Train Trip to the Pacific Northwest
May 21, 2010 11:23 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I are planning a railway vacation from Chicago to Seattle in mid-July; I've never been there, and my husband has been once. Tips on train travel, fun things to do along the route, and unique things to do once we arrive would be greatly appreciated!

We will be going for 1 to 2 weeks and have already discussed the following: Glacier National Park, Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, Mt. Ranier, Vancouver. I anticipate that we may also venture into Oregon. Any insider info about these options would be great!

Beyond what I mentioned above, we love gardens, nature, great food (we like a good diner/pub equally as well as fine dining), museums, wineries/breweries, music/theater, books, hiking (ideally 1 to 2 mile easy to moderate trails). We will be celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary while we're there and will want to find something special to do that day. Any festivals going on in mid-July? What do the locals like to do? Thanks!

Oh, and what are your favorite places to stay?
posted by iceprincess324 to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
This is the trip we did for our honeymoon 24 years ago, so my info is not current. We want to do it again for our 25th next year, so I marked this as a favorite. Next time, we'll stay in Seattle longer. For our honeymoon, we stayed in Victoria, Canada.

Two things not to be missed: Butchart Gardens near Victoria and Pike Place Market in Seattle.
posted by rw at 11:32 AM on May 21, 2010

Bring some warm clothes. Seattle can be quite chilly in the summer.
posted by Carol Anne at 11:54 AM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have traveled overnight on Amtrak. You are booking some sort of sleeper car, right? And don't book anything within a few hours of your scheduled arrival in Seattle, because you might be a few hours late.
posted by brainwane at 11:58 AM on May 21, 2010

Best answer: Do a city-hike! Walk the Burke-Gilman trail, go through the UW Botanic Gardens on the way. Do it on a Sunday and stop at the Fremont Market. I know there are several brewpubs in the Fremont neigborhood, but I can't recommend a specific one. If you want to speed it up, rent bikes - it's a nice long trail. You can also put bikes on the front of any city bus, though from your list of destinations I'm assuming you'll have a car.
posted by aimedwander at 12:22 PM on May 21, 2010

For most of my recent trip to Seattle I couch surfed, but the one night I stayed at a hotel, I stayed at the Hotel Max downtown.

I really enjoyed it. The restaurant was good, the people were friendly, the location was good, and the ambiance of the hotel was pretty sweet. They have original artwork in every room, which is nice, and there's this sort-of-sexy vibe going on which I think would be condusive to some romance.

Seattle is very neighborhood-based, so it might be a good idea to try and make it to the different neighborhoods around downtown. Fremont was my favorite due to the odd public art there, and some good restaurants, but YMMV.

posted by elder18 at 12:25 PM on May 21, 2010

Oh, and the campus at UW is a nice area to walk through. Very pretty.
posted by elder18 at 12:25 PM on May 21, 2010

Check out the Chittenden Locks. By far my favourite sight in Seattle.
posted by bardophile at 12:28 PM on May 21, 2010

Gardens: The Bainbridge in Bloom garden tour is in July.

Nature: You've come this far, you might as well drive 3-4 more hours to the most NW point in the contiguous U.S. and stay at Hobuck Beach Resort (but it does look like they are closed for the 2nd half of July for the NW Tribal Journeys festival). The Cape Flattery trail is a great 1-2 mile easy hike.
posted by surfgator at 12:38 PM on May 21, 2010

Best answer: Most of Frommer's Seattle guide is available online. It features some very good suggestions.

You can check out the festival listings here. Bite of Seattle is great.

The fishladder (at the Chittenden Locks mentioned above) should be great fun in July.

If you like wineries and music, you might be interested in the Chateau Ste. Michelle Summer Concert Series in Woodinville (25 min drive from Seattle). I go to the Lyle Lovett concert every year (that's right, I'm not from Texas) and it's always fantastic. Don't bother with reserved seating, just show up early with a blanket and picnic foods and buy a chilled bottle of Horse Heaven Sauvignon Blanc or whatever rings your bell. Good times. Mr. Lovett joked that everyone in attendance is white, middle-aged and rich, but there are quite a few people in their 20s every time.

If you call ahead, you can book a winery tour which is nothing special, really, but the winery grounds are gorgeous. Red Hook brewery is right next door, so you can tour the facility and taste their beers as well.

Our zoo, Woodlands Park, is worth a visit. They also host a series of summer concerts, but the tickets for those typically sell out very quickly so you might be out of luck.

Do you think you'll be renting a car in Seattle? I would recommend that instead of that you and /or your husband get a Zipcar account. Zipcars are everywhere in Seattle. There are all sorts of promotions that waive the $50 annual fee, and even if you pay in full and only use the car while you are here, it's still worth it. There are several fun day and half-day trips from Seattle, and it'd be a shame to miss out.

There are tons of easy and moderate hiking trails in the Cascades, typically within an hour's drive from Seattle. You'd need a car and one of the hundreds of guides written on hiking outside of Seattle. The friendly people at the local R.E.I. can help you choose where to go.
posted by halogen at 12:53 PM on May 21, 2010

Born in Tacoma, went to UW (Seattle) my freshman year in college, and now live in DC -- I miss Seattle a little more every day. Gasworks Park is a fabulous area near the campus, and has the best skyline view in the city. You'll be the only tourists there! A walk along Alki Beach is great too, or a campfire, but it's decidedly more touristy and crowded.

My favorite part of the country is the Olympic Peninsula, and Olympic National Park in particular. I'd highly, highly recommend getting out of Seattle for a bit and checking this out. For a great little town, check out Port Townsend (I'll be there in July too!), and maybe even take a whale watching tour up to Victoria.

You mention breweries -- if you enjoy the IPA, Full Sail Ale is one of my favorite beers, and only available in the Pacific Northwest. The brewery is in Oregon, if you make the trip!

Would be happy to share more insights with you, but these are certainly some of my faves.
posted by eenagy at 12:56 PM on May 21, 2010

On Train Travel.

Ms. Ricketts and I took the train to Denver a few years ago. We splurged on a sleeping car berth...great decision. Being able to stow everything in your "room" and walk about the train was heaven. We also got our main meals for free and, you know, other than the eggs being runny the food was really quite good. It was a straight through trip for us.

The standard berth is SMALL. Like, it looks small in the brochure, but when you get there you think, "holy hell is that small!" We got over it quickly by leaving the door open when we were sitting there. (though we spent most of our time in the observation car)

Sleeping in the berths was a bit of a challenge. The two chairs fold down into a cot-sized bed and the other bed folds down from the ceiling. I'm not a claustrophobic person normally, but I could not sleep on that top bunk. My face was close enough to the ceiling to let me feel my breath on my cheeks. It seriously creeped me out, so Ms. Ricketts took that one. Her first night was a bit rough as the car-sway kept her awake (you can striing up a net to catch you, so you won't fall. hah). Her second night was much better.

When you take your main meals, you'll be sitting with some other couple. All the tables are fourtops and you'll be sharing, so have a few conversational topics handy iffin you aren't terribly social.

The showers are just silly. Push button, get water for about 5 seconds, push button again. I was amused, but wouldn't consider myself clean afterwards.

Amtrack, it seems, is *always* late. The steward on the train said this was because they rented track space from the freight lines who got priority. For the trip INTO Denver, that wasn't so bad since we were looking forward to the vacation and it was an adventure. For the trip back home, was kind of murder. We were standing on the tracks just outside of Chicago for a couple hours. I swear we almost jumped train and hailed a cab. So I'd consider doing a Train there, Fly back thing....if budget allows.

We found the train a bit chilly, so have a flannel or sweater available.

Pack some games or books. It is a long trip and the scenery from Chicago to the West coast is dreadfully dull throughout the plains states. I mean a lot of the tracks, naturally, go through somewhat industrialized and economically depressed areas and flat fields, naturally.

All that said, though. Loved travelling by train. Ya'll are going to adore it, I think.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 12:56 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you follow aimedwander's advice and end up in Fremont, the best "brewpub" is Brouwer's.

Although it can get a little chilly in July, it's also prone to flashes of serious heat. Definitely plan to dress in layers, and don't expect anybody to know exactly what the weather is going to be like on a given day until it's happening.
posted by Mizu at 1:32 PM on May 21, 2010

Can't believe I forgot this one...... The Elliott Bay Book Company is a must for any book lover in Seattle. It's my favorite book store in the world, and is in the heart of a very historic district in the city.
posted by eenagy at 1:49 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Coast Starlight that runs up the coast from California is notoriously late (it's even nicknamed the "Coast Starlate"). Personally, I think of being on a late train as "free awesome bonus time" but if you are on a tight schedule you might want to avoid that route.
posted by quarterframer at 3:18 PM on May 21, 2010

I have heard good things about the Seattle Underground Tour. I definitely want to take that next time I am there!
posted by SisterHavana at 4:11 PM on May 21, 2010

Just so you know eenagy, Elliott Bay Books moved to cap hill this last month. So unless you consider capitol hill to be a very historic district, OP should keep that in mind.
posted by kthxbi at 4:16 PM on May 21, 2010

But I'll second its coolness even though it's no longer in Pioneer Square.
posted by kthxbi at 4:17 PM on May 21, 2010

Response by poster: Great info, everyone! Thanks! I actually prefer cooler weather so the chilliness doesn't scare me at all. Any specific restaurant recommendations?
posted by iceprincess324 at 5:36 PM on May 21, 2010

Best answer: I'm not sure how old you guys are, or how adventurous, but between Portland and Seattle you will find numerous brew-pub options for delicious dining experiences. I recommend the Elysian, Hale's, and Pyramid in Seattle, and McMenamin's establishments up and down the I-5 corridor between PDX and SEA (there are, however, dozens of others to choose from).

Portland also has this weird thing where there are strip clubs you can drink in that serve organic (or at least sustainably/naturally raised) steaks for super bargain prices. It's one of the random treasures of the Northwest.

Once you're in Washington. I recommend a roadtrip jaunt around the Olympic Peninsula-- you can travel through the Hoh Rainforest, which is incredibly scenic, even for those of us who live nearby.

In Seattle proper, find yourself a local show. We love music around here and venues for local music do abound. The Showbox, Paramount, and Moore Theater typically have touring acts, whereas Neumos, the Comet, and Chop Suey on Capitol Hill and the Tractor Tavern and Sunset Tavern in Ballard are frequently booked with fantastic local acts. Google the venues to see what's going to be playing.

Above all, have a fantastic trip and welcome to the Northwest!
posted by girlstyle at 11:55 PM on May 21, 2010

I've done the Pasco, WA to Chicago round trip on Amtrak five times. I never got bored looking out the windows, always something to see even in the real rural areas of Montana.

At Havre, MT be sure to rush into the station and get an ice cream sandwich from the machine there. It's the only place between Chicago and the west coast you can get ice cream with the exception of the dining car at meals.

If wine tours are something that you enjoy, check out coming over to eastern Washington. There are many gold medal wineries in this area. The scenery is fantastic. It includes going over the Cascades via the busiest mountain pass in the world into the most diverse agricultural area in the world. The bad part of this areas is that nightlife consists of listening to bulls fart.

Have a great trip.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 8:43 AM on May 22, 2010

Best answer: was unaware that Elliott Bay books moved. How sad.

As for restaurants, I'm not sure what price range you're looking for, or any specific cuisine, but for very pricey but exquisite seafood, check out Ray's Boathouse in Ballard. My personal favorite, Agua Verde is a fabulous restaurant, and very cheap, right on the water near the University of Washington. As for pubs, Owl 'N Thistle is a great little place near the waterfront.

And... be sure to pick up some bing cherries and a Piroshky from the Russian bakery at the Pike Place Market.
posted by eenagy at 11:06 AM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm am zealously seconding Ray's Boathouse in Ballard. My favorite restaurant in Seattle (as of yet, I have hundreds more to try).
posted by kthxbi at 11:31 AM on May 22, 2010

Seattle summer is magic. The days are very long. Sunrise is is before 6AM; sunset is after 9PM. You'll want to be outside as much as possible.
posted by soupy at 10:52 PM on May 22, 2010

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