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Could This Be the Most Underrated Winter Destination in America?

The Pacific Northwest really heats up in the winter.

When it gets cold, everyone you know probably heads somewhere warm. Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, you name it—if it’s warm and has a beach, people are flocking there. But may I propose the Pacific Northwest (or “PNW” for those in the know) to you instead? There’s a variety of climates, from rainy Seattle to relatively comfortable Portland, to snowy Boise, meaning a little something for everyone. And the region is packed full of stunning nature, marvelous food, and memorable experiences. If you haven’t been to the PNW in the wintertime, let me tempt you with the very best to add to your itinerary wishlist.

1 OF 16

Hot Tub Boats

WHERE: Seattle, Washington

Grab five of your friends (or your lover) and book yourself a Hot Tub Boat. Floating in Lake Union, this year-round activity combines hot tubs, boats, and parties in one memorable package. All you need is your snacks, a bathing suit, and a waterproof pouch for your phone, and you’re ready for an unforgettable float, no matter the weather. Hot Tub Boats has a shack where you can change, and then you’re just a few feet away from the boat, so you can hop right in without freezing. The boat itself has no captain, as it can easily be “driven” using the joystick, with a maximum speed of 5 miles per hour.

INSIDER TIPHot Tub Boats provides you with a speaker, so come prepared with a playlist to avoid fumbling with your phone in the water.

 

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PHOTO: Suma Jane Dark
2 OF 16

A Boudoir Photoshoot with Suma Jane Dark

WHERE: Portland, Oregon

If you’ve never considered a sexy photoshoot, have no fear, because Suma Jane Dark is the perfect boudoir photographer for your first shoot. A queer, plus-size, non-binary person, Suma has experience both in front and behind the camera. They built their business with the dedicated goal of providing a luxurious and empowering experience to people of all body types. You’ll have a cozy mid-century home full of comfortable sets from which to choose (and of course, you can choose a few), including a claw foot tub in front of a wood-burning stove and even a neon set.

INSIDER TIPBring a suitcase full of lingerie, shoes, and clothing. Make sure you have way more than you think you’ll need because you might find yourself looking for a different vibe mid-session.

 

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PHOTO: EB Adventure Photography/Shutterstock
3 OF 16

Drive Up the Sea-to-Sky Highway

WHERE: Vancouver, British Columbia

If you love a good road trip, but don’t have days to travel, consider the roughly two-hour trip up the Sea to Sky Highway, from Vancouver to Whistler, for a view that’s considered one of the best in Canada. It’s perfect for a reflective solo drive or a romantic couples adventure, or, you can make it a weekend by adding a bed and breakfast and a spa reservation.

INSIDER TIPKeep an open mind, and stop anywhere that grabs your attention, you never know what adventure you’d find.

 

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Sun Valley Film Festival
4 OF 16

Sun Valley Film Festival

WHERE: Sun Valley, Idaho

Since 2010, at the end of March, and into early April, Sun Valley, Idaho holds its annual film festival. “It is one of the few industry events held amid snow flurries and one of the smaller events so it is easy access to interact with celebrities,” says award-winning journalist and travel writer Ruksana Hussain. “I got to meet Yahya Abdul-Mateen [The Matrix Resurrections and Aquaman] the year I visited and the quality of films selected is top-notch.”

INSIDER TIP“If you are lucky, you might even chance upon migrating herds of moose during these months,” says Hussain.

 

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PHOTO: Rusty Wright
5 OF 16

Axe Throwing at Blade & Timber

WHERE: Seattle, Washington

For an active experience perfect for couples or groups of friends, axe throwing is both easily captivating, relatively affordable, and fairly simple to learn. Bring your snacks, closed-toed shoes, a charged phone (you definitely want to photograph this!), and a can-do attitude, because before it becomes fun, it can be a tad frustrating. Blade & Timber is the only axe-throwing establishment that is allowed to serve beer, cider, and spiked seltzer, but you are limited to two drinks. The coach will guide you through how to use and throw your axe safely, and after watching you practice, will leave you to enjoy your experience.

INSIDER TIPWear something you can easily move in! I wore a full-length sequins dress, and while it was dramatic, it was totally impractical.

 

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PHOTO: Roman Khomlyak/Shutterstock
6 OF 16

Snowshoeing at Mount Rainier National Park

WHERE: Ashford, Washington

“Snowshoeing at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State is spectacular in the wintertime,” says travel blogger Jessica Schmit of Uprooted Traveler. “The entire park turns into a winter wonderland, with impossibly grand pine trees covered with snow and glacier-capped mountains in every direction.” If you’re not a regular snowshoer, you can rent yourself a pair from the National Park Inn General Store, inside the park. Snowshoeing doesn’t require much equipment, but given the cold, you’d be wise to pack some waterproof gloves and hiking boots, as well as gaiters or waterproof pants.

INSIDER TIP“I’d suggest packing a lunch and a Thermos of hot chocolate to enjoy while taking in the wintery views,” says Schmit. Restaurants in the area are usually closed during the winter months.

 

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PHOTO: Bob Pool/Shutterstock
7 OF 16

Razor Clam Digging

WHERE: Gearhart, Oregon

If you want to get outdoors and dig for your next meal, razor clam digging is the perfect winter activity to do on the Oregon coast. It’s a rather simple activity that anyone can do, as long as they have a place to prepare the razor clams quickly. “Clam diggers walk the beaches at low tide looking for raisin-sized holes in the sand, this is what’s called a ‘show’,” says Paul Tice, GM at a local vacation rental co-op, Gearhart by the Sea. “Using either a shovel or a clam tube, they dig up the clams, harvest what they need, and leave enough clams for both others to follow and the razor clam generations to come.”

INSIDER TIPHere’s Tice’s foolproof clam recipe, “Shell and clean razor clams, then coat with an egg wash and a crushed Ritz cracker crust,” says Tice. “Drizzle liberally with warm butter and broil on high for 6 mins, turning clams over once at [the] 3-minute mark.”

 

8 OF 16

Dinner at Flintcreek Cattle Co

WHERE: Seattle, Washington

Okay, maybe you don’t consider dinner to be an “experience,” but this one definitely felt like it. Flintcreek Cattle Co uses pastured and grass-fed meat, from sustainable small-scale farms, and masterfully creates truly magnificent dishes. This is the restaurant for trying new dishes, particularly proteins like elk, venison, and others. While the restaurant certainly is an upscale experience, it’s still approachable for the average person, and the dining experience is relaxed and luxurious.

INSIDER TIPSkip dessert, and indulge in savory food, particularly the venison dish. It’s a flavor bomb!

 

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PHOTO: Tom Chudleigh
9 OF 16

Stay in Free Spirit Spheres

WHERE: Qualicum Beach, British Columbia

For someone seeking a relaxing thrill or a few days to reconnect with a lover, you’re in for a real treat at Free Spirit Spheres, a unique cocoon of sorts, suspended ten feet or more above the forest floor. “The forest solitude is near-total and utterly perfect,” says Jessica Langer, who took her partner there for his 50th birthday. “They’re tiny spherical treehouses in the middle of the forest, and each one takes years for the owner to plan and build by hand. In winter, it’s the ultimate hygge, as close as one can imagine to being a hibernating bear or a squirrel tucked away in a tree munching on hidden nuts.”

INSIDER TIPYou can walk to a salmon hatchery on Big Qualicum River!

 

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PHOTO: CSNafzger/Shutterstock
10 OF 16

Wine Tasting Weekend

WHERE: Hood River, Oregon

When magnificent wineries and awe-inspiring nature collide, you get the perfect location for a weekend getaway. Home to the Columbia River Gorge, a 4,000-foot deep, 88-mile long canyon, Hood River has no shortage of excellent wineries. “Head to Italian-inspired Marchesi Vineyards, Stave & Stone for views of both Mount Hood and Mount Adams and a lavender field, or Hood Crest Winery which has robust reds, wood-fired pizzas, and live music on the weekends,” recommends Tamara Elliott, a travel writer and founder of Globe Guide.

INSIDER TIPJust nine minutes from Hood River, Elliot recommends staying at “The Society Hotel in Bingen, Washington is VERY cool and has a hydrotherapy circuit.”

 

11 OF 16

Take a Glass Blowing Class

WHERE: Boise, Idaho

Glass blowing is a surprisingly fun and relaxing activity, perfect for a solo adventure, a date, or even a group experience. Located in the heart of downtown, Boise Art Glass offers short and sweet classes, starting at one-hour long and ranging to an intensive twelve-hour session. If making glass art isn’t up your alley, you can go to the studio and marvel as you watch glass being blown right in front of you.

INSIDER TIPGlass art is fascinating, so be sure to leave some time to browse.

 

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PHOTO: Brooke Hoyer
12 OF 16

Explore the Portland Winter Light Festival

WHERE: Portland, Oregon

The Portland Winter Light Festival is a true beacon in the drudgery that is Portland’s rainy winter,” says author Kathrine Factor. “It brings a riot of colorful installations, artist collaborations, immersive soundscapes (those are my fav), bridge projections, food carts, informative plaques, and interactivity to visitors.” The festival allows you to explore the city, with pop-up installations at local businesses, different windows, and other locations, in addition to larger installations. It’s also completely free!

INSIDER TIP“Study the map and routes in advance so you can hit as many spots without over-trekking in bad weather,” says Factor.

 

13 OF 16

Try Your Hand at Wood Burning

WHERE: Snohomish, Washington

If you love crafting or taking creative classes, you definitely need to check out Mosstangle, a Snohomish wood-burning studio. “You learn a new, creative skill that seems impossible, but Crystal is a great teacher and encourages all the students to press into their inner artist,” says travel blogger Tabitha Bailar. “Burn PNW themed pictures into [the] wood and take home an ornament, wooden cutting board, or whatever else the classes offer.”

INSIDER TIPIf you fall in love with the art, Mosstangle offers free printable wood-burning patterns that you can use to try your hand at home.

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PHOTO: Angie Hu [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] / Flikr
14 OF 16

Food Tour of Pike Place Market

WHERE: Seattle, Washington

I’ve been to Pike Place Market many times over the years, and somehow, it never gets old. A chef-guided food tour is a perfect way to learn about the market, the vendors, and of course, the food. You also get to skip the lines at famous foodie restaurants like Pike Place Chowder and learn about hidden gems like Indi Chocolate, a woman-owned bean-to-bar chocolate shop that makes the chocolate on-site. After the tour, stroll the market, and shop with a special 10% off coupon the chef will provide you.

INSIDER TIPMuch of this tour is outdoors, so dress accordingly. It can (and probably will) drizzle.

 

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PHOTO: Andrea Lonas Photography
15 OF 16

Glamping at The Vintages

WHERE: Dayton, Oregon

If camping isn’t your cup of tea, or it’s colder than you’d like to stay outside, glamping is the perfect winter getaway. The Vintages feature restored, vintage airstream trailers, one of which come with an outdoor soaking tub, and a king-size bed!  “It was quiet and serene, and this getaway was all about kicking back, sipping wine, and connecting with each other, no big distractions,” says travel and lifestyle expert Jetta Bates. “The detail they put into decorating the trailers was impeccable.”

INSIDER TIPPack light! You are staying in a trailer, after all, and extra luggage can make the space feel a bit too cozy.

 

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PHOTO: Alexander Oganezov/Shutterstock
16 OF 16

Cruise the Portland Spirit

WHERE: Portland, Oregon

Don’t just look dine on the river bank, or stare longingly into its water, get on the Portland Spirit, a year-round, two-hour-long cruise, and experience the water and cityscape from the best vantage point. “Find a cozy spot with a drink or a meal and take in the sights,” says Hussain. Depending on the cruise you select, it may feature live piano music and/or a guided tour by the captain covering the history and architecture of the area.

INSIDER TIP“My experience included dining while on the cruise and I loved it,” says Hussain.

 

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