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.
Visit a Museum in Tacoma
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 and car museums are both excellent options. Allow at least an hour to make your way through any one of these choices.
Explore the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge
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 wooded areas and wetlands where you can spot any number of critters, including more than 200 species of birds, animals such as otters or beavers, and fish. You may or may not spot many animals, though, depending on when you visit and how sharp your eyes are, but this natural expanse is still a beautiful place to visit.
See the Capitol
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 check out the Capitol, public tours are available for free. Check the website for specific hours.
Shop the Centralia Outlet Mall
Need a shopping break? Centralia Outlet Mall, located off 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 mall include a bit of everything, from a Coach Outlet to Bath & Body Works Outlet to shoe stores and a few apparel shops. 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.
Stop at the Gospodor Monuments
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 all three commemorate the Holocaust, the Christian faith, and the struggle of the Native Americans.
Wander the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens
If you love anything floral, stop at Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Woodland. The gardens were planted by Klager herself starting in the late 1800s and have a definite Victorian garden flare. Wander the garden paths and you’ll see all kinds of flowers, trees, and shrubbery. Of course, don’t miss the lilacs, which are at their peak in late spring. The gardens are open year-round, and there’s always something to see.
Discover Mt. St. Helens
Okay, so this one is a pretty major detour if your goal is to get from Seattle to Portland. However, if you really want to see something neat along the way, Mount 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 1980 eruption.
Officers Row in Vancouver
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 22 preserved Victorian homes 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.