Pacific Northwest Playground

Throw in an Alaska cruise and summer in Seattle -- or Portland or Vancouver -- can't be beat

By Will O'Bryan
Published on May 30, 2013, 3:49am | Comments

With the past couple centuries of North American ''settlement'' moving east to west, it's no wonder that the great Pacific Northwest might seem somewhat untamed, relative to much of the continent. It's also no wonder that residents, particularly the transplants, continue to be awed by the natural beauty.

''I tell my Midwest relatives that every day I've lived in the Northwest, I've seen something too pretty to be real,'' says former Chicagoan Tim Joyce, who lives in Seattle with his partner and works as a meteorologist and reporter for Seattle's Q13 Fox affiliate and as chief meteorologist at Portland, Ore.'s CW station.

The beauty might be a waterfall, a field of tulips or a mountaintop. Or it might be a cityscape in one of the area's three major metropolises: Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.

Timothy Christian, a Seattle-based flight attendant who also claims Midwest roots, shares Joyce's wonderment with his new home.

''I love it. It's unlike any other place I've ever lived, and I've lived all around the country,'' says Christian. ''I don't know how many car accidents I've almost gotten into because of gawking at scenery.''

Jewel Robinson, who started out in New York City, has called Portland home for two decades, despite not being much of a wilderness woman. This self-described ''black butch,'' real-estate broker and actor – perhaps you caught her playing the concerned school principal during Season 1 of Grimm – would rather take to the streets by bike and check out the inhabitants of ''the People's Republic of Portland.''

''Summer is my favorite time of year,'' Robinson says. ''I will not miss the Adult Soapbox Derby. Thousands of people come out. It's an all-day event every August. I'm there with my lawn chair and cooler. And Portland Zoo concerts – I just won't miss 'em. I love that the weather is perfect for 90 days – July, August and September. It doesn't get any more perfect.''

Weather-expert Joyce does offer summer visitors a bit of advice, however.

''Maybe it's an occupational hazard, but my top recommendation would be to dress accordingly,'' Joyce says. ''We joke here that summer doesn't start until July 5, but we're not really kidding. Visitors should be prepared to dress in layers, as it gets chilly at night. And jeans are acceptable in even the nicest restaurants.''

While Christian will attest to the convenience of flying between this triad of cities, a slower option with amazing views is Amtrak's Cascades route. Check schedules carefully, however, as the train is substituted with bus service along the Seattle-Vancouver portion at times.

Another mode of travel popular in the Pacific Northwest is ships, with Alaska summer cruises heading out from Seattle and Vancouver. RSVP, for example, offers its 2013 summer Alaska cruise out of Seattle, July 21 to 28, hitting Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka. Matt Bamford, a former D.C. denizen and Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather 2010, knows these ports well, as he spent years working in the tourist industry in Alaska's Denali National Park.

''Juneau is the capital, it's bustling,'' says Bamford. ''The Alaskan Brewing Co. brewery is at the base of one of the glaciers, and they use the glacier water. The Alaskan Brewing Co. Depot is just a couple blocks off the waterfront, a must-do.

''Ketchikan is more of an escape, a little more rural and rustic. Sitka is a happy medium. One of the fun things is Fortress of the Bear. You get to interact with bears. It's a rehabilitation center.''

Back at the southern end of the greater Pacific Northwest, Christian, Joyce and Robinson all sum Vancouver in a word: international. Or, in Joyce's case, ''überinternational''. Seattle's reputation is being a bit more urbane than its Oregon neighbor. Christian labels Portland ''granola hipster,'' and Robinson says those thinking about a visit should take Portlandia somewhat seriously.

''It's very accurate,'' she admits. ''I just found myself asking at a restaurant if the chicken was locally sourced.''

It probably was. Even with the crunchy quotient, Portland – at least in summer – is a breathtaking Eden, where on a clear day you can see the summits of Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier from downtown. Up in Vancouver, Christian points out that you can be in downtown one minute and hiking on Grouse Mountain the next – then end the day with fabulous gay nightlife. Seattle is no different, offering easy access to Olympic National Park and a thriving cultural core in the city. Add in a cruise to Alaska and the socially progressive Pacific Northwest makes an unbeatable summer destination.

For more information about Portland, visit For Seattle, go to For Vancouver, visit

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