Hello, blog!  We’ve been gone for a few weeks exploring Portland, Tacoma, and Seattle, as well as the surrounding national parks in the Pacific Northwest.  Plus, we managed to squeeze in our annual summer trip to NYC and Philadelphia.  We are so grateful to have enjoyed this vacation with numerous friends and family members and truly had a fantastic time.  Work and school start up again for us tomorrow so we made the most of it!

You’ll find our tips for exploring the cities mentioned above listed down below, along with a few pics of the journey.  We could write about any of these places in much more detail – they were rich with yummy food, breathtaking natural wonders and unique cultural experiences.  However, since this is technically a Triangle-focused site, we figured we’d give you the highlights.

Day 1:  Portland arrival

Expert travel tip:  Do not stay in an airport hotel, even if it makes some logistical sense and you are desperate to crash as close by as possible. You will be woken up by planes taking off outside your window and should probably have thought of that earlier!  If you must, the Sheraton at PDX was perfectly adequate and a great deal on Priceline.

Day 2:  Off to the city of going green!

In Portland, we got another sweet Priceline deal (thanks to some pre-research on Better Bidding and Tripadvisor) to stay at the Hotel Monaco downtown. Kimpton hotels tend to have good character and style, along with beautiful lobbies and free happy hours.  This one also sported dog-friendly accommodations, popsicles & lemonade, an impressive coffee bar that included Oregon Chai, bicycle rentals, and pet fish that you could take to your room for the duration of your stay.  While there, we hit up the following in just 24 hours:

  • Mother’s Bistro:  the salmon hash and comfortable elegance made for a more-than-good breakfast; we heard that Brunch Box is also popular
  • Chinese Garden:  neat pagodas, great teahouse
  • Voodoo Doughnut:  home to quirky baked goods with varieties like maple bacon & bubblegum; in our opinion, kind of excessive and not that tasty 
  • International Rose Test Garden: beautiful views, dozens of hybrid flower experiments
  • Waterfront: easy access to the World’s Smallest Park, a splash-filled fountain, views of Mt. Hood, and the Portlandia statue
  • Food carts: several parking lots were full of dozens of delicious, cheap lunch options that included every type of ethnic food ever
  • Powell’s Books:  West Coast equivalent of the Strand; I bought Twilight and was rightfully mocked – but hey, we were headed for Forks, WA!
  • First Thursday Art Walk: a little tricky to locate many of the galleries; didn’t love a lot of what we saw, but exhibits change regularly
  • Clyde Common:  hipster hangout straight out of Brooklyn housed in the Ace Hotel; decent prices and a fun-looking drink list
Did we mention that we are extremely aggressive vacationers?  And, even so, we had to save the Japanese Gardens for next time.

Day 3:  Tacoma-bound

Our lovely friends picked us up from the Amtrak Cascades route (scenic!) and took us downtown to the various Dale Chihuly public art displays along the pedestrian bridge and in the courthouse.  Chihuly is a local and so his work was everywhere.  In fact, we skipped the official Museum of Glass to check out a special series he had arranged for the Art Museum.

The wedding we went to that evening was in Pt. Defiance Park, which also seemed like a lovely place to wander through.  We were most intrigued by the hard-core go-kart setup near the entrance…and the Puget Sound views.  Our accommodations at the Hotel Murano were chic and comfortable, with lots more glass on display on each floor.  The lobby was particularly stylish – it felt more like a club/museum!

Day 4:  Mt. Rainier

Expert travel tip:  If you are afraid of taking strenuous hikes, arrange for an unusually cold spring to leave plenty of snow on the ground in August. The hardest trails will be snowed out and you can have a snowball fight in shorts and tank tops!  Despite the record-setting conditions, we were still able to stop by Narada Falls and hike to Snow Lake, which had a great view of the mountain.  There were so many amazing looking trails and overlooks, it would definitely be worth a repeat visit.  Post-hiking, we hit up Elliot’s Oyster House down by the water in Seattle for excellent fish, including several different ways of preparing salmon (our dining was taking on a certain theme, as you can tell).

Day 5:  Seattle & Salmon

The next morning, we headed to Pike Place Market for more eating and a peek at the famous flying fish.  Our sampling included crab cocktails, blueberries & cherries, Polish pastries, hot mini donuts and chowder.  A walk over to Sculpture Park eventually took us closer to the Space Needle – we didn’t go up, but the surrounding complex also houses the Experience Music Project, where Jimi Hendrix & Nirvana were currently being highlighted.  The top floor is highly interactive and allowed us to have an epic jam session.

That afternoon, we headed over to Fremont to walk through the Sunday Market and tour the Theo Chocolate Factory.  We wish we had more time to explore the market since it looked full of interesting vendors selling everything from art to antiques to yummy eats.  But, our next stop on the itinerary brought us to Capitol Hill, where Poppy served up worthwhile Indian-influenced local food – and more A-plus salmon.  Plus,  Molly Moon’s made for an excellent ice cream pit stop after our friends took us to see neighborhood musician Eric Miller.

Semi-expert tip:
 Seattle is much more than the tourist attractions downtown – get out in the other neighborhoods to get a true flavor of what life is like there. Next time we’d like to explore Ballard and take the ferry to relatively nearby Victoria, B.C.

We should also note that every place we stayed on this trip was full of recycling bins, extensive public transportation, and local food, local goods, local everything.  If that sounds like your cup of tea, move here.  You will have found your nirvana.

Day 6:  Whales, Where Art Thou?

I really wanted to see the orcas that populate the waters near the San Juan Islands and Friday Harbor.  Unfortunately, the orcas didn’t want to see me, but we did spot some Minke whales, sea lions, harbor seals, and bald eagles on our (fairly expensive) tour.  Afterwards, the Market Chef was the perfect spot for innovative sandwiches.  The ferry ride back & forth from Anacortes also made for a pleasant means of transportation.

Yet another expert tip:  Zipcar can be an economical alternative to a standard rental when you consider that it includes gas – and several were conveniently located next to our hotel, so we could grab one for an hourly rate as needed.  Just keep in mind that there’s a mileage limit of 180 miles a day before you start getting charged extra.

Day 7 & 8:  Olympic National Park

There’s not much to say about Olympic National Park, except – go.  Stunning.  And try and see all three different ecosystems – the rainforest, beach, and mountains.  It will require an overnight stay and would be best done in 3-4 days if you can spare the time.  We stayed in Port Angeles at the Inn at Rooster Hill after taking the ferry over from Bainbridge Island and hitting up the further parts of the park first (Hoh Rainforest & Rialto Beach).  After a delicious meal at Sabai Thai, we were ready to hit the sack and re-energize for Hurricane Ridge the next morning.

Before flying out of Seattle, we also had time to check out the Seattle Museum of Art, the uniquely designed central library, and Pioneer Square.  Whew!

Expert travel tip:  Plan on taking a vacation from your vacation!

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1 Comment

Filed under Road Trip!

One response to “PDX & SEA

  1. Debbie

    Thanks for the info! One of my favorite Portland hotels is RiverPlace. Great atmosphere and great hotel specials!

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