Northwest Travel Awards

Our favorite hotels, restaurants, sights, and arts around the Pacific Northwest.

With Laura Dannen and Allecia Vermillion By Allison Williams September 19, 2012 Published in the October 2012 issue of Seattle Met

The Mobile Hotel (on Land)
Rolling Huts Herd
Winthrop, WA

Technically, you’re spending the night in an RV park. This “herd” is six 200-square-foot structures balanced on wheels, per the local zoning laws. But the huts are hardly Winnebagos: These steel-and-wood contraptions were designed by Seattle architect Tom Kundig, winner of some 37 American Institute of Architects awards. And the Corten steel wheels haven’t actually rolled since the 2008 opening.

The huts face the expansive Methow Valley, carefully positioned so each seems utterly isolated. Inside, morphing furniture units transform the narrow space from living room to bedroom. Wood for the sleek fireplace is sheltered under the unit, but Methow winters require additional electric heat—there’s enough snow here to allow cross-country skiing right from the front porch. As remote as the site feels, meals at Kelly’s restaurant are hardly provincial; the menu rotates Irish, Mexican, and Spanish specials. All the grub is organic, all the ice cream is housemade, and the bar mixes a mean cocktail. Not bad for an “RV park” on the North Cascades Highway. 

18381 Highway 20, Winthrop, WA, 509-996-4442;


The Lobby Soundtrack
The Oxford Hotel 
Bend, OR

What’s a former president of the Portland Trail Blazers to do in a town without arena sports? Start a jazz series, naturally, as Marshall Glickman did by bringing scatting to a new ubergreen hotel in Bend. The third annual season of concerts, which runs October to March, expects to match past sellouts.

10 NW Minnesota Ave, Bend, OR, 541-382-8436;


The Dance Revolution
Trey McIntrye Project 
Boise, ID

Choreographer Trey McIntyre has won handfuls of dance awards (plus a spot on People’s prestigious “25 Hottest Bachelors” list in 2003), but he pointedly chose Boise for the home of his contemporary ballet company. The city loves them so much that dancers get free tuition at Boise State (score!), and locals come out in droves for the body-twisting hometown shows in November and February. 

2201 W Cesar Chavez Ln, Boise, ID, 877-867-2320;

The Seaweed Search
Elakah Expeditions
Lummi Island, WA

Kelp! It’s what’s for dinner. On Elakah’s Wild Harvest kayak tours, ethnobotanist Jenny Hahn scours the seaweed patches around Lummi Island. When she sees something slippery, she reaches over the side of her boat and, with only a pair of kiddie scissors, expertly trims pieces of bullwhip kelp or sea lettuce. Hahn leaves the plant intact for future production, and not just because Elakah runs trips on almost every summer day, given favorable tides. 

Beginning kayakers have to face little more than two-foot waves as they do their own gathering. After all the delicate snipping, Hahn whips up a shore-cooked meal full of the day’s spoils. Menus include salmon wrapped in salty seaweed or fettuccine with the tasty alaria variety. Hahn has been leading multiday excursions for more than two decades, overnighting in a Bellingham hotel; the day trips are newer. It doesn’t take long to develop a taste for kelp. 

Lummi Island, WA, 360-734-7270;


The Canadian Sophisticate
Rosewood Hotel Georgia and Hawksworth Restaurant
Vancouver, BC

Everything is shiny, because almost everything in the hotel and restaurant is new or renovated. In the lobby, it’s a glistening stone floor; in the driveway, it’s the reflections of the pool above (yep, you can see the water through geometric skylights). It took four years to restore the downtown Vancouver property to its 1920s glamour, but now it finally lives up to its neighbors, the castlelike Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and the neoclassical Vancouver Art Gallery. Katharine Hepburn once strode this dark-wood lobby, demanding room service—not available until the moment she asked for it. 

Shiniest of all is Hawksworth Restaurant, where an oval art deco chandelier looks like a bathtub fashioned of crystal. The chatter of Vancouver’s young and fashionable fills the dining room, and even the menu sparkles with stylish wit: The “KFC” in the scallops starter stands for Korean fried cauliflower. Chef David Hawksworth has enough humor to mount a line drawing of his own backside in one of the restaurant stairwells (but keeping with his standards, it’s really an exceptionally drawn piece of art).

801 W Georgia St, Vancouver, BC, 604-682-5566;

The Boathouse
Northwest Maritime Center
Port Townsend, WA 

The home of the Wooden Boat Foundation is a real live boat shop, where shipwrights perform a craft straight out of Herman Melville as visitors look on and ask questions. The Chandlery sells a selection of nautical thingamabobs and whirligigs, and the docks allow for wistfully window shopping the wooden vessels parked there.

431 Water St, Port Townsend, WA, 360-385-3628;

The Terrifying Tunnel
Hiawatha Bike Trail
Pearson, ID 

Imagine riding your bike down a 1.66-mile-long tunnel with a headlamp that’s weaker than a penlight. Water drips to your left and right into gutters you’re desperately trying to avoid. It’s as dark as a subterranean cave, cold, and clammy. Like being trapped inside a dehumidifier. You consider tailgating an eight-year-old on a tiny two-wheeler who seems to have the Bat-Signal attached to his helmet, just to make it out alive. Now you’re being overly dramatic. 

The Taft Tunnel can catch even the most seasoned explorer by surprise, but with the proper gear, it’s a thrilling start to a 15-mile downhill ride from the East Portal trailhead in Montana to Pearson, Idaho, along the abandoned Milwaukee Railroad. The Hiawatha trail cuts a wide path through the Bitterroot Mountains with photo-op vistas around every bend. The route is challenging enough, taking bikers and hikers through nine tunnels and over seven trestles, but with a gentle grade and a shuttle that drops you back at the trailhead, so even an eight-year-old can do it. Sometimes better than an adult. —Laura Dannen 

Exit 5 off I-90, Taft, MT, 208-744-1301;

The Tour Bus
Attractions Connector
Victoria, BC 

The best thing about Victoria is that you don’t need a car, just a float-plane ride and a short stroll to a waterfront hotel. Until, that is, you realize that the quarry-built Butch-art Gardens are 30 minutes away. In a “geez, finally” move, a biodiesel-fueled shuttle has started ferrying summer sightseers from downtown Victoria to Butchart, as well as providing drop-off service to other Saanich Peninsula attractions.


The Selfless Stay
The Heathman Hotel  
Portland, OR

Give back, and not simply through hotel taxes: The four new signature suites at the Heathman in Portland represent local literary, performing arts, visual art, or symphony organizations; each stay kicks back money to the group. Handwritten pages and signed first editions fill the Literary Arts Suite, where you can create your own masterpiece on the old Olympus typewriter (or just drink like a writer at the personal bar made of bookshelves).

1001 SW Broadway, Portland, OR, 503-241-4100;


The Mobile Hotel (on Water)
Hot Springs Cove, BC

In 1927 the ship was a coastal freighter; today it’s a floating B&B parked in Vancouver Island’s Hot Springs Cove. Pop into your room’s personal kayak to sneak into the hot springs in the middle of the night, then take a 15-minute floatplane ride back to Tofino the next morning. Flights depart a few feet off the bow.

Hot Springs Cove, Tofino, BC, 250-670-1149;



The Radioactive Tour
Hanford Nuclear Reservation 
Richland, WA

It’s a marvel, an engineering marvel. Those words are repeated throughout the five-and-a-half-hour tour of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, a free outing that’s open only to adult U.S. citizens without cameras. The B Reactor in the middle of the Department of Energy site truly is a marvel; the world’s first plutonium reactor was built in just over a year. Though it looks like a three-story telephone switchboard, the reactor represents a great leap forward in American science. Just don’t expect to hear much about why that plutonium was created—rare are the words “atomic bomb” or “Nagasaki.”

In the throes of World War II, the yellow high deserts near Richland were selected for a top-secret project that took 100,000 workers to complete. The plot of land is half the size of Rhode Island and ghostly, now dotted with cocooned—or shuttered—reactors that face the white bluffs of the Columbia River. Besides the B Reactor, the tour peeks at abandoned town sites and a pit that stores the nuclear reactor compartments of dozens of decommissioned nuclear submarines. Tours have proved so  

popular that some 2,500 spots for 2012 were filled in less than six hours; 2013 tours will be posted online in January. Proposed legislation would turn parts of the reservation into a national historic park, linking Hanford with other Manhattan Project sites in New Mexico and Tennessee. 

History is only half of the story. After decades of producing power and weapons-grade plutonium, Hanford is dealing with its radioactive waste—and leaking underground containers, though you never get too close to those—with a $12 billion glassification factory. Dump trucks line up to make deposits into a massive new landfill. Peering at these new projects is fascinating; the scale and urgency of the cleanup age rival that of the nuclear age.

2000 Logston Blvd, Richland, WA, 509-376-2151;


The Parking Lot
LeMay – America’s Car Museum  
Tacoma, WA

Bruce Wayne’s garage has nothing on the big silver worm parked next to the Tacoma Dome. Founder Harold LeMay had the largest car collection in the world, and now the new museum has 350 cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, roadsters, coupes, hatchbacks, hybrids, and jalopies on display, plus three race-car simulators.

2702 East D St, Tacoma, WA, 253-779-8490;

The Pit Stop
Adam’s Northwest Bistro and Brewery 
Monroe, WA

The term “road food” almost sounds disrespectful when talking about the handiwork of owner Adam Hoffman. After all, he spent almost a decade at the culinary helm of Thierry Rautureau’s Rover’s, dispensing precise French techniques to one of the fine dining–est menus in Seattle. But freed of Francophile constraints, Hoffman is all about dispensing comforting Americana; his antler-and-cleaver-bedecked restaurant perched on the edge of Main Street Monroe, where Route 522 meets Highway 2, plies locals and a few savvy passersby with fried chicken and waffles, berry cobbler, and a colossal stuffed pork chop. In other words, ideal road food, devised by a man who comes from a background where making your own blue cheese dressing and smoking your own bacon for a wedge salad is standard procedure. He even brews the restaurant’s beer in the space next door.

Hoffman’s Rover’s days shine through in a lightly smoked salmon appetizer with local herbed goat cheese, perfectly fried latkes, a pile of lightly marinated fennel, and a delicate seafood stew. The Adam’s burger, piled with blue cheese, barbecue sauce, aioli, fried onion bits, and that house bacon, can hardly be described as delicate, but the balance wrought from all these big flavors makes it clear that a pro is running the kitchen.

Monroe’s location at the edge of Stevens Pass makes it a natural stop when heading out of, or back into, Seattle from points east. Though that burger, and the dessert menu, might warrant a special trip. —Allecia Vermillion

104 N Lewis St, Monroe, WA, 360-794-4056;


The Newest Buzz
Salish Lodge Honey 
Snoqualmie, WA

Last year the Snoqualmie Falls lodge enlisted 120,000 new staffers. They’re bees, producing golden honey for the hotel’s signature meals, cocktails, and spa treatments. And if that wasn’t sweet enough, the hotel has enlisted one Dr. Pepper—a relationship expert, not a can of soda—as a romance concierge. If you’re lucky (or sticky), she’ll even send a resident Bath Butler to your room.

6501 Railroad Ave SE, Snoqualmie, WA,


The Un–Tour Guide
Rick Steves My Way Tours

Just like Sinatra sang: He did it his way. Local travel guru Rick Steves embraced the Ol’ Blue Eyes philosophy for My Way tours, a new division of his guiding empire. No more hand-holding; the new programs provide hotel rooms and intercity bus travel over 11- to 14-day stretches, but little else. American tourists have responded in droves. What began with a single trip in 2011 has become a slate of almost two dozen 2012 departures to Western Europe.

Though city arrivals and departures are preplanned, My Way tourists have all day to sightsee by themselves. Rather than a guide, a Rick Steves representative holds “office hours” to recommend plans. Over a shared breakfast, independent couples sometimes pair up for the day; group bonding still happens during lengthy bus rides between, say, Venice and Lake Como. Hotels are selected for their proximity to local transport, so participants can still end up with a good story about how they survived the Paris metro. The My Way model extends to a Spain itinerary in 2013, since it turns out there are plenty of travelers loath to follow a pink umbrella.


The Shortest Course
Hotel 1000 Golf Simulator  
Seattle, WA 

Take a wrong turn in downtown’s Hotel 1000 and you’ll end up at Pebble Beach. Or Pinehurst. The screen and sensors of the virtual course transport two hitters at a time to famous greens—and even the real Pebble Beach doesn’t come with cocktail service. 

1000 First Ave, Seattle, WA, 206-957-1000;



The Saltwater Soak
Shore Lodge  
McCall, ID

Settle in to the granite walls of the saltwater immersion pools of Shore Lodge. Close your eyes and you’re in the Sun Valley of 20 years ago, or maybe the Lake Tahoe of 50 years ago. The time warp comes from the fact that McCall, Idaho, hasn’t yet hit resort-town overload, and the Shore manages to be both in the middle of town and somewhat remote.

A wooden boat available for rental is vintage too, dating back to the 1960s. The hotel’s name refers to its waterfront position on Payette Lake, and almost every room of the 77-suite lodge faces it. The spa’s saltwater pools run from inside to out, a better-than-real imitation of the springs that dot the Central Idaho Rockies. Skiing at nearby Brundage Mountain is as much a flashback as the uncrowded town; despite its powder, lift tickets are only $55. Take it from the moose head holding court in the Shore Lodge great room: Retro is back. 

501 W Lake St, McCall, ID, 800-657-6464; 

The Room with a View
Maryhill Museum of Art
Goldendale, WA 

There was a time when this stretch of Columbia Gorge real estate was, believe it or not, undesirable. Sam Hill tried to start a Quaker farming community on the sculpted bluffs but couldn’t recruit any farmers; good thing Folies Bergère dancer Loïe Fuller convinced him to convert his empty mansion into the Maryhill Museum of Art in 1940. Sixty years later, the museum had outgrown the concrete manor, leaving the room of Rodin sculptures battling for space with a coffee counter. Enter the $10 million Mary and Bruce Stevenson Wing last spring.

The shiny box and multiple stone terraces peekover to vineyards below and the rolling Columbia even farther below that. Plus, curators can now actually peruse their holdings, not leave them crammed in a closet. David Hockney’s Six Fairy Tales exhibit will visit the museum through November 15—turns out this Gorge-front property is in demand after all.

35 Maryhill Dr, Goldendale, WA, 509-773-3733;

The Trippy Sleep 
McMenamins Crystal Hotel 
Portland, OR 

It’s okay to feel off-kilter. Custom-painted ghostly trees, giant metronomes, even flaming race cars grace the headboards on the beds at Portland’s newest artsy hotel. Peek at your door for an explanation—every room is named for bands that performed in the nearby Crystal Ballroom. It’s fitting for a so-funky-it-hurts hotel where even the hallway lights are akimbo. Happy dreams!

303 SW 12th Ave, Portland, OR, 855-205-3930;

The New Minigolf
Skamania Lodge Putting Course  
Stevenson, WA 

Forget windmills, clown mouths, and loop-de-loops. The 18-hole putting course at Skamania Lodge is about perfecting your short game, even for neophytes who don’t know a sand wedge from a 9 iron. The scorecard says every real-grass tee is a par 2, but some of the trickiest holes are 60 feet long on hard-to-handle slopes. 

1131 SW Skamania Lodge Way, Stevenson, WA, 800-221-7117;


The Cheap Ride
Seattle; Portland; Vancouver, BC 

“Bolt for a Buck,” reads the lettering on the back of the orange-red buses. One dollar? Yeah, right, says the skeptical traveler. But there really are rare $1 seats on BoltBus routes from Seattle to Portland or Vancouver, BC. Most fares are in the $10 to $25 range for each leg, dipping lower when booked more than a week out. The big draw is the free Wi-Fi—beat that, airlines—and car-free transport to city centers. 

The Northeast import is based on the Chinatown buses that have popularized cheap motor links between New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. But our BoltBus is actually operated by its would-be competitor, Greyhound. BoltBus saves over that familiar carrier by skipping the, er, comfort of a bus station; the upstart picks up and drops off on street corners with little or no signage. It’s ideal for the last--minute cheap getaway, for when you’re willing to chance a nasty I-5 backup—the bus takes the same route as everyone else—but would rather update your Twitter feed than tap the brake yourself. 

Fifth Ave S & King St, Seattle, WA, 877-265-8287;

The Personal Souvenir
World Wide Web

Maybe your grandmother understands Instagram; maybe she religiously follows the vacation-photo Tumblr. But probably not. In a charming embrace of the old--fashioned, local company Postcardly turns emailed vacation photos into postcards—the real kind, made of actual paper and ink. 

A Seattle quartet started the company for the most convincing reason there is, to alleviate grandmother guilt. In hopes of showing their older generations their smartphone baby pictures, they created a system where users simply register mailing addresses of family and friends, then email a message and a photo attachment to produce the hardcopy postcard. Stamps are included in the bulk or by-the-month packages, but cards cost about a dollar each. An app out this fall simplifies the process even further. Luddite grandmothers everywhere rejoice.

The Sports Stop
Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena 
Spokane, WA

It’s not the outside that counts—it’s the nonstop cheap sports being played inside Spokane’s biggest venue. Football tickets top out at $20 when the Shock play, and hockey seats start at $9. The Gonzaga men’s hoops team comes through every year, and when March Madness hits next year, women’s Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen games will be played inside.

720 W Mallon Ave, Spokane, WA, 509-279-7000;

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