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Digital Subscriptions > Lonely Planet Traveller (UK) > July 2015 > US PACIFIC ROAD TRIP


Forget Route 66 – follow America’s west-coast highway from Seattle to San Francisco find free-spirited cities, Pacific vistas and forests of epic proportions... plus the odd vampire



Rocky outcrops rise from the Pacifc Ocean alongside Highway 101, near Cape Sebastian State Park, Oregon

Opened in 1926, US Highway 101 is laid along the First World’s fnal frontier: 1,540 miles of ancient wood and wild water, linking the Pacific coast from Washington state to California. It’s a route and a region that has always attracted adventurers and rebels, to-boldly-go pioneers in thought and deed, pushing geographical, economic and spiritual boundaries. And somehow, for all the recreational vehicles and visitor centres, the 101 still retains that sense of wilderness and opportunity, the thrill of traversing an under-explored, untamed corner of the universe. The surfng’s not too shabby either.

Walking-tour guide Jake Schlack

Seattle seems a ftting point of departure: the northwest’s dominant metropolis is also America’s youngest, fastest-growing city. Asked to describe the local accent, walking-tour guide Jake Schlack replies that there isn’t one. ‘People keep coming in from all over the world, there’s just been no time for any dialect to settle.’ A city of geeks and freaks that gave us Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Microsoft and Amazon, Seattle is switched-on, radical and proud of it: solar-powered compactor rubbish bins on every street corner, almost compulsory wi-f, legalised marijuana and a bonafde socialist on the council.

At the same time, it’s a ruthlessly commercial place that calls on a long tradition of making and breaking fortune-seekers from across the spectrum, with Bill Gates and whoever’s behind Starbucks at one end, and the city’s shuffing hobo hordes at the other. Seattle was home to the original Skid Row, a steep dirt track wo-thirdsflled with winos and chancers, dodging the lumberjacks pushing greased logs down to the dockside sawmill that provided much of the new city’s wealth in the mid 19th century.

Tree-lined Occidental Ave S in downtown Seattle.

Whatever else has drawn people here, it probably isn’t the weather. Viewed from Kerry Park, one of this steep city’s many vertiginous vantage points, Seattle transmits the muted majesty of a monochrome, wet-washed Sydney Harbour; above the busy grey waters of Puget Sound, speckled with ferries and cargo vessels, that Frasier title-sequence skyline is fuzzed out by mist, obscuring even the Space Needle – the flying saucer on a giant spike that embodied the can-do ‘sky’s the limit’ optimism of the early 1960s.

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