Seattle to Portland: 8 Things to See on the Road

Interstate Bridge crossing Columbia River, Portland, Oregon, USA
••• Danita Delimont/Getty Images

Driving from Seattle to Portland takes about three to four hours, depending on traffic and how often you stop. Sure, the drive isn’t long and there isn’t really much reason to stop… except that there’s some pretty nifty stuff along the way to see. So leave early in the morning and add a few destinations to the journey. Make a day of it. Have some fun! Here are some ideas for what Western Washington attractions might punctuate your drive.

  • 01 of 08

    Visit a Museum in Tacoma

    Tacoma Art Museum.
    ••• Richard Cummins/Getty Images

    About 40 minutes south of Seattle off of Exit 133, downtown Tacoma has become known for its museums. Tacoma is the only city in Washington that managed to get its museums all in close proximity to each other so it’s easy to bounce between them, or simply pick one to see and then be on your way. Located right off of I-5, downtown Tacoma’s museums include the Tacoma Art Museum, Museum of Glass, Washington State History Museum and LeMay – America’s Car Museum. If you’re only going to pick one and don’t have a specific topic in mind, the art museum and car museum are both excellent options. Allow at least an hour to make your way through any one of these.

  • 02 of 08

    Explore the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge

    Mink
    ••• Richard McManus/Getty Images

    If you want to walk on the wild side, head on past Tacoma to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, located just off of Exit 114. This peaceful refuge has trails throughout its wooden areas and wetlands where visitors can spot any number of critters, including more than 200 species of birds, animals like otters or beavers, and fish. You may or may not spot many animals, though, depending when you visit and how sharp your eyes are, but this natural expanse is still a beautiful place to visit.

  • 03 of 08

    See the Capitol

    Washington State Capitol
    ••• Doug Wilson/Getty Images

    Washington State’s Capitol is located in Olympia off Exit 105 and you can spot it from the freeway. The Capitol campus is a lovely place to stroll, especially in the spring when the cherry blossoms are out or on a fall afternoon when the leaves are changing. The campus is close to downtown Olympia, too, which is small, but has lots of shops and restaurants. About an hour south of Seattle, this area makes a fine pit stop, and if you want to take things deeper with the Capitol, public tours are available for free. They are offered hourly between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays, and also hourly between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekends.

  • 04 of 08

    Shop the Centralia Outlet Mall

    Centralia, WA
    ••• Mona Makela Photography/Getty Images

    Need a shopping break? Centralia Outlet Mall off of Exit 82 is big enough to offer plenty of shops, but small enough that it won’t take you too long to find what you need (unless you want to spend some time combing for deals)! Stores at the outlets include a bit of everything, from a Coach Outlet to Bath & Body Works Outlet to shoe stores and a few places to eat. The outlets are situated strip mall style instead of an indoor mall, so you can park close to the stores you intend to spend more time at.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Stop at the Gospodor Monuments

    Gospodor Monuments
    ••• brewbooks/flickr

    Sometimes you need a little roadside attraction in your life and it’s tough to miss the Gospodor Monuments. Of course, they can be viewed just fine as you pass by on the freeway as they’re large and close to the road, but if they strike you as more interesting than a flyby’s worth of peeping, then pull off on Exit 63 to see them up close. These metal sculptures are a bit of a mystery. They were built by Dominic Gospodor, who spent more than $1 million putting them up. What they mean is where the mystery lies. The statues feature Jesus, a Native American and Mother Teresa and are meant to commemorate the Holocaust, the Christian faith and the struggle of the Native Americans.

  • 06 of 08

    Wander the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens

    If you have love for anything floral, stop at Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Woodland. The gardens were planted by Klager herself starting in the late 1800s and has a definite Victorian garden flare. Wander the garden paths and you’ll see all kinds of flowers, trees and shrubbery, but of course don’t miss the lilacs, which are at their peak in late spring. The gardens are open all year round from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day and there’s always something to see.

  • 07 of 08

    Discover Mt. St. Helens

    Mt. St. Helens from the trails around Johnston Ridge Observatory.
    ••• Danielle D. Hughston/Getty Images

    Okay, so this one is a pretty major detour if your goal is to get from Seattle to Portland. However, if your goal is to really see something neat along the way, Mt. St. Helens will do the trick. Take Exit 49 to Highway 504 and expect to drive a little over an hour off the freeway. You’ll also want some time to explore as you make your way up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory where you get a spectacular view of the mountain and its massive crater, but also can watch a film about the eruption.

  • 08 of 08

    Officers Row in Vancouver

    Officers Row Vancouver
    ••• John Elk/Getty Images

    For one last stop before you drive across the bridge into Portland, Officers Row in Vancouver is a worthy place if you love military history, architecture, or just a picturesque walk. The “row” is a lineup of 34 stately mansions, many in Victorian style, that date from the mid-1800s forward. Most of the homes once belonged to various military officers (hence the name) who were stationed at Fort Vancouver. Some are open to the public, such as the George C. Marshall House.