The words “Pacific Northwest” evoke images of rain, evergreen forests, and snowy mountains. As someone from the PNW, we’re definitely proud of our landscapes, but there’s a lot more to this region than you can learn from tv and movies. Here are 10 common misconceptions about the Pacific Northwest.
1. The Geography
Many people, including PNW locals, think of the Pacific Northwest as just Washington state and Oregon, maybe Northern California too. Officially, British Colombia, Canada is also part of this region, as well as Idaho, even though the state’s culture is markedly different from that the coastal states.
2. It isn’t all lush forest
Twilight lied to you. Washington isn’t wall-to-wall rain and trees. This isn’t even true for Forks. Many of the scenes were also filmed outside of the small town, such as St. Helens, WA and Portland OR. Don’t take movies at face value!
The wet, temperate air of Western Washington moves east to the Cascade Mountain Range, where it rises and sinks down the other side through the process of orthographic lift. The descending air is dry, which is why most of Eastern Washington is arid.
3. It doesn’t rain that much
Although it’s also known as the Pacific Northwet, it doesn’t actually rain much here. Washington only gets about 38 inches of rainfall annually, less than the 43 inches of Massachusetts. It rains frequently, but it’s light drizzle and mist, rather than the downpours common in New York or Miami.
However, studies indicate that climate change will make Seattle’s weather more extreme, causing rain-induced flooding.
4. It isn’t that cold
Multiple people who aren’t from the Pacific Northwest have asked me to confirm whether it’s as cold as everyone says it is. Due to our proximity to the warm Pacific Ocean, the weather is actually incredibly temperate compared to the East Coast. Living at sea level, I would regularly go winters without more than a few inches of snow, if any. I think this misconception got started because people see photos of snowy Mount Rainer and assume the entire region is arctic.
5. Not everyone is outdoorsy
Seattle and Portland are both only a 45-minute drive away from stunning hikes, so it makes sense that Pacific Northwest definitely attracts outdoorsy types. However, not everyone is a nature lover. They usually end up suffering through hikes with their outdoorsy friends, though.
6. Not everyone lives in the big cities
If you go abroad and tell people you’re American, they’ll ask if you’re from New York. If you leave the Pacific Northwest and tell people you’re from Washington/Oregon, they’ll ask you if you’re from Seattle/Portland. Of course, not everyone is from the big cities. Thank goodness. Seattle traffic is bad enough.
7. Those who do don’t live up to the stereotypes
For those who do live in the big cities, not everyone lives up to the stereotypes. Not everyone is environmentally conscious. Not everyone is liberal. Despite the Northern states’ progressive laws, there’s actually pockets of intense sexism, homophobia, and racism everywhere in the country, not just in the South.
And, despite what Portlandia tells you, not everyone in Portland is quirky. However, Portlanders are friendlier than Seattlites, who tend to live up to the stereotype of the “Seattle Freeze”.
8. Every local is tired of touristy landmarks
Seattle locals don’t care about the Space Needle and are tired of Pike Place Market, which is usually crowded with tourists. In terms of Oregon landmarks, Portland locals have differ on the subject but in my opinion, Voodoo donuts is overrated. Blue Star is way better.
9. We’re not all fans of coffee and craft beer
Even though there’s a Starbucks on almost every corner, (my hometown has two less than a 5 minute walk apart) not everyone drinks coffee. The same goes for craft beer. It just boils down to personal preference. Not everyone smokes pot, either, although the business is apparently booming.
10. We’re not Bigfoot hunters
I have no idea why, but Bigfoot merchandise is in every PNW tourist shop. Supposedly there are more Bigfoot sightings here than anywhere else, but no one believes in it or even talks about it except conspiracy theorists. But that doesn’t stop locals from buying t-shirts, mugs, and bumper stickers to show our Pacific Northwest pride.