Puddle jumping across the 49th parallel from Vancouver to Seattle is a road well traveled. It is also a road — OK more like a cruise control-friendly, straight as an arrow highway — that lends itself to leisurely stops along the way. I'm not sure who to thank for this, but many of the best road trip finds are just off the highway, making the three-hour ride as delicious as it is effortless. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/minuk)
Sandwiched between the Pacific Northwest coastal metropolises, you'll find ocean-view bakeries, drive-in coffee shops, riverside restaurants, and modern wineries. I've made the trip from Vancouver to Seattle more times than I can count, and I've never failed to stop along the way. The allure of what's just off the highway is too tempting. In fact, if you're hitting the open road between the Glass and Emerald cities, it's difficult to not make the journey part of your experience.
Vancouver, British Columbia
8 a.m. Pushing off early for your road trip is the equivalent of a balanced breakfast — they both start your day off right. But save breakfast for a little while later; first indulge in an early morning treat with a cappuccino and flaky croissant at Thomas Haas. Vancouver's most famous chocolatier, Thomas is also a fourth-generation pastry chef who honed his craft all over the world prior to settling in Vancouver. Before leaving, pick up of a bag of macarons or Sparkle cookies as fuel for the day ahead.
9:30 a.m. Assuming you sailed through one of two major border crossings that stand a stone's throw apart, drive just 25 minutes farther to reach this leisurely and historic seaside town with restaurants and shops that occupy the likes of old train cabooses and Victorian-style buildings. One stop that's big with locals, especially those with kayaks on the roof of their cars, is Avenue Bread. Your taste buds will thank you for sampling one of their morning breakfast sandwiches, or as they would say, Avenue Eggenues.
Drive three minutes back up to the highway, and just before the on-ramp is a roadside, drive-thru coffee bar called I Wanna Moka. Bubbly baristas take your order and mix your drink with the precision of a meticulous bartender. A hot or iced beverage appears in your hand two minutes later. You'll never appreciate your vehicle's cup holder more.
Mount Vernon, Wash.
11:30 a.m. In celebration of the annual tulip festival, a giant tulip-painted smoke stack rises above heritage buildings to welcome you to the riverside city. Entering Mount Washington you feel as though you've gone back in time. Restored four-story brick buildings line every street and a rail station sits in the middle of town. Right near the station, and one minute off the highway, is the Calico Cupboard, a hearty breakfast and lunch cafe and bakery with stacked sandwiches and a small-town, farmhouse feel. Everything is made fresh daily and the bread is baked with just-milled and organically grown whole grain and unbleached flour. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/gerardov)
1:30 p.m. Only 30 minutes from your final destination, 70 wineries wait quietly and confidently like a aged bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. Driving or biking to the closely knit tasting rooms that dot Woodinville wine country, you're struck by the slower pace of life and passion that fills the town. After all, wine is a labor of love, and most locals are either extremely proud or directly involved in the craft. For your inaugural tastings, pull into the award-winning Januik and Novelty Hill — different owners, same tasting room, and winemaker — and immerse yourself in the concrete structure's clean lines and minimalist landscaping. For a completely different design aesthetic with equally fine wines, go big or go home next door at Columbia Winery, one of the bigger wine operations in Washington State.
4 p.m. Many American restaurants understand the joy (and savings) that come from happy hour, and Bellevue — Seattle's woodsy tech suburb — is no exception. Before hitting the big city, stop in Bellevue's park-once-and-walk-everywhere city centre for your choice of approachable or aspirational shopping and global cuisine. Purple Cafe and Wine Bar uses its strong industrial décor as a neutral palette for its first love: food and wine pairings. For the most impact, order a cheese and wine flight or a selection of items from their tasting bar, made up of modestly-priced yet high-falutin' appetizers enhanced by 3-ounce glasses of featured wine.
6 p.m. With a satisfied stomach and a half tank of gas, you've arrived. Time to celebrate. A tavern and cocktail lounge should do the trick. Black Bottle, a local's favorite, street corner gastro-tavern serves up sustainable food and what they call "hard-working wines". About a 15-minute walk away is one of the city's most famous mixologists. The 90s-inspired Zig Zag Cafe is hard to find, but the dimly lit and unpretentious cocktail bar is all about the bevvies. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/lizstless)
The well-travelled thoroughfare, also known as Hwy 99 and the I-5, weaves its way through cities, towns, forests, and fields as it extends from one seaside metropolis to the other — making it worthy of a few stops along the way. Beautiful scenery and hidden restau-finds make the journey as enjoyable as the destination.