With my expectations both high and weird, I began planning my first Pacific Coast Highway trip in 2010. The plan was to start in Seattle, end up in San Francisco, and stop along the way along the coast and in places like the Willamette Valley and the California Redwood Forest.
I had roped my brother and sister into coming along because I thought it would be cool to do a siblings’ road trip, like those we had done as a whole family when we were growing up. Our parents planned trips out West to Colorado and Wyoming, East to Quebec and New York and Northeast, to Michigan and Nova Scotia. One of our favorite trips was to Colorado. We stayed at a place known as “the YMCA of the Rockies,” and enjoyed five days of hiking, roller skating at the camp’s roller rink, go-carting down a nearby Alpine slide, and eating at the camp dining hall or grill.
With a mind for reliving those glory days, I set out to plan a vacation that I hoped would be just as fun as those family vacations. I also tried to make the trip affordable. We had places to stay in the three cities we were hitting, Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, and a one-night stay planned for a yurt in one of Oregon’s state parks. The other nights we would play by ear and stay at a motel along our route down the coast.
In Seattle, realizing we are going to have to navigate down the Pacific Coast
The day we arrived, we met at my brother’s friend’s apartment in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. The friend was out of town and kindly let us stay in her apartment. We spent a full day in Seattle with my brother’s friend from college. We walked around downtown, including Pike’s Place Market and to the Space Needle area, where we came upon a seemingly abandoned but operating amusement park. There was a small water ride where you rode down a short slope in a car. My brother took off his shirt and headed for the ride. He and my sister went on some other rides while I mostly looked on. We then took a bus out to the University of Washington neighborhood. We went to a microbrewery, amused ourselves watching my brother try beer (at the time, he wasn’t much of a beer fan), and ate at one of the best and spiciest Thai restaurants I have been to. After that, we decided to go to a tanning salon, and I was the only one who didn’t partake.
My brother on the water ride
That evening, we went out to visit a bunch of my sister’s high school friends who lived in Ballard. At this time, I was very curious what life was like for people who didn’t live in big, dense, urban places like New York. I had made the choice to stay in NYC for the foreseeable future, and it felt like the right choice, but all the same, I was intrigued by the idea that life could be simpler, more spacious, more outdoor-filled, cheaper, and perhaps more communal and less individualistic. My sister’s friends were a case in point. Several of them lived in a craftsman home in Ballard with a decent-sized kitchen, a big common area with a poster of Richard Nixon bowling, and a front porch and backyard.
My brother doing a beer flight
The next day, we set out on our road trip. I was beginning to make a few observations. One is that my siblings and I aren’t that good at enjoying nature together. We stopped at Mount Rainier on our way to Portland to go hiking. For a good chunk of this hike, we were arguing about whether my brother should pee there. I think my sister was for him not peeing, while he was for peeing. My sister seemed to be trying to appreciate the nature, while my brother was not very stimulated by it. I began to wonder what I had been thinking when I had had the idea to go out into nature with him.
Another thing we were learning was that we were not used to being on vacation. My brother at the time was an aspiring comedian, and he felt like he should be working on material. I was had been working for a year at a job I didn’t like, and I was trying not to think about that. My sister was finishing up a year where she had to contend with one of the worst job markets in American history. Our parents raised us to have a strong work ethic, so I don’t think we were particularly used to going on vacation to relax. Going on vacation is something I need to give myself permission to do, and I have gotten a whole lot better at it than I was back in 2010. Although my siblings and I all lived in the same city at the time, and still do, being on vacation together led to a different dynamic than what was typical.
Wondering what we were thinking when we decided to travel together
My sister on the Mount Rainier hike
It also felt at times like we were reverting back to our childhood dynamic with each other. I was laughing at all of my brother’s jokes, even the dumb ones, and my sister was finding him to be too hammy and said I was enabling him. We had really only just begun what would be a vacation of both enjoying each other’s company, tolerating each other, and getting upset. The fact that we can so quickly bounce between these three states says something beautiful about siblings.
Passing through Red State America
After a short drive from Seattle, we arrived in Vancouver, Washington, a suburb of Portland where my aunt and uncle live. One thing I didn’t learn until this vacation was that Portland and Seattle are very close to each other (about a three hour drive), while San Francisco is a much longer drive. This was something you’d think I would have known going into the trip, but I hadn’t spent too much time researching the actual drive.
Where we went (my best approximation)
- Capitol Hill
- University District
- Thai Tom restaurant
- Big Time Brewery & Alehouse
- Fun Forest Amuseument Park at the Seattle Space Needle
- Pike’s Place Market
- Mount Rainier