Be Prepared to be Unconventional
The US is big, like freakishly so.
I’m in the midst of my fourth exploration of the United States and there’s still so much I’ve yet to see. Even after factoring in the epic Great US Road Trip of 2016, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.
This time around, Richelle and I are confining ourselves to the West Coast with time in California, Las Vegas, and Seattle. Our only dip away from the Best Coast? Attending her sorority sister’s wedding in Atlanta.
Herewith is an unconventional approach to an off-the-beaten-track tour of the Western United States. The west coast of full of sites you won’t want to miss – national parks, state parks, forests, the stunning Pacific coast, the ocean, islands, and even a volcano!
How can you best experience this fascinating section of the United States? I’ve got your back.
Make the most out of your time. This means sleeping only enough to get refreshed; you didn’t travel all the way to the US to sleep. Getting up at the crack of dawn gives you a chance to hobnob with locals on their way to work or sometimes on their way home from work.
Local landmarks tend to be less crowded in the wee hours, as we found during our recent trip to Japan. Of course, it does also mean you’ll have to contend with rush hour traffic, which can be a nightmare in cities like LA.
Driving is simply a means to an end; it isn’t the end in itself – Jack Kerouac.
Never Waste Time
Sitting above a deep gorge in Idaho for hours during fall foliage time when leaves change to red, yellow, orange, brown, and points in between is not a waste of time. Driving on the famed US Interstate Highway System is a colossal waste of time. We use the superhighways only as a quick way to get to a local road we want to travel on.
It’s also a big waste of time to knowingly subject yourself to endless traffic jams. For this reason amongst many others, we feel that Los Angeles and the surrounding area is a waste of time. More on Los Angeles later.
We believe strongly that spending time in Las Vegas gambling is a waste of time. Las Vegas has a lot to offer in the way of entertainment and shows but we say that you ought to do all your gambling at your favourite online casinos for Aussies. Las Vegas is an excellent place to get cheap mid-week hotel accommodations and to use it as a hub for travel in the area.
Since you already speak the language, you don’t need a guided tour except for isolated instances where you have to take a tour such as at the Hearst Estate near San Luis Obispo or to the ghost towns of Las Vegas.
Don’t read. There are many books and websites that can help you organize a tour of the Western US but you should read them before you travel. Time is too precious to waste it on mere reading.
Fly into Seattle
It’s best to travel south from Seattle to San Francisco. When you’re driving south along the coast, you can look out directly at the ocean; there’s no road in your line of sight. In addition, to the west of Seattle are the Olympic Mountains with glaciers and great views. To the west of the Olympic Mountains is a temperate climate rain forest.
In order to get to these fantastic works of nature, you’ll need to rent a car.
Renting a Car
It’s cheapest to rent a car for factors of one week rather than to break your rentals up into smaller chunks of days. Always call the company you want to rent from. You’ll learn a lot about customer service this way. Poor service to a potential customer is a big sign that the company doesn’t really care about you.
If you will be staying fairly far from the rental office, ask if they’ll pick you up or deliver the car to you at no extra cost.
Upgrades often cost about $10-15 per day. For the comfort of a slightly bigger car, this extra cost is well worth it.
We suggest one night in Seattle and then the ferry across to Bainbridge Island. From there to Port Angeles, the unofficial entry point to the Olympic Mountains. Here we urge you to go south toward Hurricane Ridge even though it will take you a bit out of your way when you want to go west to the rainforest.
In the mountains are many glaciers and hiking trails. Some of the hiking trails are quite long and strenuous whilst others accommodate less experienced hikers. Hiking and camping are personal choices so we’ll leave that up to you.
You come down from the mountains the same way you went up and then west to Forks which is the big city of western Washington State.
The Hoh rainforest is a short drive south of Forks. In addition to the rainforest, Forks has a timber Museum. Unfortunately, the hours of this museum are not suited to early risers and the museum closes at 17:00. If you can fit it into your afternoon, it’s well worth the time but we don’t suggest wasting your morning waiting for it to open in the morning.
Forks is a beautiful little town with massive trees as you would expect in an area that gets 3000 mm of rain each year. We have enjoyed early morning walks here with the sea air permeating our lungs.
After you have spent a few hours in the rainforest, we suggest you begin the long trek south to San Francisco. Here is where driving on local roads becomes oart of the trip. On the high speed super highways, you just travel fast to get somewhere. On the lower speed local roads, you get a sense of where you are all the time.
Be prepared to stop when you see a sign or simply an interesting building.
We’ve stopped in numerous places that just caught our eye. One place, in Pennsylvania, was a small local market of sorts where that sold ground meat from some more unusual animals. We were heading to a local brewery for a tour when we passed this market and stopped. We cherish the picture we took of packages of ground yak, bison, kangaroo and other animals.
Another time, on our way to a winery in Maine, we stopped at a place that called itself the home of home-made sauerkraut. It was the most different sauerkraut we’ve ever eaten and the place also had a five-table restaurant. We waited to get a table for lunch but it was worth every minute.
In short, you make no spur of the moment decisions when you’re driving the super highways and you can make many spur of the moment decisions when you’re on a local road.
We have space here only for one word about this glorious city. Get up early and go for a walk toward the ocean. It amazed us to see people waiting for buses wearing winter coats in August which in the US is usually the hottest month of the year. As we got closer to the ocean, the wind picked up ocean spray; we were happy that we had worn some heavier clothing ourselves! It was glorious!
More to Come
We’ll continue this little travel log next time.