Northwest Urban Escapes

by Nancy Mueller  

Seaside summer retreats have their charm, yet when cooler temperatures prevail, urban getaways hold their own with plenty of city-slicker adventures worth exploring.   


Vancouver, BC   

Longing for a luxurious hotel experience? Head downtown to “city-chic” JW Marriott Parq Vancouver. Or cocoon inside the green embrace of a Northwest forest at the Douglas, Autograph Collection, nestled within the property. Together, the two hotels offer guests a host of inspiring amenities.  

Kick off your stay with a visit to Spa by JW to melt away stress from the day’s demands. Breathe in the ambiance of a eucalyptus infused steam room, soak in the outdoor pavilion’s hydrotherapy tub, or indulge in a signature treatment like the Ultimate Aromatherapy Massage or Douglas Body Wrap. Now that you’re newly restored, why not enjoy a seasonal handcrafted cocktail or beverage of choice at D/6, the Douglas 6th floor lobby bar? Step within a hidden lounge, settle in with a compelling book fireside, or simply bask in the surrounding scenic city skyline. For upscale dining, The Victor’s locally sourced, sustainable cuisine showcases the region’s rich bounty of fresh-caught seafood, sushi and specialty steaks.   

Feeling lucky? Take your chance at Parq Vancouver’s two-level casino featuring a variety of slot machines and table adventures before turning in for what promises to be a night of sweet dreams.  

When you’re ready to break from the coziness of your hotel room, enhance your visit with an insider’s walking Vancouver Foodie Tour at Granville Island Market, one of the city’s top attractions. Eat your way through the public market with 20+ sweet and savory Canadian tastings, ranging from breads, cheeses and charcuterie to scrumptious donuts, while learning about the local food scene.  

Hop a ride with Discover Canada Tours to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park to walk across the 450-foot-long bridge that hangs 230 feet above Capilano River. Explore the series of seven high suspension bridges at Treetop Adventures and suspended walkways at Cliffwalk. Complete your day’s adventures with a visit to the Chinatown Storytelling Centre to discover the history of Vancouver’s Chinese Canadian community.    

Seattle, WA  

Reach for your favorite Northwest parka and get outdoors to savor the silence on paths less trodden during the winter months in the Emerald City. A brisk waterfront walk along Seattle’s 1.25-mile Elliott Bay Trail north of Belltown sparks spellbinding views of the snow-kissed Olympic Mountains on a crisp sunny day. Watch passing cargo ships come and go on your way to wander the Olympic Sculpture Park for sightings of oversized artworks by Alexander Calder (The Eagle, 1971), Louise Bourgeois (Father & Son, 2005), and Jaume Plensa (Echo, 2011). Warm up at the end of the trail with a hot chocolate or favorite espresso drink and cinnamon roll at Uptown Espresso on Pier 70.   

 Water views never go out of style whether by boat or from shore’s edge, so extend your explorations by catching a harbor tour or cruise aboard a Washington State ferry to nearby Bainbridge Island for a day’s outing. Since neither rain, sleet, hail or snow can stop a turn of Seattle’s Great Wheel at Pier 57, wrap up your winter playday with a gondola ride to enjoy a mist-shrouded high-in-the-sky adventure or stunning sunset over the surrounding sea and mountains.  

 Overnight at legendary Edgewater Inn nearby, where once guests like The Beatles could fish from their windows, landing a variety of mud sharks, squid and octopuses. While those times may be long gone, the history of the famed seaside hotel lives on in music-themed suites celebrating the rock n’ roll royalty who have stayed here. Dine with a view at the hotel’s Six Seven Restaurant featuring hearty brunches, scintillating Happy Hours and seasonal sustainable seafood selections.  

 For family-friendly entertainment, Seattle Center hosts Winterfest festivities for five weeks from November through December. Ice skating, ice sculpting, plus a Train & Village exhibit lead the lineup of popular events. While you’re there, score hockey tickets to catch a Kraken Game at Seattle’s new Climate Pledge Center.  

Tacoma, WA   

Paul Simon once penned the lyrics: “Somethin’ tells me it’s all happening at the zoo. I do believe it. I do believe it’s true.” And after even a brief visit to Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, you’ll believe it, too.  

Located on 29 acres in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park, the cherished zoo’s heady mission serves to “awaken a connection to Wild Life with everyone in the Pacific Northwest.” From the Asian Forest Sanctuary to Rocky Shores & Arctic Tundra to Red Wolf Woods and more, the facility houses a wide range of animal diversity. Sumatran tigers, clouded leopards, harbor seals and sea lions, and red wolf pups are among the species that populate the premises.  

November and December’s star attraction, “Zoolights,” showcases a magical display of 800,000 LED lights outlining favorite animal figurines, transforming the property into a winter wonderland to the delight of all ages.  

Beyond the zoo and aquarium, Tacoma’s award-winning upscale Hotel Murano features its own private collection of international glass art, offering the perfect introduction to historic downtown Tacoma’s Museum District that lies within easy walking distance from the hotel. Six world-class museums offer creative excursions for art lovers, car aficionados and history buffs. Highlights include the 24-hour 500-foot Chihuly Bridge of Glass pedestrian walkway that connects the Museum of Glass with the Washington State History Museum. Have a quick bite to eat inside Tacoma Art Museum’s TAM Café offering salads, soups, and sandwiches to fortify yourself for the afternoon.  

When in need of a little retail therapy, the city’s Ruston Way waterfront district features a bevy of boutique gift and clothing shops in addition to dining and entertainment. Stretch your legs along the two-mile paved walking trail while gazing across Commencement Bay to views of Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountain Range.  

Portland, OR  

Known for its quirky, eclectic charm that celebrates all forms of creative expression, Portland highlights a number of special wintertime events. Join January’s “Portland Music Month,” focusing on the city’s indie music scene with over 100 performances from local and touring artists at surrounding live music venues. Proceeds benefit the Musician Grant Fund to support local musicians. Early to mid-February, witness how artful light installations transform landmarks like the city’s 12 bridges through the annual Portland Winter Light Festival. Also in February, the Chinese New Year Lantern Viewing Evening at Lan Su Chínese Garden invites guests to celebrate the launch of the Lunar New Year at this popular nighttime event.  

According to Jackie Hagan with Travel Portland, hikes at Forest Park, “where you can get poured on at any moment, but somehow seem to time it perfectly before the rain begins,” and trips to Mount Hood, “where you can ski all day at three major ski areas and easily make it back to Portland for happy hour prices at local breweries,” spotlight seasonal fun. But for a winter escape to Rose City, it’s hard to beat spending cozy afternoons at friendly neighborhood bookstores or cafés. Browse the selection of new, used, rare and out-of-print books at iconic Powell Books, “the world’s largest [68,000 s.f.] independent bookstore,” according to Hagan, celebrating its 52nd year in 2023. Hagan also suggests browsing at Black-owned and operated Third Eye Books, for “African-centered books, accessories and gifts in the Portland Metro Area.”  

Bibliophiles can cap a weekend of book browsing with a stay at the downtown Heathman Hotel renowned for its library of 3,000 volumes signed by local authors, alongside Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners. A magnet for foodies, Portland boasts innovative global cuisines served with the delectable tastes of the Pacific Northwest. Whether dining from the region’s favorite food carts, at casual eateries, or fine dining restaurants, you’re bound to leave sated and already planning your next trip back.