What's New in Our Favorite Nearby Cities

The coolest new hotels, revived historic attractions and amazing food in Vancouver, Portland, Victoria, Spokane and Boise
Rosewood Hotel Georgia

This article appears in print in the January 2020 issue. Click here to subscribe.

Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver’s ranking as Canada’s third-most-populous city and its role of welcome wagon for the global east make it a fascinating place to experience things Seattle doesn’t have. First and foremost: North America’s most exciting Chinese food. Via the SkyTrain, Vancouver’s rapid transit system, pop from downtown to Richmond (also home to Vancouver’s airport) for dim sum at Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant or fresh soy milk desserts made in-house at iTofu.

Back in the city proper, Vancouver has big-city draws and a caliber of international shopping that Seattle doesn’t. For example, there’s Ladurée, maker of Parisian macarons, and what’s sometimes called the Ikea of Japan, Muji. Vancouver’s luxury hotels are currently a cut above those in Seattle, with The Douglas Hotel, Rosewood Hotel Georgia and Shangri-La Hotel elegantly complementing the high-end stores along Burrard Street. And later this year, the city will score its own branch of beloved restaurant chain Momofuku.

Getting there: Vancouver is a three-hour drive or a 60-minute flight from Seattle.

Portland, Oregon

Just like a younger sibling, which many Seattleites consider it to be, Portland followed in our footsteps with a hotel boom of its own last year. From hip Icelandic Kex, with its shared and big-group rooms, to the minimalist Pacific Northwest elegance of the Woodlark, along with smaller brands from big names (Canopy by Hilton, Radisson Red and Marriott’s Hi-Lo), Portland’s hotel scene finally has the personality and range to match the “cool kid” reputation of the city—and its food scene.

Lobby at the Woodlark Hotel. Photo by Provenance Hotels

Speaking of which, while Portland still excels at the carts and casual cuisine that earned it those accolades, its chefs have recently taken the same ideals of keeping food fun and exciting to the realm of the tasting menu. Farm Spirit gives local vegan food the gilded-lily treatment through eight courses; fried-chicken phenom Maya Lovelace’s Mae offers her Southern spins served family style; Berlu melds innovation and minimalism; and Erizo brings sustainable seafood to the center of the table.

Getting there: Portland is a three-hour drive or a 60-minute flight from Seattle.

A plated dish at Berlu. Photo by Carly Diaz

Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria relies on the ageless appeal of scenic beauty, castles, gardens and cobblestone alleys to keep up with its more modern neighbors. Case in point: A 2017 remodel updated the Empress Hotel, but its famous high tea remains as iconic as ever, drawing on the same charm that has attracted visitors for years.

While the rest of the Northwest remains mired in winter for a few more months, Victoria lures visitors with its early and ubiquitous gardens, which begin to bloom as soon as February. Besides the necessary Butchart Gardens, you can find gardens with a teahouse at Abkhazi, gardens with free admission at Government House, and gardens with amazing ocean views and a castle to boot at Hatley Castle.

Just because Victoria’s charm hasn’t changed doesn’t mean its food hasn’t. Consider this year’s culinary darling: Nowhere *A Restaurant, where CA$65 will score you a tasting menu of dishes like lobster mushroom toast with quail egg and freshly caught halibut cheeks with ’nduja cream.

Getting there: Victoria is a two-hour-and-45-minute journey if you walk onto the Victoria Clipper passenger ferry, a 60-minute flight, or a five-hour drive and a ferry ride on Black Ball Ferry Line’s MV Coho out of Port Angeles.

Victoria’s Inner Harbour

Spokane, Washington

If your image of Spokane includes the old industrial riverfront and dated, derisive nicknames, it’s time for an update and a reality check. Riverfront Park’s recent renovation offers visitors full pedestrian access for the length of the park, views from a nearly 40-foot-high sidewalk, and the stunningly redesigned U.S. Pavilion, a public event space. It’s symbolic of Spokane’s growth: existing spaces and buildings, remodeled and reborn.

The pavilion—and its occasional light shows—can be seen from the recently remodeled Centennial Hotel (formerly the Hotel RL). The old Red Lion has been gutted and turned into the Ruby River Hotel, with pools overlooking the Spokane River, while on the opposite bank, Hotel Indigo has taken over the former Otis Hotel. After dropping their luggage at their lodging of choice, visitors can head out for barbecue at TT’s Old Iron Brewery, from Top Chef competitor Chad White, or for a show at the brand-new Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center at Gonzaga University.

Getting there: Spokane is a four-and-a-half-hour drive or a 75-minute flight from Seattle.

The new U.S. Pavilion light show. Photo courtesy Riverfront Spokane

Boise, Idaho

Idaho’s capital is a short flight and a world away from Seattle. Nestled into the inland hills, it beckons to Seattleites with the kind of fun particular to smaller cities: raucous minor-league sporting events (Idaho Steelheads hockey), nearby nature (the 25-mile Boise River Greenbelt, which demonstrates why it’s called the City of Trees) and unexpected small businesses that find room to grow away from the high-pressure world of the big city.

Boise days begin at Janjou Pâtisserie, where baker Moshit Mizrachi-Gabbitas, a James Beard Award semifinalist, uses local butter and Valrhona chocolate to prepare classic French pastries. Boise weekends start on Saturdays when the Boise Farmers Market and Capital City Public Market bring dueling shopping extravaganzas to the city’s streets. Local farmers and ranchers sell alongside an astonishing display of Boise’s diverse food scene, including Tibetan momos (dumplings), New Orleans–style beignets, hangover-curing pozole and egg-stuffed sambusas. Complete your around-the-world tour at the Basque Museum and Cultural Center to learn what drew Iberian sheepherders to southern Idaho.

Getting there: Boise is an eight-hour drive or an hour-and-a-half-hour flight from Seattle.

A chocolate dessert from Janjou Pâtisserie. Photo by Janjou Pâtisserie

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