How to split 7-8 nights between Seattle and Vancouver?
December 13, 2009 2:24 PM   Subscribe

With 7 or 8 nights to spend in Seattle and Vancouver, how should we divide our time?

My husband and I, along with my in-laws, may be going to Seattle/Vancouver next June. The total trip will likely be either 7 or 8 nights. None of us have never been to either city and I haven't done much research on either yet. I'll buy some Eyewitness guides, but it's sometimes hard to get a good feel from guidebooks for how much time you'll need/want in an area. But in the interest of possibly trying to firm up vacation rentals further in advance than my in-laws usually do (we try to rent houses/apartments most of the time rather than stay in hotels), I'm wondering how to split our time.

So, for those who are familiar with both cities, how would you suggest splitting the time? Half the time in each city? The bulk in one with only a couple of days in the other?

We typically would visit most or all of any given city's major tourist destinations -- e.g., most of the stuff you'd see in an Eyewitness Top 10 guide. Other than that, when we visit a city, we tend to just spend a lot of time walking around, eating and drinking, and sometimes even catching a movie. None of us are outdoorsy -- no hiking or bike-riding will be on the agenda. If one city is vastly more expensive than the other, that could make a difference.
posted by greendress to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Consider spending some time in Victoria because the Butchart Gardens are beautiful. There are short cruse packages that you can get that go between the two cities, if you are interested in seeing the coast from the water. A one night cruise can be economical since it bundles transportation and lodging in one package.
posted by demiurge at 3:33 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm from Vancouver. Seattle is the bigger, more interesting city, to be honest. If you were outdoorsy I'd recommend significant time in Vancouver, but you've stated clearly that you're not, so I won't.
posted by randomstriker at 3:45 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seattle takes several days to see properly, since the different neighborhoods are scattered around enough that walking between them isn't practical. For example, you're going to want to wander around Capitol Hill for a day or so, but also visit the Seattle Center in Lower Queen Anne. University, Fremont and Ballard are good, too. Definitely spend at least 1/2 day at Pike Place Market. Pioneer Square/Downtown, I'm kind of meh on, but that's all people I know with only a short time here seem to see, other than Seattle Center.

I know nothing about Vancouver.
posted by ctmf at 3:51 PM on December 13, 2009

Seconding a cruise! The islands and the mountains are beautiful!
posted by jgirl at 4:01 PM on December 13, 2009

nthing the idea of going from Seattle to Vancouver by sea, ideally taking in Victoria and either the San Juans (US side) or Gulf Islands (Canadian).
posted by holgate at 4:15 PM on December 13, 2009

I live in Seattle. I agree there is more to do here in Seattle than Vancouver, but I also agree that seeing some other stuff would be a better use of your time. A day in Victoria sounds like a good idea. If you are going to rent a car, going via the San Juan islands would be nice. If not, you can take a ferry from Seattle to Victoria (expensive) or take the train to Vancouver (surprisingly cheap).

In Seattle, I think the interesting neighborhoods (Capitol Hill, Fremont, Ballard) are more interesting and give you a better feel for why people like living in Seattle than the really touristy stuff in Pike Place/Seattle Center. Not that I am dissing the touristy stuff. I think it is fun too, and you should definitely do it, although it's better if you can drink and eat elsewhere (downtown → Belltown, Seattle Center → Lower Queen Anne), and with so much time don't devote it all to the touristy stuff.
posted by grouse at 4:49 PM on December 13, 2009

We visited both cities for the first time this past August. We spent significantly more time in Seattle, but that was mainly due to our schedule.

In Seattle we had an excellent dinner experience at Tabernadel Alabardero. We also enjoyed the Savor Seattle Food Tour. It was especially nice to have the tour on our first day, as it gave us a great introduction to the city.

We didn't find much we liked downtown Vancouver, but we are more outdoorsy, so we enjoyed getting away from downtown. We did spend a day in Victoria, which I would also recommend as a day trip. Lady Marmalade's was an awesome lunch spot - such fantastic and creative food.
posted by bwilms at 5:51 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I live in Vancouver and would not recommend the Butchart Gardens, they are totally overrated and really, really expensive. The Vancouver Art Gallery is great and by donation on Thursday nights. Granville Island Market is a favourite of mine, and there are a bunch of restaurants there that have lovely patios to enjoy dinner on. Stanley Park is a staple tourist destination, and the Vancouver Aquarium is one of the best around. Main Street is one of my favourite shopping areas, there is a great used book store and lots of awesome consignment stores and other interesting clothing, antiques, cafes and what not on Main between about 20th and 30th Ave. Of course if you have nice weather, there is always the beach, Kitsilano is nice and you could hit 4th avenue at the same time, there are lots of shops there. If you have time a day trip to Victoria would be great.

Restaurant recommendations off the top of my head are: Burgoo, Incendio, Hapa Izakaya or for funky, unusual vegetarian food try Foundation (go a little early there are line ups and the service tends to be slow). For fancier nights out Blue Water Cafe, Chambar. The best dessert in town is Sweet Revenge on Main St. There are tonnes of fantastic restaurants and cafes in Vancouver, so if you are a food lover you will like the variety.

For coffee, JJ Bean, Artigiano, and make a trip to Medina on Beatty near Dunsmuir street, have a lavender latte and a waffle for a snack or go early during the week (weekends are packed) for fantastic breakfast/brunch.
posted by sadtomato at 6:13 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

While you're in Seattle, don't miss the Ballard Locks (aka Hiram Chittenden Locks). It's one of my favorite places to take visitors - the grounds are lovely, with shade trees everywhere, you can get close (really close) to lots of very expensive boats, you can walk across the top of the lock and see a salmon ladder in an underwater viewing room - it's great!
I've learned not to schedule much after such an outing, because it's hard to tear folks away.

Also, Amtrak has added a couple of trains to Vancouver, if you're not renting cars, that's by far the best way to get to/from Vancouver. Granville Island is not to be missed!

Consider too a harbor tour and trip to Blake Island for a surprisingly good Native American dance show and so-so salmon dinner. The boat trip is great - and the harbor tour you get is nearly as good as the one they charge for. Blake Island is in the middle of Puget Sound, and has no vehicles on it, and is a State Park. The only way to get there is via private boat (like the one that brings you to to dance).

Seattle has a good art museum (SAM), and it's sister museum the Seattle Asian Art Museum is better, I think (of course, you have to like Asian art, but the collection is stellar).
The Wing Luke Asian Museum is also very good, and close to my favorite Asian supermarket, Uwajimaya, which houses an outlet of the excellent Kinokuniya Bookstore; if anyone in your family is into Manga this is the place for them, if not they've got GREAT pens, art supplies, stationary and Asian books/calendars.
posted by dbmcd at 7:21 PM on December 13, 2009

Do try the Chinese food in the Vancouver area. There are many competing dim sum/Cantonese restaurants, but there's lots of other regional cuisines as well. Chinatown would be a bit touristy; for the good stuff have a look at the offerings in Richmond (for example, Kirin).

The Japanese food is very good as well. I guess the point I want to bring out is, the Pacific connections/Asian influence of West coast cities is worth an experience, and Vancouver happens to be a very good place for that due to the particular demographics there.
posted by polymodus at 7:36 PM on December 13, 2009

I recommend the U District in Seattle for abundant cheap and good food. It's a good place to just walk around and check out the city, and it is also close to the Henry art gallery and Frye art museum.

As ctmf said, the interesting neighborhoods in Seattle are kind of scattered. In contrast, downtown Vancouver is very concentrated. Tons of the attractions are within walking distance of each other. This means you might be able to do more things in a shorter time.

If you choose to drive between the cities, make sure to stop in the Daiso store in Richmond, BC. It's a few miles south of Vancouver and not very far out of the way at all. It's a crazy Japanese 2-dollar store that sells stuff you just can't get in normal North American stores. It was recommended to me in this AskMe, which you may find useful for planning your trip.
posted by scose at 12:37 AM on December 14, 2009

I live in Seattle (and thoroughly enjoy visiting Vancouver).

Seconding a visit to the Ballard Locks. I'd also suggest taking the Ride the Ducks tour on your first day here. Locals may scoff at it because it seems a bit cheesy, but I've done the tour twice and think it's a fantastically fun way to get a peek at various areas of Seattle, including the view from Lake Union.

You say your visit is in June . . . summer in Seattle means neighborhood festivals nearly every weekend, and these might be a fund diversion. If you're lucky enough to be here Solstice weekend (Sat June 19th, 2010), then by all means check out the Fremont Solstice Parade.

The Pike Place Market is hands down my favorite place in Seattle, but the crowds in the summer are just *crushing* . . . I'd suggest showing up early in the morning, perhaps around 8am, before the crowds have hit their peek and when the hustle and bustle is about the market and not the tourists.

I agree with sadtomato that Buchart Gardens aren't really all that . . . much more impressive to me is Stanley Park in Vancouver.

If you enjoy art, then visit SAM but also add the UW's Henry Museum to your list if you make it out to the UW--the campus, designed by the Olmstead brothers who also gave us Central Park, is gorgeous.
posted by donovan at 10:15 AM on December 14, 2009

The Vancouver International Jazz Fesival runs from June 25 to July 4 this year. If you are any kind of a jazz fan, you should try to be here for part of that.
posted by timeistight at 12:02 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Loving the answers; thanks! Don't hesitate to keep 'em coming!

Side question: How necessary is a car rental in either city?
posted by greendress at 4:32 PM on December 14, 2009

I just thought of another cool thing to do in Vancouver. Go to John Atkin's site and go on one of his walking tours, they are fantastic! You have to register ahead of time for some of them because they fill up really fast, so keep you eye on the tours offered closer to your vacation date.
posted by sadtomato at 8:59 PM on December 14, 2009

Oops, sorry, here is the link.
posted by sadtomato at 9:00 PM on December 14, 2009

Side question: How necessary is a car rental in either city?

Not necessary in Vancouver if you aren't heading out to the 'burbs.
posted by timeistight at 9:46 AM on December 18, 2009

i'm a mostly-native of seattle. both cities are priced similarly now that the u.s. dollar has tanked. i recommend the not for tourists seattle book.... despite the name, it's been more useful for most tourists that we've hosted from than the tourist books.
posted by groovinkim at 3:38 AM on December 22, 2009

oh, and i drive my car maybe once a month. public transportation is easy
posted by groovinkim at 3:39 AM on December 22, 2009

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