Year in review

Looking back at destinations we covered in 2009

By CARY ORDWAY

Another year, another list of unforgettable getaways that we've written about on NorthwestTravelAdvisor.com. As we move into the new year, here's a quick look back at some of our favorite destinations during 2009:

You don't have to journey far from Seattle to experience some of the best island scenery the Northwest corner of the state has to offer. If you have the time, the San Juan Islands are an unforgettable experience. But if you don't want to travel more than an hour or so, many of the same attributes are found on Whidbey Island.

Our recent getaway to South Whidbey Island is a great example of achieving the maximum change of scenery in the shortest amount of time. From Seattle, it's just a half-hour drive or so north to Mukilteo, where the ferry landing serves as a portal to Puget Sound's island culture. Once on the ferry, it's maybe a 20-minute voyage across the channel and, before you know it, you've arrived on the island. Signs point you to destinations further north on the island and you realize you have very quickly exchanged the busy bustle of Seattle traffic for the country roads that slither through the forested hills and valleys of Whidbey. Now, instead of row houses and endless population, you see farm houses and open fields planted with gardens or crops, with barns and fancy 4X4's that hint there are more than a few gentlemen farmers in residence here.

Our destination for the night was Langley, a quaint and exceedingly small coastal town about a dozen miles from the ferry terminal and home to the Boatyard Inn, our waterfront lodging for the night. Our suite had an excellent combination of style and utility. With its high ceilings, the room seemed more spacious than most and featured updated furnishings, top to bottom. And what a view – one could spend hours gazing across the water and never grow tired of this location.

On another occasion we traveled to Mt. Baker. Tucked in the far northwestern corner of the 'lower 48' states, the Mt. Baker region is a spectacular place, sharing the extreme beauty of nearby British Columbia and offering relaxing getaways that are just as remote as remote can get.

Go east from Bellingham and you venture into snow-topped mountains so dramatic they have been used in movies and on TV shows to depict the Colorado Rockies and other famous mountain areas. During winter, the snow's so deep up here that the Mt. Baker ski area always seems to get the first snow and the deepest snowpack. This area is for mountain-lovers, not for folks who settle for the hills that pass for mountains in places like Vermont or other eastern states.

We wanted the cabin-in-the-woods experience – a hideaway a little off the beaten path with no other buildings nearby. We find that, unfortunately, some of the best 'cabins' or vacation homes today are built in subdivisions that have the look and feel of a housing development. We had mentioned to Mt. Baker Lodging that we wanted to be more isolated than that and they came up with the perfect choice. Our cozy cabin was just what the doctor ordered, and only four miles or so from Maple Falls' tiny downtown, so it was quick to get to, and easy to return to town for groceries or dinner at one of a few local restaurants.

We also found a getaway very close to Seattle, in Woodinville, at the Willows Lodge. In the old days, prominent Seattle families such as the C.D. Stimsons used to escape the Big City, traveling over hill and dale to what felt to them like the far reaches of the Northwest wilderness. Today, Seattle families and visitors hop on the 405 Freeway and reach the same destination – Woodinville – in a matter of minutes.

Woodinville was a true getaway experience for the sultans of Seattle commerce, and so it is today – although for slightly different reasons. Back in the day, it was duck hunting and wilderness that drew the bigwigs – today it's wineries, a micro-brewery and a luxurious resort that seems to embody the Northwest spirit.

The Willows Lodge is not a hunting lodge like the Stimsons once built on nearby property, but rather a lodge of luxury that has all the refinements anyone of stature could possibly want. No duck hunting here – the fowl in these parts comes already baked or roasted and, like everything else at the resort's famous Barking Frog restaurant, prepared to perfection. Our dinner and breakfast there were occasions to long remember.

And who could forget our float plane adventure in Victoria, B.C. Every once in a while you need to come up with an extra special getaway – a short trip to 'wow' your Significant Other and prove that the spark is still there. In the Pacific Northwest there are many options, but one of the most unique getaways combines two distinctly Northwest experiences: a visit to Victoria, British Columbia and a ride to Victoria on one of Kenmore Air's float planes.

The city of Victoria is one of the most interesting in the Northwest – and one of the easiest to see because hotels, shopping and attractions are all clustered around the Inner Harbour. You can get to Victoria by car ferry, by passenger ferry, by high-speed catamaran, by commercial air to Victoria's international airport and – our absolute favorite – by Kenmore Air float plane.

We parked our car at Kenmore's Lake Union terminal and checked into their small lobby area about a half hour early. Traveling by float plane does require one little inconvenience – you have to tell them how much you weigh. With just a few passengers in each plane, the airline needs to be careful not to load too much weight, whether people or luggage. But that's the only painful part of this trip, and the rest of your adventure will likely have you raving to friends about your unforgettable experience.

Right in Seattle, we had the chance this year to stay close to the Pike Place Market – a market that is much more than fish and about as distinctive a place as you'll find anywhere in the country.

The thing a lot of people don't realize about Pike Place Market is that it's as much a local attraction as it is a picture-postcard for visitors. The market is where Seattle residents – or those working in Seattle, but residing in the 'burbs – come to get fresh fish and produce, or to sample interesting and unique restaurant fare, or to enjoy a few minutes of lunchtime in the park where the people-watching is every bit as entertaining as going to a movie (and, these days, a lot cheaper). The market is an experience that both locals and visitors savor, a ritual that bears repeating on a regular basis.

On our most recent visit, we did something we always wanted to try: we stayed overnight at the Inn at the Market, a boutique hotel adjacent to the market – so close, in fact, that guests can stroll out to a deck area to sit and relax while watching the throngs of people visiting the market. Yes, this is a great location for market-goers, but it's also an ideal location for any visitor to Seattle because the Pike Place Market is situated both near the waterfront and close to some of the most popular shopping streets in downtown Seattle.

The Inn at the Market promotes itself as a hideaway, and that it is. It's tucked into a vibrant neighborhood of eclectic shops, ethnic restaurants and, yes, tourist attractions, all within a couple-minute walk from the hotel. The hotel features 70 nicely-appointed rooms as well as the aforementioned deck that seems to be a favorite place for guests to hang out. Our room looked out over the Pike Place Market sign and had an expansive view of Elliott Bay.

Like the other Northwest destinations we sampled this year, the Pike Place Market was special and unique to this part of the country. We can hardly wait to see where we're going for 2010.

Photos, from top: Whidbey Island view; Mt. Baker cabin; Pike Place Market; float plane to Victoria, B.C.

Photos by Cary and Sandi Ordway

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