Whirlwind Cascadia: from Portland to Vancouver

A road trip through the Pacific Northwest, from Portland to Vancouver and the mountains of British Columbia, stopping in Cannon Beach, Olympia, Seattle, Squamish, and Whistler
Whirlwind Cascadia
Whirlwind Cascadia
Once again, this one was built around a business trip in Seattle, and once again, nothing too groundbreaking here.  Rather than simply fly in and out of SEA, we decided to fly into PDX and see how far north we could get (in our case, from Portland to Whistler).  Although we considered flying out of YVR at the end of the trip rather than backtracking to SEA, renting a car in the US and dropping it off in Canada becomes both tricky and expensive (as it is, one-way rentals already incur some hefty fees -- in our case, an extra $110).

We flew UA economy from EWR, with a stopover at ORD.  Although we normally prefer to fly direct, scheduling conflicts made this the only viable flight.  I don't have anything especially nice to say about United, and their economy product in particular, so I'll harken back to Kindergarten and not say anything at all.
The Green Man of Portland
Exhibit A: The Green Man of Portland
We flew into PDX, picked up a Subaru Outback from Dollar Rent-A-Car, and checked into the Hilton Portland Downtown.  We considered trading 100k Honors points for the 2 nights (50k x 2), but with paid rates at $220 a night, this represented a mediocre redemption, so we paid cash.  Over the next 24 hours, we hit up the excellent Saturday Market, had "lunch" at Voodoo Donuts (does a dozen esoteric donuts count as lunch?), and walked the serene Lan Su Chinese Garden (don't skip the teahouse!).  If you find yourself laughing about the similarities between Portland and Portlandia, best to keep it to yourself -- it may hit a nerve with the locals.

Cannon Beach
Towering majestic fir trees
Towering majestic.. fir trees?
We got in the Subaru and drove 90 minutes northwest along Route 26, where narrow two lane roads cut through towering old (Douglas fir?) trees that will awaken your inner bearded lumberjack.  Eventually, we hit the coast at Cannon Beach, whose signature landmark Haystock Rock rises out of the Pacific and serves as a backdrop for beach vistas for miles in either direction.  The town itself is peaceful and relatively sleepy (population 1690 in the 2010 census -- thanks, Wikipedia!).  We had a great breakfast at Lazy Susan Cafe (after a bit of a wait), visited the quaint Town Center shopping plaza, picked up some snacks for the road at Mariner Market, then walked along the beach for an hour or so while fantasizing about oceanfront homeownership.
The impressive span of the Astoria-Megler Bridge
The impressive span of the Astoria-Megler Bridge
Near Cannon Beach, Route 26 meets the 101, Oregon's version of the Pacific Coast Highway.  Unfortunately, most of the coast-traversing span of the 101 occurs south of Cannon Beach, north of which the road veers back inland.  It would have been nice to see more of the coast, but we didn't have time to backtrack.  So, we continued on our way through the remainder of northern Oregon and into southwest Washington, where the impressive span of the Astoria-Megler Bridge crosses the Columbia River, serving as a vast aquatic border between the two states (and also serving as the watery grave for countless pixelated families during my Apple II Oregon Trail days).
Olympia Film Society
I know nothing of the Olympia Film Society
If we had a little more time, we would have spent a few more hours and continue on the 101 as it does a full loop around Olympic National Park and the perimeter of the Olympic Peninsula.  Unfortunately, it takes at least a couple of hours, and we had to be in Seattle before nightfall.   So we turned east near Aberdeen, stopping briefly in Olympia after nearly 3 hours on the road for a late lunch at the fantastic Fifth Avenue Sandwich Shop.  We then continued on the final hour into Seattle, with Mt. Rainier looming in the distance (although some of the best views are honestly reserved for the flight out of SEA-TAC -- see below!)
Continuing the disgusting tradition
Continuing the disgusting tradition
We got into Seattle near sunset and checked in to the comfortable and well-positioned Sheraton.  Much of the next 2.5 days was work-related.  I'm not going to get into Seattle too deeply, as you could (and many people have) devoted entire books to tourism in the city.  We walked around the Pike Place Market, got coffee at the first Starbucks store, rode to the top of the Space Needle, placed a new lump on the gum wall, and otherwise enjoyed our time in the downtown/Pike Place area.  We had a great dinner at the somewhat-incognito Pink Door restaurant, whose unadorned alleyway entrance features an unmarked (wait for it) pink door.  They specialize in a bizarre combination of Italian food and burlesque theater, and it's worth checking out!  We also spent a morning over on Bainbridge Island, a trip that I recommend both for exploring the island itself, as well as the views of the city that you'll catch from the ferry both departing from and returning to the harbor (assuming the weather cooperates).
Chuckanut island in the fog off the coast of Bellingham, near the Canadian border
Chuckanut island in the fog off the coast of Bellingham, near the Canadian border

Granville Island Public Market
Come hungry!
We hightailed it out of Seattle and headed 2.5h north, across the border, into Vancouver.  Our stay was at the downtown Hampton Inn, located across the street from BC Place stadium, where CFL and MLS games are played.  Nightly rates were about $370, so 50k Honors points x 2 nights gave us a strong Hilton redemption at 0.74 cents/point.

While in Vancouver, I highly recommend taking a water taxi to Granville Island, where you could spend quite some time eating your way through the Public Market and otherwise exploring the island.  While you're there, give Masa Shiroki a visit at the awkwardly-titled-but-otherwise-enjoyable Artisan SakeMaker.  After returning to the mainland, we tried the Vancouver Lookout, but fog made the endeavor more or less pointless.  I'd avoid it unless it's a really clear day.  At night, we explored the trendy Gastown district, said hello to Gassy Jack, and discovered the world's greatest vegetarian buffalo wings at MeeT in Gastown.  That may not excite most people, but if you've eschewed meat for some time, it's quite a revelation. 

Squamish, in the shadow of Mt. Girabaldi
Squamish, in the shadow of Mt. Girabaldi
We got back in the Outback the next morning and headed north, stopping briefly at Stanley Park for a walk along the seawall before continuing on Highway 99, otherwise known as the Sea-to-Sky Highway.  The name could have not been more on-the-mark.  As we drove out of Vancouver, the fog and drizzle gave way to sunshine and soaring mountain backdrops.  We first stopped in Squamish, about an hour north of Vancouver.  It was a fairly bustling mountain town, and we walked along Cleveland Ave before stopping for an early lunch at Chef Big D's.  There are supposedly stunning views to be had of the entire Squamish Valley for those with the time (and fortitude) to hike to the top of the Stawamus Chief, but it was time for us to get back on the road.
Sunset view of Mt. Tantalus, as seen from the Sea-to-Sky Highway en route to Whistler
Sunset view of Mt. Tantalus, as seen from the Sea-to-Sky Highway en route to Whistler

Whistler Olympic Plaza
Pondering my Olympic training regimen
Whistler is just under an hour north of Squamish, and the drive features incredible views of the southern Coast Mountains.  Whistler itself is known primarily as a ski and snowboarding destination, although the area was quite active despite the warm weather.  Throngs of people were packed into the Olympic Plaza, the very public remnant of the 2010 Winter Games.  We had a few drinks on the outdoor patio at the Brew House, taking in the scenery and the mountain air, and strolled the shops at Whistler Village.  Eventually, we piled back in the Outback for the 1h45m drive back to Vancouver, pulling over every once in a while to take in stunning sunset views of Mount Tantalus in the distance (although it seemed tantalizingly close!  Ha-ha!)

Mount Rainier Airplane View
Rainier says: arrivederci!
Once in Vancouver, we packed our things and prepared for the 2.5h drive south across the border to SEA-TAC in the morning.  We dropped off the car, headed to the airport, and mentally prepared ourselves to return to the real world.  As our plane took off bound for the east coast, we were treated to one last majestic view of Mount Rainier just off the wing, as the Pacific Northwest receded behind us.

JetBlue, old reliable.  Best domestic economy product in the sky by far -- free WiFi, live TV, great snacks, legroom, and service.  A real shock to the senses after United inbound.  Why anyone without elite status with another airline and the option to fly B6 chooses otherwise is beyond me.

Points redemptions:
100k Honors points @ 0.74 cents/point
$740 in free travel!

Guide used:
Lonely Planet: Pacific Northwest
Lonely Planet: Pacific Northwest

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