Visiting the Pacific Northwest
August 19, 2005 8:28 AM   Subscribe

What to see/do and where to stay when visiting Portland, Seattle and Vancouver in October . . .

My boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver (BC) for about 10 days in early October. We'll have about 2.5 days in each city. Any suggestions for things we must see/do and places we must stay? We prefer see cities like locals rather than spending a lot of time at tourist traps.

Also, we are trying to decide between renting a car and taking the train between cities. Does anyone have better suggestions for transit options between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver?
posted by necessitas to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Amtrak is great between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. Fairly cheap, too.
posted by cmonkey at 8:40 AM on August 19, 2005

The train is cheap, and it's OK if you're not in a hurry, but it's famous for always being late.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:45 AM on August 19, 2005

If you can get into the Sylvia Hotel in Vancouver, I loved staying there. Great location, nice feel to the place. And the neighborhood hotdog vendors selling a product called "Mr. Tubesteak" is an endless source of juvenile humor.
posted by COBRA! at 8:46 AM on August 19, 2005

If I were visiting Portland from out of town, I'd really want to stay at Northrup Station. It looks incredibly cool from its Web site, and its' in a nice, fun neighborhood near lots of good restaurants.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:48 AM on August 19, 2005

What kinds of things do you like to do, by the way? Portland is a great place to live, but it's not much of a tourist town.

There's an OK art museum, an OK zoo, good neighborhoods to walk and shop in, lots of really good restaurants, some fun/funky bars and night clubs, and lots of great outdoor recreation options. These are all swell for the quality of life, but they aren't exactly huge draws for out-of-towners.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:58 AM on August 19, 2005

In Portland. . .go to NW 23rd and Glisan. Walk to the east (I think) . this is the *alphabet district* and the streets are named in alphabetical order. Anyway, in about 6 blocks (a cool strolling street) you catch the streetcar to downtown. The Public Library is cool, there is an OK art museum, Pioneer Place is a nice indoor complex of stores and eats to stroll around in.

Saturday Market down by the river is a local institution . .as is walking along the river to the Steel Bridge and either walking across or just out into the middle.

The train station is sort of in the middle of all this, and I have found that I can come up to Portland from Eugene and just park the car and walk or take pub trans everywhere.
posted by Danf at 9:34 AM on August 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I would do Portland at the end of the trip, so you have a bit of downtime and just walk around and stuff. If you love books go to Powell's City of Books, which will eat half a day. Saturday Market is cool. Washington Park (where the zoo is) is a very nice park if you want to hike around. (Discovery Park, in Seattle, is IMO better, but it's harder to get to and back from, while Washington Park is super easy.)

The train. I took it twice when I went up there. It was late the second time, by about 30 minutes to give you an idea, so give yourself a time cushion – but it was otherwise just fine and much much cheaper than renting a car.
posted by furiousthought at 10:27 AM on August 19, 2005

If you like books, Powell's bookstore is a must-see in Portland. It covers an entire city block and you can easily spend a whole day there. The rare book room is a treat all by itself. Don't miss the Technical Book Annex while you're at it.
posted by rhiannon at 10:28 AM on August 19, 2005

Stayed in the Moore Hotel in downtown Seattle last week. Nice family run place, cheaper, central, I'd recommend it.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:38 AM on August 19, 2005

I second the recommendation for the Moore. It's where I stayed the first time I came to Seattle and it was perfect. Super close to downtown, and from downtown you can get a bus anywhere else pretty easily. And it's cheaper than one would expect for that location.
posted by librarina at 11:02 AM on August 19, 2005

You say early October. This might include First Thursday in Portland on the 6th. Art walk, wine tasting and hors d'oeuvre munching. If you think you'll like 23rd, you'll enjoy First Thursday. If your more of an "earthy" person Hawthorne Blvd. is what you want.
posted by mnology at 12:33 PM on August 19, 2005

Things to do in Vancouver (and one paragraph about Bellingham too)

I second the advice of staying at the Sylvia. Lovely location, right by Vancouver's famous seawall. The seawall is a 10km path around Stanley Park. That's a nice walk - with abundant photo opportunities.

You can also take the Lion's Gate Bridge to North Vancouver, and take the tram up Grouse Mountain. Up there, you can see live grizzlies and wolves. Don't worry, they are in a large pen - but you can see them close enough to smell them*

Tourists love Gastown, so I should mention it here... the old part of Vancouver. If you can ignore the street vendors (tshirt and usual tourist crap) then the historic buildings can enchant you. Chinatown is nearby, with more photo opps.

An interesting location in which to spend a couple of hours is the new Storyeum. It is located in Gastown, and features live theatre as well as a movie about BC's history. Very well done, beautiful production values.

Restaurants - visit Cardero's on the 'other' side of Stanley Park (assuming you are staying at the Sylvia) Or you may want to visit Granville Island, which - in addition to featuring a lovely market, a famous art school Emily Carr School of Design and nice craft stores - has several waterside restaurants.

When you drive up to Vancouver, take a detour in Bellingham. Lovely town - visit Fairhaven (old part of town) and pay a visit to Village Books (new) and Henderson's (used). And take the Chuckanut Drive to Arlington instead of the I-5. You will drive on the US's first Scenic Highway, and scenic it is. Water on one side, mountains (Chuckanut, Blanshard) on the other - many pullouts to stop your car and take pictures. It's a 10 mile detour that is well worth the time.
posted by seawallrunner at 12:35 PM on August 19, 2005

*there is some protestation about keeping the grizzes and wolves up at Grouse. I agree with the protestors - these animals should be in the wild. However, it's worth noting their presence for the sakes of this question.
posted by seawallrunner at 12:36 PM on August 19, 2005

First Thursday is a Seattle thing too. It's a pretty good time to absent-mindedly stumble into Pioneer Square – all kindsa stuff going on.
posted by furiousthought at 12:40 PM on August 19, 2005

If you're on a budget in Vancouver, the YWCA Hotel is pretty cheap, downtown and surprisingly nice for the price.
posted by cmonkey at 12:55 PM on August 19, 2005

If you drive up from Portland, I'd suggest going over the tacoma narrows bridge and then taking the ferry into downtown from Bremerton or Bainbridge island. It is the best way to approach the city. If you don't do it by car then you should catch a boat from downtown to Bainbridge island for a round trip (with an optional stop on Bainbridge). Take a picnic lunch.
posted by Good Brain at 2:45 PM on August 19, 2005

If you at all like ethnic food, then it's a MUST to have some indian/thai/chinese when in Vancouver, it's some of the best in North America (so says my brother who's been pretty much everywhere). Specifically Chinese food.

Hon's Won Ton house on Robson (the glitzy-ish shop street) is a chain restaurant in Vancouver, and consistently quite good. Once you've had won ton there, everything else will taste like plastic.

Stanley Park, of course, is a pretty neat place to visit, it's about a sneeze away from the Sylvia.

What sort of things are you into?
posted by eurasian at 3:29 PM on August 19, 2005

Hon's is okay, I suppose, if all you've been exposed to so far is white man's chinese food. If you want the real deal, drive along No. 3 Road in Richmond and stop at any one of the scores of restaurants that cater to the bustling Chinese community.
posted by randomstriker at 4:37 PM on August 19, 2005

My wife and I were also at the Moore Hotel a couple of weeks ago. Definitely a worthwhile place to stay. As for your transportation issues, check out this question that I asked not too long ago :)
posted by malaprohibita at 5:39 PM on August 19, 2005

In Seattle, to feel like a local, come to my neighborhood (Ballard) for a cute downtown, fun shops, cool restaurants. And visit our neighboring hood, Fremont, for even more, with a cool hippie vibe. While in Fremont, say hi to the troll, while in Ballard, shop at Archie McPhee.

Pike Place Market is touristy, yes, but we locals go there too. If you have never been here, you shouldn't miss it.

I always recommend getting out on the water in Seattle. Argosy Cruises (warning: annoying audio) has a number of them, including my favorite, the Seattle Lakes cruise, which gives you a good sense of where things are in this water-crazed town. You also get to see things like the Sleepless in Seattle houseboat, Bill Gates' house from the water, etc.

Want a less touristy way to get out on the water? Take any ferry, or the West Seattle to downtown water taxi.

In Portland, while it's not downtown, the Kennedy School (a hotel built in an old grade school!) is the best hotel I've ever been to for sheer fun. Bars called Dentention and Honors, a movie theater in the auditorium, brewery in the old girls' bathroom, hot tub the size of some pools...and the sheer fun of staying in an old classroom!
posted by GaelFC at 10:23 PM on August 19, 2005

No visit to Portland is complete without a stop at Powell's City of Books, which takes up a complete city block downtown. I always make time for a stop at Powell's when I visit family in Portland. There is an amazing Whole Foods right near there, also, if you get hungry. In fact, a walking tour of downtown Portland will yield all sorts of delights.
posted by Lynsey at 11:10 PM on August 19, 2005

Portland-Burnside Skate Park
Seattle-Center for Small Boats
Vancouver-the aquarium (they have belugas!)
If you have time-Olympic Peninsula State Park
posted by slimslowslider at 1:15 AM on August 20, 2005

Seattle has great Icon Sight seeing.
*Mandatory Spaceneedle trip-- For the view
*EMP- If you are into Music, or architecture. Live bands on Weekends at their Liquid Lounge
Famous Seattle chef Tom Douglas- Has 5 resturaunts here, all of them are wonderful. Dahlia lounge and Lolas are My favorites.
posted by walk7818 at 8:22 AM on September 5, 2005

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