Brave the elements + cozy up indoors
In the wintertime, many Pacific Northwesterners live by the credo: "If it's raining here, it's snowing in the mountains." This perspective-flipping tactic shifts the focus to awesome ski conditions and tranquil trails (rather than shorter days and dreary drizzle).
Others embrace these months inside hygge-filled spaces that serve up delicious food and drink alongside an endless supply of coziness. Here are 10 destinations making the season brighter.
Quick-changing weather doesn’t stop visitors from having fun in Tacoma and surrounding areas. Take advantage of discounted wintertime hotel rates around town (not to mention beautiful glass exhibits and an impressive beer scene), or embrace nature at spots like Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, where cooler weather brings out more roaming animals.
See Mount Rainier from a new angle on snowshoeing adventures; rangers lead wintertime walkabouts, and Evergreen Escapes offers day tours from downtown Seattle, too.
To truly get away, book a chalet suite or Honeymoon Cabin for two at Alta Crystal Resort, Crystal Mountain's only lodging with both a heated pool and hot tub. The small resort, tucked blissfully into the national forest, also features a recreation lodge and snow play field.
Schweitzer Mountain Resort in northern Idaho, 11 miles northwest of Sandpoint, offers great skiing plus an enticing lineup of après-ski cocktails. The popular destination currently features the most open terrain in the Northwest (second in the entire country, behind Big Sky), and last year, the ski season lasted into April.
After a full day of adventure, guests kick back in the $3.8 million-dollar Sky House lodge or cozy up by the fire at Chimney Rock Grill. The resort hosts a dinner series that takes guests to the summit restaurant via chairlift and then – after a meal with a view – transports them back to the village via snow cats.
At Alderbrook Resort and Spa, less than 90 miles from Seattle, colder months translate to enjoying the venue's heated glass-enclosed saltwater swimming pool and hot tub (with mountain views), bundling up to enjoy s’mores by the fjord-side fire pit and relaxing with art supplies or a book in the cozy lodge lobby.
Foodies flock to nearby Hama Hama – where a store and saloon sit on the edge of the oyster farm – and to Union City Market, a friendly locals' hub for buying goods from regional purveyors and artists.
Enjoy the resort's winter menu items like Dungeness crab cakes with red curry coconut, baby kale and chili oil as well as this delicious menu addition: Raikes Beef Co. steak served with leeks, pancetta, roasted fingerlings and celery root cream. On select days, take advantage of Canal Cookouts (beach-side feasts inside a historic marina) as well as Full Moon yoga sessions, enjoyed on the shores of Hood Canal.
Head to Washington's capital for hikes to winter waterfalls like those at Tumwater Falls and Deschutes Falls Park, which has just reopened to the public after 25 years.
Also indulge in the splendid flavors of the region at Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar at 222 Market and along the South Sound Coffee Trail, a self-guided route that takes visitors to the town's tastiest roasters. Be sure to sip Dancing Goats, Batdorf & Bronson's most popular roast, and Olympia Coffee Roasting Co.'s Ethiopian blends.
An island escape that's only a 20-minute ferry from West Seattle, Vashon proves an easy getaway for those wanting to slow down the pace with minimal commute time. Settle into the Lodges on Vashon, where the monthly Cottage Living Room series features local artists in an intimate space.
While on the island, rent e-bikes to explore the scenery, enjoy a tasty Thai feast at May Kitchen + Bar, or savor olive oil, salt and vinegar tastings hosted by Karen Biondo, a well-known farmer on the island. The Lodges also offer tasting tour packages, which include a two-night stay, tastings at Dragon's Head, Nashi and Palouse plus a take-home bottle from each spot.
Less than 90 miles north of Seattle, enjoy a laid-back vibe and small-town charm among friendly locals in Bellingham, humorously dubbed "the city of subdued excitement." In this artsy university town, book comfortable apartment-like accommodations at the Hamlet Hotel, which makes an ideal, central home base for on-foot explorations.
Within a 10-minute walk, grab a delightful creation from Camber Coffee and refreshing drinks and snacks from Kombucha Town. Also enjoy locally-sourced fare at Cosmos Bistro or Aslan Brewing Company, an organic brewpub with greenery lining its walls and delicious food complementing its beers (try the tofu skewers or soft tacos). Explore the region's history at the Whatcom Museum and stroll the South Bay Trail (connecting Bellingham to Fairhaven).
After the sun sets, play old-school Pac-Man at The Racket or hear live tunes at The Shakedown, The Wild Buffalo or under the ornate domed ceiling of the historic Mount Baker Theatre. After you've had your fill of "city life," head east to Mount Baker, a rugged mountain loved by outdoor enthusiasts during any season.
Make your way to Vancouver Island, where Victoria draws include the city's convenient walkability, unmistakable Canadian charm and great value for American travelers, thanks to the current exchange rate. Book a romantic night at the luxe-meets-cozy Magnolia Hotel & Spa, savor tastings at tea mecca Silk Road, and indulge in culinary adventures at hot spots like OLO Restaurant and Nourish, situated in a lovely house-like setting.
Festivals marking the season include the Victoria Film Festival, which means 10 days of 120-plus films and events (from almost 30 countries), and the Song and Surf Music Festival. Raise a glass – or several – during Victoria Beer Week, or experience Victoria's first-ever Capital City Comic Con.
Head to Whidbey for a weekend (or day) trip to experience wintertime tranquility on the island's beaches; Double Bluff Beach, for example, proves the perfect quick getaway for Seattleites. Check out other stunning spots like Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, as you wander among Whidbey's serene farmland and small seaside villages.
Savor the seasonal event "Red Wine & Chocolate," which allows guests to sample rich reds and handcrafted spirits paired with chocolate at five venues – Holmes Harbor Cellars, Blooms Winery, Comforts of Whidbey Winery, Whidbey Island Distillery and Spoiled Dog Winery.
While some think that wineries close down in winter months, those in the know insist that "Cellar Season" is the prime time to visit. Think fewer crowds, one-on-one chats with winemakers and a bevy of roaring fireplaces (while drinking Pinot noir!).
Peruse the Willamette Valley Wineries Association’s website to find seasonal package deals and to sort through venues that complement your interests – for example, wineries with cozy barrel caves, wineries with fireplaces and so on. Highlights at this time of year include truffle and wine pairings, Taste McMinnville's "Dine & Wine Month" (throughout February) and extra motivation to head to Left Coast Cellars for the raved-about wood-fired pizzas.
Fly into "Big Sky Country" via Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN), which is located 15 minutes from the town's charming main street. Here you'll find an ideal home base at The LARK and the Rialto music venue, as well as an enticing lineup of bars and restaurants.
While in town, indulge at the Bozeman Hot Springs, clink your glasses at five breweries, and head out into the snow scene (featuring skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling).
With all of these enticing options, we're suddenly much less anxious for spring to arrive.