The Seattle to Portland Drive: Fun Places to Stop on the Road Trip

Welcome to one of the Pacific Northwest’s best road trips! Driving from Seattle to Portland can be a quick, three-hour highway jaunt, or a multi-day road trip with numerous stops in quirky towns and awesome national parks.

There are so many attractions to see on this route, from natural wonders like Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens, to historic spots like Kurt Cobain’s childhood home in Aberdeen, to fun cities and towns like Olympia and Ocean Shores.

You can also find some quirky roadside attractions along the way, like giant rooster statues, the world’s largest egg, a bridge designed for squirrels, and the International Mermaid Museum!

seattle to portland road trip

I’ve lived in Seattle for the past several years, and every time I drive to Portland, I try to stop somewhere new. This guide will reveal all of the best activities and attractions between these two fun Pacific Northwest cities.

I’m covering two possible routes: One is straight down I-5, with various detours along the route to visit parks and attractions. The other is the coastal scenic route, which follows Highway 101 as it hugs the ocean through some fun coastal communities.

The I-5 route:
Mount Rainier National Park
Centralia, Washington
Winlock, Washington (rooster statues & world’s largest egg)
Mount St. Helens National Monument
Longview, Washington (squirrel bridge)
Vancouver, Washington

The coastal route:
Aberdeen (Kurt Cobain childhood home & International Mermaid Museum)
Ocean Shores and Westport, Washington
Long Beach, Washington
Cannon Beach, Oregon

Two Possible Routes: I-5 or the Coastal Route

1 Most Direct Route: Straight Down I-5
2 The Coastal Route on Highway 101

Most people driving between Portland and Seattle simply go right down I-5. The drive is just under three hours if you go straight through with no stops. But that wouldn’t be fun, would it?

On that route, you have a number of detour options, such as Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and some quirky small towns.

The coastal route, meanwhile, takes much longer, but offers a chance to see several small towns next to the ocean. This route is best traveled over at least two days, with an overnight stay in a town like Ocean Shores or Long Beach, Washington.

The I-5 Route: Suggested Stops Between Seattle and Portland

seattle to portland drive

Distance: 174 miles
Drive time: 2 hours, 55 minutes
Highlights: Olympia, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Vancouver WA

Let’s go over all of the possible stops if you choose the I-5 route. Including all of these stops would take a couple days, but you could just stop at one or two places if you want to reach Portland the same day.


First off, if you’re not from Seattle, you’ll want to spend some time checking out the city’s attractions, such as the Jimi Hendrix statue, the Space Needle, Pike Place and the Gum Wall, and the Capitol Hill and Pioneer Square neighborhoods. 

Downtown Seattle also has a walkable area featuring restaurants, a giant ferris wheel, and an aquarium. See my guide to the best guided tours in Seattle and my one-day itinerary for the city.


Points of interest in Tacoma include Point Defiance Park, a common spot to see orcas swimming in the bay; Point Defiance Zoo; and the Museum of Glass, which features some of the most remarkable glass creations you will ever see.

tacoma glass bridge chihuly

See the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a pedestrian overpass outside the museum featuring three installations designed by famed glass artist Dale Chihuly.


Olympic is Washington’s state capital, and the opportunity to tour the capitol building may be worth stopping for.

In addition, the Olympia area is home to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, a nature preserve with four miles of trails and observation decks above marshes and grasslands. Birds and fish are the main wildlife here, but coyotes and deer are often spotted as well.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier is one of the most incredible national parks in America! Sure, I may be biased, but I think this is one of the most scenic and spectacular parks in the country, so if you’ve got 4 or more hours to spare, it’s worth leaving I-5 and driving over.

rainier mountain goats

Head to the Paradise Visitor Center, the main hub of the park. If you’re short on time, just hike part of the Skyline Trail and drive to Narada Falls and Reflection Lakes.

Those are three major highlights you can check off in a couple hours’ time. See my full guide to things to do at Mt. Rainier.

If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of a bear, mountain goat, or the super-elusive wolverine!

Centralia, WA

Centralia is a town known for its large outlet shopping mall. So if you’re in the market for new brand-name clothing, check it out. Also in Centralia is the Great Wolf Lodge waterpark, a popular attraction for families and kids.

Winlock, WA

Winlock is a small town of only about 1500 people. It’s just a couple miles off the interstate. The main reason to visit? To see “the world’s largest egg!” 

world's largest egg

Twelve feet long and 1200 pounds, the egg sits in the center of town and makes for a funny picture. Especially if you frame it with one of the giant rooster statues nearby.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

The most noteworthy volcano eruption in recent history in the lower 48 U.S. states came when Mount St. Helens blew off its top in 1980. Five dozen people lost their lives, and more than $1 billion in damage occurred.

Today, tourists drive to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, a viewpoint that sits 4 miles from the mountain.

mount st helens viewpoint
Mount St. Helens is one of the best stops on the Seattle to Portland drive.

This drive requires an hour-long detour off I-5 from the town of Castle Rock on Route 504, the Silver Lake Highway, so it’s best to make this stop if you have at least a half-day to spare.

You can explore short walking trails near the observatory, or longer hikes that scale some of the hills surrounding the center.

Longview, WA

Sixty years ago, a builder in the town of Longview became disheartened by the number of squirrels he saw getting run over in the streets around the parklet at City Hall.

So he built a “squirrel bridge” that ran above the road, connecting two large trees.

nutty narrows bridge

Before long, the critters began using it to cross the busy street. It’s called the Nutty Narrows Bridge, and it’s a quirky attraction that you may want to pull over for. Longview actually has 10 squirrel bridges as of this writing! 

Vancouver, WA

Most drivers on the Seattle to Portland route don’t stop in Vancouver, Washington, since it’s literally just across the river from Portland. Usually, people don’t want to make a pit stop so close to the destination!

If you do choose to spend time here, the highlights include the Waterfront Renaissance Trail, the George C. Marshall House, and the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

Portland, OR

portland oregon old town images

You’ve made it to Portland! Check out my full list of quirky and unique activities in Portland.

Suggested activities include the extinct volcano Mount Tabor; the International Rose Test Garden; the giant Adidas shoes; and the cool neighborhood of Hawthorne. Don’t forget Mill Ends Park, the smallest official urban park in the world.

The Coastal Route

portland to seattle road trip - coastal route

Distance: 375 miles
Drive time: 7 hours, 40 minutes
Highlights: Olympia, Aberdeen (Kurt Cobain home), Ocean Shores, Cannon Beach

The coastal route can take anywhere from 5-8 hours, depending on how many of the towns along the Pacific Ocean coastline you choose to stop in.

Here are the options for places to stop on a Seattle to Portland drive along the coast.


Again, Tacoma and Olympia will be on your route. See above for a full list of attractions in these cities. Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park and Museum of Glass and Olympia’s state Capitol building are both worthy of being included on your road trip itinerary.

Aberdeen, WA

Aberdeen is known for being the birthplace of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. The legendary grunge rocker grew up at 1210 E. 1st Street in a modest home that still stands.

kurt cobain memorial

Drive by his old house, then head to Kurt Cobain Memorial Park to see the bridge that he used to hang out under during his teen years. 

This area’s other fun attraction is the quirky International Mermaid Museum. This facility has a surprising number of informational exhibits about the history of mermaid mythology around the world, plus educational displays about marine creatures, and some fun pop culture exhibits about mermaids in movies and tv shows.

mermaid museum washington

Find the Mermaid Museum next to the Westport Winery, midway between Aberdeen and Westport.

Ocean Shores and Westport, Washington

Ocean Shores is one of the best coastal towns in this area, but it’s a bit out of the way, since it requires driving all the way around North Bay to get to the peninsula.

You may want to head to Westport instead, and drive south from there. It all depends how much time you have!

In Ocean Shores, you can rent fat bikes and ride them right next to the ocean, on the hard-sand beach. Or drive your car out there!

This is one of the few places in the Pacific Northwest where you can drive right onto the beach next to the ocean.

ocean shores beach

Ocean Shores has a number of restaurants and shops, most of which are bustling during the summer months. Westport isn’t as touristy, but has some attractions as well, including the Westport Viewing Tower right next to the ocean.

Long Beach, Washington

The famous 1806 cross-country journey of explorers Lewis and Clark ended on the Long Beach Peninsula. You can walk in their footsteps on the Discovery Trail, a paved trail with statues and whale carvings that commemorate their expedition.

In Cape Disappointment State Park, find the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. The World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame is another quirky attraction in Long Beach.

Seaside and Cannon Beach, Oregon

Seaside is another coastal city known for its aquarium, family-friendly activities, and selection of shopping boutiques.

Cannon Beach is similar, but is a bit more laid-back and quiet, making it a popular place to unwind on the coast.

Cannon Beach itself is one of the prettiest beaches on this entire stretch of driving, featuring the iconic Haystack Rock landmark, a 235-foot-high rock that you can walk to during low tide.

Other Possible Detours on the Route

The Seattle area and Portland area both have other cool places that you may want to add to your itinerary. Here are a few more spots that are somewhat out of the way, but could be worth it.

Whidbey Island

Puget Sound has a number of fun islands just a short drive from Seattle. Whidbey Island is one of the top day trips from Seattle.

Visit Greenbank Farm, the Langley Whale Center, Ebey’s Landing, and Deception Point, and watch for orcas or gray whales from shore.

San Juan Island and Bainbridge Island are also good day trip options from Seattle. 

Columbia River Gorge

First-time visitors to the Portland area should spend a bit of time exploring the mighty Columbia River Gorge. Multnomah Falls, in particular, is one of the top spots for natural beauty, so put this place at the top of your list.

Olympic National Park

Olympic NP has some incredible hiking trails with great views, as well as some old-growth forests like the Hoh Rain Forest.

olympic national park

Newcomers to the park should give yourselves an entire day to explore. Check out the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center and its surrounding hikes, as well as the Hoh Rain Forest, and Rialto Beach on the Pacific Coast.

Mount Hood National Forest

Mount Hood is another of the impressive peaks in the Cascade Mountains, along with Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier, and Mount Baker. Mt. Hood has 1000 miles of hiking trails, so it’s a paradise for nature lovers.

Salem, Oregon

The state capital of Oregon is an hour south of Portland in Salem. The capitol building is open 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays.

Newport, Oregon

Newport is southwest of Portland, so you’ll have to have to add an extra 2.5 hours to get there. The payoff? A beach city with attractions like the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center.

Newport is the very end of U.S. Route 20, the longest road in America, which starts all the way at the other end of the country in Boston.

Yakima, Washington

If you choose to route your road trip inland, you can pass through Yakima. This part of Washington is actually a desert.

The Yakima Valley produces massive numbers of wine and hops, so you can find some of the state’s best wineries and breweries in this region.

FAQs for the Seattle to Portland Drive

Where should I stay during a Seattle to Portland road trip?

Though you can complete the drive between these two cities in a single day, here are a few recommended hotels for some of the most common places to make an overnight stop.

Mount Rainier: Paradise Village Hotel (Ashford)
Ocean Shores: Lighthouse Suites Inn (Ocean Shores)
Cannon Beach: Inn at Haystack Rock (Cannon Beach)

What if I am driving the other way, from Portland to Seattle?

The recommended itineraries remain the same, just in reverse order. No other adjustments are needed, and the travel time remains the same, unless you happen to hit rush hour in either direction. 

hendrix statue seattle
Check out the Jimi Hendrix statue in Seattle.

What’s the best time of year for the Seattle to Portland drive?

Summer is always best, since the skies are sunny and temperatures are comfortable. This is one of the best road trip routes in the United States during the summer months!

But you can make this drive any time of year. I’ve done it during winter, and had places like Ocean Shores and Westport almost to myself, because most tourists visit there when the weather is nicer. 

What are some other cool road trips from Seattle?

For an even more epic road trip, see my guide to driving from Seattle to San Diego. Here’s another for driving between Seattle and Denver.

And check out this collection of 23 recommended road trips from Seattle, and this list of seven Washington state road trips.

Do you have any additional suggestions for a Seattle to Portland drive?

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