Travel

The Best Things About Every Northwest State

Published On 02/09/2016 Published On 02/09/2016

Every segment of the United States has its stereotypes, and the Northwest is no different. When most people think of the region, they think of ultra-liberal, pot-smoking, rain-drenched hippies -- but that's just the "Pacific" edge. If you really want to pin down the trends that run throughout the Northwest, think less about actual hipsters and more about the things they've co-opted: beards and flannel. Microbrew and coffee. Organic food and sustainable, "off-grid" living.

But the Northwest -- from Oregon and Washington to Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming -- offers more than what the hipsters imported to Brooklyn. To prove it, we came up with the  five best things from each state.

Flickr/darwin Bell

Washington

1. Dick’s Drive-In
The Dick's burger chain has been a Seattle mainstay since opening its first of now six locations in 1954. (Sadly, founder Dick Spady passed away last month.) There are a number of reasons for this: it’s quick, cheap, delicious, and open late. It’s also cash only, so you can walk up to the window, order from the limited menu, grab your bag of burgers, and be on your way.
 
2. Grass
And we're not talking about lawns. Along with Colorado, Washington was the first state to legalize the goofy green. It's always been a fairly pot-friendly place, but now you can just walk into a dispensary and buy it, or even better, have it delivered to your door depending on where you live.
 
3. Geographic diversity
Washington has a wide variety of landscapes. Dense forests (and even temperate rainforests), coastal beaches, island chains, the Cascade Mountain range, the vast deserts and river basins to the east, fertile farmlands -- you can see a lot of different geography on just a few-hour drive.
 
4. Wine

California is the first state that comes to mind when people think of wine in the US, which makes sense as it produces the most. But Washington comes in second -- yes, even ahead of Oregon. Wineries dot the entire state, and wine tasting has become a popular activity for locals and tourists alike.
 
5. Gloomy weather
It is true that Washington has a lot of grey, drizzly days. Why is this a good thing? Because it forces Washingtonians to stay indoors and cultivate their big ideas. Where else did you think grunge was going to come from... Miami?

Flickr/Todd Mecklem

Oregon

1. Strip clubs
Portland has long stood as the strip club capital of America, where gentlemen's clubs aren't considered a vice but rather a part of the culture. And with so much competition, there's a club for everyone: from joints that serve vegan lunch to places where naked vampires dance for $2 bills. Also, stripperoke.
 
2. Beer
Portland isn't just the beer capital of the US, but of the whole WORLD. With more than 70 breweries scattered about the city, it's hard not to stumble into one. It's home to widely known producers like Widmer Brothers and BridgePort, but also a slew of lesser-known local standouts like Lucky Labrador, Hopworks, and Hair of the Dog.
 
3. Tillamook Cheese Factory
Located on Highway 101 about an hour-and-a-half west of Portland, the Tillamook Cheese Factory is kind of self-explanatory -- it's where they make a ton of cheese and other dairy products. Visitors are welcome to stop by for a tour, and, of course, to sample the cheese, ice cream, and assortment of other delicious offerings.
 
4. Pendleton
Tucked away in the far northeast corner of the state is the Pendleton Woolen Mills clothing company, producer of all that precious flannel coveted by the aforementioned hipsters. But Pendleton doesn't just make flannels -- it weaves a variety of woolen goods. Sure, there are a lot of companies that make flannel, but there's only one Pendleton.
 
5. Powell's Books
There are also a lot of great bookstores in the world, but Powell's is like the Notre Dame of them all. A must-visit book cathedral on Burnside in Portland, this massive shop takes up an entire square block and is purported to be the largest independent used bookstore on the planet. It's easy to spend hours wandering the seemingly endless maze of shelves.

Flickr/Jeremy Yoder

Idaho

1. Coeur d’Alene
For the uninitiated, that's pronounced "kore-duh-lane." And when it comes to great summer swimming, Coeur d’Alene is one of those pristine places where you can still actually enjoy wildlife and clean air and water. The lake is the major draw, but the town has its own unique sense of charm and festivity.
 
2. Aaron Paul
Did you like Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad?  Of course you did! Well, you have Idaho to thank for actor Aaron Paul, who was born in Emmett.
 
3. Napoleon Dynamite
That's right -- the liger lover himself hailed from Preston, Idaho, which is supposed to be a flippin' sweet town. Also from Preston is Earl C. Crockett, an economist who is certainly no Davy Crockett. Or how about archeologist Ross T. Christensen? Or musician Kent Jensen? Never heard of them? Maybe you should go make yourself a dang quesadilla and read about Preston's many notable figures on Wikipedia... gosh.
 
4. Hemingway history
Ketchum, Idaho, is not only where Ernest Hemingway lived out the end of his life -- it’s where he was buried. In fact, there are a lot of old Hemingway haunts scattered around the area. He finished For Whom the Bell Tolls at the Sun Valley Lodge, drank at the Casino Club and the Alpine Club (now called Whiskey Jacques), and hiked and hunted the forests throughout the region.
 
5. This listing for a Nickelback concert
It speaks for itself.

Flickr/Mark Smith

Montana

1. Lots of nature -- lots of it
Alaska aside, Montana might be the most purely rugged state in the Union; and most definitely in the contiguous 48. It's the kind of place where you can truly get away from it all -- and run into a grizzly bear while doing so. Big Sky Country has some of the most breathtaking landscapes on Earth, period, and its residents will be the first to tell you about them.
 
2. Dinosaurs
Or at least their bones. Montana is one of the principle paleontology destinations on the globe. The state’s largest state park -- Makoshika -- is home to wide-stretching badlands where many a dinosaur dig has taken place. You can check out the finds up close at the Makoshika Dinosaur Museum in Glendive.
 
3. Yellowstone and Glacier
Montana is no slouch when it comes to national parks, with Yellowstone AND Glacier being two of the most popular outdoor destinations in the country. Both offer epic views and the opportunity to see a wide variety of wildlife, and Yellowstone is the home of the famous geyser Old Faithful.
 
4. You can drive fast
For a long time Montana didn't have any daytime speed limit at all. Many people don't know that this is no longer the case -- in 2000 they restricted speeds to a measly 75 miles per hour.
 
5. Fly fishing
With literally thousands of rivers and creeks (and those are just the ones with names), Montana is home to some of the world's top fishing. In fact, roughly 450 miles of said rivers and creeks are considered "blue-ribbon" trout-fishing waters. Translation: it's where the big fish bite.

Taco John's

Wyoming

1. Taco John's
Forget about Taco Bell, Wyoming is the home of Taco John's. It's spread to more than 25 states at this point, but this so-called "West Mex" joint originated in Cheyenne. Just be sure to order the potato oles -- they're little potato nuggets you can eat as a side or in a burrito. Sure, they might seem like tater tots, but Wyomingites will assure you that they're a totally much better thing. 
 
2. Yellowstone... again
I know we've already mentioned Yellowstone, but it spans Wyoming too. And the Wyoming portion has some particularly unique features, including the Grand Prismatic Spring. The third-largest hot spring in the world, its waters create a strange prism of light that reflects in the colors of the rainbow. And while we're talking being one with nature, let's not forget Jackson Hole.
 
3. No traffic
Or lines. Or waiting of any kind, really. Wyoming is extremely spread out and boasts the second-lowest population density in the US. It's one of those places where all the neighbors know each other (even though they live a million miles apart), they're pretty universally friendly, there's no pollution, and crime is almost nonexistent.
 
4. Cowboys
Wyoming is one of the few places where the Old West lifestyle still exists. This is due to the fact that farming and cattle ranching are so prevalent, and that, well -- people just don't want to give it up. Let's just say that it remains a boots-and-hat kind of place.
 
5. Jackson Pollock
You wouldn't think that a revolutionary modernist painter would spring from a conservative place like Wyoming, but you'd be wrong. He was raised in a town with the unlikely name of Cody, where you can find the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. So there's a strange jump -- a world-changing artist who hailed from a town that is dedicated to retaining its Old West sensibilities. 

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Nick Hilden is a travel writer with a talent for getting in and out of bad situations. You can follow him at @NickHilden or learn more at NickHilden.com.

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