Pacific North West (USA/Canada) Recommendations

Myself & @brightlight are heading to Portland, Seattle & Vancouver in June. We’re looking for any recommendations for food/booze/coffee, record shops & things to do/see.

The Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle is already on our list.

Thanks in advance

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I live in west Seattle by Alki Beach. I have barely explored in a year and a half. But I should be able to meet you for a drink at the very least :slight_smile:

I’ve probably explored more places outside the city to be honest. If I were you I’d buy a cheap tent and hit up some national parks. Also ride some ferries to the islands.

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It’s been ten years since I went so I think a lot of my recommendations for bars and stuff would be long out of date, but some more general highlights:

Camping and hiking around mount hood was amazing, it’s where the exteriors for the overlook hotel were shot for the Shining. The forest park in Portland is pretty amazing for something so close to the city and well worth spending an afternoon walking in. If you’re a twin peaks fan then it’s worth a drive out to North Bend for the diner and the great northern. The Olympic national park is incredible but absolutely massive. We went on a long ass drive to Oil City and ended up going through Aberdeen on the way there (‘come as you are’ sign on the way in lol) and Forks on the way back which is (was?) notable only for its twilight themed pizza restaurant.

I really love Olympia too. It’s a small town where evergreen college is and where all the bands and record labels started out, lots of little bars and restaurants but a very student-y/hippie kind of vibe. Would be worth a stop over if you’re driving or on the train, especially if Quality Burrito is still there.

:evergreen_tree:

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I always recommend mt st helens in these threads. So… mt st helens.

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I loved camping in the temperate rainforests around the Olympics

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Portland is fun, albeit a bit one note. Would recommend brunch at the Screen Door (which is as good as everyone says it is) and Powell’s World of Books. Voodoo Donut is great too, strongly recommend going to see the Timbers too if it’s an option even if you don’t like football, they get a really fun crowd. There’s no shortage of coffee places, bakeries etc either

Wasn’t in either Seattle or Vancouver for very long so only did the touristy stuff (don’t bother with Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, it’s pricy and naff). There’s a really good book shop in Seattle near the market called Left Bank books that’s very worth a visit.

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Thanks for all the replies so far, lots of good suggestions and advice.

Sadly neither of us drive so we will be limited in terms of getting to some of the places, but it’s still good too know about them anyway.

We fly into Portland, and then are going onwards to Seattle and Vancouver by train.

The Forest Park in Portland sounds great, as do the ferry rides in Seattle. Grouse Mountain was on our list, but might reconsider that.

We’re definitely not opposed to doing some touristy things, but want to mix it up.

I checked the fixtures @Steved because I wanted to see the Timbers, or one of the other teams, sadly we’re always in the right place at the wrong time!

Will gladly meet up @boxtoboxelder we can disect whatever Forest do in the next few days/weeks!.

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I had no idea anyone else on DiS lived in Seattle, let alone that close to me. I’m down in Arbor Heights.

Oh shit! No way! How long have you lived here?

Just got back from driving the Oregon Coast and visiting Portland. Could you get to the coast via a bus? If so, I’d highly recommend Cannon Beach. It was the best stop on our trip.
Also Columbia River Gorge. We went out to see the waterfalls and stayed at the Society Hotel in Bingen, WA for a night which was v cool.

Portland:
Didn’t do much apart from the Japanese Gardens which were lovely. Went to Powells but that’s about it for downtown tbh. We stayed in the Belmont/Hawthorne area which was super nice and would recommend staying there probably more than downtown? Seems like there’s more pockets of neighbourhoods which nice bars, restaurants, coffee etc.

Coffee:
Coava
Stumptown

Food:
Yes please smash burger food truck
Oma’s Hideaway for dinner
Montelupo Italian market for dinner
The Mont for brunch
Sandwiches from new market supermarket thingy
Ken’s Artisian Pizza
Voodoo doughnuts (went to the one in Davis which had no queue)

Drinking:
Angel Face for cocktails
Migration Brewing
Can’t remember the other places we drank but that Hawthorne/Belmont area has loads of nice spots to dip into

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I lived in Vancouver for 7 years, albeit I haven’t been there for a while so some of my favourite spots are no more. Public transit is quite good, hosting the Olympics resulted in a slick new line on the subway system, but even the buses get you most places you’d want to go. This is important because most of the good stuff is away from downtown.

Food:

Before going any further it should first be stated that Vancouver has the best and most diverse Asian food in North America. There are possibly more sushi restaurants there than in all of Europe combined. Chinatown is one place you could start, but there are good Chinese restaurants all over the city, or if you’re hankering for Pho, Korean BBQ, Indonesian etc etc you’ll be well catered for.

Some of my old favourites that apparently are still going:

Sun Bo Kong: vegeterian Chinese (I’m not veggie but used to go here all the time, you can get veggie tripe!).

Hawker’s Delight: Main and King Edward (25th) – Malaysian street food.

Guu: various locations. Japanese tapas.

Naam – a long-running institution in Kitsilano. Vegeterian comfort food.

Café Deux Soleils – Commercial drive for good hangover breakfasts.

Booze:

This is one area where things seem to have moved on a lot since I left. There are now a ton of breweries all over town (but mostly off Main St. and the Commercial drive area). I did go to Storm brewing and 33 Acres on my last trip which were both good.

The Alibi Room is a cool bar that’s downtown-ish that is still going.

Also note that cannabis is now legal in Canada and there are many dispensaries all over the city if you are so inclined.

Coffee:

Lots of good coffee as you’d expect. Again I’m sure there are a bunch of new places that are great, but even the Vancouver chains (JJ Bean, Café Artigiano) dotted around town are very good.

Record shops:

Really the best/only option is Zulu Records on W 4th in Kitsilano. This neighborhood is otherwise worthwhile for a wander, if a bit heartbreakingly precious with the upwardly mobile yoga crowd.

Stuff to do:

I can’t be overstated how beautiful a city it is. On a clear sunny day, down by the water, you would question the sanity of anyone who moved away to go live in the UK… So doing things to take advantage of this fact are probably the most worthwhile.

  • Head out to the main UBC campus (99 bus will get you there relatively quickly), walk down the hundreds of steps through a grove of huge Douglas fir trees to Wreck Beach. On a nice warm day it will be quite busy, but it’s so big it won’t feel crowded. Note that it is “clothing optional”, although the nudists are usually in the minority. The Museum of Anthropology on the UBC campus is also very worthwhile, for an overview of the First Nations’ people who have lived in the area for thousands of years. I wouldn’t really bother with any of the other museums in town, unless there is something on at the Vancouver Art Gallery that looks particularly interesting.

  • Grouse Mountain is indeed overpriced, but if you’re energetic/masochistic you can walk to the top (aka doin’ the Grouse Grind) for free. It’s also the jumping off point for some relatively serious hikes in the alpine, although there are probably better options for this elsewhere.

  • Another outdoorsy option is taking a bus to Deep Cove in North Vancouver and renting kayaks. Again, a beautiful spot.

  • It’s a bit touristy, but Granville Island Market is still a fun spot to just wander around, grab a coffee and a sandwich. An alternative to this is taking the SeaBus (part of the public transit network) to North Vancouver and going to the Lonsdale Market.

General neighborhood thoughts:

Commercial Drive – this is where I lived most of my time there. A mix of Little Italy and dirty hippies. Lots of places to eat and drink.

Mount Pleasant/South Main – where the cool kids hang out. Also lots of places to eat and drink.

Gastown – part of downtown, all the tourists seem to end up here. Not completely terrible for food options actually.

Chinatown/Strathcona – things get a little “interesting” the further east you go (the heroin capital of North America) but it’s still worth a wander.

Yaletown – where all the people with money go out, but there are still some good places here (south part of downtown).

West End – also part of the downtown peninsula. Davie street is/was the gay village (possibly been watered down over the years). English Bay beach is yet another beautiful spot. Keep heading west and you’ll find even more giant trees in Stanley Park.

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Yeah Cannon Beach is great (also where they filmed the end of Point Break, fact fans).

Is Voodoo Donut still cash only? Was when I went but that may have changed since the pandemic.

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It’s just such a good beach cause it’s huge and flat and you can cycle on it! We stayed right on the beach and the views every day was spectacular!

Voodoo had card payments now. I actually liked the doughnuts but didn’t go too wild with the ones I picked.

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In Seattle 15+ years, south West Seattle area about 3 years. Will DM shortly.

I’ll share some Seattle & PNW recommendations for the thread later today.

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Agree with this 100%, Hawthorne area is where I try to stay every time I visit Portland, basically East Portland but west of Cesar Chavez Blvd. Chill neighborhood vibes with lots of restaurants, bars, cafes, etc. and beautiful homes. Very easy to bike around as it’s pretty flat with lots of bike parking. Boise area north of there (Mississippi Ave) is also cool, as is Nob Hill north of downtown. The Japanese garden is beautiful, worth a visit for sure, as are a few spots downtown like Powell books.

If you’re into strip clubs, Portland is kind of PNW capitol in that regard, maybe even the highest number per capita in the US. And I’m only mentioning this because it’s something Portland is known for. I read there was even a drive-through strip club during the pandemic. :smile: Lots of very respectful and quaint places, and with so much LGBTQ+ support and respect in the PNW (in the cities at least) they’re places that women also frequent, no matter their sexual orientation. It’s just part of the culture, and respected as a profession. One downside is lots of bachelor parties take place in Portland, so it’s good to avoid the really popular spots to avoid douchebag behavior.

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Great tips on Vancouver. I never lived there, but spent 8 days there on vacation around 2005 before I even moved to the PNW. Great public transit, even took a bus to Victoria around the top of Vancouver Island, then a ferry and bus back to the city. I love the little water taxis going across False Creek, the ferries up to North Vancouver, rail to Commercial drive, etc. Just super easy to get around. I visited fairly often after moving to Seattle in 2006 but visits got further apart and I don’t think I’ve been for about 6 years by now.

My favorite thing to do since my first visit was to rent a bike and cycle around the shore of Stanley Park. I’d head counter-clockwise from the north West End, absolutely beautiful ride on the water. I’d extend the ride all the way around False Creek toward Science World, wrap around the bottom of False Creek to Granville island, then Kitsilano before heading back to the West End to return the bike. It’s a very flat ride all around, and you get to see sooooooo much. I just love it. Should plan a trip up there sometime soon.

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Thanks so much for all the responses everyone @brightlight & myself really appreciate it.

I’m compiling a list for each location and putting together a loose itinerary!

For our Honeymoon back in 2010 we did Victoria (Vancouver Island), Vancouver, Whistler, Toronto & Montreal. We loved Vancouver but our stay there was disjointed and short which meant we didn’t get to Stanley Park so it’s definitely on the list this time.

the twin peaks town and northern exposure town are only 50 miles apart

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I better get my Seattle recommendations in before it’s too late! I’ve lived here 15+ years and lived in 4 different parts of town, all pretty different but all within Seattle proper.

Generally speaking, our public transportation is a little frustrating as it can be difficult going east/west as opposed to north/south, never mind trying to do both. The landscape being hilly with many bodies of water, while contributing to making it a beautiful city, certainly has made for some difficult navigation whether it’s transit, driving, or cycling. There are plenty of bike and scooter rentals all over town to get you here and there, but that’s probably just useful for short distances due to said hills, unless you’re on certain trails (I’ll get to those).

Pike Place Market - the most touristy thing but worthwhile if the weather’s nice. Much of it is covered (vintage buildings with some more recent add-ons), but it’s still ideal on a sunny days as the views are killer and you’ll still be walking outdoors some of the time. I wouldn’t bother with too much else in the immediate area of the market except for the view opportunities. Don’t bother with the waterfront (near Aquarium) unless you want to enjoy the open air Pier 62 for some fresh air and the water view. Even if you don’t go there, it’s probably worth a trip down and up the stairs from the market to the waterfront (Pike Street Hillclimb), kind of unique since the city is so hilly. And there’s a nice little bar you can stop at for a drink, Zig Zag Cafe.

  • Unless you’re a die-hard Starbucks fan, skip the “original” Starbucks store. Very touristy and it’s not even the original.
  • Ghost Alley Espresso is a cool little hole-in-the-wall cafe under the market. You won’t miss the Gum Wall if you’re there, which is gross but landmark.
    The Pink Door is a nice Italian restaurant in Post Alley close to the market. In normal times they have trapeze artists at set times.

Olympic Sculpture Park, Myrtle Edwards Park, and Centennial Park - Some interesting structures at the sculpture park, but great views from all 3 of these clustered parks along the water. There’s a beach, plenty of tables and benches to sit at, and a great walk/bike trail that takes you through all 3 parks, technically terminating near the cruise ship terminal and Expedia campus, but on bike can take you all the way to north Seattle and the Ballard neighborhood if you know what you’re doing.

Olympic sculpture park is easily accessible from Seattle Center, where the Space Needle and Museum of Pop Culture are located, as you mentioned plans to go there.

  • If you’re in that area, it might be worth checking out the KEXP “gathering space” connected to the radio station, which includes a cafe and a small Light in the Attic record shop. Lots of comfortable sofas to hang out in while you listen to the broadcast. You can possibly arrange a tour of the studio, or even see a live in-studio performance depending on their schedule and if they’ve started doing those again.
  • There’s also a newish indie record shop called Royal Records not far from there, that’s worth a visit. It was started by a few employees of a long-running record shop in a different neighborhood that closed during the pandemic.
  • DO NOT visit Mecca Cafe in the area, it is co-owned by a well-documented abuser.

North Seattle (Ballard, Fremont, Wallingford) - these 3 neighborhoods sit above Salmon Bay and Lake Union north of everything I’ve shared so far. Each neighborhood has a lot of bars, restaurants, and independent retail that are fun to check out. I’ll call out cycling again (knowing you’re not driving), as there’s a great trail (the Burke-Gilman Trail) that connects these neighborhoods, starting/ending at the northwest point of Golden Gardens park/beach, then through Ballard, Fremont, and Wallingford, then further east and Northeast through the University of Washington campus (which itself has some beautiful historic buildings). There’s a section of the trail that is not a separate bike path (sharing the road with cars), but if you follow a map you’ll know where you’re going).

  • In the Ballard neighborhood, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks are really interesting, it’s fun to watch the boats to through and there’s a decent botanical garden on the north side of the channel. There’s also some rolling/terraced lawn on each of the banks, and that’s a fun place to hang out assuming it’s nice out.
    – Historic Ballard Ave has some nice shops, restaurants, and bars. Sonic Boom Records is just around the corner on NW Market St. Anchored Ship is a cute coffee bar. Hattie’s Hat is a classic dive bar/diner. King’s Hardware next door is also nice and has a dog-friendly patio out back. The Walrus & The Carpenter is a nice oyster bar/restaurant.
  • Heading down to Fremont neighborhood, there’s again a plethora of shopping, eating, and drinking options, and here the bike trail goes along the water and there’s a cute bridge under a big bridge with the trail going under both. Real pretty here, lots of docked sailboats, yachts, and houseboats.
    – There’s Add-a-Ball pinball arcade, some vintage shops, and if you venture uphill on Fremont Ave a ways there’s a record shop I like called Daybreak Records. If you don’t want to stray from downtown Fremont too much, there’s also the tiny but sometimes rewarding Jive Time Records.
    – I really like the Mexican restaurant El Camino in Fremont and wish I lived closer so I could go once a month.
    – Between Fremont and Wallingford neighborhoods you’ll find Fremont Brewing Company close to the trail. Plenty of outdoor seating, a favorite stop for cyclists on the Burke-Gilman Trail.
  • Gas Works Park is almost a must, as it’s a really unique park at the top of Lake Union and provides great views of the lake with downtown as a backdrop. It’s a large grass hill and the former site of an oil plant with some abandoned industrial structures.
  • As I mentioned, the University of Washington campus has some really nice historic buildings. In the spring, people flock to a campus park called “The Quad” to see the cherry blossoms blooming.

Back to the city proper, you’ve got the Capitol Hill neighborhood which is traditionally the gay & arts community. Lots of cool stuff to explore there.

  • On the north end, you’ve got more quiet residential areas and the beautiful Volunteer Park. There’s an old brick water tower there you can climb and get 365 views of the city, as the park is already at high elevation. There’s a cemetery next door with Bruce Lee’s grave.
    Further south you’ve got a spattering of retail, dining, and drinking options. I like these spots in the chill neighborhood I used to live in, which is typically not explored by tourists:
    Analog Coffee: the perfect quaint neighborhood hipster coffee shop in the neighborhood I used to live. Staff was always super chill and friendly, and they play cool vinyl all day (I’ve even heard them play some pop music). b~side foods was/is around the corner but they’ve since knocked down the wall to combine the spaces. Great small breakfast options. I really miss hanging out at these 2 spots.
    Harry’s: Great food with a relaxed atmosphere, and a very pleasant patio.
    Single Shot: Kind of fancy small restaurant with a great vibe.
    Sol Liquor Lounge: Neighborhood cocktail lounge.
    – A short walk south from those as you get into the busier parts of Capitol Hill, you’ll find some of the best street tacos in town at Carmelos Tacos, inside Hillcrest Market.
  • The Pike St & Pike St corridor extends east over the highway from downtown and into Capitol Hill. Between Bellevue Ave and 12th Ave is where you’ll find the most activity, with the epicenter being around 10th & Pike. The area has changed a lot over the years, with lots of expensive apartments going up so that has unfortunately pushed out some of the gay & artist community and made it a bit more trendy. It’s also a little louder and with the more diverse crowd, sometimes more dangerous than it used to be.
    Neumos is a popular music venue that lots of indie bands play.
    Wall of Sound is a pretty unique record store with a curated selection.
    – Elliott Bay Book Company is a long-running Seattle staple.
    – Momiji is a really good, fancy sushi restaurant. I say fancy but the Seattle dress code is pretty casual. Unless a place is described as fine dining, you’re good to go in just about anything.

East of Capitol Hill is the beautiful Washington Park Arboretum UW Botanic Gardens (free), as well as the Seattle Japanese Garden.

@boxtoboxelder mentioned living near Alki Beach, and I’m about 5 miles south of that, but as nice as that is it’s just not very accessible if you’re not driving. And even if you are, in fact, as one of 2 primary bridges used to access West Seattle has been closed for repairs since the start of the pandemic. So, not recommended!

Thanks for reading and sorry if this is overwhelming. Happy to help narrow it down if you decide to focus on a specific area, or provide more recommendations for a specific neighborhood.

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Thank you so much for this, it’s been really useful. Sorry for not replying sooner.

It’s only 3 weeks until we fly to Potland now so we’re getting organised & excited!.