Washington Highway 101 Road Trip

Highway 101—a twisty, mostly two-lane road that wends its way from the state capital to Washington’s western shores—is a picturesque backdrop for an epic road-trip experience. Buckle up for a highway adventure through the Olympic Peninsula and along the coast.
Washington State Vacation
Washington State Vacation

Begin your journey with an appetite, heading north from Olympia toward Shelton. Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton is a prime place to pull over for a snack of oysters, clams, mussels or geoduck (pronounced “gooey duck”), a regional specialty.

Heartier eaters may want to detour east on SR 106 to Union, where the Restaurant at Alderbrook offers locally harvested seafood; menu items include Bluenose bass in bacon-blood orange sauce and creamy Dungeness crab mac and cheese under a blanket of butter-roasted bread crumbs and stunning views of Hood Canal’s calm waters.

Back on 101, skirt Hood Canal for about 30 miles of scenic shoreline, passing through tiny villages. The route continues north and eventually veers west, where you’ll come to lavender-laden Sequim (pronounced “skwim”) and a respite from wet weather: The town sits in a rain shadow and typically boasts a sunny, dry climate. Adventure seekers can take a one-hour drive through the Olympic Game Farm to see and feed (wheat bread only) llamas, yaks, bears and more. Chances are a bison will slobber on your car window, hungry for another slice.

Next up, nestled between the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains, is Port Angeles, a good stopping point for the day. Unwind with a glass of vino at Olympic Cellars Winery, a woman-run operation set in a whimsically restored 1890s barn, before sitting down for dinner at Bella Italia, Sabai Thai or any of the wide number of dining options.

If you have an extra day, use Port Angeles as a jumping-off point for explorations of Olympic National Park—a World Heritage site—and spectacular Hurricane Ridge before heading back onto the highway.

From Port Angeles, the road soon passes by brilliantly blue Lake Crescent on the way to Forks, a sure winner with tweens for its connection to the enormously popular Twilight franchise. The sleepy timber town has themed tours, a 1953 Chevy truck like the one protagonist Bella drives and other series-related paraphernalia to lure vampire- and werewolf-loving Twihards.

The city, however, is rooted in lumber, which you’ll see at the Forks Timber Museum. For more trees—fully intact ones—take a detour off 101 along Upper Hoh Road to one of four temperate rain forests on the peninsula: Hoh Rain Forest, a lush, canopied wonderland of mosses, ferns and trees. From the visitor center, the Hall of Mosses Trail and Spruce Nature Trail are each about a mile and ideal for a relaxed stroll.

Continue south on Highway 101 to reach Hoquiam, where, if you time your trip around Loggers Playday, you can enjoy a pancake feed, fair, grand parade and logging show complete with ax throwing and tree climbing.

Roll into Aberdeen, hometown of late grunge icon Kurt Cobain, where a welcome sign encourages you to “Come As You Are,” and a statue of the Nirvana frontman’s Fender Jag-Stang electric guitar sits near Young Street Bridge. For sightseeing, take a self-guided walking tour past homes of timber barons from a bygone era (maps are available at the Grays Harbor Chamber of Commerce), or step aboard Lady Washington, a replica of the first ship to come to the area back in the 1700s. She’s another star in these parts, having been featured in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

After resting your head at one of Aberdeen’s cute B&Bs, head south to towns along Willapa Bay, where Raymond welcomes visitors with steel statues scattered along both sides of the road. A fun fact to consider on your drive: In the 1910s, the town was “amphibious”—so covered in water that there were 2,900 feet of elevated sidewalks to keep people off the damp ground.

Stretch your legs at South Bend’s Pacific County Courthouse, a stately white building perched on a hill. The view looking back toward the water is beautiful, but the sight inside might be even better—look up to see an incredible stained-glass dome.

Wind your way along Willapa Bay to arrive at Long Beach Peninsula. In the summer, the small towns here buzz with beachgoers and boaters, while winter is perfect for storm-watching. In the fall, see the cranberry bogs being harvested and hit the beach for clam digging. Or partake in the bounty of fresh foods: Breakfast at the 42nd Street Cafe & Bistro in Seaview, brunch at Jimella and Nanci’s Market Cafe in Ocean Park, lunch at the Shelburne Inn Pub in Seaview, dinner at The Depot Restaurant in Seaview and a nightcap at Pickled Fish in Long Beach are all quality bets.

If you’ve promised souvenirs to friends back home, Marsh’s Free Museum in Long Beach provides seashells, logoed beach wear and saltwater taffy (in 45 delicious flavors)—not to mention a two-headed calf and Jake the Alligator Man (he has the upper body of a human and a reptilian lower half).

Excursion: Port Townsend
At the foot of Discovery Bay (about 18 miles before Sequim), take a right on SR 20 to head to Port Townsend. The city’s roots as a Victorian seaport still shine through today, with beautiful old houses and preserved period architecture.

Wander the appropriately named main thoroughfare Water Street, with sound views and plenty of small shops, galleries, and eateries to duck into. Don’t miss Elevated Ice Cream, an old-school ice cream parlor founded in 1977, where all of the good stuff is made on-site and sold by the ounce.

For a dose of yesteryear, Jefferson County Historical Society Museum offers a nice overview of the area (as well as a jail cell where Jack London spent a night), and Fort Worden State Park is filled with bunkers to explore and military history.

Fortify yourself for the trip onward with a meal at the adorable and sustainable Sweet Laurette Cafe and Bistro or choose your own blend—and savor a homemade scone with clotted cream—at Pippa’s Real Tea.

Excursion: Ocean Shores
There’s something comforting about the old-fashioned fun of it all in Ocean Shores (about 21 miles from Hoquiam)—miles of sand, family-friendly accommodations and beachy activities. Putt your way to victory on one of two well-maintained mini golf courses at Pacific Paradise, knock down some pins at Shores Bowl and fill up on sweet treats at Murphy’s Candy and Ice Cream.

For outdoor pursuits, horseback riding along the beach is particularly popular, as are kite flying, moped driving and cycling. For shopping, souvenir-selling Sharky’s is a must, if only to get your picture taken walking into the massive shark jaws around the entrance. Just don’t forget a sweatshirt or jacket—even when the sun is shining, the ocean winds can make it chilly on the beach.

Learn more about Washington State's scenic byways.

—Haley Shapley

Photo: Port Townsend, Credit: Joel Rogers