports, facilities for camping, and concession stands.
The Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake, part of Seaquest State Park, is one of the best and most informative of the several visitor centers in the area.
Located five miles east of the Castle Rock exit, the Silver Lake Visitor Center offers an extraordinary film about the 1981 eruption of Mount St. Helens, fascinating exhibits and artifacts, a bookshop, and an outdoor boardwalk trail. On clear days you will see a view of the volcano in the distance. This visitor center is approximately 45 miles from Mount St. Helens.
The Great Wolf Lodge at Grand Mound is a massive indoor-water-park-resort that's a family-friendly destination located just north of Centralia. While you'll have to book a room to take advantage of the water park, during a short stop the Lodge is ideal to grab a snack or meal in one of Great Wolf's many eateries like the Woodfire Grill, Grizzly Rob's Bar, or Starbucks. If traveling with kids, there are several toy shops to grab a distraction for the rest of the car ride or ply them with a sweet treat from the Candy Company.
Grab a Local Beer
While the driver should only observe, the rest of the passengers can partake of locally brewed beer at Narrows Brewing Company. Since 2013, the brewhouse has been crafting original flavors of IPA's, stouts, porters, blond ales, and ciders. Popular brews on tap include the Central District Hazy IPA, Hard Blackberry Cider, and Group Hug IPA. New beers are released each Wednesday, and the location sells the bottle, can, growler, and keg. If you happen to be passing by on a Thursday night, the brewery hosts a regular trivia night for a cash prize.
Walk in a Garden
If you're traveling I-5 between Seattle and Portland from mid-April to mid-May, take the time to smell the flowers with a stop at the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens.
This National Historic Site preserves the Victorian home and garden, where you can walk among a large variety of glorious, fragrant lilacs. The garden not only showcases the typical lavender, white, or purple lilacs blooming, but also yellow, pink, and blue. Lilac plants are available for purchase during their annual Lilac Days Festival.
This non-profit museum was founded with the goal of preserving and flying vintage aircraft. The collection is a testament to the beauty and power of flight. Visitors can get up-close to the dozen retro machines, including carrier fighters from World War II and jets still being used by over 30 armies around the world. The museum also runs the famed Olympic Air Show each June, allowing attendees to watch the majestic machines take to the skies.
Why not take a two-hour break and gain a new skill? The Central GlassWorks, located in Centralia about two hours south of Seattle and two hours north of Portland, offers multiple classes a week teaching students how to turn a piece of glass into a work of art.
If that's too big a time commitment, the artisans welcome observers anytime that the shop is open. Unlike many other glassblowing studios, Central Glasswork doesn't place guest behind a window but invites them to pull up a chair and get close to the action.
The Point Defiance Zoo, located right by Tacoma, gives visitors the option to get face-to-face with sharks. At the South Pacific Aquarium’s Outer Reef habitat, handlers will school participants on using the gear before they step into a steel cage and get lowered into the 225,000-gallon warm water tank. Participants must be at least eight years old.
The zoo has a variety of other exhibits, including camel rides, a wolf sanctuary, polar bears, and a kids zone. At noon each day, there is a close encounter live show that allows guests to meet an aardvark, tamandua, skunk or eagle under the watchful eyes of the trainers.