The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
A busy, industrial city at the center of the northern Olympic Peninsula, Port Angeles (pop. 19,038) makes a handy base for visiting the nearby wilderness of Olympic National Park. The town is slowly but surely recovering from its traditional dependence on logging, and the waterfront, which once hummed to the sound of lumber and pulp mills, is now bustling with tourists wandering along a 6.5-mile walking trail and enjoying the sea life (sea slugs, starfish, and octopuses) on display at the small but enjoyable Feiro Marine Life Center (daily 10am-5pm during summer, daily noon-4pm during off-season, $4 adults), on the centrally located Port Angeles City Pier.
Malls, gas stations, and fast-food franchises line the US-101 frontage through town, but life in Port Angeles, for locals and visitors alike, centers on the attractive downtown area, two blocks inland from the waterfront around Lincoln Street and 1st Street. Here cafés like First Street Haven (107 E. 1st St., 360/457-0352) offer great breakfasts and good yet inexpensive soup-and-salad lunches, while amiable bars and pubs draw bikers, hikers, and loggers with their pub grub and good beers (more than 50 bottles, plus some intriguing “home brews”). If you’re waiting for a boat, or are fresh off of one, more places to eat and drink surround the ferry terminal.
Places to stay in Port Angeles vary. You’ll find highway motels, including the Quality Inn Uptown (101 E. 2nd St., 360/457-9434, $85 and up), and the Red Lion Hotel (221 N Lincoln St., 360/452-9215, $119 and up), on the water at the foot of Lincoln Street. There are also many characterful B&Bs.
Ferries to Victoria, British Columbia
From Port Angeles, the Black Ball Ferry Line (360/457-4491, around $60 per car and driver one-way, plus $17.50 per additional person) carries cars and passengers, shuttling across the water to and from pretty Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia, one of Canada’s most popular destinations. Ships leave Port Angeles at the middle of the attractively landscaped waterfront and arrive very near the center of Victoria, making for a great day trip from either place. At the Port Angeles dock there’s a very helpful information center packed with maps and brochures on Victoria and the rest of B.C., or you can call Tourism Victoria (800/663-3883).
First Street Haven (107 E. 1st St.)