The Pacific Northwest is well known for its “fresh” philosophy—about everything from farm-to-table and sustainable cuisine to alternative music and art. So it’s no surprise that its two main cities, Seattle and Portland, are full of great food, wine, wellness, and arts experiences that make them a wonderful vacation combo. Fly to one and then drive or hop an Amtrak train (just over three hours and about $35) to the other and you can enjoy two like-minded yet different urban experiences along with some scenic wine country excursions. Both cities have great hotels, eateries, landmarks, and a few stellar specialties. Here’s how to savor it all over 5–6 days.
1. Taste your Way Through Pike Place Market. In early September, Seattle’s bustling waterfront Pike Place Market was bursting with color as farmers sold cartons of fresh-picked berries, peaches, and tomatoes and flower vendors filled their stalls with generously-sized-yet-inexpensive bouquets grown in the nearby Snoqualmie Valley. What’s available depends on the time of year, but at this 105-year-old institution you can always expect to enjoy some acrobatic fish tossing at the Fish Market and to be amazed by the creative flavors at Denver-based Pappardelle’s Pasta, where you can nibble samples of their famous dark chocolate linguine (think dessert, topped with raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream). There are craft vendors, too.
2. Regional Wines, Compliments of Kimpton Hotels. If you enjoy beginning your evening with a little Pinot Noir and chitchat, check into one of six Kimpton Hotels in Seattle or Portland, each of which hosts a complimentary nightly wine hour (beer, too, in suds-loving Portland) for guests. Portland’s 221-room Hotel Monaco has just undergone a renovation that has made its décor even more eclectic and colorful (from $189/night). But if you want to sleep next to Portland’s Willamette River for a more relaxed vibe and access to running and biking paths, check out RiverPlace Hotel, a Craftsman-style property that’s now undergoing a décor update (from $209/night). In Seattle, there’s a chicly renovated 189-room Hotel Monaco (from $189/night), while the 124-room Hotel Vintage Park takes the wine theme further, welcoming local winemakers to do tastings during its cozy wine hour and carrying the oenophile theme into the room names and décor (from $199/night).
3. Be Blown Away by Chihuly Garden and Glass. If you’ve been to Las Vegas, you probably know artist Dale Chihuly for his blown-glass sculpture Fiori di Como, which covers the lobby ceiling at Bellagio. Well folks, that’s nothing! Schedule a visit to Chihuly Garden and Glass, which opened in May 2012 in the shadow of the Space Needle, to be amazed by what Pacific Northwest native Chihuly can do with shapes and colors. Comprised of a Glasshouse, galleries, and garden, the 1.5-acre property displays the artist’s most significant series, like A Neon and Glass Forest and Sealife Tower. Enjoy lunch at Collections Café, where local flavors are given a fresh twist in delicious soups, salads, sandwiches, and flatbreads (admission $19; lunch from $25 per person).
4. Take “Flight” at The Purple Café & Wine Bar. Can’t decide which Washington State wine you want to try? Take a seat at the lively Purple Cafe & Wine Bar in downtown Seattle and contemplate the taste of four reds (in the Washington, Varietally flight, $23) or three whites (in the Northwest flight, $15) or go international with a dozen other flight options (there are 80 options by the glass and over 600 by the bottle). Pair your sips with a selection of cheeses, flavorful small bites (loved the gorgonzola-stuffed dates, $6), or a full meal (from $40 per person).
5. Go Fish at BlueAcre Seafood. The Pacific Northwest’s other culinary specialty is best savored at BlueAcre Seafood, which since 2010 has served up fresh-caught wild and sustainably farmed fish and shellfish in a contemporary setting in downtown Seattle. There’s a great 3-6 pm daily happy hour menu ($1 oysters, $3 beer, and $5 wine), while Chef Kevin Davis’ dinner menu has 10 varieties of raw oysters and entrees like olive-crusted Alaskan halibut and grilled Klamath River king salmon with port-soaked cherries. The wine list features 20 choices by the glass and about 100 by the bottle (dinner from $45 per person).
6. Taste of the Snoqualmie Valley. If you have a car you can explore this scenic, winery-packed region about an hour outside Seattle on your own—but it’s much more fun to leave the driving to a guide so you can sip as many samples as you like. The six-hour “Winery + Waterfall Tour” ($90 per person with hotel pick-up) leaves at 10:30 am and visits three Woodinville wineries: Novelty Hill/Januik, Columbia Winery, and Chateau Ste. Michelle (tasting is included at the first two, but you’ll pay $10 extra for four tastes at the last one—well worth it for the ambience and excellent wines (try the Petit Verdot, available only here). Afterward, you’ll enjoy a scenic drive through the Snoqualmie Valley with stops at 270-foot Snoqualmie Falls and Boehm’s Candies, where the chocolates are handmade.
7. Mad for Microbrews. Yes, Oregon is wine country, but Portland is equally and perhaps even more enamored with beer—there are an astounding number of microbreweries within the city limits and you can scan the listings online via the Oregon Brewers’ Guild. Locals have their neighborhood favorites, so ask your cab driver or coffee shop barista where they like to kick back with a cold one. Or choose one by its quirky name, say Hair of the Dog, Green Dragon, Lucky Labrador, Rogue Ales, or McMenamins‘ Terminator Stout.
8. Spa Days and Pinot Noir Nights in the Willamette Valley. Rent a car in Portland and drive 45 minutes east to get pampered at The Allison Inn & Spa. Opened in 2009, this 85-room LEED-Gold-Certified inn and spa is the perfect spot to relax (all rooms have fireplaces, deep soaking tubs, and balconies with a view), enjoy a wine-inspired spa treatment (the 90-minute Grape Seed Cure leaves skin ultra-soft), and some wine tasting (either at nearby tasting rooms—there are more than 200—or from The Allison’s extensive regional wine menu). A highlight will be dinner at JORY, where Chef Sunny Jin (who worked under both Thomas Keller at French Laundry and Ferran Adria at El Bulli) creates delectable garden-to-table dining that’s accompanied by live jazz on Friday and Saturday evenings (rates from $315/night; dinner at JORY from $55 per person).
9. Panoramic Pan-Asian Cuisine. One of the sleekest places to stay and dine in Portland is the 331-room The Nines, housed in a former Meier & Frank department store (Macy’s still occupies the lower levels). And yes, the name comes from the term “dressed to the nines.” Rooms are modern interpretations of retro havens and the art-filled soaring atrium lobby houses a see-and-be-seen bar and Urban Farmer restaurant. But head up to the 15th floor rooftop for chic pan-Asian fare and city views at Departure—and even a late-night Happy Hour (rates from $269/night; dinner at Departure from $40 per person).
10. Hunt for Vintage Cookbooks at Powell’s. One of the country’s most beloved new and used bookstore, Powell’s Books has been a legend since 1971. A warehouse of words—literally, it is housed in a former warehouse in northwest Portland—this “world of books” is a great place to get lost on a rainy afternoon and hunt down out-of-print cookbooks or even vintage cocktail recipe compilations.
Photo credits: Pike Place Market Fish Toss, courtesy of Pike Place Fish Market; Hotel Monaco Portland courtesy of Kimpton Hotels; Chihuly Garden courtesy of Chihuly Garden and Glass; Purple Cafe & Wine Bar courtesy of Purple Cafe & Wine Bar; BlueAcre courtesy of BlueAcre; Snoqualmie Falls courtesy of Snoqualmie Falls; McMenamins Brewery courtesy of McMenamins Brewery; The Allison Inn & Spa courtesy of The Allison Inn & Spa; Departure Rooftop courtesy of Departure restaurant; Powell’s Books courtesy of Powell’s Books