Washington and Oregon Towns That Are Off the Beaten Path
These alternate towns offer great treasures in the shadow of their more famous neighbours.
For every pinot noir there’s a gamay noir, a similar but less heralded variation that’s almost as tasty—to some, even more tasty—at a fraction of the cost. The same holds true with destinations, of course. Which means that in addition to the Oregon Coast or San Juan Islands—the types of places that are well advertised and marked up accordingly—there also lie appealing spots like Mt. Hood, Leavenworth and the Kitsap Peninsula. Rarely overrun and often bargain-priced, each offers the additional frisson of the parallel-universe strangeness that comes from being in another country.
The Kitsap Peninsula
A ferry ride away to a more genteel time.
Where am I going? Geographically, except for that pesky Juan de Fuca Strait, this would be the southern extension of Vancouver Island—but a more apt back-home comparison is probably the Sunshine Coast, a similarly stray chunk of the mainland accessed by ferry and popular with retirees. But there are also several thousand employees of the U.S. Navy, which means more young people, who in turn support more restaurants and lots more bars.
What am I doing? Golfers know this as the home to one of the most spectacular value propositions in the world: five very good 18s where green fees rarely exceed $50. Throw in those aforementioned bars and it’s easy to see why this is an all-time buddy-trip favourite. Garden enthusiasts also tend to be cognizant, mainly because (road-accessible) Bainbridge Island is home to the globally important 150-acre Bloedel Reserve, as well as the quirky-cool Elandan Gardens, with one of the most notable bonsai collections outside of Japan. And then there’s Sequim, an hour’s drive north of the primary Kitsap nexus but worth the trip for, yes, climatological reasons. This little farming town lies in the midst of one of the world’s great rain shadows. Mount Olympus, which looms to the southwest, receives 220 inches of rain a year, while Sequim gets only 16, which explains an ecosystem that includes native cacti.
Where am I sleeping? There are a half-dozen towns here, most quite a bit larger and replete with more elaborate accommodations, but can you pass on a place with a Norwegian theme? You cannot. Luckily, seaside Poulsbo also happens to have the liveliest entertainment quarter on the peninsula, with restaurants like Burrata Bistro, which blends small-town charm with big-city cooking. A short drive away lies the pleasantly turned out Poulsbo Inn and Suites. poulsboinn.com
Break out those lederhosen, meine freunde!
Where am I going? For four decades this one-time boom town mouldered after a mill closed and railroad headquarters departed. Then, struck by the example of Solvang, California (where the inspiration happens to have been Danish, but still), a local couple proposed the Bavarian transformation, which was launched in 1962.
What am I doing? There’s plenty of golf, hiking, biking and rafting on offer during the summer, with lots of discounted rooms to fill, too (this is a big winter destination). And say what one might about themes; the village centre is definitely worth a walkabout, during which you are likely to encounter at least one strolling accordionist. Restaurants with names like King Ludwig’s, Andreas Keller and München Haus prove to bring a surprisingly light touch, with lots of fresh ingredients and a few fresh ideas, too.
Where am I sleeping? You could opt for one of several lodges set amid alpine meadows and whatnot, but it’s tough to beat the Enzian Inn right on the main strip. The rooms are superbly comfortable, there’s lots to do for free—from pools and Ping-Pong to a delightful 18-hole putting course—and during an excellent breakfast you could be serenaded by alphorns. enzianinn.com, leavenworth.org
Let’s watch the good times erupt.
Where am I going? About an hour east of Portland lies Mt. Hood, the other active volcano in the area. While its eruption is unlikely to be as violent, some century soon Hood will do a St. Helens. In the meantime, though, people are having a lot of fun there.
What am I doing? All the summer-season things that a person expects from a mountain resort are on offer, but there’s another thing, too: snow sports. Thanks to an elevation extending beyond 8,500 feet, Timberline (one of six ski areas) is the only resort on the continent with year-round lift-serviced skiing and boarding. If you’re feeling brave, take a trip to Timberline Lodge, whose imposing facade you’ll recognize from The Shining.
Where am I sleeping? Nowhere else has the breadth of the Resort at the Mountain, along Mt. Hood’s western fringes. There’s a modern spa and 27 holes of golf to go with 170 deluxe rooms, but the spot still has character—it was built in 1902. The golf clubhouse would rank as one of the nicest spots in the state for a drink even if the barkeep didn’t happen to be a mad-scientist mixologist who routinely has 95-point beer kegs shipped in from other parts of the country just because there’s no other way he’ll get to taste them. theresort.com, mthoodterritory.com