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The Pacific Northwest

Natural beauty bridging two countries

Created date

February 23rd, 2015
Vancouver
Vancouver

When you hear the phrase “The Pacific Northwest,” the first thought this part of the world  probably conjures up is rain. But while it does rain a lot in winter, it’s a great vacation destination when the rainy season is over. You’ll enjoy moderate weather, outstanding natural beauty, a laid-back atmosphere, and an incredible variety of cuisines.

British Columbia’s Vancouver

The Pacific Northwest straddles two countries—the U.S. and Canada. You’d be hard-pressed to know that you’re not in the U.S. when you’re in Vancouver, British Columbia, except for perhaps how often you’ll hear “Eh.” One reason so many people visit Vancouver is because it’s a port of departure for cruise ships heading to Alaska. But Vancouver is so much more than a stopover and is known as one of the most liveable cities in the world. There’s a lot to see and do...and eat! There are loads of restaurants serving surprising food, and in the middle (sort of) is Granville Island, which you could think of as a giant food court, where you’ll discover taste treats from all over the world. Vancouver is like a magnet drawing people and their cuisines from hither and yon.

To work off some of those calories, a leisurely bike trip around Stanley Park is recommended or else stroll across the Capilano Suspension Bridge and visit the treetop exhibits.

Victoria

The other major city in British Columbia is the capital, Victoria. Unexpectedly, it’s not on the mainland but rather on Vancouver Island, which at 12,000-plus square miles is bigger than many countries, even Belgium. But Victoria is at the tip of the island, closest to Vancouver, and there is ferry service that will get you there in less than two hours.

Much smaller than Vancouver, Victoria offers a compact city center with wonderful shops, vendors, and street musicians, a gorgeous harbor, and plenty of places to appreciate the bounty that the Pacific has to offer. As it’s the capital, it gets plenty of visitors, so there’s no shortage of hotels and good deals if you do a little research. 

Much of Vancouver Island is inhabited only by animal life, but on the west coast are two small towns, Tofino and Ucluelet, where you’ll find everything a tourist might need. A five-hour drive from Victoria, the scenery is incredible with several must-stops along the way, including the Coombs County Market with its world-famous goat-inhabited roof and Cathedral Grove, where giant cedars, some almost 1,000 years old, reside. You can park right along the road and the trees are only a few steps away.

Pacific Rim Trail

Between Tofino and Ucluelet is the Pacific Rim Trail, an easy path that offers spectacular views of the ocean. In this part of the world, some people make it a point to visit during the stormiest seasons to watch the enormous wind-whipped waves crash on the rocks. No matter when you come, try to get a room with an ocean view. Tofino has the better beaches, but the Pacific Rim Trail near Ucluelet has a rocky coastline that’s more scenic for hiking.

While you may think of this part of the world as cold, the climate is actually that of a rain forest so that even winters aren’t very harsh. And to get up close and personal with the forest, a trip by boat to a more remote part of the coast is in order. (Spring is the best time for whale watching, if that’s your aim.) If you want to get really close to the water without getting in it, take a kayak tour from Tofino to Meares Island. The island belongs to the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, and you’ll have to pay them a small fee, but there’s a handmade boardwalk from the beach that will take you to some of the tallest trees in British Columbia, some over 1,500 years old that are ecosystems unto themselves. 

Stateside in Seattle

Back in Victoria, you can take a ferry to Seattle. As you approach the skyline, instantly recognizable by its famed Space Needle, you’ll get a feel for what draws so many to this metropolis surrounded by water and mountains. 

Again, food is an important part of any visit, and the one place you have to stop is the Pike Place Market. Even if you don’t catch a fish thrown by one of the fish mongers, you will definitely catch yourself marveling at the variety of food along with stalls filled with arts and crafts. Seattle offers an incredible number of restaurants, each one vying to have the menu with the most varied choices as chefs looking to prove their unique abilities flock here.

The Space Needle is part of the Seattle Center, which also houses the Pacific Science Center, Chihuly Glass and Garden Museum, the Children’s Museum, and The Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. In other words, you can easily spend half a day within its confines. 

Portland

Portland is a three-hour drive south of Seattle. A smaller city, it’s one you want to visit neighborhood by neighborhood. The transportation system is great, so it’s easy to get around and you’ll have fun deciding which part of the city you like best. One of the city’s mottoes is “Keep Portland Weird,” and so you’ll want to join the rugged individualism that pervades the atmosphere, tasting beers from the myriad different microbreweries and foods from the hundreds of food carts, each offering different fare for your enjoyment.  And if you’re a book lover, well, Powell’s is the largest independent book store in the world, filling an entire city block, so there’s no fear that you won’t have anything to read on that plane ride home.

 

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