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Cozy Waterfront Getaways

Pacific Northwest has no shortage of shoreline retreats

By CARY ORDWAY

When visitors fly into Western Washington they often are amazed at how much water they see from the airplane -- Puget Sound seems to stretch on forever, which gives way to the San Juan Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the vast Pacific. And both Washington and Oregon have coastlines dotted with quaint towns and beach resorts built in those locations to take advantage of the spectacular ocean views.

So it's no wonder that visitors and locals are attracted to the cozy waterfront getaways you find all over the Northwest. From bed-and-breakfast inns to major resorts, the one thing they all have in common is spectacular scenery and water vistas that are just as beautiful as any place in the country. We've sampled quite a few and here are some of our favorites:

Whidbey Island

The amazing thing is you don't have to journey far from Seattle to experience some of the best island scenery this corner of the Pacific Northwest 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. The ferries run every half hour from Mukilteo to Clinton, at the southern tip of Whidbey Island.

Unless you're arriving in peak traffic -- such as the Friday night getaway -- most times of the day and week your wait will be fairly short. The Washington State Ferries have the boarding process down pat -- everything moves efficiently and it is impressive that so many cars are able to get on and off the ferry in just a few minutes.

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. Take a look at your watch, and you'll find that the second hand is moving just a little bit more slowly now -- or so it seems. You're on "island time" now and the sooner you get used to it, the sooner you will completely decompress -- and de-stress -- from your everyday job.

Our destination for the night was Langley, a quaint and exceedingly small coastal town about a dozen miles from the ferry terminal. With its historic main street -- technically, it's 1st Street -- and eclectic shops, it's no surprise that this little berg is a magnet for artists and people who feel a rejuvenation of the spirit as they gaze from downtown viewpoints across Saratoga Passage to Camano Island on the other side of the water.

After exploring the unique shops and colorful downtown area, it was time to check in at our lodging we had reserved for the night -- the Boatyard Inn, a unique and comfortable place to stay located on the water just a quarter mile or so from downtown. Innkeeper Mynda Myres showed us to our 600-square-foot studio suite, which turned out to be perfect for the two of us. 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. Only the bathroom faucets offered any hint that this was anything other than brand new. A gas fireplace kept our room as toasty as needed, while there was a dining area and a couch and chairs with a wall-mounted flat screen TV. While it didn't have a full kitchen, it did have a refrigerator, dishwasher, hot plate, counter-tops and the basic necessities for preparing something light to eat. The king-size bed was positioned in a slightly elevated part of the studio that just made the layout that much more interesting.

The elevated bed meant that, even as we drifted to sleep, we could look out of the picture windows to our calming view of Puget Sound. We also enjoyed sitting on our private deck watching the boats cruise Saratoga Passage. There are old docks nearby, protruding into the passage, but it didn't seem to diminish the view. And the inn is located on a quiet and little-used beach that was fun to explore.

For more information on Langley and South Whidbey Island, phone 360-221-2969 or go to www.visitlangley.com. For more information on the Boatyard Inn, phone 360-221-5120 or visit www.boatyardinn.com.

La Conner

Venture into the northwest part of Washington State and it's like vacationing on the National Geographic Channel. Without question, you'll find more picture-postcard settings in this part of the state than any other -- which is really saying something, considering the rave reviews about Seattle and other parts of what is arguably one of the union's most scenic states.

In Northwest Washington, the mountains, the sea, the farmlands, the islands all come together in a breathtaking mosaic of colors and terrain, a feast for the senses that is evident in every direction you look. About half way between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. is the little village of La Conner, a town just a bit off the beaten path because you have to take a left here and a right there, and travel a few miles from the freeway on country roads to reach the town's idyllic setting. If you're driving straight through to Seattle or Vancouver, this is one of those gems you will miss unless you know it's there.

When you get to La Conner, don't expect to find a bustling seaport or a lot of hub-bub -- it's a town in the true sense of the word, a tiny enclave built along the Swinomish Slough -- or rather Swinomish Channel as it was later renamed. The channel gives La Conner much of its color and atmosphere, a distinct seaside ambiance that comes from watching the fishing boats and pleasure craft navigating the channel toward Anacortes and then out to the world-famous San Juan Islands. The Rainbow Bridge is the Golden Gate of La Conner, standing like a sentinel over the town and a must-inclusion in any respectable photograph of the city.

With its historic buildings, a colorful downtown assortment of channel-front restaurants and intriguing shops, La Conner is a prime destination for the stroller -- i.e. the person who just likes to stroll casually through town, soaking up the saltwater scents and sounds as seabirds sweep overhead or visitors enjoy good conversation and a drink out by the channel.

Things just seem to move a little slower in the village, and we found the La Conner Channel Lodge to be tailor-made for this kind of outing. As the name implies, the lodge is right on the channel and offers great views of the Rainbow Bridge and the frequent boat traffic on the channel.

When they designed the La Conner Channel Lodge, they went with a Cape Code type of shingle exterior that fits the location perfectly. Inside, the units are quite unique and unusual in the way that they are not just rectangular but of varying lengths and widths with distinct rooms and angles. In our room a fireplace with two stuffed chairs and a table were positioned at an angle, while across the room a bench seat was built into the wall. There was plenty of room for a king bed and a window nearby that looked out onto the channel. A small lanai allowed us to sit outside and watch the slow-cruising boats that seemed only a few yards away.

Another big plus at the La Conner Channel Lodge was the bathroom area which offered a Jacuzzi style tub stylishly situated in a room that used dark and gray marble and tiles, as well as dark wood accents to give the room a luxurious look and feel that helped make this getaway seem extra-special.

La Conner's history is evident in the buildings downtown and the historic homes that are located throughout the residential areas. With just 900 residents, the town is small and visitors can walk the neighborhoods and, because of the town's hills, get some good exercise doing it.

For more information on La Conner, call the La Conner Chamber of Commerce at 360-466-4778 or visit www.laconnerchamber.com. For information on the La Conner Channel Lodge, call 360-466-1500 or visit www.laconnerlodging.com.

Salishan Resort

Built amongst the tall trees of the Oregon Coast near Lincoln City is a classic Northwest resort -- one that for many decades has been synonymous with luxury. The name of that special place is Salishan Spa and Golf Resort, which today retains a great deal of the luster it was known for back in the 1970's and 80's.

Only the customer who insists on new construction will be disappointed. While the exterior has been in place a long time, the resort has striven to update the interiors while at the same time retaining that Northwest lodge kind of feel. Some travelers may think the quintessential Northwest resort is the modern waterfront condo, but the timber used in the construction of Salishan, along with its Northwest Indian themes, really gives this resort that distinctive Pacific Northwest flavor.

Our mini-vacation at the resort was a time of hiking and exploration, of drinking in the coastal views -- seaside trails are just across the highway from the resort -- and marveling at the woods that make this part of the Oregon Coast so spectacular. Golfers will enjoy the championship 18-hole course and those who want to be pampered will be duly impressed by the resort's modern spa -- but, for us, it was just the surroundings that made all the difference. It's a magical place where you truly enjoy being outdoors.

Now when the occasional rain shower appeared -- and it does rain on the Oregon Coast -- we didn't mind holing up in our luxurious suite. A corner unit, this suite was spacious and well-appointed with a couch, two easy chairs, a small desk-and-chairs combo and lots of room to spread out a board game on the carpeted floor if we wanted. A big flat-screen TV and completely updated bath area showed the resort is being careful to stay current with the times. Outside, we had tree-filtered views of Salishan spit and coastal area. Chairs were conveniently positioned on an open lanai to take in the full picture-postcard panorama.

Salishan is not inexpensive and we've read some reviews where visitors missed some of the amenities -- such as bellhops -- they were accustomed to with resorts in this price range. But we would counter that there's little need for help with your luggage when you can park your car, condo-style, right next to your suite. In fact, we actually preferred being left alone to make our own decisions and, when we had questions, we found the front desk to be quite helpful.

If you go to Salishan, you go because it's a northwest classic in a prime location that families have enjoyed for many decades. It's a simpler vacation than you may be used to when you compare it with some other luxury resorts, but there is no escaping the ambience that keeps Salishan listed near the top of fine Northwest resorts -- even after all of these years.

For more information about Salishan Spa and Golf Resort, phone 1-800-452-2300 or visit www.salishan.com.

Photos, from top: waterfront view at the Boatyard; unique buildings at Boatyard have been turned into comfortable waterfront accommodations; La Conner and the Rainbow Bridge; trails near Salishan Resort

Photos by Cary and Sandi Ordway

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other Northwest travel ideas, be sure to check out other Northwest Travel Advisor articles on Northwest zoos, Northwest water vacations, Port Townsend and Seattle attractions.

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