Inspired by Seattle Met food critic Kathryn Robinson's "My Ten Favorite Dishes of 2012" series, I decided to rank the best ten travel destinations I visited this year. I included all domestic travel, both personal and work-related, and I picked the most sensational places, not merely personal highlights. (That means you don't have to endure my story about a truly memorable Marshalls shopping expedition I undertook in St. Augustine, Florida, last April.)
Here are the ten best places I ended up in 2012:
10. Rosewood Hotel Georgia, Vancouver, BC. Luxury done right and without fussiness, smack dab in the middle of downtown Vancouver.
9. Deschutes Brew Pub, Bend, Oregon. This newly expanded bar and restaurant is one of the town's biggest, most obvious draws—it's like Central Oregon's own Space Needle. But I'm always wowed by incredibly attentive service; last trip, the waiter brought me sample after sample of the dozen-plus beers on tap, then hustled out house-made tortilla chips when he noticed that we'd hoovered down our soft pretzels but still had leftover cheese-and-ground-mustard dip.
8. Sorrento Hotel, First Hill. The monthly Silent Reading Parties in the hotel's Fireside Room are a good excuse to peek inside the small, Italian-style hotel just uphill from downtown Seattle. Bonus: It's a very, very short trip!
7. The Burger King drive-thru in Abbotsford, BC. Poutine from the fast food giant was $4. It was hot, it was gooey, and I didn't finish my portion the first time. I think I can do better next time.
6. Hana, Hawaii. The entire island of Maui is an embarrassment of sunny riches, but this tiny town on its lush, drippy eastern coast is heaven for a Pacific Northwesterner unafraid of a little rain. Around every corner is another waterfall, another pocket beach, another stand selling homemade banana bread.
5. Tap Root Public House, Anchorage, Alaska. Two beery pubs in one list? I'm not even a beer fan! But the draw here is the live music and lively crowd, and just a touch of honky-tonk vibe. I visit Anchorage every summer, and every time I'm cheered by the bighearted enthusiasm in the isolated city's watering holes.
4. Olympia. I saw my hometown through a new lens this year. I found that its fierce independent streak survives in the form of a rejuvenated downtown well, in the burgeoning food scene, and in the still-thriving music produced by notables like Calvin Johnson of K Records.
3. Grouse Mountain ski area, North Vancouver, BC. Whistler's slopes may be the stuff of bombastic Olympic Games intros, but urban night skiing at a mountain directly above the city lights was giddy fun.
2. Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Richland. By far the coolest tour I've been on in ages. The five hours I spent on a bus touring the Department of Energy-held site were lovely, educational, and sobering—after all, the world's first plutonium bomb was born here. And there's a giant pit full of nuclear submarine cores! Just sitting there! Don't miss signups for the free tours in 2013.
1. The summit of Mount Rainier. Sure, I'm bragging a little bit, but stay with me here—heading for the 14,410-foot top of the state's tallest mountain is more than an athletic excursion. Besides taking in truly spectacular views, I got to peek inside the same steam caves that our most famous mountain climbers, Jim and Lou Whittaker, explored as boy scouts back in 1945. I slept halfway up the peak at a camp named for writer John Muir. I hiked alongside tourists and toddlers, at least for the first quarter mile. The mountain is one of the state's dearest treasures, and you don't have to summit to enjoy its trails, wildlife, hotels, and culture.
That was my year in travel; where did you go in 2012?