I spent the weekend on the Olympic Peninsula, in search of the real-life Washington sites mentioned in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books. The timing coincided with the release of Eclipse, the third installment of the Twilight movies, which is coming out June 30.
I’m not really a Twilight fan, but I’ve been introduced to the books through travel. Last spring, I visited Montepulciano and Volterra in Tuscany, for a story that ran in USA TODAY tied to New Moon, the second movie in the series. Part of my research for that piece included a call to Forks, the former logging town in rural Washington where most of the series is set. At the time, tourism officials there told me that visitors (called Twi-hards) to the small town had increased 600 % since the books were released in 2005. That’s a great travel story, whether or not you like the books!
It’s a four to five hour drive to Forks from Seattle, depending on how long you have to wait for ferries. I decided to break up the trip up and stay in Port Angeles on the first night. My first challenge involved making the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, on a Friday evening at rush hour, no less (Tip: If you’re bringing a car on the ferry, give yourself at least an hour before your trip during peak times). The fare is $14.85 for cars, $6.90 for passengers only.
The weather looked ominous, but stayed remarkably rain-free. I left my car locked and checked out the ferry. It’s not exactly luxe, but serviceable. There’s a restaurant and bar on one side, as well as a sun deck to go out and watch the water and scenery. Most people were quietly reading; Seattle is such a book-centric town!
After driving off the ferry, I headed north on Hwy 3, then west on 104 and 101. Because we’re so far north, the June nights here are long; I knew that the sun wouldn’t set until around 9:30. There were a few jaw-dropping views on the route, but my favorite crane-your-head moment came when I drove over the Hood Canal and saw Hurricane Ridge and the Olympics rising in the distance. Unbelievable.
As the closest city to Forks, Port Angeles appears mostly in Twilight, the first book of the series. Bella and Edward have their first date here, she goes to the movies with Jacob here and also comes to buy books and her prom dress. Several stores in the downtown strip have Twilight merchandise in their windows. The town is probably better known as a port and also a ferry terminal for passage to Victoria island in British Columbia.
Restaurants seem to close early out here, so when I entered Port Angeles, I went straight to Bella Italia, the restaurant where Bella and Edward have their first date in Twilight. My hotel had called ahead for a reservation, but you can also sit at the bar and eat. Even though the Twilight movie was actually shot a place outside Portland, the restaurant is name dropped in the book. The waitress told me that at least five or six tables of Twilight fans fill the restaurant every night and as I looked out the window, several fans came by to take pictures of the restaurant’s facade. In the summer, lines go out the door.
Keeping in the spirit of things, I ordered the mushroom ravioli, which Bella orders in the book (I found it a little salty). Originally the dish wasn’t on the menu, but so many people came in asking for it that the owners added it. I overheard a teenage girl at the table next to me getting the dish; she had come from Los Angeles with her family to do the Twilight thing. The waitress told me that a group from Germany had been through earlier in the night.
Many of the hotels throughout the Olympic Peninsula have drawn Twilight fans, as this sign attests. I chose to stay at the Olympic Lodge, mostly because of the rave reviews it received on TripAdvisor.
It proved to be a good choice. I enjoyed the Lodge lobby, where several couples were quietly sharing a bottle of wine. During the day, light streamed in from a golf course out back. My king-sized room cost $115 and featured products from Bed, Bath & Beyond.
The hotel has a restaurant that serves breakfast only. I found myself quite impressed with their cornflake-crusted french toast, topped with peach compote. Believe it or not, this is a half order.
In the morning, I headed out of town on Highway 101, which passes through Olympic National Park. This is one of America’s classic scenic drives, with monster trees hugging the side of twisty mountain roads. I kept pulling over to take pictures of the extraordinary scenery.
My favorite part of the trip came during a 15 mile stretch along the shores of Lake Crescent, entirely enclosed within Olympic National Park. It was one of those drives where it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road because the views are so spectacular. Highway 101 only scratches the surface of Olympic National Park; I know that I’ll be back many times to explore this to explore the park, home of a temperate rain forest as well as glaciers and wild coastline.
I’ll be writing two more installments of my Eclipse trip this week, one on Forks and another on La Push, the Quileute tribe’s beachside town on the Pacific Ocean. If you have any great Northwest daytrips to recommend, tell me below. I have a feeling that I’ll be hitting the road quite frequently, as there’s a ton to see out here!