First, head to the beach, the glistening beach, with its fine sand and its lapping, deliciously warm, blue-green waves and the occasional half-buried boulder that hides a massive iguana blissfully unconcerned with all the foot traffic around him. The beaches here, every bit as “Caribbean” as their Caribbean neighbors, almost single-handedly makes the trip worth every penny and every hour sitting in an enclosed space thousands of feet above ground.
Later, spread out and explore – the beach will be there when you get back. Upon closer look, you’ll realize there’s more to this popular vacation destination than its beaches and the overwhelming number of resorts.
Mysterious cenotes – some too deep to reach the bottom, inlets, and lagoons offer unique swimming opportunities. Well-preserved Mayan ruins, built around 1200 A.D. atop a cliff in Tulum, transport visitors back to a once glorious time. Exotic wildlife, both on land and underwater, present a chance to interact with nature. Aquatic and cultural theme parks like Xel-Ha and Xcaret provide fun recreation for both kids and adults.
And then there are the vibrant and ever friendly locals who greet you like an old friend coming home after a long absence.
Even beyond that, there’s more to experience. Venture away from the tourist spots and walk the local streets of Playa del Carmen. Have your fill of the best tacos you’ll ever have in your life. Try off-the-beaten-path eateries that serve cheap delicacies like authentic tlayudas and delicious kastacan. And, of course, brush up on your tongue-rolling Spanish.
There’s a good reason – or rather, many wonderful reasons – why families, couples, and singles, the young and the old, from many parts of the world, are drawn to this strip on the eastern shore of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. From its beautiful shores to its incredible Mayan ruins to its local haunts, the Riviera Maya is every bit a paradise.
The landscape shifts from dominantly dry golden hills to the lush, rolling green of valleys and mountains punctuated only by little towns, rivers and farms as we make our way from California, land of sunshine, to the Pacific Northwest, always wet and ever gray. The stark contrast and apparent transition may shock at first, especially when you’re used to eternal sunshine, but it never fails to astound, no matter how many times it’s witnessed.
It is to Portland and ultimately Seattle that we are headed, but with a few planned and unplanned stops along the way because you just can’t help but. It is, after all, an eventful drive in a stunning country from Southern California to Washington, a journey that spans more than a thousand miles, traverses the western most part of the United States from north to south, and passes irresistible wonders. Morro Bay, San Simeon, Big Sur on the coastal road, Sequoia, Yosemite, Mount Shasta on Interstate 5 – and that’s just in California!
We’ve been to all of these and more, but this time we’re bypassing the familiar and exploring the new and unknown.
Crater Lake. Our first real stop on this trip, if you don’t count the cheap but decent hotel (thanks Expedia!) for the night and a leisurely breakfast at Black Bear Diner (a favorite hearty stop of ours), is the spectacular Crater Lake. A little more than 2 hours northeast of Ashland, OR, this deep blue lake is born of a volcanic explosion thousands of years ago, purely fed by rain and snowfall and one of the deepest lakes in the world. It’s a must detour on your way north, and a chance for a snowball fight in the grounds of nearby Crater Lake Lodge.
Mount Rainier. Nextstop is Emerald City’s pride and joy. It’s the highest mountain in Washington, watching over Seattle and the neighboring cities with its glaciated peak (it has 26 major ones!) In the summer from late July to August, its meadows burst with the colors of the wildflowers, and in the winter, its trails are buried under glorious snow.
The Crab Pot. It’s touristy and a chain, yes, and the line is always long – not exactly a top choice for food snobs. But who can resist a feast of crabs, shrimp, clams, mussels, corn and potatoes?! This popular restaurant on Pier 57 is a great foodie stop in a seafood city like Seattle.
Port Townsend. I never did understand why Stephanie Meyers chose Forks as the main setting for her famous YA series. Sure, Forks has the greatest amount of rain, but it’s got to be the worst setting for a romantic story – especially with the charming town of Port Townsend only 103 miles away that probably gets the same miniscule amount of sunshine as Forks! Nestled in the northeastern tip of the evergreen Olympic Peninsula, about 3 hours away from Seattle by car, Port Townsend is exactly like those dreamy towns we see in movies and TV shows. Except it’s real. From its wooden docks with views of the bay and the neighboring islands and the late 1800 Victorian houses that are kept preserved and still being used today to the quirky downtown and uptown shops that sells wonderful treasures to take home and locally made products and the super friendly locals, it’s an unforgettable place to keep coming back to.
And Back Down on the Coast
Yaquina Head Lighthouse. I love lighthouses (who doesn’t?), and Oregon… well, Oregon’s got 11 of them. One day, I’ll visit and photograph them all in one trip, there’s only room for one right now. Yaquina Head’s lighthouse is definitely a great first stop. It’s a great scenic drive from the park’s entrance to the parking lot near the lighthouse trailhead, and the lighthouse overlooks a rock island that’s because a natural pit stop for hundreds of bird. And if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of gray whales swimming out at sea.
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Places to Stay
Klamath Motor Lodge. While a 2-star hotel, it’s a great and cheap stop for the night for travelers on a road trip with it’s clean rooms, comfortable bed, and complimentary continental breakfast and WiFi. (Yreka, CA)
Super 8 Kelso Longview. Super 8s may not have the best reputation, but after reading and rereading all the reviews on Expedia, we decided to give it a go and I’m glad we did! It’s a cheap option with complimentary breakfast and WiFi when you’re looking for a decent place not far from the Mount Rainier National Park. (Kelso, WA)
Ann Starrett Mansion. If you’re feeling adventurous and historical, the Ann Starrett Mansion is a perfect place to stay when visiting Port Townsend. This historical mansion, built in 1889, has a romantic backstory and a lovely interior. We stayed in the Gable Suite, which is basically the attic, and enjoyed bigger floor space and privacy. Even better, the mansion is a short and pretty walk away from the town’s downtown and uptown strips. (Port Townsend, WA)
Windmill Inn of Roseburg. When driving down Oregon on your way to California, the Windmill Inn of Roseburg is a great stop for the night. It’s cheap but surprisingly pleasant, with clean facilities, bright furniture, and rooms with a private patio overlooking the pool. Continental breakfast and WiFi are also complimentary. (Roseburg, OR)
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