A Greener Getaway: Exploring Seattle and Portland

Eco-minded musings on the best organic dining, outdoor adventures and luxe lodging in the Pacific Northwest

By Jessica Blair

A do-good vacation doesn’t have to mean eschewing the grid for a third world country. When life’s chaos has left you numb, there’s no better sanctuary than two of America’s greenest getaways, Seattle and Portland. Anchoring the northwest between chiseled mountains and the icy Pacific Ocean these rain sodden cities are the perfect place to indulge in some seriously healthy eats, arts, and exercise. Best part? You don’t have to leave the country, or the comfy confines of city living.

From swanky LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified boutique hotels, to a behind-the-scenes peek inside an organic chocolate factory, there are just enough sinful indulgences to sweeten this eco-minded detour. Blending chic city appeal with a ruggedness factor that’s hard to find elsewhere, both cities offer up an intoxicating array of attractions and a dining scene to dizzy the most refined foodie.

What makes these sister cities especially convenient is their proximity to one another — a short, three-hour drive if you take Interstate or a longer, scenic cruise if you veer off the expressway to explore. Sites like Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, with more than 70 waterfalls to feast your eyes and iPhones upon, or Washington’s stunning Cape Disappointment State Park, grounded by two lonely lighthouses.


Northernmost Seattle is a hotbed of creativity in the truest sense of the word. An eco-entrepreneurial spirit breeds art galleries and independent boutiques perfect for poking around, sandwiched among nearly 30 museums (a downloadable walking tour map of public artwork can be found here http://www.seattle.gov/arts/publicart/walking_tours.asp

For breakfast, start at none other than Mighty-O Donuts, where locally-made, certified organic donuts ditch the chemical preservatives and hydrogenated oils that give these breakfast cakes a bad rap. You’ll find yourself glued to the glass pastry case Alice-style, where favorites like Chocolate Raspberry and the coconut-draped Don King donut will softly whisper, “eat me.”

Delish daytime bites can be had at Remedy Teas, where you can raise a pinky in the air to sip delicately on one of 150 organic, loose-leaf teas, while nibbling a bite-sized cucumber or Nutella Crisp tea sandwich. Or, at Chaco Canyon Café, Washington’s first certified organic vegetarian café, enjoy vegan and vegetarian options like the all-day breakfast, Sourdough Belgian Waffle, served with maple syrup from a local farm.


If the sun is out and you’re feeling adventurous explore Elliott Bay by paddle board. Stand up paddle boarding, that is. Simply slip into a wetsuit, get a quick lesson and then head out onto the bay for the best core workout you’ve ever had, err, we mean sightseeing (Alki Kayak; $49 per person).

I can’t resist seafood in Seattle, so it only makes sense that after a workout on the water, you’d head to Chef Christine Keff’s entirely organic restaurant, Flying Fish, which features simply prepared, fresh seafood like the Pumpkin Seed Crusted Bigeye Tuna. Make it an experience by participating in the restaurant’s daytime cooking classes ($55 per person). Of course, you can always catch a real flying fish, mid air, at the famed Pike Place Market, too (tours available).


It wouldn’t be a true getaway unless you indulge, and where better to dodge calorie counting than a chocolate factory? Willy Wonka eat your heart out. The only fair-trade, organic chocolate company in the U.S. just happens to be headquartered in Seattle. And the gracious chocolatiers of Theo Chocolate offer up daily tours, luring in those weak of self-control with one flippant wave of the arm, and subtle waft of warm cocoa. As you can imagine, the tours are chock-full. Call four weeks ahead to make sure to get on the list.

When it’s time to retire to bed, stay in Seattle’s first LEED-certified hotel, Hyatt at Olive 8, partake in the services of its in-house spa and relax as you sleep under one of the city’s largest living roofs.


Three hundred miles south, Portland is a haven for urbanites gone green. The city was built for green living, with reliable transit in the form of the MAX light rail system, as well as more than 300 miles of designated bike boulevards for cyclists. On the Green Portland Tour, guide company Portland Bicycle Tours adds education to recreation with a glide past some of the city’s 60-plus LEED-certified buildings, green roofs and community spaces.

Papa G’s Deli shack isn’t much to look at, but for such a little space, it offers up an array of certified organic lunches, while Hot Lips pizzerias are known locally for their gourmet pies delivered in emission-free electric cars. I continuously crave the Waldorf, drizzled in olive oil and topped with apples, walnuts, blue cheese and grilled chicken, but the options run aplenty and suit a variety of tastes. Award goes to “local hazelnuts” as the craziest pizza topping on hand.


If you’ve got time to grab a table — or want to canoodle in a corner — visit one of the city’s farm-to-table restaurants for local, organic dishes like Fire-Roasted Corn Gnocchi at The Farm Café or the crispy sweetbreads served up at one of the city’s finest: Paley’s Place Bistro & Bar, operated by husband and wife duo and authors, Kimberly and Vitaly Paley.

For organic, handcrafted brews, Hopworks Urban Brewery is the place. I’ve never come across any place like it; with its smooth-sipping Organic Velvet English Session Beer and milder Organic Crosstown Pale ale and naturally, a bike repair stand at the entrance.

To satisfy a fancy for the outdoors without going far, the seven-acre Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden is a feast for the eyes, with more than 2,000 varieties of rhododendrons and azaleas, excellent bird-spotting and a spring-fed lake. Closer to downtown, Forest Park’s winding eight-mile trail is worth a stroll, a silent escape amid the bustling city streets.

When dusk falls, you’ll want nothing more than to curl up in a suite at the LEED-certified and luxuriously over-the-top The Nines. Turquoise accents and soft textiles make this boutique hotel a treat for any globetrotter. Don’t let the sterile exterior fool you.


In the Northwest, misty rains extend through fall, winter and into spring, diving the year into two distinguishable seasons, summer and wet. If you choose to travel in the months outside of summer, pack warm, weather-resistant clothing that incorporates hoods; toting an umbrella all day gets old quickly.


Interstate 5 will get you from Portland to Seattle, or vice versa, most quickly, unless you want to venture off the beaten track for sightseeing. You’ll add a considerable amount of time to your trip, but scenic staples like Columbia River Gorge, which starts 17 miles outside of Portland, or Cape Disappointment, roughly halfway between the two cities and on the coast, are worth the effort.


· Terrain varies in this corner of the states, so a sport utility vehicle makes a well-rounded option no matter which city you’re headed to. An SUV like the Toyota RAV4 or Jeep Grand Cherokee will leave you feeling confident on the road and provide plenty of room for your outdoor gear, including racks for kayaks or bicycles, while ensuring a comfortable ride in any type of weather.
· Check your wiper blades before you leave to make sure they’re up to the challenge of constant misting, and pack a safety kit just in case you find yourself stalled and far from town.

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