The Pacific Northwest10-day adventure
Day: 1 & 2
Off To The Pacific Northwest . . .
A “Big Birthday” was on our calendar, the kind that announces the start of a new decade and leaves you wondering, “How did I get here so fast?” I wasn’t the only one hitting a big milestone, my husband would cross the same threshold 8 days later. I guess you could say we were embarking on the next chapter — a new “season” in our life. We wanted to take a trip where we would not only blow out candles, but make the space to contemplate our next decade. We considered many options, but chose the Pacific Northwest, intrigued by the novelty of traveling by plane, car and ferry, on the same trip. It took us nearly 3 months of planning, but we were ready, we packed our bags and headed to Seattle to begin our adventure.
We planned to stay in Seattle a couple of days, before we drove to the Port of Anacortes, 80 miles north. There we would catch a ferry to the beautiful San Juan Islands and our destination, the historic Rosario Resort on Orcas Island. Next, we would venture aboard the Canadian BC Ferries and travel to Victoria, continuing on to beautiful Sooke Harbor, and finally the city of Vancouver. We would incorporate a day trip to Whistle, driving the breathtakingly beautiful Sea to Sky highway. Our trip would conclude crossing the US border for our return to Seattle to catch our flight home. We covered a lot of territory, and it worked-out fantastic! We met many locals who shared some great Pacific Northwest “scoop” on where to go, what to do, and very importantly, where to eat. I’ve gathered all the highlights and resources, putting it into this lengthy post that I’m sharing with you!
All photography © copyright, 2016, The Seasonal Muse
Seattle is a beautiful world-class city and seaport located on Puget Sound – an inlet to the Pacific Ocean. Located approximately 100 miles south of the Canadian Border, it’s a terrific place to begin a visit to the Pacific Northwest. Seattle has a reputation of being overcast and rainy, but it rarely snows. The summer months from June thorough September are often warm and sunny, making it a great time to visit. Just in case, check the weather before you go, so you’ll know what to pack.
TIP: If you opt to stay in the city, don’t rent a car. Using Uber is a good transportation option, and a ride from the airport to a downtown hotel is around $15. Our strategy was to use Uber for transport to our hotel, then picked-up our rental car from a downtown location the morning we hit the road. This saved us $30+ a night in hotel parking fees, and renting from a city location is often less expensive than renting at the airport – here’s why.
This was a trip of celebration, as my husband and I would be both marking milestone birthdays during our 10 days away. Indulge was the operative word, and we opted to stay at the historic Fairmont Olympic Hotel, an iconic property located in the heart of the city. Built in 1924, the property was recently renovated. The entire experience, from arrival to departure, did not disappoint. Shortly after check-in, a knock on our door meant with the arrival of a beautiful plate of chocolate covered strawberries sent along with birthday wishes by the concierge. It was a lovely and unexpected gesture. Thank You Fairmont Olympic!
We seem to be living in a time of full-immersion travel, where eating and exploring like a local means a city’s hidden gems are as noteworthy as the major attractions. On the list of our must see favorites is the Pike Place Market, an iconic gotta-go destination. More than just the city’s beloved historic waterfront public market, Pike Place is actually a bustling neighborhood of growers, craftspeople, small businesses, restaurants and residents. The market is open 363 day a year (closed Thankgiving and Christmas) from 6AM to 7PM daily. There are more than 80 restaurants that run the gamut from take-out to fine dining, so there’s options for everyone. Try Lowell’s, a locally recommended favorite, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The food is seasonal and regional, but it’s the 3 floors of seating offering great views of Elliott Bay, and the Ferries crossing Puget Sound, that put it on my list. I highly recommend the Bloody Mary, with house-made Bacon Vodka — YUM!
If you’ve never been to Seattle, you’ll want to ride the Monorail to the Space Needle for a Jetson-like Seattle expereince. Located in Seattle Center, the Space Needle remains the most recognizable icon dotting the Seattle skyline. Built in 1962 for the World’s Fair, it’s now a restaurant and observation deck open for lunch and dinner daily. Reservations are recommended if you choose to dine. The easiest way to get there is via the mono-rail, a fun, quick, and convenient transportation link that runs between downtown Seattle and Seattle Center. The Monorail departs approximately every 10 minutes from two stations: Westlake Center Station, at 5th Avenue and Pine Street, and Seattle Center Station, adjacent to the Space Needle
Seattle is a great place to bite, savor, sip and experience the culinary vibes of the Pacific Northwest. The food scene combines the diversity of a large cosmopolitan city with the fresh-caught appeal that comes from it’s seaport heritage. Let’s not forget about all that coffee — Seattle leads the country when it comes to Java consumption. There are tons of places to get your “jolt”, the Seattle Coffee Scene – 14 Great Coffee Places Near Pike Place Market, has some great recommendations. This is the birthplace of Starbuck’s, and I swear there’s a store on almost every corner! Here are a few other noteworthy culinary suggestions to get you started:
ELLIOTTS OYSTER HOUSE – Pier 56 on the Waterfront – A vibrant waterfront restaurant that’s a great spot to slurp an oyster, savor the fresh catch, or sip a cocktail and watch a sunset. The extensive menu features impeccably fresh and sustainable seafood. The location is pure Seattle and the food and service are excellent. This is where I celebrated my birthday dinner, enjoying the highly recommending steamed Dungness Crab.
SALUMI SEATTLE – Pioneer Square – 309 Third Ave South. – Salumi is the Italian craft of dry curing and preserving meats. It’s also the name of this gotta-go destination for lunch. Founded by Chef Mario Batali’s father, who went to Italy to learn to make Salumi as his retirement gig, after a 30 year career at Boeing. Now that’s what I call an encore! Open only for lunch Monday through Friday, check the website for specific hours. There is usually a line out the door, but it moves quickly, and you won’t be disappointed. There is limited seating inside, but there is a park across the street for an impromptu picnic.
Experience . . .
Day: 3, 4, 5
It’s time to head out of Seattle, and escape to the islands … the San Juan Islands, known as the jewels of the Pacific Northwest. Breathtaking vistas, colorful marinas, historic towns, coastal trails, and beaches are what you’ll find upon arrival by ferry. Located in the Salish Sea, there are 172 islands and reefs, with Friday Harbor, Orcas Island, Lopez Island and Shaw Island being the most popular, and offering a host of lodging and dining options. Each island has it’s own personality, but they all share the same laid-back vibe. The only way to get there is by the Washington State Ferries, that depart from the port of Ancortes. It was really fun to drive aboard the ferry, and getting there is half the fun! If you’ve never done it before, the only thing to fret about, is being on time. Once aboard, sit back and snap pics of the beautiful surroundings to share on Instagram during the 90 minute sail to Orcas Island.
All photography © copyright, 2016, The Seasonal Muse
The Anacortes Ferry Terminal is approximately 80 miles from Seattle – about a 2 hour drive in good traffic. During the summer, and especially on weekends, it may take longer. Check the traffic, (you can ask Siri), and plan accordingly.
FERRY RESERVATIONS: It’s best to make a ferry reservation ahead of time to reserve your spot. Again, keep in mind weekends and holidays are particularly busy. You must be ticketed and in the Ferry holding area at least 60 minutes before departure to avoid losing your reservation. Reservations made online assume you are making a roundtrip. If you plan to go into Canada as we did, you will need assistance with making your reservations. Call Washington State Ferry – customer service with your itinerary, and they will help figure everything out.
FYI: You will need a valid passport to enter Canada and to cross back at the U.S. border.
THE DONUT HOUSE – came highly recommended by our concierge in Seattle. We were advised to allow time to make a stop at the Donut House in Anacortes. It’s located in a quaint house on Commercial Street, on the route to the ferry. It’s a great place to re-fuel like a local. They feature local Fidalgo Bay Coffee, along with assorted lattes and teas to pair with the large and delicious selection of homemade donuts and pastries. People where stopping to buy boxes to take to their island destinations – that should tell you something.
ROSARIO RESORT & SPA on Orcas Island – A historic resort & Spa (Reservations 800.562.8820) was our destination. It was recommended over the years by friends who live in Seattle. The location is beautiful and relaxing, tucked beside the quiet waters of Cascade Bay. The property is a 40-acre retreat, anchored by the historic Mission-style mansion, built by ship builder Robert Moran. Rosario features a full-service spa, fireside cocktail lounge, and the award winning Mansion restaurant.
We stayed in a recently updated bayside room that had a deck on the water. Now under new management, the property has been expanded and is undergoing a needed refresh. One of the coolest things about the resort is watching the Sea Planes land on the water directly in front of the hotel. If you’re short on time, or the ferry just isn’t your thing, you can charter a Sea Plane from Lake Union and fly direct to the resort via Kenmore Air. Check out the photos in the Gallery.
MORAN STATE PARK – Adjacent to Rosario, is the 4th largest state park in the state of Washington. Visit the park for hiking trails, Mt. Constitution lookout station (the highest point in the San Juan Islands), beautiful water front camp sites, and water sports. It’s the perfect location to enjoy a picinic (visit the Island Market in East Sound) and pack a basket filled with Pacific Northwest specialty’s; smoked salmon, local cheese, island jams, Rainier cherries, and don’t forget to add a bottle of delicious Washington State wine!
EAST SOUND – The downtown of Orcas Island is where most of the boutiques, galleries, shops and restaurants are located. You’ll want to make time to explore this charming waterfront town to find local paintings, ceramics, wood sculpture, photography, jewelry, and fiber art from talented local artists.
ORCAS ISLAND ARTWORKS – This Island Art Gallery is the destination to find all the treasures made by local artists. Housed in a historic building that was once a strawberry barreling plant, the restored landmark showcases some of the best crafts and fine art found on the island. Bon Appetite Magazine did a feature on the Madrona Bowls created by artist Ron Thornber sold at the gallery.
CATKIN CAFE – Don’t miss a stop at the The Catkin Cafe inside the gallery, where breakfast and lunch are served all day. Maybe just a sweet treat is more your style – try the homemade apricot pie with ginger ice cream – total heaven!
I always welcome recommendations from locals and other travelers when I visit a new destination. With that in mind here are some of my recommendations for for some seriously good eats:
BROWN BEAR BAKING COMPANY – East Sound – Good Coffee, Fresh Bakery with breakfast and lunch options
MADRONA BAR & GRILL – East Sound – Beautiful views of the water with tables on the deck, weather permitting. Highly recommend the Crab Bisque – YUM! http://www.madronabarandgrill.com
THE MANSION RESTAURANT – Rosario Resort – Overlooking Cascade Bay, the beautiful waterfront restaurant is located on the original veranda of the Moran Mansion, and offers seasonal cuisine sourced locally. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner – reservations are highly recommended for dinner service. rosarioresort.com/the-mansion-restaurant/
MORE RESTAURANTS: Seattle Refined: seattlerefined.com/eat-drink/the-5-most-delicious-reasons-to-go-to-orcas-island
Trip Advisor: tripadvisor.com/Restaurants-g58727-San_Juan_Islands_Washington.html
Orcas Island Dining Guide: visitsanjuans.com/orcas-island/dining
Experience . . .
Day: 6 & 7
Vancouver Island is part of the Canadian province of British Columbia in the Pacific Northwest. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it is the largest island on the west coast of North America. The Island is only accessible by Ferry or by flying direct. Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, is the largest city on the Island. The year-round climate is mild, with temperatures even in January usually above freezing. Snow is a rare occurrence at lower elevations. Summer is sunny and mild, with temperatures is the mid 70’s.
Originally, we planned to stay in Victoria, until a good friend recommended Sooke, a harbor town on the southern tip of the Island. About a 30 minute drive from Victoria, Sooke is famous for its beautiful beaches, including Sandcut, French beach, Fishboat bay, China beach, and Mystic beach. Our destination was the Sooke Harbor House, an intimate waterfront inn that is internationally renowned for it’s high quality standards — it did not disappoint.
All photography © copyright, 2016, The Seasonal Muse
To travel from Orcas Island to Vancouver Island, two ferry reservations are required. First from Orcas Island to Friday Harbor – a very early morning departure. Upon arrival in Friday Harbor, you disembark and re-que for the ferry to Sidney Harbor, the Candian port of entry on Vancouver Island. This is the second reservation you need to make, and it can be confusing to figure out. Call the Washington State Ferry Customer Service (1-888-808-7977 or 206/464-6400) to get help, because the online reservation system assumes you are sailing round-trip back to Anacortes. Be aware this ferry departs only once daily, if you miss it, you’ll be the in Friday Harbor until the next day!!!
Upon arrival at Sidney Harbor, you must present a valid passport and clear Canadian customs. Every traveler entering Canada must declare all food, plant, alcohol or animals products upon entry. It’s the same when you cross the border back into the U.S.
SOOKE HARBOR HOUSE, 1528 Whiffen Spit Road is the place to stay. It’s the on Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List of the worlds best hotels and resorts and is also #8 on the list of the best hotels in western Canada. Visit their website to make a Reservation, see photos, and get more information. The on-site restaurant is an award winning “foodie destination”, and has been featured on an episode of Anthony Bourdain: NO RESERVATIONS on the Travel Channel.
The 28 room inn, is an oasis on the harbor. Each guest room is individually themed, and includes special touches like fresh baked cookies, and sipping Sherry, that are replenished each day. We stayed in the Chef Suite, the perfect venue, especially for a food blogger! I particularly loved the fork & knife loft accessed by a spiral staircase – see the photo in the gallery below. Particularly delightful, were the binders of Gourmet Magazine dating back to 1970’s, that were part of the Chef’s library in our room. Wood-burning fireplaces, jetted tubs, and amazing views are what make the destination worth the visit. Original artwork, local antiques, and handcrafted furniture, create an inviting atmosphere, and the attention to detail is evident throughout the property and sculpture garden.
Sooke Harbour House Garden Tour: Every morning at 10AM, Debbie Crookes, the resident agrarian, conducts a garden tour and tasting of all the edible flowers grown on the property. A very informative tour, she shares a ton of information and as you taste your way through the entire garden. I highly recommend going before you have Dinner at the Inn. What you learn from Debbie will elevate the entire culinary experience, and make your evening even more memorable. You’ll never look at flower the same way again. She shared a large list of edible flowers you can plant on your own garden. Email me if you would a copy and I will send it to you.
Buchart Gardens: A national historic site, the gardens are one of the top tourist attractions in Victoria. Five seasons are celebrated; spring, summer, fall, winter and Christmas. The design and stunning detail that go into each garden is what makes Butchart as rare as it is beautiful. The amazing Sunken Garden, cultivated in an old limestone quarry, was the first land reclamation project anywhere in the world. Check out the Buchart Gardens website to plan a visit.
High Tea – Fairmont Empress: Tea at the Empress is a quintessential must-do Victoria experience. It is home to the Empress cake, featuring an extraordinary chocolate experience. The signature Empress scones, pastries, clotted creams and strawberry preserves with fresh lavender from the rooftop garden are accompanied by the best loose leaf teas available. More than 800 people a day enjoy a tradition that began when the hotel opened in 1908. It’s a special splurge, but well worth the experience. Be sure to make a reservation well in advance.
The Restaurant at Sooke Harbor House – The Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain: NO RESERVATIONS featured the restaurant in an episode of his show about Vancouver. You won’t be disappointed, this award winning restaurant is a gotta-go destination for Food Lovers from around the world. Each day the amazing Chefs create a new Dinner menu focusing on local, natural, and seasonal ingredients. The passion and care put into each plate, is evident with each delicious bite. The service is impeccable and the views of the water are magnificent. Reservations are required, and dinner is an event that will take the entire evening. This is a very memorable experience, and a destination to add to your list, if visit Vancouver Island.
Red Fish Blue Fish – Victoria – A very hipster destination fashioned out of an up-cycled cargo container, Red Fish Blue Fish is a waterfront eatery that re-imagines the fish & chips experience. Website
Experience . . .
The people, weather, mountains, ocean, and of course the food, are some of the best reasons to put Vancouver on your “Gotta Go” list. Nicknamed the “City of Glass”, because of all the skyscrapers that dot the skyline. This cosmopolitan city is also the home to century old buildings and cobblestone streets. The gorgeous mountains that seem to rise majestically from the sparkling ocean, make Vancouver one of the most most beautiful cities in the Pacific Northwest, and the world.
A 60 mile drive out of the city on the awe-inspiring Sea to Sky highway, leads to the twin internationally renowned ski mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb. This top destination ski resort draws skiers from all over the world, and is bustling with activity, even in summer.
The large and diverse population of Vancouver are known for their friendliness and laid back hospitality. Known as a “Foodie Destination”, Vancouver’s ethnic mix offers restaurants and food truck experiences that are unsurpassed.
All photography © copyright, 2016, The Seasonal Muse
Ferries: Reservations are recommended for all BC Ferries.
To get to the city of Vancouver from Victoria (Vancouver Island), you will board a BC ferry at the Schwartz Bay Terminal. Don’t get confused, this is a different port – when you arrived from the US it was at Sidney Harbor, where Canadian customs is located.
Money: The exchange rate for currency (June 2016) was $1.25 US for every $1 CAD. It was like getting an automatic 25% discount when the charge hit our credit card! When does that ever happen – like never! Another good reason to add this destination to your list of gotta-go places to visit.
Getting Around: FYI – Uber, the ride-sharing service, is not available in Vancouver. If you open the app, instead of the familiar city grid, there’s a petition asking users to help bring ride-sharing to the province of British Columbia. Hopefully, this will change in the near future, but for now, taxi’s are it.
THE ST. REGIS HOTEL – 602 Dunsmuir Street, Vancouver, BC Phone: 604/681-1135
A lovely boutique hotel property in a convenient downtown location. We booked through booking.com.
This is a historic property, and the 2nd oldest hotel in Vancouver. The St. Regis is a beautifully renovated property that includes special amenities such as: made-to-order breakfast, free wi-if, free international calls, complimentary Fuji bottled water, luxurious robes, chocolates on your pillow, and L’occitane toiletries. The staff is very friendly, accommodating, and knowledgeable. Many European vistors choose the St. Regis, so you just might make a new friend or two while dining at breakfast like we did. Your room includes a VIP access pass to the Steve Nash Fitness Club.
Cons: Parking (true of all downtown hotels) is $30/night, and checking-in with a car is a little challenging, since this is an urban location. There is no real loading zone. Call the hotel before you approach, and the bellman will be waiting at the curb with a parking pass. He will quickly unload your luggage to take directly to your room, and then guide you to the parking garage.
Granville Island Public Market – is a destination you might think of as Vancouver’s town square. The 2nd most visited attraction in Canada, Grandville Island is an urban oasis filled with waterfront restaurants, cafes, galleries, artist studios, entertainment and an amazing fresh food market. You’ll browse colorful displays, sampling spetacular gastronomic delights fresh from the ocean, oven, or field. The Public Market is open until 7pm, 7 days a week, and you’ll want to plan to spend more than a few hours visiting. Check out the visitors guide for a map, or watch the video for details. To get there, consider taking the Aquabus, colorful water ferries that travel around False Creek, providing service to locals, commuters, and tourists alike.
Book a Vancouver Foodie Tour – Vancouver is a “Foodie City”, full of interesting restaurants catering to every taste, due to it’s strong international influence. With so many options, it’s hard to know where to, start and a big reason I recommend booking a Vancouver Foodie Tour. There are several small group tours offered to various locations throughout the city. Check your options, and make a reservation ASAP, because the tours fill quickly. We opted to take the Granville Island Public Market Tour, a 2 hour walking-tour with a entertaining and knowledge guide who gives you the “local scoop” on all the best food stalls and restaurants. You’ll get to sample regional cheeses, wine, meats, bread, coffee and treats while learning tips about cooking and food prep.
Whistler Ski Resort – If you have the time, consider a day-trip to Whistler Mountain, the lasting legacy of the 2010 Winter Olympic ski venue. Located 60 miles from Vancouver on the Sea to Sky Highway. This incredibly scenic road runs along the coast, and is considered one of the most beautiful drives in the world, with mountains that rise from the sea. Have lunch in the village, go white water rafting, rent a mountain bike, or even ski. In June, they were still skiing on the Glacier, but wearing shorts! Check out the list of the top places to stop along the Sea to Sky Highway.
Did I mention Vancouver is a Foodie City? Recently, Bon Appetit Magazine published a feature story titled, Everything You Should Eat and Drink in Vancouver Right Now. Here are some of their recommendations.
Insider Scoop: When our amazing tour guide with the Vancouver Foodie Tour learned I wrote a food blog, she promised to send a list of highly recommended restaurants. Thank you Manuella – here’s the “gotta go” list from a Vancouver local.
Where to EAT: The Best of Vancouver
- Bella Gelateria: Old-World Handcrafted Gelato. Casual cafe serving Italian meals & desserts, panini & pizza, plus weekend brunch.
- Kirin Chinese Restaurant: Showcasing elegant Chinese cuisine & award wining Dim Sum.
- La Belle Patate: Translates to “The beautiful potato”. This is the go-to place to try poutine.
- The Score: Neighbourhood hangout serving Canadian pub fare, local wines & tap craft beers, plus weekend brunch.
- Miku: Sushi & sustainable seafood are served in a sophisticated setting with a patio & water views – a Pacific Northwest treasure.
- Minami: Vibrant, colorful eatery, specializing in sustainably caught Japanese fish & creative hot entrees.
- Kingyo: Tapas style Japanese fusion food and drinks, specializing in small plates and bento boxes.
- Ramen Gojiro: Combining heaps of thick ramen noodles with loads of toppings, the menu is small but mighty.
- Marutama Ramen: Intimate eatery serving ramen noodle soups with add-ins like braised pork belly & soft-boiled eggs.
- Hawksworth: Four-time winner of the Best Upscale Restaurant in Vancouver, serving inventive Pacific Northwest cuisine.
- Nicli Pizzeria: Modern Neapolitan-style pies & bar, located in a former jail & horse stable.
- Italian Kitchen: Bi-level hot spot with a long marble bar, serving inventive pizzas & Italian regional dishes.
- Forage: Farm-to-table bistro presenting creative, local-sourced plates, plus local beer & wine on tap.
- Los Cuervos Taqueria: Small, vibrant eatery providing a taco-centric menu along with margaritas, beer & weekend brunch.
- Vij’s: Indian fusion restaurant offering inventive cuisine & a lively atmosphere. No reservations.
- Mink Chocolates: Small batch handmade artisan chocolates plus tea, coffee, dessert & chocolate drinks.
- Thierry Chocolate Cafe: Handcrafted french chocolates, macarons, cakes and pastries. Counter-service cafe & shop, luring foodies with savoury fare and artisanal confections.
- The Sandbar: Perched over the waterfront on Granville Island, this seafood hot spot features made to order sushi & live music.
Experience . . .